Saturday night began the next chapter in the story of the Toronto Rock, their first game at the First Ontario Centre in Hamilton. The team made no secret of the fact that this was a cost-cutting measure; Scotiabank Arena is one of the most expensive arenas in North America to rent, and owner Jamie Dawick has said that he needed attendance of 12k just to break even there. That requirement is almost certainly lower at First Ontario Centre.
I had no real idea of what to expect in terms of attendance. Would the place be bursting at the seams, or would there be entire sections empty? Both were quite possible in my mind, so I was encouraged to see the lower bowl mostly full by the time the game started. The upper deck was closed off, but for most games at Scotiabank for the last few years, the upper deck was either closed or mostly empty anyway. Attendance was a little over 8000, which puts it in the bottom 10 Rock home games in the past five years or so, but more than 3 of last year’s 6 home games.
There were a couple of drawbacks from playing at the 35-year-old arena. The sound wasn’t great. The PA announcer was understandable and when the refs made announcements we could usually hear them. I missed a couple of announcements entirely, and once or twice the music was louder than the announcement, but the music just didn’t sound very good overall. The other noticeable thing was the Jumbotron, which wasn’t so jumbo. The central video board was small, square, and not hi-def, unlike the monstrous and amazingly clear board at Scotiabank. The red on the Rock uniforms looked more orange than red. It looked like they took four 32″ tube TVs (OK, maybe 36″) from the late 90’s and hung them from the ceiling.
Note: the picture below was taken during warmup, at least 20 minutes before game time, which explains all the empty seats. By game time, most of those seats were filled.
There were also some game-time glitches, as you would expect for the first game in a new arena. At one point the dancers were on the floor when the house lights were turned off but nobody turned the spotlights on so they finished their routine in the dark. The player names on the video screen weren’t synchronized with the players being announced, so when a player was running onto the floor, the screen was showing two players ago.
Usually once the time remaining on the time clock is less than what’s on the shot clock, the shot clock is turned off but when there were less than ten seconds left in the second quarter, the shot clock was still running and said 15 seconds or so. I was worried the Rock would watch the wrong clock and not get a shot off before time ran out. Luckily they were paying attention and Dan Craig scored with less than two seconds remaining.
When the head ref was doing video reviews, they brought this little monitor out for him, but it didn’t look much bigger than an iPad. I’m not sure how you’d expect to be able to overturn any calls on that little thing, though one was overturned so perhaps it wasn’t so bad. I hope it had higher definition than the main video boards.
I wouldn’t describe the crowd as “electric” or anything, but they were into it and reasonably loud, or at least roughly the same as most Rock games over the past few years. The announcer, anthem singer, and in-game host were the same as before so that kept some continuity which was good. There was at least one “Go Rock Go” chant that started up without the announcer prompting anyone. That’s actually been fairly rare the last few years.
The actual game
Now onto the game itself. The Rock’s opponent was the Albany FireWolves, formerly the New England Black Wolves. The Black Wolves were leading the 2020 season when it was cancelled, and Albany looks like they’ve picked up right where New England left off. The game between these two powerful teams was exciting, back and forth, and it didn’t look like an early-season game. After a normal off-season, training camp can only get rid of some rust so the first game of the year can sometimes be a little ugly. Considering this off-season was the better part of two years long, there was surprisingly little rust on anybody.
Both defenses were solid and both goalies had good games as well, which is not surprising considering Rose and Jamieson are two of the best in the game. Challen Rogers, as usual, was everywhere and both Rob Hellyer and Tom Schreiber looked really good on the offensive side of things. A few different Rock players made excellent plays that I made note of: Latrell Harris, Bill Hostrawser, Josh Jubenville, Brad Kri, Mitch de Snoo, and Aaron Forster. Schreiber was not only strong offensively but has stepped up his defensive game as well and made a couple of good plays to prevent some Albany transition. Dan Dawson was held to a single assist until there were less than six minutes left in the game, but then scored both the game-tying and go-ahead goals. The man turns 40 next week but is still in great shape and is still able to bulldoze his way through defenders to the net like he always has.
For the FireWolves, Andrew Kew had a great game and Charlie Kitchen got a fair bit of playing time and also looked good. Other players I noticed a lot: Reilly O’Connor, Colton Watkinson, and John LaFontaine. I was surprised to see that Joe Resetarits had 8 shots on net, tied with Kew for second on the team, since I didn’t really notice him much at all. Tony Malcom was the FireWolves’ Challen Rogers, as he was all over the floor as well.
The Rock play next week in Halifax while the FireWolves have a week off before hosting the Knighthawks. After that game, they have another two weeks off so it’s not until week 6 that they play their third game of the season.