30 Games In 30 Nights

FINAL REPORT: 30games-30nights

April 14, 2015

It’s been over two years since my trip to see 30 NHL games in all 30 rinks (and 30 days in a row), and the memories remain.  I’m particularly pleased that I was able to exceed my goal to raise $30,000.00 for Make-A-Wish.  (Over $43,000.00 was raised.)  Thanks to everyone who donated, and special thanks to Honda Canada and Molson Canadian who so generously donated, helping me reach my goal.  Honourable mention to the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils, who were the most generous teams over my 30games-30nights trip.

I’m still amazed that I was able to make every game (and every puck drop).  When you think of the number of flights (over 30, including connections), there were a lot of things which could have gone wrong.  But luck was on my side – the grand total of flight delays amounted to 3 1/2 hours combined over my 30-day trip.

The trip was a trip of a lifetime – a dream for a lifelong hockey fan like me. Here are a few highlights of my trip, including favourite rinks, favourite memories, etc.

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Oldest arena: Technically Madison Square Garden is the oldest arena, but it underwent a $1 billion renovation 6-7 years ago, so it doesn’t really count.

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The two oldest arenas visited were Nassau Coliseum (Islanders) and Rexall Place (Oilers). The Islanders have since moved to Barclays Center (in Brooklyn, where the New York Knicks play), and the Oilers now play at the beautiful Rogers Place, catapulting the Oilers from near worst arena to the most beautiful arena in the NHL.  The oldest arena during the 2016-2017 was the Joe Louis Arena, but the Red Wings have now moved into a brand new arena for the the 2017-2018 season (Little Caesars Place), and it comes with a $125 million 20-year naming rights deal.  This naming rights deal, while rich, pales in comparison to the 20-year $800 million deal Scotiabank recently signed for what was formerly known as Air Canada Centre in Toronto.  (This leaves Madison Square Garden as the only NHL arena without a “naming rights deal.”  Can you imagine how much MSG “forgives” in lost revenues to keep the integrity of the MSG namesake!)

So with the Oilers, Islanders, and Red Wings now in new buildings, the Calgary Flames hold the distinction of playing their hockey games in the oldest arena in the NHL;  the Scotiabank Saddledome which was built in 1983.  There’s talk in Calgary about building a new arena, but with the drop in oil prices (and the affect on the Alberta economy), plans are on hold for now.

To follow, is my report from April 2015 of arenas visited, and impressions of each building, their fans, and experiences along the way.

Newest arena visited:  Consol Energy Center where the Pittsburgh Penguins play (now called the PPG Paints Arena), which was built in 2010. Absolutely gorgeous facility!

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Most seats: United Center (Chicago) with 19,717 seats, and 22,428 capacity with standing room.

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Least seats: MTS Centre (Winnipeg), with 15,016 seats, which probably explains why it’s so hard to get a ticket to a Jets game.

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Loudest arena (fan noise):  Four-way tie between Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, and Winnipeg Jets.  (Rogers Place, in Edmonton, and Bridgestone Arena are the loudest arenas in the playoffs.)

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Quietest fans: Buffalo (But this may be due to the tough season the team had in 2014-2015.)

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Best fan celebration after a home team goal:  Chicago Blackhawks – there’s nothing like hearing the fans sing the Chelsea Dagger song. Winnipeg and Nashville are up there too!

Best Jumbotrons: New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers.  (The Edmonton Oilers, at Rogers Place, now have the best Jumbotron in the NHL, but I hear the New Jersey Devils new Jumbotron is bigger and better.)

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Largest Jumbotrons: Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay showed the biggest, but since my trip, the Edmonton Oilers built a Jumbotron equally as large, stretching from blue line to blue line. Most recently, Detroit Red Wings (Little Caesars Arena) built one even bigger, but the New Jersey Devils just installed an even bigger Jumbotron at the Prudential Center, making it the largest Jumbotron in the NHL.

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Brightest ice (yes, brightest ice): Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have the brightest ice. It’s amazing watching a game in these two cities. It’s like watching a game on HDTV.

Coolest lighting feature:  Vancouver Canucks.   I believe they’re the only arena which has fibre-optic lighting on the partitions between the glass.  Very very cool!

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Coolest 3D effects for puck-drop countdown:  Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Favourite anthem singers: It’s a three-way tie between Lauren Hart (Philadelphia), Rene Rancourt (Boston) and Sonya Bryson (Tampa Bay), but in fairness, I didn’t get to see Mark Donnelly from Vancouver, who had the night off when I was there. (Donnelly is the operatic singer who took a tumble when he donned skates to perform the Canadian anthem at a Canucks game in 2014-2015.)  I also missed seeing the lovely and talented Pia Toscano, who usually does the anthem at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

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Loudest fans singing the national anthem:  Montreal. They’re loud in both of Canada’s official languages, and in-tune too!

