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We’re going to Berlin

Saturday, July 30, 2022: Berlin, Germany

VFB Bochum 1848 3, FC Viktoria 1889 Berlin 0

‘Berlin, Berlin, wir fahren nach Berlin’

‘Berlin, Berlin, we’re going to Berlin’ — that’s the song football supporters sing on the terraces during games in the DFB Pokal, the German cup. Though I didn’t hear it today, perhaps because this first round match actually took place in Berlin, between two squads that were highly unlikely to be in Berlin for the final in May at the Olympiastadion.

A Pokal match was on my bucket list for the summer trip to Germany, and the weekend of the first round of the German cup competition found me in the Hauptstadt.

Would there be a match in Berlin? Well, there had to be.

A charming aspect of the German cup is that the first round is always hosted by the lower seed. Which means the big-shot Bundesliga teams must travel to play the lower seed, playing in a lower-league environment.

After the top 40 spots are filled with first, second, and a handful of third division teams, the balance of the tournament is filled with winners of each regional cup competition. Berlin is its own region, ergo, it would have a team hosting a Pokal match,  (In addition to its two first-division teams, who hit the road).

Stepping up for Berlin this year was FC Viktoria 1889 Berlin, which won the 21-22 Berlin Cup, a bit of a consolation prize for a year in which it was relegated after one season in the national third division.

Now preparing for a return to the regional league, Viktoria presumably had even fewer resources to bear to field a roster in its Pokal challenge, but it still carried the stadium lease it signed for its single season in the national competition, hosting the game at the East German museum piece that is the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Stadion.

It’s a somewhat dilapidated edifice epitomizing the vast gulf between socialist aspirations and outcome, in which the East German national team and Stasi favorites Dynamo played literally next to the wall that kept East Berliners from slipping to the West.1Both sides that merged to make today’s Viktoria were in West Berlin.

The groovy light stanchions really tie the room together.

The setting has been improved, as the fortifications next to the stadium have been replaced by a park.

They’re only allowed to sell 10,000 tickets at the 20,000 seat venue, which appears to be minimally maintained amid redevelopment plans moving along at Berlin’s typical snail’s pace.

That limit is of little concern, as Viktoria appears to be primarily a youth and development club without a huge fan base for its senior squad.

And only 5,573 tickets were sold for this sunny Berlin Saturday afternoon, the clear majority to Bochum fans who either traveled 300 miles from the Ruhr or have moved to the capital.

The Bochum ultras provided much of the show, filling up the stands behind the south goal with singing and choreographed smoke displays in the team’s blue and white colors.

Bochum supporters make smoke during the Pokal match against Viktoria Berlin in July 2022.
Bochum’s supporters make themselves known behind the south goal.

But Bochum garb dominated in the main stands as well, which were conflict-free, leaving the riot police that had been dispatched to the game with little to do.

Bochum as a club is more used to second-division life in the shadows of nearby Shalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund, but was a tough out after winning promotion to the 21-22 Bundesliga and was never in relegation danger.

So there was a wide gap between the two teams, but not so wide that the game was uncompetitive, though if Bochum had better finishers the score would have been much uglier.

The Berliners were able to control the ball for periods and mount a bit of pressure. Their forward Moritz Seiffert was fast, and appeared to be a dangerous outlet that the Viktorians tried to use several times.

He was fast enough to ask, ‘Why is he in a Regionalliga?’ The answer perhaps showing in an inability to shoot or cross advantegiously after he gained position.

Bochum missed several opportunities early on, before scoring in the 19th and 22nd minutes to remove most doubt, the second goal coming  from Takuma Asano, who would go on to make a bigger impression on German football fans in November, when his late goal for Japan gave the team a World Cup win over Germany.2Though he hasn’t scored for Bochum since.

It was a pleasant sunny afternoon of football, with some touches of quality despite the early season rust in what turned out to be one of the higher points of the season for both squads, now facing relegation fights in their respective leagues, though Bochum won its second-round match and host a Pokal derby Feb. 8 against Borussia Dortmund.

A Soccer Sunday in Slovenia

Sunday, July 24, 2022: Ljubljana, Slovenia

NK Bravo 1, FC Koper 0

I didn’t go to Europe this summer to watch soccer — but I still managed to get three games in, all in venues still radiating communist-era vibes.

That run started in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where I was delighted to find that late July was late enough for the second round of the country’s first-division soccer league, the PrvaLiga.

