By Adam Brady
It’s midway through the first period between the Ducks and Colorado on a Thursday evening at Honda Center, and I’m sitting shoulder to shoulder with Avalanche winger Jarome Iginla. To my right, a mere six feet away, is the Ducks’ Corey Perry, his eyes (unlike mine at this time) locked into the action on the ice. The only thing separating me from either of them is a half-inch-thick sheet of plexiglass, which also is what’s thankfully shielding me from any pucks or players who happen to come flying at me.
No, I’m not a newly signed fourth-liner hoping to get some ice time in this preseason tilt between the Ducks and Avs, but I am a temporary resident of possibly the best seat in the house that doesn't require membership in the NHL Players Association. There is a new four-seat area built between the benches at Honda Center starting this season, and I’ve talked my way into sitting here for tonight’s game.
This space was built as part of an extensive offseason construction project in the arena that included brand new dasher boards, plexiglass, bench areas and, of course, a magnificent state-of-the-art HD scoreboard. The area is intended to be used for rinkside TV reporters during nationally televised games (think Pierre Maguire on NBC).
But for approximately 20 games a year, it will be sold as part of a VIP ticket package the Ducks are developing, which includes a number of amenities in addition to a vantage point that brings you as close to the players as humanly possible – without, you know, being in uniform.
I felt this immediately after plopping down into my comfy, leather seat with all the false confidence in the world. I was alone to start the game, so I took the front-left chair one among the four, which was nearest the ice and the Avs bench. (That’s the spot closest to an actual player since there is a short aisle between the seats on the right and the Ducks bench.)
This is right about the moment I first felt like I didn’t belong down there. You see, in my 10 years working for the Ducks, I have seen more than 500 games in that building. Not once have I sat for any extended amount of time closer than my seat in the press box, about 1,000 feet from the ice behind the last row of the 400 level.
It’s eye-opening to say the least, and the guys sitting behind me – in the first row of “glass seats” – are as mesmerized as I am, repeating “This is awesome” to each other as they watch the players go through final warmups.
I try to look more official by fervently jotting something into my notepad, but it’s not long after that I really feel out of place. That’s when Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau is the first to arrive in the bench area, making brief eye contact with me and nodding like he does when we see each other in the hallway outside the Ducks offices. I half-expected him to mouth the words “Get … out … of … here” to me through the glass, but he does not. A minute later, a linesman stretches in front of me, his rear end about two feet from my face (not everything is great about these seats).
Just before puck drop, I’m literally inches from Colorado winger Cody McLeod, who is seated on the far right end of the Avs bench. I scribble this on my notepad in writing only I can read, as if I’m afraid he’ll look over and see the words “I’m literally inches from Colorado winger Cody McLeod” and think I’m a creep. But alas, he’s kind of playing a hockey game right now, so he has more important concerns than peaking at my diary.
Once the puck is dropped, the game takes on a feverish pace like nothing I’ve ever seen before. When you’re sitting this close to the ice, the game seems noticeably faster and space on the ice appears to be almost non-existent. It’s a dramatically different look than when you’re sitting up high or watching on TV (more on that later). Meanwhile, I’ve been next to my share of hockey players off the ice, but they appear so much more gigantic when they’re on skates inside the rink.
I’m watching the puck cycled in the Colorado end, and I’m hesitant to lean forward in my seat, for fear of blocking the view of Perry, who is sitting on the far left end of the Ducks bench. The Avs climb over the boards for a line change, and I almost feel like I could get cut by a skate blade.
Shawn Horcoff scores only three minutes into the game, and as he heads to the bench for congratulations, I have to resist the urge to extend my arm for a fist bump. The same thing happens when another new Duck, Mike Santorelli, scores a couple minutes later.Midway through the first, light-scoring defenseman Clayton Stoner loudly rings the post with a shot from the top of the left wing circle, and on the Ducks bench Sami Vatanen beams with a huge smile.
It’s the first TV timeout, and thus the first on-ice appearance of the Power Players, which is when I realize NHL players have mastered the art of looking at ice girls without looking like they’re looking.
Play resumes, and Avs winger Alex Tanguay takes a spot near me on the bench. I realize I’m so close I can see the three-inch dent in his brand new stick tape where it has struck a puck. During a break in the action, a pump video is shown in beautiful clarity and color on the new Honda Center video board, and Pat Maroon is craning his neck to watch it from the bench.
I notice Patrick Roy standing behind the Avs bench and remember the incident on opening night two seasons ago (almost two years ago to the day) when he and Bruce Boudreau got into a shouting match near the end of the game. Alas, Pepsi Center in Denver did not have a space between the benches, and Roy pushed so hard on the divider it almost toppled onto Bruce’s head. That won’t be an option tonight or in any other game at Honda Center, it turns out.
My wife texts that she can see me on TV, and I immediately worry I’m one of those jerks that has one of the best seats in the house and appears to be spending the game on his phone.
Midway through the first, Cam Fowler goes tumbling into the boards in front of me, making such a loud noise I’m worried he’s hurt (he pops right back up). John Gibson makes a nice glove save, and Perry taps the inside of the boards a few times with his stick in tribute.
Later there is a scrum in front of the Colorado net, and something occurs to me: While I’m not a big proponent of fighting in the game, a good old fashioned melee would be pretty cool if it happened right in front of me.
Once the second period starts, a Ducks staffer and two other guests of the team join me between the benches, and I move to the back-right seat, closer to the Ducks bench. Since the Ducks are going the other way this period, the defensemen take up the side of the bench nearest us, while the forwards were on that side during the first (and will be in the third). Kevin Bieksa, the veteran defenseman signed by the Ducks over the summer, is on the bench pointing something out on the ice to an attentive Hampus Lindholm, his defensive partner.
Lindholm appears to have gone the entire summer without a haircut, and his flowing blonde locks take on a whole different life as they jut out of the bottom of his helmet. He looks up at the scoreboard to watch the “Bumps & Bruises” segment during the timeout. It’s at this time I realize I’m so close I can see that Lindholm’s mouth guard has the initials “HL” stamped onto it.
That’s when I realize maybe I’m a little too close. With that in mind – and my actual job to do writing the game recap for the Ducks website – I move upstairs to my normal perch in the press box. It’s there I run into Brian Sutherby, who played nine seasons in the NHL (including two with the Ducks) and now watches every game from up here as a scout with the Washington Capitals. I ask him the biggest difference between seeing the game at ice level and watching it from up high.
“The game seems so much easier from this seat,” he says with a laugh. “That’s why it’s funny that people sit and critique the players from up here. Down there it’s so much faster, and there is so little room to operate. You have to make decisions so quickly.”
At 42 years old and well past my NHL prime, I realize I’ll never know that feeling. But for a couple hours from the comfort of a cushy leather chair, I got pretty damn close. And that was good enough for me.