Sunday, May 25, 2008

ECHL finals road trip

Hello from Cincinnati, site of Games 1 and 2 of the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals. This series pits the affiliates of two Canadian franchises, Montreal (Cincinnati Cyclones) and Calgary (Las Vegas Wranglers). Who was I rooting for? I root for whatever outcome will put the people I want to talk to in good moods. Cincy won 4-2. Sub-optimal for my purposes.

I've been to Cincinnati many times to watch hockey, but it was always the AHL. A few years ago it was the closest AHL city, and the Chicago Wolves played here often because they were in the same division. But then Anaheim pulled their prospects out and the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks franchise went dark. They used to play in the old Cincinnati Gardens, which was a very outdated facility. I remember how uncomfortable the wooden chairs were and the ice had some perennial bad patches. The Cyclones play in US Bank Arena, a bigger, modern arena right next to where the Reds play. I enjoyed the exceptionally cushy seats.

The importance of the ECHL finals was not something everyone agreed on tonight. Approaching the building, I wasn't sure where to go, so I started at Will Call. An off-ice official asked me if I had my media card already. I said no, I'm from out of town. He led me a bit towards a staircase and then asked where I was from. Atlanta, I said. "And you came here for this?" he asked. Uh-huh, I said. "Wow...good to hear it," he said.

Once inside, I stepped into the nearly-empty bowl. The Cyclones equipment guys were out on the ice shooting some pucks on net. An usher came out of nowhere and said "Came to watch history, huh?" Yep, I said. He nodded in response. "Something for the kids to remember."

On the other hand, my cab driver didn't know the city had a hockey team. But he was nice and I had heard how taxi drivers are struggling with the gas prices so I gave him a big tip anyway.

Attendance was 8,676, which is far above what the Cyclones did in the regular season. Bodes well for them, as a team that has had bad attendance problems.

Biggest issue I had: the glass. It had to have been purchased used, there's no other way it could be so scratched up. It was epically bad. So bad you can barely see the irony in the photo below.

Here's a familiar face, Bruce Mulherin. Many Georgians consider the Univ. of Alabama-Huntsville to be the "local" college team (nearest Div I), and Mulherin played there. He also played for the Gwinnett Gladiators briefly. He was traded to Toledo for Jon Sitko at a time when the Glads really needed defense. That looks like a bad trade looking back, since Mulherin has blossomed, and Sitko is already looking for a new team for next year, but the Gladiators have never had trouble finding people to score.

Puck behind Kevin Lalande, a Calgary prospect.

A face-off. Jason Rollins was the ref (not pictured). He does Gwinnett games often. He called a good game I thought. It was chippy, and he called the stuff. One time an opposing player knocked the goalie's stick farther away from him. Rollins called it. A fan near me yelled "since when is that a penalty?" All year long, dude.

This is Twister, the Cyclones mascot. I want you to notice something very specific here -- how flat his head is.

Yes, he really did just take a running start and slide on his head across the newly-Zambonied ice. Frankly, this was worth the trip in itself. Degree of difficulty in the mascot suit -- I'm giving it a 10. I made sure I was back in my seat in time during the second intermission to see it again.

Cyclones Coach Chuck Weber at his press conference. He was a little too hyped up to sit. I liked that the team organized this in a separate room with lights and cameras already set up. Much less chaotic than when Gwinnett was in the finals. Although it may have meant you couldn't get anyone else, which is bad. Speaking of previous finals though, I kept thinking Las Vegas was Alaska -- as the western team that made the long trip. Didn't help that they wore black and white uniforms.

The players were tired, so they sat. These were the three stars. I wasn't interested in these three, so I headed off for the Las Vegas locker room. Except that security was tight and you could only go with an escort. I had to wait for the Las Vegas reporter and our escort to go, but what I got was fruitful, and will be of interest to Thrasher fans. I'll post that when I get home. Don't want to give too much away, but it's related to the coaching search.


Brent said...

Speaking of ex-Gladiators, is Brandon Kaleniecki a healthy scratch for Las Vegas or has he been injured again?

Holly Gunning said...

He took the morning skate on Sunday and looked fine. My guess is that he's a healthy scratch.

He looks like a lumberjack right now with long hair and beard.

Brent said...

\\He looks like a lumberjack right now with long hair and beard.//

My wife's gonna want a picture of that.

I saw he played in the Wranglers' 1-0 win last night so I guess that pretty much answered the question.

Gladiators fans don't really have a dog in this fight, but Kal and Mulherin winning the Kelly Cup would be a nice continuation of Glads' alums winning it after Nezzy bought it home last year.

Since you're based in Atlanta you might want to interview the Ferraro brothers, too...they started their pro careers in 1994 with the old Atlanta Knights in the IHL. They may have some memories of the area that it'd be interesting to hear about. They srue wouldn't recognize it today.