NK Bravo player and FC Koper player contest the ball in a soccer match.
NK Bravo’s
Mark Španring tries to control the ball against FC Koper’s Luka Kambič. Credit: NK Bravo

And first-division squad NK Bravo was at home the weekend I was in town.

Bravo is not the dominant club in Ljubljana — that status probably belongs to Olimpija, which styles itself as inheritors of the tradition of the Yugoslav-era club of the same name.

Bravo tells a more modest story about itself1If you trust Google translate — the club launched in 2006 with a focus on developing young players, and as those young players aged they joined the league system, rising up the pyramid until qualifying for Slovenia’s first division in 2019.

Unlike their crosstown rivals that play in the late-model stadium used for national team games, Bravo plays in a more humble venue, Park Šiška, the stands of which carry that retrofuturistic socialism vibe that still lingers in parts Slovenia, more than three decades after Yugoslavia became former.

View of south end of Park ŠIŠKA
A view of the south end of the Park Šiška stadium. Credit: Hockeywanderer

It still does its job. It was searingly hot in Ljubljana that week but the thoughtful architect provided for a covered grandstand, making conditions tolerable, for fans at least.

The game itself was quite enjoyable to watch at a pretty high level of quality, for a reasonable 10 Euros at the gate.

Bravo came out of the gates cool, calm and collected, testing the squad from Koper, forcing keeper Adnan Golubovic to make spectacular some saves.

Koper which found its way into the game later in the first half, and Bravo seemed to fade; Bravo keeper Matija Orbanić saved the day with a fingertip save on the rebound of a Koper shot that hit the crossbar.

As halftime neared, a turnover at midfield led to a quick Bravo counter in which two sharp passes got the ball to trailing midfielder Almin Kurtovič in the box, and the 22-year-old beat the keeper for what proved to be winning score, greeted by loud goal music and a screaming announcement.

That was the only goal, but I thought the game was fun to watch, with attacking football and good passing.

Reunion: The first home game of the season was a get-back-together occasiion for most of the 750 people in attendance. I’d describe the crowd as fairly chatty through most of the game, though the audience rose to the occasion when the game demanded it. In the first half, sitting on the south end of the single stand, I thought I heard organized, ultra-style rhythms coming from the north end. It turned out to be five kids with a couple of Thundersticks.

Partly cloudy: vaping is a thing at Slovenian soccer games.

Sound as ever: I believe they added amperage, but not sound quality, to the original Tito-era PA system.

History lesson: Park Šiška was originally known as the Railway Athletic Club and the stadium is in fact wedged between two railway lines that meet to its south.

Game Summary

Game Recap (in Slovenian)

Highlights

Photos

Book Review: Up The Ladder of Success, With Trepidation

Scheisse! We’re Going Up!
By Kit Holden

This book is definitely a niche product — niche inside a niche here in the U.S. where I sit — but I sit right in that obscure niche and this book is just about perfect for me.

Time was, not that long ago, that I realized, hey, this ESPN+ subscription I got to watch hockey games also gets me view every single Bundesliga game.

I love soccer, I’m underwhelmed by Major League Soccer, and my life’s circumstances have me up early on weekend mornings anyway so 6:30 am Saturday starts don’t faze me: I’ll watch the Bundesliga.

Then, I thought, this’ll be more fun if I pick a team. Can’t be a front-runner like Bayern. And I had (at the time) vague plans to visit Berlin.

Even a newbie like me could tell Hertha Berlin was a clown show. But Union Berlin — this recently promoted club that came out of the old East Germany — that seems interesting.

Well it was. The team plays with heart every week and is easy to support for that reason alone — but it is also far better at winning football games than I (or anyone, really) expected, sitting as I write this on top of the whole league a fifth of the way into the season.

And the scene at the stadium — even during the pandemic, with capacity limits — was clearly different than that of the other German stadiums I saw on the screen.

This book does a very good job of explaining the club and fan culture of 1. F.C. Union Berlin to a relative newcomer like me. It starting from its G.D.R. origins, putting a reality check on the rebel club mythology dating from those times when they were the institutional underdogs to the other major Berlin club, the Stasi-supported Dynamo, and continues though Union’s difficult times after the Wall fell.

What you will not find is an explanation of why the team wins so much today: that examination of Union’s Moneyball approach to European football would be the province of another book (in English anyway, maybe it’s been written in German).

