Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Looking Back at the Sprint Center's First Hockey Game

A week from the moment Im writing this, Ill be sitting in the Sprint Center taking in an NHL hockey game. Im starting to get excited. Seems like a good time to take a look back at last years preseason game between the Blues and Kings.

Fair or not, the game was viewed by many as an audition or test of Kansas Citys potential to be a successful NHL market. If it was a test, the venue passed with flying colors. It was clear that watching hockey was in mind during the design of the building. There seems to be no debate that it would be a first-class NHL rink. That much was pretty well known, but it was still a thrill to see that promise fulfilled, if only for one brief night.

More scrutinized was the attendance figure. The crowd was strongly pro-Blues; I don’t know if that was a reflection of a decent Blues fanbase in Kansas City, or if a lot of fans made the trip from St. Louis. Probably a little of both. The announced attendance was 11,603. Im still not sure if thats a good number or a bad one - it all depends on how you want to spin it. The
Associated Press recap unequivocally stated it was good numbers for a preseason game. I dug into attendance numbers from last years preseason, and the average attendance in 95 games not played in Kansas City was 14,517. In that regard, 11,603 is clearly not a good number. A factor that was pointed to as hurting attendance was the game being played on a Monday. In Puck Daddys comment on the game, Paul McGannon was quoted as saying, If we have that game on a Friday or Saturday or even a Sunday afternoon, itd be sold out. Saying attendance was hurt by virtue of the game falling on a Monday seemed reasonable to me - at least until I noticed that there were seven other games played on the very same night that drew an average of 14,527.

But if you want to spin it in KCs favor, here is some ammunition for you: the Kings played two games that night, with a split squad in Kansas City and another in Los Angeles. In LA, only 8,221 showed up. The Kings played a total of four preseason games at home, and averaged 10,255. The Blues played three at home, and averaged 11,986. So KC was right on par with the performance of the hometown fans. You could also point out that the Islanders drew under 4,000 for a couple of their preseason games.

Sitting in the rink that night, I remember wishing there was a lot more people. Looking back with some perspective, the attendance was...fine. Im certainly not convinced that preseason games between out-of-town teams are worth much as a measuring stick of KCs viability as a market, but there are few if any concrete ways to measure such a thing, so attendance takes on an inflated importance.

As for the game itself, I wasnt sure what to expect - I'd never seen an NHL preseason game. I wasnt sure if guys would be phoning it in or if there would be a bunch of young guys killing it trying to make an impression with their teams suits. As I recall, the game started off at a torrid pace, and I was thrilled. But 8:20 into the game, the first penalty was called, and there were regular whistles the rest of the night as the teams piled up 20 combined penalties, and the game never could settle into a good flow or pace again.

Davis Drewiske earned the distinction of scoring the first goal in arena history soon after the second period was underway. Drewiske, on the penalty kill, got the puck high in the St. Louis zone, and flipped a quick shot/dump-in towards the net. Blues goalie Chris Mason seemed utterly surprised that Drewiske had taken the shot, and the puck fluttered past him. Mason definitely should have stopped it. Besides that one lapse, all four goaltenders were stellar. Jonathan Quick of the Kings foreshadowed the solid rookie year he was about to have (21-18, .914, 2.48), stopping all 19 shots he faced.

According to the
Star, Kings president Tim Leiweke was emphatic that one of the club’s phenoms, 19-year-old defenseman Drew Doughty...(would) make his pro debut in the Sprint Center. I kept an eye on Doughty throughout the night, and came away impressed. He didn’t do anything especially eye-popping that I recall, but he seemed calm and in control for a kid playing his first NHL game. He carried the puck through the neutral zone and gained the blue line confidently several times. Another guy that I was happy to see was Ted Purcell of the Kings - I lived near Cedar Rapids, Iowa during the time Purcell played in the USHL for the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders and had seen him play many times there.

The Kings seemed to have the game in hand with a 2-0 lead late in the third period when Paul Kariya banged in a gift-wrapped rebound on the power play. (Appropriately, all three goals came on special teams.) This fired up the crowd, and the final minutes had a buzz as the Blues attempted to tie it up. I had no rooting interest in either team, but at this point I was rooting for overtime so that the game could be stretched out a bit more. The Kings held on.

After the game, I marvelled that my drive home would take all of 15 minutes. Every NHL game I’d gone to before was hundreds or thousands of miles away, and so involved a long and expensive trip there and back. I turned to my wife: I could get used to this.

Related reading:
Puck Daddy: The NHLs Exhibition in Kansas City: Pass or Fail?
Puck Daddy: Scouting the NHLs Chances For a Return To Kansas City
St. Louis Game Time: Blues Open At Kansas City
Associated Press:
Canadian Press:
Kings Beat Blues In Kansas City (slightly lengthened version of AP story)
NHL.com: scroll down to
Making a Statement
box score

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