VanMurph's View: Thoughts On LA
Saturday, 11.8.2008 / 3:39 PM ET / Blogs
|Murphy and Vanessa Burch|
Murphy, an airline pilot originally from North Carolina, is better known as vanmurph on the Panthers message boards and he, along with his wife Vanessa are two of the most vociferous fans at the BankAtlantic Center.
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As I stepped off the plane at the Los Angeles International Airport last Thursday, it marked the first time I’d ever come to the West Coast with the sole purpose of watching a Panthers game. Although I’ve been here literally hundreds of times, somehow this trip seems different.
For the first time, I’m struck by things I’ve never before noticed. For example, there is NOTHING in the airport gift shops that would lead you to believe that the Greater Los Angeles area has even ONE team in the National Hockey League, let alone, TWO. If you’re a fan of the Dodgers, Angels, Clippers, Lakers, USC, or UCLA, your sports trinkets needs covered. But if you’re a fan of the team just two seasons removed from a Stanley Cup championship, or the team for whom the greatest hockey player to ever lace up a pair of skates graced the ice, you are out of luck. Not a single hockey souvenir in any gift shop in Terminal 4 of Los Angeles International Airport... Sad.
Having worked in the airline industry since 1991, the large majority of my travel has been work-related, and as such, my itinerary is set by the airline. Hotel reservations and transportation to and from the airport are all scheduled ahead of time, so all I have to do is walk off the airplane, get into a van, and enjoy the ride to the hotel. However, on trips like this one, the responsibility for ensuring transportation and lodging falls onto me. For those of you who don’t travel frequently, I can tell you that creating your own itinerary for a multiple-city trip can get downright expensive. Between hotels, transportation and tickets to the games, you quickly realize the value of your hard-earned paycheck! Thank goodness for websites like Hotwire.com, Stubhub.com, and Mapquest.com. They make trip planning and ticket purchasing fairly painless, and they help to lighten the hit your wallet would take if you handled all of your reservations directly with the airlines, hotels, and rental car companies.
The Staples Center in Los Angeles is a relatively short cab ride from the airport, but in the spirit of adventure, I decided to take the shuttle instead. It was $15 one-way from door to door, which seems like a great deal, but in the end it turned out to cost much more than that… I made a reservation with Prime Time Shuttle (They’re the Avis to Super Shuttle’s Hertz), and I got out to the arena in 40 minutes with no problems. After the game, however, when I called to get picked up at the same place I’d been dropped off earlier, the lady at the reservations desk informed me that there were NO SHUTTLES to get me back to the LAX Marriott… So, a $55 cab ride later, I walked into the lobby of the hotel. In hindsight, I should’ve just used Hotwire to rent a car for $25 and pay the $7 parking fee two blocks north of the Staples Center. My advice to you; rent a car. It’s less expensive in the long run, and it’s safer and much faster than trying to make multiple connections on buses to get from the airport to the arena.
The shuttle dropped me off at the south entrance to the arena, and since I was there three and half hours early (I wanted to see some sights), I decided to walk around the outside of the arena and try to get a feel for the area. I wandered a couple of blocks in search of something to eat, and I stumbled across a little Italian restaurant called La Bella Cucina. There were signs in the window that said “We Feed The NHL”, so in I went! I sat in a window seat and ordered a Gorgonzola Salad and Gnocchi. The food was outstanding and the prices were very reasonable. The appetizers ranged from $5.00 to $9.00 and the entrees were of similar value. The breads and pastas are all made from scratch each day, and the entire meal was truly succulent! I spoke with the co-owner, Lucinda La Bella (her actual name!), who has run the restaurant for better than 20 years with her brother. She told me the restaurant caters the post-game locker room food for the Kings and all the visiting NHL teams. They also deal with the Lakers, the Clippers, the Avengers (of the Arena Football League), and the Sparks of the WNBA. The restaurant is located just north of the arena on Figeroa Street (the same street as the Staples Center). It has a flat screen TV, which is almost always on sports, hanging next to the bar. Besides the terrific food, the service was great and the people were all very friendly to the only guy in the whole place wearing a Panthers jersey. Lucinda said the place fills up before the game, but they get everyone fed and out the door in plenty of time to see the puck drop. If you’re out there for business or pleasure, you can’t go wrong with a belly full of delicious Italian cooking!
Once I was finished with dinner, I walked back down to the Staples Center. The arena itself is quite nice. It’s located in downtown Los Angeles, and is part of a currently-expanding Convention Center and retail complex. It’s an impressive venue with a modern flair and a terrific location. Although I much-prefer the away-from-downtown location of the BankAtlantic Center, there is something to be said for having your hockey rink right near the heart of the city. It’s a multi-use sportsplex shared by the aforementioned teams (Kings, Lakers, Clippers, Avengers, and Sparks), making it one of the most utilized arenas in the country. It is also used for concerts, conventions, and other activities. Once inside, however, there is really no doubt who takes precedence in the hierarchy. That building belongs to the Lakers. From the Championship banners to the retired jerseys, it’s a Lakers arena that just happens to be used by other professional sports teams.
