San Antonio, TX The minor leagues are a place that not many a pro sport fan dare to tread. To a realist, the minor leagues do not glimmer with potential, but, rather, reek of failure and a desperate need to cling to an unrealized dream. The fans are different from those at the top. Many of them do not support their teams in the traditional sense, but rather view their local rink as an attraction, like a museum or circus, or a place to take the kids on Sunday afternoon. When the game is over, and the kids are all tuckered out, many of these fans go home, not to check on the scores in the big leagues because, frankly, they don’t care. Many of them will even utter the dreaded words that so many of us in NHL land would start a war trying to deny, “I’m not really a hockey fan.” Now, I know as well as you do that these aren’t all minor league fans, but this was the setting of the last hockey game in the ground portion of my NHL Farewell Tour at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Long ago, and perhaps in a place that only existed in the context of time and history, the American Hockey League was the best show in town. It was also the ONLY show in town. During the NHL Lock Out of 2004-05, the American league was a great place to be a fan. It was almost like watching the big show. The league was littered with displaced NHL talent, and the riffraff were banished to the lowly depths of the double and single ‘A’ pools. That was how the AHL first grabbed me. Coming into the NHL Lock Out, I had hit the age where, as a female, the OHL just seemed inappropriate. The age thing doesn’t matter now, but back then it did. When you’re 19, the last thing you want is some 17 y/o, injured boy hobbling after you on the concourse and telling you that his “ex girlfriend was your age” in a vain attempt to get your phone number. It just was too awkward being in a place like that, and so I went elsewhere.
I took my first AHL trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for no other reason than the fact that the Admirals were the defending champions that year. It was the one AHL fact I knew at that time. My first game at the Bradley Center featured the Admirals playing host to the San Antonio Rampage. It would be my first hockey road trip of many, and so it’s very interesting that San Antonio would be the first and the last team that I would see play in this era of my Psycho road adventures.
I was just going with the flow during my Farewell Tour. I knew for sure that I would be seeing games in DC and Dallas, but where things went from there, I had no idea. The initial idea was that I would give the Arizona Prophecy one last shot. Who knew, maybe something would have jumped out at me while I was back in the desert. Truthfully, I wanted to go to the Sedona vortexes more so than Phoenix, so I guess that will have to wait until another adventure when I am back on your side of the world. By the time I reached the Dallas portion of my journey, I was pretty worn out. If I was to make it all the way to Phoenix for the Oilers game, I would have had to leave right from the American Airlines Center to make it for puck drop the following day, WHICH would also mean that I had to give up the male dancers of La Bare – no thank you!
It really came down to the fact that I lost the will to go to Phoenix. My time in North America was running out, so what good would it have done me to find the guy I was allegedly supposed to find? After all, the Arizona Prophecy could be anything or anyone, and could manifest in a way I can’t possibly foresee. I did mention last season that the prophecy could be something that makes me change my path or habits, and that certainly seems to be the case if you ask me. Perhaps the prophecy is really something I’m supposed to find here in South Korea because of all the bad things that happened in my life because of Arizona. Who knows? I can tell you, though, that I am on the other side of the world now because of the Arizona Prophecy; there is no question about that.
The funny thing was that last season, at my final NHL game of the year in Phoenix, I had set an ultimatum for myself. I was already getting tired of the whole AZ thing. It was stressful, and I didn’t like it. I just wanted things to be back to normal. I had decided that if things went really badly in Arizona, I’d give up on the whole thing and never look back. Unfortunately, the opposite happened, which forced me back on the quest for another tumultuous hockey season. A Coyotes fan had asked me that night if I would be back to Phoenix again. Since nothing bad had happened, I told him I would, but as the words came out of my mouth, deep down I knew I’d never go there again.
It was about a four-ish hour drive from Dallas to San Antonio. I arrived at the AT&T Center about two hours early, and attempted to kill time by stealing the wireless signal coming out of a neighbouring Travelodge – the usual routine. The AT&T Center is in the middle of nowhere, so it was already kind of depressing. It felt worse than going to a game in Kanata, although, at least in Kanata, you are in store for an NHL game and some delicious poutine. You see, I’ve realized that, much like the AHL players, I experience the same feelings of disgrace that the boys do when I’m watching them from the stands. Sure, there are some hockey players that are counting their lucky stars that they have made it to the A, but there are also those whose two way contracts are painful reminders of their inadequacy (especially in the case of the Rampage), and you can feel it on every level. The Rampage are the affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes. So, after all the moves the Yotes made at the trade deadline last season, a handful of full time Coyotes players found themselves demoted to the minors almost permanently. That would suck, eh? Some say it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. I wonder if that translates to the hockey player that gets but a single NHL season under his belt.
As I mentioned earlier, many of the fans at the AT&T Center that night claimed to be Rampage fans and not hockey fans. Many of them didn’t follow the NHL, or any hockey other than the local Rampage games. For those that did like the NHL, only a small percentage were supporters of the Phoenix Coyotes (I know, shock of the century). Many preferred the Stars, and in one special circumstance, the Sens for no other reason than multi-sport bunny, Carrie Underwood. It was really just a depressing environment. As a hockey fan, I felt pretty isolated there, but maybe that’s just San Antonio. I don’t remember feeling that way at any of the other AHL rinks I’ve visited in my rich career of hockey adventures.
The highlights of my night were the discovery of the San Antonio cheesesteak (essentially a Philly cheesesteak but with jalapenos), and the revelation of sexual misconduct puck bunny style. RED ALERT! There is nothing worse than bragging about getting with an AHL player. For one, AHL players are really insecure, which makes them really desperate, and really easy. Sure, they may have been the shit in junior, but now they are much harder pressed to find women who are impressed by their “hockey skills.” When you play major junior hockey, you’re the best of the best, but when you play in the AHL, you’re far from it. For the hardcore puck bunny, bragging about an AHL player just won’t do, so many try to skew the details of their minor league encounters and refer to their kills as NHL talent. Anyway, I knew a girl who would go on and on about this “NHL player” she nailed, it was like the biggest moment in her life or something. So, I was more than greatly amused when he skated passed me that night. Major BURN!
Anyway, after the game, I jumped in the car, tuned into the Coyotes game that I was missing in Phoenix, and attempted to haul ass to the Canadian border – 24 style! Truthfully, I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Roll the credits…
Most memorable road track: Arizona Prophecy 2008-09!