On Saturday I went to an Albany Devils v. Wilke Barre - Scranton Penguins minor league Hockey game with my friends Henda, Kathy and Kelly. My sister had purchased the tickets for me at Christmas time, and I was fortunate that her gift fit in nicely with one of my "little adventures" which I had outlined earlier in the month. Now technically speaking the Devils and Penguins minor league teams are not professionals on the highest level of the sport, but the are the supply chain for the major clubs who perform out of New Jersey and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania respectively. I was excited to attend the game as I had only previously been to four hockey games, three on the highest professional level and one other minor league game in my life. The last time I had attended a hockey game was 9 years ago in my first year in Albany, New York.
The game was at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York (our beautiful state capital)
We arrived on time for the start of the game at 7:00 pm, but went to the concessions for some food and some beer. While the ticket prices were quite good for seats only two rows from the ice level, the concessions were quite pricey. I purchased one Dos Equis which they serve in a platic cup, and a bottle of Adirondack water. Kelly and Kathy bought some spicy boneless chicken wings and french fries. Once we had all made our pregame purchases and found our seats we had missed about one half of the first period of play, but there was no score.
I was a bit surprised at the lack of physicality at first. North American ice hockey is known for it's physical nature, relative to European ice hockey. I guess Americans are kind of infamously known for violence, and we like our sports like we like our streets apparently. >.< While I am not a proponent of crime or violence in any way, I do enjoy a good hockey fight. =P The first period ended in a scoreless tie and I though the skating was a bit lackluster, but it was quite cool being so close to the action on the ice. Our seats were right next to the penalty boxes, where players who have commited on ice infractions must sit while their team has to kill off the penalty, shorthanded (much like a european football team might be short handed or down a player when a player receives a red card, except the hockey infranction has a time limit and is not the duration of the game. The penalty can also end prior to the time running out if the team with the advantage scores a goal)
In the second period the action really picked up. The players skated with a lot more speed and there were some nice open ice hits and even one or two which rattled the boards around the rink (which is exciting when you sit so close to the walls as we were). The Devils scored the first goal of the game on a power play (while a Penguins player was in the penalty box) and the crowd exploded in noise. It was a sell out crowd for the event. I do not know if that is typically the case for the local hockey team, or if it was because the community was hosting a "Boy Scouts" night at the arena that night. Either way, it was nice to have a full crowd to create an electic atmosphere. Late in the period a Devils player was in the penalty box which is located midway on the rink, and at exactly the moment he came out of the box the puck was cleared from the Devils defensive zone to where he was exiting the box. This created a breakaway opportunity where the skater was coming in alone on the Penguins goal tender. Just before he got his shot off he was caught from behind by an illegal slash on the wrist, the goal tender was able to make an easy save. The referees could have chosen to give the Penguins player a penalty for the illegal slash, but because the Devils player was coming in on a breakaway when the penalty occurred he was awarded a "penalty shot" by the referees. Now penalty shots are a rare occurence in ice hockey, they maybe happen once or twice a year for each team, and sometimes not even that often. I have been fortunate now to see 2 penalty shots in the 5 games I've been to. I could easly go to 100 games and never see one, so I feel quite lucky to have had this second opportunity to see a penalty shot. In a penalty shot the Devils player was allowed to skate in alone (with no defenders) and get one free shot on the Penguins goaltender. The crowd was all standing and going wild to see the penalty shot. The Devils skater came in close and snapped off a wrist shot past the goaltenders stick side making the score 2-0 for the Devils. The audience errupted to the loudest cheers of the night after the penalty shot goal. The second period was by far the most evently and ended with a 2-0 lead for the Devils.
The third period had a lot of really good action, and I wasn't sure if I wanted the Penguins to tie it up so that it would go into overtime or if I wanted the Devils to get a shutout. I think the Devils played a very good defensive period and their goaltender made two good saves on scoring chances for the Penguins. Near the end of the third period the Penguins pulled their goal tender to get an extra skater, but the Devils were able to secure the puck and put it into the empty net for a 3-0 lead, essentially securing the win. During the third period Henda and I finished off Kathy's and Kelly's chicken fingers and fries. They were good, but not worth the money in my opinion. My Dos Equis was nice for the first two or three sips, but on the whole I felt like the plastic cup dominated the taste of the beer, so I was not that impressed. Especially considering I had spent the same amount of money on that one beer as I could for 12 beers of the same brand at the grocery store. That's how inflated the beer prices are at the arena. We all went home happy and having had a great time though. I think the best thing about the whole experience was the excitement in the crowd. The intermissions were even fun as we got to watch little kids (about 4/5 year olds play hockey during the first intermission and watch everyone in the crowd throw styrofoam hockey pucks at a target in the center of the ice to win a prize (free Albany Devils player jersey) - granted to the owner of the puck that came closest to the bullseye.
All in all it was an experience I enjoyed grately and I'd love to do it again. <|=O) Jon Bear
photos credits to: