Friday, December 17, 2010

More NHL commercials: looking at the Carolina Hurricanes

One of the fun parts of having NHL's Center Ice or GameCenter packages is that you get to see the commercials from around the league. While it's interesting to compare other markets' local merchants' commercials, the most fun is to see how different teams market themselves. I discussed this at the beginning of the month in my Building brand identity 30 seconds at a time post; I'll continue to post more as I find more commercials.

While watching the Carolina-Atlanta game tonight, I saw a fun commercial. It showed an old guy going down the sidewalk with a walkover. A label popped up onscreen: "Red Wings fan". Then an attractive 20-something woman in hot pink gear came speeding down the sidewalk on roller blades, with the label of "Caniacs fan". Couldn't find the video on YouTube, but there's plenty of Hurricane commercials to choose from.

Let's start with a 2009-10 commercial. The Hurricanes had a set of rather serious commercials with the tagline, "(attribute). It's a Caniac thing." Tuomo Ruuto was featured for "Intimidation"; Eric Staal for "Respect". I like the Cam Ward one, "Reverance", especially as you don't often see goalies featured in hockey commercials (or at least, not nearly often enough):


In North Carolina, especially the Triangle area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), you just don't have sports without tailgating - especially college games. The Triangle is a hotbed of collegiate sports, being home to UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, NCSU, and just down the road, Wake Forest. This spot not only highlights Carolina's great tailgating tradition, but embraces the Hurricanes' Finnish guys, with forward Jussi Jokinen slapping a hunk of reindeer down on the barbie:


The following commercial has team Captain Eric Staal and write-in nominee Chad LaRose playing ping-pong and showing off their goal celebrations. It also serves to remind folks that the All-Star Game is coming to Raleigh this year. Also, LaRose riding his ping-pong paddle the way some players ride their sticks? So hilariously wrong, it's right.


Last but not least, a Caniacs commercial from last season that spoofs the intensity of beer commercials. It's goofy, it's campy, and you have hockey players jamming on guitars in full gear - including the goalie. They're also cracking up during the commercial, which says, "Hey! We're having fun!"

Monday, December 13, 2010

Omark's spin-o-rama: pass or foul?

Friday night in Edmonton, NHL rookie Linus Omark made his mark on the league in his very first NHL game. Sent out on the shootout, Omark did a little spin-o-rama on the blue line as he went in for his shot:



As you can see, Omark scored on Dan Ellis, clinching the win for the Oilers, and after the game, the Lightning players had plenty to say about the play. Ellis said it was "not a very classy thing." Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund said it was disrespectful; another TBL player called it "a joke".

The Lightning outshot the Oilers 41-23 in a game that Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin clearly stole for the team.

The question is: would the Lightning have cared so much if they hadn't lost?

Player, fan and writer reactions across the league have been mixed in the past 48 hours.

For example, Minneapolis hockey beat writer noted on his Twitter account, "These Lightning quotes are hillllarrriousss; Mattias Ohlund, who broke Mikko Koivu's leg w an intentional 2-hand chop, talking about respect." Koivu currently plays for the MN Wild; Ohlund played for Vancouver at the time during the 2007-08 season. (See video of that incident here; the MN StarTribune reported that it resulted in a cracked fibula.)

Hockey writers across the league asked players from other teams what they thought of it; players responded with anything from having no problem with it to adding further fuel to the "disrespectful" argument.

Fan Twitter favorite Paul Bissonnette (Phoenix Coyotes; @biznasty2point0) tweeted after the game, "Just watched Linus O'marks shoutout goal..... Just bought a Linus O'mark jersey on NHL.com.... but with spelt his last name GOD on the back." He then followed that remark with, "all i know is Omark's move is good for the game. which means more fans in seats. which means.... Omark=Less Escrow. #ThanksLinus".

The Oilers coach, Tom Renney, was quoted as saying “I just wanted him to score,” said Renney. “I can’t restrict him from being creative. All you want is for him to respect the league, respect your opponent, do what you do best. Beyond that, deal with it.”

Omark didn't just magically start making his mark last night in the NHL, however; plug his name into YouTube and you'll find lots - and lots - of amazing goals.





Omark's move was flashy. The strongest argument against it was that the game was on the line with his goal, and if the Oilers had lost the game, it would've been his own team coming down on him, and the Lightning would've been laughing about the spin-o-rama all night.

But that's not how it worked out.

"It's embarrassing for [Omark]," TBL goalie Dan Ellis said after the game.

Was it embarrassing for Omark? Not quite; he did win the game. And he didn't go wildly over the top on his goal celebration, either.

If Tampa Bay is worried about what's embarrassing, maybe they should consider that their home game tickets are on the resale market for as little as $2.70/seat. Their record is 16-10-4 with a respectable 36 points - good enough to earn a playoff berth in the playoffs if they started tomorrow, and on par with half the Western Conference - not to mention being home to the top scorer in the league (Steven Stamkos), and yet they can't fill their home arena on a regular basis.

Perhaps the Lightning are frustrated for reasons beyond the fact they lost a game to the upstart Oilers. They've won a Stanley Cup - the last one before the lockout in 2004-05 - but they've struggled to maintain a steady fanbase in the Florida market.

Meanwhile, the Oilers, who won 5 Stanley Cups in the 1980s, have struggled as a team since trading Wayne Gretzky to the LA Kings. After a string of horrible seasons, they collected several excellent draft picks, including this year's top pick, Taylor Hall. Hall has not disappointed, joining fellow rookies Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle to help revitalize a franchise and giving the dedicated fans of Edmonton something to cheer about again.

Maybe Lightning scoring sensation Steven Stamkos has forgotten he once did a spot for TSN talking about various nifty moves to do in the shootout, including - what do you know, the spin-o-rama:



On the other hand, the shootout is nothing more than a skills competition to decide what has already been a tight contest: three shooters coming in against a goalie for each side. It is not some time-honored, ancient NHL tradition; it's only been around since 2005, when it was decided that there should no longer be ties in NHL games.

