Saturday, December 31, 2011

California road trip - 1 team, 3 arenas, 900+ miles

In November, I did the California road trip to see the Blackhawks play in San Jose, Anaheim, and Los Angeles. It's an easy trip and very doable within the same 5-day timeframe that the team usually has in California. (Although I did it in 10 days so I'd have plenty of time to play tourist!)


There's three options on traveling between Los Angeles/Anaheim and San Jose. Obviously, you can fly; Southwest is a fairly inexpensive option between the two markets if you book early enough. You can also take Amtrak or the bus between the two cities. Or, you can drive yourself, as we did, and that makes for a memorable California experience.

One thing you should note if you are opting to drive yourself: if you get a rental car one-way, then you will be assessed a drop-off charge. This is $150 with most car rental companies these days. It's roughly 6.5 hrs direct drive between San Jose and LA, so it's up to you whether you want to drive yourself for this, especially round-trip - but it's worth doing. The California coastline is spectacular, and driving Big Sur is one of the great scenic routes in the U.S. (I would recommend driving it south to north, not the other way around, however!) 

We flew into Los Angeles the weekend before the California games, and drove north along the coast/Big Sur from there. Santa Barbara is worth some time to wander around; it's a gorgeous small city on the Pacific, and there are plenty of wineries located between there and nearby Solvang - this is the area where the indie film hit Sideways was filmed. The charming town of Solvang is designed to be the "Danish capital of America" - touristy, sure, but still worth a visit. Be aware there aren't many places to stop for gas along the Big Sur coastline, so you'll want to fuel up somewhere between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo (northbound) or Monterey/Carmel (southbound). At the southern end of the Big Sur drive, you will pass through San Simeon, home to Hearst Castle, one of the most opulent private homes ever built in the U.S. If you have a few hours to spare, and make reservations far enough in advance, you can tour part or all of the Hearst property.

Big Sur coastline - November 2011
If you choose to do Big Sur, it's one of the most dramatic and amazing drives you can do, but you definitely want to allow a full day to experience it. It's curvy and dramatic, you'll want to pull over frequently for photo stops, there's neat little places to stop off along the way, and you just can't drive it all that fast. Driving it northbound is an adventure; driving it southbound can be heart-pounding! Still, it's definitely worth the time, and I loved doing it, even if we didn't have perfect weather for the drive.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park - November 2011

Are you into photography or just like some really dramatic scenery for a nice walk on the beach? Then you'll want to keep an eye out for Sycamore Canyon Road within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, off the west side of the road a half mile or so north of the Big Sur post office. This narrow road winds down a couple miles off Route 1/Cabrillo Highway to a small parking lot (there are bathroom facilities available) which is easily adjacent to a secluded, spectacular beach. Here you will find the big surf which lends this stretch of California coastline its name; photographers will easily find themselves drawn in by the surf and rock formations for long stretches of time!

17-Mile Drive, Carmel - November 2011

At the north end of the Big Sur drive, you will pass through the upscale towns of Carmel and Monterey; between the two is the famous "17-Mile Drive", which can also be worth the time to visit, but is always busy - like Big Sur and the lovely coastline north of San Francisco, the 17-Mile Drive is dramatic with huge wave action, but much more accessible both time-wise and for ease of driving than other stretches of Route 1. If you are not going to drive between LA and the Bay Area, you may still want to take a morning or afternoon and make the trip down to Monterey/Carmel.

San Jose is located at the southern end of San Francisco Bay. While there are some museums and other sites in the San Jose area, San Francisco is less than an hour north, and wine country is 90 minutes away. This is a wonderful part of the country to visit, but if you're a fan of wine, you might especially enjoy visiting during October ("crush" season), or in March when the mustard is in bloom in the vineyards.

Hockey is alive and well in California. Fans and teams alike love visiting there, and no surprise there, as the warm weather is a welcome mini-vacation in the middle of the hockey season. While Anaheim is struggling to fill its seats, San Jose and LA's hockey markets are busy and popular. Overall, I had a great time in California, and would definitely encourage other fans to visit.


HP Pavilion, San Jose - 11/23/11
HP Pavilion, San Jose, CA
a.k.a. "The Shark Tank", Home of the San Jose Sharks (NHL)

TeamSan Jose Sharks
ArenaHP Pavilion
525 West Santa Clara Street
San Jose, CA

Seating capacity for hockey: 17,562
Cost of tickets$50+; lower bowl tickets start as low as $88 for some games
Ease of accessAirports:
San Jose International (SJC), 4.5 miles / 12 minutes
Oakland International (OAK), 40 minutes
San Francisco International (SFO), 45 minutes

Caltrain's San Jose Diridon Station is across the street from the HP Pavilion, with service north to San Francisco and south to Gilroy. According to the HPP's website, Caltrain usually holds their last northbound train of the day (10:30pm), M-Sa, until 15 minutes after the Sharks games let out. (Check the Caltrain website for details)

ACE bus service and VTA bus/light rail also service the HP Pavilion area.
Parking costs$25 for HPP parking; $10-20 in local lots; some street parking available in the area
Practice facility

Sharks ICE at San Jose
1500 South Tenth Street
San Jose CA, 95112
(408) 279-6000

Practices at Sharks ICE are free & open to the public, but check the current schedule on their website. The practice schedule can be hard to find because it is not accessible from the regular menu bar: instead, click the link from the Sharks banner ("announcements") which runs directly under the website's menu bar.
Pre-game meal options outside arenaNumber of options along The Alameda/West Santa Clara, west of the HPP. Tailgating is prohibited.
Local hotelsThere are a variety of choices in the area, ranging from budget to high-end.

We stayed at the Arena Hotel, located just a couple blocks west (easy walking distance) of the HPP. (This turned out to be a popular place for visiting fans.) The rate was very reasonable; it included an excellent hot buffet breakfast; every room has a huge jacuzzi tub; the rooms were clean. Best part - free hotel guest parking and walking distance to HPP meant we didn't have to drive/pay for arena parking! We would readily stay there again.
Arena exteriorDoors open 75 minutes prior to game time for Sharks. Weather in San Jose is temperate, so you shouldn't have to worry much about it being too cold if you have to stand around waiting for the doors to open!

What to do to fill time if you arrive before doors openNot very much within a one-block radius of the HPP, so say hello to your fellow fans while you wait in line!
Arena facilitiesATMs; bicycle racks; lockers available (inside South entrance); parents room (parents can use while their child attends an event at HP)
Arena dining optionsThe HPP has one of the better selections of arena dining options, ranging from typical arena fare (hot dogs, hamburgers) to Mexican, Panda Express, sushi, and more healthy fare. Their website includes a current directory of food vendors.
Team store(s)There is a team store at HPP, and you will find some unique and fun items here (like the awesome shark hat for $20), but the store is not that big and it's extremely crowded before game time. Sharks hockey is very popular in the area, however, so it is not hard to find Sharks gear at local sports stores.
Camera policyStill photography cameras with 6" or less lens, w/o flash.
SignsSigns allowed. No facilities on-site for signs; make your own at home.

Guidelines, per HPP's website: "Handheld signs are allowed at HP Pavilion at San Jose as long as they are no larger than poster size (20”x30”), do not impair the view of other guests and do not contain vulgar, offensive or graphic content."
Allowed to go down to glass for pre-game picturesYes. Fans were allowed all the way to front row unless of course those seat holders were there.

When facing the team boxes, the Sharks' box is on the left. The giant shark head that the SJ players skate out from is lowered to the ice to the left of the Sharks' box.
Special notesThe Sharks' power play song is the "Jaws" theme music (dun-dun-dun-dun....) and the fans make a shark-chomping motion with their arms to go along with it. Local fans were pretty good towards visiting fans - and were particularly friendly to folks wearing jerseys of players that are now Sharks players, notably Niemi. ("Well, you're wearing a Blackhawks jersey, but it's Niemi, so you're ok!")
Good experience for families?Yes.

Honda Center - 11/25/11

Honda Center, Anaheim, CA
a.k.a. "The Ponda", home of the Anaheim Ducks (NHL)

TeamAnaheim Ducks
ArenaHonda Center
2695 E Katella Ave
Anaheim, CA 92806

Seating capacity for hockey: 17,174
Cost of ticketsSeats start as low as $25; package deals (including drinks, food, or other incentives) may run as little as $29/seat. 100-level seats start at $80 and you can sit on the glass for as low as $290.

One of the bargains of the NHL, and no surprise that this is a popular destination for other teams' fans to road trip to, especially Canadian fans.
Ease of accessAirports:
John Wayne/Orange County Airport (SNA), 20 minutes
Los Angeles International (LAX), 45 minutes

Metrolink connects to the Honda via the local bus system. Check the Ducks website for connection information.
Parking costs$15 regular; $25 preferred. Not many choices for parking around here so you probably have to go with Honda's lots.
Practice facilityThe Rinks at Anaheim Ice
300 West Lincoln Avenue           
Anaheim, CA 92805
(714) 535-7465

Call AI to find out if there are any open practices when you might be visiting - was not able to find any schedules on either website. Practices at the Honda are closed to the public.
Pre-game meal options outside arenaJT Schmid's Restaurant & Brewery, directly across the street, is the closest dining option, so it's popular with fans both before and after games. If you head down Katella, especially heading east, you'll find more dining options.
Local hotelsAyres Hotel is located across the street if you are looking for a hotel within walking distance. I have not visited there, so I cannot tell you anything about the hotel.

We stayed in Los Angeles and had a car; the Honda Center is approximately half an hour from downtown LA. Disneyland is also located just 10 minutes west of the Honda, so there are a number of dining and hotel options there.
Arena exteriorNot a lot around the Honda - the Angels baseball park is also quite close. Tailgating prohibited. Note that you will go through a metal detector on the way in.
What to do to fill time if you arrive before doors openPose with the statue of Wild Wing, the Ducks mascot.
Arena facilitiesATMs
Arena dining optionsBasic arena food (hot dogs, burgers, etc) and pretty limited choices. Their Philly cheese steaks were not bad.
Team store(s)Pretty good sized team store with satellite locations around the concourse.
Camera policyNon-flash, non-commercial photography; lenses under 6" permitted.
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 unless of course those seat holders were there.

When facing the team boxes, the Ducks box is on the left.
Special notesNote: for Ducks goals, there are some pyrotechnics (and resulting smoke) off the Jumbotron.

As stated above, tickets here are some of the cheapest in the NHL; and with its proximity to LA's arena, no surprise that many visiting fans make traveling to Los Angeles/Anaheim a 2-for-1 package. There were probably more visiting fans than local fans at the Blackhawks vs. Ducks game we attended. A local fan who apparently had not been to many games seemed bewildered that there were so many visitor's fans in the building.

Good experience for families?Yes - and family ticket prices make it extremely affordable for NHL games

Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Home of the Los Angeles Kings (NHL)

TeamLos Angeles Kings
ArenaSTAPLES Center
1111 South Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015

Seating capacity for hockey: 18,118
Cost of ticketsThe Kings tickets operate on a sliding cost scale. Bargain games may start as low as $17/seat; premium games start at $48. Lower bowl seats start from $81-89 depending on the game. Staples Center has one of the oddest configurations of seats in the league: a two-tiered lower bowl (100 and 200 level seats) with three levels of box/suite seating above that, and finally, the top 300 seats far above. Be certain you know which kind of seats you are buying.

Ease of accessAirports:
Los Angeles International, 30 minutes

Check LA Live's website for information on local Metrolink (bus/rail) options.
Parking costs$10-25, depending on which garage you use. Street parking in the area is extremely limited.
Practice facilityToyota Sports Center
555 N. Nash Street
El Segundo, CA 90245
(310) 535-4400

Call ahead to find out if the Kings will be practicing at TSC.
Pre-game meal options outside arenaLA Live has many options, although most of them are of the sit-down variety. More "fast casual" options in the nearby downtown areas to the northeast of LA Live.
Local hotelsThere are two hotels on the LA Live property, JW Marriott and a Ritz-Carlton. Both are expensive ($200+). You can also find several other hotels within several blocks, including the Westin Bonaventure. However, most downtown-area hotels also cost you quite a lot for parking ($30-40+ for overnight, even as guest), so these hotels may end up costing you a lot more.

