January 17 2013 02:35PM
You may have heard: the Canucks played something akin to hockey Wednesday night. They are doing similar Thursday night. Here's a rundown of what it's like to see 'hockey' at the biggest barn in town.
The lockout took hockey away for longer than anyone wanted. Being offered up a free dose wasn't so bad, really, but an early preseason training match, even one featuring high-end NHL talent like this one, is always going to have warts. Finding a hot dog? That's supposed to be easy.
Yours truly trekked down to Rogers Arena on Wednesday night, carting along my new roommate, newly-arrived from the UK. He's been a gamer, trying to enjoy the weekly dose of NFL football at our place but he admitted he was seriously hoping to find more energy in hockey. A chance to watch a "game" for free? Done and done.
What follows is mostly about efforts to engage with fans as well as the actual on-ice product and a little bit about a new fan.
Of course, going to the rink is nothing new here; there's always that excitement of the new season, but this was different. It's been grind for four months, a lot of looking for hockey everywhere, finding lots of fun, but ultimately being unable to fill the gap left by the NHL. That said, I don't think that the return of the NHL means you should forget the less-expensive alternatives in Abbotsford, on Renfrew Street and elsewhere.
Canucks TV's Joey Kenward served as in-game host (and doubled as PA announcer for the penalties and goals). He opened the evening by complimenting the assembled, declaring that the Canucks had the league's "most loyal fans." It was jus the beginning of us being told how wonderful everyone was.
The roommate decided ok, we've got fifteen minutes, how about I hunt down these cheap hotdogs. Maybe I should have gone, but I figured, time to let the newbie test the waters.
Twenty minutes later, he returned empty-handed, having waited in line only to be told that the hotdogs were sold out. Well played, Rogers Arena.
On the ice, it all started very slowly. The reason the Wolves players had been brought in was immediately obvious - it made for two beer league-sized teams, three lines of forwards and two pairs of D apiece. Credit to the Canucks on this one, they wouldn't have been able to sell tickets to an ASHL Div 1 game between the Sande Mitts and the CL Smooths, so why should they have bothered trying to sell tickets to two teams that were lamely named Team Blue and Team Grey?
But if the pace of the game and the minimal advertising on the boards (hello mid-80s look) wasn't enough of a reminder that this is training camp - the first hand grenade handling session between Dale Weise and Manny Malhotra was. The timing, friends, was woefully off.
And don't find it suprising that the two players with the quickest step off the bat were Jordan Schroeder and Andrew Ebbett. Not only are they competing for a spot (yes, Ebbett is the leader and rightly so), they've also been playing hockey, actual real games, for four months. Ebbett's timing was excellent; his goal was very much about being "Johnny-on-the-spot" for a rebound. You don't nail chances like that without already being in the groove. Schroeder looked good going up against Bieksa, Hamhuis, Barker and Vandermeer, reading the play well and causing a couple early turnovers.
The question remained, though, who the hell were fans supposed to cheer for?
A guy like Kevin Connauton, young blueline prospect, maybe that's who you cheer for. But if he's taking a shift as a forward - like he did on Wednesday - it should give pause about what you are cheering for. All of a sudden he's number 10 on the depth chart. Signing Cam Barker and Jim Vandermeer took care of that. Still, he made a pair of good rushes with the puck, showing the puck skills everyone knows he has. But he's not a forward.
The first period (just ten minutes long) was tepid at best. But if people were disappointed there were no goals, at least both goalies looked to be on their game - there were no bad rebounds for one thing.
The first intermission, I took up the hot dog quest. Out on the concourse, there was a crazy lineup for pizza, along with rumours that the whole building was out of hot dogs. My stomach rumbled. The pizza line looked stagnant. It was time to check the White Spot stand, with next to no line. I figured, whatever, I'm hungry, I'll get a burger, even if it is full price.
And then it was explained to me that you don't get a drink as part of the combo. Not a happy camper here.
So, it was back to the hot dog quest, but much more annoyed at this point. I'd had enough. This may have been an obvious soft-opening and there are always going to be flaws, this was an event being run by a team that was part of a league had treated its paying customers like dirt. If there really were no hot dogs...oh boy.
But persistence paid off. Somehow, halfway around the rink, there was a hotdog stand and the lineup was actually moving. On top of that, there was hot sauce for the roommate's hot dog.
Period two ran like period one: no finish. At least the passing had improved and everyone seemed to have found their legs. A mid-period powerplay saw Jason Garrison miss a wide open net on a one-timer. A groan but also a cheer. It did earn him a fancy 'meet Jason' segment after the period with host Kenward. That beard is fearsome on the big screen.
The third period, that was much better. Also a bonus, clearly for those of us who had been stuck trying to find hotdogs and had missed earlier action - a 15-minute third period. It all started to click.
Three goals in the last frame, some nifty work by the Sedins and Alex Edler, yes the on-ice product is slowly shaking the dust off.
Henrik's tipped in goal came off some beautiful patience by Edler at the blueline. The big Swede fired in a waist-level shot that Henke deflected between Schneider's legs. Normal goal yes, but in comparison to the previous shift, it was telling. Edler and Darren Archibald had tried the same thing, but Archibald needs to work on his hand eye. Edler's reaction to the missed tip? An odd double-knee bend, an apparent physcial expression of "oh man." The pace on the shot impressed the roommate.
Edler had found his groove. A couple shifts later, he fired a laser beam at the top corner. Schneider never had a chance.
Now, can he do it from the right side? He looked ok. We'll see in real games. It's not like he's being asked to switch political parties.
In front of Schneider, his lesser-quality forward mates struggled to get anything going. Ebbett and Kassian had chemistry - not suprising given they're in the middle of their season. Schroeder and Sweatt knew what was going on as well, though the former was far more noticeable than the latter. Schroeder got a few shifts in the middle frame in Ebbett's stead, skating between Kassian and Mason Raymond.
On the whole though, you'd say it remains advantage Ebbett.
He managed a beauty goal in the post-game shootout, dekeing Luongo. Zack Kassian scored the best goal, turning Luongo inside out.
So, overall it was a decent night, though hard to find hot dog. It included some saacarine efforts to tell fans how special they are, some not great and then decent hockey. It was free too, so bonus points for that. And the roommate's convinced. This is a million times better than the NFL.