Fans reactions to shootouts are mixed. Some love the skills contest, and when it comes to late games, players and fans alike just want it to be over. But on the other hand, hockey is a team game, and leaving the outcome of a hotly contested game to who can best the opponent's goalie more is - well, boring.

Hockey players won't deny that they're in the entertainment business. And Omark was, well, entertaining. At a point when the NHL is finally resurging in popularity after the lockout a few years back, the last thing the league should be doing is cracking down on players having personalities; but as PuckDaddy pointed out today, there's a "war against personality in today's NHL."

Granted, we don't want the NHL to be filled with the kind of divas and showboaters that the NBA, NFL and the MBA have in spades. Hockey has always been and will always be a team sport. It's interesting to note that the two players which the NHL seem to be most ardently cramming down fans' throats are at the opposite end of the spectrum: Sidney Crosby, Canadian cover boy for Team Gosh-Gee-Whiz squeaky cleanliness; and Alex Ovechkin, the dark, brooding (yet funny) Moscow native who seems to relish in having that "bad boy" image.

If the NHL is going to promote both extremes - in fact, highlight it by making this year's Bridgestone Winter Classic between these two players' teams - then it would make sense to let all the "boys be boys", wouldn't it?

With today's "YouTube generation", it's also inevitable that the face of the game is going to change. The NHL is widely acknowledged as being the most fan-friendly, internet-savvy of the five major sports leagues. Game videos are posted to NHL.com before games are even over; why is it surprising that fans are eating up Omark's goal, or P.K. Subban chirping Brad Richards, or Paul Bisssonnette's colorful ramblings on Twitter?

We all know that hockey is a business. (Here in Chicago, boy, do we ever. Salary cap, anyone?) But one of the great joys of being a hockey fan is knowing that the boys on the teams have personalities. Let the players express themselves a bit more. Sure, make rules to make sure nobody kills each other on the ice, but let them scrap and chirp.

And maybe, just maybe, let the players say what they really think when one of their own do something that they probably wish they could do themselves.





Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Building brand identity 30 seconds at a time: looking at hockey commercials

Those who don't know hockey may think there's no difference among the teams; but each team is distinct: as much a product of their drafts and trades as they are their marketing departments. Among all major sports, the NHL has been found to have the most internet-savvy, and NHL.com is one of the most encyclopedic, ever-growing video sports sites available.

There's four kinds of hockey marketing: 1) team produced; 2) NHL produced; 3) licensed broadcaster produced; and 4) sponsor produced. I could do a whole separate post on the cheesiness of sponsor commercials, where hockey players show off their acting ability while touting the prodcuts of the sponsors of whose names grace their arena's boards. In fact, the Atlanta Thrashers created a very funny spoof about bad hockey commercials:


The only fail about this commercial is that they didn't actually use the "youcantact.com" and turn it into some kind of spoof site to go along with the commercial.

Today, let's talk about team-produced hockey commercials and the impact they can have.

Good commercials drive product sales, but great commercials create buzz and get fans talking. They also help drive team or fan indentity, and can also create 30 seconds of off-ice time where fans can get the sense they know a player a little bit better, whether it's from seeing their sense of humor, or getting an idea of the player's dedication to the sport.

The Atlanta Thrashers are a good example this year. They've spent the past few years trying to build hockey credibility in a non-traditional hockey market. Their current ad campaign tagline is "A brutally good time", and their commercials are chippy and fun:


When commercials are good, people don't mind watching them - and they'll talk about them, and share them. This can have extended payoffs - not only by getting existing fans talking up your team, but drawing in new fans. As mentioned above, commercials can help build team identity and team image.

The best example of this is a recent Bruins commercial that we'll discuss, but for now, let's take a look at some highlights from the past couple of seasons around the league.

This year's Chicago Blackhawks "One Goal" commercials have changed from the funny to more serious. They start with the slowed-down version of "Here Come the Hawks" (a la Inception) and you see a player working at their skills, and a voiceover about their particular commitment to the team. Jonathan Toews talks about what he achieved last year, and says "That was last season." Duncan Keith says, "Last season, I left seven teeth on the ice. I have 25 teeth left." Here's the Patrick Sharp Commercial:


Compare it to typical "One Goal" commercials from 2008-09/2009-10 seasons:


The Blackhawks won local Emmys for their Niklas Hjalmarsson/Ikea and Coach Quenneville/"Great Lines" commercials, which you can find on the Blackhawks site. It's worth noting that the Blackhawks also seem to be the only team that keeps an active section of their video page dedicated to team commercials.

Like the earlier One Goal campaign, which combined hockey jokes with hockey dedication, the San Jose Sharks also recognized that hockey players have a sense of humor. The Sharks rolled out a series of commercials during the 2009-10 season that are continuing this year, with the tag line being "(Player) is a lousy (insert job here), but he's a great hockey player!"



They even got their coach in on the act:


The Detroit Red Wings had a surprising entry into the top hockey commercials this year, with their "Hospitality" commercial. The stage is set with the players doing all they can to make their opponents feel welcome at their arena - until they hit the ice, of course:


The commercial is a hit primarily because of how it pokes fun at the idea of being welcoming to other teams. While the commercial talks about welcoming opponents, it particularly focuses on the Blackhawks, who are the Wings longest and perhaps most hated rivals. The spot slyly suggests pampering for the other team, and ends with the expression that it's all for show, that the true "welcome" is in gritty, hard play. It's clever, it's funny, and even as a Blackhawks fan, I can't resent that they're poking fun at my team.

The New York Islanders have done two styles of commercials: humor, and dedication. The "Offsides" commercial, with the tagline "This is Islanders Country", clearly pokes fun at the Corona commercials, where the woman always seems to outsmart the man:


Their commercials from last season highlighted players' dedication to their role on the team; in this example, defenseman Andrew MacDonald talks about his role:


Last year's L.A. Kings commercial showed team dedication. Not sure what they're doing this year, as their website only had 2009-10 commercials, but this is a sweet commercial:


During the 2007-08 season, Dallas ran a campaign with the tag line "Come into the cold." Not sure what their recent advertising efforts look like, but they're an amusing set of commercials; here's a good one which humorously points out how tough the players are:


Hands down, however, for the current sharpest marketing department in the NHL has to be the Boston Bruins, who have created a set of ads known as "Bruins Hockey Rules", featuring "the Bear". The Rules commercials are based on a lot of unwritten fandom rules, and they're all fun to watch. They have almost no dialogue in them and end with tag lines like "Hibernation ends in October", "Hang up your phone and watch the game", and "Never tuck in your Bruins jersey".

They have even held a contest, encouraging fans to submit their own Rules, via www.bruinshockeyrules.com (You can also view their entire collection of rules commecials via that site under "Bear Stuff".)

A couple of my personal favorites from the series:



How brilliant is the Bruins marketing team? Well, recently, a pair of ... well, let's call them idiots, shall we? - posted a video of themselves kicking a hole in a post in one of the ladies' rooms at the Garden. The Bruins marketing team had an immediate response to the act:


It was a perfect combination of the established brand identity of the Bruins bear, combined with an admonishment to those foolish "fans" who vandalized the arena.


* * * 

This post made Puck Daddy! 12/1/10

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Blackhawks fan in Vancouver: trip review


Pregame graphics on the ice at Rogers Arena, Vancouver

My trip to Vancouver was definitely my most anticipated trip, for a number of reasons. First, I was getting to see friends I had not seen in a long time in both Seattle and Vancouver - always a plus. I hadn't been to Seattle since 1989, and had never been to Vancouver - actually, I don't think I've been to Canada since I was, oh, two years old - and I was going to get to see hockey in the same venue where Olympic hockey played out. Lots of pluses, all around, so I was very eager for this trip.

My time in Seattle was altogether too short, made shorter by a late-evening flight arrival, and then I spent part of Wednesday morning driving around looking for a Best Buy where I could buy an upgrade card for my Garmin GPS. It hadn't occurred to me to check my Garmin before I left on my trip if it included maps for Canada (it didn't). On the bright side, my new upgrade card is good for all of North America, including the Caribbean, so I'm apparently all set for a while. I love my little GPS unit - most of the time. Sometimes GPS units take that "direct route" thing a little too seriously and take you in odd routes, but I digress.

The drive from Seattle to Vancouver is supposed to be gorgeous. I'll take everybody's word for it, because it rained most of the drive up, and snowed most of the way back. However, just after crossing the Canadian border (which took about all of 90 seconds), the sun broke out and I got some really beautiful vistas heading north into Vancouver during what passes for local rush hour. My first glimpses of the city were far off, temptingly pretty, and after driving through residential areas, suddenly crested a ridge on Granville, and there was my first proper view of the city.


Yes, that's a Starbucks on the right, and no, I didn't stop. I stuck to Tim Horton's and Blenz and other local coffee shops for my caffeine fixes in Vancouver. I can get Starbucks at home!

I managed to get into town just in time to see a pretty good sunset. I swear I fell instantly in love with Vancouver the minute I was crossing the Granville Bridge into the city. Vancouver is ringed by mountains, of course, but the city itself is somewhat hilly, sprawled around a bay/harbor, not unlike Sydney or San Francisco. It's a very modern place: the architecture is absolutely studded with glass, which not only allows its residents eye-popping views of their beautiful city, but also creates a glistening, futuristic look. At sunset, the city is it up, shimmering citadels lining the shore, spectacular. I would call it one of the top five entrances I've ever had into a city: a moment that seared itself into my memory. 


 Science World dome on the harbor

Of course, the Vancouver skyline is more familiar than most would realize, since so many movies and TV shows are shot here. The first night, I was too tired from 24 hours of traveling to do much exploring, although I did drive around the city a bit. I also had some fabulous tapas at a Spanish restaurant called La Bodega (1277 Howe St), which was a short walk from my hotel. If you go, try the Plato Variado, an assortment of their cold appetizers - I thought the Mejillones Picantes were especially good. I would've eaten there every night, it was so good, but hey, I'm in a new city, I have to keep trying new places!

Unfortunately, the weather wasn't particularly cooperative, but that didn't keep me from exploring the city and the suburbs a bit on Thursday. Did some shopping and some sight-seeing, but didn't feel much like museums or the like. I had planned to spend Thursday exploring some of the local natural attractions and maybe driving to Whistler, but rain kept me close to the city. 

View of Vancouver as seen from Granville Island

Thursday, I went to Granville Island - a collection of shops, market and artists' studios - with a friend, and we ate at a restaurant called The Sandbar, which was located under Granville Bridge with great views of the city. Excellent seafood - thumbs up for their mahi-mahi with a chipolte sauce - and good wine.

Did you know British Columbia is home to wineries? Several, in fact. At The Sandbar, I enjoyed a really good Red Rooster Riesling - I think that if you're going to travel, you should try out local vintages, not stuff you can get at home. Red Rooster was so yum I had it again on Saturday; unfortunately, I didn't have much luck tracking down a bottle or two to take home.

Also on Granville Island: one of Rogers' Chocolates retail outlets, close to The Sandbar. Rogers' celebrated their 125th anniversary in 2010, and let me tell you - their chocolates are delicious. I just might have to order some of them by mail order, they are that good. Make sure to try their Empress Squares and Victoria Creams!



I found out that you could take tours of Rogers Arena for CA$12. Tours run twice a week (Wednesdays and Fridays), three times a day, arena schedule permitting. If you tour in the summer, you'll get to see the Canucks' or visitors' locker rooms; during the hockey season, they show you a video of the locker rooms instead, because the team is usually using the facilities during tour times.


The team store is located at a corner of the arena, and it's open every day. Tours depart from the upper level of the store, which opens into the main concourse of the arena.

