Thursday, November 30, 2006

11/29 sharks 2, MINNESOTA 1

Let me first preface this post by saying this: Holy cow. It is really cold here in Minnesota, where, today, with nothing but sunshine, it was 15 F degrees. Ok, my quick California-boy rant is over. To the game...

As was mentioned above, it's cold here in Minnesota, and, in wintertime, it snows here. Which is why the arena in the Twin Cities (there are two: the Target Center in Minneapolis, where the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves play, and, for our purposes here today, the only arena in the Twin Cities, the Xcel Energy Center), located in the smaller of the two, St. Paul, is themed with pictures and things belonging to the Great North.

Upon entering, one can see the spirit of the North in the facade of the interior. Each of the concessions are named appropriately, with titles hanging from wood lodge-like things above the built-in stands. The store itself is "The Hockey Lodge". The Kellogg St. entrance has a giant lighthouse, and the concourses are lined with pictures and history of the state of Minnesota, and its hockey (Minnesota is "The State of Hockey").

Upon entering, the concourses and seating have a vague similarity to the building in Phoenix (Glendale). The concourses are sorta wide, but have a lot of stuff, cramping the walking space greatly. The majority of the seats are accessible straight from the concourse, with no entrance ways present anywhere. There is only one escalator in the whole building, very helpful for the 8,000 people who sit up high enough to see the moose heads hanging from the rafters (no actual moose heads, but to keep with the theme, they should be there. It's not like they have any championship banners to hang up there :D ).

The upper level is almost exactly identical to the Glendale Arena. The concourse is above the upper level seats, making for a steep walk down to your seats (those with vertigo should buy a seat in the 100's). The walkway up here, unlike the Glendale building, is much smaller, sometimes creating standstills during intermissions and post-game concourse commutes.

The seating area is pretty normal, technically speaking. The seating area is symmetrical, however, it is not just one complete bowl stacked on top of the other. The lower bowl is complete all the way around. However, in the upper level, there is a circular platform raised into the rafters, with a large brick wedge about a section wide used to support it. I had the unique pleasure of sitting on an aisle, across from one of these wedge things, and, probably more so than if I was further from one of these things, really didn't enjoy it. It cut off my view of the rest of the arena, the lighting was poor, and there was a ceiling much lower over the end zones than the rest of the building.

The positives that these platforms do bring, however, is in the facilities they house. On one of the platforms is where the traditional "Let's Play Hockey" honoree stands when uttering those words. On another is where the organist sits, behind a keyboard attached to a fake Minnesota Wild zamboni. Another houses a smaller lighthouse that goes off when the Wild score, complete with smoke, and the horn that sounds when they score. The fourth one, to the best of my knowledge, does nothing. It sucks, but it has to be there 'cause three wedges in four corners would just look silly.

The game itself was a good one for fans of the Teal everywhere. Another defensive battle, the Sharks, despite giving up the first goal on the first Wild shot of the game, clamped down and took a bite out of the North. Kinda local boy (from nearby Wisconsin) Joe Pavelski scored his third goal in just his fourth NHL game, and Steve Bernier's leg scored what was Bernier's eighth goal of the season, and Evgeni Nabokov, despite a shaky start, made 15 saves for his 7th win of the year.

I now go from the cold of St. Paul to the prospect of not-as-cold, but snowy winter of Detroit for a Saturday night affair with the Red Wings at 4:00 PST. The Sharks come in with a regular season record of 2-25-1 at the Joe, having already lost the first meeting here 2-1 at the end of October. This is a Sharks team that has won 5 of its last six, allowing only 8 goals in that span. Jonathan Cheechoo should be back from the IR, with a roster move yet to be made to make room for the 2005-2006 Richard Trophy winner.

Go Sharks (go 35 degrees and snow being A LOT better than 8 degrees and all the clear sky in the world)

Outside, taken quickly before I froze.

Look at that logo, ain't it wild?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

11/28 sharks 2, ST. LOUIS 0

It wasn't the blowout expected by many fans, but the Sharks got it done. Riding the rookies and the goalie, the Sharks were able to get a win against a team and in a building that, just a couple years ago, haunted them. Ryane Clowe got his third of the year and recent call-up Joe Pavelski his second, and Vesa Toskala played a solid game, stopping all 29 shots he faced, giving the Sharks back-to-back shutouts.

Despite the good overall record, people wondered if the Teal could take their successful play on the road. The offensive-minded portion of that question was quickly answered (two minutes in), when Clowe banged a puck home that seemed to deflect off a Blue defenseman and just trickle through the legs of Manny Legace (LEG-asee, hah, that's funny). The rest of the period saw a tight battle, as the Blues got one of their few great scoring chances, a Petr Cajanek shot tipped by Blues Captain Dallas Drake that rang off the post so loud, someone in Kansas City went to their door to see who was there.

The Sharks wasted no time in the second doing the job again. This time it was rookie Joe Pavelski, playing in just his third NHL game, beating Legace just six seconds in to their first power play of the night, and just over a minute into the period. From there on, it was just up to Toskala to play solid, and solid he played, for his second shutout of the season, and second on the road (the first one came in Columbus on Oct. 25).

The Scottrade Center (formerly the Savvis Center and the Kiel Center before that; how rare, a building has the horrible name hat trick, in only ten years no less) is a diamond in the rough. Not a knock on the City of St. Louis, but the buildings that surround the Scott are not exactly new in nature. The outside of the building is very reminiscent of the building in Nashville, with an elevated bowl protruding up from the rectangular base of the structure. Covered fully in silver, with glass in the front area, this building looks like a spaceship, ready to take fans to hockey from another dimension (a heckle I actually heard on this evening towards the Blues). The inside however, is a bit surprising.

From the beautiful facade outside the 'Trade, one would expect a pretty state-of-the-art arena inside. However, picture if you will... relatively dark concourses; exposed wires and pipes that make one think of a basement or a cellar (the actual thing, not the figurative place where bad teams are); the old style clocks with the kinda green/yellow painted planks that turn or flip to change numbers (there's probably a technical term for this style, but I'm a fan of hockey, so I'm clueless); even to the 1991 contest between the Sharks and Blues at the Cow Palace being shown on the TVs throughout the building before the pre-game skate (take a wild guess who won). Walking through the doors might cause one to think that they've stepped into ... The Twilight Zone.

The food in the Scott is nothing stellar, with all the standard fare available. The only brand name I came across were the golden arches of McDonald's (thankfully they weren't painted silver in honor of the Gateway Arch that stands just down the street). Behind my section and stretching over a few others is the Top Shelf, an eating/bar area consisting of a gathering of concession stands. The unique draw to this area are the widened entrance ways and raised upper seating, allowing those who are in the Top Shelf to watch all the action from the comfort of their bar stools (either peering through the large openings to the ice, or the giant TVs that hang in the area.)

