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VanMurph's View

VanMurph's View: A Look At Calgary

Friday, 12.19.2008 / 5:00 PM / Blogs
Florida Panthers
Murphy and Vanessa Burch
In just another attempt to bring the fans closer to the team and vice versa, floridapanthers.com would like to introduce our newest fan blogger, Murphy Burch. Joining YourBlog's Cliff Peeke, Murphy will be writing about his views on the Panthers for this season.

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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Calgary is known as “Cowboy Country”, and you only have to look around to realize why. If it weren’t for the giant piles of snow and the stinging -33°C temperature, the cowboy hats and belt buckles might lead you to believe you were in Texas or Central New Mexico.


Having been forewarned by numerous weather forecasts of the impending snowstorm and plummeting temperatures, I decided to drive back to Calgary immediately after the conclusion of the shutout against Edmonton. The drive took a little over three hours, and the comfortable bed at the hotel was a welcome sight at one o’clock in the morning (three o’clock body time). I spent a few minutes downloading some photos from the game and reading the Panthers message board before going to sleep.

The next night the opening face-off with the Flames was scheduled for seven o’clock, and due to the snowstorm, which was now in full swing, I figured I’d have to leave the hotel plenty early to make the drive down to the Saddledome in time. But while passing through the lobby of the hotel in my Panthers jersey, I got some sage advice from the lady working behind the desk. The lifelong Calgarian said to me, “Oh sweetheart, don’t you dare drive into downtown in this weather. Take the train instead. The station is just a couple of blocks from here, and the fare is only $2.50.” So I bundled up and walked over to catch the train into the city. It didn’t take long to realize just how wise that advice was. During the short walk to the train station, I was actually passing by cars that were stuck in the traffic. Had I driven, even to the train station, it would’ve taken me longer to get out of the hotel’s parking lot than it did to walk the entire distance. My suggestion for getting to a game if you’re up here in Calgary is to take public transportation. It’s much cheaper than parking your car, and it’s almost completely hassle-free. The trains were clean, well-kept, safe, and timely. The only downside was waiting for thousands of people to board at the station after the game. One way to avoid that slight inconvenience is to stick around the arena for a while and have something to drink until the crowd at the train station thins out.

When I arrived at the Pengrowth Saddledome, it was just a little before five o’clock. The first order of business was to locate the will call box and pick up my ticket, which I did. Next on my agenda was to find someplace to eat. The Saddledome has a restaurant downstairs called Dutton’s Canadian Lounge. It’s similar to the Chairman’s club, but instead of a buffet, you order off the menu. The food was a little pricey (a Diet Coke and a NY Strip with vegetables was $33.00, plus tip), but it was quite tasty. I knew the minute I walked in, I was going to be in for a long night; nearly every single person in the place had on a red Calgary Flames jersey, and the good-natured ribbing started the second I removed my coat and revealed the leaping Panther on my chest! I got a couple of meows, some boo’s, and quite a few immediate estimates of the Panthers’ chances that evening. One guy, who actually bought me a Molson, even jokingly wagered $500 that the Panthers would get shut out! I looked for him after the game, but to no avail…

The restaurant’s décor, of course, was hockey themed, and there were dozens of large flat screen TV’s showing TSN (Canada’s version of ESPN). The nice thing about TSN, from a hockey fan’s perspective, is that its coverage of the sport we love is second-to-none on the planet. I was in the restaurant a little over an hour, and hockey was the only sport shown the entire time. Even a good percentage of the commercials had a hockey theme.

After dinner I went back upstairs to the concourse, which was now open.


Notes from the Penworth Saddledome:

- The game program was $5.00 (I didn’t purchase one)

- Entering through the main doors I was immediately impressed with the setup of the concourse. There was a wide area with a variety of food selections and various tables set up for selling memorabilia and other things just inside the doors. As I proceeded around the concourse, it narrowed considerably and the restaurant choices continued around the entire perimeter. The building is over 20 years old, and the concourse has a “stadium” feel to it.

- The music played during the pre-game skate was almost identical that which is played at the BAC. The sound system in the Saddledome was very nice.

- After the pre-game skate, and during the player introductions, a spotlight featuring a spinning Flames’ logo was shown on the ice and up in the stands. The introduction video was very-well put together, and it served to excite the crowd. In my opinion, the two opening videos at the BankAtlantic Center are better and more motivational.


- During the singing of the Stars Spangled Banner, a group of classless drunks repeatedly shouted “Florida Sucks”, which was met with laughter. Just for clarity’s sake, this was done while the National Anthem of the United States was being sung. I know it’s not representative of the Flames’ faithful, but it was an utterly disrespectful display.

- Organ music was played at various times during the game.

- There were lots of championship banners hanging from the ceiling.

- According to a fan with whom I had a conversation, The “C” of Red began during the 2004 playoff run. All of the fans began wearing their red jerseys to the arena, and before you knew it, the crowd was just a big sea of red. It caught on, and the tradition continues today.