We based ourselves at the Bonaventure for a couple nights in LA, which was a lovely Westin property, and had great staff. It made it very convenient to get to LA Live ($7 cab ride) and was a short drive (25-30 minutes) to Anaheim.

But if I go to LA for hockey again, I would more than likely opt instead to stay somewhere like Manhattan Beach or Venice Beach, and commute to the hockey venues instead. The downtown/business core of LA is very quiet after business hours (M-F, 8am-6pm) and you end up driving elsewhere for entertainment options anyway, so if you already plan to rent a car, just do yourself a favor and stay someplace interesting.
Arena exterior
Outside the Staples Center are statues to the greats who have played their sport for Los Angeles, such as Wayne Gretzky and Magic Johnson. The Staples Center is part of the LA Live complex.
What to do to fill time if you arrive before doors openThe Staples Center is part of a multi-use entertainment facility called "LA Live!",which has many restaurant choices, a movie theater, live action theater, Starbucks, nightclubs, the Grammy Awards museum, and other entertainment options.
Arena facilitiesATMs
Arena dining optionsThe Staples Center crowd wants more than just burgers and hot dogs - this is one of the busiest arenas in the world. Sushi, fresh food, smoothies, you name it, you can probably find it in here.
Team store(s)The LA Kings store is large with a really good variety of team items. One of the best stores in the league.
Camera policyVERY strict - probably due to the high volume of celebrity sightings here. No detachable lenses; no telescoping lenses. If it's a pocket camera and/or a small-size lens, you are probably ok.
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 unless of course those seat holders were there.

When facing the team boxes, the Kings box is on the right.
Special notesThe Staples Center runs a laser light show during pre-game. In order to make the lasers show up more effectively, they fill the arena with smoke/steam prior to warmups.
Good experience for families?Of all the arenas I've been to, I have to say that unfortunately, LA has been the least friendly to visiting fans. Lots of rude smack talk, some outright insults, and, after the visiting team beat the Kings, got to watch some young kids - who were perhaps 8 or 9 - being encouraged by their dad to insult fans in non-Kings jerseys while he filmed them on video. (Way to set an example there, guy.) If I had kids, I would probably hesitate to take my kids to the Staples Center, and would instead opt to head to the much friendlier Honda Center. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The good, the bad, & what's in the middle

As most teams hit or approach the 25-games-played mark, let's take a look around the league and see how the season is shaping up.


- The Minnesota Wild have decided they're not going to be helping anybody into the playoffs next April - in fact, at the pace they're winning, they just might be in contention for the Presidents' Trophy themselves. They currently sit atop the NHL with 33 points.

- After lingering near the bottom of the league for October, the Boston Bruins remembered that they're the defending Stanley Cup champions. They had a historic November, going a staggering 12-0-1 during the past month. This not only catapulted them up to 2nd in the East / 4th overall, but they now lead the league with a mind-blowing +31 goal differential. Guess somebody learned from Chicago's mistakes last year...

- Likewise, over in the West, the Vancouver Canucks have quietly resurged, now up to 29 points, which puts them 6th in the West with a +13 goal differential. The interesting story for the Canucks is the goaltending controversy: backup Cory Schneider is currently outplaying the well-paid Roberto Luongo - and getting the starts, too.

- Detroit also remembered that hey, they're the Red Wings, and they now sit atop the Central division with 31 points. If Jimmy Howard can stay healthy, then Detroit should have no problem making yet another post-season appearance come April.

- The Florida Panthers continue to impress, currently holding the top slot in the Southeast division and #3 in the East. If you bet money on that pre-season, then go play Powerball.


- Toronto has begun slipping in the standings. They started the season extremely strongly, and built up enough points that even if they "return to form" (that is, the form we're used to seeing them at), chances are still very, very good that the Maple Leafs will hold on to a playoff position. There's no reason they shouldn't - Leafs are peppered across the leader boards; and they currently have 30 points, good enough for 4th in the East. However, their backup goalies need to tighten up, and/or James Reimer needs to get healthy and get back in the net for them.

- The Chicago Blackhawks are doing very well as far as the standings go - they continue to fight it out not only for first in the Central and the West, but the league overall. However, while their consistency issues are nowhere near the nightmare they were last year, the team is still struggling to put together a long string of games where the team looks as solid and capable as they're capable of being. The talent is there; but the Hawks need to find their drive to keep it up through the rest of the season.

- Ottawa has taken a bit of a punch to the gut, slipping to 8th in the East. Chances are good that we will see the Senators continue to flirt with a playoff berth for the rest of the season, but Washington, Tampa Bay, and Montréal - all regular post-season teams - are also fighting for playoff positioning. Surprisingly, the bottom-8 race in the East is currently closer than the race in the West. Who might end up in the final top 8 for the East is anybody's guess right now.

- Edmonton continues to be exciting to watch, but they've dropped down the standings to 10th in the West. If they can be more consistent about their play, then the Oilers might actually find themselves in playoff position.


- The Blue Jackets are currently on pace for a 51 point season. On average, it takes ~98 points to make it into the playoffs in the Western Conference. At only 15 points right now, the Blue Jackets would have to get 83 points out of their remaining 58 games - in other words, a record no worse than say, 39-14-5 (or, at very minimum, 41-16-1). So let's say that it will take Columbus 16 games to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs - which means they may be out the picture as early as January 7th.

- The Anaheim Ducks are close behind CBJ, with tonight's win giving them just 3 points' advantage over CBJ. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Teemu Selanne definitely does not want to go out on a season like this; if the Ducks can't climb into contention, will the Finnish Flash be back for one more season?

- So far, the Blues, the Capitals, and the Hurricanes have all fired their coaches and brought in new blood. How far behind can teams like the Flames, Ducks*, Blue Jackets and Islanders be?

