This past weekend was an absolute blast for a number of reasons, but what I really want to write about now is the sudden injection of live sporting events into my system in the last 36 hours. On Friday I was out at a bar with friends when my slightly-inebriated-self caught highlights from a BC v. BU college hockey game on an HD projector screen a few feet from our table. With my mental defenses compromised, I was able to realize just how much I was in withdrawal from the glorious sport of ice hockey. Fast forward a few hours: I arrive home in the middle of the night, remember my revelation at the bar, and immediately purchase a ticket to the Stockton Thunder game that night against the Bakersfield Condors. Fifteen months of living just a half-hour from minor league professional hockey without ever attending a game myself was about to abruptly end.
Stockton’s got a pretty bad reputation so I tend to not go there very often. Last year I saw Louis CK in the Bob Hope Theater and it was amazing, obviously. Downtown, where the theater is, reminded me a lot of Troy, if it were a bit larger and a tad more sketchy. Stockton Arena, though, is located on the edge of downtown on the waterfront (yep, Stockton has a waterfront). The arena itself is beautiful; it’s seven years old, about the size of an NHL arena if you truncated one above the upper bowl, and on a Saturday night in December, it fills up more than Jobing.com Arena in November (I kid, but the attendance at the game was 6,516, and this has happened before). Given the size of the arena, every seat in the house is close enough to the ice to really get a feel for the action and speed of the game.
Now, the ECHL (formerly the East Coast Hockey League) is two tiers below the NHL, so right now it’s basically the second-best professional hockey league in the country. (Thanks, lockout) However, the difference in skill between these levels was notable. Both teams turned the puck over countless times, and for the first 30 minutes neither could seem to score at even strength. In fact, for the entire second period it seemed like Stockton forgot how to run a power play. All of that said though, these guys are professionals and the whole atmosphere of the arena, the enthusiasm of the crowd, the sounds and smells of the ice, and the quick mostly skilled gameplay were more than enough to give me my ice hockey fix. It helps that the game itself was exciting, with Stockton scoring first just two minutes in, falling behind because of soft power play goals, hitting rock bottom in the second, and then rallying to tie in the third while dominating play through the last fifteen minutes and overtime. They ended up losing in the shootout in just three rounds (ECHL goes five rounds to start versus the NHL’s three), but that’s okay; for $25 I got to see an extra long professional ice hockey game in my backyard. You can sure as hell bet I’ll be going back again soon. Actually, and this is crazy, but I just bought a ticket to the game on January 26, 2013 against Utah. It’s the annual teddy bear toss and given the videos that have been showing up on the Puck Daddy blog the last few weeks, I cannot wait to see one in person for myself.
Some quick thoughts on the game:
- The Stockton Thunder have crazy uniforms with lightning bolts going down the back and front of the jerseys. That said, they’re actually pretty slick in person. I really like the white ones, which is what they wore on Saturday.
- RPI Hockey alumnus Erik Burgdoerfer plays for the Bakersfield Condors, the Thunder’s opponent on Saturday. I did not know this before the game, so seeing him out there in tan and red was quite a surprise. Unfortunately, I went to cheer for Stockton and not having a Thunder jersey / protesting the NHL lockout, I opted to wear my RPI jersey, causing me to slightly root for the enemy. Oops.
- If you play “Gangnam Style” at a sporting event, most of the crowd will get up and do the dance. That’s a sight to see, especially when the most entertaining dancers show up on the jumbotron.
Moving on to Sunday, which was our annual company Christmas party. I was both looking forward to and dreading the event for varied reasons, part of both were the fact that it was going to be at an Oakland Raiders game. I don’t really follow ‘Murican Football, though I have this year more than any others because of the lockout (once again, thanks NHL & NHLPA). Besides I hadn’t been to an NFL game since sometime around 2000 (?). This year the Raiders suck (3-8 going into week 13 and on a four-game losing streak) but they were playing the ne’er-do-well Cleveland Browns (also 3-8) so hey, maybe they’d win? Long story short, nope, they lost. The game was moderately exciting, ending 17-20 with Oakland scoring a touchdown in the last second; I wasn’t terribly into it, but I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the crowd’s excitement build and build and build and then be suddenly silenced as the sound of a Raiders’ punt echoed throughout the stadium. The most fun part of the day though was hanging out in the suites at O.co Coliseum with friends, shootin’ the shit, and pretending to be experienced football fans wealthy enough to have earned a spot in those suites. The view from Legends Loge is pretty nice; the whole field was plainly visible and from our vantage point near the End Zone you could see plays developing nicely.
However, given our shiny Club Access tickets, a few of us were able to make our way up into the real nice suites on “Mount Davis.” Up there, there were suites open to anyone with a ticket thanks to several nearby wineries holding tastings in their boxes. There’s nothing like free wine, a shiny modern suite, a spectacular view of the stadium, and a gorgeous California sunset all at once to make one feel like they’re worth a million bucks. Hardly even paying attention to the game, I sat in a soft leather chair, wine glass in hand, and soaked in the sunset for a few minutes of peaceful bliss that I don’t think I’ll forget for a long time. (Unfortunately, the Raiders scored their first TD of the game during that moment, but what can you do?) It really was the moment that cemented this weekend up as the best one of my California experience so far.
After we returned to our original, and crappy in comparison, suites I stopped caring about the game completely and decided I’d much rather take in the sight of thousands of seagulls circling around in the sunset. I really should have brought my camera, but I guess some moments are better retained in the mind’s eye than in pixels.
And thus concludes my sport weekend experience. I hope your weekend was pretty swell too. 🙂