So Saturday night I made my way to the Philadelphia Spectrum for the first and probably last time. It was just one of those things I felt I should try to do, because it's not too far and why would I, as a hockey fan, not want to see where the Flyers had played for so long. Just to say I had been there.
Well let me say - it must have been wildly different all those years ago.
The facilities are, not surprisingly, very dated. Having to walk down a few levels of stairs to use the rest-room is not something I would enjoy doing on a regular basis. In fact the way the levels of the arena are built is interesting in it's own right. You can easily walk around the arena outside, but you have to walk down to enter the bar or go to the will call area and walk back upstairs to enter the actual arena.
The arena looked very small. Very. But that was probably due in large part to them covering the upper seats of the upper level in a black tarp. Just imagine! I walked in and I was like, damn, is this place small! And it really was just an optical illusion.
The funniest part, however, was the very dated graphics on the center scoreboard. A graphic of a baby crying, some random dude that was unidentifiable, and Yoda, I'm assuming from when Star Wars first re-released its movies, were the highlights. Kind of creepy, I won't lie.
But I'm saying none of this in jest. Rather in admiration. After being to new and shiny arenas, that are so big and open, it was actually nice to see a game in such a quaint setting. The arena was not crowded. We had seats about 12 rows up. I could see the players on the benches, their mannerisms, their exchanges with other players. It felt easier to make a connection. I can imagine for a young fan, this type of setting would be extremely worthwhile. Seeing their team's players so close, where you can actually see what they look like.
Now I've never been to an AHL game. Ever. So that was a first as well. Everything seems slightly slower, and less crisp (but then again if you've been watching the New York Rangers play lately it doesn't actually seem that much different, I'll be honest. . .). But it was good for what it was. Honestly, I wish there was a minor league hockey team closer to where I live. I'd definitely go more often.
The best part, actually, is the fan interaction. What you can't and won't see in arenas like MSG, they do things like food giveaways. It was Scout Night (Girl and Boy Scouts, not professional scouts as I first thought) and they let all the scouts in uniform take a lap during intermission on the ice. At the end of the game, the player of the game (Patrick Maroon - hat trick) did his on-ice interview (with the same guy who was giving away food earlier - the do-all-guy of the arena), before the players personally tossed Phantoms shirts to the fans. Nice stuff.
I've been to a healthy enough number of minor league baseball and professional lacrosse (which is not popular enough to truly escape the minor league feel) games to know this is not unusual stuff. But hockey has always been the NHL to me. It was nice to see nice fan interaction and connection in such a controlled setting.
Lastly, the Spectrum had one final rare surprise. Between the 2nd and 3rd I took a lap around the arena. It had been snowing when we entered the game, and at every turn, I could see the snow still falling through the windows on the upper sides of the roof. Perhaps other arenas do have this and I didn't notice because there wasn't something outside to look at, but I know for a fact that arenas like MSG, with the exception of the area where you go up and down the escalators, does not have the ability to see outside.
Now it was probably just the cold weather on a Saturday night, in combination with the quaint closeness of the game, but seeing snow fall while at a hockey game just added to the feel of a magical evening for me. Perhaps a little more of the way it used to be, rather that what it now and so often is.