It was the end of an era. Assuming of course, that a time span of just over three months qualifies as an “era”.
On this day, the U.S. Synchronized Team Skating Championships would proudly round out the winter sports portion of the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour.
I have to admit that, once actually onsite I’ve enjoyed each and every one of my Ice & Snow events. It was the process of getting to each venue that provided a steady stream of…how do I put this…“opportunities to exhibit problem-solving skills”. Yeah, that’s it – opportunities. Two feet of opportunity one day. Negative 29 wind-chilled degrees of opportunity the next.
So I reveled in the irony that the last Ice & Snow event would take place in the winter wonderland of Ontario. Ontario, California, that is, with its 80 degrees of sunshine bathing at least the outer confines of Citizens Business Bank Arena. Granted, it felt a little odd wearing two layers of clothing (and carrying a third) as I crossed the parking lot, but at least I could be sure that here the ice and chill would be confined to the arena.
While I’ve had a few years to familiarize myself with the more obvious differences in the sexes, I had to admit that I’d never considered the question in the context of ice hockey. So when presented with the perfect opportunity to come up to speed on that topic, I jumped on it.
I had spent the previous night at a sold-out TD Garden, home of the tradition-laden Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics…and a pretty popular 59-year-old college hockey get-together they call the Beanpot.
On this night I was headed to Conte Forum, on the campus of Boston College, where I would experience that event’s little sister – the 33rd annual Women’s Beanpot.
It’s called the Beanpawt, and it’s held every February at The Gahden. As in “Oh my Gawd, I’m goin’ ovah to The Gahden for the Beanpawt!”
The alert reader will of course recognize that the sporting event du jour takes place in Boston, home of the hypnotic, syrupy sweet accent popularized by postman extraordinaire Cliff Clavin.
I had not been to the Gahden since it was the Boston Garden, i.e. before it became headlined by a series of financial services companies. To get there back in those days, you simply took either the Green or Orange line to North Station and then followed the rats.
If you were attending a game at that time, it was tremendously helpful if you were a “people person”, since you and your fellow fans were all going to be squeezing into seats that conformed to the size of the average Bostonian – the 1928 version. And of course you hoped like hell that it wasn’t an overly warm day, because there was no air conditioning in the building.
People loved this place. No, really – they did.
Curling is unlike any other sport. And if you have any cause to doubt the truth of that statement, consider this…
In the traditional beginning to a championship match, both teams are “piped on” to the ice by an actual live piper who typically plays “Scotland The Brave”. The teams then face each other and offer a toast of Drambuie (or ginger ale, where appropriate), and a simple but heartfelt, “Good curling”. And when it’s all over, the winning team buys a celebratory round of drinks for all concerned. All the time. No questions asked.
Which makes me think that this sport was made for me – I can lose and then drink free with the absolute best of them.
Broomstones Curling Club is located in Wayland, a leafy (well OK, it will be leafy in a few months) western suburb of Boston. It’s been around for a while – specifically since 1968, and currently boasts an active membership of about 400, a number that pretty much pushes capacity.
There are leagues almost every night of the week, and special events and competitions on most weekends, from October through March. And make no mistake about it – Broomstones is every bit a social club as it is a sporting club. This is not one of those country clubs where you know the people in your regular foursome and that’s it. No – these people interact.
How do I know all this? Sheila Hanley told me.
As far as I know, never in the annals of misguided sports odysseys has this been done before. I refer, of course, to chronicling two sporting events at once.
Not two events in one day. That’s child’s play. Not two events in one day in two separate cities. Yawn…did it.
I’m talking two separate events in two different states. Simultaneously. You tell me one other person doing a sports walkabout that has pulled that off. I’ll wait…
Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, CA is perfectly suited for a small-market location. Somewhere between “serviceable” and “deluxe”, it is big and gleaming enough to inspire civic pride, yet modest enough to operate profitably.
There are some flashes of big-time amenities, such as the Cross Bar, where for the price of a mere two-drink minimum (on top of your regular ticket price) you can while away the game at a cocktail table overlooking one of the goals. But in general, nothing is over the top or flashy. And clean? Crumbs don’t dare fall off hot dog buns here. And if they did, somebody would be there to catch them before they hit the floor.
I was in search of an Official Program for the minor-league hockey game between the Ontario Reign and the Utah Grizzlies. I hadn’t seen any being hawked when I entered the arena, so I asked the usher stationed at the portal to my section where I might go to find one. He seemed genuinely concerned, and suggested I try the Main Entrance. Which I did…to no avail.
A customer service representative working there was also intent upon helping me, but he didn’t have an answer either. “Let’s try the souvenir stand,” he said, and off we went.
The search wound up involving about a half-dozen well-intentioned employees of Citizens Business Bank Arena, and eventually brought me all the way around the concourse – so I got a program AND a free guided tour. Very nice.
It’s all very simple. Knowing full well that The Bird would be riding shotgun, I was ornithologically required to choose an Anaheim Ducks game for the NHL portion of the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour schedule.
Come to think of it…“riding shotgun” is probably not the best phrase to use in a paragraph that includes Ducks and Birds. But I digress.
On paper, the game between Anaheim and the Chicago Blackhawks should have been a sell-out, given that the defending Stanley Cup champs have a strong contingent of ex-pat fans who brought their love of both warm weather and their former hometown team with them from Chicago. Moreover, the two teams are currently jostling for position for the final play-off spot in the Western Conference. And to top it all off, it was Free Hat Night, one of just six promotional games on the Duck’s schedule.
So when the game popped up as an opportunity on Goldstar.com (the absolute best discounted event access site in the Free World), I took it as a continuation of Christmas and accepted the thoughtful gift of half-price tickets.
Maybe it was a case of Sports Lag. After all, I was on the back end of a day-night doubleheader involving two different events in two different towns. Maybe it was the dark and rainy film noir-esque night outside. And maybe it was because I was inside a professional sports arena and there was no discernible buzz.
Whatever it was, it was all a bit odd…
I had come to the Rose Garden Arena, the centerpiece of Portland’s Rose Quarter entertainment district, to see Skate America, a stop on the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating tour. But as I made my way around an eerily quiet concourse it almost felt as if I’d wandered into the wrong building.
The concourse didn’t appear to be fully lit, and only a handful of concession stands were open. And in a horrific sight that I hope to never again encounter, all of the beer taps at all of the beer stands had been removed! I still shudder at the visual image.