- Out on the concourse, there were Big Screen TV’s on which to watch the game (and advertisements)


-The glass is very nice. Much the same as in Phoenix, the panes are large and there are no dividers to block your view when looking down the ice.  The panes are held together with small plexiglass squares at the top between each panel.


- The Flames in-arena host is a guy in a Flames jersey who stayed quite busy with contests and interviews throughout the game. He was very good at his job, and the fans responded well to him.

- The Calgary mascot is named Harvey the Hound. He was actually the first NHL mascot. He was pretty entertaining, and the kids loved him. There were two boys sitting behind me who were attending their very first NHL game, and every time Harvey made an appearance in the arena, they would get excited. Harvey would also walk around the arena and rhythmically pound on a drum to get the “Go Flames Go” chant started.


-The slope of the lower bowl is very similar to the slope in the Bank Atlantic Center, giving nearly everyone a good view of the playing surface. At one end of the ice, the lower bowl extends up further than at the other end. The nets are black, and are basically invisible when looking through them up into the crowd.


- The Saddledome has a third level on one side, and the seats at the top of it are farther from the ice than any seat I’ve ever seen at any indoor venue. They are so far away, in fact, that they have a row of large TV screens for the fans up there to watch. I’m guessing the last row of seats up there is four hundred feet from the ice.

- The food is almost identical in price and quality to what we’re used to in the BAC.



-The stadium announcer has an awesome voice and is very good at his job. He got a chance to use that voice a lot, due to the fact that he was doing some sort of advertising or announcing during almost every stoppage in play. The rest of the breaks in the action were filled in with loud music. I’ve often heard complaints about the amount of advertising in the BankAtlantic Center, and how the Canadian teams are above having to do any of that… Well, that’s simply not the case. If you get any guff like that from anyone, kindly suggest that the person attend a game in Calgary… Also worthy of note is that all stoppages in play were greeted with an advertisement, an announcement, or loud music.

- The Power Play is not sponsored, but their Penalty Kill is sponsored by Pengrowth.

- They have dedicated out-of-town scoreboards.

- There is a little kid who goes to every home game dressed as Miika Kiprusoff (I’m talking pads, mask, everything). He stands behind the glass during the warm-ups and mimics every move #34 makes. They call him “mini-Kipper”, and he gets lots of face-time on the jumbotron. That kid is probably the coolest thing I’ve seen in any arena I’ve visited. 

- When the game started the arena had quite a few open seats due to the traffic problems caused by the snowstorm. But as time passed, the place started to fill up, and by the time Stephen Weiss scored in the shootout, there were only a couple hundred seats that weren’t filled. The crowd was loud and stayed involved in the game.


- The Dentyne Smooch Cam is the equivalent of our Kiss Cam. The crowd reacted very enthusiastically to it, and just as in south Florida, the biggest cheers were reserved for the elderly people who were surprised to see themselves up on the jumbotron, and then responded with a kiss for the camera.


- The goal horn in the Saddledome is loud, and it’s accompanied by flames that shoot out from the base of the scoreboard, and from a large box that is suspended over each goaltender at the same level as the scoreboard. Just the same as in every other arena in the NHL, the crowd goes crazy after goals are scored.

- The center-hung scoreboard has lighted rings around the top and bottom, and they can be used in conjunction with the ringed scoreboard around the arena between the first and second levels to display information or entertainment. The most visually stimulating thing they showed up there was a request to make noise. My photos don’t do it justice because the signs flashed vibrantly, and the music that accompanied it was really cool.


- During the first intermission, the entertainment was awesome! It was a relay race on an obstacle course, competed in by two local midget hockey teams. The teams were lined up on separate sides behind the goal line on one end of the ice.  A pair of obstacles was set up between the blue lines, and a member of the ice cleaning crew stood down at the far end of the ice in the face-off circles.  Each member of the midget hockey team would have to race down the ice and go over one obstacle, circle around the girl and then race back slowing down only to dive under the last obstacle before popping back up on their skates and head back toward their team mates. As soon as one would finish the course, the next one would race out there. It was very entertaining, and it was funny to watch those tiny kids out there skating their little hearts out.

- Another cool piece of entertainment was “Will He Land It?” It was a game they played during TV timeouts. They would show a clip of a snow boarder up on the scoreboard and freeze it while he was in mid-air. Then the in-arena host would ask a fan “Will he land it?” Once the fan gave his answer, they would unfreeze the clip and show the snowboarder’s fate. If the fan guessed correctly (land it, or wipe out), he or she won a prize. The crowd really liked this game. The reaction the snowboarder got for landing or wiping out was either a cheer or groan as he slammed into the snow.

- The girls who cleaned the ice were dressed in respectful black skirts and red shirts. For the holiday season they were wearing Santa hats, but they normally wear red cowboy hats. They also squeegeed the glass between the periods.


- There were vendors in the aisles selling donuts, beer, and pizza.

- They have a 50/50 raffle. The winner took home $9787.00. Their 50/50 drawing takes place live on the jumbotron.

- There were dozens of fans in the arena with those long loud horns. They added a nice touch to the buzz of the crowd.

- The Saddledome is shared between the Cagary Flames and the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. I was told that the Hitmen draw around 15,000 per game.

-  Lots of replays were shown throughout the game, and during the intermission, in a darkened arena, they would show live NHL action from other games in progress.

- During a TV timeout, a fan got the wave started… In Canada… Again, don’t let anyone tell you that the wave has no place in hockey. They did it in Calgary, so it DOES have a place in hockey.

The Panthers played another outstanding game in Calgary. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of our guys than I was that night. To watch a team with injury problems and minor leaguers come into a harsh environment and beat a very good Calgary team was about as fulfilling of a hockey experience as I could’ve wished for. The penalty-kill unit was simply fantastic. Just like they did in Edmonton the previous evening, they frustrated the hometown fans as they cleared puck after puck to the far end of the ice. And when Kamil Kreps scored his shorty to tie the game, I wanted to run down there and give him a big ol’ hug! The deke he threw on Kiprusoff was an absolute thing of beauty! It was at that moment, I think, the Calgary fans knew they were in for a heck of a game!

Tomas Vokoun had a very good game. I was happy to see him come back after nearly three weeks on the bench and turn in such a terrific performance. He looked like the T-Vo from last season, making save after save and performing absolutely FLAWLESSLY in the overtime and shootout.

I don’t know how much of the post-game celebrations they showed on TV, especially since the road trip was only covered by the Canadian broadcasters, but as soon as the game was over our guys were immediately out on the ice in genuine euphoria and total support of their teammates. Watching the Panthers rejoice after a hard-fought victory is becoming increasingly satisfying. You can tell they’re not only happy, but they’re proud of each other. 

If it’s not obvious yet, I’ll just go ahead and say that I absolutely love watching the Panthers win hockey games on the road! Maybe it’s a subconscious feeling of retribution and pent-up frustrations at having watched the opposition’s fans leave the BAC happy when our guys came up short. Or maybe it’s just the satisfaction of knowing that we can go out and get points in places where hardly anybody thought we could. Either way, it’s extremely satisfying. I prefer watching wins at home, but witnessing victories in other cities is a very, very, very close second. It’s an indescribable feeling when you’re filing out of another team’s arena with thousands of their fans, and YOU’RE the only person happy! In Calgary I wore my heavy hooded coat to the Saddledome, so it was easier to blend in with the crowd on the way to the train. Because my Panthers jersey and visor were covered up, I heard no catcalls or insults. What I did hear was a lot of talk about the freezing temperature, but very little discussion of the game.

When I arrived at the Calgary airport for my flight down to Dallas, I purchased a Calgary Herald, the local newspaper. Intending to read the hometown coverage of the Panthers’ shootout victory the previous evening, I turned to the Sports Section. What I found was a report of the game laced with jabs, not at the losing team, but at the fan base of the victors. Herald reporter Vicki Hall made reference to the attendance woes at our rink by writing, “Not withstanding the cold, the Florida Panthers must have felt right at home Friday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome. A punishing winter storm choked traffic on Calgary streets, leaving the Flames’ barn half empty for the opening faceoff. Much like a regular game night at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.”  She then took another stab at us by writing, “Weiss beat Miikka Kiprusoff to seal the second win in as many nights for the visitors from the land of small hockey crowds and sunshine.”

I guess the old adage about how “The Truth Hurts” has some validity. Although in this case, its delivery method and its source ticks me off. She fails to mention anywhere in her front-page coverage of the game, that when the Panthers beat her hometown team, they did it with a significant portion of their top talent on the disabled list. It must have really gotten under her skin that a team with a lineup pieced together with hockey tape and some guys from the AHL came into the Flames’ arena and left with two points… It seems that defeat is a bitter pill to swallow, even for a journalist.

Ms. Hall’s jabs, along with the classless shouting and laughter during the Star Spangled Banner, were the only negatives in my entire Calgary experience. Every other aspect of my trip, from the flight in to the flight out, was simply terrific. I met a lot of wonderful people, sampled some local fare, and watched the Panthers skate to a hard-earned victory.

One quick note about the previous entry, the Edmonton Experience blog: The Panthers fans from Edmonton; Zach, Jared, and Brett, were actually FULL SEASON TICKET HOLDERS for the Panthers while they were down here going to college. Zach and Jared met up with me again in Calgary and saw to it that I got on the right train, and that I made my transfer at the right station. These guys are true-blue Panthers fans, and genuinely nice guys. They’re a testament to what Panthers hockey can do to you!


Thank you very much for stopping by the blog, I hope you’ve enjoyed this entry. My next one will most likely be the arena summary from GM Place out in Vancouver.

Take Care,
-Murph

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you just want to say Hi, I can be reached at: VanMurph@hotmail.com

I got quite a bit of email from the Edmonton blog, and between travel and work, I’m a little slow in responding to all of it, but I will have it all answered by this weekend. Thank you to those of you took the time to email me, and to share your own Edmonton Experiences.

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