Best chants during the singing of the national anthem(s): Chicago for their deafening cheers during the singing of the national anthem, Dallas fans for shouting out “Stars,” Flames fans for shouting out “See” (C), when “O say can you see” is sung, and Jets fans for chanting “True North” when this phrase is sung in the Canadian national anthem. Very very cool!

Best location for an arena:  Nashville, right in the heart of downtown, in “The District” area.  And Columbus for their “Arena District” too!

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Best pre-game experience: Tampa Bay, Arizona, Nashville and Columbus.  So much going on before and after the games, all within walking distance.  Lots of areas outside their arenas for food, drink and entertainment before the game.

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Most enjoyable hockey game during my 30games-30nights trip:  The Senators-Capitals game in Ottawa on April 4th. Both teams needed the points for playoff position, and Ottawa jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. Washington tied up the game in the third period, and Kyle Turris scored a beauty for the Senators to win the game in overtime!  Great game!

Highest priced beer: $14 at the BB&T Center (Florida Panthers) for a speciality beer. And for a cocktail and glass of wine at Madison Square Garden – $22.00.IMG_7599IMG_7600

Lowest priced beer: $8 at First Niagara Center (Buffalo).

Favourite beer:  Molson Canadian – hands down!

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Favourite arena food items: Philly Cheesesteak (Philadelphia of course), Pyrogy Dog (Vancouver), Jumbo Jet Dog (Winnipeg), and a Reuben (Ottawa) were my favourites!  (I usually only ate half or less of any of the arena foods suggested by fans, sometimes only a few bites.)

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Favourite Mascot: Sharkie from San Jose!  I was not feeling very well for this game (which was #20 of my trip), and while it’s hard to believe, a visit by Sharkie absolutely lifted my spirits!

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Favourite Cheerleaders:  The Ducks gals were awesome – very sweet, and they knew their hockey!  Honourable mention to Arizona, Washington and Tampa Bay.  I was originally very tentative to cozy up to any of the team cheerleaders. If you look closely at the picture of me with the Tampa gals early in my trip, my hands were behind my back. Through encouragement back home, I loosened up a bit in future encounters.

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Best arena experience: Verizon Center (Washington).  I was given a tour of the building, joined season-ticket holders for a Q & A with the “Goalie Whisperer” Mitch Korn, met Caps owner Ted Leonsis (in his suite) and chatted with Caps head coach Barry Trotz after the game.  Thanks to Peter Robinson from the Caps and Baltimore’s amazing media guy Nestor Aparicio for their hospitality and kindness!

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Best overall experience:  Stop #30 in Toronto.  I attended the morning skate, and was given a special Maple Leafs jersey. Met legendary HNIC play-by-play announcer Bob Cole, and Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.  Received a tour of the NHL offices, including the “Situation Room” where disputed goals, etc. are determined.  (Kris King was one of the nicest guys I met in my travels.  He made sure to get me a game-used puck from every NHL team.)

I had a private tour of the Hockey Hall of Fame (first time touching the Stanley Cup), and a cheque presentation by Honda Canada to Make-A-Wish.  Thereafter, a tour of the Hockey Night in Canada studios, and a visit to the HNIC set.  Cheque presentation by Molson Canadian for their #anythingforhockey campaign.  Presented with a special customized “30games-30nights” Molson Canadian beer fridge.  And finishing up this special day, I caught the final regular season game between the two most storied rivals in hockey history – the Habs and the Leafs.

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Best fans: I know this is going to sound like a cop-out, but it’s a 30-way tie for me! The fans in every building were amazing, some coming up to ask me about my trip, some who want to take their picture with me, and many who made a donation to Make-A-Wish! And so many who offered encouragement and support throughout my journeys!

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Friendliest fans:  The fans were great everywhere, but Winnipeg was just a notch above.  Very friendly people in Manitoba – maybe that’s why it’s on their license plates.

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Most generous fans: Edmonton. My home town was great with their support from the day I left to the day I returned from my trip!  Take a bow Edmonton!

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Most generous teams:  New Jersey Devils ($3,500.00), and the Ottawa Senators ($2,200.00) were very generous with their support of Make-A-Wish!  They also provided me with signed jerseys, which I donated to be auctioned off for Make-A-Wish.

