outdoor game

Outdoor Curling, Off-Ice

I originally intended for this post to be a two-parter.One for preparation, one for the Sawtooth Outdoor Bonspiel. But one of our games turned into an epic, inspiring poems retold for centuries to come. So now it’s a threesome of posts. No, wait a second. Is there another word for a group of three? Perhaps a double-team? You’re currently reading the meat of this curling-post sandwich.

Read on to find out what the beautiful town of Stanley was like and how I managed to snap my wrist! Then you can find the on-ice stuff here.

Okay, so the good news is that the weather was way warmer than expected. I spent the last three months expecting zero degrees Farenheit, and in the end I got zero degrees Celsius (and y’all thought I didn’t know metric.)

Heck, we didn’t even need the beards and goggles. But when you deck yourself out this sexy, there’s no turning back on account of weather.

The bad news is that it’s really, really difficult to curl when the ambient temperature is the freezing point of water. Because, you see, we need the water to be actually frozen. If it’s melting, the stone can’t glide across it, as it’s supposed to. We went to a hockey game and a water polo match broke out. Not that I’d trust horses on either surface.

As an example, we time our deliveries in curling, in order to give the sweepers an idea of when to sweep and to give the shooter an idea of how the ice is working. We only time the beginning of the delivery. Under normal conditions, a delivery of 3.5 or 3.6 or 3.7 seconds means the rock will end on the button (the middle of the “bullseye”) at the other end, about 25 seconds later. And if I’m timing the lead on my team and discover it’s 3.7 to button versus 3.5, then that tells me I need to slide out a little slower than usual.

At the beginning of our first game, it was 2.6 seconds to button. As far as we could tell. At those speeds, it’s hard to get an accurate reading, as the sweepers are chasing after a 20 MPH bullet. So yeah, for the first two ends, we were pretty much throwing as hard as we could and hoping for the best.

The game was scheduled to start at 5:00, but they pushed it back to 5:30 to accommodate for the weather. They should’ve pushed it back to 6:00. Because by the third end, the ice was closer to normal. Okay, maybe it was 3.3 to button instead of the usual 3.6, but that’s something we can work with.

Not that we could work with it. We scored one in the first end and then got shutout for the next five. There were a few times we’d get a little something going, but then the other team would make a perfect draw and we’d end up with squa-doosh. I was ready to throw in the towel on the second-to-last end when we were down 8-1. But then we were looking at three points before I took my final two shots. We all agreed: if we score less than five, we’ll shake hands and concede the game. Because if we score, the other team gets the hammer (final shot). And it’s really, really hard to score more than two if the other team has the final shot. But if we scored five, we’d be down by two. And then….

We scored five. Game’s now 8-6. Other team wants to shake hands, but we went dick-mode and made them play the final end. It didn’t matter. My final shot curled a foot too far, pushing our own stone back instead of their stone, as intended, so they didn’t even need to take their final shot.

The weight actually normalized a bit when the sun started to set. Although human beings might not like the temperature in the twenties, curling rocks do. That’s one of the ways we were able to mount that comeback. Once the ice behaved in a marginally normal way, we were able to make some stuff happen. The lines were still wonky. If you moved the broom six inches to the left, the rock might end up six feet to the left. But that actually worked in our favor because the other team kept missing their hits. A team can’t really score five points in an end unless the other team messes up.

Then again, you gotta be ready to pounce on the opponent’s mistakes.

After the game, we headed to one of two restaurants in Stanley. There’s usually a pizza place, too, but it was closed for renovation. We were worried that, in a town of 67, the restaurant might not be open past 8:00. Heck, I live in a city of 60,000 and it’s sometimes hard to find anyplace open that late.

Turns out we didn’t need to worry. They stayed open for us, and were still open when the next draw ended. Makes sense. Sixteen teams, four curlers apiece. We just doubled the size of their population. I guess when you live in a remote town, anytime there’s outside money coming in, you gotta accommodate them. Otherwise you’re just taking money from Henry at the hardware store, whom you’ll be giving it back to next week when you need some more propane.

