Sunday, October 18, 2009

Compuware Arena, Plymouth MI

Basic Information
Team: Plymouth Whalers (Ontario Hockey League)
Game: Whalers vs Ottawa 67s-10/16/09
Team Website: http://www.plymouthwhalers.com/
Ticket Information: (734) 453-8400
Tourism Information: http://www.visitdetroit.com/ or (800) DETROIT
Internet Broadcast: http://www.plymouthwhalers.com/

Team History: The 2009-10 season marks the 20th season for the Whalers in the metropolitan Detroit area. The team was originally known as the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors, the Detroit Junior Red Wings, and the Detroit Whalers, and played at the downtown Cobo Arena. In 1996, the Whalers moved to a new arena built by team owner Peter Karmanos, Jnr in suburban Plymouth, approximately 20 miles southwest of downtown. The move enabled the team to change their name to the Plymouth Whalers.

How About That Name (and some history): Peter Karmanos Jnr, who owned both the Detroit Whalers and their NHL counterparts in Hartford, decided to build a community ice rink/arena in Plymouth to enable the team to move to the Detroit suburbs for the 1996-97 season. In just 6 months time, Karmanos built a 4,000 seat arena which he named after the company that he was the president of, software manufacturer Compuware. Not only does the new arena serve as the host of the Whalers, it is also the home rink for the Compuware Ambassadors junior hockey program, as well as hosting local high school events. In the past, Compuware was also the home of the Detroit Rockers and Detroit Ignition indoor soccer teams.

Getting There: From the south: Take I-75 north to I-275 west (towards Flint). Take I-275 to M-14 (approximately 30 miles). Take M-14 west to the Beck Rd exit. At top of ramp, make a right, and go approximately half a mile. Compuware will be on your right.

Nearby Airports: Detroit International Airport is approximately 15 miles south of Compuware Arena.

What To Do Before The Game: Not far from Compuware is one of the countrys top historical sites, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Located in nearby Dearborn, the museum complex features four top flight attractions, which include the Henry Ford Museum, which focuses on the man, as well as the automobile as a part of the American lifestyle, Greenfield Village, a recreation of a turn of the 20th century village, an IMAX theater, as well as (schedule permitting) a tour of the Ford River Rouge factory, where the Ford F-150 pickup is assembled. To be honest, to do the Ford museum complecx "right", you need more than one day. If you're like me, you will want to see all the exhibits, and read all the explanations, you will want to plan it around a weekend. Also at Greenfield Village, there is a restaurant/cafeteria called "A Taste of History", which has some of the most amazing food! As you can guess, I highly recommend it. For more information, call (800) 835-5237 or visit http://www.thehenryford.org/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There is a restaurant at the Arena called CJ's Brewing Company, which features pizza, burgers, and as one might guess, an assortment of Microbrews. There isn't a lot of food choices immediately around the arena as far as I know, but if you have time, there are several restaurants in the nearby towns of Novi, Livonia, and Northville.

Where To Stay: As far as I'm aware, there isn't a lot in the way of lodgings immediately near Compuwware, but there are several hotels off I-275 near Livonia, Novi, and Northville.

Tickets: The Whalers tickets are priced as follows $15.00 (Center Ice seating-between the blue lines) and $11.00 (Executive-rest of the arena). Tickets are usually available the day of the game at the Compuware box office.

Parking: There is sufficent on-site parking, which costs $5.00.

The Good Seats: Compuware is an intimate building, with seating for just over 3,600, which means all the seats are good. There are just 15 rows of seats, so you're right on top of the action, even if you're at the top. If you're more into standing, you can still get an excellent view while watching the game from the concourse, which has room for about 500 standees.

Arena Food: For a building of it's size, Compuware has a better than average amount of concession stands. In addition to CJ's Brewing Company, there are two Slapshot Snackshops. which carry your standard arena fare, a smaller portable stand on the other side of the seating area, and two portable bar carts, selling beer and a small supply of other hard liquors. I did sample the pizza, which I assume was made on-site. The two slices I had were not the best, yet not the worst either, and cost a total of $7.00. Although I didn't sample the other food choices, from previous visits, I remember them being fairly tasty, and pretty much average in terms of cost.