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Most expensive ticket:  $250.00 in Chicago – row 5 at the corner near the goal line.  I was able to see Brent Seabrook skate by for a touching hello to his young son during the pre-game skate.  (Average price paid for a ticket during trip: $120.00.)

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Cheapest ticket:  $55.00 for the best seat in the house at the first Niagara Center in Buffalo – just a bit right of centre ice, and row 14.  I actually like to sit a bit higher, between rows 18-24 for the best view.  Some fans prefer to be in the first or second row, right up against the glass, and many rinks charge the most for these seats.

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Favourite interview:  I probably did over 60 media interviews over my trip, and the media deserves a lot of credit for promoting my trip, and encouraging donations to Make-A-Wish.  My favourite interview was with Luke Fox from Sportsnet. (Pictured on the left in the first photo below, and waiting patiently as I’m chatting it up with a couple of fellow hockey fans.)  Honourable mention goes out to Dan Murphy (Vancouver), Dave Maetzold (Columbus), the nhl.com network, the gang in Nashville, and last but not least, Lauren Howe (Toronto).

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Biggest 50/50:  Edmonton Oilers:  $51,165.00 (That’s the winner’s take, and that’s a below average amount for Edmonton.)  Ticket sellers in all cities are volunteers. Here’s Maddie from St. Louis.

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Smallest 50/50:  New York Islanders:  $1,515.00

Closest call missing a game.  Game #29 in Columbus.  Leaving Montreal, I had to catch two flights, which meant a stopover in Toronto. My plane had maintenance issues (that’s the culprit below), so I did not arrive in Columbus until 5 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game.  Close call, but I made it, and I can accurately state that I made every opening face-off for all 30 games.  In fact, I made every pre-game skate!

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Weight gained/lost over 30 days.  Hard to believe, but I lost 8 pounds over the course of my 30-day trip. Here’s me at game #1 (New York Islanders), and thereafter, in Toronto for game #30.  Can’t really tell the difference actually.  By the way, that’s Alex Forani from Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment beside me, just prior to the start of the Leafs-Habs game that night.  I met thousands of awesome people during the course of my trip , but Alex was tops!

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Heaviest Security:  New York and Boston.  (Understandably.)  You have to pass through a metal detector, then a wand detector, and then a frisk.  All three steps mandatory.  In Edmonton, where I share a pair of season tickets, they randomly frisk the odd fan, and that’s it.  I have not been frisked once this season.

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Most starstruck encounters: Bob Cole and Brendan Shanahan, who I met in Toronto on the last day of my trip.  And Phil Esposito in Tampa Bay, who I met early in my trip!  I really admired Phil’s speech after game four of the ’72 Summit Series.  I was only 11 years old, but it really made an impact on me!  And it seemed to turn things around for the Canadian team!  I also met up with Bobby Orr, well his statue, but it was still a special experience.

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Favourite keepsake:  I did not take this trip to amass memorabilia or gain free hockey tickets.  In fact, I purchased tickets for all but 6 games, and for tickets donated, I made a donation to Make-A-Wish reflective of the value of the tickets provided.  But one keepsake I will keep is a sterling silver puck which was presented to me by the NHL. Andrew Kavanagh made the presentation at the conclusion of my tour of the NHL offices, and insisted that I keep this memento as a thank you from the NHL for the passion and love I have for the game!

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And last but not least, my rankings (subjective of course) for the top 20 arenas in the NHL.  For criteria, I considered the building where they play (arena amenities) and arena location the highest, entertainment features, fan support, and to some extent team history.  I didn’t highly consider team performance, otherwise my list may have just been the top 16 teams who made the playoffs. It was very very close between most of these positions, so the difference between “finishing tenth” (for example) instead of 5th or 6th was very tight.

#1.  Nashville Predators (Bridgestone Arena)

#2:  New York Rangers (Madison Square Garden)

#3:  Columbus Blue Jackets  (Nationwide Arena)

#4:  Winnipeg Jets  (MTS Centre)

#5:  Tampa Bay Lightning (Amalie Arena)

#6:  Chicago Blackhawks (United Center)

#7:  New Jersey Devils  (Prudential Center)

#8:  Minnesota Wild (Xcel Energy Center)

#9:  Montreal Canadiens (Bell Centre)

#10:  Washington Capitals  (Verizon Center)

#11:  Arizona Coyotes  (Gila River Arena)

#12:  Los Angeles Kings (Staples Center)

#13:  Toronto Maple Leafs (Air Canada Centre)

#14:  Pittsburgh Penguins (Consol Energy Center)

#15:  St. Louis Blues (Scottrade Center)

#16 (Five-way Tie):  Dallas (American Airlines Center), Vancouver Canucks (Rogers Arena), Philadelphia Flyers (Wells Fargo Center), Boston Bruins (TD Garden), Colorado Avalanche (Pepsi Center)

This leaves ten arenas off the list, and five of those teams have plans to either move into a new arena soon, or talks are underway for a new arena development.  Once again, these are my rankings, based on my experience the past 30 days.  I did my best to examine all areas in and around each arena I visited to give each arena a fair assessment.