Review of the store:  LOTS of selections, notably in their broad range of T-shirts, hats, and oh yes, women's gear! You may remember myself, Chicks Who Give A Puck, and other female fans/blogs supporting a wider variety/range of women-targeted gear. Well, the female Canucks fans are very lucky, because they have tons to choose from. Despite the store's odd configuration (small area downstairs; V-shaped shopping area upstairs), there is plenty to choose from here. I ended up with a team puck, and a hat with the orca "C" logo. (I bought one, ended up getting it signed by several guys on the team; then had to buy myself another one.) I would've bought the 3-pack of Christmas ornament mini-pucks (and used stickers to make them into Blackhawks pucks!) but they were really expensive and there was no choice to buy just a single one.

ROGERS ARENA TOUR

Rogers Arena (original General Motors Place) was opened in 1995, original built to be the home of both the Vancouver Canucks and the Vancouver Grizzles (NBA). The Grizzles lasted six seasons in Vancouver before relocating to Nashville; the Canucks still call Rogers home.

Rogers seats 18,860 for ice hockey and 19,700 for basketball, including 88 luxury suites, 12 hospitality suites and almost 2,200 club seats. Rogers is also known for having some of the most expensive ticket prices in the NHL - the very-top-row seats that set us back CA$125 apiece at Rogers would cost somewhere between $40-65 in Chicago. And although the Canucks have never brought home the Stanley Cup in 40 years of team history, their hockey fans are as die-hard as any in Canada, and Canucks tickets are hard to come by.


The tour started up in the Best Buy Club at the top level of the arena. In addition to the private boxes, there are two club/restaurant areas with season ticket holder seating - the Best Buy Club and the Wiser's Centre Ice Grill. These STHs include some food and drinks, but I think you were also required to buy a certain amount more per game. There is also a private dining area called the Captain's Club that you can buy membership for.

We got to walk through the press boxes (both home and visiting) as well as spend some time in the GM's box, located between the two press suites. The tour then showed us one of the private suites, which were decorated in pictures of Canucks team history. The pictures in the suite we went into caught my eye, because they featured Brent Sopel, who used to play for the Canucks, and who spent the past few years with the Blackhawks before being traded to Atlanta this past summer.

An interesting view down to the ice level: they were folding out the seats for the hockey game, something you don't see every day:



We walked around to the other side of the arena and got to see the broadcast gondola, where the radio and TV broadcasters are during a game. Below that was Wiser's, which gave us a really nice view of the center ice emblem, and the start of that morning's practice.



The tour was very thorough, but the best part was we got to watch about 20 minutes of the Canucks practice. Then our guide took us down to the service corridor level - again, we didn't get to see either team's locker rooms, but hey, I got to sit on a Zamboni - actually, not technically a Zamboni, I think they were Olympia brand. Close enough; I was happy. We also got to watch the practice from right behind one of the goal nets - we were standing behind Corey Schneider - for another 10 or 15 minutes, and I got a used practice puck! 

Sorry, no practice pictures - we weren't supposed to/allowed to take pics of the players during practice. (I sooooo wanted pictures of Schneider's goalie mask!)

Saturday, I spend the day with friends playing tourist around the city, which was a lot of fun, and had lunch at an outstanding brewpub in Gastown called Steamworks Brewing Company. Get the Beer Soup, and the Brew House Burger - both wow.

Saturday night, of course, was the big event - the Chicago Blackhawks vs Vancouver Canucks matchup! I have to say that although I got plenty of ribbing about wearing my Blackhawks shirt/jersey around the city, the Vancouver fans were mostly pretty cool. I didn't have one bad/jackass-level incident on this trip (unlike MN or TN), which was especially gratifying, considering how heated the Blackhawks-Canucks rivalry has become. But there were lots of little verbal jabs and comments about my team attire everywhere I went. (One waiter we had made so many "ha ha just kidding" cracks that I seriously inspected my food when it arrived.) If you're wearing an opposing team's jersey/gear, brace yourself for it. Just because they are so gosh-darn NICE doesn't make the insults disappear.

My favorite moment? I got to meet Aaron Douglas from Battlestar Gallactica during one of the game intermissions. (Yeah, me - huge sci fi nerd glee.) He was so nice. We took pictures with him. Said he loved meeting fans, said science fiction fans were awesome, and yes ... he teased me for being a Blackhawks fan. But he was so cool, really nice guy, totally down to earth. (Hey, that's a given - he's both a sci fi actor guy and he's a hockey fan. Enough said.)


Anyway, I know you want the hockey pictures, so here they are - if you want to see more, go to my Vancouver set on Flickr:


Corey Crawford led team onto the ice. He won in goal, 7-1. 


Alex Burrows, #14 of the Canucks
(Gotta have at least one shot of the opposition!)


Team warming up. A few of the Blackhawks are from the Vancouver area, so the Cup made its rounds here this summer with Troy Brouwer, Brent Seabrook, Andrew Ladd (now ATL), and Colin Fraser (now EDM). Duncan Keith is also from British Columbia, but a town called Penticton, a few hours away.

The game had special meaning for Troy Brouwer, whose dad was at the game. His father had suffered a brain aneurysm in the final days of the Blackhawks' regular season. The Blackhawks-Canucks game was the first game his dad had been able to see live since the previous spring. Brouwer scored one of the goals during the game. 


Captain Jonathan Toews during warmup. You don't hear about this kind of thing on the sports channels, because they're usually busy doing pregame chat during warmups, but as the Blackhawks skated off the ice after warmups, Toews tossed his stick up into the crowd of Blackhawks fans who were clustered around the visitors' bench/entry.

 

Jack Skille, #20. I like getting these player profile pics. 
So far, I have good ones of Hossa and Hjalmarsson; now Skille.


Patrick Kane. One one of his skates around, he slapshot the puck into the glass right above my head. (Yes, I was startled - I saw him make a move with his stick, and then *smack!*) I was the only Blackhawks-jersey-wearing fan standing among a bunch of Canucks fans on that stretch of glass, so that was a fun moment. 


Our seats, very last row, 300s. I don't think there's any SRO in this arena, at least, not that I noticed. If this was the UC, there would be an upper concourse above us where the SRO was; here, it was just walls. You can't see it too well in this picture, but there's railings between the rows because the arena is so steep on the upper levels, with little warnings on them to please not lean forward because it obstructs other people's views.