Rest Rooms: There are rest rooms located behind each goal at Compuware. They seem to be fairly clean, well stocked, and of an appropriate size.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Compuware has a small four sided scoreboard over center ice which provides the basic game information. The main scoreboard is assisted by two smaller matrix boards located in opposite corners of the arena. The PA announcer and music are of average quality, but they are almost impossible to hear due to the poor acoustics in the building. From wherever I stood, everything seemed garbled. I mentioned to a member of the Whalers' staff, and she told me that it was on their "To Do" List, but she doesn't see it getting improved due to the current economic situation.

Game Staff: There is sufficent staffing for an arena the size of Compuware, and all seemed helpful and friendly.

Souvenirs: There is a decent sized pro-shop behind the north goal, which sells a fairly substantial line of Whalers and Compuware Ambassadors merchandise, as well as some standard hockey equipment for those who play at the arena when the Whalers are out of town.

Atmosphere: The arena was only half full for the Friday night game that I attended. However, those who were there knew hockey, and appreciated when a good play was made. With that being said, it was surprisingly quiet (to me anyway). I had discussed this with a member of the team staff, and she told me that once high school football (big in the area) was completed, Friday nights games would have more fans. In additon, when the Whalers play nearby rivals Windsor (which they hosted the next evening), there would be a good crowd representing both teams.

Overall: Compuware Arena is the place to go if you want to watch hard hitting hockey played by some younger guys who are looking to make it to the "show". The OHL overall has some surprisingly good hockey that is played in (for the most part) smaller markets who are fiercely loyal and proud of their local teams. It's good value and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

PGE Park, Portland OR

Basic Information
Team: Portland Timbers (United Soccer League)
Game: Timbers vs Cleveland City Stars-9/13/09 and 9/17/09
Team Website: http://www.portlandtimbers.com/
Ticket Information: (503) 553-5555
Tourism Information: http://www.travelportland.com/ or (800) 962-3700
Internet Broadcast: http://www.955thegame.com/ or http://www.usllive.com/

Team History: The Portland Timbers are one of the legendary names in American professional soccer, as their history goes all the way back to 1975 and the halcyon days of the NASL. The Timbers quickly developed a rabid following, earning the city the nickname of "Soccer City USA". The Timbers played in the NASL until 1982, when ownership issues caused the team to fold after the season. The "Rose City" was without professional soccer until 1985, when FC Portland began play in the new Western Soccer Alliance. In 1989, new ownership revived the Timbers name for two more years until that edition of the Timbers ceased operations. The most recent incarnation of the Timbers started in 2001, when a new ownership group revitalized the Timber name with a team which began play in the United Soccer League. The team reached full circle earlier this year when it was announced that the Timbers would be joining Major League Soccer for the 2011 season.

How About That Name (and Some History): The stadium that is currently known as PGE Park has a history that stretches back over a hundred years. Originally known as Multnomah Field, the current home of the Timbers had it's first sporting event in the late 1890's. In 1925, the Multnomah Athletic Club, who owned the facility, unveiled plans for a new 28,000 seat stadium on the site, and within a year, Multnomah Stadium was opened. It has hosted minor league baseball, college and professional football, dog racing, and even ski jumping. In 2001, after a major renovation, the stadium was renamed PGE Park, after a naming rights deal was struck with local utility provider Pacific Gas & Electric.

Getting There: PGE Park is located on the west side of downtown Portland. From the Airport: Take I-84 West to I-5 South. Exit immediately onto Morrison St. Take Morrison St. After crossing bridge, make a slight left onto SW Washington St. Take SW Washington to SW 13th Ave. Take SW 13th Ave. to Morrison St. Stadium will be on your left side.

What to Do Before The Game: If you want to spend the afternoon a short trip from PGE Park, then I highly recommend pointing yourself towards the incredibly beautiful Washington Park. A five minute drive from the home of the Timbers, Washington Park as a jewel of nature next to a bustling city, covering over 400 acres and featuring 15 miles of walking and hiking trails. Inside Washington Park, you will find the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Japanese Gardens, the Portland Children's Museum, the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, the Hoyt Arboretum, and the International Rose Test Gardens. All of which boast some of most beautiful and calming scenery I have seen in some time. For more information, visit http://www.washingtonparkpdx.com/.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are several restaurants within a short walk from PGE Park's front door, but if you want to go where the Timbers Army supporters group hangs out before the match, visit the Bitter End. Right across the street from PGE Park, the Bitter End is not much on decor, but it makes up for that in atmosphere, passion, and a fine selection of local and international brews. Just don't go in wearing the colors of the Seattle Sounders, the "blood enemies" of the Timbers!

