Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bowling Green Hockey

Of the sports that I watch (most of them), I think hockey might be Amber's least favorite. But somehow, I was able to convince her to go to a hockey game while were in Toledo for Thanksgiving. Maybe she was just excited to get a night out together; we don't have any family in town, so we better take advantage of the free babysitting while we can!

We actually had two hockey game options on Friday night: we could go see the minor-league (ECHL) Toledo Walleye, or we could go see the Bowling Green State University hockey team take on the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. We chose Bowling Green, because: 1) cheaper tickets; 2) I had never been to a college hockey game before; and 3) Amber used to go to the Bowling Green ice rink a lot to watch her sister figure skate, so it would be a bit nostalgic for her.

NOT a consideration was the quality of the hockey we were going to see. I've watched sports enough to notice a discernable difference between the college game and the pro game. Generally, the pro game is more entertaining to watch than the college game, because all of the players are more skilled, and the games are usually more competitive. (Basketball is an exception, because NBA players are so skilled that teammwork isn't needed like it is in college basketball, which hurts the quality of the game.) Minor league sports play much closer to the major professional level than the collegiate level, so if I wanted to see a better-played game, the correct thing to do would have been to attend the Toledo Walleye game.

Thing is, though, college hockey is hard to find on TV, so I haven't watched enough college hockey to know how different pro and college hockey are. But having now attended a college game in person, I can now tell the difference. The game is nearly as fast, but the passes aren't as crisp, there are far fewer odd-man rushes, and most goals are of the "grind it out" variety (rebounds, deflections, etc) rather than a fancy deke, one-timer, or something that would make the SportsCenter Top Ten. In other words, the pro game is definitely more entertaining to watch.

But there is still plenty to like about college hockey. Find me a professional game at ANY level where you can get ice-level seats for $5. (Full disclosure: $5 isn't the normal price; this was part of a holiday special or something since most of the students were home for Thanksgiving.)

We didn't sit ice-level, of course; I like being farther up.

And, I can only assume that at a college game, you stand a much better chance of catching a wayward puck in the stands than you do at an NHL or minor league game. In fact, look what I got!

The atmosphere at a college sporting event is almost always going to be better than at a pro event. Smaller, more enthusiastic crowds; less annoying piped-in music and advertisements, and in the case of college hockey, almost no fighting! I know that's a major draw for Amber. (Fighting is Amber's least favorite thing about hockey. I'm not a big fan of it either, but I understand why it's there, and I can live with it.) Amber also feels she can relate to the college players a little more than the professional players.

And, how about this: a handshake line after the game. The NHL only does this at the end of a playoff series.

I think Amber's second least favorite thing about hockey is the obnoxious goal horn. I would talk about Bowling Green's goal horn here, or whatever they do after they score. But Bowling Green didn't score a single goal that night, even though they were playing a relatively weak opponent (Alaska-Fairbanks). They even didn't score in the rematch the next night, either. So, I can only assume that there is a goal horn of some kind when Bowling Green scores, followed by the Bowling Green fight song over the PA system. Either way, I feel cheated whenever I go to a hockey game and the home team doesn't score. What gives, BG? Maybe the Alaska players were just happy to be in a warmer climate for a couple of days. Or, maybe this Bowling Green hockey team is just plain lousy. No wonder the tickets are so cheap! They haven't always been this bad, though. They won the 1984 national championship, and they've churned out quite a few NHLers over the years. Hopefully they'll get it turned around soon.

Going into the game, I thought, "There probably won't be that many Alaska fans here. I mean, it's not like they're going to make the trip all the way from Fairbanks, right?" Wrong!

Did these people seriously come all the way from Alaska to Ohio, just for a hockey game? That's insane. Then again, after a week of record low temperatures (which, for Fairbanks, really means something), maybe they jumped at the opportunity to get out of town for a couple of days. If I had to spend the winter in Fairbanks, I might have done the same thing.

Here's something I was curious about before the game. Do college games go to a shootout to break ties like in the NHL? The answer: only in Bowling Green's conference, the CCHA. Every other NCAA Division I conference has ties. And actually, officially, the CCHA scores a shootout game as a "tie". They award three points in the standings for a win, one point for a tie, and one additional point (for a total of two) for a shootout win. I kind of wish the NHL did the standings this way. (My official take on the shootout: from a competition standpoint, I don't like it, but from the standpoint of entertainment and the value to the consumer of having a definitive "winner" and "loser" at a sporting event, I support its existence in the regular season.)

Here is the truly awesome video that plays prior to every Alaska-Fairbanks game. Bowling Green does not have a video board. The ice rink is pretty old school; everything in there looks like it's from the 70s or 80s. The building was recently renovated, but the rink itself was kept in "old school" condition, which I actually like. Who needs a big fancy scoreboard, anyway?

One more thing. Located in the same building as the hockey rink is...the curling club!

As I understand it, the Bowling Green Curling Club used to have dedicated curling ice, but now it's basically an arena club. The curling ice was being used as a free skate on Friday, which was sad to see from my perspective. But I know how that goes.

While the level of play is lower, there is a lot to like about college hockey. I wish one of the Triangle universities had an NCAA Division I ice hockey team. How about it, Duke?

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