I mentioned earlier about my ride to the airport; although the Los Angeles public transportation system leaves something to be desired, the arena is actually reachable from anywhere in the area by bus or bus/train/bus/bus/bus...
The doors opened at 6:00 for a 7:30 puck drop, and I went in around 6:10. One notable difference in the admittance procedures between the BAC and the Staples Center is that the latter has metal detectors at every entrance. You empty your pockets and walk through to retrieve your belongings on the other side. Once inside, your ticket is scanned and then you’re asked if you’d like to purchase a program for $2.00 (just like the ones we all get for free). I bought it, because quite frankly, I didn’t know too much about the Kings. I wanted to get a look at their profiles, and to see if there was anything of substance about the Panthers in the program… There was nothing of consequence, except a very small Panthers logo on the bottom front of the cover, and a brief team summary along with similarly brief summaries of their opponents for the season. The name of the program is Royal Reign.
The next thing I noticed was how narrow the concourses were. When I say narrow, I don’t mean narrow like the concourse at the mall, I mean narrow like a High School hallway.
But on those concourses, you can purchase food from McDonalds and California Pizza Kitchen (at regular prices, NOT arena prices), or you can go with the standard arena fare just like we have in Sunrise. The prices on their non-chain restaurant food are very similar to what we pay. They also have an equivalent to our Pantherland, where you can purchase Kings items, as well as items from the other teams that share the arena.
After making my way around the lower concourse, I walked into the bowl. It’s a cozier (read slightly smaller) place than we have in Sunrise. The lower bowl slope is quite shallow, meaning that when you’re 17 rows up, you’re still looking at a significant portion of the playing surface through the glass. The BankAtlantic Center’s lower bowl has a steeper slope, resulting in a less-obstructed view of the ice. The second tier of the Staples Center consists of three levels of suites, which form sort of like a wall, off of which all of the sound from the lower bowl reverberates. This makes it a very loud arena when even the sparsest of crowds has something about which to cheer.
And finally the upper level has a pitch similar to the one in our 400’s. As a side note, when I went up to the top of the last row in front of the Press Box to take a photo of the arena, I chatted briefly with Billy Lindsay, Randy Moller, and Steve Goldstein. It was a cool experience to happen across our guys while I was taking photos for this blog entry!
Some brief notes about the hockey experience at the Staples Center:
The nets around the goal zones are white, whereas ours are black. The white ones scatter the light rather than absorbing it, so watching the action through the net or looking at something in the crowd through the net is a little more difficult (just my opinion).
The girls who clean their ice during timeouts are dressed in sexy, yet respectful, outfits that feature all black pants and mid-cut shirts, accented by purple. They’re called the Metal Crew, and when they clean the ice, they skate in a pattern that goes from wall-to-wall starting at the center of the face-off circles down to the goal line, and behind the nets. Their shovels are about 4 feet wide, so they get the job done quickly.
The Kings’ mascot is named Bailey. He’s a Lion, and he’s pretty entertaining. He bangs on a big round drum during the game to get the “Go Kings Go” chant started. The crowd responded each time he’d start it.
They have vendors in the aisles. This is a pet peeve of mine, and I’m very thankful we don’t have them in the BankAtlantic Center. I know they’re just doing their job, but it’s annoying to have to move side-to-side to be able to see the action around them as they pass through your field of vision dozens of times each night while the puck is in play.
Fox Sports has a sports bar attached to the Staples Center. It’s called Skybox Sports Fans Bar and Grill. It opens about an hour prior to the arena doors opening, and it has dozens of big-screen TVs. The food is pricey, and it’s standard fare for a sports bar.
There was a large set of Wachovia ATMs on the concourse.
Their player introduction song is really cool. It sounds like something you hear at Medieval Times. If there were more fans in the arena, I imagine the song would help to get them pumped up and create a buzz right before the game started.
The stadium announcer had a pleasant voice, and the Kings in-arena host is a dude.
Power Plays and Penalty Kills were both sponsored. Icing, however, was not.
The center-hung scoreboard is smaller than ours, but the screens on their board are larger than ours, and the picture is clearer. During the game, the on-ice action is shown on 4 of the 8 screens.
They have a one-ring scoreboard around the upper level of the arena. It’s about the same as ours. They didn’t have a full-time out-of-town scoreboard, but they provided game updates during the intermissions like the crew at our place does.
The Kings logo was shown on the ice, spinning and in full color. They also played video on the ice when the lights were down. That, in conjunction with purple and white spotlights, made for a nice presentation.
The music they played is almost identical to what we’re used to in Sunrise, and it’s played at about the same decibel level.
Their goal horn is one of the best in the NHL… And unfortunately, I had the distinct displeasure of hearing it 3 times during the game. It’s from a ship, and it is extremely loud! They also play the song “I love L.A.” as their goal song. As much as I hate to admit it, it was actually pretty cool.