Home team taking the ice


They unfurled these screens during pre-game introduction. They looked very fine/thin, but were substantial enough to project images onto during the pre-game video montage. There were two on each end, it looked pretty cool, actually.


Honoring Pat Burns with a moment of silence.


National Anthem. Pretty awesome listening to almost 19,000 fans singing their national anthem together. (Yes, I learned the words to "O, Canada" so I could sing along, too.) Notice that the seats were full for the start of the game.


Patrick Sharp took the first penalty; he got visited by the famous Green Men (and two Little Green Men). The Green Men were a little lonely - Chicago only took 3 penalties all night.


Late in the 3rd, right before Vancouver scored. (Score was 7-0 Chicago at that point.) Notice how much emptier the place is. Some people just didn't come back after the second period; the people started leaving in bunches around five minutes into the third.


Hawks win! Hawks win! 7-1.

 * * *

Thank you, Vancouver. I had a lot of fun, loved your city, and I cannot wait to visit again!

Final picture to leave you with: Merry Christmas, Canadian style:




TeamVancouver Canucks
ArenaRogers Arena
800 Griffiths Way
Vancouver, British Columbia V6B 6G1
Canada

Seating capacity for hockey: 18,860
Cost of ticketsKnown for some of the priciest tickets in the league. Expect to pay CA$100+ for high-300's in the end zones.
Ease of accessAirports:
Vancouver International (YVR) - approx. 25 minutes

One of the Skytrain's stations, Stadium/Chinatown, is directly adjacent to the arena; and the arena is also on bus lines. There are a few parking garages in the area, but most of the streets surrounding the arena are one-way, and sometimes car GPS can lead you in unexpected directions on streets in the area. It is simply easier to walk or take public transportation to the stadium on game days/nights.
Parking costsVariety of parking choices in the area; prices vary (starting at CA$10+).
Practice facility
Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre at the University of British Columbia
6066 Thunderbird Boulevard
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z3 Canada
(604) 822-6121
Located approximately 13 km / 20 minutes west of Rogers Arena. Call for schedules. (Practices held at Rogers are not open to the public; although if you take a tour of Rogers Arena, you might get to see part of a practice.) There has been ongoing discussions about building a dedicated practice facility for the team much closer to Rogers.
Pre-game meal options outside arenaNot many options within a one-block range of the arena. Better to either choose to eat at the arena; or eat before you arrive. The "Gastown" and Chinatown areas of Vancouver are both within a few blocks' walk north of the arena and are home to many excellent dining choices.
Local hotelsThere are plenty of hotels in the popular West End district and Downtown areas. I stayed at The Inn at False Creek and absolutely loved it; the hotel was in walking distance (across the bridge) from Granville Island, and easy walking distance to the entertainment districts (ie. Granville St., Robson St.). If you're looking for an upscale hotel or major chain (ie. Hyatt, Westin, Fairmont), you will end up staying on the Coal Harbor side of West End - hotels there have some spectacular views of Vancouver Harbor, Stanley Park and the mountains north of the city.
Arena exteriorRogers is directly across the street from BC Place; several high-traffic streets circle both arenas.
What to do to fill time if you arrive before doors openNot much to do if you arrive early - any sort of seating is nonexistent; and not really much in terms of bars/restaurants within a 1-block radius of the arena. Two blocks north of the arena on Abbott St. is a Starbucks. However, the area is booming with new construction, so I would expect that the immediate area gains new choices soon.
Arena facilitiesATMs
Arena dining optionsOne of the widest and varieties of selections I've seen so far. LOTS of excellent choices including healthy options. Look for the stand that sells fresh-made doughnut holes - wickedly addictive.
Team store(s)Arena store (southeast corner  of arena at corner of Abbott St & Georgia St) is open before game time. Fantastic selection of team items.
Camera policyFrom Rogers Arena website: "For hockey games there is NO flash photography or video recording. Any cameras with detachable lens or any professional lens that exceeds 75 mm will be confiscated or taken to our Guest Services Centres. Any items stored at the Guest Services Centre is at your own risk."
SignsSigns allowed. No facilities on-site for signs; make your own at home.
Allowed to go down to glass for pre-game picturesYes. Fans were allowed all the way to front row. If you are facing the team benches, the visitors bench is the one on the left.
Special notesMy standard for judging other arenas' pre-game video production/getting the fans amped up is based on the United Center, which I'd rate as "10". I would also give Vancouver's a "10". They have pair of super-thin column-style screens which get dropped down for the pre-game, and they project a variety of pictures and videos of the current team and team history of them. It's pretty spectacular, and the best pre-game warmup show I've seen outside of the UC. Worth making sure you're at the area, and in your seat early enough to witness.

New outside the arena this year is a statue commemorating Roger Neilson and the famous "towel incident" in the 1982 Stanley Cup Playoffs vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks would eventually go on to the Finals that year, and "rally towels" would become a motivational symbol not just for the Canucks but across the NHL.
Good experience for families?Yes, although expensive.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Wrap-up post: Trip to Nashville 11/13



The past few weeks I've been traveling and working quite a bit, so I haven't gotten to all my updates - as a result, I'm posting twice tonight to bring things up to speed. After Minneapolis, I've had two more road trips, Nashville and Vancouver.

Nashville is a 90-minute flight or a several-hour drive from Chicago. As a relatively close hop, it's one of those markets (like Minneapolis) where Blackhawks fans tend to road trip en masse. I actually saw way more people in Blackhawks jerseys walking around the downtown district near the arena throughout the day - at least until game time.


From the airport to downtown, it's only perhaps 15 minutes, and there's a number of hotels within walking distance or a short cab ride from Bridgestone Arena.


This is Broadway - a street lined with honky-tonks, restaurants, tourists, shops (note: only tourists wear cowboy hats and boots), and colorful characters. And some of those colorful characters' colorful pets.



I had lunch at a Nashville bar-b-que institution, Jack's BBQ (416 Broadway), which was worth every single minute spent waiting in line, and where I spotted this neon NHL mask. Jack's is delicious. Highly recommend it if you're heading to Nashville for any reason!

 

I love country music, so I loved seeing the "Hockey tonkin'" sign on the Bridgestone.



Bridgestone Arena, main gate, with "Smashville" sign, before gates opened.


Bridgestone, before the warmups


Pre-game introductions.



Nashville is one of the few teams that has not only ice girls,
but "ice dancers" (cheerleaders) also.

 

Forget the Zamboni, I want to drive this bad boy.
A Preds fan told me they can fire T-shirts as high as the upper 300's from it.



Pekka Rinne, the Predator's Finnish goalie. Rinne made a splash in the Central division the past two years, going 52-29-15/.917/2.38 GAA and 58-32-16/.911/2.53 for the Predators. He faced off against fellow Finnish goaltender Antti Niemi when Nashville and Chicago faced off in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring; the Predators' tough play and steady goaltending almost won the series.


Tomas Kopecky, Fernando Pisani in warmups


Jordin Tootoo, a popular player on the Preds, during warmups. Whenever he took a shift, you could hear fans in attendance tooting train whistles. (toot-toot, get it?)



Predators win in a shootout, 4-3.

Overall, had a pretty fun time in Nashville. The locals were mostly great, the restaurants were awesome, and the hockey crowd at Bridgestone was highly energetic. Enjoying 70 degree weather in mid-November didn't hurt, either. I look forward to another opportunity to take in more games in Nashville - hopefully with more time to spend exploring the city a bit, as I didn't have a chance to see a whole lot this trip.

See my full set of pictures from Nashville on my Flickr stream.


Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN
Home of the Nashville Predators (NHL)

TeamNashville Predators (NHL)
ArenaBridgestone Arena
501 Broadway
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 770-2000

Seating capacity for hockey: 17,113
Cost of ticketsSeason tickets start as low as $19/seat.

Regular season tickets start around $30-35 and go up from there. One of the better bargains around the league.
Ease of accessAirport:
Nashville International (BNA) - approximately 9 miles / 15 minutes

Public transportation (bus) available to arena.
Parking costsParking available in several garages within walking distance of the arena. Directly across the street most expensive (around $20). Nashville is easily navigated by car. Shuttle service to some outlying parking, including parking across the river at LP Field (home of the Tennessee Titans).
Practice facilityCentennial Sportsplex
222 25th Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 862-8480

Practices at Centennial Sportsplex are open to the public; check the Predators website for details.
Pre-game meal options outside arenaNearly unlimited. Bridgestone Arena is directly adjacent to a stretch of Broadway loaded with restaurants and honky-tonks. Plenty of dining options in the area, but opt for BBQ, a Southern specialty. (I particularly enjoyed Jack's; the wait was worth it.)
Local hotelsHilton Nashville Downtown is directly across the street; a lot of teams stay there because it's readily adjacent to the arena. (This also makes it easy to get autographs from visiting teams' players.)

Within walking distance: Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Renaissance, Hometown Suites, Best Western Downtown, Doubletree, more. Plenty of other options around town if you have a car or don't mind public transportation.
Arena exteriorNortheast corner of the building is the main/plaza entrance with the building's iconic tower & saucer look.
What to do to fill time if you arrive before doors openThe Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is directly across the street. There's also a few parks, plenty of honky-tonks with live music to be had for the price of a drink, the State Capital is within a few blocks, and plenty of shops in the area.
Arena facilitiesATMs
Arena dining optionsVarious food stands around the arena, typical burgers, hot dogs, ice cream, etc.
Team store(s)Main store located near main entrance. Selection of jerseys, T-shirts, etc. Worth noting is they not only carry Predators jerseys and pucks but many other teams as well. "All hockey is green to us," one staff joked.
Camera policyAllowed. Not sure on restrictions; I had no problem with my camera (4" lens)
SignsAllowed; bring your own - no sign-making facilities.
Allowed to go down to glass for pre-game picturesYes. When facing the benches, home team is on the left.
Special notesUnusual configuration of arena means one end zone is larger than the other.
Visiting fan experience notesLive band plays during intermissions; platform built into arena above the 100's on one end.

Team is unusual in that it has both ice girls and cheerleaders.

If you're looking for the "prime" hometown fan experience, try to get tickets close to 303, known as "Cellblock 303". Known for leading cheering and being very noisy during games.

Overall, as a visiting fan, I had a really good time in Nashville. If you stick close to the arena, it's touristy and occasionally cheesy, but you can enjoy good hockey, good music, and have a good time. There's more to do in the city beyond Broadway, though.

The Predators' goal celebration song is "I Like It, I Love It, I Want Some More Of It". It is then followed by a bit of Rock n' Roll Part 2 with the fans chanting "Hey, you suck!" a couple times. The "you suck" part is more AHL/ECHL than NHL, but it's so goofy that it's fun in its own way.

My only bad experience this trip was after Nashville won (that wasn't the bad part), I was standing near the end of an empty row, taking pictures as they announced the stars of the game. The post-goal/win song was still going on. A Preds fan snuck up behind me, and from a distance of no more than an inch or two, screamed in my ear "You suck!" along to the post-goal chant. I was so startled I almost dropped my camera (I use a pro-grade camera, so I'm not talking some cheapo pocket camera), and when I whipped around, the jerk was booking away from me as fast as possible. Not very cool. Look, you want to insult me for being a fan of the opposing team? I can take it. If you're funny about it, I might even have a sense of humor about it. But screaming in somebody's ear? Even worse, when they're holding expensive camera equipment and you might cause them to drop it? Seriously not cool. Every fan base has a few idiots; I've been fortunate so far to mostly not witness them.

But, other than that tool, it was a very pleasant weekend in Nashville.
Good experience for families?Yes. Nashville fans love to bring their kids out.



