2012 NHL Playoffs: An Impartial Fan's View of the Sharks vs. Blues Game 5

April 21, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun (61) trips up St. Louis Blues center Scott Nichol (12) during the first period in game 5 of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

Editor's note: We're putting this post by Trevor up on the front page. It's a great story about a Stars fan's experience at another team's playoff game. Good stuff.

Over the last weekend, I took a quick vacation to St. Louis to enjoy some well deserved down time from my job (As a tax accountant, I had been putting in 70-80 hours a week for a couple months in a row). I've been to St. Louis a few times before, since it's only a 4 hour drive from where I live, and I love the atmosphere.

It's similar to Dallas, really. Big town, friendly people, a beautiful ballpark where I saw game 6 of the World Series in person nothing of importance happened last year that I can remember. They also have gambling, which I love. It helps that I win at the poker tables every time I play too. But the one thing I hadn't done there was go to a hockey game. Let me tell you, that's a mistake I'll never make again.

The first thing I did when I began planning this trip was to check the playoff schedule. It's a force of habit, since that's what I do whenever I manage to travel down to Dallas. I saw that game 5 was scheduled for Saturday, and kept my eyes peeled for tickets. I was able to grab a pair of lower level tickets the second they went on sale. (I've had a couple people ask me about the price, and after Ticketmaster fees, it came out to about $80 a piece -- Not bad for lower level playoff tickets, I think.)

I then spent the week hoping that the Blues would go on a tear after losing game 1, and find a way to make game 5 an elimination game. Not only had I never been to an elimination game before, I had never even made it to a plain old playoff game. It turned out to be better than I could have imagined.

For a very detailed look at the aspects of the game, as well as a comparison to the hockey environment in Dallas, read on after the jump.

[Author's Note: I don't discuss the game itself a whole lot. I didn't want to just do a recap of the game itself, since that can be found multiple places online. Instead, I tried to focus more on the environment surrounding the game.]

Pre-Game Thoughts:

As any dedicated obsessed hockey fan knows, there are a ton of things that need to be done before you sit down to watch the opening face off. You have to park, grab a bite to eat/get a couple drinks in you at a nearby restaurant, get inside the arena to browse the shops, and get to your seat to enjoy the warm ups. In every single pregame aspect, the American Airlines Center beats the Scottrade Center hands down.

Parking:

Just like most arenas, the parking there is fairly convenient. There are a number of parking garages and parking lots to choose from. It does seem to cost a bit more, though. In Dallas, I normally park in the lot in front of the House of Blues for $10. Any spot that close in St. Louis though will cost you $20 (at least from what we saw). I found a parking garage another block down for just $10, so we went there instead. It really wasn't that big of a deal, but in winter time, or in crummy weather, those extra 2 blocks might make all the difference.

Nearby Restaurants:

The puck drop was set for 6:30, and we arrived and parked by 4:45. I like to saunter into the downtown area about 2 1/2 hours before the game begins, so I was running a bit behind schedule (Hey, we were winning big at Harrah's, what was I supposed to do? Get up and leave?). We decided we would stop at one of the bars in between the parking garage and the Scottrade Center and grab a quick appetizer, and a couple of drinks. The problem? There were zero restaurants in between. None. Maybe I'm just used to the Victory Avenue bars, and the Hard Rock cafe being right next to where I park in Dallas, but this was a major disappointment. Instead of getting good drinks for cheaper, I was going to have to settle for what they had in the arena. Maybe it's because the area around the AAC was still fairly new when the arena was built, and that allowed a number of restaurants & bars to pop up around it, whereas the Scottrade is in an older (and absolutely beautiful) area of St. Louis. Maybe I just had bad luck. I'm not sure. Though I tend to think it's the former, rather than latter, for reasons that will be revealed later.

Will Call:

Without a bar to walk into, we headed straight to the front of the arena. My tickets were at will call, so I had to try and find the ticket booth to pick them up. The crowd seemed surprisingly sparse for 90 minutes til puck drop. Don't get me wrong, it was still a decent crowd, but not what I was expecting for a Saturday night playoff game. It definitely made it easier to maneuver around though, to get to where I needed. Here's one oddity: Unlike the AAC, the ticket booth is actually inside the building. Since I asked someone where the ticket booth was before I started looking for it, it wasn't an issue, but it certainly could have cost me some time had I just assumed it was on the other side of the arena. That's one thing I think most arenas could be better with: clearly display where the ticket booths are for all the first timers running around. It would make things much easier.

