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Last night's Sabres-Bruins game at TD Garden was the "first massive public gathering in Boston" since Monday's marathon bombings, and it was "a proud return for Boston fans," according to Kevin Paul Dupont of the BOSTON GLOBE. The sellout crowd of 17,565 "streamed into the building beginning at 6 p.m., the start of an expanded 90-minute window that allowed security guards to process everyone through the wickets." The evening "fast developed as one part hockey game and equal part city statement of patriotism and pride." The large videoboard over center ice "began to flip through still photographs of Monday's unspeakable torment." Anthem singer Rene Rancourt stepped out "to his well-worn turf just beyond the Zamboni entrance" to begin singing. But by the words, "What so proudly we hailed," Rancourt "turned silent ... instead adopting maestro duties, out there now only to lead the proud, strong voices in the stands" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/18). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Sara Germano noted over the course of the game, "cheers of 'We are Boston' and 'USA! USA!' filled TD Garden" (WSJ.com, 4/17). FOXSPORTS.com's Jon Paul Morosi writes last night was "part vigil, part public adoration for the Marathon runners and first responders, part jamboree to spite the faceless agents of all the pain" (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/18).
EMOTIONS RUN HIGH IN RETURN: ESPN BOSTON's Joe McDonald wrote the pregame ceremony "was amazing," as words "really can't describe the emotion of 17,565 in attendance singing the national anthem." During the ceremony, a "hologram of the blue and yellow 'Boston Strong' ribbon appeared on the ice." The chants of "We are Boston" and "USA" sent an "emotional ripple through the Garden that will never be forgotten by anyone in attendance, including the players from both teams" (ESPNBOSTON.com, 4/17). SI.com's S.L. Price writes Boston last night "outdid even itself." There was the "stunning moment, unforced yet overwhelming," when Rancourt "stopped singing for the first time anyone could remember; the organ died, and Rancourt then conducted 17,565 Bostonians ... as they bellowed, 'The Star-Spangled Banner'" (SI.com, 4/18). NBC's Mike Emrick said before the playing of the National Anthem, “There is some emotion here just that is waiting to burst out” ("Sabres-Bruins," NBC Sports Network, 4/17). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "If a hockey game in and of itself doesn't heal the wounds suffered by this city, this nation, it does provide a place for a community to gather and feel something of normalcy" (ESPN.com, 4/17). In Boston, Shira Springer notes while some fans "expressed hesitancy about attending, it was a loud, enthusiastic crowd primed for an emotional night." The game was in "such high demand that prices on the secondary ticket market skyrocketed." Two hours before puck drop, a "standing-room ticket in the AT&T Sports Deck was going for $175, a Row 14 balcony seat for $185, and, on the most expensive end of the scale, a loge seat at center ice was listed for $595" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/18).
SALUTE TO THE CITY: In Boston, Stephen Harris notes after the game concluded, both teams "gathered at center ice and raised their sticks in salute to the fans." The idea was suggested by Sabres LW Thomas Vanek to Bruins D Zdeno Chara during a "brief meeting at center-ice during the pregame warmup." Bruins LW Brad Marchand said, "We just wanted to say thanks. We want them to know we're thinking of everyone. They're in our thoughts and prayers" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/18). NBC's Emrick said, “Fierce opposition during the game, a unity of purpose that they saw in the whole prelude to the night again at the end.” NBC's Keith Jones: “I love the ending of the game. After the shootout win, both teams staying on the ice. … A very touching moment." It "really summed up the game and the emotions that went into it." Sabres C Steve Ott said, "We were all playing for Boston tonight" (“Sabres-Bruins,” NBC Sports Network, 4/17). FOXSPORTS.com's Morosi writes it was a "classy and elegant way to end the night, a mere two miles and two days removed from fear and chaos." Sabres RW Brian Flynn: "We're two teams going at it, but the most important thing is our country's safety. It was good to show that we respect each other, even though we're playing in an intense game like that" (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/18).