The seating is nothing unusual, except for the blue and purple seats (they look pretty cool, but don't exactly match any of the tenants). I sat in the lower rows of the 300's, in the lip of the top deck, so my sight lines were pretty good. The building seemed small enough that even in the top rows, the visibility would not be affected.

A good game (for fans of the fins, that is) and a pretty nice building/experience (I wasn't heckled because there was no one there to heckle me) equal a good start to a road trip that is only going to get tougher. Announced attendance wasn't announced, that's a clue to how low it was. In the newspaper, it was listed at 8,600 something. The back-to-back continues tonight here in St. Paul against the Wild, a team that is tough enoughy to play, and even tougher at home (game time 5:00 PST).

On a side note, it's really cold here in St. Paul, 15F degrees at 3 in the afternoon as I'm writing this. Usually in SJ, it's colder inside the arena than outside. It'll be nice to sit in a building where it's 30-40 degrees for a couple of hours before walking across the street to my hotel when it's supposed to be 8F (wind chill 0 F). Welcome to Winter; Population one really cold California kid.

Go Sharks (Go sunshine)

The blue note, so nice they painted it twice.

The inside of the 'Trade, with all its many banners and people in the stands.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

11/25 SHARKS 2, new jersey 0

And just like that, the Sharks are done hosting the Atlantic Division for the season. A little unfortunate for the Teal, as they went 4-1 against this division, stretching their record vs. the Eastern Conference to 6-1. Joe Thornton was the hero last night, with Evgeni Nabokov proving equally as important. Thornton had the only even strength goal, a laser beam past 87-year old, but still amazing goaltender Martin Brodeur that came midway through the 3rd period. Nabokov excelled yet again, making 24 saves for his third shutout of the season. With the win, the Sharks extended their home win streak to 5 games, now holding a 9-2 mark in the Tank.

Just like each of the four other teams before them (with exception of the Islandahs), there were a strong Devil contingent in attendance. However, unlike each of the four previous teams (again, with exception of the Islandahs), Sharks fans in attendance tonight did not hear from the Jersey fans as the Debbils went scoreless tonight. Until Thornton's goal, the game was relatively boring, although each team did have a few good scoring chances. Last night's game was a big win for the Sharks in that New Jersey is a team that has been known for its defense over the past decade. Pulling off a victory, even by scoring just one goal (the other was a Mike Grier shorthanded goal with 8 seconds left), is a big one when it comes against the horned "NJ". By the next time the Sharks host New Jersey, Brodeur may be retired, and this team, which has already lost such big D-men like Ken Daneyko, Scott Niedermayer, and Scott Stevens, may not be the same blueline powerhouse. In the end, the two points is all that matters, but each box score always tells a fun story.

As I'm writing this, I'm finishing packing my suitcase for the 4 game road trip that begins Tuesday in St. Louis. Flying commercial with a budget (Southwest Airlines, unofficial airline of the Odyssey), I'm headed out tomorrow to the Gateway City. After a Tuesday night game with the Blues, the Sharks travel to St. Paul to take on the Wild the next night followed by a Saturday night date with the Red Wings. Monday night sees a rivalry renewed in Big D with Mike Modano and the Stars.

Go Sharks (go come up with a better parenthetical insert joke)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

11/22 SHARKS 6, los angeles 3

Nothing like a home-cooked meal, especially around Thanksgiving time. Well, substitute home-cooked for popcorn chicken and fries from the Fowl Play stand, and you got what I'm talkin' about. Whatever it was, the Sharks gobbled up the Kings, much to the delight of 17,496 San Josers in the Tank tonight.

The effort that was missing from last night's contest was prevalent tonight, even though the shot clock didn't accurately reflect it. For the second consecutive home game, the Sharks put up 6 goals from 6 different goal scorers. Joe Pavelski and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, the former playing in his first NHL game, each recorded their first career NHL goals (Vlasic, also known as Pickles, also recorded an assist, giving him seven points [1G + 6A] in 22 games this year). Vesa Toskala made 24 saves for his 11th win of the season, and Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau each recorded a goal and two assists as the Sharks flexed their power play muscle tonight going 2 for 5 with the man advantage.

Many pieces were in place tonight, especially the forecheck and the offensive zone penetration, which definitely made a big difference. Granted, we are talking about very different teams when looking at the Ducks and Kings, but still, comparing last night's Sharks to tonight's Sharks, tonight's Sharks were much more in sync, and the score rightfully reflected that.

Tonight saw Sharkie interacting with row 16 of 213 again, as tonight he made a visit to a young'un sitting a couple of seats down from me. Now, sitting on an aisle can become annoying, when faced with the task of repeatedly standing up and sitting down when people enter and leave the section, but it's an entirely different situation when tapped on the shoulder by a 6 foot shark asking to get by you. After taking pictures with the kid, he then came back the other way, gave me a high five, stepped on my toes, and proceeded to slide down the stairs on his shark behind, stopping a few rows down for some popcorn along the way.

On a side note, doing this trip has allowed me to make new friends. In addition to making new ones, I have the great ability to visit the friends I already know, who are in the Tank every night. If you ever happen to be in the arena, and on the concourse in the 223/224 area, stop by and say hello to my friends Todd (the guy who usually stands at the bottom of the stairs on the concourse with the finger screaming "sushi, chicken teriyaki rice bowl"), Sharon (the very nice woman and wife of Todd who hands out the food) and Jeff (the guy with glasses and the All-Star Game cap who usually prepares the rice bowls) at the sushi/teriyaki rice bowl stand located upstairs on the concourse behind section 223. Right next door to the sushi stand (on the left side when facing the stand) is my friend Dino, who is the bartender up there, and has beer and cocktails available. I cannot offer you any sort of promotion for mentioning my name at either of these concessions, but I can assure you that these are very nice and wonderful people, and are worth just saying hello to because of that.

It was very nice to do the "Beat LA" chant tonight, mainly because the team I cheered for was able to do just that (hey Giants, take a page from the Sharks book, defeat the dang Dodgers).

The Sharks are off until Saturday, when they host the final of five games against the teams of Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference (the Sharks are 3-1 against this division, with the only loss coming against the New York Rangers), with that contest being against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils at 7:30 PST. The Sharks may have the schedule to thank yet again, as the Devils will be playing the second half of a back-to-back after a rare Friday 1:05 contest against the Anaheim Ducks.

Until then, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving Day. Eat lots of turkey, hang out with lots of family, and watch all three football games and the one NHL game.

Go Sharks (go eat lots and lots of turkey, and stuffing, and mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, and be safe)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

11/21 ANAHEIM 5, sharks 0

My father said it best to me, while we were walking out of the Tank on Saturday, "I'd be very surprised if you don't have to sit through one of those sometime this season". Well, Dad, thanks a whole bunch. You said you'd be surprised if I didn't have to? Well, you no longer have to worry about being surprised, because, last night, from start to finish, was a stinker. The ice stunk, the Sharks stunk, the game, on a whole, stunk. When you put out a lot of effort, you get the bounces. When you get those bounces, you gotta take advantage of them. When you take advantage of them, you score. And when you score, well, it makes it a whole lot easier to win.

Last night, the Ducks outworked the Sharks, plain and simple. They got the bounces and scored, and they won. If anything, the one positive to take from last night's shellacking was just that. The Sharks lost because they were outworked, not out-skilled. As ready as they were or weren't last night, they now know, for their seven remaining contests, how much harder they have to work. All five Duck goals were, as they are referred to in hockey, garbage goals (because they are ugly goals, i.e. rebounds, deflections). That is good to know, since just as easily next time around, the Sharks, with a stronger effort, could be the recipient of said bounces, and subsequent garbage goals.

The Honda Center (formerly the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, would be better suited to be the Honda Garage of Anaheim), is one of the older arenas in the NHL, at a wrinkly 13 years old. As one of the older "new" buildings in the league, the "Hond" is one of the more basic arenas, built pretty much as a shell to house the oval shaped seating area, and not much else, unlike the newer behemoths around the league.

The concourses are similar to the width seen at the Tank. The store is accessible from the concourse, with all the normal concourse stands (programs, beer, popcorn, credit card promotion booths). The concession stands are the standard fare (hot dogs, Polish, Italian, pretzels, popcorn) with the exception of a pizza stand who's brand name escapes me right now, and a Rubio's Mexican food stand. The beer (6 dollars for a 16 oz., 8 for a 24 oz.) selection is pretty sparse; Bud at some stands, Miller at others. A couple of cocktail stands round out the concession portion of the Honda Ponda.

The seating area is pretty normal - a symmetrical, three-tiered bowl that seats a relatively average 17,000 screaming Duck fans (sorry, a bad joke, I know. It's a well known fact that there aren't 17,000 Duck fans.). For whatever reason, there is no 100 level. The lower level is the 200s, the club level is the 300s, and the nosebleeders are 400s. The view from the ninth row of the 400s is not all that awesome, as the top level is not nearly as steep as it needs to be to allow awesome sight lines. The majority of the first period, before I changed seats, gave me a great view of the back of a dude's ski cap-covered noggin. Before the game, I was greeted by many Shark fans, only one knowing who I was. A shout-out (in cyber-space, no one can hear you scream, or shout, rather) goes to Craig, a reader of the Odyssey, who made the trek down to Anaheim for this gem of a contest.

Tonight is the second half of the Sharks third back-to-back games this season, when they take on the other Southern California team, the Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks and Kings have split two games this season, both played at Staples in L.A. With the effort produced by the Sharks last night, expect the Teal to be angry. My post will come in sometime tonight, as early tomorrow (7:00 a.m. to be exact) I will be going back down to Anaheim for some Disneyland action and a 30-person Thanksgiving dinner.

Go Sharks (Go work real hard tonight boys)

There's that new "logo" the Ducks call their own

Sunday, November 19, 2006

11/18 SHARKS 6, philadelphia 1

As I say every time I come to a home game after being on the road, it's very nice to be home. After seeing road games where I'm part of the minority, it always gives me a better appreciation for the "home ice advantage". The Tank was happy to see the Teal back in the building, and the Teal were obviously happy to be back in the Tank. Six different goal scorers were able to chase Philly starter Robert Esche midway through the second period in a game that saw little action after that point. Mark Bell had two fights, and Vesa Toskala faced a Philadelphia season-low 18 shots, stopping 17 of them for his tenth win of the season.
In addition to seeing an abundance of teal last night, it was a very welcome sight to see the curved orange shoulders and winged P on many shirts throughout the building. I'm not sure if I had ever seen the Flyers before, the second such team that I have been able to say that for this season. As a lifelong hockey fan, it was very cool to see a uniform and logo that has such history behind it play against my team.

All the fun last night wasn't had just on the ice, but in the stands as well. There were plenty of Flyer fans in attendance, which meant plenty of razzing of those Flyer fans when the game turned sour for the orange and black Philly fans. There were plenty of funny things to be said because of this, and many of them were indeed said (not trying to offend Flyer fans by mentioning this, but I'm sure there was plenty of Flyer fan razzing of the Ducks last week).

In addition to this, SJ Sharkie paid a visit to the luxury box above my seats, section 213, during the Round Table Delivery of the Game. With some pizza left over, Sharkie decided to have a bit of fun with the guys sitting next to my father and me. First, with a slice of pizza in hand, he decided to tease the really tall guy standing next to my dad, by lowering the slice just enough to get the guy to reach high and jump up and reach for the slice. Just in time, Sharkie would pull it up enough to safety. This went on for a minute or so, and then eventually he gave the slice to the guy, and went to hand the rest of the box of pizza to the guy standing next to the really tall guy. Thinking the box was empty, the guy grabbed the box, and turned it horizontally, dumping out about 5 slices of pizza onto the floor, much to the vocal dismay of everyone paying attention.

Lastly, while walking home, my father and I, along with a few other people, happened to be crossing over the light rail tracks, when, as a routine happening that happens quite a few times a day, a train was ready to cross, and the signal was triggered, dropping the arms. Well, the arms drop quick, REAL quick. So quick, in fact, that the seven of us pretty much had to run to duck under the quickly falling crossing arm. I almost would have rather stayed on the track (the one that wasn't about to be used, of course) than try to get past the trolley arm of death.

Between the pizza man-fishing (fishing for a man, done by a shark, go figure), the funny Flyer insults, the death-by-a-stick crossing arm, and even the game itself (I think the Sharks won the game, not sure of the score or anything), last night was fun, and quite memorable.

Speaking of memorable, Tuesday, the Sharks next match-up, is the first in the series of eight that hockey analysts all around the league are drooling over. A match-up that can be summed up in a couple different ways, but is done easiest with one description: Sharks vs. Ducks. Thornton and Cheechoo vs. S. Niedermayer and Pronger. San Jose offense vs. Anaheim defense. Any way you slice it (or dangle that slice, for that matter), this game is shaping up to be the first of eight NorCal/SoCal battles. 7:00 PST, be there (in Anniehighm), or be square (square as in the shape of a TV).

Go Sharks (go not get hit by a crossing arm or a dangling piece of pizza)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

11/15 sharks 4, COLORADO 3

What a fitting way to end the road trip. Being outplayed for the majority of the game, the Sharks were able to hang in just enough to pounce when the time was right, and in the third, it was as right a time as ever. Just as the last one ended in Florida, the Sharks PP was able to come alive, scoring two goals in 17 seconds to defeat the slumping Avalanche in Denver. Patrick Marleau scored his sixth goal in five games and Evgeni Nabokov, playing a very important game for the Sharks, came up big, making 40 saves.