To those arenas who made my “top 5″ (or even “top 10″), congratulations!  And to those arenas which did not “make the mark,” don’t take it personally.

And now let me tell you why Nashville made #1 on my list!  Bridgestone Arena is a modern arena, with wide open areas in the concourse levels, and with plenty of food and drink options for fans.  The arena location is downtown Nashville, adjacent to “The District.” There’s live music, a variety of restaurants, pubs and saloons (a real club scene) where people can enjoy themselves before or after a hockey game.  Getting back to the arena, the Predators fans were about the loudest fans I encountered on my trip, and they’re knowledgable and passionate hockey fans.  Their puck-drop countdown is loaded with excitement, and the fans stood up when the players came out (through the open jaws of a giant tiger), and they remained standing (and cheering loudly) through until the singing of the anthem. The Predators are one of the top four teams with fans wearing their home team jersey.  (Chicago, Washington, and Calgary are the other three teams.) While team performance is not high on my criteria level, it certainly helps that the Predators enjoyed a very successful regular season.  And lastly, the media interest was near the highest for my visit, more than most of the “original six” teams, with the exception of Toronto.  The fans in Nashville could certainly identify with a guy seeing a hockey game in 30 different rinks, and in 30 consecutive days! The fans were absolutely awesome! Well done Nashville!  (In 2016, I was invited to attend the NHL All-Star game in Nashville, and wow, were they great hosts!)

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Game #30: Toronto Maple Leafs (April 11, 2015)

April 11, 2015

Last game of my 30games-30nights trip, and it was a great way to finish my trip.  What a day!  I arrived in Toronto early, getting to Air Canada Centre around 10:30 a.m. for the morning skate. The Leafs were first on the ice., then the Habs next at 11:30 a.m.

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Lots of media for the last game of the regular season, and some of them wanted to talk to me about my trip. That’s Lauren Howe from the Leafs – I really enjoyed chatting with her!

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At the morning skate, I met up with the legendary Bob Cole from Hockey Night in Canada, who in my opinion, is the best play-by-play announcer in hockey!  (And for decades, not years!) Thereafter, I met up with another hockey legend, Brendan Shanahan, and it was great to talk hockey with him at the morning skate.

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I was honoured to be invited by the NHL to have a tour of their office on the last day of my tour.  Andrew Kavanaugh took me around the building, first to their main lobby area which features a replica trophy for each NHL award, and afterwards, to the NHL boardroom where so many big decisions are made about the game.

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My next stop was the “situation room,” or the “video war room” where every contested goal is reviewed. Former NHL player (and coach) Mike Murphy joined me for this part of the tour, along with former NHL grit player Kris King.  I’m a big fan of players like Kris King, and I’m a bigger fan now.  I talked hockey with Kris for about an hour in the “situation room,” and when he found out that I did not have a single game-used puck, he made a point to get me one from every NHL team!  I’ve met so many people in my 30games-30nights tour, but Kris King is tops!  As I was making my way through the hallway of this special place, I ran into Hall-of-Famer Jim Gregory.  After finishing up my tour, I was presented with a silver-encased game-used puck from the NHL in recognition of my trip!

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Next off to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I was genuinely surprised and overwhelmed for what took place next.  Knowing that I was a bit short of my $30,000 goal to raise money for Make-A-Wish on my 30games-30nights tour, I was absolutely blown away by Honda Canada’s presentation.

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After the presentation, I was given a special guided tour of the HHOF, capped off with seeing (and touching) for the first time, the Stanley Cup.  As you can see, I was very happy to embrace this historic trophy!

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Next, I headed off to the CBC studios for an interview and a tour of the HNIC set.  The sets at CBC are absolutely incredible!

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For the last game of the regular season, HNIC included me in their intro with Scott Oake asking me a few questions about my trip.

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There was a special guitar presentation of O Canada by Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar.  Very cool, and the fans loved it!  I also took a few pictures of the banners in the building.

