Our plane left Montreal early in the morning, leaving behind the sleet and snow that had fallen all night. With the regular NHL season rapidly coming to an end, and the playoffs looming, we were definitely ready for spring weather. We touched ground in Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city, and already the scenery was looking better. A short connecting flight took us to Florida, where upon exiting the plane in Tampa, the heat hit us briefly, chased by the intense cold of the air conditioning inside the terminal. A few minutes later, the sun welcomed us to what is summer weather for Canadians. This day was already off to a good start. Continue reading →
Chicago. The Windy City. As one of the most important and iconic cities in the United States, Chicago was a city we were really looking forward to visit. As a sport town, Chicago also ranks as a premium destination, and as luck would have it, our visit came on the heels of the Cubs’ historic World Series win. The Blackhawks aren’t slouches either, with 3 Stanley Cups in the last 6 years, and currently at the top of the Western Conference, a spot they’ve grown accustomed to.
The Canadiens have struggled for years in Chicago, so despite a 3 point lead at the top of the NHL standings, we knew it wouldn’t be an easy game, especially after having played the night before. But we knew we’d get a great hockey game on this trip. Continue reading →
Sometimes things do not turn out the way you intended. I booked this trip back in October, while the Habs were ruling the NHL. For this next to last regular season game, I had visions of momentum for the playoffs, or maybe even a fight for a spot in the post season dance. But that’s not how things would play out.
The Habs lost star goaltender Carey Price early on to a knee injury, and the wheels came off the cart quickly after that, with the team’s deficiencies suddenly exposed. Even before injuries started piling up (the line up that hit the ice for this game was mostly made up of players who started the season in the AHL), the team struggled with offense, and for a while seemed unable to catch a break. On the Hurricanes side, while a few points ahead of the Habs in the standings, they were also out of contention, having liquidated a few veterans at the trade deadline.
So this game was, in all essence, meaningless. Or was it? During the week leading to the game, there was a lot of chatter that the Carolina Hurricanes would be relocated to Quebec City during the summer. If that came to pass, we would have attended the last NHL game in Raleigh. As I write this, no further rumours have come out and Canes owner Peter Karmanos strongly denied the rumours. We’ll see I guess.
I always say that the game is just an excuse for a trip, an opportunity to visit a city I would not have gone to otherwise. This trip would serve as the perfect example. Continue reading →
To say the Toronto Maple Leafs have been having a dry spell would be an understatement. Their performance in the last decade has been dreadful, but they still manage to sell out the Air Canada Centre despite some of the highest ticket prices in the league. Last season would have been a good time to save some money as season ticket holders were getting rid of their tickets to the last games of the season, but I couldn’t manage a trip on those dates.
So when I got their email newsletter touting on sale dates for pre-season games, I decided to go for it since: tickets were WAY cheaper (I got second row seats for less than the price of regular season nosebleeds), I love watching the rookies play, and the Habs would play there on a Saturday. Hey, when the stars align like that, I go with the flow. Toronto it is!
We flew in on Porter Airlines which is a great airline, and, most importantly, uses the Billy Bishop Airport located downtown, which meant that with a quick (free) shuttle ride, we’d be at Union Station, which is on the same block as the Air Canada Centre. We went as a family: my son and I wore Habs t-shirts, and I had my “Leafs Suck” hat in my bag. I fully expected some grief from Leafs fans, but as we exited the airport, one man looked at my son and said “Your parents are raising you right, buddy, rooting for the right team”. So much for the grief part. I’d later get applause from another Habs fan on the street. Continue reading →
End of season games are a crap shoot when you’re buying your tickets early: they can be a hard fought battle for a playoff spot, or turn out to be a meaningless game. This game was the latter as the Devils were officially eliminated from the post-season dance. The Habs were flirting with first place in the East, but it didn’t seem that important in the grand scheme of things. But we were set on enjoying our trip regardless of the game’s importance or outcome.
We set out by car early on the Friday of the game, and were quickly at the border. Unfortunately, there were a lot of vehicles leaving for the Easter weekend, and it took us an hour to get through.Fortunately, we were waived through by the custom agent in mere seconds! Luck was on our side.