For those that have not been to the Pepsi Center, be ready to be confused. The building itself is quite large, as it is even big enough to hold a restaurant and a full sized store. However, once inside, one is let in on the little trick. Unlike most other buildings, the main concourse of the Can is not built on the ground level. No, once entering Pepsi, one must ascend a pretty long escalator just to get to the top of the bottom level concourse. To top it off, there are two windmills mounted on the edge of the platform where the escalators unload, and a weird multi-athlete chandelier thing that hangs way down from the top of the ceiling. This ground level is called the Atrium at the Grand Entrance. Not sure why, but that's what they call it. The ground level is home to the team store, a giant place, probably the largest store I've seen yet, with exception to the Blueline in Columbus.

The store at Pepsi Center is pretty big, housing tons of stuff for both the Avalanche and the NBA's Denver Nuggets, who also call Pepsi Center home. Stuffed mountain lions (Rocky, the Nuggets mascot) and abominable snowmen (the Avalanche mascot who only survived for a couple seasons) line the shelves of the store, waiting to be plucked and loved as only mountain lions and abominable snowmen can be.

The concourse of the Pepsi Center is huge. Giant in circumference, that is. The width of the walkway is not so big, but there are about 70 sections on the top level, so there are lots of people jamming these not-so-large concourses before, during, and after the games (there's nothing like having a ticket in 319, and seeing a sign upon arrival on the top level for 374).

The food is pretty good, and reasonably priced. At 6 dollars for a cup of beer, the Can has some cheap-man sodas (AKA adult beverages, cold ones, liquid noise/insanity). Of course, the only kid sodas available are of the Pepsi variety, with nary a red-labeled soda to be found anywhere in the vicinity (to utter the word Sprite instead of Sierra Mist would be suicide). Unlike the majority of arenas I've already visited, the Pepsi Center has a very large number of concessions, with an average of one stand for every couple sections, meaning there's not far to run to douse any sadness with drinks or eats.

The seating area of the Can seems very vast from the inside, but, from sitting in the third level, it doesn't seem too big. However, when the Avalanche scored, the noise level made the initial impression of size seem pretty accurate (except for the horn, which wasn't very loud in its own right; one might think that the opposing team scored). The Can has a large number of banners. One end is all Avalanche division, conference, President's Trophy, and Stanley Cup banners. The other end are Denver Nugget banners. The sides have Colorado Mammoth (National Lacrosse League) and Colorado Crush (Arena Football League) banners, with the two retired Avalanche, Patrick Roy and Ray Bourque (33 and 77, respectively) hanging from the sides of the rafters.

The Sharks now come home for a Saturday night game with the Philadelphia Flyers, marking the possible return of former longtime Shark, Mike Rathje, at 7:30 PST.

Go Sharks (go drink some non-Coke soda products)

The Pepsi Center's uvula.

The logo at center ice happily shows that they weren't called the Rocky Mountain Extreme (rumored name for the Avalanche).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

11/13 LOS ANGELES 4, sharks 2

For this one, I had to convince myself, that, just because it wasn't the best of games, that not writing it up would not make it go away, so, in all its glory, here's the recap.

Monday night represented the Sharks' first return visit to any building beyond their own this season, and, this time, they weren't as welcome. The Kings broke a funk on the power play, and broke that funk all over the Sharks season-high four-game winning streak. With goals from Dustin Brown, Alexander Frolov, and Lubomir Visnovsky, the Kings answered back for Thursday's loss to the Sharks at Staples Center.

Staples was the same big, silver, tilted-roof building that it was when I left it last week. Lit up by purple lights, one could not mistake this unique building from the L.A. skyline. Entering through the back entrance, I saw the L.A. Hall of Sports Fame Arch, complete with pictures of famous L.A. teams and players. Behind was a poorly-lit statue of former King Wayne Gretzky, that, in daylight, I'm sure, is very nice. The game was why I was in L.A., but the major highlight of the night happened before I got to Staples.

Unbeknownst to me, November 12-14 was a major Jewish Federation convention in Los Angeles, with Jews from all over the world in attendance. With the Holiday Inn right down the street from the convention center, it was a popular place for those attending the conference. After riding a SuperShuttle from the airport with a rabbi, I stepped into the lobby to check in. While asking the woman at the front about the Jewish conference, I was answered by Steve, a man attending the conference, that happened to be part of that evening's entertainment. Anyway, we got to talking, him being a Kings fan and all, and eventually, it led to me providing a dressing room for Steve and Becky, two members of the choir that were to sing at the Disney Hall that evening in front of, among various other important people (if not to the world, then to their mommies), the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert. That's right, I was hospitable to entertainers of the PM of Israel. It was cool, even though they are Kings fans. (To Steve and Becky, if you read this, hello. I hope your show went well.)

Monday night was (hopefully) the culmination of a string of mediocre efforts by the boys. A third straight game where the Sharks were heavily outshot, they only mustered 18 shots in this one, while allowing a season-high 39. Post game, Mike Grier stepped up and offered some words of advice to his teammates. We'll see tonight if they pay off.

The Sharks finish a 4 game road trip tonight (Wednesday) in Denver with a 6:00 PST date with the Colorado Avalanche. Regardless of the result, I'll see you all tomorrow.

On a side note, it's really really cold here (in Denver). I'm not sure how anyone is supposed to play hockey in such cold weather.

Go Sharks (go find a sweater)

"Kings Hockey, Play Hard" One of the few nights they did, actually.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

11/10 - 11/12 Glendale, AZ

It's far away, but it says DAL 27, AZ 10

From landing in Phoenix, to walking around the streets of the suburb of Glendale, the Phoenix area has been very kind to me. In fact, upon leaving the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, a simple question to a TSA agent turned into a free ride from her to my hotel in Glendale, which is about a 20 mile ride, and as it turns out, was just a few miles from her house. If you happen to be reading, thank you Edie for the ride. I will not forget your graciousness.

Upon arriving at my hotel, the odd vibe that is Glendale began to set in. The hotel is a very western motel style hotel that fits in well with the city. I was right down the street from historic downtown Glendale, and a building that I believe is a very large library.

The city of Glendale, at least the downtown area, is nothing too special, at least for those that live in a city like Glendale. Save for a Subway, the downtown square is devoid of any brand name restaurant, a very welcome sight. Dotted with antique shops and one restaurant right in the square called Bit-zee Mama's (a very nice blue-plate special kind of place, with American and Mexican favorites), small but historic downtown Glendale is pretty cool in its quaintness (word?).

Upon walking down the main avenue, Glendale Ave, there are a few more places, a little more seedy, (not really seedy at all, just more so then a diner place frequented by women in their seventies). A local fast food eats is Pete's Fish and Chips. Frying up rectangular fish patties since 1942, Pete's is a staple in this small desert suburb. Try Pete's sauce; it's not just ketchup (they didn't tell me to say that, it's just their very truthful slogan. BTW, it's not just ketchup, it's spicy ketchup).

