Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let's go Cyclones!

So, I had the good fortune to attend Saturday night's Cincinnati Cyclone's game against the Gwinnett Gladiators -- the Atlanta suburbs' answer to minor league hockey.

It was the first time I had attended a hockey game at the Riverfront Coliseum (now named after some bank whose name I refuse to mention) since going to Cincy Stingers games there in the 1970s. The Stingers were one of the WHA teams not invited to join the NHL and they folded; Robbie Ftorek was probably their best known player, although Mark Messier wore the black-and-gold for a spell.

As for the Cyclones, they play in the ECHL -- same league to which the Ontario Reign belong. It's AA hockey and players are paid about $400 a week. It's basically a developmental league. The Cyclones have won the league title, the Kelly Cup, in two of the past three seasons.

The game was terrific. I bought a seat on the glass for $25 three hours before the puck dropped. Between pounding on the glass, jumping up and down, spraying peanut shells everywhere and such, I must have sufficiently entertained myself -- because the teens on a date next to me left after two periods.

Too bad. They missed the Cyclones tying the game in the final three minutes and then winning in a shootout.

Some observations:

•Man, do I miss the hockey and basketball arenas of the 1970s. Riverfront Coliseum seats about 17,000, but all the seats cascade straight down to the ice -- the few luxury boxes are all the way at the top of the arean. There's really not a bad seat in the place and the upper level seats go for $8 for a Cyclones game. The ones along the side offer a view comparable to the $125 premiere section seats that are usually half empty at Los Angeles Kings games.

•One thing immediately noticeable about both teams was how many small dudes they had compared to the NHL. I'm not talking dwarves -- but a lot of guys who looked like they were 5-10, 180 pounds or so.

•These guys can clearly play hockey and there were some fast skaters out there. The difference between this and the NHL: most of the players were 25 or under, the passing wasn't as accurate and the shooting definitely not of the caliber you see in the NHL. Don't get me wrong: I'd probably commit serious felonies to have the skills of any of them.

•Speaking of passing, it was refreshing to watch both teams on occasion screw up the basic breakout just like my team still screws it up. One key difference: these guys screw it up a lot faster.

•Man, even at this level, some of these guys can really uncork a big hit on eachother -- which is much better appreciated when seated next to the glass. If I got hit like that, I think I'd just stay down until they sledded me somewhere safe.

•Without lasers, strobe lights and endless commercials on the video board, the team created a fun atmosphere at the game. It seemed like at least a little thought went into choosing the music and the mascot -- named Twister -- was actually a pretty good skater, not to mention all-the-way-around hilarious to look at.

•I don't really have $100 to spend, but I can see coming home with a Cyclones' jersey. I'm really getting a thing for that team icon. Did you notice the tornado is missing a tooth? Nice attention to detail. 

If you get stuck in a ECHL town for a night -- I definitely recommend checking out a game. On the West Coast, teams are in Ontario, Bakersfield, Stockton, the Salt Lake City 'burbs, Boise and Victoria, B.C.


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