The drive through the Adirondacks is always nice because of the spectacular view, but as we’re sort of between winter and spring, it was more drab than usual. Oh well, good music and conversation passed the time. We made good time and arrived in Newark towards the end of the afternoon. I expected the area around the Prudential Center to be mostly office buildings, but driving along the river to get to downtown, we were shocked to see how run down the city is. There were a lot of dilapidated buildings, and general disrepair. It got slightly better as we approached the Prudential Center, but we had to go around a few blocks to get on the correct side of Broad Street to reach our hotel, and we drove through streets that didn’t look very safe. It’s clear that people aren’t rich in this area. Continue reading →
We weren’t even supposed to go to Buffalo this year. We had our eyes set on Philadelphia as the Habs were visiting in October, on a rare Saturday night away game. It also happened to be a 3 day weekend, which would give us time to visit the city without taking days off from work. But as I was exploring the options, and researching the various cities we still have to visit, I happened upon a killer deal on plane tickets for the November 28th game in Buffalo, so we switched gears and planned for this trip. Buffalo would be the 6th stop in our trek around the NHL.
But that plan started to look like a nightmare when the week before, Buffalo was hit by record breaking snow falls that reached 7 feet in some areas! For a few days, the area looked unreachable, and two Sabres games were postponed. And then temperatures went up above freezing, and the issue became flood warnings as the massive snowfall started to melt. It was starting to look like I’d have to waste the prepaid plane tickets and the game tickets.
But flooding never came to pass, and as more details emerged, it became obvious that downtown Buffalo had not been hit, a fact that was confirmed by emailing the Buffalo tourist center. And the weather forecast looked great, so it looked like we’d be set!
This was planned to be one of our shortest hockey trips yet. Fly in on Friday afternoon, fly out Saturday. The flight in went off without a hitch; I’d heard bad things about Delta Airlines, but I was really impressed by the service. The funny thing about this flight is that even though it cost me a little over one third of what I paid in March to go to Detroit, this flight had a connection in… Detroit. The airlines’ approach to pricing can be quite frustrating. Continue reading →
Even before I cooked up this crazy plan to visit every arena in the NHL, I’ve dreamed of attending a game in Detroit. I have nothing but admiration for the Red Wings organisation, who for the last 25 years have build a winning culture and established the closest thing to a dynasty we’ve had since the 80’s Oilers. And with all the new buildings popping up across the league, the Joe Louis Arena is one of the last old school arenas left (along with Madison Square Garden in New-York, Nassau Coliseum in Long Island and Rexall Place in Edmonton)
We bought our tickets way back in August, when they went on sale, expecting a late season game to have some importance. And it did. The Wings are fighting for a playoff spot, being in a 4 way tie for the last wildcard spot, and a victory in this game would have pushed back the hopes of the hated Maple a Leafs. The game was less crucial for the Habs, but they’re in a race to the finish with the Tampa Bay Lightning for home ice advantage, so those 2 points mattered too. Unfortunately the Wings were playing without Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, their two biggest stars who are sidelined by injuries, most likely for the rest of the season.
We flew into Detroit the morning of the game and took a cab to our hotel, that was located by the river, a couple of blocks from the Joe Louis Arena. We’d of course heard horror stories about how Detroit was largely abandoned, and we saw some of that on our way over. A large numbers of suburban homes are either abandoned or in an advanced state of disrepair. The closer we got to downtown,the better it seemed, but clearly this is a city that has fallen on hard times. Even newer constructions are no frills affairs. We dropped our bags at the room and set out to walk around and explore the riverfront area. I had a few landmarks in mind and set out to find them. First up was Joe Louis’s fist statue, a monument to the famous boxer. (A more traditional tribute is also found inside the Cobo Center) Right across the street from it is the Spirit of Detroit statue, in front of the Seal of the state of Michigan. We kept walking around downtown, but it was surprisingly deserted. Google maps indicated that there was a Michigan Sport Hall of Fame nearby and we headed out to find it. It was supposed to be part of Cobo Center but no one at their own info booth knew about it. (As a side note, the tourist maps handed out at the airport and hotels are quite out of date, with many listed attractions that have gone out of business. Obviously even Google has trouble keeping up with Detroit’s downfall.) Continue reading →