A little further down Glendale is the Ceretta Candy Factory. A store and factory all in one large room, the Ceretta Candy Factory offers a ridiculously large amount of chocolates, caramels, and even flavored almonds and peanuts. A tour here consists of a walk along a wall with a few pictures on it, a tribute of sorts to companies that help with ingredient distribution (i.e. the Blue Diamond Almond Co. , the C & H Sugar Co., etc.). The end of the wall takes you to a TV monitor that shows a short video history on the factory. And, if with a school tour, there's a trip inside the short walled factory area to see how stuff is made up close (it's a short wall, so when they are making candy, one can see it from the guest area of the room).

Today, as a capper to my trip, I attended another sporting event in town. There was a NASCAR race today in nearby Avondale, but, right next to the Glendale Arena/ thing, is the newly and confusingly named University of Phoenix Stadium. As mentioned before, it's named for the online university, so, for those keeping score at home, the Arizona Cardinals went from Sun Devil Stadium (home of the Arizona State University Sun Devils) to the University of Phoenix Stadium (home of the online students from many cities, most of which aren't Phoenix).

Now, having only attended one NFL game in my life (a riveting 1995 affair between the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers), I was vastly unprepared for the circus that I was about to enter. Not a knock on any football fans that often attend games, but HOLY MOSES! 70,000 face-painted, chest-painted, beer-drinking, screaming, foam finger-wearing, hard hat (or sombrero)-wearing, jersey-clad, screaming, insane, screaming, beer-drinking, and some screaming people in a building is just a bit more electric than I'm used to. Upon entering the Pheen (?), I was instantly subjected to madness. Hell, searching for a ticket from a scalper was madness. Walking through trucks upon trucks with BBQs, tents, coolers, and even TVs showing other games was madness. Passing through security, getting patted down, and getting a foam finger (that part was pretty cool) was madness. But it was fun.

The Pheen is your standard giganto-stadium, with four levels. In the middle of each end zone is a terrace area, an opening to just stare in awe of the size of this building. The lower level has a store and various concessions, pretty standard stuff; upstairs is the same, but the real centerpiece of this masterpiece is the roof. Similar to the soon-to-be-extinct Texas Stadium, there is a large rectangular hole in the roof of this monster. However, unlike Texas Stadium, perched high, high above the seats, sitting on top of the roof over each end zone, is a large rectangular panel that, when activated, closes the gap in the roof, providing a domed atmosphere. I've been told the contraption takes 5 minutes to complete, either closed to open, or vice versa. However, I wasn't able to see it.

As this is a hockey blog, I'll spare you the majority of the details of the game. Bottom line, the Cardinals got beat down by the 'Boys 27-10. Dallas QB Tony Romo had a good game, throwing for two TDs and the Cowboy D had two interceptions while allowing only one TD, by way of the ground.

Being the day after Veterans Day, they had a halftime memorial for former Cardinal and ASU Sun Devil Pat Tillman, who turned down a large contract to fight in the Army. Downed by friendly fire, Tillman was remembered not for how he died, but what he died fighting for by all in attendance, regardless of the blue or red on their backs. An induction to the Cardinal Ring of Honor and the unveiling of a statue completed the halftime ceremony, complete with a rendition of "God Bless America" by Hootie himself, Darius Rucker.

Sitting on the Cowboy half of the field, I was surrounded by a sea of blue. A common stereotype of football fans is that they drink a lot of beer. That one is true. Another one is that they are loud. That one is true, too. But, the one stereotype that was a huge misconception, at least for me today, was that football fans are disrespectful, mean people. Wearing my Cardinals garb, and talking to Dallas fans wearing theirs, I was treated just like another person, with no ill will towards me, and in fact, a few fun conversations throughout the game. Granted, this may not really surprise anyone, but to me, anyone who decides to drink bathtubs full of beer and scream "dirty words" loud enough so that people in China get lessons in English swear words don't usually strike me as "friendly".

After attending this game, I'm afraid of the effects it had on me, as, I greatly enjoyed the atmosphere, camaraderie, and spectacle of this event. Unfortunately, there are two NFL teams in the Bay Area that I could get real hooked on. I see a Vernon Davis (Tight End for the Niners) jersey in my future. It will never replace hockey, but there might just be a place in my tiny little brain for this game called football (interestingly enough, they don't really use their feet). Somebody should look into that. Find a sport where people use their feet, and call that one football, or maybe be fancy and spell it futbol.

In all, my trip to Phoenix/Glendale was a nice one. Although I won't get to repeat everything I did over the next three trips here, I will thoroughly enjoy them. Tomorrow I fly to LA for the Sharks rematch with the Kings at 7:30 PST. Look for a write up late Monday night as I have an early morning flight to Denver.

Thank you for sticking with me and reading this insanely long post, but this small town wanting to be a big town has some good charm to it, and deserves a post that reflects it as accurately as my fingers and previously mentioned small brain can muster.

Go Sharks (go to a football game, when there's no Sharks, of course)

Approaching the mothership

There's a hole in that thar roof

Center ice, er, field at the Pheen (note all the Cowboy blue around me)

My seat (engraved by the tip of a real cardinal beak)

11/11 sharks 2, PHOENIX 1

Behind goals from Steve Bernier and Patrick Marleau, and a great relief performance by Vesa Toskala, the Sharks escaped the desert with a 2-1 victory over the 'Yotes. Last night was Evgeni Nabokov's game to start, however, when a Mike Zigomanis cross-check on Nabby early in the first period resulted in a stiffened neck for the goaltender during the first intermission, Evgeni was done for the night.

Built in the middle of the desert, the Arena (formerly Glendale Arena) is like an oasis. Surrounded by a gigantic district in the making, the Westgate City Center, the Job (or possibly the Url?) is surrounded by restaurants, shops, a brand new football stadium next door (the University of Phoenix Stadium, yes, named for the UoP, the online university), and a very large condo/apartment tower currently under construction. Palm trees aplenty, this building is very different looking from any other one I've encountered thus far. Whereas each NHL building pretty much looks like an arena from the outside, the Job has a very modest paint job, one of brown and green, that would make one think it is just another building, maybe housing restaurants or apartments or a mall, but surely it's not an arena (that must be why nobody comes to Coyote games, hah).

A giant rectangle, the Job has a very interesting layout inside. Rather than have a concourse that conforms to the oval of the rink, the Job has six entrances, one on each corner of the building, and one at center ice on each side. Each walkway is a straight line, nicely painted to reflect the colors of the Coyotes and the Sting (National Lacrosse League), dark red and sand. The lower walkway is not as large as some of the newer buildings, however, it does have the common entranceway to the seating as the concourse sits at the top of the open air sections, with standing room behind it.