Monday, November 22, 2010

Preview: HBO's Winter Classic 24/7 show, Pens vs Caps

Whether or not you're a Capitals or Penguins fan, the opening words of this preview speak to the beauty of the game of hockey. It's a nice preview of the Caps vs Pens 24/7 reality show that will be playing on HBO this fall, leading up to the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day in Pittsburgh.

If you've been living under a rock, or just aren't as familiar with the NHL yet, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are Eastern Conference rivals - the rivalry fed by facing off against one another repeatedly not only in cross-EC matchups, but they've knocked one another out of the Stanley Cup playoff runs in the past dozen years. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009 after beating the Capitals in the Conference Semi-finals (second round), for example. 

Sidney Crosby (captain, Penguins) and Alex Ovechkin (captain, Capitals) are also two of the highest-profile and most-talented players currently playing professional hockey. Crosby is seen as an aw-gee-shucks, clean-cut Canadian player - the "Next One", who scored the "Golden Goal" for Team Canada in the 2010 Olympics.

Ovechkin is a study in contrasts to him - a bit dark, a bit rough, but humorous; raised in tough circumstances in Moscow, and now lightning up the North American hockey stage as he seeks his own elusive Stanley Cup win. Ovechkin - tabbed "the GR8", in reference to the number he wears on his back as well as his skill level - is widely regarded as the best hockey player in the world right now.

HBO has promised that the series will take a wider look at the two teams than just their respective dynamic captains. Hockey fans certainly hope that is the case, as both Crosby and Ovechkin have received tons of publicity over the past few years, leading many fans to be weary of both. The two teams are both loaded with talent, and the 24/7 series will not only offer the opportunity to get to know many more of these players, but to also allow people a more in-depth look at the sport of hockey.

More so than any other professional sport, hockey is the ultimate team sport. While a single player can be a huge motivational fulcrum for a team, it is impossible for a single player to muscle their team through to a championship, or even just a playoff berth, on their own shoulders. And it is not simply about what happens on the ice; it is also about what it takes off the ice - as a family; as a community - to make somebody into a hockey player. The time, the commitment, the dedication. So hopefully, HBO can really give a sense of that over the course of the series. 

The NHL 24/7 show debuts on HBO on December 15th and will also be available via HBO On Demand.







Friday, November 5, 2010

Lessons from the past week, and hope looking forward for the Blackhawks

Wednesday night should've been a victory. Not an easy one, perhaps, because the Devils have shown that they can play with 2/3 of their roster against a team like the Penguins and not be beaten into submission. But it should've been a victory nonetheless; all the signs pointed to it being as such.

The Devils were coming into the United Center at the end of a 5-game road trip and on a losing season that had seen just three wins: an October 13 OT win vs Buffalo; an October 21 win against Montreal; and the October 29 win against Anaheim. The team is missing their top forward and top D-man, been dealing with one injury after another, and add to that the burdens of their own salary cap issues and the $100-million man wreaking havoc on the nightly roster has seen the team limping its way through the first month of the season. Through the first 13 games of the season, the Devils had eked out just an average 1.54 goals per game (they've been shut out once, and scored only 1 goal six times).

In other words, a good rousing, butt-kicking first period should've given plenty of momentum to carry the Blackhawks to a victory. Even with the inconsistent play that has plagued the team for the past month, this should've been the kind of situation that wasn't necessarily a "gimme", but certainly didn't look like it was set up to just hand the worst team in the league two free points.

Of course, the Hawks looked so good in Minnesota last Saturday that it was easy to believe that the team was finally starting to click. They pickpocketed the Wild left and right, owned the Minnesota zone, and showed the prolonged domination that made last season so exciting.

Monday's game against New York could've/should've been a win, too; they outshot the Rangers by a 5-3 margin. But it was another case of couldn't get it done, which has been a little too common this fall for most Blackhawks' fans liking.

Wednesday's game against the Devils started out sluggishly. Perhaps the Blackhawks were a victim of thinking - expecting - that they would just roll right over the Devils. Unfortunately, this is something we have seen all too frequently last season: the Hawks have opened a game with lackluster play and then scrambled to catch up. Sometimes they've won and sometimes they lost, but the lament heard repeatedly was "play 60".  The fans said it, the coach said it, the players said it.

The problem is that the Blackhawks didn't play 60, not every game, not even through the playoffs, and they still walked off with the Stanley Cup. 

So maybe, somewhere deep in the unconscious, is the thought of, "Well, it managed to work last year..."

It's not last year anymore, though, and this isn't last year's squad.

The guys who are showing up and appearing to make the most effort - even if they're a bit sloppy about it - aren't all the star players. Sure, you have Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, bright stars in the dark nights. But you also have Jake Dowell, willingly grinding away every night with grit and determination. You have Viktor Stalberg storming the net in a flash of speed. Even Nick Boynton, who has been slammed for some poorly-timed penalties and stick handling, should at least be recognized for his effort, turning into this year's Brent Sopel, with the second highest tally in the league for blocked shots. You have Rockford call ups, giving it their all each night they're granted play, in the effort to impress enough to stay up with the show.

You also have Patrick Kane, who seems to have left his "A" game on a tour bus this summer, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, who's played lost without his usual defensive partner. You have John Scott, who nobody can seem to figure out what, exactly, he's doing on the ice, because it isn't blocking and it isn't fighting. Even minus his absences from injury, Dave Bolland has been nowhere near what his play was last season. Jonathan Toews has been making a lot of effort, but aside from his league-leading faceoff wins (196 at 58.3%) and being second in the league for takeaways (18), has had a lackluster opening month. Even Duncan Keith, the team's ironman, is showing the strain of the workload - his giveaways are worst in the league (23) although he has 17 takeaways (tied for 3rd in league) to balance that out.

Watching training camp was enough to give hope to the new season. The team is loaded with talent. The new guys looked like they had been around the veteran players before. Even those guys who ended up being shipped off to Rockford looked pretty exciting.

The returning players from last season's team are tired of talking about the Cup, but now the whispers of a Cup hangover have become more strongly voiced. The team had a shorter summer off and it was busy and exciting. The new guys have to come into town and hear ad naseum about what an awesome team last season's squad was, and try to live up to that.

