Live from Puerto Rico
If you happen to be home this Saturday night, NHL Centre Ice is showing tonight's exhibition game in Puerto Rico between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. I plan on catching a little of it, if only to see just what hockey in San Juan will look like.
The game marks the first time pro hockey will be played south of Miami.
"It's crazy," defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski said. "Everyone I tell about this trip just shakes their head. They can't believe we're playing in Puerto Rico. I think this is great for the game. If there's hockey in Florida, why not Puerto Rico and the Caribbean? It'll be interesting. It's expanding the game. Someday, there might be a hockey team in Puerto Rico. That would be a cool road trip. It'll be fun to be a part of this one."I'm not sure what the goal call will be... arriba?
The game will be televised in New York and in San Juan, but local interest is said to be tepid at best. There is very little buzz about the game on the island, although the Rangers -- who set up the game -- are trying to drum up interest. The team has been on the island since Thursday, practicing in San Juan's 2-year-old arena while visiting hospitals and sightseeing. The team also arranged to have the game called on Spanish radio.
UPDATE There have not been a ton of wide pans on the rink, but from the few looks there have been, the crowd looks rather sparse for this one. The crowd noise is also as nonexistent as I think I've ever heard for a hockey game of this calibre.
Now, I understand the 'grow the game' mentality of playing many preseason games in different locations, but San Juan just isn't a market that's going to suddenly develop a thirst for hockey. At least the league was paid to play this game.
UPDATE Rangers assistant coach Perry Pearn was interviewed in the first intermission and asked about the shortened training camps for NHL clubs this year. Only four days have been taking out of the schedule, but Pearn says that's enough to really cut down on the amount of practice time these teams have.
The reason? Even with the shortened training camp, the number of preseason games teams are playing this season hasn't been cut down, and several teams have rather ridiculous exhibition schedules.
The Panthers, in particular, have been on a zany journey since camp opened last week:
Sept. 17: A 3-1 loss in Calgary, followed by a bus ride
Sept. 18: A 2-1 loss in Edmonton, and a bus back to Calgary, then catch a cross-country flight
Sept. 20: A 6-3 loss in Atlanta, catch another cross-country flight
Sept. 21: A 3-2 overtime loss in Chicago, after which they flew back across to Puerto Rico
Tonight: Facing the New York Rangers, then yet another overnight flight
Tomorrow: Face the Red Wings in Detroit
Six games in eight nights, all over the map, and it's no wonder coach/GM Jacques Martin hasn't cut a single player from the 41-player roster that came into camp.
After the game in Detroit, the Panthers close out their preseason on Wednesday and Thursday at home.
Even the most optimistic Florida fan can't expect this absurd schedule won't affect the team to start the year.