Monday, February 12, 2018

Carolina Thunderbirds: We Do Hockey Here

So, I entered "Carolina Thunderbirds" into my phone's map program and followed its directions. It took me further and further off the beaten path and I was getting nervous that I was going to end up at a factory with the same name or a head office for the administrators tucked in somewhere (don't laugh both have happened to me). Then I see a football stadium and the next thought was "Aw crud, the local college might be Thunderbirds or something, 'cuz it looks like that's where I'm heading." But, I drive past the football stadium and the directions app tells me to park across the street in an almost abandoned lot next to a big building. I'm early, but not that early so I check the map again. I look up the actual address, punch it in, and confirm I'm in the right place. I look around again. There are about twenty cars in the lot and I can't even see a door. Finally, a group of kids and parents come from behind the building and they are hauling sticks and gear to their cars. I get out of my car and backtrack their trail to the back of the building and, sho enuf (the Shogun of Harlem), there was the entrance with pics of the Thunderbird players on the doors. It's an annex to the fairground and the entrance doesn't face the parking lot; it faces the fairgrounds. And everything got better from there.

Click on picture to make larger

And so it begins . . .
Wants the pitch high and outside
Wants the pitch in the middle of the zone
The reason you might not want to buy a ticket next to the players' bench.
Eyes on the puck.
The Carolina Thunderbirds are the newest team in the FHL (unaffiliated hockey) and well on their way to becoming the gem of the league. Attendance at the rink averages 2,224 which is about 1,300 more than the next team in the FHL averages (Danville). In comparison, the Norfolk Admirals, an ECHL team (affiliated hockey AA), only averages 2,390. The fact that the Thunderbirds only have about 3,500 seats as opposed to the Admirals 8,000+ further tells you who is doing well in this comparison.

The game was a lot of fun. Carolina put the puck in the net twice in the first period and seemed to have the game well in hand, outplaying the Cornwall Nationals all over the ice. In the second period, Carolina continued to be dominant in its time of control and number of shots, but the Nationals made their shots count and evened it up. The third was hard fought from both sides with both scoring to make it 3-3. Then, with about seven minutes left Carolina took the lead 4-3. However, the Nationals didn't go away quietly. The rest of the period seemed to consist entirely of the Thunderbirds' goal being under siege. In the end Carolina held out and won 4-3, which meant it won the rubber match of a three day series against the second ranked team in the league.

The "arena" is not exactly what you'd call professional level, but that's part of the charm. I'm pretty sure the kids I saw leaving as I came in were from a kid's league and I can see the local beer league playing here too. They had decent concession stands which had nothing fancy, but served coffee and hot chocolate which were both vitally important because the temperature inside the arena was twenty degrees colder than it was outside. To be fair, it was 65 outside because North Carolina was going through a February heat wave, but I didn't know it going in and left my coat out in the car. The souvenir stand was a couple folding tables and they were wiped out. This was the third day of a series and they'd been hit hard by the crowds from the last two days. I grabbed one of the last few hats and a puck and would have bought the $50 jersey except they were completely sold out. Then I got bushwacked by Girl Scouts and ended up buying a box of thin mints because every time they ambush me I end up buying cookies (if you can say no to them you are a heartless monster).

Inside, the seat I was on was a cushioned folding chair right up on the glass and it was great except the benches were to my left and hockey players are big. It was hard to see around them to watch what was going on at the other end, but it was awesome for the end I was on. There is no big screen playback here or announcements from the refs. You actually have to pay attention to the game. For a shoestring budget hockey operation, they did a pretty good job of keeping it fun. They did the ubiquitous chuck-a-puck with a greater number of prizes than I've seen at many places, played some music, had their mascot running around beating a drum, and kept yelling "What's the word?" to which the crowd would yell back "Thunderbird!" Personally, I was waiting for "Thunderbirds are go!", but maybe that's just my inner geek yearning to be free. I had to look up the phrase they were yelling and it turns out to be a way people have started songs since at least the 60's (apparently first in reference to the car and later, jokingly, as a reference to the terrible wine).

It's fun, dirt cheap, and there isn't a bad seat in the house. Buy a ticket if you can (they've had sell outs) and go watch some hockey in the Winston-Salem area.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Carolina Hurricanes: Great Crowd, Great Game

You know, I can almost always find something to complain about at any stadium-field-pitch-rink, but I have to say it's a little hard to do with the Carolina Hurricanes. Great crowd. Great game. Lots of fun. Lots of seating on the bottom area with adequate size seats. The only thing that I can gripe about is the fact that in order to get so many seats in the lower area it has really old fashioned steep stadium seating. More modern setups would have that broken up entry to the seats some rather than requiring people to rappel down a couple hundred feet to get to their seats closer to the glass. Other than that, I'm coming up short on my complaining and  it's annoying.