The heart of his story is Holden’s long conversations and interviews with people involved in the club in various ways, over various periods of time, and from various perspectives.

While the club came out of the GDR, my take is that its identity today fundamentally stems from people who pulled together during the real tough times of the 90s and early 2000s when Union was at the financial brink, more than once, in the wild and ruthless football economy of the recently reunified Germany.

Holden’s theme is that what continues to make Union Union is its roots as a Köpenick neighborhood club, something that members and leaders hold on to even as its success and anti-marketing approach to marketing makes it attractive far beyond the woods and lakelands of eastern Berlin to people like me. And the question he poses, but can’t answer, is can Union maintain that as it soars to success on the field in a city gong through similar changes in its own right?

I hope they succeed.

Eisern!

‘Scheisse! We’re Going Up’ is published in paperback and ebook by Duckworth Books in the U.K. It is readily available in the U.S. an ebook through the usual channels. It was my good fortune that the Union Zeughaus sold me a paperback during a summer trip to Berlin before its official release date.

Livin’ in the USL

This year I’ve been able to attend two USL Championship games, one on each coast, hosted by two teams having seasons that may well be best remembered for weird and abrupt coaching departures.

Saturday, April 30, 2022: Oakland, California

Colorado Springs Switchbacks 3, Oakland Roots 0

What if you come up with a really great merchandise concept, built around the soccer team with a distinct identity (and IP)?

This is the idea I can’t shake when I think about the Oakland Roots.

The team in fact does team up with the truly excellent and truly locally rooted Oaklandish brand for its apparel.

Which could lead one to wonder if the actual soccer team is just sort of a technicality needed to sell the merchandise, the way Southeastern Conference schools must hold classes in order to qualify as college football programs.

It is true, they had some trouble with the basics along the way to fielding a second-division soccer team in Oakland.

But by many accounts team officials are walking the walk to earn their “community based” reputation, though the Roots are ultimately owned by the usual private equity type suspects.

Oakland Roots corner kick
Charlie Dennis takes a first-half corner for the Oakland Roots against Colorado Springs on April 30, 2022.

I suspect I’d have a less cynical take if I’d simply had a better time at the soccer game.

But I made some newbie mistakes that detracted from the experience.

Some of it stems from the Roots community-based approach. For instance, they close off a street next to the venue during the games, and the food and drink is sold by local food trucks. Which is cool.

Attending this game solo, I bought a general admission ticket.

And though I got there early, and hungry, the lines at the food vendors forced me in to a Hobson’s choice between being able to see the game and eating. I went for the game.

Part of the problem here is the Laney College Football Stadium. It’s just not big enough, even for second-division soccer. More to the point, though stated capacity is 5,500, only 3,500 are seated and that doesn’t mean the remaining capacity is a Bundesliga-style standing terrace — it’s just standing around wherever you can.

Anyway, I did find a perch on one of the short bleachers on the east side of the field, and I also got to see a competitive and for the most part high-quality soccer game.

Food trucks at Oakland Roots game
Food trucks at the Oakland Roots game, of which I could not partake.

The final scoreline doesn’t reflect the state of play on the field — Oakland failed to take advantage of good chances, including one of the slowest penalty kicks I’ve ever seen taken by a pro, allowing Colorado Springs to strike on the counter in the second half, repeatedly, and put the game away.

USL soccer is quite watchable, and it’s nice to have a team so close to home, so I will be back to watch the Roots, and next time come prepared.

That said, as much as we already have too much stadium drama in the East Bay, the Roots need a better venue. And the Roots, who appear to have been reading over my shoulder while this post was in drafts, now formally agree.

Fashion note: The Kelly green and gold kit — shoutout to those great Oakland A’s teams — looked fantastic.

Game recap here.

Highlights here.

Saturday, July 9, 2022: Hartford, Connecticut

Tampa Bay Rowdies 3, Hartford Athletic 2

If the Roots management needs a blueprint for how to build a USL stadium for soccer fans, they could do worse than take notes at their Oct. 8 road match in Connecticut.

The Hartford Athletics’ stadium is much more welcoming to fans.

Trinity Health Stadium is simple: there’s a soccer field, and on either side of the field are bleachers that provide a good view of the field.

Not that there wasn’t a cost: the old Dillon Stadium is a historic venue, but the state government issued $10 million of bonds to fund new bleachers (and I guess the unfortunate artificial turf field) for the Athletic.

