Sports adventures suit urge to travel

CINCINNATI, Ohio – FORT WAYNE, Ind. – It’s a good thing I love to travel, and over the past 27 years since moving to Tulsa to continue my broadcasting career, I have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit with various local sports teams and the Harlem Globetrotters.

It was my play-by-play duties with the ORU men’s basketball team in the early 1990s that first took me to places around the country to broadcast games. However, since then, I’ve had the good fortune of visiting many places life may not have taken me if it weren’t for this career path.

This past weekend, I found myself in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I’ve been before, but briefly to visit family. I did get to attend a Reds baseball game on one occasion, but have never broadcast a sports event in the city until the Tulsa Oilers played the Cincinnati Cyclones last Friday night. The hockey team plays in the US Bank Arena, which is right along the Ohio River. It is just east of the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, and the Reds’ Great American Ballpark.

It’s quite a setup to have the three sports venues, practically side-by-side, in this area that was once known as the Riverfront Sports Complex. The arena used to be known as the Riverfront Arena and the Reds old “cookie cutter” ballpark was called Riverfront Stadium. That was torn down years ago, and the current home of Major League Baseball’s oldest team is spectacular. There is such a great view from the seats, looking out past the outfield wall, toward the Ohio River and Kentucky, on the other bank.

The US Bank arena has been around since the mid-1970s and is due for a renovation which will begin next year. But, it has some character. The first thing I noticed was there wasn’t a press box. Instead, two rows of tables were set up in Section 211, for the off ice officials and the media. I was told they rarely sell the seats around and behind those rows, however, the next night they were expecting a sellout crowd and were moving the tables to another location on the walkway, because all the seats in Section 211 were sold.

On this night, the Cyclones jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the Oilers in the first period, and it remained that way until the closing minute of play. While on a power play with less than a minute remaining in the third period, and with Tulsa’s goalie on the bench for an extra attacker, the Cyclones scored a short-handed empty net goal to seal the win.

An interesting thing happened to the team roster while here. We left Tulsa with 19 players, and in the ECHL each team is permitted to dress 18 for the game. We traveled overnight, and arrived a day early. The next morning, game day, two players were called up to the Winnipeg Jets AHL affiliate in Manitoba; Axel Blomqvist and Jimmy Lodge. That gave Tulsa 17 players, but with Andrew Johnston meeting the team at the hotel, completing a trade with Indianapolis, we dressed 18 for the game. Then that night after the game, two more players were called up to Manitoba; Brennan Serville and Jiri Fronk. That left Tulsa with only 16 players to face Fort Wayne the next night.

While in Cincinnati, I did get to enjoy a couple of very good restaurants; both were a bit pricey. There’s a Mexican restaurant downtown called Nada’s, at the corner of 6th Street and Walnut. Their fish tacos and crispy pork belly tacos are fantastic. My cousin recommended breakfast at a French bistro on Vine Street – A Taste of Belgium. I had a wonderful waffle that was exactly like what I enjoyed on my trips to France. They were so good, I splurged and bought several to bring home with me. I also enjoyed a banana and Nutella crepe, with a great cup of coffee.

After the game in Cincinnati, we traveled on to Fort Wayne – my first time to this city in Northeast Indiana. The Comets play in the Allen Country War Memorial Coliseum.

One odd thing about this arena is the visiting team’s bench is on one side of the ice, while the home bench and penalty boxes are on the other side of the rink. That’s a very strange set up, and I don’t think I’ve seen it that way anywhere else. Another interesting fact is this building was expanded several years ago, but instead of being expanded outward, it was expanded upward with the roof literally raised all at one time and then the upper levels were built to meet the roof.

My broadcast vantage point in this arena was on the seventh level – that meant riding in two different elevators just to get to the very top of the coliseum. This may have been the farthest up and away from the ice I’ve ever been for a hockey broadcast, but it really was a great view and a very comfortable press box facility.

The hotel we stayed in is right across the street from the Coliseum and next to the IPFW campus. The Mastodons of IPFW are members of the Summit League with ORU.

Unfortunately, the Tulsa Oilers lost for the second night in a row, falling to Fort Wayne, 2-1. This weekend, the Oilers will be on a three-game road trip with a pair of games at Evansville, Friday and Saturday, then a game at Missouri on Sunday.

FOLLOW UP…

As an ironic follow up to last week’s column, on Saturday night against the Oilers it was Breast Cancer Awareness night and the Komets were wearing pink uniforms that were going to be auctioned after the game to raise funds for breast cancer research. The last time Tulsa played at Fort Wayne, during the 2012 CHL season, it was also “Pink in the Rink” night.

The next specialty jersey night for the Tulsa Oilers will be the next home game on March 18, as they host the Missouri Mavericks. The Oilers will wear purple jerseys in honor of the Alzheimer’s Association, and the proceeds from the jersey auction will go to the charitable organization. Plus, fans can save $15 buy purchasing Plaza Level tickets for only $15 with $5 going to the Alzheimer’s Association.