A night in the minors: Peoria, Ill.

Years ago when I worked at ESPN (now, PA ... how's that working for you, Jimmy Morganthaler, you dumb son of a .... well, I'll let longtime co-worker and semi-well-known blogtologist Christopher Altruda come up with the proper saultation) SportsTicker, one of the things I enjoyed writing most was minor league hockey recaps.

Back then, there was the American Hockey League, which was pretty much confined to the eastern United States and Atlantic Canada. Quick quiz ... if SNB was playing SNF, which teams were playing? Answer at the end of this entry.

There also was the International Hockey League, relegated to the U.S. Midwest and eventually down to the Sun Belt. And while I have been in the gleaming Xcel Energy Center to watch the Minnesota Wild, I remember when it was a dump called the St. Paul Civic Center and sitting upstairs to watch the Minnesota Moose and the Fort Wayne Komets.

The recaps themselves weren't much, maybe 100-150 word briefs giving you the nuts and bolts of a game, but for someone who knew a lot about the game, yet had never written about it, the experience was invaluable to what I do today. The moral of that lesson, I suppose, is start small and aim high.

Having done so many of these in the past, I got bit by the minor league bug. Sure, I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area where there were three NHL teams in a 35-mile radius, give or take, and I am being quite kind when I include the New York Islanders in that.

Hartford Wolf Pack. Philadelphia Phantoms. The Beast of New Haven ... and I kid you not -- you can read about them here.

Several years ago, the IHL disbanded and several teams were picked up by the A, including the Chicago Wolves -- perhaps a 20-minute drive from my downtown digs. Also, some franchises either bought into or shifted their top affiliates to keep them closer to the parent club. For example, the St. Louis Blues' top farm team for several seasons was the Worcester IceCats in eastern Massachusetts. Their top team now is the Peoria Rivermen, barely 2 1/2 hours north of St. Louis.

On Saturday night, for the first time in quite a while, I took in an AHL game, watching the Rivermen take on the Milwaukee Admirals, a finalist for last season's Calder Cup. I forgot how much fun these games can be. When baseball fans go to a minor-league game, they invariably are amazed at the quality of play, the facilities and the like.

It's the same thing in the AHL ... well, in some of the newer buildings, I'm sure like the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., home of the Isles' top team, the Sound Tigers.

Carver Arena, the home of the Bradley Braves, is also home to the Rivermen. If you've ever seen "Slap Shot" (and if not, why not?) the game scenes were filmed in Johnstown, Pa., longtime home of the Jets, and later, the Chiefs. Anyway, sitting in Carver is a lot like sitting in that barn in south-central Pa.

For $17.50, I sat four rows behind the Admirals' bench while wearing my semi-official Rivermen hat, courtesy of Advance Auto Parts. It also was Throwback Night, with Peoria wearing its jerseys from 1984-85 when it won the IHL's Turner Cup. That also meant listening to lots of bad 1980s music, throwing me back to the high school days in the Bronx, N.Y.

While it may have been much easier to drive 20 minutes to see the Wolves take on the Grand Rapids Griffins, I wanted to see Alexander Radulov play for the first time. And having seen him, here's the quick synopsis ... explosive speed -- at times, he seemed to run away from the Rivermen ... he's clearly got the tools to be a great scorer, but needs to stop taking silly penalties and keep his mouth in check -- he was assessed four minor penalties, and given a 10-minute misconduct late in the third period for abusing the refs.

Then, there are the fans. I could start with the guy in the blue and gold jacket with the greasy Bears hat telling me the entire history of the IHL ... thanks, guy ... and end with the woman in the front row yelling at the Admirals' Kim Staal to ask if he was Eric Staal's father (uh, no, he's not even related).

Still, it's a good time to see games like these. Living in the Midwest now, I may do travelogues like this when I go to the garden spots of the AHL world like Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Des Moines, Omaha and, if I'm feeling real adventurous, Manitoba. It would have been a lot easier when I lived in eastern Connecticut and could have gotten to any one of about nine games all within a couple hours drive.

And to prove I still can write a story off just a box score ...

PEORIA 5, MILWAUKEE 4 (OT) -- David Backes scored on the only shot taken in overtime as the Peoria Rivermen bounced back after squandering a two-goal lead to defeat the Milwaukee Admirals 5-4.

After Kelsey Wilson and Patrick Leahy scored 30 seconds apart late in regulation to tied the score at 4, Backes beat Milwaukee's Karl Goerhing for his eighth goal 2:41 into the extra session.

Charles Linget and Trent Whitfield each scored twice, and Marek Schwarz made 19 saves for the Rivermen (8-6-1).

Kim Staal had three assists and Rich Peverly and Sheldon Brookbank each had a goal and assist for Milwaukee (5-6-1), which got 26 saves from Goerhing.
QUIZ ANSWER: The Saint John (New Brunswick) Flames would be playing the St. John's (Newfoundland) Maple Leafs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're a bad, bad man forcing me to come up with the finish for that salute. But I still laughed at the thought. When you get a chance, the Las Vegas-Long Beach recap is in xihlrecap.ir