View From the Top: Playoff Hockey From Some of the Best Seats in the House

View From the Top: Playoff Hockey From Some of the Best Seats in the House

When the then-CoreStates Center was built, one thing I often heard was that there wasn't a bad seat in the house. As opposed to the original Spectrum (god rest its soul), which had some obstructed-view areas and generally tough angles from which to see a game, both the upper and lower bowls of the new building were full of great seats and unimpeded vantages. 

Being down in the lower bowl definitely has its advantages. The seats right on the glass provide an amazing in-game experience that will change even the way a lifelong fan views the game, and midway through the section, you get a good mix of the close action and ability to see more of the ice. Upstairs, obviously you'll pay less, and the game is farther away. But the upper deck too has its advantages, particularly the 15th row—the last ring of seats before the rafters. That's where I often find myself when I head down to the now Wells Fargo Center for Flyers games, and where I sat on Saturday night.  

The following are some of my thoughts and recollections from the uppermost reaches of the upper deck. 

Being at the game at all, you miss some of the details, explanations, and extra replay angles. With today's HD telecasts, many cameras, and explanations of game play by guys like Jim Jackson, Bill Clement, and Keith Jones, the fan at home will most often be better able to describe exactly what happened on the ice in a game than the fan in the stands, and sometimes even the media, who are nestled even higher than the highest fan seats. 

For this and other reasons, I was ecstatic to return home Saturday night and see that Rev had put together the recap of the Flyers' 5-4 win to even the series with the Sabres at 1-1. It was a huge game that deserved some specificity, and I didn't feel like watching the DVR'd version right away in order to do it. What follows isn't a recap. More so just a series of small and large experiences from one of my favorite things in life to do—go to a Flyers playoff game. I don't care where I'm sitting. But, I often find myself in the very top row, which has advantages that to me far outweigh the distance from the ice. 

It's probably somewhat appropriate that a writer for a site named after the upper level at Veterans Stadium would feel comfortable in the relative nosebleeds at the Wells Fargo Center. The environment is for the most part entirely different though, and even though you're at the top of the building, you can see a hell of a lot better than the upper deck at the Vet or even Citizens Bank Park (which is also a fine place to catch a game). 

What makes the 15th row feel like home to me is that you can do one thing there that you can't do anywhere else in the building—stand for the whole game. Due in part to some good friends having season tickets up there for the past few seasons, I've been in row 15 for most of the Flyers games I've seen in person lately. Sometimes the faces around us are familiar, others not, but there always seems to be a pretty good bond between the fans up there, especially the standers. I almost don't want to say all this for fear of making it harder for me to get the top row in sold-out games, but if you like to be on your feet the whole game without annoying everyone around you, I highly recommend going all the way up. 

So, on to Saturday night itself. 

WELCOME, SABRES FANS
Although there weren't as many opposing fans as you'd see if a closer geographic rival were in town, there were definitely some Sabres supporters sprinkled among the crowd, wearing some variation of Buffalo's jerseys over the years. It's gotta suck to have that red and black nonsense now, or the Slugres logo as opposed to the classic look they've re-adopted or simply an old Sabres jersey. The interaction was pretty tame in the concourses. Some boos and chants, but no big deal that I saw. 

Our section, however, had a firestarter. A younger guy in a Hasek shirsey was actin' a fool, taunting the people behind him well before the game even started. Needless to say, this resulted in some vocal exchanges. Most of his crew seemed to want nothing to do with it, though they did nothing to stop him from trying to get them all escorted down the steps in some fashion or another. Fortunately, it didn't escalate (ie, no violence etc.), although there maaayyy have been a beer toss that missed its target, and as is often the case, the events on the ice had a certain quieting effect on the visiting fans.

We had a few folks down from Buffalo in our row, and aside from not knowing they were in the wrong section for the first 20 minutes, they were exactly what you'd hope for from visiting fans—silent, polite. Then they left, which was even better. 

GOALS [penalties] GOALS [penalties] GOALS 
Rev's recap noted that the flow of the game was broken up by the ridiculous amount of penalties called in it. Interesting in that the penalties are called for things like obstruction, and what ultimately happened is the game was obstructed by all the stops and starts, which are immediately followed by one team feverishly trying only to clear while the other attempts to take its time and set up the perfect shot.

From high atop the building with a few beers flowing, I wasn't quite as bothered by the intrusiveness of all the calls. We noticed them for sure, and the replays definitely reinforced the ticky-tackiness, but it was a very entertaining game, particularly that six-goal first period. 

How about that JVR? No matter where you were sitting in the tri-state area, you could see this kid becoming a man out there. Overall I liked the intensity I saw from the Flyers. Lots of bodies on the ice going for blocks and selling out to get a poke check. This is what the team was missing down the stretch, and they seem to have found it. Giroux's huge hit was topped only by his sick moves through four guys to beat Ryan Miller.

This after I bemoaned him trying to do too much with the puck… I was happy to be wrong. The place was going nuts and the players seemed to be responding. 

At one point a bird was flying above the ice, and I swore it was the reincarnation of the bat from the Fog Game at the Aud in 1975. 

DOOP
We mentioned on Thursday that there was a good chance the Flyers would be changing their goal song from Bro Hymn to the Doop Song. Unfortunately, we didn't get to hear it in game 1 because they got shut out. But on Saturday, the song rang out early and often. Knowing in advance that it was coming, I was watching and listening for fan reactions to what I consider a pretty substantial change for a crowd with a lot of season ticket holders and regulars. Maybe it was the elation of the Flyers scoring a goal for the first time in the series, but I didn't actually see anyone notice there was different goal music. Then, the same was true for the next goal. And the next after that. 

At the intermission, I asked a few fans what they thought of the new goal song. Not one had noticed. I did the same at the second intermission with the same result. The song seemed to be played a bit quietly compared to Bro Hymn, and without the crowd knowing their role in the celebratory song, I guess it could easily go unnoticed the first few times it's played amidst the hysteria of a Flyers playoff goal. Later though, it seemed a b
it louder, and at least in my memory, they played an extra cut of it following the Flyers' fifth goal after things had settled a bit. 

I'd say it went pretty well all things considered. Changes to things like the goal song can be met with disapproval, especially a change to something the crowd doesn't already love or at least know very well. Doop seemed to be introduced pretty cleanly and without too jarring an effect. Hopefully, as the crowd learns the cadence of the chant, the response will be loud and in unison. Check this one out.

ON TO THE NEXT ONE
With any luck, I'll be in row 15 of some 200-level section this Friday night. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you're on the fence about getting down to a playoff game, I for one have never regretted it, even after a loss. At least that's the way I remember it after walking the concourses amidst a proper post-game celebration.  

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

The Phillies' starting pitching rotation, for the time being, features four arms that were acquired in trades that have coincided with the team's rebuild, which started after the 2014 season.

Nick Pivetta will become the latest to join the group when he is officially activated. He was in the Phillies' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon and was scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, but those plans changed when Tuesday night's game against the Miami Marlins was postponed because of rain.

No makeup date was announced.

The rainout means Pivetta's big-league debut will be pushed back. Vince Velasquez, Tuesday's scheduled starter, will pitch Wednesday night against the Marlins and Jeremy Hellickson will start the series finale Thursday. Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin are likely to stay on turn and pitch Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles. That means Pivetta's debut will likely happen Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Not a bad venue for an unveiling. He does not have to be activated until that day. In the interim, the Phils are carrying an extra reliever in Mark Leiter Jr.

Even with the weather-related change in plans, Pivetta was thrilled to be in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

"I've achieved my goal of getting here eventually," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I'm happy to be here. I want to get my feet on solid ground right now and just take it one step at a time.”

Pivetta is a Canadian from Victoria, British Columbia, about 100 miles northwest of Seattle. As a kid, he watched Toronto Blue Jays' games on television and idolized Roy Halladay. (see story).

Victoria must now be Phillies territory. Michael Saunders, the team's rightfielder, also hails from the town.

"You see it more and more, more Canadians getting into the game of baseball, so it’s always nice to see another one in the locker room," said Saunders, 30. "Clearly he’s pitched well enough to earn his way up here and I’m looking forward to seeing him play."

Pivetta is 6-5, 225 pounds. He was originally selected by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. The Phillies acquired him for Jonathan Papelbon and cash in July 2015.

Pivetta will take Aaron Nola's spot in the rotation. Nola is on the disabled list with tightness in his lower back. He could be back as soon as early next week.

Nola said he probably could have pushed himself and stayed in the rotation, but the team chose to be cautious.

"I don’t think it's any big thing," Nola said.

With Pivetta on board, the Phillies now have four pitchers in their rotation that came over in "rebuild" trades.

Eflin arrived in the December 2014 deal that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers.

Eickhoff came in the July 2015 deal that sent Cole Hamels to the Rangers.

Velasquez came in the December 2015 trade that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

Pivetta did not immediately pitch well upon joining the Phillies organization. He had a 7.31 ERA in seven starts for Double A Reading in the summer of 2015. In 28 1/3 innings, he struck out 25 and walked 19.

Pivetta was a different pitcher last season. He registered a 3.27 ERA in 148 2/3 innings between Double A and Triple A, struck out 138 and walked 51. That performance earned him a spot on the team's 40-man roster.

“In 2016, he showed us the potential to be a really good major-league pitcher,” said Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development. “He was a little excitable after the trade in 2015, but he came back calm and confident last year. His stuff is legit — 93 to 96 (mph) with life on the fastball, good breaking ball and good feel for the changeup.”

His control continued to improve this season as he got off to a 3-0 start at Triple A. He pitched 19 innings, gave up just two earned runs, walked just two and struck out 24.

"Just getting ahead with my fastball," said Pivetta, explaining the early-season success that put him in line for the promotion. "First-pitch strikes are big. Even if I get into that 0-1 count or that 1-1 count, getting back to that 1-2 count is big. So being able to even up those counts have been really big for me, as well, and being able to finish off with my off-speed later in the counts, too.”

Pivetta pitched for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March. He made one start and took a no-decision in the team's 4-1 loss to Columbia. Pivetta worked four innings and allowed one run.

“That helped me," Pivetta said. "It was awesome. It was like having playoff baseball in March."

It's not clear how long Pivetta will stay in the big-league rotation. But he has more than put himself on the map, and if he continues to pitch well, he'll make more starts with the big club this season.

“I did not expect to be here this early in the season," he said. "I am happy to be here right now. I'll see how long I stay and just have fun while I am here.”

Ron Jaworski: Carson Wentz shouldn't 'have any input' in Eagles' 2017 NFL draft

Ron Jaworski: Carson Wentz shouldn't 'have any input' in Eagles' 2017 NFL draft

Should the Eagles give Carson Wentz a say in who they take in the draft?

He is the future of the franchise after all.

"If there's any player on our roster that has insight into a guy in free agency or the draft, it's part of our information gathering," Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said last Thursday.

So the Eagles will at least listen to Wentz — and others — about certain prospects. The second-year QB got a firsthand look at a few receiving prospects during offseason workouts. 

However, former Eagles quarterback and ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski thinks it would be a "mistake" to give Wentz any input into the team's draft decision-making. 

"I don't think the quarterback should have any input in the draft," Jaworski said Tuesday. "Plain and simple. The quarterback should quarterback his football team. I know he'll be a teammate, but the Eagles — like every other team in this league — do extensive scouting. They know what they're doing, they'll select the player they believe is the best player."

Jaws would know -- he made that very mistake once.

"I had someone ask me a question back in 1978 or '79," Jaworski said. "They said, 'Hey Jaws, what do you think the Eagles need?' And I said we could probably improve our wide receiver position. 

"Oh, by the way, Harold Carmichael is one of our wide receivers, the next time I saw him he said, 'Hey, what are you talking about?' So it was a mistake, and I apologized to Harold and that was the last comment I ever made about the draft and my teammates. So I think players ought to shut up and let the front office make those decisions."

To be fair, Carmichael held a little more weight in his day than Nelson Agholor or Dorial Green-Beckham do now. 

Jaworski went on to tell a wild story of his own draft day in 1973 (watch video here), and also made the case for the Eagles to stock up on cornerbacks in the draft (watch video here).