Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tour 2009: Air Canada Centre

All photos of the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Air Canada Centre available on Flickr.

How can you go to Canada in March and do nothing hockey-related? We just had to see a Maple Leafs game and the Hockey Hall of Fame on our last full day in Toronto. The Hall of Fame was only a few minutes' walk from our hostel and we got there just before 2. This gave us about 3 hours to view over a century of hockey history. The Hall of Fame building was really cool, it is housed in an old bank - most of the displays are below grade, but the main bank building houses the Stanley Cup, the members of the Hall of Fame, and all of the other player trophies. The original Stanley Cup is even inside what used to be the bank's vault. The Hall of Fame's special display this year was a tribute to the Montreal Canadiens' centennial season, and had player equipment and jerseys of great Canadiens, and there was a video playing about some of the great Montreal teams. There was an area dedicated to international play, an area dedicated to hockey legends including Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky, the Hall of Records, and a special display dedicated to every team past and present. It was not as extensive as the Baseball Hall of Fame, but still very cool and worth seeing. One of the coolest things for me was seeing all of the equipment players used back in the day. Goalie masks didn't even exist until the invention of the slapshot, and looked very crude and uncomfortable up until about 20 years ago. Seeing some of the protection (or lack thereof) and sticks that the players used gave me a new appreciation for the skill and toughness that hockey requires.

After the Hall of Fame, we of course hit the store, and then we grabbed a bite at a place called St. Louis Wings & Ribs. A general rule of thumb - any place with a city in its title other than the city it's in is probably not going to have very good food. I really wanted to believe that Toronto could make good St. Louis style ribs, but they fell short. At least we got to relax for awhile, and it was the cheapest meal of the trip, so no complaints. We then headed to the arena a little after 6 for the puck drop of 7:30.

The outside of the Air Canada Centre left a little to be desired, and entering the building felt a little like going into a hotel lobby, at least where we went in...there could have been some grand entrance we missed. But the arena itself was pretty decent - nice and chilly like a hockey game should be. We were starting to feel the effects of our week of heavy drinking, even though Canadian beer does not seem to give you a hangover, so we stuck with souvenir sodas (with free refills!). A little side note: in Toronto, beer served in plastic cups comes with a lid, kind of like a sippy-cup. I thought that this was just a Rogers Centre querk, but The Hangar also served beer this way. You feel really stupid drinking beer with a lid, but is actually a good idea if you think about it. And if you're going to pay $9 for a beer, it may as well come with some anti-spill protection.

Our seats were high up and provided a great view of game action, but not so much of the rest of the arena, so I had to take pictures of the arena and all the banners from a lower vantage point. The Maple Leafs have 17 retired player numbers and 13 Stanley cups in their 90-year history, both feats I can barely fathom. Going to watch a hockey game in Toronto is kind of like watching a baseball game in New York, or a football game in Green Bay. No matter how the team is doing, people are very passionate about the team, the games are always a sellout, and all people talk about in the offseason is the team's chances for next year. I always overheard people at the Rogers Centre talking about the Leafs or checking their Blackberries for the Leafs score. It's a little bit harder to cheer for the Leafs these days, as they are pretty horrible, but it was a great experience to be a part of the national sport of Canada.

The Maple Leafs fell again on this night, 4-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. I don't remember the last time I've seen a home hockey team play that bad. They were horrible on defense and on the power play, and they have absolutely no players that shoot the puck decently. I've kind of adopted the Maple Leafs as my favorite NHL team since Milwaukee doesn't have a pro team, so it was hard to watch. I'm sure if they still had Mats Sundin, they might have at least lost 4-3. Lee Stempniak got the Leafs out to an early lead with his 13th goal of the season, but the 'Ning scored 4 unanswered in the final two periods. A lot of the crowd left after Ryan Malone put home his 24th of the year on a centering pass from Cory Murphy.

After the game, we stopped off for one final drink in Toronto, this time at a place near our hostel called Flatiron & Firkin. I think this might be the first time I ever fly home to Milwaukee, and it will be warmer there than the city I was in! Our flights leave 4 hours apart, so Erik will have a significant amount of time to kill at the airport bar. Another great Pete & Erik trip! Our next scheduled Tour 2009 trip is to see a game in the final season of the Metrodome, so stay tuned. 25 days 'til Opening Day!

arena stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 2 (stuffed between expressway and Union Station)
view to ice - 7 (good view to ice from up high, but not of rest of arena)
surrounding area - 7 (downtown, Union Station)
food variety - 6
nachos - 5 (standard corn chips & cheese)
beer - 7 (bonus points for lids, variety of Canadian beer, and different sizes; points subtracted for price)
vendor price - 5 (comparitively to rest of Toronto, not too bad)
ticket price - 1 ($100 for seats 10 rows from the top)
atmosphere - 7 (not as rowdy as I expected, but they were playing the Lightning)
walk to arena - 7 (downtown is nice, but you have to walk through a shady tunnel)
parking proximity - n/a
concourses - 5
team shop - 7

best food - Tim Horton's
most unique arena feature - the suites, entry sequence
best jumbotron feature - expose on youth hockey players
best intermission feature - Maple Leafs Elvis & Superman toss t-shirts into crowd

starting goalies - Karri Ramo (TB) v. Martin Gerber (TOR)
Three Stars of the game - (1) Martin St. Louis - TB, (2) Steven Stamkos - TB, (3) Lee Stempniak - TOR
opponent - Tampa Bay Lightning
attendance - 19209
score - 4-1 L
Admirals score - 3-2 W (3/11)

No comments: