When you have never been in a luxury box, I imagined it being a magical place like a cross between Hef's Mansion and super executive class on Virgin Airlines. Well, burst my bubble, will ya!
Game 2 of the St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks I was able to hornswoggle my way (thanks to my brother's connections) into a luxury box at GM Place. The suite is in the 500 level so these are the so-called "penthouse" suites. No signs of any Penthouse-like models and obviously being this high up meant you were closer to the roof than the action. Even so the view is a lot better than I imagined. We were in a suite in the corner and the corners are much closer to the rink than the luxury boxes on the sides. This meant an almost bird's eye view of the play.
Within the box itself are 14 seats where fans can sit "outside" and soak up the crowd atmosphere. The front row of (four + four) seats with an aisle between are fronted by a glass wall. That allows for a scary, but great view, and it's something all NHL arenas should consider. "Why not make all front row seat walls even in the upper deck see-through like the ones at the St. Paul Civic Center (the former home of the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints)," adds Wayne Connelly.
The back rows have three seats on each side and directly above that is a bar counter with three stools on each side. So the seating capacity of the luxury box is a de facto 20 but 24 tickets I'm informed can be sold per box.
The one problem with the way the seating is set up is the people in the seats in front of you block your view even more than those leaning on railings do in the upper deck. The huge advantage, though, if you are stuck behind a person with a huge cranium is you are not stuck in that particular seat for the entire game. Even though you are often with total strangers (yes, although corporations rent luxury boxes for employees and clients not everyone will know everyone else) people are cool above shifting around seat-wise. Plus if you are sitting on the stools or standing, it's easy enough to readjust your viewing position.
That vertigo-inducing view does have its good points. By being up high you get a better feel for the ebb and flow of the game. You can certainly see how play develops, especially the breakouts, and your eye is even often able to discern line matchups far better. I can certainly see now why scouts, assistant coaches on the headsets, GMs and wirewalkers like to be high above it all.
Now being in a box I assumed fans there would be more into schmoozing than cheering. That is another myth exploded judging from the box I was in. There were the requisite Trevor Linden lovers in their Linden jerseys albeit in current or vintage retro stick logo jerseys (note to Linden fans: next time get the 1994 Cup run jersey or the one he wore as a rookie), and they cheered as wildly as any of the other fans.
The added bonus, despite the ready availability of booze, not a single person turned into a drunken suburban yahoo. And, yes, the booze, the soft drinks, the water and the food are all inclusive for the jaw dropping (and this is a discounted rate) of $10,000 for the luxury box and the $300+ per ticket. So if you are ever invited to a luxury box, you can leave your wallet at home. Then again even with wads of cash on hand, you might want to eat and drink elsewhere beforehand.
The food mainly leaves a lot to be desired. I heard in other years there was often a nice buffet set out before the game but recessionary times means cashing in the food stamps. Snacks ranged from the incredibly bland (ordinary potato chips--no fancy schmanzy salt 'n' vinegar for you, mateys) to the shockingly cold popcorn. Spicy Buffalo wings and Boston pizza did show up during the first intermission and another couple of pizzas were dropped off during the second intermission. Sadly, if you're looking to be eating peeled grapes and drinking flutes of champagne while dining on filet mignon and Atlantic lobster, this isn't the place.
For your eyeballs, there are TV monitors galore. A bunch hang from the ceilings so fans in the luxury box seats can watch replays or follow the play as it goes along. There is also a ubiquitous flatscreen TV in the room itself so as you lounge on the sofas you can watch the game and...the game...and that's pretty much it. Though the logic of watching a game that you can see live by just turning your head to the left escapes me.
Does the TV show other games? Allow you to change channels and watch "Seinfeld" reruns, if the game gets boring? Pop in a DVD and enjoy the surround sound? Does the main scoreboard HD jumbotron do the same? I rest my case.
Lastly, you need to go to the bathroom? No need to line up with the masses. You have your own toilet in the suite. In fact you need never associate with the rest of the crowd. You enter GM place through your own gate (Gate 10) and can take an elevator up to your suite. In fact, during those ugly winter nights where you bundle up in layers then pray that some fool behind you doesn't spill a beer or expunge anything worse on your clothes is gone in a luxury box even if that same fool somehow is in your suite. The suite comes with a cloakroom to hang up all jackets and coats. What a concept!
As far as the game went, you saw it, Roberto Luongo won it thanks to some posts and crossbars that compensated for a shaky glove hand . The Canucks played well in period one then went into a defensive stupor and allowed St. Loo to skate. Going back to the Gateway City and, if Andy Murray can get the right line matchups, keep your eye on Andy McDonald. He looked like a guy who knows where to go and what to do with the puck. Problem for the Blues is Bobby Lu has had his number so far on those one-timers.
Plus, Canuck fans, after almost 40 years of NHL hockey, here is the rule:
You razz the opposing goalie when he lets in a shaky goal or makes a shaky save. And is "Mason, you suck" and "Mason sucks" really the best you can conjure up after 12 years of the BC education system and maybe even a few years beyond that at Whatsamatta U?