And if there’s a next time for me, I’ll even know that a local brewery has a taproom a short walk from the stadium.

Hartford Athletic soccer fans display scarves
Athletic fans demonstrate the teams success in selling merch.

That said, the concessions in my recollection were fairly priced for a U.S. sports event and the food was even edible.

The game gets underway after ‘Seven Nations Army’ is blasted at 90 decibels, and is a pretty good one to watch.

Hartford, though well behind the Rowdies in the standings, played them evenly.

My notes say Juan Obregon Jr. and Joel Johnson were making things happen on the Hartford frontline, though Johnson is listed as a defender and I note later in the game he was playing further back.

The game was highly dramatic.

Tampa got on the board first and took a 1-0 lead to halftime, but the Athletic roared back in the second to take a 2-1 lead, thanks in part to the interesting choice of the Tampa Bay keeper, a man with arms and hands, to head the ball out of the back. Hartford’s Danny Barrera deposited it in the back of his net seconds later.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Hartford Athletic ahead of their July 9 game at Trinity Health Stadium in Hartford.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Hartford Athletic ahead of their July 9 game at Trinity Health Stadium in Hartford.

But in the end the Rowdies win — on the back of a completely deserved penanlty in the 73rd minute, as well as a game-deciding 98th minute penalty that makes one ask, why, if the USL can stream every game, does it not have VAR?

Why did I like the Hartford experience more? The Roots and the Athletic both play in stadiums with room for about the same number of people — the difference is that Hartford has room for 5,500 people to get a good view of the game. Also, you can get concessions and still come back and see the game. Though I’d also note that official attendance was 5,090 and there appared to be more than 410 free spaces on the bleachers of the former Dylan.

Musical note: They won me over (and frankly made me a bit verklempt) by playing “Brass Bonanza” after each goal, just as the Hartford Whalers did.

The power of branding: During the first half, the precocious kid behind me shouted: “I want to see a Bank of America corner kick.”

Game recap here.

Highlights here.

Sputtering to the finish line

Sunday, September 19, 2021: Stockton, California

Modesto Nuts 7, Stockton Ports 0

Please bear with me for a minute.

I’m going to talk about promotion and relegation.

North American sports fans who haven’t run for the exits may be asking, ‘What is promotion and relegation?’

It’s the professional sports structure, well known in European soccer but used widely elsewhere and in other European sports, in which the last place or low-finishing teams in a league are relegated to a lower league while the winners are promoted into the higher league.

For popular sports in large countries that pyramid goes a long way – in Germany for example, the soccer league system has 13 tiers.

But what on earth does that have to do with the flippin’ Stockton Ports?

The game I watched, the last game of the weird, pandemic-flavored 2021 minor league season, reminded me of many of the flaws, from a spectator’s or fan’s standpoint, of the North American minor leagues, our own version of the league pyramid in baseball and hockey.

Stockton-Ports-Banner-Island-infield
Stockton Ports players on defense on Sept. 19, 2021.

The minors are made of farm teams, directly subservient to their major league parents.

The question is: is it much a sport if a team isn’t serious about winning the game it’s playing?

What you often get in the minors is not the best effort to win with the players on the roster, but rather to give the big league club a chance to look at talent or give prospects a certain amount of time.

Case in point: Stockton’s starting pitcher was dealing through four scoreless innings.

And he got the hook after four innings in favor of a fellow with a six-plus ERA who proceeded to load the bases without getting an out.1In his defense he managed to get out of that jam with one run, but still.

I’d rather see a game where the goal of the team is to win, as opposed to playing exhibition games to ‘develop the talent.’ 2For all I go on about relegation the Ports would have nowhere to go down to but the Arizona instructional league. Still, imagine if the champs moved up to AA. Anyway, Visalia did even worse in ‘Low-A West’.

Which was in short supply at this low end of the A’s organization, which sent up a parade of sub-.200 hitters against a Mariners affiliate who sent up many players with averages over .300. The final outcome was no fluke.

Anyway, Stockton’s waterside ballpark was a pleasant-enough venue to take in a baseball game, though the modest attendance helped me manage any lingering pandemic crowd anxiety.

Stockton-Ports-outfield
View from the outfield of Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, California, during the Ports’ final game of 2021.

It wasn’t even all that hot by Central Valley standards, and a passing cold front had even left the air clean, but the sun and lack of shade tell me Banner Island Ballpark might be a better place to visit at night.

Pay attention: The crowd, such as it is was quite disengaged, perhaps adding to the desultory nature of the experience, not really cheering for good plays by the home squad, including a nice double play. They did applaud when home-team pitcher Edward Baram got the hook during the ninth. It was poignant to think that for some of these players this game will turn out to be the end of their professional careers.

What’s in a name?: I’m calling them the Ports, but the team actually for this game and the previous few went by Caballos de Stockton as part of some promotional cosplay beyond my comprehension.

stockton-ports-caballeros
Stockton Ports players decked out in their Caballeros uniforms for the final game of 2021.

This includes circus-in-town uniforms with teal, purple and fuscia striping because that has something to do with hourses3I don’t actually think so.

Pandemic Theatre: The first base coaches wore face masks. No one else did.

Dropsies: The catchers dropped many, many third strikes, but no batters came close to making a play of it at first.

Game recap here and here. Box score here and here.

Does the flame still burn?

Monday, January 20, 2020: Stockton, California

Stockton Heat 5, Colorado Eagles 0

This was my third time watching hockey in Stockton, and every time the crowd is smaller.

To be fair, a game played on the Monday afternoon of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday may not be a representative sample for a team that usually plays night games, but attendance concerns have been documented elsewhere , along with rumors of a possible move.

Subsequent to my visit, the team signed a one-year lease extension  with the city, which should be short enough to keep the rumors flying.

View of Stockton Arena, home of Stockton Heat hockey.

I hope they stay — it’s nice to have another quality, affordable hockey outlet that’s in driving range. And the arena is a good venue with good sightlines.

In any case, the Heat got the drop on their opposition, scoring 26 seconds in, and cruised to an easy win. Appears to be representative of what was shaping up to be a solid season, with the team in playoff position when the 2019-20 season was abruptly ended.

Thunder rumbles: On my previous visit in 2018, I was surprised not to see anybody wearing Stockton Thunder sweaters. (The Heat replaced the Thunder in 2017 as part of minor league realignment that brought the higher-level AHL to California.)

Stockton Thunder jerseys for sale at Stockton Heat game
Thunder jerseys were for sale at a premium price to mark 15 years of hockey in Stockton.

This year, the Heat were leaning in to the 15th anniversary of pro hockey in Stockton, with a special third jersey and Thunder merchandise for sale.

Ms. Hockey Wanderer is sad to learn: Two grown man had a fight. On the ice.

Attendance: 1,445

Recap here.

Box score here.

(Next Door to) Where it all Began

Sunday, March 17, 2019: Buffalo, New York

Buffalo Sabres 4, St. Louis Blues 3 (SO)

It wasn’t the first time I watched the Buffalo Sabres play at home.

But it’s been a while.

A long while.

So long ago that the were still playing in the Aud.

The Hockey Wanderer origin story comes out of Western New York.

An Elementary-school kid, less-than-ideal family life, bouncing around from school to school, who found a new obsession to help keep his mind off his troubles: the Sabres.

I watched the games on TV, I read about them in the Buffalo News. I listened to them on the radio where the play-by-play calls fired my imagination was fired and WGR-55 gave me the mistaken impression that “Sabre Dance” was a team jingle rather than a seminal piece of 20th century modern music.

And I will never forget the Christmas present I received when I was nine years old: tickets to the Sabres game four days later against the Detroit Red Wings.

The public skates on the site of the old Aud.

I remember the view of the ice from the cheap seats at the Aud. I remember that Danny Gare scored one of the Sabres’ goals. And I remember that the Red Wings scored with three seconds to go to tie it up. (I have double-checked the date and score and the four-decade-old memories are correct.)

As it turned out, I didn’t really see the game.

It wasn’t until the next year that my fourth-grade teacher deduced I was nearsighted, and quite dramatically so. I was basically taking in a white blur, surrounded by the Aud’s gold seats.

My dad never took me to another game in Buffalo. Having his car broken into during the game probably put a damper on the occasion for him. It was a cold ride back to Niagara Falls in late December without a passenger window.1My mom took me to a game at the Aud a few years later. A 7-3 rout of the Leafs. So the Sabres are undefeated in home games I attend.

The French Connection.

