Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Finally....The First Of The Envelopes, Please

The worst thing about going away for 30 days is that when you return, there’s 30 days worth of things to catch up on. 30 days of dust to wipe off the floor, 30 days of e-mails to respond to at work, 30 days of time with the family to make up. You get the picture. But now I’m caught up and it’s time to hand out a few awards.

Let me establish something a few things right up front. My views are subjective, so there's no whining allowed! Plus I’m going from memory, which fades fast at my age! And this is not like those grade school awards where everyone wins a prize. If you don’t see your team, don’t cry yet, as I’ll be adding plenty more awards to the list.

With disclaimers out of the way, let’s get going!

The Game Seven Award for best atmosphere goes to Montreal’s Bell Centre. With Henri Richard on ice pre-game and Carey Price’s home debut, the atmosphere in the building was simply electric. South of the 49th parallel, St. Louis takes the cake.

The Abandoned Airplane Hangar Award for lack of atmosphere goes to Washington, who narrowly edges out Florida for the bottom spot, simply because it was a Saturday night and the fans still sat on their hands all evening.

The Archie Bunker Award for most comfortable chair goes to my seat behind the net at the Nassau Coliseum. It was deep and so comfy, I didn’t want to get up. Plus the beer vendor visited regularly, so I didn’t have to!

The Don Rickles Award for best insult goes to an unnamed fan in Edmonton. The heckler wasn't happy with Minnesota enforcer Derek Boogaard. he yelled, "Hey Boogaard, I'm gonna take your mother out tonight (insert long pause here)....and never call her again!". Esoteric, yet effective.

The Pink Floyd Award for best imitation of The Wall, goes to Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Edmonton’s Mathieu Garon, who stopped every shot in their 0-0 tie (Yes, I know Ales Hemsky scored in the shootout to give the Oilers a win, but a scoreless tie sounds like a better story)..

The Takeru Kobayashi Award (Part 1) for best hot dogs eaten (all four of them) goes to the Chien Chaud at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The Knife & Fork Dog in Dallas is right up there too.

The Takeru Kobayaski Award (Part 2) for the hot dog that came back out the same place it went down goes to the one I ate in Edmonton. (Although I did receive a call later from the head of operations at Rexall Place, who was genuinely concerned about my health, and maybe it was just the chicken I ate at a restaurant earlier).

The Ron Burgundy Award for best TV interview goes to Steve Coates, host of Coatesy’s Corner on Comcast in Philadelphia. We talked about everything but hockey and I couldn’t keep a straight face!

The Garrison Keillor Award for best radio interview goes to Adrian Harewood at CBC in Ottawa. His erudite style, perceptive thoughts and snappy questions made me feel like Dan or Casey in Aaron Sorkin’s underrated TV show, “Sports Night” as I responded. You can listen here, look for the Nov 6th show.

The Monty Python Award for silliest name goes to Nashville for the Sommet Center. The “T” is silent in Sommet, as are most people when asked what does Sommet mean? Honorary Mention goes to the Arena where the Coyotes play. Have you been jobing lately?

That wraps up the first few awards.

For those of you with HD TVs, HDNet will be running a feature on my Philadelphia Flyers visit tomorrow night (Thursday 12/13) at 6.30pm Eastern. I haven’t seen it yet, but we had lots of fun taping it, and hopefully that will come across on the air! The NHL Network will rerun the show later for those of us without HD.

David Amber from also did a wrapup interview with me that you can read here.

More awards are on the way….. Click the little orange button to get an RSS feed when I update the site.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rankings Are Tough To Complete...

Now that 30 Games In 30 Nights is over and done, I planned to rank the attributes of each arena, but that's no easy task, so the heck with it, at least for today! Here’s a quick story from each city that I forgot to mention the first time around. This will buy me some time while I finish compiling my thoughts on each team and arena, right?


Most of the Wings had pink tape on their stick blades during warmups, and I was waiting to see if anyone was brave or manly enough to leave it on for the game. No such luck.

Los Angeles

The Staples Center is the only arena with genuine Taito drummers instead of an organist. A super cool sound.


I went out on a limb and tried fish tacos at the concession stand. They weren’t so good, and I pretty much stuck to my hot dog diet after that game!

NY Rangers

Every franchise should copy the Rangers players gathering at center ice after a win and saluting the crowd with a wave of their sticks. Just like shaking hands after the playoffs, it’s one of those traditions that bond the team to their fans. Of course, I’d have preferred that the Rangers would have lost the game to Tampa Bay, then I wouldn’t have seen the salute until I got to Minnesota, where the Wild do the same thing.


OK, I promise not to mention hot dogs again, but the “chein chaud” in Montreal, served fresh in butter toasted buns that were split at the top, were the best I sampled and I’d kill for one right now

New Jersey

On my to the game, I was pulled over by a New York State Trooper for talking on my cell phone while driving. I’m from Florida, and had no idea it was illegal. He said, “You’re lying because I saw you hang up the phone when I pulled you over”. I told him, “Of course I hung up; I was being pulled over by a cop”. I showed him my Florida license and registration, but he could care less, and I got my first ticket since 1985!

NY Islanders

While some venues have a plaza full of activities for the kids, the Islanders’ idea of pre-game entertainment consisted of one solitary bounce house, manned by a creepy-looking guy who scared away any kid who came near it!


The Stars wore their road whites for the game, and I thought to myself, wouldn’t it look cool if they wore matching white pants as well? Think John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” on skates! The Capitals wore white pants for a while back in the ‘70’s, and Charlie Finley’s California Golden Seals wore white skates before that. Tom Hicks, whaddya say?


Plenty of Ducks fans made the trip out to Arizona and one turned me on the best beer I tasted on the road, Oggi’s California Gold Blonde Ale. I wonder who Oggi is?


The Blue Jackets presented me with a customized jersey (#30 of course) with my name on the back. I was hoping for some skates so I could sneak out on the ice for warmups, but no such luck! More musical notes….as the Blues’ Jay McKee was sent to the penalty box for hooking, they fittingly played “He’s In the Jailhouse Now”, an old country song from the 1950’s.


I truly can’t remember anything else interesting that happened in Sunrise. If I write a book about my trip, it will be the shortest chapter! Ooh ooh Mr. Kotter, I just remembered something. In the bowels of the building, I got to see what the NHL officials do at the game.


As the Sens lined up for the national anthem, six little skaters joined them on the ice and one stood next to each player, which was a touching image. Then they skated off and the fans started booing Mats Sundin loudly. Game on!


I know that The Igloo is a throwback building with old school fans, but I was still surprised when the entire building started doing the wave! I must confess that after a couple of laps, I actually joined in too! Is it true that Seattle Seahawks fans invented the wave back in the old Kingdome?


A photographer from The Hockey News brought me out onto the ice before warmups to take my picture, and I had to wear those goofy black slip-on straps under my shoes, so that I wouldn’t fall on my butt and sue the crap out of the Bruins.


Poor Jay McKee. This time, when the St. Louis defenseman was sent to the penalty box to feel shame, Elton’s John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”, blasted over the sound system. A nice subtle touch from the Blackhawks.


The Verizon Center is surrounded by dozens of trendy bars and restaurants, but I never got to try them out because I was so late arriving. Plus the parking garage closed right after the game, so our postgame drink to celebrate the Lightning’s lone victory was not in some funky downtown dive, but at the bland Ruby Tuesday’s next to our hotel


Erin from the Avalanche was so nice to me and invited me to ride on the Zamboni, but I had to say no. To me, Zamboni rides are for little kids and pretty girls. I couldn’t imagine that the sight of a 190 lb middle-aged guy strapped to the side of a giant ice-making machine would be appealing to the crowd! Erin, I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings, but you did have a sad look on your face!

San Jose

When I saw San Jose play in Detroit on the first night of my trip, Kyle McLaren was wearing a neon yellow Day-Glo visor, and didn’t play very well, but tonight he was wearing a regular clear visor and played much better. Note to hockey parents, keep those yellow highlighter pens out of your kids’ reach, they don’t help!


Are they that short of cash in Calgary that they have to show regular TV commercials on the Jumbotron? Guess they’re saving up for Dion Phaneuf‘s next contract. Man, he’s a solid hockey player.


In my blog, I forgot to thank Wes, the Canucks fan who invited me to the game with him. We had fun at GM Place, and even more afterwards at the bar. Somehow, I got on the SkyTrain, found the right bus and made it safely back to the Delta Airport hotel with the fluffy towels.


For the dozens of you who asked, yes I really did get sick on the plane after the game. I felt so bad for the poor lady next to me, who was so traumatized she may never fly again!

St. Louis

I didn’t even wear my jersey to the game, as I felt so tired and miserable that I didn’t want anyone to recognize me. The Blues souvenir store was the best (and most crowded) I encountered, but I forgot my money and credit cards in the hotel room, so I couldn’t even buy anything.


Before my trip, I probably hated the Flyers more than any other NHL team, but their staff and players were so nice to me that now I only hate them just a little bit! Look for a feature about my Philly visit on “Inside The NHL”, which will air on HD Net and The NHL Network in December. I’ll post the exact dates when I find them out.


Right before the faceoff, a speedy little kid skated out with flag in hand, circled the ice, executed a fancy hockey stop spraying snow everywhere and planted the flag pole right into the ice on the red line. Very cool move, now if I could only remember what flag he was carrying?


His mother named him Vaclav Prospal, but props to the Atlanta PA Announcer for calling him Vinny Prospal, just like we do in Tampa, after he assisted on Vinny Lecavalier’s goal.


If you’ve been to an NHL game lately, you’ve seen the auctions of autographed memorabilia that most teams hold on the concourse to support their charitable foundation or other deserving cause. Most items sell for $300 and up and probably generate $3,000-$5,000 nightly. But think carefully before you bid in Toronto, as there is no charity involved! It looks like the money just goes straight in the team’s pockets to help pay Pavel Kubina’s $5,000,000 annual salary.


I didn’t see the “Beef On Weck” sign until I’d stuffed myself with a foot long dog, and still had to leave room for some wings at the Anchor Bar , so I never did find out what “Beef On Weck” is. Actually, I get the Beef part, but what’s the Weck? It sure looked good! I have no idea how, but I managed to lose five pounds on this trip, despite my diet. Perhaps it was the free fruit for breakfast at the Hampton Inn.


I never did get to eat any turkey on Thanksgiving Day in Nashville, although I did get to watch 43 year-old Dominik Hasek flap around like a bird trying to avoid the carving knife!


What can I say about Carolina that hasn’t been said already? How about, “I really like their new red uniforms with the extra white pinstripe under the nameplate.” That’ll do.

Tampa Bay

I must thank Bill Wickett and the rest of the Lightning PR staff, who appreciated every aspect of my 30 Games In 30 Nights journey, and provided me with quality assistance, solid advice, good contacts and great company during my time on the road.

I’ll rack my brain and come up with some bests and worsts of my trip over the next few days, so hang in there!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Best 30 Days Of My Life!

30 Games, 30 Nights, 30,000 Miles. Now I’m ready for 30 hours of sleep! I arrived home after midnight and slept for 13 hours. You have no idea how good it felt not to hear an alarm clock today!

Yesterday was my 30th and final game back home in Tampa Bay as the Lightning hosted New Jersey. The Devils have eliminated the Lightning from the playoffs twice in the past five years, but there isn’t the same animosity toward them as there is when the Flyers or Panthers come to town. To make a long story short, The Devils won 3-2, although the Lightning had the tying goal disallowed on a review from the war room in Toronto. I must admit, they made the right call as players, goalies and sticks crashed into the net, but somehow the puck never crossed the line.

The Lightning have been supportive of my trip from the beginning, and they invited me on to the ice before the game to say the invocation. I mean the three magic words you hear before every game in Tampa (and Minnesota too), “Let’s Play Hockey!” Standing out there while the anthem is playing and looking up at the thousands of fans sent tingles down my spine, and I imagine the players feel the same way.

Similar to the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, most of the fans enter the St. Pete Times through one main entrance, which adds to the allure of any building. After a big win, there’s no better feeling than walking down the twin giant stairways into the plaza along with thousands of cheering fans. The open plaza is filled with activities for kids of all ages before the game. There’s always a live band playing, and I remember bopping to Cheap Trick out there before a playoff game a couple of years ago. There’s even a snow machine set up on the roof of the building that sprinkles snowflakes over the plaza, a nice touch when its 80 degrees outside.

The Lightning invited a bunch of friends and I to sit in Club Level seats and treated us to dinner before the game. Most arenas have a fancy restaurant where privileged ticket-holders can eat buffet-style before the game. In Pittsburgh, I ate at the Igloo Club which had potato and mushroom croquettes to die for. Tampa Bay’s buffet restaurant is called Medallions, but this buffet is no tacky Golden Corral, we’re talking succulent roast beef, grilled sea bass, tasty veal medallions and a huge selection of sugary desserts. Plus the biggest, freshest shrimp I’d ever tasted. After an hour of non-stop gorging, Bronner, Carmen, Cary, Heather, Larry, Mike, Paul, Paula, Susan and I were stuffed, But fear not, I deliberately saved room for a hot dog later in the game!

Inside, the St. Pete Times Forum was plainer than I remembered, especially compared to themed buildings like those in Dallas and Minnesota. I had my 30 Games jersey made up at the customized jersey booth inside the arena before my trip started, and the guys at the booth greeted me with high fives as they were so excited that their handiwork had been shown off all across the country.
The scoreboard in Washington was the best I'd seen so far, but the one above center ice in Tampa is simply spectacular. They shoot all the in-arena footage in HD and it's like watching a movie on the huge wraparound scoreboard. But with the HD cameras, that show every wrinkle and imperfection, I probably looked like Rod Brind'Amour when they zoomed in on me as I did the "Let's Play Hockey" thing! So I won't show that sight, I'll show you this good-looking view instead.

New this year in Tampa is the Five Guys stand. This chain started in Washington and serves burgers that are too greasy for my liking, but I love their bacon cheese dog! They slice the dog open before they grill it, and the bacon is super crispy. Mmmm mmmm good. The St. Pete Times Forum has a number of name brand concessionaires. Only in Tampa can you grab a medium rare steak from Outback and eat it in the comfort of your seat.

On my trip, I saw eight Tampa Bay games, and the Lightning went 1-7. That was disappointing, but I’m sure I had more fun watching the games live and experiencing each arena than if I’d had to watch those depressing games at home on TV.

I haven’t mentioned Vincent Lecavalier as much as I should have. He’s the leading scored in the league and for those of you, especially in the Western Conference, who haven’t seen him play in person, you must buy tickets when the Lightning come to town. Vinny has matured into the most solid player in the league. You can see on TV that he has wonderful hands and a wicked wrist shot, but you can’t appreciate how strong he is without seeing him in person. The goal he scored in Carolina on Friday night while shrugging off Bret Hedican who was trying to tackle him like a linebacker was simply unbelievable!

My trip is over, but I’ll continue to share some thoughts on this site for a while. I’m going to go through my notes and rank the teams and their arenas in a number of categories, share a few more stories that I didn’t have time to write about, and thank a number of wonderful people who made this trip special.

Planning, traveling and watching 30 Games In 30 Nights has been the most gratifying challenge I’ve ever attempted in my life, and to have succeeded is a sensational feeling. I have had a smile on my face every night, still feel like a million bucks, and look forward to one day being the doddering guy telling my 30 Games In 30 Nights story to my grandchildren, great-grandchildren and any one else in the old folks home who will listen!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hockey In The Deep South, Lightning In Deep Trouble

After visiting 28 arenas, I thought I'd seen it all, but there is one sporting tradition that I hadn't seen at a hockey game until today......tailgating! Honest-to-goodness chicken-grilling, beer-drinking, burger-flipping, whiskey-sipping tailgating! Surrounded by Carolina pines, the RBC Center is stuck in the middle of nowhere and the parking lot was filled with BBQ grills, pickup trucks, potato salad and 18-packs of Busch! Perhaps I should have just stayed outside freezing my butt off and drinking heavily with my new friends, so I wouldn't have had to watch the Lightning blow their second straight two-goal lead in the third period.

This one was painful. The final score was Carolina 4 Tampa 3, just the same as in Atlanta on Monday night. Deja vu all over again!

I felt as though I was in hillbilly hockey heaven. Hell, they showed Ric Flair on the scoreboard more often than Cam Ward! The dozens of retired NC State basketball jerseys on the ceiling dwarfed the Hurricanes Stanley Cup banner. And the crowd was remarkably unaware that coming back from 3-1 down in the 3rd period deserves a serious standing ovation.

Some random thoughts...I cracked up when I saw this. One of the arena billboards in the RBC Center was for I haven't been to the site, so I'm not sure if it describes how Carolina distributes game tickets or the Hurricanes defense plays on their bumpy ice! On the bright side, I had an aisle seat and didn't have to get up once for my rowmates to go to the bathroom during the game! And is there any doubt that Rod Brind'Amour is the ugliest pro athlete since Jim Plunkett? Perhaps that's why he wins so many faceoffs.

In a few arenas, the home team fans yell during a word of the Star Spangled Banner that relates to their team. In Dallas they yell, "Whose broad stripes and bright STARS through the perilous fight". It scared the crap out of me when I heard it the first time! In Atlanta you hear, "Gave proof through the NIGHT that our flag was still there". That's a throwback to the days when the IHL Atlanta Knights were the only game in town, so I appreciate that one. Here in Carolina they borrow the concept from NC State with, "And the rocket's RED glare". Did I mention that famed Irish tenor, Ronan Tynan performed "God Bless America" in Buffalo? He's good, but he's no Kate Smith!

Ray Whitney of the Canes is such a wonderful playmaker, and Erik Cole looked strong in his first game back from his latest injury. With Cory Sarich and Nolan Pratt (who I saw in a Sabres uniform the other night) gone, the Lightning defense looks afraid to go down and block shots like they have in past years. Other than Sugar Shane O'Brien and Mike Lundin, who show flashes of how good they'll be in a couple of years, this is a mediocre group indeed.

Am I bitter tonight, yes! My team blew it again and I'm in a crappy mood. So Carolina fans, if I have offended you with my description of tonight's game experience, I'm sorry. Just take solace in the fact that we handed you the victory tonight! Two points for you, none for us.

In a few hours, I'll be heading home to make history as Tampa Bay takes on the New Jersey Devils. 30 Games, 30 Nights, 30 NHL Arenas. They've been the best 30 nights of my life, and I hope you've enjoyed following along. It's taken me less than an hour to write most of these blog entries and there are lots of stories that I haven't had time to share. My life has been a blur, but once I return to Orlando I'll have time to tell you a few more, so don't go away yet!

Nashville - No Stars, But Enough Goals

Brooks & Dunn weren't at the game, and Hank Jr. was nowhere to be found, but I did see Jason Arnott, Martin Erat and Radek Bonk put the puck past The Dominator in Nashville's thrilling 3-2 victory over the Red Wings at the Sommet Center. This was a game that was so exciting, I didn't want to see it end.

The Predators served me a big helping of Southern hospitality, as the bubbly and vivacious Gerry was my hostess for the evening. She sat me in the Predators luxury suite for the opening period and I got to eat as many preztels as I wanted! Detroit had six power plays in the period, including two 5-on-3 chances, but amazingly the Preds hung in there against Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom et al, and it was 1-1 after one!

Perhaps I was causing too much trouble in the suite, because for the second period, I went up to Section 303, where the loudest fans sit. I promise you this, you will never hear more original chants than those in Section 303. Because I was new, they even gave me a printed cheat sheet so I could join in with the abuse. Here's a couple of my favorite chants:
To the ref, in unison, "Zebra, zebra, short and stout, find your head and pull it out!"
After a big hit, one guy yells, "Somebody get a building permit", and the rest of the section yells, "Cause he just got nailed!" You get the picture. Section 303 even has their own website and I had lots of laughs up there.

The Preds hooked me up with a seat on the glass for the final period, and all the action was down my end, as the Wings desperately tried to beat Chris Mason (another #30) in the Nashville net. No luck, and the Nashville fans were delirious at the sound of the final whistle!

There were more empty seats than I had expected for a Detroit game, and I was told that the team had raised prices for this and a few other big games, which kept some fans home. Heard a great nickname for the transplanted fans that wear Nashville jerseys to the games but wear red and white when Detroit comes to town - Pred Wings fans!

The building is pronounced the So-May Center, with a silent T in Sommet, as in French, but I never did find out who or what Sommet is! Something to do with financial services would be my guess. The arena was nothing special to look at, but they did have a live rock band, the Naked Beggars, playing in the seats behind the goal, that was a first! And props to the VeeJay for playing a timely clip from an old Kung Fu movie, where the warlord says to the prisoner they're torturing, "Take him to Detroit", and the prisoner screams, "No, not Detroit, aaarrggh!"

Forgot to add this to my Buffalo blog, but here's the video of my fun intermission interview Buffalo.

I made it to Carolina and am heading over to the RBC Center for my penultimate game tonight, where the visiting Lightning need a big win. After 29 days of travel I still feel remarkably fresh. I guess if you're doing what you love, you can just keep going and going and going!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wins And Wings In Buffalo

Remember how I told you that Mother Nature is a hockey fan? For the entire 18 hours I was in Buffalo, the temperature was in the mid-30s, and it was raining like a banshee! They must have received at least a couple of inches, and as one inch of rain equals one foot of snow, I was just a few degrees away from being stuck in two feet of snow. She IS looking out for me! It was just beginning to freeze as my plane left early this morning, and the rain was predicted to turn to sleet, then snow and continue throughout the day.

I arrived at the HSBC Arena two hours before game time and hoped to find a parking garage, so I wouldn’t drown as I walked to the arena. No such luck, but there was a lot directly in front of the building, and parked and I sprinted the 40 yards to the arena entrance like a rookie at the NFL combine, and made in about six seconds flat (wind-aided).

Sabres fans don’t like the Ottawa Senators, especially after their recent playoff battles, and as soon as Michael Ryan stuffed a goal past Ray Emery just ninety seconds into the game, the mocking chant of “Eeemmmmmerrrrryyyyy “ rang down from the rafters, and when the period was done, the Sabres had a 3-0 lead. Buffalo never looked like they were in trouble and coasted to an easy 4-2 victory.

Buffalo has long been thought of as “a shot and a beer” town, and I knew the crowd would be passionate, as I’d been having a really hard time getting hold of a ticket, but didn’t have lofty expectations for the building itself. So I was quite surprised that the HSBC Arena had the biggest entrance foyer I’d seen to date. Visually, it was akin to an airport terminal with glass and steel towering all around, but the green floor looked like a blackboard filled with “X”s, “O”s and arrows like a coach drawing up plays. Quite an innovative look.

As I was stuffing down a foot-long chili cheese dog, next to a father and his daughter, we started chatting about my trip and he told me he was a lieutenant with the Buffalo Police. He asked me if I was going out after the game, as the night before Thanksgiving is supposed to be a huge party night in Buffalo. I said I was, and he handed me his card, telling me that if I got in any trouble tonight, this would get me out of it! I need a friend like him back home in Orlando!

I could even afford a shot and a beer, as the concession prices seemed the lowest of any arena. The large beer that was $13 a hundred miles away in Toronto was only $6 in Buffalo. I passed on the shot, as I was to be a guest on the MSG broadcast between periods with Kevin Sylvester and Mike Robitaille.

I made up for it after the game, when I went to the famous Anchor Bar with Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell, the local guys who have been to all 121 major pro sports venues over the past few years. I got back to the hotel at 12.30 am, and when I awoke at 5.05 am, Andrew had already updated his blog with a blow-by-blow account of our night out, saving me from having to write about it here! Lots of people ask me what’s next after I finish my trip… about 121 Games in 121 Nights….Hmmmmm? Never say never!

Since I began this trip, I’ve developed a fondness for goalies who wear number 30, like Martin Brodeur, Pittsburgh’s Dany Sabourin, and a couple of others. Add Buffalo’s Ryan Miller to that list. As I was milling about by the bar on the club level, an attractive dark-haired woman stopped me and introduced herself as Ryan Miller’s mother, so we chatted for a while. During the intermission, I hear the unmistakable staccato intro to “The Chicken Dance”, and the camera keeps cutting to this lady standing up, flapping her arms and leading the crowd throughout the song. Yep, you guessed right, Ryan Miller’s Mom was doing the chicken dance! Pretty funny, as I’m sure most of the crowd had no idea who she was!

Relax Ottawa fans, Chris Neil seemed to be on good behavior last night, so I couldn’t find anything bad to say about him. Although I do find the caption to this picture quite fitting!

It’s Thanksgiving Day and I’m in Nashville now listening to Arlo Guthrie sing Alice’s Restaurant, as I do every year at this time. It’s the ultimate Thanksgiving song, “you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant, excepting Alice....”

The Predators take on Detroit tonight in Game 28 and I’ll look for a turkey leg at the concessions stand!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Leafs Fall Asleep Late, Just Like Me!

For the first time in a couple of weeks, I slept late this morning, just like the Maple Leafs did last night. After taking an early 2-0 lead, Toronto fell asleep and let the Bruins skate by them for four unanswered goals late in the game.

The Toronto media were whining that it was poor form for Boston to start rookie goalie, Tuukka Rask (what a great name) in his first NHL game in front of Maple Leafs managment, who they traded him from Toronto to Boston in exchange for Andrew Raycroft, who has been so weak in the Leafs net, they were forced to trade high drafts picks to get Vesa Toskala from the Sharks instead. Rask looked a bit shaky, but made some big saves to get the win.

The Air Canada Centre is built to maximize every possible revenue stream. The platinum seats down low have individual private boxes behind them. You can't see the game from in there, but you can eat and drink to your heart's content. There are, private boxes, skyboxes, luxury boxes, every kind of box imaginable. Hey, there were even a few seats left for regular fans too! Toronto is still a tough ticket, despite not winning a cup in 40 years.

My seats were up in the 300 level, courtesy of my new friend Geoffrey, who gave me a thorough tour that included every nook and cranny of the building, from the locker room hallway, to the aforementioned suites, to Rickard's Brewery where they make beer. This unauthorized tour was possible because Geoffrey seemed to know every single usher in the entire arena, who waved us through every door with a smile. We were an odd pairing as we walked around the concourse, fans greeting me, and ushers gushing over him!

I bought a $13.00 beer at the ACC, a record that I'm sure won't be beaten. It was a big beer, and it was Molson Canadian, which tastes great, but it was still a $13 beer!

Here's a picture from the game that seems to sum up my trip pretty well!

I have an easy drive down to Buffalo today and with just four games left, I'm beginning to think about what happens after my trip ends on Saturday. I'm trying to imagine what my own bed feels like, but I just can't remember!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Finally, I See A GREAT Hockey Game

What is a Thrasher anyway? I assume it's the modernist dino-bird on the roof of the Philips Center that shoots fire from its mouth whenever Atlanta scores. Tonight, my eyebrows were singed once too often as the Thrashers came back from 3-1 down to burn my Lightning 4-3 in OT.

From start to finish, this was just a great hockey game, the best I've seen all month. With Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa on the ice, the skill level was unbelievable. No trapping, no holding, no dumping, just great passing, solid goaltending and stars doing what they're supposed to do on national TV. We Southeast Division fans get to see this skill regularly, and I hope the Versus audience appreciated what they saw. After a week of grinding, trapping and headhunting in the Western Conference, it was great to see these stars in action!

The stands weren't anything close to full, but the fans were loud and the overall experience was much better than I expected. Atlanta outplayed Tampa in the first period, winning all the battles, but Moose Hedberg gave up a couple of costly rebound goals in the second. I was feeling confident until the Thrash got a 5-on-3, courtesy of ref Dave Jackson, who is by far the worst official in the league (not just because of this call, but hundreds of others over the years). He wears the number 8 on his back, and I think it represents the number of calls he gets right each year! I'll blame the Lightning defense for the last two goals, as the d-men simply let the wingers skate around them twice. Why don't defensemen stand forwards up at the blue line anymore?

They showed some weird videos on the Jumbotron. One was two minutes of a faux Lightning fan and a guy in a suit singing in the penalty box, and the second was just animal bloopers! Ever see a camel bite a guy in the butt? They loved it in Atlanta! I've learned that there is a sub-culture of important men (and women) in charge of "game presentation" or some similar title. They run the scoreboard, select the music, plan the TV timeout and intermission activities, pick the anthem singer, etc., all designed to "engage the fans" (remember that phrase from my Edmonton blog?) and make them feel like part of the excitement.

Recently, I mentioned to one of these guys, that I thought St. Louis had the best overall game presentation, and he said that when John Davidson took over, he hired the game presentation guy from the Capitals. I thought whoever took over in Washington put on a mediocre show, and today the Thrashers told me that their game presentation guy has just been hired by the Caps. Sounds like a game of musical chairs to me, but it makes a big difference to the feel of each venue. So Caps fans, get ready for animal bloopers in the Verizon Center!

They're moping in Toronto, as the Argonauts lost to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and aren't going to the CFL Grey Cup, but I'll be there to cheer them up tomorrow as the attention shifts back to the hapless Leafs.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mother Nature Is A Hockey Fan

She must be, as I've had no weather problems on my trip at all (knock on wood). The XCel Energy Center in St. Paul was my 24th stop, but the first time I've even seen rain since my first game in Detroit. I'm hoping my luck holds in Toronto and Buffalo this week.

The weather forecast in the Minnesota paper simply said, "dreary", which doubles as an apt description of the Minnesota Wild's play in the three games I've seen them play in the last week. Maybe it was their new red jerseys, but the Wild came alive last night and dominated the Colorado Avalanche en route to an easy 4-1 victory.

When I arrived at the Minneapolis airport I saw numerous guys wearing camouflage caps, vests or pants throughout the building. At first glance, I thought perhaps they were troops heading overseas, but then I realized, no, Minnesota was full of hunters. All the commercials during the Vikings game on the radio were for hunting equipment, there were sporting goods stores on every corner and I assume something was in season, as there were a bunch of pickup trucks headed out of town. As a guy whose never shot anything more powerful than a Nerf gun, it was a little culture shock!

I bring this up because the XCel Energy Center reflects the outdoor lifestyle of Minnesotians (is that a word?) and reminds me of a giant log cabin on steroids! The colors are all browns and greens, and I even saw a couple of fireplaces in the lounges. Many Minny fans had e-mailed me to say that I would think their building was the best in all of hockey. It was a nice building, but even though their team played well, the crowd sat on their hands most of the game. Some fans did a sports doubleheader; the Vikings/Raiders game in the Metrodome at noon and the Wild game at 5pm.

I forgot to tell you a quick story from Edmonton....Scott and I were waiting to pick up our tickets at the window and we start talking to the guy next to us, who says in this hushed voice, "My son's playing tonight". You could tell he was so proud, tuned out his son was Wild rookie James Sheppard and he had flown in from Nova Scotia for the game. He just couldn't contain his excitement, and as a father, I can understand completely. His son didn't do much in that game, but had two assists last night for the Wild.

I am finally caught up with this blog after getting behind in Edmonton. Sorry to those of you who have e-mailed me lately and not received a response yet, I'm going as fast as I can!

Here's a link to a few pictures from the trip so far, enjoy!

Off now to see the Lightning beat the Thrashers, I hope!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

W.C. Fields Was Right....

When he said, "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia". Its a down and dirty hockey lovin' city, where neighborhood kids playing street hockey outnumber skateboarders practicing their kickflips. Philly fans know their hockey, even if they do watch it through orange-colored glasses!

It was too early for Philadelphia fans to boo Santa Claus again, but I got my share of boos as I wandered the Wachovia Center on Saturday night. My brother Pete came down from Connecticut to join me at the game and even though I'm far from a Flyers fan, the team provided us with the royal treatment. The Flyers publicist, Shauna, gave us a tour of the entire rink, from the skybox to the locker room, and a camera crew from the NHL followed us around the entire time, which was a new experience.

As I checked out the concourse between periods, I met plenty of Flyer fans, and their reaction to my 30 Games Lightning jersey was about 50/50. Half the fans appreciated what I was trying to accomplish, and the other half treated me like I expected, with graphic descriptions of which bodily parts I could stuff my jersey into. I even got booed more than the few stray Devils fans I saw. Must be the leftover resentment from the Eastern Conference Championship in 2004 when Tampa Bay bested the Flyers in seven.

Despite all that, I was rooting for the home team, but the final score was 6-2 as New Jersey handed the Flyers their first home loss in regulation. After just missing out on Modano's record and Roenick's freaky 500th goal, I took solace in seeing Martin Brodeur notch his 500th NHL win. It was a classy move for the Philly P.A. announcer to congratulate Marty, even though the remaining Flyers faithful booed him one last time.

Steve Coates is the host of Coatsey's Corner, a popular yet irreverent segment on the Flyers telecast and is a true character. We had fun taping his show together and he invited Pete and I to sit on the Flyers bench during the warmups. Shauna wasn't sure if that would be OK, but that didn't slow Coatsey down as he dragged us past security onto the bench. Being that close to the players without any glass was unbelievable, and I was hoping that the Flyers wouldn't "accidentally" flip a puck toward the head of the guy wearing the Lightning jersey. Both Jeff Carter and Mike Knuble came over to ask how me the trip was going, and where was I headed next, etc.

As a fan, I'm completely satisfied with seeing the players on the ice. I don't collect autographs or go to player appearances at the local car dealership, but I can't deny that I was thrilled that Knuble would take a minute and half DURING warmups to chat about my 30 Games In 30 Nights trip.

Pete was more excited about meeting legendary hockey icon Stan Fischler, who was standing by the Zamboni entrance furiously scribbling game notes like a young cub reporter covering his first game. Guess that's why he's still one of the best.

I can now say I've done two touristy things so far. I spent ten minutes at the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago and realized that I'd just paid $25 to see the same view I see out the airplane window every day! In Philly, I had a cheesesteak at the world-famous Pat's. You can order it "wit or witout" onions, and either way, I'd say it was overrated. The cheese was nothing but Cheese Whiz, what a letdown! Next time, I'll try Geno's!

I have to thank Shauna, Zack, Anthony, Marty Biron and the rest of the Flyers who made Pete and I feel like part of their team for the night. They even gave me a Philly jersey with my name on the back (Perhaps so I could make it safely back to the car!)

Here's my brother Pete trying to steal a soccer ball without Shauna noticing.

Now off the XCel Energy Center in Minnesota, where I get to see the Wild play for the fourth time this week! Lucky me!

Sleeping My Way Through The Blues Game

I drank no beer in St. Louis. I ate no hot dogs in St. Louis. And I was fast asleep in my seat when Paul Kariya scored the first goal of the game on a tip-in. I only know he tipped it in because the loud blast of the goal horn woke me right up in time to see the replay on the big screen. I never said I was going to stay awake for 30 Games In 30 Nights, did I? The Blues beat Columbus 3-2 in a game I thought would never end.

