With a new work schedule and a gender reveal party planned for this weekend, it looks like my 2018-19 hockey season may be over. The hometown Providence Bruins are currently the 4 seed in the division, and need some help in the last two games to leapfrog the Hershey Bears for 3rd. I’m praying to Don Cherry and Tiger Williams that we can get the 3 seed because of the division’s top seeds, the PBruins match-up way better against #2 Bridgeport. In fact, we’ve beat the brakes off the Sound Tigers a couple times, whereas it looks like the #1 seed Charlotte Checkers will go relatively unchallenged through to the Calder Cup.
That bracketology session aside, it was a great hockey season for my partner and I. She has become a rabid hockey fan and this year marked our first two over-night hockey trips, which helped me add 2 of the 5 new rinks to my stadium collection list.
Our main base of hockey operations was of course the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence. We made it to nearly every PBruins home game, spending most of our time in section 101 three to six rows behind the (Bruins attack once) net. The building sported a brand new 8-screen (4 large/4 slice) HD video boards that were a huge upgrade to the game day experience. Dave Zibelli returned again to handle public address and continued his rolling-R signature move throughout the season. The food at the concession stands, however, continue to be the worst in the league, and game day operations still appear to be an afterthought.
The biggest addition to the list is obviously TD Garden. We came across a pair of tickets from a friend for the Bruins/Blue Jackets St. Patrick’s Day Weekend game. Now that I’m in New England, I really do consider it a loss that I never had an opportunity to see a game at the original Boston Garden. Of the “Gardens”, Maple Leaf is the only one I’ve had the opportunity to even visit (though I have driven past Madison Square Garden).
TD Garden, however, of the new generation of buildings is pretty fantastic. It understands that the purpose of the building is to travel people from the street to the seats. There aren’t a ton of signature bar locations outside of the seating bowl, but the one I did see has a fantastic view of Boston. For a major league, downtown building, it is remarkably clean. Parking is, predictably, a nightmare. But, on our Bataan-like march from wherever we ended up parking, we did stop at a CVS where I met a guy wearing a 40 year old Winnipeg Jets jacket. He claims to have been on the WHA & NHL editions of the team and said his first game was at the original Garden. Having interacted with hockey players of his generation before, it just took me observing him drinking a travel bottle of mouth wash to confirm his claim.
I added three AHL buildings to the list, the XL Center in Hartford was average, but as a retired NHL building carried a sense of history that I believe is being mostly ignored by the current franchise. Hockey fans across the glove want the return of The Mighty Whale. But what we get is the Wolf Pack in one of the less appealing Rangers uniform designs of recent memory. Also, they sell steamed hamburgers, which sounds more like a threat than a delicacy.
Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport came as part of a day/night AHL doubleheader in November. Bridgeport has small-town charm that fits a city off the east coast and away from the Northeast Corridor. There is a cleverly-placed rinkside bar one end of the rink and while their PA guy may be actively attempting to give himself a hernia by screaming excitedly into an amplification device, the game day team are active and engaged with their passionate fanbase. I am disappointed that the baseball field next to the Arena is dormant and scheduled for demo. I put the Bridgeport Bluefish on the backburner for years, intimidated by a drive to Connecticut from Philadelphia and lost my chance to see a long-tenured Atlantic League team before they collapsed.
Springfield hosted this year’s All-Star Game, and I had a chance to catch my first hockey All-Star weekend. The city for it’s part, took a big swing, and it felt like we were at a big event. The building itself may be my favorite of the New England AHL buildings. It’s a little smaller than than Dunkin’ Donuts Center, but the layout with a wide open corner on the concourse hints at letting fans take a step back from their seats to have a conversation with a few people without missing the action. The Mass Mutual Center marked my 7th AHL building. I doubt any of the remaining Atlantic Division buildings will hit the 2019/20 Goals List next season.
In October, my partner and I made our first hockey road trip when we made a weekend of Portland, ME to see the Mariners of Maine take on the Manchester Monarchs at Cross Insurance Arena. The former AHL building made no real impression on me. It did remind me of the Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton. Stark, downtown brutalist exterior, and relatively generic interior. Kind of a ham and cheese sandwich building.
One thing that struck me, and maybe it’s more prevalent than I realized, but I didn’t notice it until this year, but the line-up souvenir stand is just…not good. Long lines in Springfield and Bridgeport and a disorganized walk-past stand in Maine really put me off. After a while I just didn’t want to spend money, and if I wasn’t the kind of guy who knew he would immediately regret not buying a puck for my collection, I would have…not bought a puck.
Of all the New England rinks we’ve been to, Worcester‘s DCU continues to be my favorite. Fantastic food, good sightlines, and an enthusiastic and engaged gameday crew make the trip to see the Railers well worth it.