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One Girl’s Journey…

May 10, 1995.

That’s the day everything began.

It was late in the school year, my junior year at Bishop Maginn High School in Albany.  During a lunch break, there was an announcement about discounted River Rats playoff tickets for high school students.

Sure, I knew who the River Rats were, thanks to a friend who had season tickets with her parents.  I knew they played downtown at the Knickerbocker Arena, a building I barely went to other than my mother getting Knicks preseason tickets (stop laughing).  I would sometimes watch the pregame show Fox had on back in the NHL on Fox (never forget the Glow Puck!) days, where John Hennessy, the radio voice of the River Rats at the time, would have players on for interviews.

I came home from school with my team photo and flier, and pretty much made my mother go with me that night.  We got seats in row DD (I can’t remember the section number), which I didn’t know till I got inside was four rows from the glass.  I remember watching the Rat players skate around during warmups and instantly finding a favorite…hey, that’s Mike Dunham from the pregame show!

I even won a prize in a special student drawing, and went on the ice during an intermission to choose a mystery envelope…it was a Walkman (yes, I am showing my age here), while the kid standing next to me won the grand prize, a night in a suite for 20.  The Rats didn’t win that night, but to 16-year-old me, it didn’t matter.  I was hooked on River Rat hockey.  I still remember watching on TV the night the Rats would finish off Fredericton in Game 4 of the Calder Cup finals just a couple of weeks later…and throwing a fit when my mom wouldn’t let me go to the parade (single mom rules…if she doesn’t want to go, you’re not going either) downtown a couple of days later (luckily my Math 12 teacher did attend and filled me in…and showed off her autographed towel).

Naturally, I had to be at the 1995-96 home opener that October.  Of course Mom waited till the last minute to get tickets, and we were in the upper deck (you know, back in the day when the upper sections didn’t need the black curtains) by the press area as the Calder Cup was lowered from the ceiling, and the red championship banner went up.  Sitting upstairs that night did have one perk…I got to meet Corey Schwab, who drove north from New Jersey where the parent Devils had an afternoon game earlier in the day, and was standing near my seat.  He signed my program and talked to me for a couple of minutes.

As I got older, the involvement increased…a handful of games turned into going every other weekend, joining the Booster Club, venturing out on the road, and finally, full season tickets once I was out of college.  There was a few years stretch where because of my insane work schedule I didn’t go a whole lot, but eventually, I found my way back to full time status.

I even got some college credit as a result of my fandom…for the first three months of the 1999-2000 season, my final year at The College of Saint Rose, I worked as an intern in the Rats front office, helping with press packets, scout passes, working at the fan relations table, and I even got to wear the iconic Rowdy costume a few times at a couple of school functions.

22 years and thousands of games attended later since that night…this book is closing.

I find it hard to believe that for more than half my life, I’ve been involved in Albany AHL hockey.  So many life milestones…graduating high school, getting my degree from Saint Rose, losing my mom to cancer, moving around the Capital Region, real world jobs…but the River Rats, and later the Devils, were always my steady presence.  Now…how to best fill that void?

So many players, so many names to remember that came through this area that started their professional careers.  I can turn on a random NHL game and probably know a few names that either suited up for the Rats/Devils or I saw play as opponents.

I’ve been through a lot with this journey…that lone Calder Cup just weeks after I got started, the Red Wings days, the lean early 2000s where wins were few and far between, saying goodbye to New Jersey the first time around and saying hello Carolina, five overtimes, the Mass Pike bus accident, saying goodbye to the Rats as they moved to Charlotte, figuring out the second New Jersey coming, more lean times, finally getting back to the playoffs.  Now I’m saying goodbye for a 3rd time.

Before hockey, I had a very limited social circle (it’s what happens when you’re an only child and you stay inside a lot.  And not talk a lot to others…okay fine my social skills were very limited).  Now, some of my best friends I’ve met have been because of this sport.  I’ve seen kids grow up, others get married and start families, and sympathized as some lost loved ones along the way, including alumni (Coach Cunniff, Peter, Alex, Dave, and Sasha…you are all missed).

I could say the same about the players that have come through here too.  I still remember Patrik Elias coming here as a 19 year old in his first North American season, before he became a legend in New Jersey.  I’ve seen players start out as young party types grow up and become family men, go on to have long careers.  And even if I haven’t seen a player in years, they still remember who you are.

When the Devils returned in 2010, I had no idea that just practicing how to use my BlackBerry at a preseason game in Glens Falls would launch another phase of fandom.  Or a possible new career.  Writing was something I’ve always loved doing since I was about 7 years old…since I wasn’t much of a talker back then, it’s how I communicated best.  I thought that would be my future career when I chose to be a communications major at Saint Rose…either writing for a newspaper or maybe doing books.  I kind of lost that career track, but starting this blog was a way to get me back in the game, so to speak.  Especially when it’s a topic you really couldn’t find much news on (good old Lou keeping everything under wraps!).

Thanks to these teams, I went to cities I probably never thought I’d get to see, from as far north as Glens Falls (never made it to Portland or Manchester), as far south as Norfolk, as far east as Providence, and as far west as Rochester.  And in between: Syracuse, Binghamton, Utica, Springfield, Worcester, Hartford, Bridgeport, Lowell, Wilkes-Barre, and even Atlantic City.  (Still have to get to Hershey…Allentown was for All Stars but I wouldn’t mind a return trip.)

So what does the future hold?  Where will I be?

My heart is still with the AHL.  It’s the only hockey I’ve known for 22 years.  I can’t see myself walking away from it.  Since I refuse to set one foot in Binghamton (unless a certain person in their hierarchy apologizes for more or less treating us Albany fans like we don’t exist…he knows who he is), I’ll most likely be splitting my time between Springfield and Utica, with at least one or two visits to a few other arenas (i.e. Syracuse, Rochester, Hartford, one of the PA teams schedule permitting).  I’ll also be making a few visits to Adirondack as well, since they’re really the only game in town in the winter. We’ll see what non-hockey life allows me to do.

As for New Jersey…you may have screwed me over with the minors, but I just can’t quit the NHL on ice product.  I still plan on at least one or two trips to The Rock next season to visit everyone.  I’ve made so many friends over the last seven years I just can’t walk away.  And I’d miss the snark too much.

Even though I won’t be covering the Devils prospects on a full time basis anymore, I still want to see them do well.

Thank you all for following along this journey with me…and stay tuned as I decide what to do next.

 

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No Words.

You know how Facebook has that On This Day feature?  The one where you can look back on posts from years ago?

When I checked mine this morning, I saw my memories from my first AHL All Star trip to Utica (and my first ever trip to Turning Stone) two years ago.

And then I see an article I shared from Puck Daddy from 2010…back when the rumors of the River Rats moving to Charlotte were starting to take hold.

Who would have guessed exactly 7 years later I’d find myself in the same situation?

The news broke via the Times Union about an hour or so ago…what I had read a couple of weeks ago then reminded by several people about a week and a half ago…may really be happening.

And for the second time in 7 years…I don’t have a team.

But why?  A 3 year extension was announced last season, the arena is being remodeled, by all accounts things seemed…okay?  I get it, the attendance clearly wasn’t there.  The media barely covered the team.  It seemed like no matter what was tried…you can’t compete in a college town, which, even though Albany is the capital of New York State, is more into basketball…especially college/HS…than a pro hockey team.  RPI and Union offer the same entertainment for much less.  And downtown Albany at night?  That’s a different story for another day.

Lesson learned: Support your minor league team, no matter the time or cost.  Don’t take it for granted.  You never know, one day they’ll be gone.

As for the future of this blog…it’s too early for me to make any decisions.  Let’s see how everything plays out first before I decide.

Oh, and I’ll be in Allentown for All Stars, so please feel free to give me your best sales pitch as to why I should join your bandwagon…

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I’ll Show You A Girl’s Guide.

Getting back on my soapbox again.

No Devil fans, I’m leaving you alone this time (you actually have improved since my November rant, bravo!).

This time, I’m pointing it at the Rangers. As I was getting ready to leave for Glens Falls yesterday, a very interesting story started popping up on my Twitter feed about an article the team posted on its own feed (which I would have linked for you, but it has mysteriously vanished. Hmmm…I wonder why), the Girl’s Guide to Watching the Rangers. Thanks to those who shot screen caps of the story before it was taken down, I had the chance to look through the story. And all I have to say is…WHAT?

Seriously?

Once again, the female hockey fan is being stereotyped as not having a clue or just in it to look at good looking guys (or get the attention of said good-looking guys). Didn’t we go through this during the whole While The Men Watch debacle during the playoffs last season? (Shameless self promotion alert: I guest blogged on the topic back in June for a friend of mine who would agree.) And don’t even get me started about the Cosmo Hot Hockey Player list…

Now let’s take the steps apart piece by piece, shall we?

Step 1: Knowing when to ask questions. Our brilliant author suggests waiting until a stoppage in play or a penalty call to ask a male fan what’s going on. “You need to sense the tension at certain points in the game and let them do their jumping, screaming, and cheering thing. You can tell if something huge has happened by their reaction…” That’s not how I learned. I actually watched it, and over time the more I watched (at first on TV, then finally when I started going to River Rats games) I picked up on all the nuances of the game. If this were the playoffs, particularly the Stanley (or in my area of expertise, Calder) Cup Finals, you’d be silent the entire game. There is no such thing as a dumb question (unless you work in retail customer service, but that’s another topic), it’s how you learn.

