Blogs | 2/4/2009 1:01:50 PM | John Gurtler
A Denver native, John Gurtler has been the voice of the Buffalo Bandits the past six seasons. Gurtler has also done play-by-play with the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres and has served as the stadium voice for the Buffalo Bills. Gurtler will share his thoughts and unique perspective each week with Bandits fans.
It was 19 years ago I paid my first visit to the then-called Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, Alberta. Today it is called Rexall Place.
Not much has changed with the exception of the great bronze stature of Wayne Gretzky in front of the main entrance and the ingress highway that leads up to it, called Wayne Gretzky Drive.
So when the Bandits made their first-ever visit last Thursday to the Edmonton venue for the first-ever encounter with the western division Rush, bits and pieces of the vintage 70s structure came back to me. Like the odd navigation from the ground floor to the press location, and its construction of a doublewide sky halo supported by the steel beams from the roof structure.
It's the only 360-degree press box I have ever seen. And true to the nature of Canadian calling, it was a gondola, complete with steep stair structure and concrete plank approach to the main deck. I found it just as it was.
And while the electronic side of the press halo was rather sparse in attendance for the Bandit game, my vantage point was perfect and the accommodations very workable.
The building still supports a dark, cold blue and concrete skin aura that was once chic in arena appearances but it remains a viable entertainment venue and rightfully so: It is The House that Wayne built.
The arena pressroom, on the fourth level, was open Thursday night and in fitting fashion, one of the walls in the long narrow room supported a photo of every Edmonton Oiler during the dynasty years. A very nice salute.
On a public concourse there was a large color photo of Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffee dressed in suits and big 80s shades running with the Stanley Cup held high on the Edmonton Eskimos football field. The crowd looked as if the two were streaking, they couldn't believe it was Gretzky and Coffee.
But this night was for Lacrosse and in a territory very rich in the game. The support and operations staff did an exceptional job staging the Rush/Bandits match, complete with pyro-techniques, sonic booms and glass-pak popping wanna-go, wanna-go choppers. The arena announcer was a voiceterous veteran of the NLL and kept’em going with his booming pipes. Everything was nicely presented.
True, the city of Edmonton was just coming back out on the street from Tuesday night's Sabres pounding of the Oilers, 10-2. They were a little shell-shocked to lend a warm hand to the visiting Bandits and certainly no grand tour of the oil fields. They were a bit wary of this Buffalo bunch that had never been in town to meet the Rush, already three full years into operation.
Nope, despite the exceptional media coverage, which included two major newspapers, several radio stations and TV, not sure the folk wanted much to do with a defending World Champion team that had on its roster the greatest player in the game.
They did get a tweak when they found out his name was John Tavares and the uncle of hockey's "another one", John Tavares. Some reporters showed up for the game-day shoot around to talk with John about the game and his nephew. "Was he the real McCoy errr, the real thing errr, do you think he would like Edmonton?" The Bandits' Tavares was a cool and answered all the questions about his nephew.
In fact, there was one television reporter who did his whole interview with Tavares as if he was talking to the young iceman Tavares. And Tavares played the interview perfectly, not missing a beat.
Expressing the young and shyness yet a scoop of confidence as the hockey Tavares. And then reported asked, "I hear you have an uncle who is the all-time leading scorer in the NLL." Reflecting with a Jim Rome type dead-air pause, Tavares jumped right in and spoke of his uncle's achievements and what a nice lovable guy he really is. It was well done a great job by John Tavares. I am sure it was a good piece for TV.
I'm not sure however the folks of Edmonton were really able to grasp the appearance of the Bandits, the star power and quality of lacrosse they were about to bring to the turf.
The staff and operation crew from the Rush worked hard to feather support for this one-time only Thursday night game (in fact the only Thursday night game on the NLL schedule). They had the Edmonton entertainment schedule to themselves as the Oilers and the WHL junior team off that night.
But the crowd was fair at best. However, not for naught, if they had 10 new people arrive out of curiosity Thursday night, you can bet they'll tell 10 of their friends they had a ball at the Rush game and they saw the number one team in the NLL and, too, the greatest player in the game.
No question, with the Rush commitment to the game and passionate operations staff, that old battleship blue place now called Rexall Centre will rock. Maybe the press gondola will sway. Wayne proved that.
With the Bandits 5-0 in the standings and the best mark in the 12-team loop, more positive vibes came out of the 13-8 win in Edmonton. The power play was flawless going four for five, which included back-to-back John Tavares goals 35-seconds apart. This broke a then worrisome 6-6 tie but the Bandits never looked back, outscoring the Rush 7-2.
Kenny Montour looked very strong keeping Buffalo's stride right up front and his stats pristine. Steve Dietrick looked good on the other end, making saves only he can. Dan Teat lived up to his player of the week billing with the hat trick and looked every bit the Rush's star player and leader.
Philadelphia meanwhile is preparing for a Friday night Dollar Dog night host of the Bandits. In just their second home of the season, the Wings are recalibrating their attack plan after dropping a home and home series with Boston and stand 1-3 on the season.
Why even Rocky Balboa has a lip on. And one of the owners called Geoff Snider's two game series one of the worst performances he'd ever seen. Easy now, he still has won 71 of 89 for a league high 80 percent in winning draws, 10 points and team leading 62 loose balls. Mat Giles leads in scoring while the team leads the League in short-handed goals with six.
What a strong scoring machine Buffalo sports at the five game mark. An arsenal of eight players who can break open any game and mount a flurry, lead by Mark Steenhuis with 17 goals and 15 assists; second in league scoring Mark had 11 shots on goal Thursday night.
John Tarvares with 11-14 and the two top scorers have 34 loose balls. Clay Hill is one of the top scoring defensemen in the league. Mike Accursi is shooting 25 percent from the firing line with 10 goals and to match, Roger Vyse picks his spots with 32 percent finding twine. Phil Sanderson leads the team with 47 loose balls and Kenny Mountour remains atop the league with a .870 save percentage and a 3-0 record.
I think Buffalo’s building is ready for a bronze and naming of a way.