* Even as I wrote this, the Ducks were busy firing their coach, and hiring Bruce Boudreau - who just got fired from the Washington Capitals earlier this week. Well, uh, at least the previous Ducks coaching staff went out on a win. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Taking a look at the marketing impact of the NHL ASG & Draft

Here at, we will occasionally review ongoing marketing efforts by the NHL. Today we're taking a look at the All-Star Game and the Draft.

* * *

The biggest marketing event of the NHL year is without a doubt the annual All-Star Game. Here, the most heavily-concentrated crop of this year's top performers are on display not only for fans across the league, but for those sponsors who attend the ASG - one of the most coveted and hard-to-obtain tickets of the year (short, of course, of playoff tickets and the Winter Classic). The All-Star Game is a mid-season break for the top stars of the league to mix and mingle off the ice; it's an unabashed talent showcase. Unlike MLB, the outcome of the ASG has no bearing on anything in the season - no playoff home ice advantage or anything else. It's a fun weekend for fans and sponsors; and those players who don't get committed to go to the ASG get to have a week or so off.

On Thursday, the NHL announced the 2012 All-Star Fan Ballot for the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL® All-Star Game, which will take place in Ottawa during the last weekend in January. The fan ballot helps decide 3 forwards, 2 defensemen and 1 goalie which will be guaranteed to go to the All-Star Game; the rest of the players are determined by the NHL.

The annual ballot always raises a lot of questions and arguments from fans across the league. When the ballot gets announced in November, it does not always accurately reflect the current state of the NHL.

For example, this year, Sidney Crosby is on the ballot. He's one of the faces of the NHL, and were he healthy and playing, there'd be no question about him being on the ballot. However, Crosby hasn't played a game since early last January, where he took a concussion that took him out of the 2011 All-Star Game, then he didn't play the rest of the season, and he hasn't played a game yet this season. While it's a nice symbolic gesture to put him on the ballot as the face of the NHL and in hopes that he'll be playing soon, the fact remains that he hasn't even returned to season play yet. He might return next week; or next month; or next February. Fans will vote him in anyway - he won by a landslide last year - so he should basically just have a career bye into the game.

Additionally, it's not clear how close to the release date of the ballot that the final ballot is tweaked, taking into consideration the current season's performance. Is 15 games into the season enough of a sample size to accurately gauge a player's performance, especially when many of the best players in the league often "start the season slow"? This year's ballot shows more of an awareness than last year's, but there's still plenty of question marks.
-- For example, Jaroslav Halak of the St. Louis Blues made it onto the ballot. He hasn't had an "all star" season since 2009-10, when he helped carry Montréal deep into the playoffs. He was decent but not spectacular last year for the Blues, and he's started off the current season at 2-6-0 with a .882 sv% and 2.77 GAA. Meanwhile, Chicago's Corey Crawford, who is 7-4-2, was 4th in Calder voting for 2011, and was named to the 2011 NHL All-Rookie Team, didn't even get on the ballot. Nor did Detroit's Jimmy Howard, who is 6-3-1 with a .928 sv% and 1.79 GAA, and who has consistently been a vital force in net for the Red Wings over the past three seasons.

-- Dustin Byfuglien made it into the All-Star Game last season, but his performance tanked in the second half of the year, and he still hasn't returned to the form he displayed last fall or in the 2010 playoffs.

-- Kris Versteeg has been the standout star for the Florida Panthers so far this season - he even notched a hat trick last night against Winnipeg - and yet he was left off the ballot.

These are just a few examples of players who got on or were left off the ballot that left fans scratching their heads.

Probably the top complaint about the All-Star Game is that the ballot - and more commonly, the final selection of players - doesn't always reflect every team in the market. It's all well and good to want to sell sponsors and newer fans on the "faces" of the NHL. If that's the case, the NHL should just make 5 of the available slots that are automatic "byes" into the ASG, and state that up front. ("This year's byes are Crosby, Ovechkin, (player), (player), and (player); no need to vote for them, they're already in!").

It is important for fans of every team in the NHL to feel they're represented by at least one player every year - especially the smaller and untraditional markets where fans and teams often feel overlooked. Even Columbus, sludging along at the basement of the league with just five points, has acknowledged talent in the form of team captain Rick Nash. The league can use the fan vote as a barometer which might be the most popular among equally talented players from a single team when selecting, but there should, at minimum, be one player from every team represented at the ASG.

Filling in the other "missing" teams by inviting their star rookies (who only play in the "super skills" showcase, not the game itself) doesn't make up for leaving established players out of the actual ASG, and is a slight to fans who support those teams, as well as those players who're star performers on the less-stellar teams. This year, there are at least 3 players from every team in the market represented on the ballot; but will at least one from every team make it into the final weekend lineup?

It is in the league's best interests to spread the publicity around as much as possible, not only for its member cities/teams, but those players as well. Fans in other markets might enjoy seeing Sidney Crosby (or any other top-name player) in the ASG, sure - but they'll connect with and tune in to support players from their home market more. (As a reminder, the ASG has no bearing on anything else in the league - it doesn't count for points; it doesn't determine home ice. It is simply a talent showcase.) Not every team's top player shines as brightly as those at the very top of the NHL pyramid, but the important thing to remember about hockey is that it's a team sport. Unlike baseball, where two or three powerhouse players can help carry a team high in the standings, it takes a team to make things happen. "Hockey is for everyone," says the NHL slogan. The NHL should start by ensuring that every team in the league is represented at its All-Star Game.

When talking about the value of reaching out to every market in the NHL, we shouldn't forget about the other half of the equation: location, location, location. This is something that applies not only to the All-Star Game, but also to one of the other major talent showcases within the NHL - the annual Draft, which takes place in mid-July.

It would seem simple and obvious to make a few rules about the location of both the ASG and the Draft:

1) The event (be it ASG or Draft) should have to take place in every NHL market before that market can be a repeat host.

2) There should be a minimum of several years (at least 5-10) before the same city/market can host the other. IE, if Carolina hosted the ASG in 2011, they should not be eligible to host the Draft until at least 2016 or 2021. (But more on that in a moment).

3) The ASG and the Draft should always take place in opposing conferences, and change each subsequent year. IE, if the ASG is held in an Eastern city this winter, the Draft should take place in the West. Then next year, the ASG should take place in the West, and the Draft in the East. Spread the attention around; Western Conference fans already feel like they're the redheaded stepchilden of the league.

This also ties into the Winter Classic. While Gary Bettman has openly acknowledged that a primary driver for the Winter Classic is revenue and ratings (which automatically heavily skews the WC in the favor of Original Six and northeastern teams), the same team should not be taking place in the WC within at least 4-5 seasons. The bounty of participating in the WC needs to be spread around the league; teams should not make 2 appearances in the Winter Classic within just 3 seasons.

What would be a simple way to help boost attention to the Winter Classic? Make one of the teams participating be the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

The league can give climate as a legitimate reason why the Winter Classic will never happen in "untraditional" markets like Raleigh, Dallas or San Jose; the effort to sustain skate-worthy outdoor ice conditions in these kind of markets is near-impossible, even in the heart of winter. But neither the All-Star Game nor the Draft require these kind of superhuman efforts - they're both held indoors - and need to be rotated throughout the league.

Both the All-Star Game and the Draft are a boost in several ways to their markets. The most immediate impact is financial: drawing in a large number of out-of-area visitors who will spend on local accommodations, travel, and food/entertainment. But the other half of the financial picture is the attention that these events draw to the markets which host them, especially the All-Star Game. Does Pittsburgh need the additional attention which the Draft will bring them? No, they are already a thriving hockey market. Would a city like Phoenix or Tampa Bay benefit from some publicity? Of course they would.

Let's take last year's ASG in Raleigh as a prime example. As the media descended upon Carolina en masse, though many of them had been there before, they were not expecting the warm and enthusiastic hockey atmosphere they encountered. Raleigh and its fans were showcased, and not only were there a lot of media raving about the building, the fans, and the atmosphere, but a lot of out-of-market fans who tuned in declared they were putting Raleigh on their list of NHL cities to visit. For a smaller, untraditional market like Raleigh, it was a chance to show off the depth of their fan dedication, and to show that hockey had indeed become popular in a Southern market.

The residual effect of the ASG may be a bit more challenging to measure, but undeniably, the extra NHL media coverage in these kinds of markets helps raise awareness of the sport and the league.

There's some interesting facts to note when reviewing the locations of the ASG and the Draft over the past 30-ish years.

Of those cities which have hosted the All-Star Game:

-- Just 12 of the past 30 All Star Games were held in Western Conference cities.

-- The two cities that have repeated since 1980 have been Los Angeles and Montréal.

-- Teams/cities which have not hosted the ASG in the past 31 years (or more): Anaheim, Buffalo, Columbus, Nashville, Phoenix, Winnipeg. (Ottawa is hosting their first in 2012).

-- Only 10 of the past 31 NHL Drafts were held in Western Conference cities.

-- Teams/cities that haven't hosted the Draft: Anaheim, Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, New Jersey, NYC (neither Rangers nor Islanders), Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Washington, Winnipeg.

Of those cities who hosted the Draft:

-- Buffalo, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver have all hosted twice since the Draft first left Montréal.

-- After hosting the Draft for 21 consecutive years, Montréal has hosted 3 more times since the Draft started changing cities.

-- A number of teams that didn't even exist 20 years ago have hosted the Draft; but Chicago and New York (NYR) haven't hosted it yet. You'd think the Original Six cities would've all gotten a nod by now.

The NHL should aim to give the ASG and the Draft over the next several years to those cities who have not had the opportunity to host them. While many NHL teams are in buildings that are multi-purpose, any event planner will tell you it's possible to get exactly what dates you want, so long as you're planning far enough out. There's no reason in the world that the NHL can't sit down and draft a schedule for the next 30 years, slotting every single team into the chart to host both the ASG and the Draft, and then nail down dates well in advance for these major league events.

Locations for the All-Star Game and the NHL Draft since 1980:

1981Los AngelesMontréal
1983New York (Nassau)Montréal
1984New JerseyMontréal (21st consecutive year)
1987canceled in favor of Rendez-Vous '87Detroit
1988St. LouisMontréal
1989EdmontonMinnesota (Bloomington)
1994New York (MSG)Hartford
1995ASG canceled due to partial season lockoutEdmonton
1996BostonSt. Louis
1997San JosePittsburgh
1999Tampa BayBoston
2002Los AngelesToronto
2004Minnesota Raleigh
2005ASG canceled due to lockoutOttawa
2006no ASG game due to OlympicsVancouver
2010no ASG game due to OlympicsLos Angeles
2011CarolinaMinnesota (St. Paul)

The All-Star Game and the Draft are both huge marketing tools for the NHL. The league needs to not only make sure that every team in the league gets to host these prestigious events, but that they are scheduled in such a manner that there can be exposure for both conferences in the NHL every single year. There are many very strong hockey markets in the West, but they don't get the same publicity within the hockey media that the Eastern teams do. There are several markets that could enjoy the boost in publicity that hosting an ASG or the Draft would bring.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chicago Express is on track for winning season

The Express celebrates one of their first goals of the season on home ice 10/22/11

The ECHL's newest team, the Chicago Express (Blue Jackets affiliate), is off to an impressive start (6-3-0-0) -- not bad for a team that just started practicing together about a month ago. They are coming off Wednesday night's 7-4 win vs. the Toledo Walleye (Blackhawks/Red Wings affiliate) and will be playing at home this Friday night against the Cincinnati Cyclones (Predators/Panthers affiliate), whom they are currently 2-0-0-0 against.

For those who haven't yet experienced an Express game, the team plays in the northwestern Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates. The Sears Centre Arena is one of the newest buildings in the ECHL, having opened in 2006 as a multi-use facility, and the team is currently only selling the lower bowl tickets. As a result, the local fans are enjoying a top-of-the-line home game experience.

Inaugural home game - pregame ceremony 10/22/11

The inaugural home game was a lot of fun for fans: the building was full; the Express won 4-2 against the Kalamazoo Wings (Canucks/Devils affiliate). As part of the Opening Night festivities, the team donned tuxedo-design warmup jerseys prior to the game. (As we've discussed here at HockeyBroad many times before, fun special-edition jerseys are an integral part of the ECHL hockey experience.)

If you missed that game, here is video of the opening ceremonies including player introductions and the anthem:

As is typical with ECHL teams, the Express play the bulk of their games on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, so combined with lower ticket prices, this makes ECHL hockey very appealing. The Express also offer Friday night $1 beer/$1 hot dog specials, which means with ticket prices starting at just $9, it's cheaper to go see a hockey game than a movie. For Sunday home games, bring your skates, as the team hosts a free, post-game public skate time.

This Friday night, in addition to the usual Friday special, the team will be celebrating Veterans' Day with $11.11 pricing for all club/side seating purchased at least 24 hrs prior to the game.

It doesn't matter where your NHL affections lie, either - as is typical at ECHL games across the league, fans represent a wide variety of teams, be it NHL, AHL, international or other in their choice of jerseys at the games. However, fan response to the Express has been terrific, and there are plenty of fans already sporting Express jerseys and T-shirts in the audience.

Check out the Express - you'll have a lot of fun at the games.


ECHL alignmentECHL North division / Eastern conference
Current team record6-3-0-0 (2nd in North division)
NHL affiliationColumbus Blue Jackets (2-11-1)
AHL affiliationSpringfield Falcons (6-6-0-0)
Broadcast infoCan watch online, or via radio/audio through the team website

Sears Centre Arena
5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates, IL

Parking fee for hockey games: $10
Seating capacity for hockey: 9,400
Food services at SCA provided by Levy Food Service
Ticket pricesStart at $7 for kids/seniors; $9 adult; up to $26 on the glass
Season tickets start at $5/game

Special club/side ticket pricing for 11/11 game - seats $11.11 if purchased at least 24 hrs in advance

Box office (888) 732-7784 or (224) 220-1333
Sunday special eventsAfter Sunday matinee games, fans are invited to skate with the team on the SCA ice (limited skate rentals available; fans are encouraged to bring their own)
Friday home games$1 beers & $1 hot dogs

Saturday, October 22, 2011

All aboard! The ECHL's Chicago Express makes its home debut tonight

Tonight in Hoffman Estates, one of the two newest ECHL teams, the Chicago Express, will take to the ice for their first home game in franchise history. The Express is affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the AHL's Springfield Falcons, and with their introduction to the Chicago hockey scene, makes Chicago the only major market in North America to be home to an NHL (Blackhawks), AHL (Wolves), and ECHL team.

The Express head coach and director of hockey operations, Steve Martinson, has never missed the postseason in his 15 years as head coach, including guiding the Rockford IceHogs to UHL's Colonial Cup in 2007. He's off to a good start already, as the Express beat the Toledo Walleye (Blackhawks/Red Wings ECHL affiliate) last Saturday in Toledo 5-1.

They'll face off tonight at 7:30pm CT against the Kalamazoo Wings ("K-Wings") at Sears Centre Arena (5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates). The team has fun events planned for the evening, including a train whistle giveaway (the team logo is a locomotive) and magnet schedule giveaways, an "attempt to break the Guinness World Record for most train whistles used at one time", an appearance by the ZOOperstars, and a post-game skate with the players on the team ice. The Express is currently 1-0-0 and the K-Wings (Vancouver Canucks/NJ Devils affilliate) are 2-0-0.

For those not familiar with the ECHL, it was originally formed in 1988 as the East Coast Hockey League with six teams. Due to growth within the league and the locations of teams added, the East Coast Hockey League became simply the "ECHL" starting during the 2002-03 season. The league currently encompasses 20 teams that play a 72-game schedule, and includes all corners of the nation - including Alaska.

ECHL teams are very family-friendly, with inexpensive ticket prices and hockey-related activities aimed at kids. 

There are 469 former ECHL players that have gone on to the NHL, including current players as diverse as Jaroslav Halak, Chad LaRose, Tim Thomas, Alex Burrows, and Daniel Carcillo. One level below the AHL, most ECHL teams have affiliations with one or two NHL teams; the only ECHL team currently without an NHL partner is the Las Vegas Wranglers.


NHL affiliationColumbus Blue Jackets
AHL affiliationSpringfield Falcons
Broadcast infoCan watch online, or via radio/audio through the team website
ArenaSears Centre Arena
5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates, IL
Seating capacity for hockey: 9,400
Food services at SCA provided by Levy Food Service
Ticket pricesStart at $7 for kids/seniors; $9 adult; up to $26 on the glass
Season tickets start at $5/game
Box office (888) 732-7784 or (224) 220-1333
Team mascotTrax
Team ownersCraig & Sue Drecktrah
Head coachSteve Martinson
Sunday special eventsAfter Sunday matinee games, fans are invited to skate with the team on the SCA ice (limited skate rentals available; fans are encouraged to bring their own)
Friday home games$1 beers & $1 hot dogs

Chicago Express at their first team practice on October 1, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

HB interview: Goaltender Chris Whitley of the EIHL

photo by Derek Black / Dundee Stars

Today, we're pleased to bring you an interview with goaltender Chris Whitley, who is playing his first year for the Dundee Stars of the UK's Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL). 

Player stats:

Chris Whitley - #83
Dundee Stars 2011-12
born: Feb 21, 1983 - Oshawa, Ontario
6'1", 215 pounds
Catches: Left

Allen Americans (CHL) 2009-2011
Lake Erie Monsters (AHL) 2009-10 
– nominated for Rookie of the Year and Goalie of the Year his rookie season (2009-10). 
- Set 3 CHL league records in the playoffs for games played, minutes played and saves.

Who was your favorite team and player while growing up?

My favorite team growing up was the Toronto Maple Leafs, and still will be till the day I die. However, I do have a small place for the Red Wings because they were the only team in the NHL to give me a chance to prove myself.

I loved watching Marty Brodeur as a kid. I loved being able to watch his entire career right from his start. He will be the guy I tell my kids was the best of all time!

Which current pro goalies, if any, do you admire or try to study?

I love watching Henrik Lundqvist! He is very good positionally and just an exciting goalie to watch in my eyes.

What was the funniest chirp you've ever gotten?

When I played for Lake Erie some guy asked me how the hell I got called up from the Southern Pro League. I don’t know why but it was just out of the blue in the game, and I thought it was hilarious even though it probably wouldn’t be to most people.

Let's talk about your journey to the pros first. You played college throughout hockey, a couple years in the CHL, attended a Detroit training camp, and then now the EIHL.  How did you get to where you are, and where do you hope/plan to go from here?

Well, I went to Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, for five years and got lucky enough to play in two national championships. I set every major goalie record at that school during my 5 years there. I was the OUA MVP, Goalie of the year and CIS All-Canadian my senior season. I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to play pro, or was going get any interest to play pro for that matter, once my career at Lakehead was finished. I was more focused on getting my teaching degree and looking for a job. 

In my fifth year at the nationals, I ended up playing two excellent games in front of a lot of scouts who contacted my coach and just asked what my plans were after hockey. I really didn’t know at the time, and from the end of the season I didn’t have another thought until I got a call from Jim Nill, the assistant GM of the Red Wings, in July asking if I wanted to attend the prospects tournament in Traverse City. At first I thought it was a joke from a number of my friends who are big Red Wing fans, but I didn’t recognize the area code so I thought it might be real. We talked for a bit and I gladly accepted the invitation to my first NHL camp.

photo by Derek Black / Dundee Stars
The next few weeks, I got offers from Allen and a team in Norway, and that was it. Allen offered me a spot if nothing worked out with Detroit, so I signed with them to make sure I had a place to play if nothing worked out. I had a good camp in Traverse City and continued on to the main camp for a few days, and then got released to Allen.  The camp in Detroit was an unbelievable experience and something I will cherish as the high point in my hockey career.

From there, I played the next two seasons in Allen, and came very close to two championships, but eventually lost in the final and Conference final. I’m very thankful for the time I spent in Allen, because it helped me get two AHL call-ups as well as a lot of playing time that aided my career for the better.

Finally, I had a very busy summer after I got traded from Allen to Wichita. I really wasn’t thrilled with the trade, and just took a few days to reflect on a decision to keep playing, or maybe decide to move on and get into teaching. Over the next week, I had a few offers in the ECHL as well as Europe, and had a tough decision to make. During the week, I got a call from Brent Hughes, the player/assistant coach in Dundee, whom I knew and played against in junior hockey. He knew I got traded and asked me if I would be interested in playing in Scotland. I thought it might be interesting but still wanted to know more, so over the next few days I talked to him as well as head coach Dan Ceman, and we worked out a deal and now I am in Scotland playing my third year of pro hockey.

I really don’t have a set timetable on when I want to retire. I have a degree and a job waiting for me when I finish, so I will keep playing until I don’t have the desire or no team wants me. I graduated with a Junior/Intermediate teaching degree, which means I can teach grades 4-10 when I’m done with hockey.

How has the adjustment to life abroad been for you?

Well this is my first time out of North America, so it was a pretty big change for me and my lifestyle. I’m a pretty simple guy and have never liked big change, and this was a BIG change. I have been here about seven weeks now, and have got adjusted to Dundee quite nicely. It did take a few weeks to get used to the driving and accents on some of the people here. Everyone I have met has been very nice and welcoming to me as well as the rest of the team. I have tried haggis and it wasn’t bad… but I think the next thing is to sample a few whiskies around town. I’m actually very happy I made the decision to come across to Scotland and play a different style game, as well as sample a different country and a way of life.

Most North American hockey fans aren't really familiar with the EIHL (Elite Ice Hockey League) - except, perhaps, those who saw last year's Belfast Giants & their Christmas video. It's a much smaller league, just 10 teams across the UK. From a player's perspective, what's different about pro ice hockey in the UK?

It is becoming a bit more popular, but nothing major quite yet. The league has been around for almost 10 years and attracts players in a few different situations. The league restricts each team to no more than 10 “imports” that aren’t born in the UK, which is different than the US, because players can come from anywhere. Some players come here and finish a master’s degree while playing, and some just come for the experience and to see a different part of the world. 

The rink size and quality of the arenas are a little different than playing in the US. A few rinks will seat around 2,000, and then you have others that seat 6,000-8,000 people. The widths of the rinks are a little wider than in the States, and results in more puck possession and free space for the more skilled players in the league. Our rink, for instance, is a curling rink two days a week, and made it a little interesting the first few games looking at the rings and lines all over the ice, but I don’t even notice it anymore.

photo by Derek Black / Dundee Stars
One other thing that's different than hockey in the US: after games, both teams shake hands, then line up on the blue line for a “Man of the Match” presentation, which is the best player on each team for the game, rather than a “3 stars” selection. The reward for this is a case of beer to each player to basically share with the boys after the game. 

After the MOM presentation, both teams skate around the rink and salute the fans by clapping and respecting their efforts in traveling to the game as well as cheering. It is a nice gesture, and pretty cool to see.

What's your home crowd like? Any particularly memorable fans yet?

Our home crowd is great! They have drums and chants for all the players and it’s always a constant buzz in the rink during a game. I haven’t met any memorable fans (in a bad way) but most that have approached me are very nice and easy to talk to.

What are fans like on the road? European sports fans tend to be pretty competitive - do fans follow the teams on the road like they do here? How's the experience as a visiting player?

The fans are pretty similar all over the league in the sense that they are very passionate about their own teams and they support them to the fullest. Some teams have different chants and taunts, but I find it amusing to see what each team does. We have a great fan club that travels to pretty much every game! We have played in Sheffield and Coventry, and we have had 50-60 people make the trip, which was amazing to see! The personal chirps from fans aren’t as bad here as in the States - don’t get me wrong, you still get chirped, just not as bad; and sometimes they talk so fast I don’t even understand what they said.

