A quick note: I forgot my camera so I didn't get any pictures (sorry) but Aces Over Brooklyn covers the team quite well and there is a lot of info and shots there. It truly shames the buggy EPHL home site in terms of quality to be sure.
I had every intention of making this a regular feature here but two factors contributed to it's being mothballed - notorious hockey hoodlum Billy Tibbetts leaving the league and the sad fact that I never had time to make it to a game. Well, that changed last Friday as I made the trek from Manhattan to Brooklyn to 'go to the Aces.'
It is a longer ride than at least I anticipated, as you take the 2 train all the way to it's end in Flatbush (an hour ride from midtown) and from there hop on a bus for a 10, 15 minute ride to the rink. But once you hop off of the bus, you can see how the Aces got their name: they play at a small entertainment complex at a small airfield - Floyd Bennett Field to be precise.
Walk in the main entrance and you could be walking into any community rink with kids running about, flashing lights of video games and other amusements and two sheets of ice tucked away behind double glass doors. The Aces have their ticket and merch sales on a couple of folding tables in the lobby and the staff was quite courteous and seemed genuinely happy to be there - quite the change from many of the drones milling about the Garden (season ticket reps excluded). Tickets were cheap - 20 bucks or less - and they give you a 'seat assignment' for the metal bleachers and a wristband to get in the door. The wristband was the only thing really needed as there were maybe a couple of hundred people there when I went so there were plenty of places to sit.
To generalize, the folks who came out for the Friday night game were just happy to be out for the night, seeing something exciting like a hockey game - they were not hockey fans. Not knowing any of the players, not really caring, I was one of (if not the loudest fan when I decided to pipe up. I was also the only one clapping for good penalty kills, of which the Aces had several.
They were facing the Jersey Rockhoppers, a team they clearly outclassed, and dominated much of the game until their starting goaltender got injured. The netminder, Eddie Neville, was ran into and fell awkwardly. He didn't get up. Emergency staff came out to attend to him and eventually players - including the opposition goaltender - helped carry Neville off the ice on a backboard to await an ambulance. When the game restarted Neville's backup didn't fare badly but the game was already well in hand so the forwards let up on the gas a little.
Don't get the low 'Single A' level fool you, these guys have skill. Former junior and NCAA grads, most every one showed some substance but they all had a major deficiency or two that kept them from advancing up the ranks. Several were quite skilled but way too small, the big guys had no skill, speedsters had no hands, many didn't have well developed hockey sense but each and every one worked their asses off. The effort was very impressive, as were some of the goals, the one fight and the play itself certainly had entertainment value.
That proved to be a very good thing as there wasn't much else - no mascot, a chuck-a-puck, the usual blaring arena music and hard-to-hear MC. Aces staff kept walking round handing out slips of paper to remind everyone of upcoming games, deals on tickets, an opportunity to dine with the players and something else I can't remember as after a while all of the flyers looked alike.
While the papers went in the circular file, I did buy a shirt, a puck and a player photo (Neville, since it appeared he was severely injured and I wanted to support the guy). There was a wide variety of shirt designs, which was nice but they had just one kind of hat and - as someone who wears hats daily and owns probably over a hundred ballcaps - the one that they offered was pitiful and ratty looking. The souvenir pucks were black practice pucks with a logo sticker slapped on. Both provided quite the contrast to the quality shirts, hoodies and jerseys that they were selling but I guess everyone has their own priorities.
And if you can make it out, I recommend that you do make it a priority - if not this season then next. The Aces clinched the regular season title in the four team league on the night that I went and from what I gleaned from a flyer, the playoffs are a three game championship series at the end of this month. There are talks of the league expanding for the fall and I, for one, would love to see it (especially if rumours of a Long Island team are true).
While the EPHL clearly lacks the grandeur of the NHL game, it localizes the sport and allows fans to get up close and personal. The players all realize this and sign autographs. After an Aces goal, the scorer went to the boards and high-fived a little kid through the glass. It is the small touches that make the game fun and the Aces were a good time. Highly recommended, even if they are featuring some old geezer this weekend ...