Their fans are terrific, and their fan base is strikingly similar in size to that of the Panthers. The arena may have been relatively empty, but the few fans who showed up were extremely smart hockey people who had a pretty impressive knowledge of the game. The energy level definitely picked up once they took a one-goal lead, and it got even louder after they went up two to zero… They cheered the little things like a clear on a PK and good saves by their goalie (with 6 shots through 40 minutes, that one didn’t get used too much). They were also very respectful of the Panthers fans in attendance. I didn’t hear one utterance of negativity towards my jersey the entire evening. (Here’s a photo that shows the severity of their attendance woes)
The usher staff was very accommodating and friendly.
The restrooms were modern and relatively spacious, but not as large as ours. However, the small crowd size meant no lines at intermission!
During intermissions they had a couple of good pieces of entertainment. My favorite was the first intermission Sumo hockey game. The crew set up the nets at opposite ends of the red line, and then a bunch of guys in Sumo costumes played a quick hockey game. Even though I wasn’t in the best of moods, I still managed to laugh at the guys out there waddling around and trying to shoot a puck.
A dance competition between 3 goofy fans took place during a timeout. They had a spotlight on them up in the upper level and a few songs were played. The judge was actually a noise meter that registered crowd approval. It was pretty funny to watch these guys dance to Saturday Night Fever and Splash Dance, among others.
Another piece of entertainment was called “Hockey Smarts”. The arena host would ask a fan to guess which of two pre-taped interviewees would get a basic hockey question right. If the fan guessed correctly, everyone in her row got a prize.
One of their on-ice camera guys had on hockey skates and what a difference it made in his ability to do good camera work. My favorite shot was of the Zamboni riders. He would skate along beside them and the effect was really nice.
The Kings have a version of our energy crew called the Kings Crew. They basically toss t-shirts.
All things considered, L.A. is a terrific place to watch a hockey game. You won’t go broke, and you’ll enjoy a nice atmosphere with friendly hockey fans. You’ll also enjoy some good food near the arena.
The game itself? Well, you saw it, or heard it, or heard about it… Either way, it was UGLY. I wasn’t happy, and I just couldn’t believe I was watching the same team that had skated so strongly in Montreal and Ottawa, and at home against the Sharks. I hope the urgency is felt in the locker room the way it is in the stands. Our guys MUST know how important it is to get this thing turned around, and quickly. I won’t bother with the minutia, but suffice it to say that we all know the fans aren’t happy with efforts like the ones we’ve seen in Atlanta and L.A. Oh, and in my last blog I mentioned that Keith Ballard deserved at least an “A” on his chest… Well you can cancel that. He deserves nothing less than a “C”. I am so impressed with his hustle and his heart. Thursday night’s fight showed that he’s also willing to drop the gloves and mix it up a little. I love the fact that he’s going to be a Panther for at least 7 seasons! (But hey Keith, don’t be so quick to shed that helmet during fights, buddy! Keep that thing on so we don’t lose you to a knuckle-caused concussion!)
After looking at my proposed flight itinerary, I’ve decided to rent a car and drive the round-trip to Phoenix rather than fly. Driving will cost more because I can fly on any airline for free, but the timing of the flights and the amount of dead time I would’ve had in either Phoenix or Los Angeles wasn’t a very attractive alternative. And since I have never driven the proposed route, it’ll be exciting to see some new sights, and meet some interesting folks along the way! So the next two days will be a little hectic. It’s just under 400 miles between L.A. and Phoenix, so I’m leaving early in the morning and hopefully I’ll arrive in the mid afternoon. Then I’ll spend a day recharging and getting ready to watch the Panthers take on the Coyotes. Then after the game, I’ll get a few hours sleep, and it’s on the road again for the drive back over to Santa Ana. I probably will not have the time to write the arena summary from the game at the Jobing.com Arena until I get on the plane for the flight back home to Miami late Sunday night. Then hopefully the one from the Honda Center will follow shortly thereafter.
I met some Panthers fans out in L.A., and I actually ran across a couple of folks who read this blog! (And I thought my Mom was the only one…) So I’d like to say hello to Matt Abraham, and Dan and Karlee Bernal. Matt recognized my name from the back of my jersey and we struck up a conversation. Dan and Karlee are participants on the Florida Panthers message board. I’ll be meeting up with a couple of other message board participants in Phoenix, and then others, including Dan and Karlee back in Anaheim. Also, I’d like to say a quick hello to a family of former Florida residents who now live in L.A. but are still Panthers die-hards. Mark, Liz, Devin, and Hunter Sadovnick were all gathered at the glass during the warm-ups in L.A. It was very nice to meet you guys!
Thanks for stopping by the blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed this entry.
If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you just want to say Hi, I can be reached at: VanMurph@hotmail.com
Thank you to everyone who emailed me after the last blog entry. It was a pleasure to correspond with each of you.
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Here are some photos from the game: