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.  

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

The Phillies are a lifeless team right now.

For a while the starting pitching was the biggest issue, then it was the bullpen, now it's the offense. The Phils have hit .224 since May 12, which was when their 2-7 road trip began. 

Their .268 on-base percentage over that span is worst in the majors and their .613 OPS is better than only the Mariners.

Players up and down the lineup are slumping. Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP since the ninth game of the season. Michael Saunders hasn't given them much at any point. Maikel Franco had an eight-game hit streak snapped Monday, but even still is hitting .221 with a .281 on-base percentage. 

At this point, why not bring up Roman Quinn and play him every day? It makes too much sense right now.

Daniel Nava went on the 10-day DL Monday with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury, but why not use the open space as an excuse to bring Quinn up for at least a few days and see what he's got?

Quinn could infuse some energy and life to the top of a sputtering lineup. Bat him second, play him in the corner outfield and see what happens. At the very least, he'd be a defensive upgrade over Saunders. At the most, Quinn's hunger to stick in the majors could result in a hot streak that sparks the top of the order the way Herrera does when he's hot.

Quinn is hitting lately at Triple A, batting .333 with a .424 OBP over his last 15 games. He showed last September that he can be an offensive catalyst with his ability to beat out infield singles, bunt for hits and spray the ball. Yes, he strikes out too much for a leadoff-type hitter, but it's just hard to see the downside of a call-up right now.

The argument against bringing Quinn up now is that it's too early to sour on Saunders, a player the Phillies signed in hopes of trading at some point. But think about how much Saunders would have to do to have worthwhile trade value. Yeah, you could flip him somewhere for a negligible return or some salary relief, but he'd have to be extremely productive for at least a month to get a team interested in trading a minor-leaguer of any value for him.

Pete Mackanin has tried many things to spark the Phils' lineup, moving Herrera and Franco down, sitting guys, challenging guys. The best solution, perhaps the only solution right now, might be a move made over his head to promote the Phils' speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who has a future with them so long as he stays on the field, which he has this season.

As for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, who have also hit very well at Triple A, they just happen to play the same positions as Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, who have been the Phillies' most reliable bats the last few weeks.

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce is aware of the rumors and reports that have surrounded his name this offseason. 

As much as he might try to avoid them, the Eagles' veteran center does not, presumably, live under a rock. So he's heard for months about the possibility of his long run with the Eagles coming to a close. 

After all, the Eagles have stockpiled an abundance of interior offensive linemen who can play center, and trading Kelce would save the team $3.8 million in cap space. 

So it all makes sense, but Kelce is trying to keep it out of his mind. 

"I think you'll drive yourself crazy if you're reading too much into what's going on," he said on Tuesday as the Eagles kicked off their voluntary OTAs. "My whole offseason has just kind of been really the only thing I can control is my game and the way I play and what I've been doing. So I've just really tried to hit the weight room, work on technique, work on things to try to get my game back to where it used to be."

How is he able to put it out of his mind? 

"Because worrying about it doesn't do any good," he answered.

While the Eagles have Isaac Seumalo and Stefen Wisniewski ready to play center if necessary, head coach Doug Pederson said on Tuesday that Kelce is still "the guy." 

Kelce, 29, was named to his second career Pro Bowl team last season, which might be a surprise to those who watched the Eagles throughout the year. Kelce wasn't as bad as some people think, but he also probably wasn't a Pro Bowl-caliber player. 

He got off to a very slow start in 2016 but did seem to get better as the season went on.  

"I feel at times last year, there were times I was dominant and games where I didn't really do a great job," he said. "You go back and watch film and try to make the corrections, try to make sure that moving forward I'm the same player I was in the past."

Kelce attributed many of his problems early last season to lousy technique. He's been trying extra hard to work on that part of his game as well as in the weight room. 

Often characterized as undersized, he said weighed 295 pounds on Tuesday morning. That's also his listed weight on the Eagles' website. 

All last season, Kelce said he played in the 290s, which was heavier than he had been in a long time. His goal this offseason is to make it up to 300 pounds by training camp, and then he hopes to keep the weight on. 

"I would certainly think so," he said. "As you get older, it gets a little bit easier to put on the weight and hold it on. I think everybody kind of finds that out."

Perhaps the biggest reason for the Eagles to keep Kelce around this season is the development of quarterback Carson Wentz in his second year. Kelce, as his center, might be integral to Wentz's growth. Although Kelce said he doesn't think of it like that when asked if that relationship gives him an advantage over others.  

Kelce has been with the Eagles since 2011 when he was a sixth-round pick out of Cincinnati. He's played and started 78 games in six seasons. 

He admitted last season he needed to play better or he knew he would become expendable (see story). So the rumors and reports this season likely aren't a shock to him. 

He's still not going to pay attention to them. 

"The reality is, we always have guys coming in, coming out," he said. "Now we happen to have a lot of really good depth at interior line. But like I said, it doesn't do me any good worrying about the what-ifs. All I can control is what I can control and that's how I go out and play, how I go out and prepare and how I try to get back to the player I've been in the past."