Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thoughts about the Frozen Dome Classic



I start this first and foremost by thanking Howard Dolgon and the Syracuse Crunch for choosing to put on this event. It was an event of a lifetime and while I do have some issues with it, none of it could have happened without their efforts.
The first missed opportunity for the game was the marketing of merchandise. I understand this wasn’t an AHL event so they were able to do whatever they wanted. However, as a Comets fan, I had no interest in any of the t-shirts which all had the Crunch logo on them. Even using both logos would have at least made me consider buying something related to the game.
I had seats in section 303, which fell right behind the net. For the price, the tickets were a good value, I can’t complain in the least about our view of the game. I did notice that after the first period that on the bench side, the ice level seats were empty for about the first 15. I wasn't sure why until a couple days later when I talked to someone who had seats there. Apparently the seats were below ice level, so once players were on the bench, there was no view from those seats. Fans in those areas had to be moved to locations where they could see. You would imagine that this would be one of the first things to be considered before setting up seating arrangements. However, the need to sell tickets at the higher price was the priority.
There was no re-entry policy for the event. This was probably the biggest complaint I had about the event. If you wanted to see all of the games, it would have been about an eleven hour day. Eight dollar beers and food prices in the same range made it a ridiculous day out if you were to have brought a whole family had had to feed them one meal, if not two. As a rebellion, not that those in charge care about 5 people, my family and I avoided buying anything from the concessions. Another issue I had was that there was the time taken to plan out the Utica Strong get together as well as one for Syracuse fans. Those who wanted to see the college game were unable to get out to take part in any of them. There is no doubt that there could have been a much larger crowd for the Pioneers versus Lakers game had people been able to leave for the three hour layover between games. I have a hard time believing that a hand stamp and retaining the ticket is that hard of a policy to enforce to allow re-entry into the game.
The ice was a major issue in terms of the actual game play. It appeared to be very soft ice and was definitely slow; the water from the Zamboni took until halfway through the period to set up. Holes were constantly being patched, I’m sure the head referee would have appreciated it, as he found himself on the ice multiple times during the course of the game. I’m not sure I've been a puck bounce around as much as I have in both of the games on the big day. A big part of this I associate with the timeline of the event, which was mostly out of the control of the organizing committee. Another couple days to monitor the conditions would have allowed them to set the temperatures to the idea levels. I just hope the soft ice wasn't an intentional result of knowing it needed to be broken up right after the game. Another good idea would have been to keep the Crunch off the ice on Thursday before the game. They held a skate, even though they had to have cones on the ice to keep players away from problem areas. Getting the ice to idea conditions should have been the priority. Overall, there were 5 games in about 24 hours, while this will take its toll on any ice surface, I do believe that there was an opportunity to have better conditions.
As for the game lineup, it was a very pleasant day of hockey. Both games that I watched were great games considering the circumstances listed above. There was a solid contingent of both UC and Comets fans which helped make the games more fun since we weren't outnumbered as bad as it could have been.
This was my first time at a major event at the Dome. I had attended the Iowa-Syracuse football game years ago, but to say the environment for that was underwhelming would be kind. This event had a buzz from the beginning, even if it did take Comets fans starting chants to get the Syracuse fans going during the AHL game (all but once as far as I could tell). This wasn't all that surprising though given the similar situation at the War Memorial for the one game I attended last year. It was nice though to not experience any disrespectful fans. I’m sure there are situations contrary to mine, but when the biggest insult that I heard from a noisy Syracuse fan near us was “you’re from Utica” I can deal with that. It also made me realize that I need to attend an Oswego hockey game in Oswego. While I couldn't always understand what they were saying, The couple hundred Oswego fan were constantly chanting things, which is exactly how a student section should be. Overall the fan experience was the best part of the day, 30,000+ people watching a local hockey game was awesome!
For the entertainment that the hockey products provided, the rest was lacking a bit. The honorary puck drop was ok, I’m glad they honored the hockey players and the military member as well. However, this was not a Syracuse University event, the basketball and football was irrelevant to anything happening that day. I would have rather seen the owners of the Comets and Crunch if they insisted on filling all of the carpet that they rolled out. I would assume I am in the minority on this given my lack of caring about anything Syracuse sports but that’s the way I see it. Intermission entertainment was pretty weak as well. The Steve-O bit had potential but should have been planned out before the game. Syracuse has plenty of ice rinks around, figuring out the logistics of getting someone past centre ice on a sled (should have been a saucer) wouldn't be that difficult. The Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit was beneficial; it allowed me to kill a few minutes between games and gave me the desire to return to Toronto so that I can actually visit the hall again. I didn't have the patience to push through the lines of people to get to read all of the available information.
This list may seem that it wasn't enjoyable, but I want to clarify that it was a great time and I would certainly do it again. I just feel that there were many things that could have been modified slightly to increase the experience for all involved. A Comets win certainly would have been among those things, but redemption on Wednesday took care of that for me. I’m looking forward now to see how the Comets staff and the AUD do hosting the All-Star game in the near future.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dan's 2014-15 Picks