The concessions are nothing special, with standard fare; hot dogs, pretzels, burritos. They do have one brand name food, however. In one corner, there is a hot wing stand, brought to you by the wonderful people at Hooters. Nothing says cold weather sport like spicy chicken and half naked women in bright orange short shorts. Upon entering the Job, that is a very noteworthy piece, as the AC is turned on ice age high, creating a very cold, welcoming atmosphere everywhere in the building.

The seating is nothing stellar, two levels of seating, with two mini levels of luxury boxes in between. Each corner has one of these "tower" things that seem to be popular in the newer arenas. The only real unique element that I have yet to see in any other building is the upper level. Just like most other buildings, the Job has escalators to take patrons to the upper concourse. However, upon reaching the top, it shocks many first timers at where the concourse is. Just like the lower level, the upper concourse is above the seating area, putting it just a few feet short of the rafters, and over patriotically close to the flags that hang from them (you could see the veins on the Maple Leaf). To accommodate, the stairs are much steeper than most other upper level stairs, but, with handrails, it's not too bad.

In all, I really like this building. Out of all the ones I've been to thus far, besides the Tank, this one might be my favorite. There are but three downsides to this building for me: 1) Neither the upper nor lower level have signs inside the seating area that say which section is which, causing much confusion to non-season ticket holders; 2) That freakin' howl. Once every power play, twice every goal, and every five seconds when that little kid sitting right next to your ear decides to show mommy what sound a Coyote makes. As long as the Sharks can continue playing well in this building like they did last night, then I won't have to cry too much; and 3) The lack of cabs. With the Job being out in Glendale, the taxi service is not regulated. Just for Phoenix, and "Greater Phoenix". Now, maybe it was horrible just because it was a Saturday night. Maybe it was because there was a Suns game and a race in town that night. Or maybe it was just horrible because that's how it is. Whatever the reason, I, along with several others, waited on Maryland between 91st and 95th (take notice now, cabbies, that's where I'll be each time) for more than an hour to get taxi back to the hotel (called at 9:50, got a cab at 11:15, was supposed to take 25-30 minutes). At least it wasn't cold or rainy, but it still sucked. Ok, rant over.

On a much better note, Sharks have secured themselves another .500 road trip, the third in as many trips as they've had this season. Monday sees them back at the Staples Center to face the Kings at 7:30 PST, no doubt looking for some revenge. Following that, the Sharks fly to Denver to take on the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.

I'm off to the NFL game today. The Dallas Cowboys are in town to take on the Arizona Cardinals; expect a post on it tomorrow.

Go Sharks (go incompetent taxi drivers who drive by when people are waving at them)

Blurry outside shot of the Job.

Before you think that there weren't many people here, it was intermission. There was actually a lot of people there.

Ten years in Phoenix celebrated on ice.

Coyote Country. AWOOOOOO.

Friday, November 10, 2006

11/9 sharks 7, LOS ANGELES 3

Just like everything else in Los Angeles, Staples Center doesn't disappoint from being glamorous. From the glowing purple outside to the crystal clear (diamond, rather) DiamondVision that hangs from the rafters, Staples Center is a building built for L.A. From the outside, it is very individualized, as is pretty much every building I've visited thus far, but the inside is very reminiscent of other arenas.

On entering, the escalators are situated very similarly to the buildings in Columbus and Nashville. The lower concourse looks almost exactly like Tampa, as the wide walkway is dotted with pillars and round counters. The entrances to the seats are elongated hallways, however Staples has black curtains hanging outside the entrances.

Just as expected for L.A., everything in the building is brand-named to the extreme. Inside the building, one can get food from Domino's Pizza, Panda Express ( [whispering voice] Chinese for yummy [ /whispering voice] ), and Joni Maroni hot dogs. The food, as it is all pretty much brand name, is exactly what you would expect, as all fast food from the same place tastes the same EVERYWHERE (a Big Mac in L.A. is a Big Mac in Shanghai).

A pair of escalators up to the high ups (past three levels of suites/luxury boxes) take you to an upper level very similar to both Nashville and Florida, as there are no concessions or much of really anything in either end zone area.

The seating area is pretty large, as there are 3 levels of normal seating, with three levels of luxury boxes between the second and third seating levels. The upper level behind section 307-313 are where the banners hang, well, where the banners are mounted. There are about a hundred Laker banners, a few less retired Laker jerseys, a couple of Kings banners, and one L.A. Avengers (Arena Football) banner.

The game itself was fun, for any and all Sharks fans in attendance (there were a lot). Led by a Patrick Marleau hat trick, a pair of goals from Jonathan Cheechoo, and 35 saves from Vesa Toskala, the Sharks started their four-game roadie the right way.

The second game of the trip sees the Sharks taking on the struggling Phoenix Coyotes from the newly-christened Arena (rolls right off the e-tongue).

Go Sharks (go find a movie star)

That's a whole lotta glass.

The new age crown at CI.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

11/7 SHARKS 3, minnesota 1

Last time the Minnesota Wild visited the Tank, they walked out with a solid, 60-minute victory over the San Jose Sharks. Tonight, however, it was the Sharks turn. Led by Joe Thornton's third goal of the season, first at home, and 22 saves by Evgeni Nabokov, the Sharks skated to their 11th victory of the season.

Last night's game was a showcase of talent, as all professional sporting events are, however, last night was a showcase on a family level. The newest member of the Marleau family, Landon, attended his first game last night, and, at the ripe age of 3 weeks, Landon won his first game. Getting to see his father with a goal and an assist, Landon probably won't remember what he saw last night, but at least he'll have the game puck his father scored late in the third period. In addition to a father showing off for his son, there were a group of sons showing off for their fathers. Sitting in section 123, there were a group of men wearing the red alternate Wild jerseys, with names and numbers on the back, one for each player on the team. The reason for this, of course, was that each man was the father of the player who's name was on the back of the jersey. (This was what was told to me by a few different Minnesota fans. If this is not the truth, please let me know, and I will remove it from my blog.)

The Sharks will look to take their momentum on the road, engaging in three divisional games on this four-game road trip. Tomorrow (Thursday) sees the Sharks take on former Shark Scott Thornton (cousin of Joe) and the Los Angeles Kings. From there, the Sharks have a Saturday night match-up in the desert with the Coyotes and former Sharks Mike Ricci and this past summer's free agent signing of former captain Owen Nolan. After a rematch with the Kings Monday in Los Angeles, the Sharks will cap the trip with a visit to the Mile High City and the Colorado Avalanche.

I apologize for the brevity of this post as compared to my other posts, but I'm feeling a bit under the weather, and I'm looking to just sleep all day as it's much easier to be sick at home than sick on the road. If I had a suitcase big enough, I'd be sure to travel with my bed. See you guys on Friday morning, fresh from my weekly talk with the KFOG Morning Show at 6:15 A.M.