Where To Stay: During my trip to Portland, I stayed at the Quality Inn & Suites Airport/Convention Center. Conveniently located four minutes from Portland International Airport and about fifteen minutes from downtown Portland, I found the rooms at this facility spacious, well kept up, clean, and quiet. This hotel also has a pool, and an on-site coffee and sandwich shop, and has an adjacent stop on the city's light rail system. The rates for our stay were in the area of $89.00 per night, which considering all of the above, not unreasonable at all. For reservations, call (503) 255-1404.

Tickets: Tickets for Timbers games are as follows: $28.00 (premier), $19.00 (level 2), $15.00 (level 3), $11.00 (level 4). Ticket prices go up a dollar eaach on game day.

Parking: There are several lots of varying quality and size around the PGE Park neigborhood. The first game we attended, we paid $8.00 in a rather shady looking building a block from the park. The second game, we paid $10.00 in the lot of a bank next to the park.

The Good Seats: PGE Park has a lot of quirks, which makes it a unique place to watch a game. Unlike many stadiums, PGE Park was designed in a "J" or "fish hook" pattern, ostensibly since at one time, it probably featured a running track. Since the Timbers only open the bottom two thirds of the seating for most games, you're not too far away from the action no matter where you sit. If you want the best panorama of the game, try getting seats on the sideline in sections 208-210. If you want to be where the supporters sit, you'll be behind the goal in sections 105-108. One the more unique vantage points at PGE is on the SW 18th Ave side of the park. Since the street level on SW 18th is higher than the main entrance, there is a walkway in the park where you can stand and get a birds eye view of the action.

Stadium Food: There are a good selection of food stands located all around PGE Park. Although I really didn't get to sample much of the food, the PGE Dog was quite tasty, but cost $5.25. They had a better than average selection of beers on tap and in a bottle, but I was shocked when my Newcastle Brown draft cost me $8.25. However, the Timbers did have a "Thirst Thursday" promotion, where on that day, domestic beers were $2.50 and importeds were $3.00.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The park has two scoreboards, one in what would be considered left center field for the Beavers baseball team, and one in right center for the Timbers. The baseball scoreboard is an old-fashioned hand operated model, and the soccer board is a modern, average sized video display unit. To be honest, I couldn't really hear the PA announcer at PGE because I was standing with the vociferous Timbers Army, and you really couldn't hear anything other than them!

Game Staff: Pretty much invisible. Everything seemed professional enough, but when I asked about getting a Timbers media guide, the team sales person looked at me with kind of a blank stare.

Souvenirs: The Timbers have several souvenir stands inside PGE Park and hawkers outside the park selling scarves, hats, and programs to early arrivals.

Atmosphere: This is where PGE really shines. In the tradition of soccer parks around the world, the Timbers have their "home end", where much of the noise and atmosphere comes from. At PGE Park, it's the North End, better known as sections 105-108. The two games I was able to attend, all four of these sections were packed virtually to the gills with some of the loudest, craziest, and most passionate fans I have ever seen in this country. Each section had their own "capo", who in synch with the other sections, led the chants and songs, which made for an incredible racket. When you combine the singing with the fact that the park has a roof which keeps the noise near field level, PGE Park has to be one of the most intimidating venues in US soccer. Two of the most visible members of the Timbers Army are Timber Jim and Timber Joey. Timber Jim, a former professional lumberjack, led cheers at the original Timbers games in the seventies, and returned when the team joined the USL. Jim retired as the team cheerleader a few years ago, but was succeeded by Timber Joey, who maintains the traditions of firing up his chainsaw to get the crowd motivated, and cutting off a slab off a ceremonial log when the team puts one into the onion bag.

Overall: There are times when I believed that one can't fall in love again. Over the past few years, I have, more than a few times, been disgusted with what has been happening in American professonal soccer. I've wanted to give it up. However, after my trip to Portland, and my exposure to some of the craziest, most passionate, and warmest fans I've encountered, well, perhaps there is hope again.