CLEVELAND, Ohio – Time to think about not only attending your first outdoor game, but covering it, thinking about news and notes for a three-hour live show, and thinking about how eager I was to fly to Ohio to cover a hockey game with two individuals I’ve seemingly met a thousand times but never been in the same room.
These people have not only given me been there for life advice (like how to cure a burnt finger) but been there as a rock; Deana Weinheimer being, my managing editor, joined the same time I did, and Andrew Rinaldi, an AHL knowledge keeper for the site, with doors always open policy, as a friend and as the resident tour guide for the league.
Jitters, goosebumps, and gregarious excitement filled a two-hour ride to the rink; after all, I had just spent the previous night in a somewhat viral state for a foolish purchase.
Walking through security at 10:00 am Saturday, I couldn’t help but think about the last time I was in person to watch an AHL game live. Although I’ve watched and covered seemingly hundreds of games since then, COVID-19 and a personal career move have sidelined me from rinks since March 7th, 2020.
Reality kicks in when we’re greeted by the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins decorating their bus. Some of those players would be close enough to get their first penalty of the game in moments; we had lined up nearly half a dozen pre-game interviews.
The silent dream and nervous energy became a reality. I stepped out to look onto the grounds of FirstEnergy stadium.
It was my first time in an NFL stadium, let alone on the field. To my back, a mountain of seats, with the crisp air, sunshine, and yes, a massive ice hockey arena at the bow.
Under that sun, the players began to warm up, as did the ice.
One reporter described it perfectly, as a player went to snowshower their goalie but didn’t get any snow. Other players couldn’t find a grip on the ice.
Things aren’t looking good.
It’s 1:08 p.m.; there’s no sign of the players. By now, we’re in the press box with the reporters, each crowding over a bar-style table and glass to see where the players are. That nervous energy I had spilled into the press box; nobody knew what was going on.
Until the words “rescheduled” came over the P.A.
From high above, you get a bird’s eye view of the chaos. Some headed toward the exit; others looked at each other. Nobody knew what to do. The game was set to try again in 5 hours.
Fans seemed to find refuge throughout the arena. Some huddled into box seats and bars; even our cameraman, Hector Urcia wrote that he “found a quiet place and was going to take a nap.”
As the fans found ways to kill time, so did the reporters. It quickly became a way to bond over the game that we all love. We all quickly found out that cold stadium-quality chicken fingers are the glue for reporters.
While the wait could be seen as a black eye on the event for some, the five hours was a molehill compared to the almost three years since the last time I could do this in person.
Some players went home, and others stayed. It became as much of a team-building experience for the players as it did for the reporters. The chef of the Penguins attending the game as a fan created what I later dubbed a “subcuterie” board on his day off.
The players anxiously looked onto goopy ice through the afternoon, staying to chat and interact with those fans who chose to stay.
And when the game got going again? It’s everything I think I ever dreamed of. Playing under the lights created an even better aesthetic. I took an opportunity to savour that as I talked to fans in the arena.
Even from the furthest point back, the back-row view was insurmountable. It truly was a vibe.
It was in the bowels of that arena where I got to connect one on one with the fans. The Cleveland fans were just happy to be there, and the Wilkes-Barre Scranton fans were enjoying the moment for what it was. After all, the Penguins were up 2-0 at this point.
One fan described a flight from D.C., while another described a six-hour car ride from somewhere in Pennsylvania.
You see, win, lose or tie, each one of those fans had a unique memory of that game, as did I. For some, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a game that was unique in its own way for its circumstances.
For me, being in the press box for the game was unique in its own way.
Trent Vogelhuber stopped to chat with up during the stoppage. He had one simple message:
“We’re all in this together.”
He was right. The fans who stayed or came back, the reporters who bonded over cold chicken fingers, or the same nervous energy the players felt looking at poor ice as did I walking into the NFL stadium.
That nervous energy, that outdoor hockey feeling and the bond between players, fans and reporters is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
I want to throw a hat or two to my other two co-hosts during the event.
Deana really and truly is the backbone behind the event for Field Pass Hockey, and without her hours of unnoticed work, we wouldn’t have even dreamed of getting onto the field or into the bowl of that arena.
Andrews’s insight on the league and drive to continue to make the site better complimented the whole broadcast. His work behind the scenes with Deana made the site what it is and the AHL coverage we bring you today.
Without them, I’d be nothing.
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