It was Al MacInnis night at the Scottrade Center and while Al's pre-game ceremony was certainly well-deserved, it sure didn't help me stay awake after my miserable day of travel from Edmonton. On less than two hours of sleep, and with a stomach that was turned inside out, I spent the day drinking Gatorade and hoping it was a 7pm start for the Blues vs Blue Jackets tilt, so I could just get through the game and go to bed early. Alas, start time was 7.30, and I got to listen to Dave Checketts and Gary Bettman drone on about how the legendary defenseman should have won not just the Norris Trophy, but also Best Supporting Actor, Most Likely To Succeed and the Nobel Peace Prize too. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating just a little!

I truly could not keep my eyes open during the first period, but the building was so damn loud, and so damn cold, that I couldn't stay asleep either, even though the seat was big and comfy compared to my tiny one in Edmonton the previous evening. Yes, I said loud. The game was a sellout and this was the definitely the loudest crowd I've heard on my tour. And the arena folks put on one helluva show too. Any organist who can pull off "Touch Me" by The Doors is either a showoff, or just really good. Great graphics and great music kept the crown rollicking and rolling all evening.

There's a sense of hockey history in St. Louis, which I appreciated. The walkways have giant backlit wall displays featuring Blues greats of the past, although journeymen might be a more appropriate description for many of the players displayed. They also have a nice display showing every player who has ever scored a hat trick for the Blues. The Blues used to have a wonderful photo gallery online featuring pictures of every Blues player, even one game wonders like Robbie Irons. When the NHL came in and standardized each team's web site this summer, the photo gallery magically disappeared. Hopefully it still exists somewhere in cyberspace, but I can't find it. Someone in St. Louis really cares about the Blues' heritage.

Hundreds of fans wore MacInnis jerseys to the game, and I realized how many different styles of jerseys the Blues have worn over the years. Has any team switched up their unis more? Not that I can think of.

Here's my favorite picture of the night, the scoreboard at the end of the game! I slept like a baby after this one, despite my snoozles during the game.

A tremendous crowd and a great game made this a memorable night. Philly next, and a cheesesteak at Pat's, or should I try Gino's?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

More (Finallly All) From Edmonton

When I stepped off the plane in Edmonton, I was greeted by two camera crews from the local TV stations. Hailing from Florida, it is constantly amazing to me how popular hockey is up here in Canada. I can't imagine there'll be any camera crews waiting for me at the airport in Atlanta next week!

My Edmonton visit was short, as I arrived at 2.20pm, and had a 12.30am flight right after the game, so my host for the day picked me up at the airport. His name was Scott Pfeiffer and he is a champion Canadian Curler. What is a curler, you may ask? Curling a sport that's big in Canada, but hasn't made a mark south of the border. Perhaps you've seen it in the Olympics....a skater slides a round stone slowly down the ice, while his broom-wielding teammates frantically sweep stray ice out of the way. Still doesn't ring a bell?

Turns out that Scott is quite the celebrity in Edmonton and everybody from the TV camera guys to the President of the Oilers seemed to know him. He took me out to eat, but I won't tell you where, as my attorneys tell me we have a pretty good case in what I'll call "The Great Food Poisoning Caper". It was either the chicken at the restaurant or the hot dog at the game that did me in! I swear it wasn't his wife's cooking!

I'm in Philadelphia now and am just heading over for a cheesesteak from Pat's before the game (my stomach is back to normal, I hope). My brother Pete is meeting me here, and the NHL Network will be taping us at the game, so it should be a fun night.

It was a fun night, but now back to Edmonton, which has the single greatest feature I've seen in any NHL arena.....When the players exit the new $3,000,000 locker room to get to the ice, they parade through a lounge that is open to fans in the club seats. What a spectacle it is! By profession, I'm a marketing guy, and companies are always looking to engage their customers (fans) with their product (Oilers hockey). What a tremendous way this is to build upon the relationship between players and fans, and if every team in the league copied the Oilers, I guarantee they would sell a few hundred extra tickets.

Edmonton sells out every game, and that's what makes this concept even more special, as they don't need to resort to gimmicks to sell tickets, they do it to reward the fans. Surprisingly, I didn't see any Oilers smash their sticks in frustration with how poorly they played, as the walked back to the dressing room between periods.

All is not rosy in Edmonton however... The seats appears to have been designed for the midgets who rolled through town in the traveling circus, they charge $12 to watch games on pay-per-view TV, and the food made me throw up!

Oh, you want to know about the game too? The Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-2, but it didn't seem that close. Finally, I have to share one of the greatest insults I've heard on my entire trip, "Hey Boogaard, I'm gonna take your mother out tonight (insert long pause here)....and never call her again!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Whatever I Ate In Edmonton Did Me In!

Earlier today, I had plans to tell you all about my memorable visit to Edmonton's Rexall Place. But I had my first serious problem instead. I ate something in Edmonton last night that knocked my stomach for a loop. I'm guessing it was a bad hot dog! I was fine when I boarded the redeye, but about an hour into the flight, I started feeling really sick. I got no sleep on the plane and was drained today. I've been slurping Gatorade all afternoon to rehydrate myself and am feeling way better now.

I have been reunited with my power cord, so I will be back on the computer with pictures from Western Canada shortly. Typing on the iPhone is getting old!

Just about to go watch the Blues and Blue Jackets. It's Al McInnis night in St. Louis. Sorry for the short entry today, I'll be back to normal tomorrow (and will stay away from the hog dogs tonight!).

Vancouver - Part Deux

Why is everything bilingual in Vancouver? It's an awful long way from Quebec. A few more observations from my visit... The fans LOVE Trevor Linden! The souvenir shop manager told me his jerseys outsell everyone else's, even Luongo's. GM Place is a rather pedestrian building with only two main levels, surprising that an arena built in the mid 90's would not have a significant middle level of club seats. I think Roberto Luongo is the best goalie in the NHL, but he spent the first period on his back like a dying cockroach making saves with arms and legs alike, before settling down. The 'Nucks fans call him Louie, which I never heard when he played for the Miami Panthers.

Why on earth would Canucks coach Alain Vigneault select unskilled journeyman Byron Ritchie as his first skater in the shootout, and not use Marcus Naslund or the Sedin Sisters? The 50/50 drawings are big at the Canadian rinks. You buy a raffle ticket, and half the money goes to charity and the other half to the winning ticket holder. We're talking $20-$25,000 for the winner. Nice haul, eh?

While boarding the flight to Vancouver, I recognized Marc Bergevin, an original member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who played for a few other teams in his 15+ year NHL career. He is now a scout for the Chicago Blackhawks. He knew who I was, having seen me on the Jumbotron, and he jokingly said he was sick of seeing me, as he had been to three other games I attended. As a player, Bergevin had a reputation as a practical joker. I fell asleep in an aisle seat near the back of the plane, but I soon awoke to feel someone pulling my boarding pass out of my shirt pocket. I opened my eyes and it was Bergevin, on his way to the bathroom, who simply said, "Gotcha". Pretty funny, Marc!

I hope to get my power cord back tomorrow and tell you all about my few hours in Edmonton, which were quite interesting. Now I'm boarding the redeye to Toronto, to get to St. Louis the roundabout way!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Was I At A Hockey Game, Or A Soccer Match?

Europeans may appreciate the beauty of a 0-0 soccer match, but North Americans want goals at our hockey games! Last night in Vancouver, I witnessed a rare event, a game with no goals. Ales Hemsky finally beat Roberto Luongo with the last shot of the shootout to give the Oilers the win over the unlucky Canucks. Last time I saw the Oilers play, they beat Anaheim in a shootout, and I'm bout to hop on a plane to Edmonton to see them play again tonight. My prediction - Oilers will win in a shootout!

Probably a short note today, as the plane leaves in a few minutes. My seats at GM Place were in the second row of the balcony, and i had the identical view as the night before in Calgary, but cost half the price. I loved Vancouver (the city) and will have to come back one day when it isn't raining. I took the train from the airport to downtown and met a guy on the train named Claude who insisted on staying on the train past his normal stop to walk me right to the door of GM Place, where I met the Canucks TV crew. Now that's what I call hospitality!

I stayed at the Delta Vancouver Airport hotel, which had the fluffiest towels of my whole trip. It sounds a lttle fruity, but there's nothing like a fluffy towel when you step out of the shower but I've found most hotels' towels fluff-deficient!

The flight attendant is closing the door, but I'll write more later.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Island Of Blue In A Sea Of Red

"The puck goes in, the home team wins, in the good old hockey game". So sings Stompin' Tom Connors in "The Hockey Song", which has been played to death in just about every arena. And once in a while, just like in the song, the hometown team gets a happy ending! Down 2-1 in the third, Jarome Iginla rockets a slapshot that pinballs off two defensemen past the surprised Minnesota goalie. Then with under a minute to play, Kristian Huselius slips one past Backstrom and the Flames win 3-2 in front of a sellout crowd in the Pengrowth Saddledome.

The building had been quiet up to that point, as the Minnesota Wild seems to lull both the crowd and their opposition to sleep, but the Saddledome erupted with excitement as the horn sounded. I love seeing the hometown crowd walk out happy. I wasn't sure how the fans would react to seeing an interloper wearing a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey. For the non-hockey readers, Calgary and Tampa met in the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, which Tampa won. However, Flames fans are still howling about a disallowed goal in game six that might have given them the victory. As I walked around the narrow concourse, half-expecting to have beer dumped on me by unforgiving fans, I was amazed by the reaction I received. No one yelled insults and lots of people stopped me to chat about the series. By the way Flames fans, I may have conveniently forgotten to tell you this last night, but it was NO GOAL!

Everyone in the Saddledome wore Flames red except me. I felt like John Kerry on the campaign trail in Texas - an island of blue in a sea of red! I wonder what would happen if the NHL switches back to having the home team wear white. Would everyone have to buy a new wardrobe? Before the game, Richard, my host in Calgary (and a great guy) took me to Flames Central. Its an old movie theater in downtown Calgary that the Flames bought and converted into a bar/restaurant. Great concept, and I wish I could show you the pictures I took, but I can't. Why, you may ask?

After the Sharks game on Monday, I drove to a hotel by the San Francisco airport, updated the site, set my alarm and fell fast asleep. By alarm goes off at 6 am and I hit the snooze button (or so I thought). Next thing I know, the clock says 7.09 and have to be at the airport at 7.55! I have no idea what button I hit, but it wasn't the snooze. I jumped out of bed, hurridly threw my stuff into my bag, stopping only to brush my teeth, and dashed to the rental car, still wearing the t-shirt I slept in. Luckily, I made it just in time, but in the rush, I left my computer power cord on the desk. So I'm typing this on the iPhone. So no cut and paste, no pictures, and no spellcheck for the next couple of days. I'll be reconnecting with my power cord in St. Louis on Friday, thanks to the desk clerk who is mailing it there.

Off to Vancouver next for Game 20 of 30.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Top Rank For The Shark Tank!

Rangers fans, Red Wings fans, Stars fans, even Ducks fans should stop reading right now, in case you choke on your Corn Flakes. Because without a doubt, San Jose has the best fans I've seen in America.

Sure, they had plenty to cheer about, as the Sharks annihilated the Phoenix Coyotes 5-0, but there was not an empty seat anywhere. And this was a Monday game vs Phoenix, a team with no stars, plus the 49ers were playing on Monday Night Football. That's impressive. The HP Pavilion is better known as The Shark Tank, and from the moment the Sharks entered the ice from inside the giant shark's mouth, the building was buzzing with energy and I was surrounded by a fascinating cast of characters on and off the ice.

When I landed in Oakland, the sky was bright blue with nary a cloud in sight, and the 72 degree temperature made me feel like I was back home. The girl at the Thrifty Rent-A-Car counter tossed me the keys to the car in space #15 and lo and behold, it was a shiny bright red Mustang convertible, with the roof already down. I always pay for the cheapest rental car available, and often they have no economy cars left so they give me something better. This wasn't just better, it was best! I cruised down to San Jose, radio blasting The Beach Boys on KFRC. I arrived early and joined the wall-to-wall hockey crowd at The Britannia Arms before the game. Former Shark Owen Nolan owns the place, which features lots of games from the NHL Center Ice package on the flat screen TVs.

I've seen some devout fans across the league, like the Capitals fan who wore a beat up Rod Langway helmet and shin pads, the Habs fan who spray-painted himself silver and a middle-aged man who wore a pink dress and bra to the game in Detroit! Can anybody argue that the most entertaining fans sit in the upper deck? Tonight, we sat next to Jiminez, who dressed like a rap star straight outta Oakland, and led his posse in a series of loud cheers that were repetitive, unoriginal and mostly annoying, but you couldn't knock his enthusiasm! Jiminez is a man who's got his team's back, literally! Take a look, bling, bling, baby!

Despite what you may think, I'm not the only wandering soul fulfilling his dream by hitting the sports road. I went to the game with John Nordahl, who spent three months driving across America to visit every NBA arena back in the early 90's. Since then, his passion has shifted from basketball to hockey, and he owns over 200 game worn hockey jerseys. John is also from Orlando, and coincidentally we worked together at Universal Studios fifteen years ago. He wrote a book about his road trip called "Traveling, Three Months On The NBA Road", which you can now buy on for a penny! For a nickel, he'd probably autograph it for you!

We also met Jess Knaster. If you're impressed with my trip, you'll be amazed by what Jess did last season. He attended all 93 of the Sharks regular season and playoff games! That boy did some serious road-tripping! Read about it here.

Will Devin Setoguchi become the Ichiro of Hockey? The Sharks rookie was outstanding tonight with two pretty goals. Evgeni Nabakov started his 17th straight game, and Joltin' Joe Thornton jammed in a couple more goals. Scott, the Sharks efficient PR guy, set up some interviews for me between periods and I got this first-hand view of the Coyotes looking none too happy as they marched out of the locker room to begin the third.