Word in the restaurant was that the late draw worked the opposite of us. The speed of the ice was normal for the first couple of ends, and then the fog rolled in, which pushed people back up to 2.6-second draws. I never thought about the effects of fog on curling rocks (not something we encounter too much indoors), but it makes sense. The air’s going to get heavier and there’s going to be more moisture. Neither of those are great for speeding up a 42-pound rock sliding across a frozen pond.

Unfortunately, because we lost game one, we were stuck in the early draw the next morning. 7:00 AM, an hour and change before sunrise. A wonderful time to enjoy the comfort and extravagance of a mountain retreat. It was pitch black when the game started. Check this out:

You can almost see where you’re aiming, huh? It changed how I held the target broom. Usually I try to make the target as small as possible. I stand directly behind my broom, tuck one foot behind the other. The head on my broom is usually a neon green or garish orange that really pops against the black of my pants and shoes. Don’t want to confuse my team with where the target is. Some skips stand with their legs a foot or two wide and the next thing you know, you’re accidentally sighting in on their left foot or the open air in between instead of the broom.

I started this game doing just that. Then one of my teammates told me to spread my legs. After the commensurate and anatomically errant “That’s what she said,” I opened them up wide. When finished, I saw why they were asking. My body had been blocking the spotlights. They couldn’t really see the orange target. But if I widened my stance like a GOP Senator in a Minnesota airport, they could see the giant stick between my legs.

And there was a broom there, too. Hey-Oh!

I was told by a guy who had come in previous years to be on the lookout for the sunrise. It’s beautiful, he said, and it will, however temporarily, help you stop the nagging doubt building in your gut as to why you signed up and paid for the “privilege” of frostbitten testicles. Then again, he was there on one of those negative-five days, not a twenty-degrees-at-sunrise type of day that I got to experience.

But he wasn’t wrong about the sunrise:

These photos are brought to you by a couple of stones that I didn’t bother watching. I probably could’ve swept them to better positions, helped my team win their fucking game. But really, how can I let that sunrise go by? I didn’t come here to win games. I came to freeze my testicles!

I decided to throw on an extra layer of clothing this time. Despite months of planning, the previous night had been a bit chilly. My legs were fine. My toes, despite two layers of socks and two layers of rubber, felt the ice whenever I stood still. But the worst part was my chest and arms. One layer of thermal, then a t-shirt, then a onesie was not enough. And that had been at thirty degrees. This time the thermometer read a crisp eighteen when we left our hotel. What had been a wee bit uncomfortable last night would be a tad more hard-core today.

It was fine, though. I brought the flannel shirt I usually take camping. It’s thick. Add that to some thermals underneath and my super fancy onesie on top and I should be nice and cozy, right? Well, it was better but still not ideal.

I did finally get my chest to a happy medium, though. After our second game, we were supposed to return to the ice rink to help them out with some stuff around midday. This time I went old school. I have some of those old-fashioned wool long-john style underwear that I’ve had since I was a teenager. I don’t want to say we’ve regressed as a society, but the ugly-ass shit from World War II works a hell of a lot better than the sleek black Audi shit of today. We’ve become more concerned with looking good than, I don’t know, surviving the elements. At least the rescuers will find a very sexy corpse-sicle.

Fortunately it stretches, cause my gut ain’t what it once was. Or rather, it’s a lot more than it once was. Unfortunately it doesn’t stretch THAT much, so the downward-slope of my undergut was feeling a bit drafty. But whatever, it kept the rest of me warm. I actually just wore a t-shirt over it. No onesie! Besides, it was the low-thirties once again, so I didn’t need to ward off frostbite.

By our third game, I had perfected it. Sleek black thermal, wool longjohn, flannel shirt, onesie. Four layers! I was downright toasty.

Except for my feet. Cause no matter how protected my chest and arms were, my toes were still permanently aware of the fact that they were walking on ice. One layer of cotton sock, one layer of thermal sock, shoe rubber and gripper rubber be damned.

I tried some of those iron-oxide foot warmers, but they didn’t seem to do much. I put them outside the thermal socks, thinking the closer to the ice, the better. Maybe I should’ve put them in between my two socks. If I ever return, I’ll test that out.