Click on pictures to make them bigger:
The Mascot is a dog?
And so it begins . . .

If you screen the goalie too much he might thump you on the back of the head.
I guess if you are a cheerleader for hockey you have to be kept in a glass cage.

Final Hurricanes 3 - Avalanche 1
The game started with the refs showing a distinct disinterest in calling many penalties and the first period was hard fought. Finally, the Colorado Avalanche scored a goal, but within seconds the Hurricanes tied it again. The second period was equally hard fought, but the refs showed more interest in keeping the skaters from killing each other and there was a fair amount of penalty time all around. The Hurricanes even had to kill a 4 minute penalty at one point. It turns out that the refs frown upon you hitting another player in the face with your stick. Who knew? There were no goals in the second, but the Hurricanes were getting the upper hand thru much of the period. Then, the third began and the Canes scored at about the 35 second mark. The Avalanche seemed to gear up a bit after that and the play evened out for a bit, but then the Hurricanes scored again and had some breathing room. They went on to win 3-1 and passed the Columbus Blue Jackets to move into a wildcard slot.

Comments: I went down to my seat once and then climbed back up to get some supper. In so doing, I realized two things. First, if I stood at the top I'd have just as good, or better view than at my seat in row F. Second, I was going to need an anchor rope and pitons if I had to make that climb again. If I'd actually spent a month's salary to be on the glass I'd probably have gone back down. However, I left that climb to the young and skinny and stood at the top to watch the game. It was my choice so I can't complain too much. However, I do have a suggestion for the Hurricanes' organization. Go to a minor league baseball park and look at the stand up bars they are putting behind the last row of seats where people can eat, drink, or just hang out while watching the game. Those would be a great addition to your areas at the top of the seating cliff.

The crowd was larger than I expected, having heard derogatory comments about attendance in Carolina and jeez were they enthusiastic. They had certain unique things like starting periods with a hurricane warning (woulda been cool if they used it after goals too) and yelling out when the word "red" was sung during the star spangled banner, although that was messed up a little because the girl singing it stepped on them. She thought she was in an operetta and as the song went on the last word at every comma and end of every line got loonger and looooooonger. People who sing it that way are funny and I'm never quite sure they realize that all these people are here for a reason other than to listen to them (there's a reason people start clapping half way thru the last line).  Prices were reasonable and I got out with a hat and puck for about the same price as I did yesterday at an ECHL (AA hockey) game which says really good things about the Hurricanes. I've already said my peace about what it says about the ECHL team.

Anyway, I'm sold. Where I live, I's about equidistant from the Hurricanes and the Predators. The Predators have a kind of frantic energy about them that screams "hot new team", "young fans." On the other hand, the Hurricanes feel like a team that's been kicking around for a while. There were even some people wearing Whalers gear and we all remember how cool that logo was:
So, I choose the Whalers err . . . Hurricanes. I'll be back. Not sure when I'll be able to budget the time and money again, but I'll be back. I probably shouldn't warn 'em tho. They might lock the doors.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Norfolk Admirals: Good Game, Poor Fan Service

Yesterday was spent traveling across the width of Virginia so that I could watch the Norfolk Admirals. It was a fun game and the rink is well set up for the crowd to watch. The people working were friendly and helpful, but the crowd was small. It was a shame.

Click photos to make larger:

Adironack Thunder stops a puck.
Get that puck.
The reason it's great to have a seat on the glass.

The game was a lot of fun. The Thunder took the early lead and the Admirals came back to tie a couple times. Then the Admirals caught fire and the third period was almost entirely theirs. Darik Angeli got a hat trick and, yes a few people threw their hats out onto the ice. No, I did not throw the hat I'd just bought.  All in all, it was a great game to watch and exactly the kind of thing that should be bringing in the fans.

They weren't there.