As a whole, they could be forgiven for wishing it were all so easy as flipping a switch or the raising of a banner to the rafters that marked a clean-cut change between two seasons; that people would stop talking about last year and reminding them that they're defending champions. They're no doubt proud to be that; but even the best praise in the world becomes tiresome when repeatedly heaped upon you.

The Hawks lost three top players to extended injuries within the first month. This has clearly hurt their game, but there's a lot of inconsistencies across the lineup.

Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times compiled these stats today, as an illustration of how mind-blowingly erratic the season has been thus far:
• The Hawks have a .333 winning percentage when trailing first, but only a .556 winning percentage when scoring first.
 • When the Hawks outshoot their opponent, they are 2-4; when the Hawks have been outshot, they're 5-3-1.
• As a team at the United Center, they're minus-8; on the road, they're even.
• Leading after the first period, the Hawks are 2-2; leading after the second, they're 5-2.
• In one-goal games, the Hawks are 4-4-1.
• The Hawks have allowed 32 goals at even strength while scoring just 26.
• As of Thursday, the Hawks had the NHL's third-best power play, converting 25% of the time.

So, what's going on with the team? Why so much struggle and inconsistency?

It's easy to blame it on "Cup hangover", but there's more to it. Coach Quenneville has been juggling the lines (no surprise there), working to find chemistry and see who works together well.  Training camp is only a couple of short weeks before it rolls into preseason games and then the primary season, so with so much turnover on the team, it's inevitable that the chemistry is not there right off the bat.

Part of it, too, is for the players to be learning each others' styles and rhythm of play. You see it happening with bad plays, but you also see them learning when things happen like one of the players makes a rush down the ice, then checks to see where the rest of the team is and waits for them to catch up. Sometimes, those players need to just throw it on the net. Maybe it'll go in and maybe it'll be a rebound, but you're never going to score by only holding on to the puck and shooting when the odds are in your favor.

The team is loaded with talent - yes, even the guys who are busy riding the Rockford Express or filling out the fourth line have plenty. They wouldn't be in Chicago otherwise.  But talent alone can't win the games, although one talented player making extra effort can certainly turn the tide, as witnessed with Marian Hossa making game-momentum-changing efforts in some of the games before his injury.

Based on post-practice interviews, Coach Q has sat the team down for talks in the past couple of days. Fans: Quenneville is to be trusted; he's worked magic with this team for the past couple of years and the fanbase needs more faith that he can do it again.

While I wouldn't call Jonathan Toews "relaxed" in the post-practice interviews today, he was at least smiling at times, which is a vast improvement over his post-game interviews from a week ago after the Oilers game, where he grimly set his lips together and admitted he didn't want to say too much for fear of saying something he might regret. There is nobody harder on themselves on the team than Toews, who is the kind of player who doesn't like to lose, and who has clearly been incredibly frustrated by the first few weeks of play.

A day or two ago, after that loss to New Jersey, I would've thought that perhaps nothing would shake the other players out of the apparent complacency than to have Toews have a ripping, let-the-emotions out, put-some-fire-in-your-belly kind of discussion with his teammates. I don't know if Toews is the type to lead via pep talk or simply by force of example. He was frequently the last one to leave the ice during training camp or during practices. And he is always just as intense in practices as he is during games, but he also can cut up and make jokes during practices, too. The intensity is always lurking there, though - whether it's taking the extra time to work on faceoffs with one of the rookies, or shooting dozens of pucks into an empty net to perfect a shot.

Nobody on the team faces more pressure this season than Toews. He's the leader and the prime example. This year, he was showered in accolades, from a gold medal for his home country at the Olympics, to Stanley Cup silver - he had a building and a lake named for him, even. He is the most public face of the Blackhawks and it's hard to remember sometimes that he's only 22. As the type of player who is his own worst critic, there has to be no doubt that he is acutely aware of the intensity of the focus on him as the leader of this team this season, and that has got to be influencing his performance, at least a little bit.

My prediciton is for the next three weeks for the Blackhawks to be cathartic. It starts tonight and Saturday with the Atlanta roadtrip. The current Blackhawks and the ex-Hawks-turned-Thrashers are getting together for dinner; no doubt there will be far less talk about hockey, and much more about just enjoying time together as friends.

Then the Blackhawks face off against Atlanta at 7pm ET tomorrow night. There's been lots of good-natured smack talk on both sides of the ice, and the players all mean it when they say it will be a fun game. It's always fun to play with your friends, even if they're now wearing different colors on their jerseys. (Atlanta fans, if you don't sell out the Philips Center for this one, I'll be amazed.) Both teams need the points, however, so expect to see a good contest.

The Blackhawks have had some time to rest and practice this week, and that schedule repeats next week, with games on Sunday, Wednesday, and then back to back weekend contests. Hossa will be back in the mix and Bolland will possibly be ready as the team prepares for the Circus Trip.

The Circus Trip - dubbed as such because it is the annual 2-week stretch when the circus comes to the United Center, forcing the Blackhawks and the Bulls out onto the road for the duration - is going to be important this year. Landing after this rough start to the season, but with still plenty of games left in the schedule, it could not be any more timely. Last season, the team talked about how important the time on the road was for building team comraderie. Surely the Mario Kart will come out. Patrick Kane's birthday falls the night they play Calgary, so perhaps the boys will have a bit a night out in Vancouver after the Canucks game. They're going to face the Sharks the night before Thanksgiving (a game for which I have no doubt that Niemi will be in net) and then the holiday weekend is spent playing the other California teams.

Last season, the team was dominant at home, but they played pretty good on the road, too. Players late in the season were quoted as saying that they tended to play a little different on the road: less need to impress the home crowds; and more basic, simple, straightforward hockey.

The mantra for successful hockey remains the same: keep it clean and simple. Get the puck on the net. Crash and look for rebounds.

Can they remember that philosophy, and get back to basics?

Here's hoping that the men of winter can find their focus in the weeks to come. Don't hit the panic button quite yet.