Go Sharks (Go sleep and go Alka-Seltzer)

The Wild dads, in all their red glory.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

11/4 SHARKS 3, pittsburgh 2

When hearing all about the Penguins dynamic duo, it took me a while to realize I wasn't coming to the arena to see Jagr and Super Mario. Coming into the game, Evgeni Malkin had played in six games going into last night, and had not failed to put the puck in the net at least once in each of those six. Per the NHL schedule rotation, the Sharks had never seen Sidney Crosby, and, per the NHL schedule, they shall meet again next year in Pittsburgh, and then not again until 2009/10 when they're back in SJ. Granted, by then, I believe each Malkin and Crosby will have a chance at free agency.

Last night's game had huge potential, just like the majority of talent in the match-up (Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Staal, Michel Ouellet, Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Carle, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, Milan Michalek - there are a lot more, but you get the point). With a large number of Pens fans in attendance, (or at least all the Pens fans sitting around me) the game had a playoff-like atmosphere.

Not disappointing, this game was played like a playoff game. A minute into the game, recent 3rd line demotee Jonathan Cheechoo got his skates tangled with Pens defenseman Mark Eaton. A bit of an added shove from Cheech, and Eaton went flying into the boards, bracing himself with his hand (when skating off the ice, he was overheard saying that he thought he broke his wrist again). After receiving a 5 minute boarding penalty (a penalty always accompanied by game misconduct), Crosby, as all teammates usually do, stuck up for Eaton by roughing up Cheechoo a bit, and securing himself a two minute penalty.

The rest of the period saw continued penalties, and a pair of disallowed goals. One was a Dominic Moore goal, disallowed because of a delayed hold on Matt Carle. The second was a Kyle McLaren goal, disallowed due to goaltender interference on Mike Grier.

McLaren still got his goal with a rebound of his own shot. Ouellet tied the game with a snipe shot past the glove hand of Toskala. When the Penguins scored, one might have thought that the game was in Pittsburgh, with the large black and gold contingent in the crowd. By the way, if there are any Penguin fans reading this, please clue me in to the origins and meaning behind the guy who was holding up a "Look out Loretta" sign when the Pens scored.

A Carle goal late in the second, a Grier trickler early in the third, and a Moore tally were the other markers on the scoreboard for the evening. Despite a few chances, Crosby and Malkin were held scoreless, Malkin for the first time in his NHL career. Crosby is now another guy subject to "The Treatment" in SJ, based on his retaliatory actions towards Cheechoo in the first, joining the likes of Ed Belfour, Theo Fleury, Chris Pronger, and Teemu Selanne.

A quick shout out to my new friends at, an online Sharks publication since 1997. Please go check it out. Columns, message boards, and more.

Tuesday sees the homestand end with the Minnesota Wild back in town with a 7:30 PST start time for this one. If the teal show up then like they did last night, Tuesday should be another fun one.

Go Sharks (go Niners [a lost cause yes, but still it is football])

Saturday, November 04, 2006

11/2 new york rangers 3, SHARKS 1

On Tuesday, the Sharks wrapped up one of their best Octobers in team history, but on Thursday, the Rangers made sure to welcome the Sharks to the eleventh month of the year. On this night, there were no Sharks bounces, no power play success, and way too many Ranger fans at the Tank.

Upon entrance into the Tank, I was happily welcomed by the fake white marbled floors, the giant stalk of wheat thing that hangs high above the concourse (that is the logo of the proud city of San Jose), and, of course, the abundance of teal walking around. After being on the road for a couple weeks, and seeing 5 buildings other than the Arena, it was nice to come home to: a seat I already knew how to get to, food that I already knew which was worth the price, and mainly, the freedom to be much louder in support of my team. Unfortunately, on this night, there was not a whole lot to be supportive of.

Despite 30 shots on backup Kevin Weekes, the Sharks were only able to come through once, and that was on a very wild laser from Kyle McLaren late in the third. The Sharks came out flying in the first, really their best period. Shooting and hitting and moving the puck, they had a few chances, but all denied. At the end of the period, (8 seconds left) with all 5 Sharks in the zone, a costly Scott Hannan turnover lead to a Ranger 3-on-0, but it was just Matt Cullen who was necessary to give the the Rangers a 1-0 lead with 0.7 seconds left in the first.

Even though it was just one goal, it was really all the momentum the Rangers would need, as Martin Straka would pick up his own rebound off a nice sliding save by Evgeni Nabokov, and, even from a sharp angle (he was pretty much at the boards, between the face-off circle and the goal line), was able to fling it by a still sprawled and laid out Nabokov to give New York a 2-0 lead. The McLaren goal gave the Sharks a glimmer of hope, although it was a very small, a 2 minute-24 seconds glimmer. The glimmer proved to not be enough, as the Rangers were able to stop the late onslaught by the Teal, and hang on for the win. A Brendan Shanahan clearing attempt found its way to the back of the net, the final straw to the Sharks camel on this night.

As it was possibly the last time the Blueshirts will be in San Jose until 2009/10 (the NHL is looking at altering the schedule), it was nice to see some of the Eastern Conference in SJ. This season already saw the Islanders, and after tonight there are still to come the Pittsburgh Penguins (Saturday), the Philadelphia Flyers (Nov 18), and the New Jersey Devils (Nov 25).

Saturday sees the Pittsburgh Penguins make a visit to the Arena for a 7:30 clash time.

Go Sharks (go see Borat)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

10/31 sharks 2, FLORIDA 1

I could go the cheesy route and make horrible Halloween jokes, but I think in the long run, that decision would haunt me (hey, I'm only human, I couldn't resist). At long last, the road trip is over. A 3-2 trip anytime before the final month of the season is considered a good trip, and this good trip was concluded with a tight, evenly fought game on Tuesday in Sunrise. The BankAtlantic Center, located right across the street from Sawgrass Mills (a very large mall, part of the Mills chain, brother of the Opry Mills in Nashville), is a smallish building with a lot packed inside.

The BankAtlantic Center is located on its own lot, rather than an existing block, allowing it to be more expansive of a lot. Surrounded by a large parking area, the BAC comes complete with an outside pavilion area, and is build on a riser, allowing a tunnel that travels underneath the building from one side of the lot to the other. After ascending the stairs to the outdoor area, one is greeted with the sight of what seems likes many colored UFOs on poles. After looking them over, it's very hard to tell what in fact they are, or supposed to be, other than funky lookin' lights.

The middle of the building is glass, allowing one to peer into the mess of escalators, walkways and the store that litter the middle of the concourse. Once inside, it's a bit easier to maneuver through.