I will preface this post by saying that I have not had much time to put a lot of thought into my preview so this will be short and sweet.  Though now that I think about it, my past picks have been terrible so maybe a change will help?

Western Conference
This conference is by far the superior conference and is loaded with good teams.  I am willing to bet that teams 9-11 in the West would be in the top 8 in the East.  Based on the fact that there are usually a couple of changes of playoff teams I break it down like this....  Anaheim and St. Louis win their divisions, the Ducks behind a younger line up (sorry Teemu and Saku) and a legitimate 2nd line center in Kesler.  My gut says that John Gibson takes over the #1 job in net.  The Blues added a #1 center in Paul Stastny who deepens their lineup and takes some pressure off David Backes who was being asked to be a shut down center and top scorer.  Jake Allen is ready to be a #1 goalie and will prove it.  In the west, San Jose and LA are too talented to not make the dance.  The Kings seem to take the first couple months in cruise control and then kick it in to gear around February.  Despite all the nonsense that went on in SJ, they still have a lot of talent on the roster.  I then will pick Arizona to be the new girl at the dance.  Injuries really hurt them last year especially the one to goaltender Mike Smith.  If he stays healthy, they make it.  The Canucks will be better because they fired Torterella and finally moved all the guys who didn't want to be there (Kesler, Lou) and brought in Ryan Miller.  He will solidify that spot and the Sedins return to being a dynamic pair.  Not sure where else they get goals from which keeps them out.  The teams in Alberta will again miss the playoffs but they will be better.  Edmonton still has too many questions on D and Calgary can't score.  The rest of the Central will break down like so.  The Blackhawks have one more kick at this thing before the salary cap punishes them for having too many good players.  The darlings of a lot of people are the Stars.  Adding Spezza is huge as long as he stays healthy.  Still worried about their D but coach Lindy Ruff has made a career of making poor talent serviceable on D.  The Avalanche will make a drop from winning the division last year but they again have a lot of talent and a good goaltender.  Just missing the playoffs, is the Wild who will suffer from no goaltender and streaky scoring.  Nashville will be better because their coach is a very good one, and Winnipeg will be in the McEichel sweepstakes.
Pacific                
Anaheim*
San Jose*
LA*
Arizona*
Vancouver
Calgary
Edmonton
Central
St. Louis*
Chicago*
Dallas*
Colorado*
Minnesota
Nashville
Winnipeg

