The definition of an unqualified hockey success? When you run out of cannonballs for goal celebrations – and beer.
As long as you can radio for backup beer, of course.
The Spokane Chiefs’ venture into hockey-in-the-elements – known corporately as the Rockstar Outdoor Hockey Classic – was undeniably a grand slam on Saturday afternoon, and not only because the venue was a baseball stadium.
Perfect weather? Check. Not a drop from the heavens and an opportune dip in the temperature just when the sun threatened to turn the rink into a Slurpee.
Perfect crowd? Check. A chummy 7,075 wedged into Avista Stadium, standing-room only (more on that later).
Perfect outcome? Check. Would you believe 11-2, Chiefs over the Kootenay Ice – and unanimous decisions in three of the four fights?
So complete was the experience for the home club that when the Chiefs were indulging the young fans bellied across the dugout roof afterward – and perhaps trying to postpone the dreaded bus ride to Everett ahead – coach Don Nachbaur held up his phone to capture the moment.
“I was taking pictures from the bench, too,” he said.
Better get the scoreboard in the background, coach.
“Good idea,” Nachbaur acknowledged.
If the weather wasn’t a complete wild card – and the club was obliged to borrow meteorologist Dave Law from KHQ just to give the icetenders minute-by-minute updates – the outcome should have been. The Ice thumped Spokane 6-2 on Friday night in Cranbrook and are one of the Western Hockey League’s elites this season, if not a household name with the ticket buyers who were there mostly for the experience.
“Who are we playing?” a spectator in the left-field bleachers asked his companion.
“The Kootenay something,” she replied.
“I thought Kootenai was in Idaho,” he said.
Possibly the Ice left their game there. It was 4-0 with the game less than 13 minutes old, and it seem that every puck which reached a Spokane stick within 15 feet of the goal was bound for the back of the net.
“I think we made them flat,” Nachbaur said, “like they did to us (Friday) night.”
In any case, the romp was on, and it allowed everyone A) not to have to sweat the outcome and B) go get another beverage. So thirsty was the crowd in the sweltering 45 degree heat that even the center-field concession stand ran out of a couple of brands – the 24-ounce cans, too – and reinforcements had to be summoned.
Otherwise, there was only one dissenting thread that ran through the runaway triumph.
“Hey,” a patron in a field-level seat grumped to Chiefs owner Bobby Brett, “these aren’t good tickets. When you do this next year, you shouldn’t sell these tickets.”
“You have my word,” Brett replied. “We won’t sell those seats next year.”
It may have taken a crowbar to pry his tongue from his cheek. The Chiefs’ organization will long toast its coup in pulling off the WHL’s first outdoor game, but so intense is the effort – and expense – of staging something like this that it won’t be repeated soon, if at all.
Much to the distress of players like 19-year-old Matt Marantz.
“Watching NHL teams do this, I’ve always wanted to,” he said, “and when I heard we were, I couldn’t believe it.
“I’m from Calgary and I grew up on an outdoor rink. There was one right beside my house and probably every day during the winter I played on it. This really brings me back.
“I could do this every game if they wanted us to.”
Even the crushed Ice could appreciate the sentiment.
“Being outdoors with the mountains in the background and the fireworks,” said Kootenay winger Kevin King, “it was pretty cool.”
Turns out the fireworks weren’t simply ceremonial.
Chris and Jack Indgjerd enjoyed the glorious day from seats in the front row – gifts from their daughter’s boyfriend – they thought would be aces. Then they discovered they could only see the players from the belly up, obscured by the sideboards.
“So we just wait until the fireworks go off and we know they scored a goal,” Chris said cheerfully.
“Are they going to run out of ammunition?” wondered Jack.
Funny he should ask. The soldiers operating the cannon in center field actually did exhaust their supply of charges.
“It’s a bitch when you run out of cannonballs,” Brett laughed.
It was about that time that Marantz knocked the 11th puck past an Ice goaltender and the Chiefs’ goal Tarantella resounded over the P.A. system.
On the grandstand concourse, one man strode past a group of fans clapping in time, per tradition.
“Seriously,” he said, “you still gotta do that?”
Sure. Who knows when they’ll get another chance to do it out in the elements?