Getting Inside:

Once I grabbed my tickets, I encountered the next issue. The arena was still closed. In fact, with the puck drop scheduled at 6:30 PM , this picture was my view until less than an hour before game time:

Blues1_medium

When 5:30 hit, the place was absolutely packed with people, and it caused a number of problems. First, and probably most important, was security. In order to get people through the line as quick as possible, they sent security through the "lines" (it was more of a mass of people at that point) to check bags and purses. They even scanned some tickets ahead of time. It seems like it would be extremely easy to lose track of who has been checked and who hasn't, especially with everyone anxious to get in the doors. Second, this created mass crowds everywhere in the arena, especially fan shops. Part of the reason I like to get in the arena so early is to avoid the mass hysteria in those shops. Instead, I had to shop while being continually pushed in a circle around the shop, until I saw what I wanted, and circled back around to get it. It was maddening. Third, due to the game time being at 6:30, and the apparent lack of nearby restaurants, all of the concessions had long lines by the time I picked up my souvenirs. In this case though, it was only at the front entrance. As we walked around the arena, the lines became almost non existent. Still, I think you solve nearly all of these issues if you open the gates even 30 minutes sooner. I can't imagine what those crowds will be like if they do the same thing in the later rounds.

Warm Ups/Arena Thoughts:

So we sit down in our seats at 6:15, and I look at the arena clock. Teams are just coming out for warm ups. The game didn't actually begin until closer to 7:00. Probably due to the playoff coverage, but this is an idea that I would love to see for Dallas. There are always so many late stragglers in Big D, it must be the fashionable thing to do. Let's start tricking those people into showing up on time, by printing ticket times a half hour early. That'll show 'em! At any rate, here's a picture of our view:

Blues2_medium

In my opinion, the seats were pretty stellar, especially considering the price. We were in the defensive corner, so it was the cheapest section in the lower bowl. We also had aisle seats, a huge bonus for me, since I'm pushing 6'3" and need the leg room. We wound up sitting next to about 5 Canadians wearing Habs jerseys who were in town on business that week. They decided to take in a playoff game as well, since their team missed the big dance. I feel their pain. Well, since they were wearing Habs gear, I felt much better about unbuttoning my overshirt to reveal my Dallas Stars/Brett Hull shirt. (I also think I managed to get my shirt on the St. Louis TV news, by continually walking behind interviews around the arena. That was fun.)

Concessions:

Knowing when the game was actually starting, I headed back out to load up on food before the game began. And you know what? I'm actually kind of glad that I didn't stop to eat before hand. It gave me a chance to experience the arena items instead. The food selection was absolutely phenomenal. Outside of the platinum area at the AAC, it seems like most of the food is pretty generic: Dogs, cheeseburgers, chicken baskets, and Pizza Patron (Is this Pizza Hut? I never know). Here, though, they had a number of different "themed" concession stands. Besides the classic foods, they had a barbecue station, Italian station, and grilled burgers. My wife got a 4 cheese pizza, while I got the "mega meat" burger, or some nonsense like that. I don't remember what it was called exactly. I only remember how good it tasted. I also stopped by the draft beer cart, and picked up a couple of Shock Tops (one of my new favorites), and grabbed a giant bag of cotton candy and kettle corn before heading back to our seats. We loaded up. And we still have what's left of the cotton candy and kettle corn sitting in our kitchen, waiting to be eaten. Don't get me wrong, the food at the AAC is still good, and I eat it most times that I'm there. The options at Scottrade seemed a little more specialized. I wouldn't mind if the AAC had some local flavors to it.

Arena Layout:

With a full belly and sipping on a beer, I took a few minutes to look around the arena, and admire the differences between the Scottrade and the AAC. While the AAC is my second home, I think the space at Scottrade is used a little more wisely. Here's another picture from our seats, but a little more focused on the arena itself:

Blues3_medium

The first thing you might notice is that there is no 200s section. Just 100s and 300s. The "platinum" section here is in the lower level, and just blocked off from the rest of the seats by a big brown wall. They have access to other items in that area that the rest of us didn't, but they still essentially sit with every one else. In fact, I was about 8 seats over from those platinum people, and I paid $72 per ticket, while they paid $204. I hope they have some great perks behind that wall.

The other thing I thought was interesting and genius is that the nosebleed seats aren't actually the highest seat available. Instead, they have what they called "penthouse suites" that line the ceiling. I think it's genius. You push the casual fans lower, create suites on top (and let's be honest, when you're in a suite, you're usually not watching the game as closely as those in the stands), and you raise the overall value/benefit of each seat by a large amount.

All in all, the removal of the 200 section lowers the height of the building, and the penthouse suites pushes all of the fans closer together. The roof is also flat all the way across, helping to keep the noise level up. At the same time, the rows go further back, so it feels like you're in a larger arena. The 300s section at the Scottrade may be similar to the AAC though -- I never made it up there to check and see.

Audio/Video Presentations:

The music got progressively better at the AAC as the season wore on. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that they started taking requests from fans on what they wanted to hear. It moved from nothing but pop music to a good blend of pop, rock, organ, and other songs. The same can be said for the Scottrade. They had a couple of opening videos for the Blues, in order to amp up the fans. One of them was a riff on the Band of Brothers. It was superb. Of course, I love anything that has to do with BoB, so I may be biased there. I would say all of that is on par with the AAC. I'd only give a slight edge to the Scottrade Center for one reason: The music was just a touch quieter. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I find the music a little too loud at times when I'm in Dallas.

Fan Engagement & TV Timeouts:

This is where I think the Stars organization can really take a few notes and maybe try something different. And here's the bold statement on how it can be done: Ditch half of the Ice Girls.

[Quick Rant Warning] Look, we've been over this argument before, and everyone here has taken a side. The Ice girls were created for a couple of reasons: To clean the snow off the ice, and to be the Stars' ambassadors to fans. That's great, and I'm all for it, but what they don't need is to be the dancing entertainment for every single commercial break. If you want to have a few doing interviews with fans in the hallways, or handing out free items, that's perfect. I think they're great to have at the watching parties too. But I'm not a fan of the dancing. Especially using it as often as we do in Dallas. To me it creates 3 kinds of fans: Single guys who do nothing but ogle the girls and talk about how hot they are, Girlfriends/Wives who are angry at their significant others for ogling or even being in the same arena as these scantily clad women, or men in a relationship who are forced to look at their phone/flip through the program while complaining (with their wives) about how awful the ice girls are. It doesn't make us cheer. It doesn't get us into the game. The only thing it does is become a distraction. And as a married man who has one of those angry wives with him at every game, it's not something I need to deal with. [End Rant]

There were some great segments that I saw during the game, and every single one of them heavily involved the fans. The first was a bunch of interviews asking fans what they would do for front row seats to a Blues playoff game. Some answers were hilarious, others were cool. One group of kids skipped their prom (but wore their outfits) and came to the game instead. That got a ton of cheers. Other segments included "celebrity lookalikes" (Finding people who look like random celebrities in the stands) and "Play the Bongos" (A set of bongos was at the bottom of the jumbotron, and if you got put on there, you were supposed to play them.

Two other items that I really enjoyed: Right before the beginning of the game, they showed a picture of an old man (not sure who, but probably someone of significance) in Blues gear, and encouraged us to cheer whenever his picture is shown throughout the game. It was the equivalent of the "Cheer loud" animations that we always see, but was much more fun to get behind. It was also used sparingly. I think maybe 5 times during the game, and each time it was during a perfect lull before a face off. It kept it fresh. The other is that "Let's Go Blues" is so common, so ingrained in the environment, that anyone with a horn could get the chant started in the arena. They even had shirts with just "LGB" for sale. We need something like that in Dallas.

The Actual Game Itself:

If you watched this game, then saw what I saw. A classic Hitchcock style game, where the Blues patiently waited for the Sharks to make a mistake. When Niemi pulled a classic Niemi, they tied it up. Then took the lead about 40 seconds later. The place was IN. SANE. The last 10 minutes of the game was pure awesome. No one sat down, everyone was waving their towels and screaming... even I got hoarse from yelling so much. It was a great, great game to see live. There's just something so satisfying about seeing the Sharks eliminated in person, you know?

Blues5_medium

Oh yeah, and their goal horn is pretty awesome too. Come to think of it, I don't even remember hearing a goal song. I think everyone was too busy cheering.

Post Game Celebration:

After the traditional handshake (which I love getting to see), we headed for the door.

Blues6_medium

(Okay, I know you didn't need to see the handshake, but I like watching the Sharks get defeated!)

The cheering and chanting continued for a long time. Every car was doing the 3 honks, and fans walking around would yell "Let's Go Blues!" It was pandemonium. I even took part. It took me forever to back out of my spot in the parking garage, and finally someone stopped to let me pull out. In addition to my thank you wave, I honked the times, and the passenger in their car (who was most likely unfit for driving) leaned out and yelled "Let's Go Blues!" while pounding on his door. It was fun.

And you know what? I absolutely cannot wait until I get to experience the same thing again. Only next year, I expect to be celebrating in Dallas.

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