Last Wednesday, my friend Kat found herself the winner of hockey tickets as the result of a raffle at work. The tickets were for the Manchester Monarchs vs. Reading Royals at the SNHU Arena (‘Monarchs,’ ‘Royals,’ and ‘Arena’). I’d never heard of the team, or of its league, the East Coast Hockey League, prior to this game. While I’m not a sports aficionado by general nature, and I don’t have any team allegiances (despite spending 20+ years of my life in New England, followed by a year and a half in Wisconsin), I wanted to see something different.
Knowing that Southern New Hampshire University is a college, my first thought was that the Monarchs was the local college team. Little did I know that when we arrived to TSA-style security that this was a professional sporting event.
As time approached, snow was predicted for both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. My weather reports come from a combination of Twitter and second-hand reports from others. By Friday night, the count was around 3-5″ in Central Massachusetts. While the number isn’t alarming, sometimes driving in it, especially if it’s steady accumulation. With my questionable skill of winter driving, one would think I would have stayed home, but this wasn’t a blizzard. It also wasn’t the first blizzard or snowstorm I’ve driven through, and wouldn’t be my last. Had the forecast predicted more than 7-8″, I would have stayed home.
Initial face-off was scheduled for 6PM, and one of Kat’s coworkers recommended arriving an hour early. Factoring in weather and driving conditions, getting there early, and the drive to the Arena, I left my house around 2PM and topped off the tank.
Just why of 3:30PM, I parked my snow-covered SUV on the street by her house. (Side note: I tend to park on the street when I arrive at other people’s houses, unless they specifically ask me to park in their driveway.)
Fifty-minutes later, after traversing slippery back roads as a result of making the wrong route choice on Apple Maps, we arrived at the Arena. We couldn’t find a parking garage, so we settled for some street parking whose parking meter didn’t charge on the weekend.
After what felt like a mile-long walk around the Arena to the front, we found the box office, where we did our Facebook check-ins, and discovered it would be an hour before the doors would open. It’s also where I was reminded that Jeff Dunham will be coming to the Arena for “Passively Aggressive” in February.
Much to our chagrin, there was some closer parking enforced by the same meters, but judging by the spaces that were open, and parallel parking being something I don’t excel at, it was better to leave it where it was.
Doors opened just before 5PM, and our first step was TSA-style security, but without removing belts. For stuff like this, they’re more screening for weapons than anything. Depending on the sensitivity of the detectors, sometimes cellphones, belt clasps, and keys will set it off. I put my cellphone and retractable keychain in the bucket, and walked through. The detector beeped when I walked through, probably over my cellphone, so I had to submit to the wand. It beeped in two places – my left side and my right-front pocket, which contained my cellphone and my car key. After declaring me not a threat, he welcomed me through as I recovered my stuff.
Concessions included popcorn, pizza, burgers, fries, pretzels, nachos, beer, and Coke products, with the usual event markup price.
Seats weren’t cushioned, but they weren’t the plywood planks that some venues still use.
Things didn’t pick up from there until the start of practice. Stadium attendance was barely 15% of seating, but I suspect some of that was due to weather. As we watched practice, we Googled up the two teams and the hockey league, where we learned that this was minor league hockey.
While it was from the wrong angle, we caught a glimpse of the tunnel used by the home team:
Practice was followed by a special puck drop, and a nicely-done rendition of the Canadian and American National Anthems by a youth group.
The entire game is broken up into (3) twenty-minute periods with a short intermission after the first two. We saw one one small fight that didn’t last long enough to get any good footage. Among the penalties charged to the Royals were hooking, tripping, and twice for holding. The Monarchs managed to keep it under control with one penalty for hooking.
For entertainment, the first intermission was the mascot assisting with a t-shirt cannon that allowed some of the younger fans to get some t-shirts. The mascot also showed us some of his dance moves while some kids had an opportunity to race each other down the rink.
As the game progressed, I made a few observations:
- Apparently, the Arena was doing a Toys for Tots program. Once the first goal was made, the stadium came alive with most of the crowd throwing any toy they brought with them onto the rink. Normally, that’s something I’d have a video for, but I wasn’t prepared for it.
- I had a look at the Royal’s record after the game and their A-game must have been somewhere else because in almost two hours of game-play, they had less than twenty shots on the goal and weren’t as aggressive as they could have been. The Monarch’s goaltender wasn’t bored, but I feel the Royals could have played better offense.
- I noticed that the Monarch’s offensive seemed to play better strategically and had a better passing game. From what my uneducated and untrained hockey eyes observed, they also seemed better organized.
- I mentioned that there was a small fight that broke out after one player decided to whack another with their stick. I’ve seen professional hockey games on TV where the referees will actually let the fight play out for 2-3 minutes before breaking the players up. In this case, the fight lasted less than a minute – not enough time to get any good footage.
At the end of it all, the Monarchs ended up shutting out their opponent.
It was at this point that we didn’t look forward to the walk back, but we were thankful that parking was free. Like anything else free, it came with its own cost: Two cars had taken their places at the front and rear of me, forcing me to precariously maneuver myself out of a parallel parking situation. At the end of it all, it took me an hour an a half to get home, and I found that as I crossed the border back to Massachusetts, roads were looking better.