Anyway, life took me away from Western New York by middle school.  I’ve remained a fan, even though my other ties to the area are gone. I’ve seen the Sabres play far more often in Hartford, then later in San Jose.

But it was time to go back again.

THE VENUE

Not that it’s the same home — the Aud is long gone.

As for the two-decade old Marine Midland Arena HSBC Arena First Niagara Center2The sequential name changes to the Sabres’ arena tell a tale of consolidation in the banking industry, much as the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark did for telecom. KeyBanc Center, much of the local commentary about it is about how much of a dump it is.

Given those low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised, though my impressions may have been favorably influenced by good seats I picked up inexpensively on StubHub amid the debris of another blown season.

The arena’s surroundings appear to be rounding into shape, taking advantage of the waterfront location to create a pleasant public space.

The well-lit atrium.

The large, glassy atrium at the entrance offers a better transition between street and seat than I am used to. There appeared to be a wide variety of food, but I didn’t try any after sating myself before the game.

But some of the griping is justified. The seat was uncomfortable. My knees were jammed into the seat in front of me, and my chair looked like it has seen more than a few wet clean-ups.

THE GAME

The weird thing was, it was a great hockey game. I mean it shouldn’t be weird, but this is the Buffalo Sabres, a team sportswriter John Vogl recently and correctly described as being in the midst of an eight-year-long tire fire.

But the Sabres went against recent form and came to play against a tough opponent in St. Louis. They held possession on offense and passed successfully. They were willing to fight for the puck in the corners, and they were willing to get physical, most notably on a third-period shift when every non-goaltender on the ice landed at least one solid check against the Blues, generating a rousing ovation.

Maybe I’m their lucky charm.

St. Patrick’s Day eyesores.

Notes:
It was a 5:00 start on St. Patrick’s Day, and the Sabres celebrated for their drunken fans with special practice jersey that was a dog’s breakfast of Irish tropes.

Home and away:

I’m used to being among many Sabres fans attending games on the road. Here in Buffalo there were a truckload of Blues fans.

My wife will be happy to read this:
There were no fights.

Game wrap ups here, here and here.

A Whale of a Rink

Saturday, December 8, 2018: New Haven, Connecticut

Yale 3, Union 0 (men’s ice hockey)

Ingalls Rink looks spiffed up. It has a sheen on it.

It’s not the slightly scruffy place I remember going to as a middle and high schooler, when I could get my dad to drop me off to watch some inexpensive college hockey.

Turns out it did get a pretty big renovation a few years ago.

There are no bad seats.

But its fundamental virtues are unchanged. Underneath the wrapping of its distinctive Eero Saarinen-designed “Yale Whale” shape is a hockey rink — it’s small enough, and cold enough, to be a rink as opposed to an arena — with a capacity of 3500, hundreds of which are standing spots (including my $12 ticket).

As I kid, I remember a great hockey atmosphere. That hasn’t changed, as the contest between two squads performing well in the ECAC drew a knowledgeable and engaged crowd.

Other than the annoyingly shouty PA announcer, this is a great place to watch a hockey game.

And the hockey?

Setting aside for a moment the overall wretchedness of big-time college sports, D-1 college hockey is highly watchable; fantastic entertainment put on by skilled players.

It drove me nuts that the linesmen couldn’t agree on a font.

In this game, I’d say Yale had the edge in skill and speed but Union was highly disciplined, and it took all that skill and speed to break down the Union defense and put the Bulldogs on the board with 1.6 seconds to go in the first.

The scorer of that goal, Yale’s Joe Snively, was flat-out lit all night, a dominant force on the ice, and absolutely brought the house to its feet with his second goal, on a shorthanded breakaway. He’s an undrafted senior, and it’ll be interesting to see what his prospects are, but the pro game has been shifting to one where speed and skill count more than size, which should help him.

Farewell: There was a pregame ceremony for Bryan Hicks, who was about to referee his last college hockey game.

A note on video: I learned they have video review in college hockey. But I could find no highlights of this game in front of any paywall.

A note on music: The Yale band was there, and it played “Brass Bonanza,” as one should at a hockey game in Connecticut.

My wife will be happy to read this: There is no fighting in college hockey.

Game Reports: Here, and here

 

Box Score: Here

Dragons Are Real

Thursday, April 12, 2018: Nagoya, Japan

Chunichi Dragons 9, Tokyo Yakult Swallows 4

I sampled a baseball game on my first-ever trip to Japan.

It was a cultural experience, aided by my own incompetence.

As easy as it is for a foreigner to use Japanese public transit, it is tricky as hell to navigate something like a baseball game.

Bear in mind that I do not speak or read Japanese, and had spent all of four days in Japan.

I wandered up to the Nagoya Dome on a weeknight, entering the situation cold. My first mission: how to buy a ticket and get in.

Figuring out where to buy a ticket: simple enough.

Now where do I go?

What do I do when I get to the front of the ticket line: not so simple.

My goal: getting a ticket in the 2000-yen range (roughly 20 bucks). Through a series of very bad mime moves, pointing at the ticket price chart, and displaying two 1,000-yen bills, I did end up with a ticket.

Which turned out to be in the supporters’ section.

 

Talk about your full-on cultural experience.

This is one of the key things that makes Japanese baseball a bit different from the North American Way. These supporters’ sections, in the outfield, are constantly drumming, and singing, and chanting a series of chant-songs, following the cues of a cheer-master at the front of the section.

So this was interesting. I must have stuck out like sore thumb, but I went along with it, stood when everyone stood, cheered when everyone cheered, even high-fived my neighbor when Zoilo Almonte hit a first-inning home run as the home team put up three runs in the first frame.

This was not at all a sold out game, so after a couple innings trying to fit in, I snuck off and returned to one of the neighboring, non-supporter sections to take up my normal fly-on-the-wall observer role.

Other things that are different in Japan:
Pregame (and in-game) dance team.

Look out for the wall!

No warning track; just a painted line one would miss is looking up for a fly ball.

And the most civilized of all: the team offers paper cups at the entrance for people to carry their canned beer in. Can you even image that in the U.S.? At 700-750 Yen, the stadium beer is pricy for the local market, though obviously cheaper than in MLB.

Things that are similar:
Japan has video replay review, and it also takes forever in the Far East. All to overturn a bunt out with a 6-1 lead.

Pace of play — the game took more than three-and-a-half hours. So it’s understandable that after six, with the home team ahead 9-1, Dragons fans headed en masse for the exits, echoing the Dodgers look of their team’s uniforms.

Rueful observation: This would have been a great night for outdoor baseball.

Recap here.  Archived here.

Box score here.  Archived here.

The Heat is On

Sunday, February 25, 2018: Stockton, Calif.

Stockton Heat 4, San Diego Gulls 2

I can’t believe it’s been 11 years since I last ventured to Stockton for a hockey game.

Things have changed a bit.

The old Stockton Thunder of the low-minor-league ECHL are gone, replaced by a Calgary Flames farm team as part of the 2015 realignment of minor league hockey that put five members of the highest-level minor league, the American Hockey League, in California.

The AHL team came with a new identity, the Stockton Heat, with uniform and logo closely aligned with the Flames’, um, flame motif.

Despite the higher quality of play, I wonder if the bloom has gone off the rose somewhat for hockey in Stockton.

Attendance was announced at 3,370 — hopefully it was just a slow Sunday. Maybe they should have offered more Andrew Mangiapane  bobbleheads. I was there early but not early enough to get one.

Anyway, the game was proficiently played, in the way that has made pro hockey a little boring to watch, in which effective defensive disruption in the neutral zone made it hard for either team to maintain much in the way of interesting puck possession. On the other hand, most of the goals, as I recall, came on fast moving breakout plays.

The pest: Watching the warmups, I pegged the Heat’s Ryan Lomberg as a bit of a wise-ass. True to form the player, who was up and down from Calgary all season, was exactly that kind of on-ice pest you want on your team and hate on your opponent’s. His heads-up play netted him two assists.

A long road from Moline: Backup goalie C.J. Motte, signed that very day, wore a helmet painted for the Quad City Mallards.
The Heat starter, Ryan Faragher, had only been signed two weeks earlier.

Fashion notes: I saw an Erik Karlsson Senators jersey.
I saw a Teemu Selanne Jets jersey.
I saw many people wearing Heat jersey.
I even saw someone wearing a San Francisco Bulls jersey.

I did not see a single Stockton Thunder sweater.

The media today: The press row was largely deserted except, I think, for a couple people who work for the Heat.

My wife will be happy to read this: There were no fights. Though there was a third-period roughing incident that came close …

Game reports: here and here.

Box score: here

Highlights: here