Eastern Conference
As I stated earlier, the East is the least.  In the metro (who named these divisions?)  Pittsburgh will be improved with a new coach, and a fresh outlook.  Their problem is in the playoffs, not making them.  The Rangers lost a couple pieces but are still a solid core, and have King Henry.  The Devils make a big jump.  I really think Broduer was a distraction last season and now Corey Schneider will show off his talent and carry my fantasy team to victory!  In Philly, they seemed to have figured some things out with their new coach.  Giroux loses his pal Hartnell but I think Simmonds steps in to be a top line winger.  Just missing the playoffs are the CBJ's and Islanders.  The Jackets miss because they have a couple key injuries to top 6 guys and they have to play a hard game nigh in and night out.  I just don't see them doing it again this year.  The Islanders will also be right there and could make the dance.  There are some question marks in the line up still but I do like the additions they made in goal and on D.  At the bottom of the division will be the Caps and Canes.  The caps live and die on the power play and Ovie carrying the load.  The Canes aren't sure who their goalie is and have a couple of big injuries they will get a top 3 pick in June. 
In the Atlantic, the Bruins will once again be the top dog in the group.  They have one maybe two kicks left before Chara gets too old and the cap hurts them.  The Lightning continue to improve and will challenge for the division title.  I really like the addition of Jason Garrison to their D and PP.  The Canadians made some interesting changes by letting Gionta and Gorges go to Buffalo and will rely on their younger kids to be their go to guys.  They still have Subban and Price to anchor the team.  The Leafs get back in the dance behind a Rocket Richard season from Phil Kessel and a Vezina season from Jonathan Bernier.  If those guys are their best players then they have a shot.  Just missing the playoffs are the Panthers.  They should be much improved from last year but I just don't think their kids are ready to lead.  I'm thinking that Detroit misses because it's just time for them to miss.  I'm probably wrong but why not.  Ottawa is a little bit of mess in my opinion.  I do not like making Karlsson captain.  Just because he is your best player does not mean he should be your captain.  Anyhow, they were a mess last year and lost their number 1 center.  They did make the playoffs 2 years ago so they could bounce back.  Then there's Buffalo.  The suffering is almost over, one more season and then they can get McEichel.  They could win 10 more games than last season and still be in last place.  Just let that sink in.
Metro
Pittsburgh*
New York Rangers*
New Jersey*
Philadelphia*
Columbus
New York Islanders
Washington
Carolina

Atlantic
Boston*
Tampa Bay*
Montreal*
Toronto*
Florida
Detroit
Ottawa
Buffalo

East Winner:  Tampa Bay
West Winner:  St. Louis
Stanley Cup:  St. Louis




Saturday, October 4, 2014

2014-15 Season Predictions

Otto's Picks:
AtlanticMetropolitanCentralPacific
Boston*Pittsburgh*Chicago*LA*
Montreal*Washington*St Louis*San Jose*
Tampa Bay*NY Rangers*Minnesota*Vancouver*
TorontoColumbus*Colorado*Anaheim
DetroitPhiladelphia*Dallas*Edmonton
BuffaloNJ DevilsNashvilleArizona
OttawaNY IslandersWinnipegCalgary
FloridaCarolina
* Denotes playoff team

East Comments:
In the Atlantic, I don't see much changing at the top of the division. I don't see Toronto having a change in philosophy that allows their goalies to become less of a responsibility. However, if the goaltenders play as they did midway through last year, they could grab a wild card spot. Detroit made the playoffs last year, however I think they took advantage of an extremely weak east in doing so. This year a few teams have improved to keep them out. I'm one of the few that doesn't see Buffalo being a lock for the last spot in the league. They made some moves this off season that actually improve their roster. The biggest question in Buffalo is goal tending, if they don't get competent help, they will be the favorites in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. I don't know what Ottawa has this year, they did lock up Bobby Ryan, however they still lack overwhelming power in any particular spot. Florida has no questions in goal with the addition of Bobby Lou, however they don't have any top scorers and the defense lacks power unless Aaron Ekblad makes a major difference,

In the Metro, I couldn't find a way to knock Pittsburgh out of the top spot. Despite their playoff issues they have been one of the strongest regular season teams in the league. I think Washington make a jump this year after their off-season make over. The Rangers maintain course taking the third playoff spot. Columbus builds on last years success and again gets the top wild card spot. Philadelphia came on strong last week, and while slipping a bit this year, will still claim a playoff spot. The Devils added names to this year, however most of them are far past their prime. A non playoff team needs to improve their roster and I don't know if they did enough. I'm not sold on the Islanders roster either. Their goalie is an upgrade and having Tavares back will help but not enough to jump into the playoffs. Carolina is my pick for the last place team in the league. An aging goalie and a shallow roster spells trouble for the Canes.