Oh, and I fell on the ice when I helped during the day. You see, when the sun is out and it’s 34 degrees, it makes the ice super slippery. It’s a bad time to curl and evidently it’s a bad time to walk. I was in the act of kicking an errant rock over to the edge. The ice was in the act of kicking my ass to the ground.

The good news is that years of curling has taught me how to fall on ice. Always fall forward, never backward. Backward is where blackouts and cracked skulls happen. And trips to the emergency room with the commensurate ambulance bill. Unfortunately, when your ass gets above your teakettle, you can get a concussion on the front-end, too. Did you know it’s possible to land temple first?

The good news is that my on-ice instinct must be honed very well. The bad news is that I got my wrist underneath me at the last minute before my face planted. Or maybe it’s the good news. Because a sprained wrist is better than being knocked unconscious and whisked off to the nearest hospital, which was over an hour away. But unfortunately, a sprained wrist is substantially worse than an unsprained wrist. It looks gnarly, too.

That’ll teach me to help out.

Outdoor Hockey

I went to the outdoor hockey game between the Sharks and Kings this weekend. It was played at the new Levi’s Stadium, home of the 49ers.

I’m going to let that one seek in for a little bit. There was an outdoor hockey game in the Bay Area of California.

Evidently Phoenix in July was booked?

I know the weather in Northern California isn’t as warm as Southern California, but… wait, what? They had a game at Dodger Stadium last year?

Seriously, Phoenix Coyotes, what’s the hold up?

When rumors of the Sharks game came out last summer, the conventional wisdom was the game would be at SBC/PacBell/AT&T/NamelessConglomerate Park, where the San Francisco Giants play. It seemed a long shot that the Niners would allow their brand-spanking new stadium to be tainted by the taints of 70,000 hockey fans. But the mighty dollar sign won out. Especially that number 70,000, because the baseball stadium can only fit about 40,000.

I was going back and forth about whether I wanted to go to the game. One of my friends went to that game at Dodger Stadium last year. He told me that, as cool as the idea of outdoor hockey sounds, and as cool as it looks on TV, the structure of stadiums vs. arenas means you’re much farther away from the action. He said it was difficult to follow the puck at Dodger Stadium.

There really aren’t any bad seats at the SAP Center, where the Sharks play. There are only 17,000 seats and they pretty much go straight up from the ice. But a hockey rink is smaller than a football field (see below), so you’ve got a lot of real estate between the ice and the first seats. I would actually estimate that the best seat at Levi’s Stadium was farther away from the rink than the worst seat at SAP Center.

For this reason, I was hoping they would stick with AT&T Park. While I have issues with a number of things about seeing baseball games there, it is at least very cozy. If the action was far away at Dodger Stadium, how bad would it be at the monstrosity that is Levi’s Stadium?

But another issue had me interested in seeing the game. I mean, aside from the whole “I was there” aspect of seeing outdoor hockey.  I wanted to see Levi’s Stadium and didn’t have an extra $20,000 lying around to buy a Personal Seat License to see a 49ers game. I figured the price for a hockey game would be much more reasonable. Otherwise how would they get 70,000 hockey fans to come to the game?

To be assured of getting tickets, you had to sign up for a Sharks ticket package. Or Niners, because of that whole “Personal Seat License.” Or, surprisingly, the Los Angeles Kings. I opted for Sharks.

I’ve always enjoyed going to games, and every year when the schedule comes out, my wife and I “hmm and huh” about which games we should go to, and what does our schedule look like, and should we see if so-and-so wants to go to a game this year? Then March rolls around and we’re like, “Crap, we didn’t make it to a hockey game this year. Let’s see what stubhub wants for the playoffs. Um, yeah, no, let’s definitely hit a game next year.”

So with the added incentive of getting first crack at the outdoor game, I decided to bite the bullet on a 10-pack of games. Now I’ve gone through six months of “hmm’s and huh’s” about who is willing to schlepp all the way to San Jose with me, and can we secure a babysitter, and holy shit, what time will we finally get back home after that Wednesday night game? Turns out that while I love seeing hockey games, I really hate the ten-hour ordeal of getting to and from San Jose. My wife and friends fall into this boat even more. Maybe that’s why we were only making it to one game a year.

But after plunking down the $1,200 to buy two 10-packs, I was permitted to purchase tickets to the outdoor game. Only two, of course, unless I wanted to buy more 10-packs. This was also the point that I saw the prices for the first time. Holy crap. That whole “they’ll have to lower the price to sell 70,000” mentality was not shared by the front office. The cheapest tickets were $100. The entire lower deck of the stadium was running $400 a seat. Bear in mind these are as far away from the action as a $40 seat to a normal game.

Then we discovered what game time would be. All the outdoor games I had seen on TV were day games. Usually on New Year’s Day, opposite major college bowl games, but hey, if the NHL weren’t crappy at promoting its product, it wouldn’t be the NHL.

But I forgot most of those games were in winter locations. The very first Winter Classic, which started some of the mysticism, featured a light snow falling on the Buffalo Sabres. Majestic.

The Sharks game was at night. Understandable, since the high probably topped 70 degrees Saturday.  In fact, one of the hockey players being interviewed after the second period talked about how hot it was, a fact us Californians scoffed at as we bundled up in the 55-degree “frost.”

Being a night game meant another early morning return home. It also removed some of the public transportation options, which is important because Levi’s Stadium was built with virtually no parking. I f you opt to drive there, it’ll cost you $55 and it’ll take you an hour to get out of the parking lot.

But whatever. One time experience, right? So I ponied up the $200 to buy two tickets, then spent the next six months fully prepared to disapprove of the game.

The result? Not bad. Did the players look like ants? Certainly. But I was able to see the puck and follow most of the action. It was, as one might expect, similar to seeing an NFL game live. Then again, there’s a reason football is a made-for-TV sport. Here was the view from my seat:

Sharks Outside

Second row. Damn, those 10-packs paid off!

The thing that surprised me the most was the sound. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, because, again, nobody ever talks about the sounds of a football game unless a wide receiver is miked up on TV.  But hockey is usually a loud game. Not just the hits and the slapshots, but the actual skates cutting the ice make an ambient roar that’s missing at the outdoor game.

They put a few microphones around the rink, but coming over the loudspeakers sounded artificial. Depending on how far the action was from the mike, the time delay was almost comical. Plus some shots were very loud, while others sounded distant. Plus that sound of skates on ice didn’t come through.

It reminded me of a music video with the music taken out. I think this was the main reason that the crowd wasn’t that into it. Well, that and the fact that a number of Niner fans were at their first hockey game (I’m talking to you, lady next to me who kept stomping “DE-FENSE” when the Kings crossed the blue line). This might also account for the fact that only four of the fifteen outdoor games that the NHL has played over the past decade have been won by the home team.

The musical guests seemed a bit odd. Hockey intermissions are usually only twenty minutes, but these seemed to be extended by five or ten, so they could have ten-minute long mini-concerts from Bay Area musicians. Completely unnecessary, but whatever. The first intermission featured John Fogerty, who played nothing post-Credence Clearwater Revival. I thought nothing could be less suited for hockey than “Born on the Bayou.”

Then the second intermission came.

Melissa Etheridge came out with her acoustic 12-string guitar as if this was a 70,000-seat coffeehouse. I don’t think she was wearing an earpiece and it showed. It felt like she was screaming to hear herself in a cavernous stadium she’s not used to playing. Her rendition of “Come to My Window” wasn’t bad, but she finished with “Piece of My Heart,” a tribute to Janis Joplin. If by “tribute,” she meant “make people really wish the other person was here instead of you,” she nailed it. I’ve heard karaoke versions better

If you’re going to waste our time with musical guests,  I guess I understand the desire to find Bay Area people, but was this the best available? Was Green Day on tour? Couldn’t they have brought Steve Perry up to lip-sync “Don’t Stop Believin’” like he does at Giants games? I probably would have been more entertained by the corpse of Jerry Garcia.

But all in all it was a good night. The stadium was nice, the remaining public transportation options weren’t bad, and who else in the country can say they saw an outdoor hockey game in a light sweatshirt? I don’t know that I’d spend the $100 (or $400) if they tried it again next year, but I’m glad I’ve had the experience as a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Even if the ass-dragging that ensued Sunday pushed me beyond my Monday blog deadline. Meh, it’s hockey. Let’s just call this Tuesday post “overtime.”