I’m not a huge sports fan outside of British Premiere League soccer (anyone who follows me on social media knows that I’m an enthusiastic Tottenham Hotspur supporter) but enjoy attending sporting events in person when I can. Even baseball, which has a habit of being boring at long stretches.
What I’ve never had much interest in is curling. And cricket. And, oh yeah, hockey. I mean, my son G- plays lacrosse so I’ve learned to enjoy that game (and we occasionally watch it on TV, but haven’t yet attended a college or pro level match) and I love soccer, so from what I can tell, hockey is kinda like both those sports, on ice, moving really fast.
With the generous support of Smile Generation, G- and I received two excellent (9th row mid-rink) tickets to the Colorado Avalanche versus the Columbus Blue Jackets game last night, along with a VIP parking pass to Pepsi Center, in downtown Denver, about 40mi from our home. The evening of tax day, the evening of an unseasonably late spring snowstorm that dropped almost a foot of snow on Colorado’s low country in less than 12 hours.
We arrived in time to explore the Pepsi Center, and like most modern sporting venues, it had surprisingly good food and snack options, along with a lot of opportunities for overpriced alcohol, but given that the drive into Denver had already been a bit dicey with slick roads and heavy snowfall, even a beer seemed like poor judgment, so I took a night off my Nutrisystem diet and had a grilled chicken sandwich and split fries with G-, but stuck with water as a beverage.
The game started with the Avs coming onto the rink through a neon arch, which looked pretty darn cool, the sound system jammin’ at high volume:
Much yelling and enthusiasm met the team’s arrival, even as they’re apparently bottom of the entire NHL. Like most sports, there are definitely lots of enthusiastic Avalanche fans, young women with hand-lettered signs appealing to specific players, kids in full team regalia pumping fists in the air and beaming with excitement when a player tossed a practice puck over the glass wall as a souvenir, etc. Good fun!
The game started and I tried to get some good pictures with my iPhone. It did well:
About half-way through the second period there was a throw-down, a fight between two players that seemed more staged than anything else. They tussled, yelled at each other, got into a clinch, then pushed off, ripping off their helmets and gloves. Then they were punching and shoving, but since they have so much padding on it seemed pretty pointless, and the refs were standing and letting it proceed. Once they were down on the ice, the whistle blew and each got a 5min penalty in the box. Fans enjoyed it but it reminded me of going to a wrestling match at the LA Forum when I was a kid, all costumes and choreographed battles with no-one really getting hurt. Fun and entertaining, but definitely of the bread and circuses variety.
Then the game continued:
I was impressed by how quickly hockey moves. There were times when it was impossible to figure out where the puck was on the rink, with players zooming around. The game was fairly low scoring, however, with most of the goals near the end of the game.
Since I was still hoping we could get G- to school the next day and since the game started at 7:00pm, I decided we should leave after the second period. My friend Doyle – a former hockey coach and player – had warned me that a typical 3*20min period hockey game typically runs almost 3hrs, and he was right.
One thing that surprised me about hockey compared to soccer was how players substituted about every 60-90 seconds. For a game with only five players on the rink (plus goalie) the teams were really large, with 25-30 players jammed into the box. At any given moment 2-3 of them would be hopping over the wall into the box while their teammates were jumping back out to get into the action.
One thing I like about soccer is that it’s a game where players can’t really specialize: there are precious few substitutions and coaches use them strategically. Clearly that’s not part of how the NHL works, and it seemed very peculiar to me.
Tuesday was a school day — we’d been constantly checking the school Web site to see if they were going to call a snow day or not — so we left at the end of the second period, with the score tied 1:1. The third period was where all the action came, ending with a 3:3 tie that forced the game into sudden death overtime. We listened on the radio while driving home. The Avs lost on a sudden death goal by Blue Jackets player Nick Foligno, but by that time we were snarled in terrible traffic, at a standstill less than 1/3 of the way home.
In fact, the road conditions were truly miserable, with cars spun out all over the place, tow trucks dotting the landscape trying to yank them out of ditches, and traffic moving so slowly that an hour after leaving Pepsi Center we’d only traveled about 7mi. When I finally had a view of the sea of red lights ahead of us, I made an executive decision to call my friend Klaus in Westminster and ask if we could just detour and spend the night at his place, rather than spend an unknown amount of time trying to get back to Boulder. He, it turned out, had just walked home after damaging his car sliding uncontrollably through an intersection, so he was glad for the company (and the ride back to meet the tow truck the next morning).
And so that’s where this adventure ends. G- and I had a really good time at the Avalanche game — I’d be up for going to another hockey game, for sure! — and the post-game driving adventure didn’t end up with a fender-bender or need to clamber out of a ditch. Quite fortunately Klaus has plenty of space in his home for us to bunk down for the night, so it’s all ended well. The fact that G- is missing a morning of school as I let him sleep in (it’s 9am and he’s still asleep) is just a little added bonus.
Thanks again to the fine team at SmileGeneration for sending us the tickets and parking pass. Any time they need someone to cover a sporting event, we’re in! Well, unless it’s curling. Then we’ll pass.
Did you feel uncomfortable watching the hockey fights with your son? I did during my last hockey game, and I never felt that way before becoming a father.
These fights may seem a bit WWE at times, but those are real punches with real consequences, and I shuddered to think what my kids took away from seeing something like that. Note: my game was a college contest, and the fighting never really got serious. It was still unnerving to me.
Maybe if my son was younger or the fight would have actually been a “real” fight, probably, but this felt pretty staged, they didn’t seem very upset with each other, and there were two refs standing there, ready to pull them apart if it got too rough.