West Comments:
Full disclosure, I have no idea how to differentiate between most of these teams. In the Central, I don't see the Avs repeating their start from last season, which played a crucial roll in their top seeding for the playoffs. This year they finish lower, but still in the playoffs. In their place, the Blackhawks claim the top seed in the division. They just have too much talent on their roster. The Blues also carry on this season, Young talent up front and in back but another team that is relying on not so proven goaltending. The Wild also lack goaltending experience, however their top 6 will compete with any team in the league. A developing D will continue to improve and the Wild will take the top wild card in the West. The Stars will also continue on from last year. They have a ton of talent and good goaltending, A higher finish wouldn't surprise me in the least. Nashville hasn't improved quite enough yet, however a good goalie can take a team over the top with a few stolen wins here and there. Winnipeg lacks in just about all areas, resulting in last place in the Central.

In the Pacific LA and San Jose remain among the top in the league, both have great talent remaining from last year and no reason to see them drop (even if the Kings don't seem to care where the enter the playoffs). The Canucks jump up into third in the division with consistent goaltending in Ryan Miller. Somehow, the Ducks fall out, despite their offensive talent, their goalies are now unproven in the NHL. While Edmonton will be better this year, they play in a division that their jump would need to be astronomical to get them into the playoffs, which it wont be. Arizona will be another solid team in the west, however not good enough to make the playoffs. Calgary's struggles will continue, however they wont be competing for last in the league, that award will go to someone in the west.

Picks for the cup:
East Representative:
Otto - Montreal

West Representative:
Otto - San Jose

2014-15 Stanley Cup Champions:
Otto - San Jose

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions -Dan

Seeing that I am supposed to be doing Graduate School work and watching my 8 month old son, I will keep this brief.

I'll also be honest and tell you all that I have not been able to watch much hockey since the Olympics so my picks will probably reflect that.

Boston-Detroit
Boston is healthy and playing very well to end the year.  They have the goaltender and the team D to keep Detroit in check.  The miles are starting to pile up on Chara who has looked slow at times this season. 
BOSTON IN 5

Tampa Bay - Montreal 
This might be the most evenly matched series in the East.  The addition of Vanek seems to be working quite well for the Habs.  But Stamkos + Callahan > Vanek and Pacioretty = BOLTS IN 7

Pittsburgh - Columbus
This is a interesting match up for the Pens.  I see the Jackets giving the Pens a lot of trouble keeping games close but overall the Pens are just a better team and they have #87
PENS IN 6

Philadelphia - New York 
This looks to be an interesting match up also.  The Flyers turned things around from a terrible start to the season and have played good if not great hockey ever since they changed head coaches.  The Rangers have some firepower on paper but just haven't seemed to put it all together.  They are just kind of there.  Not great, not bad just average.
FLYERS IN 6  I refuse to root for Marty St. Louis after the move he pulled to leave TB and I think another Philly-Pitt series would be awesome.  This pick could backfire if Mason reverts to his days in Columbus and they don't get enough PP opportunities.

Anaheim - Dallas
The Stars getting in is a good story but I don't see them taking down the Ducks.  Perry and Getzlaf are too much for the Stars to handle.  DUCKS IN 5

Colorado - Minnesota
Finally we reach the series that will split the Isenberg home for at least a week!  I'll take A'nna's young and speedy Avs over Otto's old philosophers (Bryz) from Minnesota.  AVS IN 5

San Jose - Los Angeles
This should be a great series.  I have no real insight into it at all so I will flip a coin and say... 

SHARKS IN 7

St. Louis -Chicago
It's too bad that both of these team were hit with an injury bug and struggled down the stretch.  I really don't have a clue who will win so since I live in Buffalo and it is beneficial to the Sabres for the Blues to make the conference final, I will take BLUES IN 7

 

2014 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions - Otto

West:
Anaheim vs Dallas: (Season series: Stars 2-1)
The Ducks wrapped up the top spot in the West a few days before the end of the season. Their opponent was still up in the air until Dallas was able to overtake the final wildcard spot from the Mike Smithless Phoenix Coyotes.
Anaheim has been among the trio of California teams batting for the top spot in the Pacific Division all season. The Ducks have been one of the league’s best home teams this season, their 29 home wins are good for second best. They do not struggle to score, however they do not have the scoring depth of some of the teams in this year’s playoffs. They will need to get good goaltending from Jonas Hiller if they are to make a deep run this year.
The stars quietly made their way back into the playoffs for the first time since the 07-08 season despite a loss to the Coyotes in the final game of the season. A balanced scoring attack led by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn is what helped the Stars back to the playoffs.  Steady goaltending provided by Kari Lehtonen didn't hurt their chances either. They will need the same performance that they got in his 33 wins to get past the Ducks in the first round.
While I like to think that the Stars have the ability to grind it out with Anaheim’s top two lines, I think that in the end the Ducks will be able to overpower the Stars.  I’ll take the Ducks in 6.

Colorado vs Minnesota (Season Series: Avs 4-0-1)
Last season, the Colorado Avalanche were near the bottom of the league in virtually every category. Their only major win was the draft lottery, which provided them with the first overall pick. This season has been a complete change in fortune. The Avs were competing for the top seed in the west up until the last game of the season. While that bid came up short, they were able to pass both the Blues and Blackhawks to claim the Central Division title, landing them a date with the Minnesota Wild in the first round. They keys to success for the Avs were outstanding goaltending from Semyon Varlamov  (a team record 41 wins in 63 games played) and unbelievable play from the young stars. They Avs are a threat to score at any point of the game while not sacrificing defense to do so. They speed that the Avs possess doesn't compare to any team I have watched this season.
The Wild put together a nice push at the end of the season to walk away with the top wild card spot. After a quick scare that they might falter like they did to close out the 2012-13 campaign, not counting a lopsided loss to the Predators on the final day of the season, the Wild won their last 4 meaningful games. In that stretch, the wins came against Pittsburgh, Boston, St Louis, and Winnipeg. Healthy goaltenders have been an issue for the Wild this season. 4 goalies have made 10 or more starts, all 4 of them registering at least 5 wins. It appears Ilya Bryzgalov will be the starter for the Wild, though youngster Darcy Kuemper will be ready to go if called upon.
Although I will be rooting for the Wild to win, I have a feeling they have one more year to go before making a playoff run. Qualifying for a second straight year is definitely something to build upon. Overall it’s the speed and goaltending that will allow the Avs to win this series in 5.

San Jose vs Los Angeles (Season Series: Kings 3-1-1)
This battle of California is the series that I am looking forward to watching the most. They Sharks have been sharp all season while battling for the Pacific division title. However, they have struggled this decade (and some of the last) to get their wins when it matters. On paper their team game should be successful, they have a great combination of leadership and youth. They have consistent goaltending which is all that they need when everyone buys in to the system.
The Kings are one of those teams that don’t play their best hockey in the regular season. As long as they are in position to make the playoffs they re content. Their grind it out style game is exactly what is needed for the second season. A healthy Jonathan Quick may be the difference in this series, unless trade deadline Marian Gaborik can shake of his playoff struggles and provide some offensive firepower. If the Kings can start scoring some goals to go along with their team defense, they may become the team to beat in 2014.
Seeing San Jose win this series at home wouldn't surprise me in the least. However, since they have been there before and have proved that they can win, I’ll take the Kings in 6.

St Louis vs Chicago (Season Series: Blues 3-2)
Just two weeks ago, the Blues were looking to knock off the Pacific powerhouses and claim the top spot in the west. Six games, and six losses later, not only did they not get the top spot in the west, they didn't even finish with the top spot in the Central. Ryan Miler has looked average at best, possibly the result of few to many pucks in Buffalo. They Blues haven’t been able to score lately either. They will need both to get back on track to make a run at the Blackhawks, even though the Blues are the higher ranked team.
Chicago might have gotten an odd form of benefit from the injuries to Jonathan Towes and Patrick Kane. Both players are keys to the success of the Blackhawks and were important to their Olympic teams as well. So, given that both return above 90% healthy, the rest could rejuvenate the defending champions. Cory Crawford has been reliable again this season, registering 32 wins.
I don’t know if the Blues can snap out of their slump in time to beat a very talented and experienced Blackhawks team. Chicago in 6 is my pick.

East:

Boston vs Detroit (Season Series: Wings 3-1)
Boston is the most balanced team in the East by a long shot. They can score goals, they have great defense, and their goalie is in the running for the Vezina trophy. The Bruins have been able to take it easy down the stretch, resting a few key players without the threat of being caught by anyone else in the East. The idea that it might have been a bad thing that most of season was played without much competition is concerning for those outside of the Boston locker room. Whether or not they are able to flip the switch to playoff competition will be interested, especially against an opponent like the Wings
The Red Wings simply don’t know how to miss the playoffs. Only a few weeks ago, the possibility of a Detroitless playoffs seemed to be real. As the weeks wound down, the young players took over and the Wings started to get healthy. Datsyuk and Zetterberg returned to the lineup, providing the leadership and experience that was needed to make the playoff push that always seems to happen. They Wings have to like their chances against the Bruins as well given their regular season success against them. They play of Jimmy Howard will be the key to this series. If he can steal a game early, especially on the road, it may swing the momentum enough to change the series.
Of all the wild card teams, I think Detroit has the best chance to move on. However, I think that Boston might just be too good to lose this one. I’ll take the Bruins in 7,

Pittsburgh vs Columbus (Season Series: Penguins 5-0)
Baring another collapse by Marc-Andre Fleury, I believe that this series will be the most lopsided for the first round. The Pens can score with anyone in the league, as long as they are able to stay healthy. While that wasn't the case for most of the year, they are getting most of their key guys back as the playoffs start.
Columbus cannot match the offensive output of the Pens so they will be relying heavily on the services of the Bob. Sergei Bobrovski led the Jacket to 32 wins this year, 5 by shutout, while posting a .923 save percentage.  He will need to keep up those numbers just to keep the Blue Jackets in the series.
I think Bobrovski steals one at home but it will be just that. The Jackets get overpowered and the Pens take the series in 5.

Tampa Bay vs Montreal (Season Series: Lightning 3-0-1)
This match-up pairs 2 of the hottest teams in the league headed into the playoffs. Both have registered 7 wins in their last 10. While the season series looks like the Lightning dominated, 3 of the 4 games were decided in a shootout.
Tampa Bay has continued to succeed despite the departure of Marty St Louis. The team play of Ryan Callahan has allowed Steven Stamkos to excel as one as the league’s best players upon his return from injury. Ben Bishop, another potential Vezina candidate, has been important too. An X factor to start the year, his 37 wins kept the Lightning near the top of the division all season.
Montreal has quietly had a good season as well. Olympic goal medalist Carey Price led the Habs to second place in the division. Trade deadline acquisition Thomas Vanek helped solidify a solid offensive group. 
I think Carey Price’s career year continues and he leads the Canadians on to the second round in 6 games.

New York vs Philadelphia (Season Series: Tied 2-2)
This match up is arguably the biggest rivalry of the first round on the eastern side, though Detroit and Boston might not be too far behind for long.
The Rangers battled most of this year with the transition between the old and new style that comes with the hiring of a new coach. Now that they have settled in and added experience in Marty St. Louis, the Rangers have become a formidable opponent for anyone in the East. Brad Richards returned to being a 20 goal scorer, along with Rick Nash, while 5 other players got within 3 of the 20 goal mark. If Henrik Lundqvist can find playoff consistency to match his 2.36 regular season goals against average, this team looks mighty dangerous.
Philadelphia is surprise team in these playoffs given their terrible start to the season. A quick pull of the plug and changing of the coach allowed the Flyers to turn their season around and climb back into the playoff hunt. Another surprise this season for the Flyers is the play of Steve Mason. Written off by many, he returned this season and posted 33 wins. Seven, twenty goal scorers is the key for the Flyers. The Rangers might be able to shut down a line or two but if they can get secondary scoring, the Flyers have a chance to make a run.

I feel that the Rangers are going to have a good post season this year. They have the weapons to score goals and Lundqvist is due for a big playoff performance. In what should be a very intense series, I’ll take the Rangers in 6. 

The Draw of the NCAA Hockey Tournament

Although I’m a little late to draw in anyone new to watch this year, the NCAA frozen four tournament is one of my favorite times of the year for sports. For each of the last 3 years, and while I was in college before that, I've taken a Friday off just to sit and watch college hockey games which I have no particular rooting interest in. I decided to take a look at why I find these games so interesting and why you should watch them if you don’t already.

Being from Utica, I have quite the variety of hockey experiences. The Utica Devils, before I can really remember. Followed by CHL/UHL teams in the Bulldogs, Blizzard, and eventually the Prowlers. Eventually, after all of the semi pro teams left, Utica College brought hockey back to the area. Ten years later, they are still thriving, even with the arrival of Utica’s latest pro team, the Comets of the AHL. Given the timeline, most of the experiences I remember are of the Pioneers. Watching years of college hockey here before attending SUNY Brockport and becoming part of one of the best fan bases in D3 (at least while we were there) has certainly influenced the style of hockey that I like to watch.

While I can watch NHL hockey any day of the week, the college game has more draw to me, especially in a loser goes home format. College hockey has a different intensity to it than a typical NHL game does. While it’s trying to compare regular season to playoffs, it is fair at times to do so. As is the case with most college athletics, many of the players on the roster will not make it to play at the top level in their sport. This being said, once the tournament starts, the athletes face the potential that this may be their last game. No one wants to go out a loser, thus the extreme emotion seen in college hockey games.  

There are more intense rivalries in college hockey than in the NHL. Normally rivals in the NHL will play each other about 4 time over the course of an 82 game season. In college, they might play a rival the same number of times, but with only 40 games in a season each game means much more. Especially when only the “top 16” teams get into the tournament. Less when you consider the conferences with automatic bids for their tournament winners. There is also the school spirit part of the intensity. Players dislike each other based on what logo is on their jersey, never mind if they are competing for a single playoff spot. The crowds can get into it as well, even on TV you can hear chants from students and the pep band that travel with the teams. The more energy in the building, the more energy the game seems to absorb. When crossover play starts in the tournament, you see older rivalries that may not get renewed as often, for example the second round game between North Dakota and Minnesota this year. Just because they haven’t played lately, doesn't mean they like each other. 

While fighting isn't part of the college game, it certainly doesn't mean games don’t get heated and physical. Scrums can still happen, instead of throwing punches players have to look to make a big hit to get even later on. Some of that is lost with the hitter being responsible for the player getting hit, but that’s an issue I have for another day.

College hockey is one of the few sports where simply being the better team won’t get you very far. Upsets are common in the tournament. Just take a look at Bemidji State a few years ago. The equivalent of the last team in college basketball made a run all the way to the final four. If your goalie gets hot for the tournament, you can go from an “easy out” to a title contender.

My favorite part of the tournament might be the frequency of games in the first weekend. There are constantly games on from noon until about midnight on the first two days of the tournament. Usually, multiple devices are needed as well, since overlapping games occur with multiple locations being used. Hockey overload is certainly never a bad experience as long as you are prepared.


College hockey is just fun to watch. Whether you cheer for a team year round, pick a team at the start of the tournament, or just watch to see who the next stars might be (i.e. Johnny Gaudreau playing in the championship game and then scoring his first NHL goal a night later). There are plenty of reasons to watch college hockey during the tournament and during the regular season when you can find it. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Utica Comets Experience

As the season begins to wind down and slim playoff hopes becoming even slimmer, I have decided to take a look at what has been good and some things that could be done to increase the home town advantage. Yes, I know some of these would be expensive and there may be restrictions on how business works, but they are just some thoughts that would increase the atmosphere in the AUD.
I'll start with some of the things that have been good so far in the first year of having professional hockey back in the Mohawk Valley. First, we have hockey and people are coming out in full force to watch it. Nine games so far this year have sold the maximum 3,815 tickets for admission. It is a very telling number of the support for hockey in the area. By ticket sales, Utica College has continued their stretch of being tops in NCAA D3 attendance. Through the regular season, they averaged 3,779 tickets sold per game, according to USCHO.com. The Utica Memorial Auditorium is also turning back into a modern arena. The fresh coat of paint(and vinyl wrap) provided the initial face lift. The season ticket holder bars, The Horton Room and Kilfoils, have added a new experience for those who have been going to the AUD for years. More changes are still in the work, I personally cannot wait to see them continue. The Comets have done an excellent job of using promotions to sell tickets as well. Teaming up with other local and national businesses, there has been a giveaway of some sort for around half of the home weekend games. As well, weekday games have featured discounted tickets and discounted beer. Lets be honest, what brings Utica hockey fans out more than $2 beers? The Comets have stayed very connected to the community as well, as would be expected with their ownership group. They have featured several local groups with pregame ceremonies, had local celebrities such as now Olympic goal medalist Erin Hamlin and America's got talent celebrity Leon Etienne drop the opening puck. Local youth teams have played between periods and been honored during games. Of course, they have also added the "hall of fame" for the past Comets, honoring the history of the game in the area. There has been lots to love so far this year, with still more to come in the remaining games and into the future.

The first change I would like to see made applies to both the Comets and Utica College. Both teams have excellent season ticket sales which is great but limits tickets available to the general public. I believe there needs to be a way for season ticket holders to surrender their tickets if they are not attending a game. This would allow the AUD to come closer to filling up on games which they are technically "sold out". Utica hasn't been in this scenario in a long time, before the invention of stub hub to be sure, so people don't think about or want to go online to sell their tickets. Facebook can work for some but only if people are going to be in the area to physically exchange them. An option on the Comets website to surrender them for resale (maybe with reimbursement to the original ticket holder) would benefit both the Comets an their fans.

The second change I would make is creating a sponsored "energy section." The premise would be that fans could buy specific tickets with the intention being that they will bring energy to the game. Utica has always had "The Chicken Man" and years ago it was his section that led all the cheers at The AUD. Needless to say he isn't in his prime to do so any more and The AUD lacks the energy he used to bring. I personally would try to get a radio station to but out one of the stage end sections and resell them to the fans who are interested. Utica College has a general student section area that occasionally provides the passion and leadership to the crowd. We've heard how loud The AUD can get in the closing seconds of the game, why not more often when the team could use a lift?

The third change I would make would be using the downstairs pub to its maximum potential. Opening the pub for game where the Comets are away from The AUD could be a big draw, especially against local teams where the rivalries are growing. I know the games are available on the radio and AHL Live, but for some streaming isn't worth the money. If the Comets streamed the games in the pub it would allow fans to get together to support their team, not to mention additional revenue from beer sales, maybe even partnering with The AUD concessions to make it food available. Another idea would be selling tickets to just the pub for Comets home games which are sold out. While this one would hurt season ticket holders, it would increase the number of people able to be in the building for the big games.

The Comets have been extremely successful so far this season on and off the ice. These ideas could add a bit more to the atmosphere at the games to help them continue. What do you think? Any other ideas? Feel free to share them on here or with me on twitter at @oisen25