What do you think would help hockey's visibility in the UK?

I think the visibility is getting more attention by the year in the UK, but could still use more local and national media for awareness. Hockey players know about the UK Elite league, but I think most North American fans are unfamiliar with it unless they know someone who played over here.  I knew about this league for a few years now and am glad I got the opportunity to play in it. I know I have had a good experience so far, and would recommend guys to come over try the league out if the opportunity arises.

photo by Derek Black / Dundee Stars

Last question: tell us about your mask design.

My old mask designs usually revolved around a Batman theme because he is my favorite super hero. But this time I was trying something new, and figured I would gear it more towards the city of Dundee. So I tweeted with some people I had connected with from Dundee, and got them to throw some ideas out at me. 

photo courtesy of Chris Whitley
One common thing was Desperate Dan, who was a comic book hero who originated in Dundee. (see picture, right) I thought it might be cool to do it, so I got my artist, Rob Zuback, to incorporate it on my mask. The rest I left up to Rob. 

We came up with a few ideas for what I wanted on the mask, such as history and landmarks in Dundee and Scotland. So I have Robbie Burns (a famous poet), the war memorial on Law Hill, as well as the Royal Arch in Dundee.  On the back plate, Rob threw in a Batman picture as well as a Canadian flag. I also threw in a LU symbol as a shout-out to my old university, which I have done on my pro masks.

I usually give him the mask, and just say call me when it's done! But he is great and sends me pics of things he finished to make sure I like it. I was really happy with the outcome of the mask.

You can follow Chris Whitley on Twitter at @ChrisWhitley83.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Blogosphere predictions for the 2011-2012 season

This year, we decided to get predictions from around the blogosphere to weigh in on their predictions for the 2011-2012 NHL season. Three female and three male bloggers (plus of course yours truly) voiced their opinions.

The 2011-2012 panel participants:
Adam - @Adam_KOL - Adam writes for the blog "Kings of Leonis" (Capitals) as well as also contributing to SB Nation DC, Raw Charge, and Mr. Irrelevant DC.

Ann - @annabelle151 - Ann writes the blog "You're My Boys, Blues" at Aerys Sports (Blues) and also writes for Aerys's Kitchen Sink

Carolyn - @HMof2 - Carolyn writes for and

Cheryl - @HockeyBroad - Hey, that's me! Covering the Blackhawks for TheCheckingLine and TheHockeyWriters in addition to Contributing photographer for The Goalie Guild and InGoal Magazine

Kelly - @KellyBHDL - Kelly is one of the main writers for Blackhawks Down Low

Matt - @DownGoesSpezza - Matt contributes for the Maple Leafs at TheCheckingLine and also writes DownGoesSpezza

Sarah - @Sarah_Connors - Sarah writes for

Let's start off by looking at more general predictions across the league - how will the divisions shake out?

Pretty near-unanimous across the board in all three Eastern divisions, with Pittsburgh and Washington expected to dominate and for Boston to strongly defend their Stanley Cup.

It gets more interesting in the Western conference, where our participants only share one strong opinion - that Vancouver will again dominate the Northwest. Predictions are pretty evenly split for the Pacific, with the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings again battling it out for the top slot in a heavily-contended division, and while Chicago is strongly favored in Central, Detroit and Nashville gets nods as well.


When we started discussing point spreads, however, that's when things were a bit more interesting. Washington was expected to have a strong showing in the East, but our panelists were split between who would take home the President's Trophy next spring.

While three of the four eastern participants felt Boston would be there to defend their title again in the Final round, western bloggers were a bit more mixed, opting for Tampa Bay, Washington and Pittsburgh. For the western champs, nearly evenly split between San Jose, Los Angeles and Chicago. Based on those, it's not surprising to see the mix of predictions of who will take Lord Stanley home next June.


Who will take home some hardware next spring? There's not many sweeps across the board, but Geno Malkin's return - especially with Crosby still off the ice - is expected to help give him a boost in favor of the Hart. If Barry Trotz can take his team to the playoffs again - and no doubt he will, despite losing some top offensive players - then the Jack Adams might finally go his way. Shea Weber will likely take home his first Norris; Ovechkin will be back to form in the scoring department; Kesler is going to look to defend his Selke; and this just might be the year for Pekka Rinne.

Art RossMalkinStamkosMalkinOvechkinMalkinH SedinMalkin
Conn SmytheVokounLecavalierCharaSharpKeithThorntonBergeron
De Costa
HartMalkinStamkosMalkinMalkinMalkinD SedinMalkin
Jack AdamsBoucherTrotzQuennevilleTrotzTrotzTrotzTrotz
Lady ByngSt LouisDatsyukPariseLidstromDatsyukLidstromSt Louis
Rocket RichardOvechkinD SedinStamkosOvechkinOvechkinD SedinStamkos
SelkeKeslerKeslerKeslerToewsKeslerM RichardsBergeron

Finally, a little bit of fun -- taking a look at who'll impress, and who'll need a reality check. Coach Kevin Dineen, new head coach of the Florida Panthers, is expected to make the strongest immediate impact. Beyond Florida, however, it's anybody's guess as to who'll improve the most, who's going to be a stand out, and who might crash and burn along the way. We'll check back in when spring rolls around and see how our panelists did!

player of year
CarterAnthony StewartHallBurnsFrolikMatt CarleSeguin
Brad RichardsSetoguchiE ColeLeinoLeinoMalkinWinnipeg Jets
Team w/
biggest surprise
most on paper
New coach w/
biggest impact
Dineen (FLA)DeBoer (NJ)Dineen (FLA)Dineen (FLA)DeBoer (NJ)Dineen (FLA)Dineen (FLA)
MVP 2010-11
EhStew13bryzgalov30Brenter37grabs40ryanwhitney6BizNasty2point0EhStew13 &
Predict new 
player on
Dustin ByfuglienTim ThomasNicklas BackstromTuukka RaskPhil KesselPhil KesselPatrik Berglund

What's your thoughts? Who do you predict for the various categories?