Thursday, November 24, 2011

Arena Report: Nationwide

Columbus probably isn't at the top of anyone's list of place to take in an NHL game. It's a non-traditional market with a perennially struggling team. Getting there is a pain in the ass: the return trip from Vancouver required 28 hours of travel, five airports, and six flights. And what is there to do in Columbus? (Aside from hang with good friends, of course?) Enough to keep me busy for a few days, it turns out.

Columbus has got a pretty great zoo — complete with otters — some kick-ass locally-made ice cream, and of course, The Ohio State University. It'd be pretty impossible to overstate the importance of OSU to Columbus. At least 1 in 10 of the people I saw out in public were decked out in OSU gear. The Buckeyes stores are ubiquitous, massive, and carry everything from the official OSU candy (George, you'd love these; they have the perfect ratio of chocolate to peanut butter) to underwear to expensive jewelry and signed merchandise. The campus is huge and gorgeous, and as an institution inspires impressive loyalty from the populace.

Loyal locals are an owner's dream, but Columbus's struggles as a hockey market are well-documented. And really, who can blame the fans? One post-season appearance, in which they were swept, in 10 seasons leads to a lot of empty seats. I was on hyper-alert for any hint of a hockey fan. I zeroed in on the guy in the Blue Jackets coat when we grabbed breakfast at Panera one morning. Another in a Jackets t-shirt at at the OSU arena. A hockey equipment store in the northern 'burb where I was staying. And...that's about it.

But we hit the (one and only) hockey bar in Columbus on Saturday night, and lo and behold, shortly after the 8pm puck drop the place filled up. R Bar was standing room only by second intermission and, while there were more than a few OSU-clad fans, the vast majority were in Jackets jerseys. They wore hats and scarves and screamed at the TV. Drinks were decent, our server told me to help myself when I asked if I could have a Blue Jackets pint glass, and there was Leafs graffiti in the bathroom. Just like home... ;)

Game day was the Monday to start a holiday week in the US, so I guess it's not surprising that the announced attendance, just over 11,000, was an exaggeration. Still, it boggles me that you can pick up row six seats for $25 on game day.

Not bad for the "cheap" seats.
There were maybe 30 people watching the warmups (which may explain why there was a close-up of me on SN), and lots of empty seats. This was my first game in a non-sellout building, and it's...different. The crowd was quiet, and it felt really tiny because the stands in Nationwide aren't very steep — it creates a cavernous, empty feel. But there are some definite benefits to a small crowd. I never once waited in a queue for the toilets. During the second intermission, I used the bathroom, went back to my seat to finish a drink, trekked back to the concourse for more beer — where I made friends with the guy in front of me by chatting about how the Jackets can strengthen their fanbase (winning was the consensus) — and was still back in my seat before puck drop. Sorry, wi, I skipped out on the food of choice (which is a "cheese coney," basically a chili cheese dog. And since I don't like pie, I'm sure you can all guess my feelings on that). But the beer...

They sell local microbrew in Nationwide, from Columbus Brewing Company and Great Lakes Brewing, among others. It's not cheap, but arena beer never is, and it was worth the extra dollar or two to avoid the Bud. And like I said, no queue :)

They have their own strange rituals at Jackets games. The crowd tried to get the occasional "Let's go Jackets!" going, but after the first one to start the game, they never got any momentum. Later, a few loud patrons went with "Let's go Clitsome!" and, when that died off, "Get some Clitsome!" which lasted even less time. Sorry, wi ;) After Columbus's third goal, everyone in the place stood up and started chanting "CHILI!" in what was the loudest goal celebration of the night (Apparently a ticket stub gets you free chili at Wendy's if the Jackets score three or more in any game.) No one sings along with Locksley after a goal. Maybe they're still getting used to a new goal song? Or maybe they're just recovering from the cannon. Because the Jackets have a CANNON! And while I heard it too often for my liking on Monday, that's pretty cool :)

(Thanks for inviting me to join the team, wi. I'm very long-winded, so I hope you aren't regretting this already ;) I even have an anti-Canucks post all ready to go in my head week or something.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

hit the post grows again !!!

without consulting my hitthepost bretheren, i've opted to grow the brand yet again by inviting our favorite flames fan from canucksville to join us in the blogging arts.... (hey, it's not like any of duncan, mikeH, jafi OR myself write anymore anyways).

so, sarah ? welcome. write as much as you want, sister.
make us look bad.

PS: we are gonna kill the SHIT out of the arena reports and all sorts of flames-related baking.


Monday, November 21, 2011

arena report: the Joe

three months ago, my friend zak took a trip to detroit. amongst the decay and hardships of the rustbelt, he felt an underlying potential and a true sense of community, and that the city's eventual rebirth would be something truly incredible... he wanted to be a part of it.

within weeks he had an immigration lawyer, a house, and season tickets to the red wings.

november 2nd, i flew into windsor and made it cross-border on public transit's "tunnel bus" in one hour flat. i would've been quicker, but the homeland security agents were (to put it simply) a bunch of fucking douchebags. i don't think they bought my "i'm going to catch the flames play the wings" story until they saw the gio captain jersey in my suitcase.... ;)

the thing with detroit is that it has a pretty bad rap. i'm not saying that there aren't areas to avoid, and i'm not suggesting that there aren't sweeping changes that need to be made or that entire neighbourhoods shouldn't be torn down, but i think zak is onto something. there's a certain optimism in the air and the bittersweet smell of opportunity...

the flames seemed to notice, too, as they took to the ice at the Joe with reckless abandon and a rarely-seen ferociousness, and came away with two well-deserved points. like the city, the redwings fans were hopeful yet beaten-down; acutely aware of the grim desperation of the team's current losing record.

we pre-pre-gamed at the legendary marge's earlier in the day, then we pre-gamed at detroit's anchor bar, and even hit the post (yeah, we did) just before puckdrop. postgame, we wandered to tommy's and had a pint with tommy himself. at the rink, you can get a black and tan for under a tenner, and why wouldn't you !?! who wants to drink bud or molson or labatts when you can get a serious arena pour:

as for the arena snack, well there was lots of talk of the coney island dog being a big draw in hockeytown, but i had myself a little caesar's pepperoni and that certainly felt right on the money. for those unaware: mike ilitch started the pizza company in metro detroit (garden city) in 1959, and used $8mil of his fortune in 1982 to buy the redwings (and the tigers, but this column is about HOCKEY).

[editor's note: i had a great pic of my pizza, the black&tan and the ice surface / lower bowl of the Joe, but i lost my camera in NYC. i apparently lose cameras. it's my "thing"].

the rink is old and storied and dark and, like the other aging arenas in the league, feels like it's all just metal-wrapped concrete. the rafters are dripping with championship banners and the concourse boasts some pretty cool statues (ted lindsay stands out, here) and the pillars are "camouflaged" with player photos that can also be used to recall your section ---i used joey macdonald to find my seat after a quick run to the restroom during a tv timeout.... and while most of the newer league venues have painted their concourses in shades of butters (excel ctr) and creams (prudential), the wall colour of choice in motown is black. hm. go wings.

anyhow... it's a pretty incredible joint, i gotta say. you sortof have to see it to believe it....