I'm a little worried about getting to Calgary tomorrow, as windstorms have whipped across Western Canada today, knocking out power. Hopefully, it will all have "blown over" by the time I arrive.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead

That's the title of a song by the late singer and hockey fan, Warren Zevon, and I couldn't get it out of my head at last night's game in Denver. Zevon also teamed up with famed columnist and novelist, Mitch Albom, to write the greatest hockey song ever, "Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)". It's the tale of Buddy, a goon from Western Canada who goes through his entire career without ever scoring a goal, "....from peewees and juniors and midgets and mites, he must have racked up more than three hundred fights". Finally, in his last game....Nah, I'm not going to give away the ending, but there's a wicked twist to it. It's on iTunes, so check it out for yourself and tell me if you agree. It even features David Letterman!

I was overjoyed to find that the Pepsi Center in Denver was exactly where the map said it would be, unlike Washington's Verizon Center. Perhaps I won't need to invest in a GPS system after all! Parking was a breeze and I headed across the street to the arena.

I'll be seeing the Minnesota Wild play in three of my next five games, and with their best player, Marian Gaborik injured, they were outplayed by the Avalanche who took a 3-0 lead. Deceptively, the Wild snuck back to make it a 3-2 games, but the Avs added an empty-netter and wrapped up the win.

I was impressed with Avs youngsters Paul Stasny and Wojtek Wolski. I'd seen Wolski play in juniors up in Brampton, during the NHL lockout. He showed me then why he was a first round draft pick, and he didn't disappoint last night.

The first thing that struck me about the Pepsi Center is how dark it is. The concourses are dimly lit compared to most. The lighting is low in the arena before they drop the puck and they turn the lights way down during the intermissions. I figure there are two possibilities. 1) Colorado has a reputation for being an environmentally friendly region, and they are conserving energy, or 2) Maybe the team had a high electric bill last month and is trying to save a little money!

In most arenas, it seems like the lower concourse has a wider choice of concessions and souvenirs than the 300 level. Downstairs is where most teams invest in fancy decorative touches and a wide range of gourmet food, while upstairs you are surrounded by concrete beams and hot dog stands. The Pepsi Center bucks this trend, and I was impressed with the democratic way in which they offer both the upstairs and downstairs patrons similar food and merchandise choices.

I found the first Fish & Chips stand of my journey in Colorado. Jimmy Buffett once said, "Never order seafood in Nebraska", with good reason, and I'm still trying to figure out why I can get Fish & Chips in a building 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean, when I didn't see it in fish-famed Boston, Washington, or Fort Lauderdale!
Almost all of the fans I've met on this trip are guys, which Heather was pleased to find this weekend, but I know there's some ardent female fans out here too. So perhaps if I post a picture of a cute baby, I'll get more female readers. This is Brennan, she's eight months old, and I sat next to her at the game. Look, she's even holding her own ticket!

Do you know the way to San Jose? I do. See you there!

I Am Not The Jinx

Before the Lightning vs Capitals game, I'd seen four Tampa Bay road games, and they had lost all of them. Then the Lightning played Carolina on the road, a game I didn't attend, which they won. Both hockey players and fans are superstitious by nature, and I was starting to think that maybe, just maybe, I was becoming a jinx. If I'm at the game, the Lightning lose, if I'm not there, they win! So I was nervous going into the Washington game, especially as some of the Lightning brass had invited me to sit with them at the game.

After two even periods, the Lightning scored two quick goals early in the third to take the lead, and when Ryan Craig made it 4-1 in his first game back from injury, I knew that it wasn't my fault that the Lightning had been so miserable on the road! The final score was 5-2, and the Lightning execs started talking to me again!

The refs made some bad calls and missed some obvious ones, but I realized that since my first game in Detroit, I'd hardly noticed the refs. That's a good thing. Seems to me that after a couple of years of inconsistent refereeing, the NHL has hit on the right balance of letting the skill players play, while still maintaining the flow of the game.

I spent a few minutes with Bobby "The Chief" Taylor, the former backup goalie for the Flyers' famed Broad Street Bullies back in the 70's. He's been doing color commentary for the Lightning telecasts for many years and always has a smile on his face and lots of interesting tales to tell, some of which will never make it to TV!

I was wondering why he was still talking to us when the second period started, and he said that he wasn't working this game, as Sun Sports wasn't carrying it, he was just along for the ride. Now that's dedication, or did he just mix up his dates and think he was supposed to work? After all, he was wearing his suit! Just kidding, Chief!

Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle, who was injured in preseason when a skate fell from his locker and the blade sliced open the tendons in his wrist, also attended the game, with his arm heavily wrapped. He had tried to return from his injury for a few games, but his mobility was limited and had to have a second surgery. I hope he recovers fully before he returns, but we miss him on the ice.

I said goodbye to Heather at the airport on Sunday morning and fell asleep before my Colorado-bound plane even took off, not waking up until I felt the wheels touch the tarmac in Denver!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I Knew I Should Have Taken The Train

Friday night in Chicago, Heather and I went out with Mike Myers after the game. Not the one from Wayne's World, but a great guy nonetheless. He dropped us off at the train station just after midnight so we could head back to O'Hare airport (We were staying at the Hilton inside the airport, very convenient). We hop on the train and are four stops away from O'Hare, when a garbled voice comes over the PA saying everyone has to get off at the next stop as they are fixing the track. We follow orders, are loaded onto a bus and are hauled off to the next stop, where we get on another train. This turned our 25 minute ride into an hour and a half journey. So who cares, and why is this relevant to the Capitals/Lightning game, you may ask?

I flew into BWI (Baltimore/Washington) airport from Chicago as the airfare was only $59, instead of $259 to Washington National or Dulles airports, and got a hotel room near BWI. I've been to a Caps game at the Verizon Center before with my friend Warren The Tan Man, and I know it's a pain to find a place to park, so I was going to park at the Greenbelt station out in the suburbs and take the Metro to the game. But after our Chicago train adventure, we swore off trains and drove into DC. Bad move, Steve.

We took the highway to DC and my directions said take New York Ave to 6th Street and follow it down to the arena on F Street. Sounds easy, right? In the dark, I missed 6th, but took 4th and doubled back to 6th. Cruise down 6th to F Street, but no Verizon Center in sight. It's a seedy residential area and the only people on the street are the ones you usually roll up your windows and lock the doors for. Eventually I figure out that we're on NorthEAST 6th St. instead of NorthWEST 6th St. and try to head in the right direction. We overcome, construction, one way streets and crack dealers and finally arrive at the arena. We've wasted 45 minutes and its getting close to face-off time.

The Verizon Center has to be the only building in the world that has no parking lots or garages in the vicinity. I'm cursing like a sailor and finally find a garage and search three levels for a space, my tires squealing like Nicolas Cage in "Gone In 60 Seconds". I get out of the car and my iPhone slides off my lap and onto the ground, where I accidentally step on it, hearing a loud crunching sound as my foot grinds the glass against the concrete floor! Heather hears a string of swear words that have never been used together in a single sentence and off we dash to the arena, where we arrive with scant minutes to spare.

My rule is I have to be in my seat when the ref drops the puck, but I cut this one way too close for comfort. The ref was antsy as Al Pacino was still on the Jumbotron urging on the Capitals when the game started. The first period was perhaps the most boring period of hockey I've seen on my whole trip, which gave me time to relax, figure out that somehow my iPhone was still working despite the gravel embedded in the glass, and I got my mojo back!

The game? I'll let you know who won later, as I have a plane to catch!