INCREASED SECURITY MEASURES: In Buffalo, John Vogl notes the "game-day atmosphere certainly seemed normal along Canal Street, the food and entertainment strip outside the arena." Patios were "full of Bruins fans" and bar stools were "occupied by fans of both teams." But at the doors of the arena, "heightened security was visible." Clusters of Boston police officers "gathered outside." Inside the doors, fans "passed by arena security guards and armed military police before handing over their tickets" (BUFFALO NEWS, 4/18). NBC's Jimmy Roberts said the security surrounding the game “feels like an Olympics." Roberts: “Here at the arena, things are clearly different as well. Bomb-sniffing dogs and military personnel all over the place. The trash receptacles have all been removed surrounding the Garden here. And it doesn’t matter what kind of credential you have, you don’t just come and go in and out of the building. You have to go through a metal detector and have your bag searched” ("NHL Live," NBC Sports Network, 4/17). ESPN's Steve Levy noted before the game that people were saying that they expected security "to be as tight here at TD Garden as it has been since the 2004 Democratic National Convention.” There were “metal detector wands waving up and down members of the media entering the building prior to the morning skate today," something that "never happens.” Police dogs were “barking in the building” and cars were “being searched inside and out as they enter(ed) the garage that is beneath TD Garden” (“Outside The Lines,” ESPN, 4/17).
BRUINS STEP UP: Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs pledged to donate $100,000 on behalf of the entire organization to the recently established The One Fund Boston. The TD Garden, NHL and NHLPA also will be making a donation in the amount of $50,000 each to show their support, making the combined total of all parties $250,000 (Bruins). YAHOO SPORTS' Les Carpenter notes the Bruins invited 80 of Boston's first responders to last night's game, "gave them tickets and put a spotlight on them toward the end of the second period." The sellout crowd "stood and roared" when they were acknowledged (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/18).
CELTICS DOING THEIR PART: In Boston, Mark Murphy notes the Celtics "realize they are carrying a torch more than ever for their city," but the "total meaning of that representation simply hasn't set in yet." Celtics G Courtney Lee said, "I'm sure our team will do something to get out and help the community. Lots of people will turn toward sports, and we can give them something to cheer about" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/18). The Celtics last night in their game against the Raptors honored victims of the bombings by "adorning their jerseys with a black stripe" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 4/17).
Trail Blazers Owner Paul Allen yesterday said his health is "good," and his doctors "seem to think less is more sometimes," according to Joe Freeman of the Portland OREGONIAN. Allen said, "I have a few minor issues here and there, but not the major stuff." Allen added he has no plans "to sell" the team "in spite of strange reports from unknown places." Allen addressed his health and a number of other issues in a Q&A. Excerpts from the interview follow:
Q: The sellout streak ended this season. How do you feel about fan support and how concerned are you about attendance in the future?
Allen: I think our fan support, given we’re in this mode of, whatever you want to call it -- retooling, rebuilding, whatever -- it’s been great. And of course, with Chris McGowan as the new team president/executive, I think we’re doing a better job connecting with the community. Listening to them. Getting their feedback on how we can improve everything from concessions to game production to every part of what goes into fielding the Blazers and giving the fans a great experience. ... I think it's been pretty great.
Q: How would you assess the first seasons of [GM Neil] Olshey and [coach Terry] Stotts?
Allen: I think they're both doing a very good job. ... I think you saw Terry institute that new brand of basketball to start out the season. I think it’s, as compared to the styles we’ve had previous seasons, I think it’s a refreshing, unselfish style. In terms of what Neil did, I think we did very well on the draft. I don’t think there’s any question about that.
Q: How would you describe the team’s finances and where do things stand with the Rose Garden naming rights?
Allen: I haven’t heard anything new on the naming rights. I think we talk to people from time to time, make presentations. But I don’t think there’s anything new I can report on that front. In the past, we’ve had financial challenges every year. And some huge financial challenges in the past, where we were not so focused on the financial side of things. But now with the new CBA in place, I think all small market teams will be better.
Q: Why have you decided to seek naming rights? Did you have a change of heart?
Allen: Oh, no, no. In the past, we had an alternative strategy that involved pylons that were supposed to be sold that would give at least as much revenue as some additional naming as part of the facility. I came up with the name Rose Garden. So, believe me, I’ve got an attachment to it. But with all franchises, you want the franchise to be in a positive financial footing. ... Whatever transpires, if we find somebody that’s excited about it, that’s part of putting your franchise in a good financial position so you feel good about making other player moves or whatever (Portland OREGONIAN, 4/18).
OREGON TRAIL: In Portland, Jason Quick writes, "History shows Portland and the Blazers are not a free-agent destination in the NBA." Portland is "too white, too wet and too small to attract big-time players." But players and agents said that Olshey "can help level what was once an uneven playing field for Portland because of his background and relationships, which are rooted in coaching and player development." Agent Andy Miller said, "Can he land a top tier free agent? I don't know. But I would tend to give him the benefit of the doubt, because he is more of an entrepreneur, and that mind-set can't hurt. Because in terms of engagement of interaction and communication, he is one of the better general managers in the business." According to the '11 U.S. Census, Portland is the "whitest city in the NBA at 72.2 percent, and has the second lowest African American population (6.3 percent) to Salt Lake City (2.7 percent)." Grizzlies F Zach Randolph, who played six seasons in Portland, said, "It's one of the top organizations, with a top notch owner in Paul Allen, so as far as that goes, it's great. But as far as the town? It's a little different, and people know that." The "lack of cultural diversity became a factor in 2009" when the Blazers were close to signing Magic F Hedo Turkoglu to a $50M agreement, only to be "rejected at the last minute when Turkoglu's wife favored the strong Turkish community in Toronto" (Portland OREGONIAN, 4/18).
Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe in an 80-second video released yesterday said that he is "sorry for suggesting there are two types of Oiler fans: those who buy tickets and those who don’t," according to the CP. Lowe: "We see many of our fans at Rexall Place, but we have hundreds of thousands of fans that never get to Rexall Place. We appreciate each and every fan. I did not make that clear." Lowe "got into hot water with fans Monday for comments he made at a news conference to announce the firing of Steve Tambellini as general manager." The Oilers currently sit 12th in the NHL's Western Conference standings, which led to "pointed questions from reporters Monday on why the Oilers were bringing back the same group of people who have failed in the past." Lowe "fired back that the Oilers know to whom they answer." He said, "We have two types of fans: we have paying customers and we have people that watch the game that we still care about." Some "interpreted the remarks as crass cash-conscious elitism while others suggested it was a clumsy way to differentiate between fans the Oilers can talk to one on one, because they’re in the building, and those they can’t." Lowe: "I must admit my emotions ran a little high" (CP, 4/17).
LOWE'S STANDARD: In Edmonton, John MacKinnon writes many fans "define a change in leadership to be new faces, perhaps younger hockey people, different voices and ideas, a fresh vision." MacKinnon writes, "Part of the package with Oilers Owner Daryl Katz is he wants to win the Stanley Cup" with Lowe and new GM Craig MacTavish, his "colleagues and, more important, his friends." Oilers fans are "long-suffering" and have "had to be patient, in the extreme, suffering through seven straight non-playoff seasons that have been all the more painful after that run to Game 7 of the ’06 finals." And Lowe "rubs salt in their wounds by saying there are two types of fans?" There was "no question he had to apologize for that, and good on him for doing so" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 4/18). In Edmonton, Terry Jones writes Oilers fans, a "significant percentage of them, want somebody to be punished for seven years out of the playoffs and Lowe’s been the boss throughout." The bottom line is Lowe, MacTavish and Senior VP/Hockey Operations Scott Howson will "all have to go if they don’t get the Oilers playing deep into the playoffs sooner than later." Jones: "But put me down as a columnist who believes they’ll succeed and all the fans will live happily ever after" (EDMONTON SUN, 4/18).
The AHL Oklahoma City Barons are last in the 30-team league in attendance, averaging "around 3,500 fans a game," raising the question on whether Triple-A hockey can "succeed in a market dominated by an elite NBA team (the Thunder) and two prominent Division I college programs," according to Michael Baldwin of the OKLAHOMAN. The team is an Oilers affiliate, and there is a "misconception that because of lagging attendance," the NHL franchise will "move its Triple-A team out of Oklahoma City when a five-year deal ends in 2015." Both the Oilers and Barons operator Prodigal Hockey "anticipate picking up a three-year option that would extend the deal through 2018," as the Oilers front office "raves about Oklahoma City." But attendance has "been a disappointment, especially compared" to the CHL Blazers, a team that "disbanded four years ago after a 17-year run." The Blazers in the '90s "frequently drew crowds of 10,000-plus." Baldwin reported there has been "some Blazers backlash," as some "devoted fans preferred lower-level hockey with cheaper tickets, more fights and more stable rosters." A new variable is fans are "emotionally attached to the Thunder." Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said, "The market is different than even the early '90s when the Blazers were a phenomenon. There is more to do. The Thunder is part of that. But it's not just the Thunder. It's cable television. It's the Internet. It's harder to get people's attention." Baldwin noted the Barons have a "hard-core season ticket base of around 2,000 fans" and around 2,500 full-season equivalents, which "ranks in the top half of the AHL." However, the key is "getting the routine fan to attend one of 38 regular-season home games." Barons tickets cost $16-38, and a common suggestion is that Prodigal Owner & President Bob Funk Jr. "should lower upper-deck tickets to $10 or less." Funk said that the Barons "need to average around 4,500 fans for Prodigal to break even" (OKLAHOMAN, 4/17).
Padres President & CEO Tom Garfinkel said that he "deeply regretted" making a reference to Dodgers P Zack Greinke's social-anxiety disorder in a recent talk with Padres season-ticket holders. YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan reports Garfinkel yesterday "apologized" to Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten and "extended the same to Greinke." Garfinkel in the talk on Friday "outlined the festering history between" Greinke and Padres LF Carlos Quentin and "concluded the fastball that hit Quentin's arm was deliberate despite Greinke's claims otherwise." Garfinkel said, "He threw at him on purpose, OK? ... Zack Greinke is a different kind of guy. Anyone seen 'Rain Man'? He's a very smart guy." Garfinkel said yesterday, "I was emotional the day after the game and regrettably, while defending our player, I said some things I shouldn't have, especially as it relates to Zack Greinke. I was out of line and I apologize" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/18).
LOST AT SEA: In Seattle, Nick Eaton noted the Mariners' average attendance of 19,324 is "the worst it's been since 1990." While it is "too early in the 2013 season to make any conclusions" as last night's game against the Tigers was the ninth home game of the year, "what we’re seeing this April is part of a continuing downward trend in the number of people who go see the Mariners play live." Mariners attendance with the exception of '07 has "dropped each season" since '02. But what is "notable is just how few people are going to Safeco now." If the attendance "confirms nothing else, it shows Seattleites are losing interest -- or, at least, patience" (SEATTLEPI.com, 4/17).
FAIR PLAY: In San Jose, Elliott Almond reports the MLS Earthquakes are "teaming with the You Can Play Project that supports equality in sports in response" to F Alan Gordon's "anti-gay remark during last weekend's game" at the Timbers. Gordon received a three-game suspension Tuesday "for his derogatory comment" to Timbers MF Will Johnson. Gordon "apologized for his action after the game and has since said his comment was despicable" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 4/18).
SKY'S THE LIMIT: ESPNW.com's Sarah Spain wrote WNBA Chicago Sky F Elena Delle Donne will "certainly help bring new fans out to Sky games, but it will take more than just a promising new star to keep them." The Sky "need to fight the stereotypes that plague the WNBA." One "big help would be to continue to woo other professional athletes." The team "benefits greatly when big-name male athletes who are in Chicago for the summer head out to Sky games." Hearing prominent male athletes "speak to the talent, drive and hard work of the women's players helps convince doubters to give the team a shot." Sky VP/Operations Michelle Henstock said, "Their opinions and their thoughts really lend credibility" (ESPNW.com, 4/17).