The next arena in this three-part tour of California NHL venues is Honda Center, home of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, or at least it used to be. I don't know why they changed their name. It used to be awesome, since, Disney and all.
Anaheim is more well-known for Disneyland than anything, which is fine because Disneyland is totally awesome. If you really want to get the most out of a trip to Honda Center, if you have the time, go to Disneyland. Key word: go. Get park hoppers so you can go back and forth between Disneyland and California Adventure, the park across from Disneyland. Also make sure you go from the park's open to the park's close.
Oh wait, I'm supposed to be writing about going to Honda Center. Sorry, I got sidetracked.
Getting to Anaheim from Los Angeles on a Friday evening is a complete nightmare, especially since the 405 is a parking lot. To put that in perspective for you all in Dallas, just imagine the frustration you get from driving LBJ during rush hour, and then imagine that the Mixmaster is every single exit you drive on, and that still isn't as bad as driving on the 405. It is THE WORST freeway in America. On the 405, you go 4 to 5. Seriously, there are Yelp reviews for this freeway it sucks that badly. Granted, all freeways in Los Angeles suck, but the 405 is hands down the worst. Okay, enough ranting about the 405.
I went with two other USC friends who are also Dallas Stars fans. This game took place last Friday, the week when it seemed like the poop hit the fan with all the deadline trades. Since we bought the tickets three weeks before this game, though, we committed to going anyway. One person (*cough* CLOSURE GT *cough*) unfortunately could not make it to the game, so I had to get the tickets from him in Santa Monica.
I also decided to get some sign supplies for this game in Marina Del Rey near Santa Monica, so I made a trip out of it.
Here's a Tuba Top Tip: When driving from Los Angeles to Anaheim, find a way to get to the 91 Freeway. That freeway isn't going to be as clogged as the 110, 101, 5, 105, 405, 710, or 605 during rush hour. Also, if you have passengers in your car, there's an HOV lane that spans the entire freeway, so you can pass all the lowly single riders who have to wait in rush hour traffic. And, the 91 has an HOV lane interchange to get on the 5 in Orange County, so that's nice. Why is this? Buses to Disneyland need their own lane. I'm serious. You can thank buses to Disneyland for your 91 HOV lane.
(They call them carpool lanes in California, by the way. Just wanted to use HOV to avoid confusion)
Since last week initially started out really crappy, we all made self-deprecating signs. We planned on deploying them in the event the Stars fell behind by a lot. I made my sign before I met up with the other two people in my group, and since we had so much time to kill in LA traffic, another person made his sign in the backseat of my car. However, since we made our signs with an expo marker, and my windows were closed when my backseat passenger was making his sign, it smelled awful, and I may have been inhaling something dangerous.
I was presented with quite a conundrum: Open my windows to breathe in the fumes from the bus in front of me, or keep them closed and smell a smelly marker. I compromised and cracked open the windows.
To give you an idea of how much time you need to give yourself to drive from Los Angeles to Anaheim, we left LA at 5:15, and got to Honda Center at 6:45. They're 34 miles apart. Now, there was an accident that delayed us 15 minutes on the 91, but that illustrated just how important it was to leave drastically early.
I like my music loud. I like my windows open. I like my Dallas Stars. If you follow where this is going, I played this on loop with all my windows down while we were near the arena until we parked. Gotta let the home crowd know we're there, you know?
Parking at the arena lot is $15. Since I've only been to Honda Center twice, I do not know where one can find cheap parking. However, the advantage to the arena's lot is the further away you are from the arena, the faster you'll be able to leave, since you have to exit the other side of the lot.
Around 6:53 PM, we finally parked. The other friend who didn't make his sign spent 5 minutes drawing the sign you see in the above photo.
(In the background, you see a very bad baseball team's stadium.)
When I went to Honda Center in February for a Sharks-Ducks game, they made me check in my zoom lens with the arena since they have a policy of no lenses bigger than six inches. This time around I didn't bring the zoom lens, but not only did they not check my camera bag, they also didn't stop us and asked what our signs said. We totally could have brought a sign that said "F*** the Ducks" and carried it past security. But since we're classy individuals, we refrained.
We were a tad late to this game, so we were walking to our seats in the concourse during the Banner, which was being sung by what sounded like an elementary school choir. We all walked behind a big group of Ducks fans watching from a seat entrance, waited for the lyrics "Oh say does that--" and yelled "STARS!" at the top of our lungs, startling everybody.
We definitely got a kick out of that.
Oh, and here's a very important thing to know about Ducks fans: they do not like Steve Ott.
We made it to our seats in Section 411, which is actually the third tier of seats at Honda Center. For some reason, they label their three sections of seats as 200s, 300s, and 400s. Honda Center, y u no use logical seat numbering system?
The seats in the third tier level at Honda Center are actually pretty decent. The seats themselves are a little stiff, but my seat for this game felt more cushioned than my seat at the previous game I attended. The cup-holders are too close to your elbows, and if you have an open beverage you might knock it over if you're not careful.
Also, that scoreboard's video screens are tiny. Sure, it does everything you want in a scoreboard: tell you the score. But, if somebody is standing up in front of you and you can't see the action and need to resort to the scoreboard to see what's happening, the screen doesn't offer a much better alternative.
The Sharks upgraded their scoreboard in 2007. The Stars upgraded their scoreboard in 2009. The Kings upgraded their scoreboard in 2010. The Ducks upgraded their scoreboard in...wait...all they did was tack on a snazzy patch at the bottom but left the 1990s scoreboard intact. As you can probably guess, I have a weird fascination with scoreboards. The Ducks disappoint me with theirs because I just think it's too old. I understand this may be an unfair critique, but I have to make it.
Now, as far as the game was concerned, I can't remember another time where I went to a Stars game with absolutely zero expectations for the outcome. None of us expected anything from this game. We collectively thought "we'll be glad if the Stars score one goal." Sure, this makes us sound like awful fans, but let's be honest here, the beginning of that week was emotionally draining.
I followed the same rules I gave myself at the Kings game back in March: Don't be obnoxious. Treat the home fans with respect. This was my first actual road fan experience at Honda Center, and I wanted to make sure my experience was as good as I could make it.
While I went to a Sharks-Ducks game at Honda Center a couple months before, I went as a neutral observer while my girlfriend cheered on her Sharks. Three obnoxiously drunk Ducks fans showed up in the third period and sat three rows in front us. They were shouting obscenities throughout the third period, and they got worse when the Ducks got on the board.
When the Ducks went ahead 2-1, one of those fans started calling all the Sharks fans a row behind us "fairweather fans," which understandably upset all the fans behind us. Up until that point, we didn't have any issues with obnoxious fans, but those three hooligans made the game-watching experience miserable.
My girlfriend had a great zinger for them that she wrote on Twitter: "Hey drunk Ducks fans, are you pregnant? Because you missed two periods!"
I write that anecdote because I hoped to avoid obnoxiously drunk home fans when I went to Honda Center as a visiting fan.
As most of us saw, the Ducks were really putting pressure on the Stars early on, but then out of nowhere Lane MacDermid roofed one, and as we were celebrating we yelled "How are we winning this game?!" We heard a few people yelling at us to sit down, but we ignored them. This was our moment, and we didn't want anybody ruining it.
Then almost immediately, the Ducks answered the Stars' goal, benefiting from the most Honda Center Bounce of Honda Center Bounces of all time.
If you ever see this during a game at Honda Center, it means bad things.
(I'm cheating this a bit. This is from the February 4 Sharks-Ducks game. The Ducks also scored this goal...off of a Honda Center bounce. I didn't get a photo of the scoreboard when the Ducks scored on the Stars.)
You can probably hear this very well during broadcasts, but the PA announcer at Honda Center makes a gigantic spectacle of a Ducks goal, and it's one I despise. I know I'm not supposed to like hearing the Ducks PA announcer announce a Ducks goal. That's a given. But when he begins with "Anaheim Ducks GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL," you hope the Stars don't get scored on again, because as an opposing fan you don't want to hear that ever again.
The Ducks fans in the row in front of us were genuinely amazed all three of us went to the game as Stars fans, and they gave us a lot of respect for going to see the Stars play. The fans to my right were also decent people to talk to, which was nice. There were a couple fans directly above me who looked like they were still in high school who kept wondering aloud why the Ducks weren't kicking the crap out of the Stars, so they were kind of funny to listen to. Overall, the fans immediately around us were pretty chill.
Eric Nystrom decided to be awesome a few minutes later and score a shorthanded goal, and because Viktor Fasth made a huge mistake, everybody was extremely puzzled, especially us. The Stars were gutted earlier in the week. How did they manage to get two leads against the Ducks?
And then a really weird sequence happened in which the Ducks hit the crossbar almost immediately after Nystrom scored his goal. The fans to our left didn't realize the Ducks didn't score, and were still high-fiving each other as play continued. You would have thought that a lack of a blaring goal horn blaring register with them, but apparently not. Not sure I've seen anything like that before where fans were completely oblivious to the action.
During a commercial break, we decided that was a good time to deploy our signs with hopes of making it onto the jumbotron, which was a pretty lofty goal, let's be honest here. Predictably, we didn't make it onto the tv screen, but our signs did make all the fans around us laugh. Usually when you make people laugh, they tend you like you more.
Tuba Top Tip: Make people laugh.
When the Ducks take a lot of penalties, the fans really don't like it. In fact, they chant very loudly "Ref you suck!"
The first period began to wind down, and Alex Chiasson scored a simple but effective goal for his first NHL goal off a great feed from Vernon Fiddler. Once again, all three of us were the only people standing and cheering in our section, and I was yelling "Pick up that puck!" since I knew what just happened. Little did we know that we would see the beginning of not only an incredible stretch of play for the Stars as a whole, but also an exciting debut for a promising rookie.
It was a good first period.
But we immediately thought about the second period, and told the fans around us that the game could quickly change on a dime given how the Stars played second periods the majority of the season, and the previous game.
For the first intermission I stayed in my seat while the other two in our group got food and beer. I wanted to make sure nobody desecrated our beautifully crafted signs, because we worked extremely hard on those.
First period intermission saw people try to shoot pucks from the defensive zone into circles formed by the arena spotlights, with the goal of winning Ducks memorabilia. The prizes got gradually better when the puck stopped in further circles.
I hope this picture illustrates what I'm trying to describe.
That's all that happened in the first intermission.
Amazingly, the Stars didn't fold during the second period, the Achilles heel of the season. Everybody was more concerned with actually watching the game than interacting with each other, so this period was kind of a blur since nothing really happened.
Anaheim has been in the NHL since 1993, and they have five banners to show for it, four of them commemorating a championship of some sort. Now, should they hang on to win the division they'll obviously add to that, but I thought that was interesting nonetheless.
I was definitely hungry this time, so I got out of my seat as fast as I could to get a pan pizza. I finished that and decided to venture out in the concourse to see if I'd notice anything strange.
You can probably tell I took this in a covert manner, or so I thought. A fan (not photographed) asked if I was covertly taking photos, and I explained I was photographing the fan in the Luongo jersey, and then proceeded to tell him that I thought it was pointless to wear a jersey of a team that isn't playing at the game one is attending. It was kind of an awkward conversation, but I also brought it upon myself. He did see my point on the jersey rant, though, so mission accomplished, I guess.
Also, I've noticed this with hockey fans here in California, but quite a few hockey fans wear hoodies underneath their jerseys. I saw this at the Kings game, this game, and the Sharks game I went to that I'll write about later on. I've never resorted to wearing a sweatshirt underneath my jersey, but I found that interesting.
Always enjoy seeing older jerseys at these games. A Crazy Eddie fan made an appearance here.
I post this picture because it captured the moment when we took on a completely different attitude on the game. Before, we were completely apathetic to the outcome. However, as you can see here, the Stars got our attention with their play, and we wanted the Stars to finish the win.
The fans directly in front of us who I mentioned before liked our signs so much that during a commercial break they took a picture of us holding them up, and probably Instagrammed it or something. I don't know.
Jamie Benn almost scored an extremely fluky goal when he banked it off the boards and it somehow got past Viktor Fasth. Quite a few Ducks fans didn't even wait to see confirmation of the goal and headed for the exits. Once again, I documented this moment in time.
So long. Farewell.
Auf wiedersehen goodbye (Pacific Division)!
Even when the referee announced there was no goal, the fans didn't come back to their seats. Watching that reminded me of the scene from Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle in which Harold asks Kumar if he wants to go back to get his cell phone from the apartment, which was ten feet away, and Kumar says "No. We've gone too far." Seriously, those fans who left couldn't go back to their seats to see if the Ducks could come back from two goals down? There was over six minutes to go in this game. Anything can happen in a hockey game, especially at Honda Center with all those funky bounces. We're not talking about five or 10 fans here. This was at least 100 people, so quite a few people.
Hey, I like that score.
The horn sounded, and we won, and we were all happy. We asked the fans in the row in front of us that we got along with so well to photograph us holding our signs, and they were nice enough to do so. And now, I shall reveal to you all our signs.
Remember, we went into this game expecting the Stars to get blown out given how the week played out before. Except for the "The Guy Behind Me Can't See" sign, that's why our signs are self-deprecating. I argue that doesn't make us bad fans, because we still went to the game.
After we took the picture, a fan in the last row behind us tried to take his frustrations out on us by yelling "Congratulations, you won one out of the three games we played this week." I said "Thank you!" This guy was not very good at talking trash, and I was easily toying with him. After he said "Enjoy eleventh place!" I yelled back "We will!" Seriously, dude, work on your heckling. I'm not impressed.
In rather fortuitous timing, as we were walking to the arena's exits, we saw through the windows the 9:00 PM Disneyland firework show in progress, which obviously meant Disneyland was celebrating a Dallas Stars victory.
We also ran into quite a few Stars fans outside the arena, and once again it's always fun to be the only 20 people celebrating a victory in a road arena.
Remember how I blasted Pantera as we were entering Honda Center? Well, I decided we didn't have enough fun at the expense of Ducks fans, so we decided to play Pantera on loop at full blast from my car with all the windows down until we were out of the parking lot. We were in the parking lot for 15 minutes.
Would our experience have been different if the Stars lost? Of course. I've seen what it's like to be a loser at Honda Center. It wasn't fun. Again, that's why I try to befriend, if you will, the fans near me so that life won't be as terrible as I exit the arena.
Up next: my visit to the Shark Tank. It will be very detailed.
Go Stars. Go Disneyland.