A Visit to "The Hammer"

by Ryan

On Friday I had the chance to visit Hamilton and see the Calder Cup Champion Bulldogs host the Sabres farm team, the Rochester Americans. At the scant price of $25 American (roughly $1.38 Canadian), I literally hung around Copps Coliseum all day, getting a feel for the arena and the franchise itself. Here’s what I thought, with some pictures to follow.

One thing I curious about was the arena itself. If any form of NHL team came to “The Hammer”, it would play its games in Copps.

Copps looks small from the picture, but it actually holds over 17,000 on a good night. The problem is that there aren’t many good nights. Average attendance for Bulldog games hovers around 3,000, and the upper level us usually covered in curtains. (Attendance was 4,535 on Friday)

That’s a better shot of the curtains. The seats were very Superdome-esque, and there really didn’t seem to be much of a pattern to them. (For the record, mine was purple)

Not an escalator in sight at Copps. The Coliseum opened in 1985, and some obvious renovations would be in order if an NHL team ever came. Stairs are no problem for me, but they only used one turnstile to let people in through a little doorway in the ticket office. It works for an AHL crowd, but I doubt that will cut it for anything over a few thousand fans.

If you see those concrete pillars jutting out, those are the stairs to the upper level. There is only one concourse in the arena, and it actually is pretty wide. One of the things I loved about the game was the fact that they let hockey card vendors set up in the concourse. It’s something you would never see in an NHL Arena, and I loved the chance to buy some cards before heading to my seats.

Another thing that surprised me was the fact that you could go under the seats pretty freely. The seats just end in one area of the bowl, and you can walk into the bowels of the arena itself. There were inflatable, uh… things, for little kids, and that giant Bulldogs thing. From what I gathered, they used to hang that over the Zamboni entrance for the team to enter under, kind of like what San Jose does.

A picture of the anthems from my seat, which was actually very nice. Just a few rows down was a guy in an Adam Mair jersey, and a Ryan Miller was two rows below him. The Bulldogs are Montreal’s farm team, and there was plenty of Habs gear in the crowd. I didn’t get too much grief for my Sabres hat, though.

The opening face off, with the crowd ready to go in the background. If you notice #3 on defense, that’s Mike Card. He was back in the lineup for the game.

The game itself was… interesting. The Amerks went down 4-0, then came back to tie it at 4, with three goals coming in the third. They eventually went on to win in the shootout, capping a pretty improbable comeback.

Just a few thoughts on what went down:

– Mike Mancari is a freaking beast. He was all over the place on Friday, hitting everything and scoring the second shootout goal. He was the best player on the ice on every shift he had. I know the NHL is a completely different ballgame, but he looks dominant in the Minors. It makes me wonder how MacArthur looked before he was called up.

– Also looking good was Mike Weber. The Amerks D was downright awful collectively, but Weber certainly stood out to me. He was aggressive and tough, and was rarely out of position. That tentative look he has in Buffalo was nowhere to be seen. In the second period, he took a hit at the blue line, then looked to get kicked in the head while down. Weber flips out, throws his gloves off before he even gets up, and starts to go after whoever kicked him. A Bulldog (Ryan O’Byrne) jumps in from behind, and Weber beats the tar out of him, slamming him to the ice while continuing to wrestle as the linesman pull him off. If this is how the kid will play when comfortable, then I feel much better about our future blueline.

– Kaleta needs to start playing real hockey. Watching him in action it is obvious to see why most AHL fans consider him nothing but a goon. The kid hits harder than I’ve ever seen live, but that is pretty much all he tries to do all night. He eggs players on, takes himself out of the play to deliver a late hit, and takes stupid penalties.

That being said, I like him at least 4,000 times better than Peters. Kaleta can actually skate and has better hands than Petey, and as far as I’m concerned he can take Andrew’s NHLPA job as well if he promises to start playing the game. I’m as big a proponent of fighting as any hockey fan, but I think Kaleta can be a much better player if he focused less on being hated than on playing the game. There is room for fighting, but you have to actually handle the puck and play defense to get ice time.

The new NHL has given much more value to a guy like Sean Avery or Chris Neil, and if Kaleta focused on playing that style of game Petey would be obsolete in days. I know Peters is a “fan favorite”, but Kaleta may be the best man for the job if he shapes up. We shall see.

– Overall I had a great time at Copps. The people were very nice, and the game was as enjoyable as an AHL game can be. If anyone is interested in seeing the Amerks on the road I would say it is a decent place to do it. The arena is quaint, the fans knowledgeable, and it may be one of the few places left where you can pick your seat color.