Boy, oh boy. Leighton really pissed me off last night. Except for one shot, no matter what what was fired into the crease, he managed to stymie every good scoring chance we had.
The kids and I enjoyed the hell out of our visit to the luxury sky boxes last night, and except for scraping my skull on a few rafters and the nose bleeds-it was a blast. We literally had the best seats in the house. Now I understand why I couldn't find section 329 at the arena's web site. This particular section is not a section anyone can simply wander up to for a peek. This is a part of the arena reserved for the bigger rollers. The folks who's names we'd recognize. The folks that ponied up some big bucks to get the arena built in the first place. I don't want to make it sound as if we were invited to Princess Diana's wedding or anything, but what we enjoyed last night would have been off limits to us under normal circumstances. And we greatly appreciated the generosity shown to us.
When we entered the arena, we wandered about trying to find section #329 without any luck at all. Finally, we asked an arena employee and he guided us to an elevator. I didn't realize the arena even had a freakin' elevator. Once at the elevator, we were advised not to come back down to the ground level without our tickets, or we would not be allowed to go back up. Huh? Whatever, man. We packed into the lift and when the door opened, we were greeted by a hostess of some sort. The concrete and girders were replaced by carpeting, wall hangings, and comfy looking furniture. Quite frankly, this neanderthal was amazed. We were sent in the general direction of section 329 and upon entering, it seemed modest enough. Some furniture, a television, a kitchen countertop, and a refrigerator. But when we wandered past the bar stools poised against the window and found our way out to the seats, we were in awe. The entire arena laid directly below us and there was nothing that could obstruct our view. I could get used to this.
After the kids got a glimpse from this perch they started quizzing me about who it was that offered me the tickets. Who was he? Was he rich? What does he do for a living? I answered their questions and then I was asked one more. "How do you know him?" I told them that the only reason he had ever even heard of me was because of this stupid web site, and then I got that familiar look of dis-belief as I have come to expect from them. That "Dad's a freakin' nut" look. Dad's a freakin' nut. So be it. What's done is done, right McTommy? I was relieved when they didn't ask if he would be interested in adopting them.
After the Times Leader Zamboni's left the ice and the time to face-off rapidly approached, the announcer told those in attendance what to do if they, or anyone seated near them were to be skulled by a puck. Peace leaned towards me and asked: "The pucks don't come up this high, do they?" She didn't like my reply, but I reminded her of the foul balls that screamed over her head while attending Red Barons' games, Mets' games, and Nord End Baseball games. Chances were that we wouldn't get skulled up here in the rafters, but stranger things have happened.
Once the game actually got underway, I found myself having to explain every single thing that had just transpired down there on the ice. Two lines pass. Off-sides. Icing. Why that one player was banished to a private booth. On and on it went. Hockey 101 as it was.
Then, this smartly dressed lady appeared out of nowhere and asked us if we wished to order any food. I was blind-sided by this and had no idea what the program was. And I was not going to be the only hayseed who stood and asked: "Does we has to pay cash money for it?" This unwashed podunk was not about to explore our options within earshot of anyone else. "I reckon if it's free we'd be plum crazy to pass it up, heyna?" At the first intermission, Ebon and Peace marched off in search of a snack bar, while Scott and I explored the smoking options available to us.
The smoking options were the same that just about any other facility larger than a dog coop offers these days. Get the f**k out! I love it. I really do. Scott and I trudged off into the sub-zero weather to fire one up, while the folks who's waistlines rival that of the equator shoved hot dogs, nacho cheese, and countless other nasty and unhealthy things down their throats; but worried not. They were safe from the ravages of second-hand smoke. We've all got our vices, but only a few of them have become targeted as politically correct revenue enhancements by politicians who couldn't balance a budget to save their own children's lives.
We were issued a "smoking ticket" without which, we would not be allowed to rejoin the "healthy" folks wiping the chili dog sauce from their chins. You tell me man, I don't get it.
With Norfolk playing their third game in three days, the PENS should have been swarming all over them from the onset, but strangely, Norfolk seemed to have the fresher legs during the first period. The entire period was less than intense. It resembled European hockey. Pass and shout. Pass and shoot. Pass and shoot. There were a few outstanding scoring chances, but neither team managed to get it past either of the goalies who really looked sharp all night. I pointed out to the kids that our goalie, Sebastien Caron, was just sent down by the parent club, so they were seeing an experienced NHL goalie rather than some kid hoping to join the big dance one day. Except for one defensive breakdown in front of him with just eleven seconds to go in the second period, he pitched a shutout. He was crisp. He was quick. The only knock on him that I could see was his stick work behind the net. He launched quite a few very weak passes towards his defensemen, but he got away with it every time.
I've only attended this one game, but from what I saw, the PENS power-play was non-existant. It was putrid at best on this night. They were not able to keep the puck in the Norfolk zone, and even when they did; they couldn't muster a shot on goal for the most part. I'm assuming that they can do better, because their power-play last night was awful.
The Norfolk goalie, Michael Leighton, remained perched between the pipes with his legs spread far apart and I have not seen a goalie adopt that stance since Tony Esposito guarded the goal of the Chicago Blackhawks back in the day when the NHL had eight teams in only northern cities. It's unorthodox and certainly frowned upon by coaches, but Tony Esposito managed to find his way into the hall of fame.
The crowd was subdued until a PEN finally delivered a bone-crushing hit into the boards with less than five minutes left in the second period. There was a couple of skirmishes, but they did not approach the level of being called a fight. For whatever reason, there was no blood spilled onto the ice during this three hour scrap. The third period started with a much more frenetic pace, but quickly settled back into that lazy European pace. More skating and shooting. Regulation ended in a 1-1 tie and we headed for the five minute overtime. Overtimes are always more exciting, because anything put on net amounts to life and death, but as hockey games go; this was one less than inspired effort from both sides involved. Anyway, the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
The fun part was Peace' reaction to this less than epic struggle. At one point she questioned why she agreed to attend a hockey game. She knew nothing about the game and wondered aloud why she should bother to acquaint herself with the game now. It really didn't take very long before she was ready to jump from her seat and shout: "Kill him" each and every time the sticks came up and the gloves were dropped to the ice. Much to her surprise, she found herself getting caught up in the action, the atmosphere, and the overall quality production that AHL hockey is.
This particular game may have been a somewhat laid-back affair by hockey's standards, but if she ever attends a hockey game featuring two rivals that really don't like each other in the first place, I think she'll be hooked for life.
I've been telling my kids since they were old enough to differentiate between Gerber fruits and vegetables that hockey freakin' rules, but somehow, we never did make a road trip to a far-away rink and they never did come to appreciate the game at all. I don't know, I guess hockey was way down there near the bottom of our list or priorities. After last night, the hockey-deprived kiddies have learned once again that Dad, the long-dreaded Dad, was right all along. Hockey has suddenly arrived on their lists of things to do.
I've been accused of being anti-arena on occasion and nothing could be farther from the truth. It's there, people enjoy it, and that's fine with me provided that the Luzerne County Government is not in charge of any aspect of it. While I absolutely love hockey, I very, very rarely find myself attending any PENS games. That's not by design, I'm just busy doing other mostly stupid things while professional hockey passes me by.
But...much to my surprise...after all of these years...my daughters are eager to see some blood on the ice.
P.S.--You need to re-stock the fridge.