By the time everybody was seated it looked like about maybe 1,000 people and a whole bunch of empty seats. There was a screw-up with my seat. My ticket was for A1 in my section and the first seat that actually existed was A2.  As the couple who were there moved to the left both they and the usher joked about how it wasn't like the row was going to fill up anyway - the front row - on the glass. After the usher left, the couple explained how the Admirals used to be an AHL team - a really good AHL team - and locals aren't happy to have an ECHL substitute foisted upon them (not really the entire story they went from being a big deal ECHL team to the AHL and now they're back again).  They also weren't happy that the team had been abandoned by the Nashville Predators leaving them unaffiliated (the owners fired the president who negotiated the deal and it went away). The couple was right. Nobody else showed up and sat in our row. In fact, there were a lot of on the glass seats that were empty.

It was the worst attended game I've been to in a while and about a month back I drove to a Wheeling Nailers game in almost white out conditions, with inches of snow already on the ground, and temperatures near 0 fahrenheit.  And it's a shame. There is so much potential here.


First, get people in. Heck, give away a few thousand tickets per game. Give all the kids at the local high schools two tickets each. Give out tickets to ships in harbor or units at JEB Little Creek - Fort Story. Better yet, give tickets out to locals who work the shipyards and will be around to buy some in the future. Make your money up on the backside thru concessions and/or souvenirs.

Second, lower prices. YOUR PRICES ARE HIGHER THAN NHL PRICES and you are an unaffiliated ECHL (hockey AA) team. A beer and sausage was $15+. There might have been a reason that nobody was buying concessions other than my stupid self. Worse, your prices for souvenirs were high to ridiculous. I can buy a puck from the Wheeling Nailers for $5 (and they sell yours for that price too), the Cincinnati Cyclones for $6, and the Toledo Walleye for $6.53. Yours? $7.  As best I can tell a puck costs less than $2 and let's assume the sticker is an additional $1. There's no reason for your price point as an ECHL team. Even worse than that, I really, really like your jerseys, but that price point is beyond ridiculous. Let's compare your prices to NHL prices:

Notice which jersey costs the most? Sure, your jersey is cool, but it's not better-than-the-NHL cool.  And just so you can't blame it on economy of scale, here are your ECHL competitors' jerseys:

Your price point is not only unrealistic, it is actively harmful to your brand. There were lots of people wearing jerseys in attendance, but I only saw three wearing your jersey. When you bring the price down to a reasonable level ($120) email me and I will snap one up. Until then, good luck with your excess inventory.

Third, raise the level of enthusiasm. Just playing music loudly and doing the normal kiss-cam, dance-cam stuff really doesn't cut it anymore. Have people go into the crowd more and work it with prizes. Your announcer needs to hype things up more and you need to make energy between periods. That may have been the most lackadaisical chuck-a-puck I've ever seen. I know this is harder to do when the crowd is smaller and really, you did most of the things a little. You just need to up the pace and frequency. And it would help if you had bigger crowds to feed the enthusiasm (see First above).

You have so much potential here. Please turn it around.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Columbus Blue Jackets (From the Sardine Seats)

My first NHL game. Not as much fun as going to minor league hockey, but almost okay(ish).

Click on pics for larger view.
The view from my seat. Yes, I was above the scoreboard.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Tampa Lightning

When the game is a blowout you can always fight.
Women in skates and miniskirts scraping the ice.
Ummmm, I guess this is supposed to be a blue jacket?

1) Had to run a gauntlet of beggars and get cussed out by a conman on my way from the parking garage to the hockey rink.

2) My seat was above the scoreboard and it was far from the highest seat in the house. It provided an excellent view of the game, but otherwise it was BY FAR the worst seat I've sat in for years. The seats were inexcusably tiny and this wasn't just because I'm personally big. Everybody in the row was alternating with one person sitting back and one person sitting on the front edge of his seat. It was the only way to sit unless we wanted our shoulders crushed into each other along the entire row. Worse, the seats were separated from each other by unmovable, hard plastic arm rests. These wouldn't have been too bad except each had an unusable cup holder on it which made it hard for adults to even get into the seats. And if you put a drink in one it would have gotten crushed, crumpled and spilled by you and/or your neighbor. I've been to lots of stadiums, parks, pitches, rinks, etc. over the last few years and I've complained because some sell tickets where they know the view is blocked so the action cannot be seen (Cincinnati Reds, Indianapolis Indians, Huntsville Havoc), but I've never before been to a place where the seat itself is so deplorably bad. Oh, and my seat was on the first row of the upper level and there was so little space between the front of the seat and the plexiglass keeping you from falling about ten feet to the walkway below that my knees were on it for most of the game. They've optimized this place to crush as many people in as they can and they've succeeded at that. However, they've also made it unpleasant enough that nobody should pay the cost of an upper level seat ($82 for my single seat - $66 plus "fees"). Buy a subscription to NHL TV instead. It's $99 right now and was less than $150 at the beginning of the season. Do the math, use a VPN, stay home, and have a good experience watching the game.

3) The first period was lackadaisical.

4) The second period was a slaughter. Before the clock ticked off nine minutes the Thunder had put the puck into the goal four times and the game was effectively over. Sometime in the third period, the Thunder got another goal and it all ended with Blue Jackets' fans booing the home team loudly. I don't know how the fans in the bottom level were reacting, but the fans in the sardine seats were mightily peeved off.

5) I bolted for the door before the "indoor fireworks.' Holy cow, that's a bad idea.

6) A once in a lifetime experience (I hope).

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Wheeling Nailers

Toledo Walleyes

All ECHL matches have the mandatory fight, but this one seemed a little more real than most.

Wheeling Nailers

1) That's the last time I trust my weather app. The drive across West Virginia when it wasn't supposed to be snowing turned into death drive 2017. Then the same thing happened when I got into my car to drive the ten minutes to the rink and ended up driving geared down in near whiteout conditions for about half a thirty-plus minute drive. Oh, and the temperature at time of puck drop was 11 degrees Fahrenheit, -8 wind chill.

2) For a day in which only insane people were going out to a hockey match, there was a good sized crowd out at the rink.

3) The Toledo Walleyes scored almost immediately and put three pucks in the goal in the first period. The Wheeling Nailers struck back in the second period scoring three of their own before the Walleyes put two in in the last minute or so of the second. The third was hard fought and the Nailers got one back and had the Walleyes' goal under siege when time ran out.

4) Overall, although the drive sucked the hockey was a lot of fun. Now, on to Columbus.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Off Season Happenings (Baseball)

While most  of the minor leagues pushed out their schedule for 2018 extremely early this year, changes in logos and names are happening later. The only new logo that came early was the American Association' Chicago Dogs in unaffiliated ball.

It's an interesting logo for a brand spanking new team. It has ties to a popular item in popular culture (a Chicago hotdog), although I think the color scheme is a bit on the weak side. I'll be interested to see how this one weathers the ravages of time. Blue and red are already claimed colors in Chicago. If this team survives and thrives it might want to change those some day to differentiate itself (or  avoid a lawsuit).

However affiliated minor leagues didn't go through the usual spate of changes we see during November. Instead, we have now been hit with three new changes in earlyish mid-December. It's an interesting time to do this because it misses the early Christmas shopping period for anyone buying for a minor league fan.

The re-imagining of the Augusta Greenjackets' logo as they move to a new State is a mixed bag::
click to enlarge

Both the "A" logo and the name logo are impressive. The color scheme is strong. The wasp logo would be strong too except for that thing on its head. I spent a while trying to figure out what that was and my best guest \was some sort of crown. When I finally bowed to the inevitable and looked it up, it turns out to be a golfing cap. Without the cap failure this would have been close to perfect.

The re-imagining of the logo for the Hudson Valley Renegades is more even:
click to enlarge
All of those are solid logos, although none is too strong. They seem to have dropped red from their color scheme a while back and taken the Rays colors which leaves a rather bland palate for their logo. If I remember right the logo being replaced was a raccoon tail with the name and raccoon eyes over the top. It was a decent logo but these are tighter and will probably look better on a uniform. I'm not sure what I think about the smirking raccoon. I think that is a throwback to an older logo where the raccoon was smiling. The smirk isn't a smile though and seems a little off putting.

Finally, there is the Gwinnett Stirpers:
click to enlarge

As everyone can recall, I previously recommended that Gwinnett change its name and logo. Neither of my suggestions were accepted (Goshawks or Gesundheits), but the team in Gwinnett did take my general advice and change its name and logo. I'm not sure what tortured reason the ad company which sold Gwinnett on "Stripers" used. However, it hooked the team andd now we have the Gwinnett Stripers.

All the logos are well drawn and the name logo as well as the one with the tail and ball are good (and somebody needs to show Pensacola that a good logo with a fish can be done). The use of the hook with a baseball on it is a flaw in the ones in which it appears and the hook with the cartoon worm is poor. The G in the shape of a home plate around the fish is clever. I may have to buy a hat.

And that's all we've got so far. There will be more to come. At the very least the rookie league team in Greeneville, Tennessee will have to rebrand some day as it moves from being an Astros affiliate to the Reds.