The lower level is complete with two bars, one vodka and the other rum, and two food court areas with several different concession choices. The food is pretty standard. Nachos and burritos, pizza, hot dogs/hamburgers/sausages, and of course, the beer stands. The store out front, Pantherland, is a pretty good-sized store, with an entrance in the shape of the panther head similar to the one that the team skates out of. Speaking of that, for whatever reason, the panther head that the team usually skates out of was taking a nap, spending the whole night in the rafters, high above the game.

The seating area is relatively large, compared to how the building looks from the outside. There are three levels, the lower, upper, and the club in between. There were very few people on this night (probably somewhere around 8 or 9 thousand) and it seemed like most of them had seats downstairs, and most of those who had seats upstairs snuck down anyway. The fans, all 6 of them, were pretty quiet throughout the game. Only when the Panthers scored did the crowd have anything to make noise about; other than that, there were really no chants or other noises from the happy haunts in attendance.

Despite a poor 40 minutes, the Sharks were able to string together a strong final 20, getting a goal from Joe Thornton 90 seconds in, and a Christian Ehrhoff power play goal scored off a deflection with about 30 seconds left in the game. That was all that was needed to get a victory in South Florida.

With the road trip completed, the Sharks return home to face the New York Rangers on Thursday at 7:30.

Go Sharks ( go trick-or-treating)

Ahhh, UFOs sighted out front of the BankAtlantic Center.

The entrance to the store, which very closely resembles the head that comes down from the rafters, but was hiding on this night.

Panther at center ice. Plain and simple.

One is the loneliest number.

10/30 Busch Gardens Africa

First, a quick apology for my lack of posting the past couple days. The La Quinta Inn and Suites in Sunrise, FL has Wi-Fi access, that happened to be inaccessible. Now I am home, where the rain is falling, the wind is blowing, and the Internet is flowing.
To the post:

As you all have probably figured out by now, I have a passion for the game of hockey. However Monday, I got to enjoy another of my childhood loves, roller coasters. Lucky for me, I was able to satiate the second while on break from the first at a wildlife park turned wild ride park, Busch Gardens Africa. BGA (formerly Busch Gardens Tampa Bay), is a mile from USF (The University of South Florida) in Tampa, FL. Squeezed in amongst all the trees (visible from any of the lift hills in the park) is a park with several rides, more animal exhibits, and more trees.

BGA, owned and operated by Anheuser-Busch, is a Disneyland-style theme park, with specific rides, shows, music, food, and buildings for different "lands" spread throughout the park. In this case, each "land" is a different part of Africa (Congo, Egypt, Stanleyville, Timbuktu). Each area is spread out, requiring a bit of a hike from one area to the next (an "expedition" in "Africa", go figure).

Home to much wildlife, BGA boasts several animal-based attractions. There are meet 'n' greets with most of the animals, however, the traditionally off-limits animals (lions, zebras, alligators, penguins, etc.) are in fact off-limits, visible only behind trenches, walls, fences, and cages. In one unique case, however, viewing animals is integrated into a ride. Called Rhino Rally, this ride is a wild safari adventure through Zambia and a too-close encounter with the mighty Zambezi River. Apparently the line for Rhino Rally periodically gets really long, but, if the line stays reasonable, check this ride out, as it is informative, fun, and unique.

Being a big coaster lover (proud member of ACE [American Coaster Enthusiasts]), I'm familiar with all the big names in coasters. Getting to finally visit this park, home to coasters that I've dreamed of riding for so long (Kumba and Montu), is similar to seeing Gretzky, Howe, or Richard play live. Hearing those coaster names may not have the same effect on you, but I'm sure you can relate somehow.

NOTE FOR NON-COASTER FANS: These next few paragraphs contain coaster speak, I'll try my best to simplify in parentheses.

Montu, my first ride of the day, is a B & M (Bolliger and Mabillard) inverted coaster (a coaster where the cars hang down from the track, leaving nothing below the riders' feet) located in the Egypt section of the park. One of the larger inverted coasters out there, Montu packs a punch the whole way through. After a lift brings the train 150 feet into the air, the trains then curves down and around into a 104 foot vertical loop, then into a series of other inversions, including a corkscrew, another loop, a barrel roll, an Immelman (a half-vertical loop into a barrel roll) and a bat wing (a half-corkscrew into a mini-half loop, then the same sequence reversed). The ride, (known for once having an alligator pit at the base of the lift hill [gators are gone now]) is definitely worth riding.

In another corner of the park is the original marquee ride of BGA, Kumba. Another B & M, Kumba is a four-across sit down ride. Placed in the Congo section of the park, Kumba, which means roar in the Congo language, does just that, roaring through 7 inversions and multiple twists and turns in the heart of the jungle. Tearing a path in and out of trees, trenches, and even over a bridge, this beast is easily one of the smoothest coasters I've ever ridden (out of 100+). Again, another must ride.

After a couple rides on each of those, (there were very few people at the park on this school-day Monday; just me, and a few thousand of my closest British tourist friends), it was time to head to the newest of the bunch, Sheikra. Named for an African hawk, a shikra is a bird that is known to dive for its prey. Of the "dive machine" variety, this ride lives up to its namesake. After a ride up a 45-degree lift hill, the cars slowly follow the track, circling high above before, at just the right moment, diving straight down, 90-degrees, down a 200-foot drop. After the drop, the cars immediately curve up into an Immelman, and around to the mid brakes. After slowing a bit, the cars then go down another, albeit much smaller 90-degree drop, this time into a tunnel, coming out on the other side of a man-made body of water, and swooping up and around into the water. Keeping with the theme, the cars are cleverly outfitted with steel "talons" attached to the bottom of the cars. When the cars splash down, the "talons" dig into the water, drenching passers-by with a 10-foot wave.

Those are the "big 3" as it were, but BGA offers a few smaller, but still enjoyable, coasters:
Gwazi, a wooden racer that pits Lion against Tiger in this roaring twisted mess of wood;
Scorpion, a little Anton Schwartzkopf design with a loop and a helix,
Python, (which actually closed on October 31st, the day after I rode it), an Arrow double-corkscrew;
and Cheetah Chase, a blue and orange Wild Mouse coaster.

Other notable non-coasters:
Rhino Rally (discussed earlier);
Pirates 4D, a 3-D movie with Leslie Nielsen as the evil Captain Lucky who likes to play tricks on his crew, and has tricks played on him, (and the audience gets stuck in the middle, and has tricks played on them, = 4th dimension).

The food at BGA is nothing out of the ordinary. Hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, and an endless supply of beer (it is owned by Anheuser-Busch) are available throughout the park. There are a couple sit-in places, all with air-conditioning. If you have extra time, I would greatly suggest visiting one of these.

On the whole, BGA is a class park worth attending. The weather in Florida may scare some away, but it's bearable because of all the water-based rides.

The Sharks wrapped up their 5 game road trip on Tuesday evening at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, a suburb of Ft. Lauderdale. That post is coming now.

Go Sharks (and go ride a roller coaster)