A Belated Congrats to Denver and Some Good Hockey in Florida
So my NCAA prediction didn’t turn out quite like I wanted, but I was still happy with it. See, I made it over a month ago while giving a friend my thoughts on the NCAA season so far. I watched a good amount of college hockey this year until Cablevision took the Fox Sports channels away from me.
North Dakota had a good amount of games televised this season and I was very impressed with Jordan Parise. He did well in the tourney too, shutting out BU, holding off #3 ranked BC (looking at INCH’s power rankings pre-tourney) and helping his team to the finals.
I was able to watch the last few minutes of the first period until the end on a plane (Delta Song). It was competitive when I turned it on, but it became clear during the second period that it was Denver’s game. Freshman goaltender Peter Mannino took home the Most Outstanding Player award. Mannino had a solid tournament, although I would have given MOP to junior forward Gabe Gauthier, who received a good amount of praise from the ESPN crew as well.
One thing that was mentioned briefly was South Florida submitting a bid to host the 2009, 2010 or 2011 Frozen Four. Barry Melrose wasn’t high on the idea, but I beg to differ. The Panthers may have been 17th in attendance in 2003-04, but it’s not like the fans had much to hope for. But the Panthers aren’t the only South Florida hockey team. The ECHL’s Florida Everblades lead the ECHL in attendance. Sure, they don’t have to fill large arenas, but they’ve had a solid following for years.
I happened to catch a Blades game last Friday against the Columbia Inferno. Nashville Predator Shane Hnidy has been playing with the Everblades, but he wasn’t in the lineup last Friday. Buffalo Sabre, and former Everblade, Eric Boulton is playing with the Inferno and his play was noticeable during the game.
About a week or so before the game I looked into getting four tickets. The best seats available were in the last row mid-offensive zone. The Everblades home, Germain Arena, seats 7080 and I was impressed already that those seats were the best available.
When we arrived to the game, about 20 minutes before it started, the lot was pretty full already. $5 for parking for a AA hockey game seemed like a few bucks too much, but tickets were pretty cheap so there wasn’t any real complaining.
In we went, none of us having been to a minor league hockey game before. It was like an NHL game, only smaller. The normal concession stands were around the one-level concourse and except for the team logos, nothing seemed out of the ordinary for us. Lots of people around, many of them wearing team t-shirts and jerseys.
On to the game: the action was good, open. You can tell that you’re not watching the best talent in the world, but the players were trying and there was some good flow to the game. Some noticeable differences to the NHL game: touch-up offsides and automatic icing. It was nice watching a game with touch-up offsides again. Each team dresses sixteen skaters and two goalies. I never counted, but it seemed like each team might have had one less player or so. Either way, you got used to the names on the ice very quickly with the shorter rosters. The ECHL also goes to a shootout if the game is tied at the end of a five minute overtime.
We were disappointed that Hnidy wasn’t playing, but Boulton was there, so we still had an NHLer to compare to everyone else, even though he may not be All-Star material. Boulton played an aggressive game and was challenged many times by Brandon Coalter, but Boulton wasn’t interested in dropping his gloves.
We were treated to some fun hockey and the best part was the fans knew it. They were a quiet crowd, but I’m used to NY crowds, so most other cities seem to be more quiet to me. However, they were cheering for all the right things a hockey crowd should cheer for. Nice saves, good plays, big hits and even clears on the penalty kill.
The Blades had a solid game, leading 4-1 with a little over 5 minutes to go. However, they collapsed on the lead and the game ended in a tie when the third period ended. After a scoreless overtime we were “treated” to a shootout. I use the word treated liberally because I’m not really a fan of shootouts. The first four players on each team missed their shots and then both of the #5 guys scored. After five players it’s sudden death in the shootout. The Inferno sent out their #6 man, Eric Boulton. Boulton fakes a shot and then gets it by former Northern Michigan goalie Craig Kowalski, who hadn’t played in months due to a groin injury. Reggie Berg couldn’t convert for the Blades and crowd walked out stunned while the Inferno celebrated as though they just won the championship (it was a nice comeback, but it was an even bigger celebration). I’m still not a fan of shootouts. Kinda fun, but not enough that I want games to be decided that way, nor can I see it still being fun after a few of them.
Another thing to note about the game is there was little instruction given to the crowd. The basics were announced and the only explanations about gameplay were about the overtime and shootout rules. It was another sign that this was a good hockey crowd. What? In Florida? Yes, South Florida apparently likes hockey. Makes me wonder about the other “bad market” in Georgia, home of the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators. The Gladiators are behind only the Everblades in average attendance. I don’t want to suggest hockey can do well in the south though, some northern heads may explode and we might lose a scapegoat for hockey’s problems.
In the end we had a good time while watching some live hockey, and that’s all we were looking for. Dare I even say it was good enough to make me think that replacement players would have a shot at working (with low ticket prices), especially with some higher level talent mixed in.