Step 2: Get to know the Rangers. By just hearing last names during the broadcast. Just because you heard Sam Rosen say Del Zotto or Staal, you automatically know who they are. Again, just watch! And actually read up on the players in news articles and such (no, the New York Post fashion spread does not count…yes I actually Googled it just for this post) to learn more about them. I actually do that with some of the Devils’ opponents, reading a lot of blogs and news articles to learn about the opponent coming up, just to get an idea of what to expect. If you take the time to do your homework, you’ll be better informed and get a better understanding.

Step 3: Get to know goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Trust me this is all you need to know: Watch this video. Yeah, you knew I would throw that in. But in all seriousness, he’s a Vezina winner (but Marty still has more, so much more), he can play guitar (and I hate to admit, he’s actually not bad…damn you HBO 24/7), and it’s fun when the Devils beat him (although I caught myself cheering him on against Philly the other night…what does a Devil fan do when the Rangers and Flyers, the two most hated rivals of New Jersey, play each other?). And by the way, if New York were to have a new face on the quarter, it would most likely be Derek Jeter. At least he knows how to win championships.

Step 4: You’ve graduated level one. Do I even want to know what Level Two is?

The point is this: Once again, the female hockey fan is getting the short end in favor of those who care more about pleasing their significant other and trying to sound smart than actually showing a real interest in the game. If you’re trying to win over new fans especially after the lockout debacle, go for it. But don’t dumb down and put all females in the same category. Simply, if you really want to learn more about the game of hockey beyond just sounding smart amongst your male friends, just do your homework. Do the research. Read the blogs, pertinent news stories. Actually watch games and listen to interviews with players and coaches. Soak up all the information you can.

There are a few very good responses to this so called Girl’s Guide that I read up on yesterday as well, check them out:

A Girl’s Guide to Girls, by the wonderful ladies at What’s Up, Ya Sieve?

A nice rebuttal from Diana C. Nearhos at the Post Star Phantoms blog.

And you know the Devils Army had to chime in with their own guide, this one for the guys.

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Getting On My Soapbox

An open letter to a few “members” of the Devils fanbase…

To Whom It May Concern:

I am getting fed up with your attitude towards this team. I am sick and tired of constantly reading day after day on Facebook, Twitter and in blog comment threads about how this team sucks, how they don’t care, how you wish they’d just leave, etc. And it’s the SAME PEOPLE.

I have a newsflash for you: Nothing will change about the state of hockey here if you continue to whine and complain about what you have.

Consider this: when the River Rats moved two years ago, there was a good chance that there would be no AHL hockey here at all come fall. There was a chance that we would have had to find other things to fill our time during the winter months until baseball season started up again. So what would you rather have, a team here playing in what is the highest level of hockey in North America, or nothing at all?

Now, I get it, I know this current team is struggling. I am as dumbfounded as everyone else as to why with such good talent on paper they have struggled to win games. But you know what? I keep the faith. I try to keep positive. Even though it may not seem like it now, they have the opportunity to turn it around. But it’s on their shoulders to do so, and hearing the constant bitching from you is not helping.

Whether you care or not will not have an impact on how they play, whether they win or lose 20 in a row. But remember this: if the Devils were to move to another city, there is a chance no one will take their place. And whose fault will it be then? The ones who stopped caring, who whined, who refused to set foot in the building because of who was there.

We’re not a Hershey. We’re not a St. John’s. We may not have the bigger end talent or more money to support, but we are fans who stick with the team through good times and bad. We have a reputation in the league as being one of the most loyal fanbases around. But when I have to read over and over about how the team sucks and how management doesn’t care, sometimes I wonder just how loyal some of us really are.

So do us a favor, complainers: If you don’t like what you see on the ice, just stay home. Or find a new team that you think doesn’t suck. And stop tarnishing the reputation of the fans that actually do care.

And to those who wish bodily harm on their OWN PLAYERS: really? What kind of real fan are you? Sorry, Adam Larsson is NOT leaving the lineup anytime soon, the brass wants him playing. He’s still learning the game.

Do I want to see more out of this team? Of course. Do I wish the team was more out in the community than just school/practice appearances? Absolutely. But if that’s what the front office has to work with, that’s what they have. But I still stick with it. I have stuck with this team since day one, because I’m a fan of the game. And I want to see it succeed here. Never did I say “oh I’m not coming back” because we can’t be around the players or because of the first regime.

Okay, done with my rant.

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