I am very fortunate to have a best friend that is willing to drop everything and Road-trip for anything hockey-related. She’s always game for a trip to DC to see the Caps, go to convention, hit up development camp, or travel a few hours to a Bears’ away game. She was also willing to fly to Texas with me to see the Bears in the Finals. I’m also incredibly luckily to have family in Texas that grew up not far from Hershey and also loves the Bears. Before I knew it, tickets were purchased and a trip was planned for game 5 in Cedar Park.
Now my family lives in Dallas, so Friday morning we made the 3 hour drive to Cedar Park. My nephew was pumped. He’ll be 6 later this month, and this was going to be his first live hockey game. We brought him a t-shirt and a foam Bear claw for the game. He wore the shirt and held the claw for the entire trip, anxiously awaiting the experience.
When we got into Cedar Park, we looked for signs to show that it was a hockey town. You see, in Hershey local business will hang rally towels in their windows, or change their signs to say “Go Bears!” In Texas, I didn’t see that, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Cedar Park Center is a brand new arena in an area that hasn’t been completely developed yet. From the outside, the facility is impressive. Ample parking (even Valet!), flat surface, distinct architecture.
We hung out in the parking lot taking in the sights (since we arrived before the doors had opened). There were some tail-gaters scattered around (not as many as you see at the Giant Center) and they did it right. Tents, grills, loud music, kids with green hair… it all goes to show that hockey does have a niche in Austin, Texas.
There’s one thing you notice when you enter the Cedar Park Center. Everything is Green. The lights are green, some walls are green. Green seats surround the ice showing a green laser display on it. The ribbon sign encompassing the arena? Also Green. Much like Hershey, there were a mix of NHL & AHL jerseys scattered throughout. I met a man who’s lived in Texas his whole life proudly walking the concourse with a Red Ovechkin sweater on. We got to talking, and I discovered that he’s been a Caps fan for years, and made the hour drive from his home for the chance to see some of the prospects he’s either seen on call-ups or read about in prospect updates. He said that he normally roots for the home team, but on this night he’d be rooting for the team with the Caps patch on the shoulder.
When we got to our seats, I got a bad vibe. We were in the last row, right below the suites. Directly in front of my ticketed seat was a girl in a baby-blue Crosby jersey. It’s bad enough that I live with a Pens fan, I shouldn’t have to take a 3 hour flight and then a 3 hour drive to see more Pens paraphernalia. We chatted with some locals who had asked about the trip and thanked us for coming to visit. They wanted to know about the Bears, the Caps, Hershey Hockey History, and more. Overall, we were treated very well, and that is much appreciated as a traveling fan!
Then the puck dropped. I know that Texas is a football state, and I admire their passion and support of the sport, but I also wish the Stars had thought to go over warnings/etiquette before the game. Maybe it’s okay to stand during an entire football game, but it is definitely not acceptable in a hockey arena. Fans all over were on their feet for every play, blocking the vision of those behind and to the sides of them. People often got up in the middle of the period to go get another beer or head to the restroom, but never thought to wait for a whistle. I know this team in Cedar Park is going to be successful- this first season has shown that. My hope is that as time passes more fans become a little more familiar with game etiquette, for the sake of the fans there that know the rules and want to see the game.
When Texas’ Gagnon slipped the puck past Neuvirth, the place went nuts. Fans were on their feet screaming and cheering, truly appreciating the early lead on the Chocolate and White. The people in the Suite behind us felt it necessary to get nasty, but no one else did. One fan even mentioned that he was wondering if the Stars were going to get anything by Neuvi at all.
By the 2nd period, we were quite comfortable in our seats (literally, the seats are comfy, but the legroom is almost non-existent). Bouchard’s goal had evened things up, and the tension was high in the arena. We were witnessing an instant classic, a game that could potentially turn the series one way or the other. After Greg Amadio took a puck to the face, I quickly turned to question the woman behind me calling him a “whining baby” and telling him “to get off the ice, it’s just a piece of rubber, how bad could it possibly hurt?”
When the third period began, a beer fell from the sky and landed in my lap. For those of you that were following on Twitter, you saw my post. Beer on the floor, beer on my clothes, beer everywhere. I stood on my seat and handed the empty cup to the “Amadio hater” and asked if she had “dropped” her drink. She denied it vehemently, but a man a few sections over in the club level saw it happen, and got up from his seat to bring napkins. He, along with a few Stars fans following on Twitter, apologized for the incident. So – to those folks, thank you!
A scoreless third took us into overtime. The loud Cedar Park Center grew louder. There sound of cheers were constant, and the home crowd was behind their new team in full force. Then Alexandre Grioux pulled a puck out of the air, dropped to the ice, and went 5-hole on Climie for the Game Winner. Climie had climaxed. We jumped from our seats and screamed as loud as we could, trying to let the Bears know we were there and we were pleased. With the silence that settled in Cedar Park Arena, similar screams were heard scattered throughout, and their sources could be found by simply spotting the dots of maroon jerseys in an otherwise green and white crowd.
My nephew was more than excited. His first hockey game was a Cup Finals game. His first hockey game went in to OT. His team had won. We soon learned that the best was yet to come for him. Through a mutual friend, we had arranged to meet Alex Giroux after the game. This was all set up prior to the game, so the fact that he had scored the game winner in OT was a huge bonus. We got down to our meeting place and were greeted by a very jubilant Giroux. He signed a puck for my nephew, put him on his lap for a picture, and even asked the security guard to take a group shot of all of us. He thanked us for making the trip, and made sure to thank my young nephew for coming and cheering for him. He never once seemed rushed or impatient, though we knew there were swarms of media around waiting to interview him. I only asked him one question, because at this point I was Aunt Katie and not blogger-Katie. “Did you know it was in?” Grioux laughed and responded “Oh yeah! I knew!” with a beaming smile.
As we headed back to the car, my nephew looked disappointed. When I asked him what was wrong, he informed that he wanted a hockey stick. Looks like Aunt Katie will be purchasing one of those very soon. The next morning he was still excited about the game and about meeting his new favorite player. He then turned to his mom and said “Mommy, can Alex come play at my house?” I’m still trying to figure out how my sister-in-law is going to get around that one.