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For this game, I missed most of the first period, as I was being prepared for a surprise presentation by Molson Canadian.  I knew something was up when I ran into Wendel Clark, who was involved in this special presentation. Molson’s presented a cheque (on my behalf) to Make-A-Wish for $6,500.00, and in addition, a “Anything For Hockey” beer fridge commemorating my trip.  Wow is all I can say!  And “wow” is all I can say about Alex Forani from Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment.  She greeted me at the morning skate at 10:30 a.m., and Alex made my day an incredible experience!  Thanks Alex!

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With my Toronto Maple Leafs report now finished, stay tuned for my “Arena Report,” which is due out in the next few days on this site.

 

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Game #29: Columbus Blue Jackets (April 10, 2015)

April 10, 2015

Another arena I was really looking forward to seeing, and it lived up to all the hype.  There are only six NHL arenas newer than Nationwide Arena, so it has all the features fans want in an arena building:  variety of food and beverage venues, lots of natural light in the building, and lots of room to mingle and move around.  And on top of all that, a great location, with lots of places to eat and drink before or after the game.

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It’s neat the affinity fans have for their anthem singers, some arenas more than others.  In Columbus, their regular anthem singer (Leo Welsh) is revered by their fans, and when he finishes singing the Star Spangled Banner, the fans shout out “Leo.” Another thing the fans chant is “CBJ, CBJ.”  I guess “Go Blue Jackets Go” is too long!

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With the anthem sung, I like watching the officials wish each other luck before the game begins. There’s usually a fist-pump between all four officials on the ice.  I may be in the minority, but I have a lot of respect for the men who call the game!IMG_9173

I took a photo with the famous Blue Jackets cannon.  It’s an authentic working reproduction of a Civil War era cannon, and they fire it off after every home team goal.  It didn’t take long to hear the cannon – the Blue Jackets scored the fastest goal of my trip, 14 seconds into the game.  I also ran into one of the nicest media guys I’ve met along my travels – Dave Maetzold, who I met in Chicago on game #15 of my trip.  Dave interviewed me as the visiting media in Chicago, and he made a point to find me at the game in Columbus!  (That’s Dave on the right in the second photo below, a photo taken with the Fox Sports crew.)

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And last not but not least, here’s the Columbus Blue Jackets mascot, Stinger.  It’s pretty hard to beat Sharkie as my favorite mascot (Sharkie gave me a big boost when he visited me in San Jose, a game when I was not feeling too well), but Stinger may be the coolest looking mascot in the NHL.

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Sorry for the short report folks (I may add to it later), but I have an early flight tomorrow morning, for my last game which takes place in Toronto.  My flight departs at 7 a.m. (and it’s cross-border), so I have to get up at 4:30 a.m.  Speaking of flights, today was a close call.  I needed two flights to get from Montreal to Columbus, and my second flight was delayed leaving the stopover point (Toronto) for “maintenance issues.”  I didn’t get in to Columbus until 5 p.m., so I barely made this game, but I still made not only the opening face-off, but the pre-game skate, so my “record” is a perfect 29 for 29!  And there’s nothing stopping me from making the game in Toronto tomorrow!

 

 

 

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Game #28: Montreal Canadiens (April 9, 2015)

April 9, 2015

Tonight’s game was a vastly different experience than last night’s game in Washington.  While the Capitals organization rolled out the red carpet for my visit to Verizon Center (my 27th stop), things were much quieter in Montreal.  Interesting how social media works – in some cities, lots of media and team attention, and in some cities, not so much.  No complaints, because that’s not the purpose of my trip. Raising money and awareness for Make-A-Wish is the primary goal, and seeing hockey games in all 30 NHL arenas is my “wish list” trip, a trip I’ve dreamed of taking for over 10 years.

So back to Montreal.  This stop has been one of the most highly anticipated stops of my trip. While I’ve seen 3 or 4 games at Bell Centre before (and one game at the historic Montreal Forum), I was still very excited to get to Montreal.  There’s no better place to watch a hockey game than in Montreal, and tonight confirmed my assertion.

I arrived early (as I have for all my rink visits so far) with hopes to get a few photos of the famous statues, but they’re in storage right now while construction (lots of it) take place around the Bell Centre.  They’re hoping to re-erect these statues by next week, when the playoffs start.  When entering the building, you can see the efforts which took place to preserve the history and tradition of the storied Montreal Canadiens Hockey Club.  (Club de hockey Canadien.)  With 24 Stanley Cups and numerous Hall of Fame players, the Canadiens are the most prolific and accomplished team in the NHL.

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Before heading to my seat, I had to check out the seat where Jean Beliveau sat to watch the Canadiens play.  His seat was not in a luxury suite, but a regular seat just behind the Montreal Canadiens bench.  Since Mr. Beliveau’s passing late last year, the Canadiens have honoured his seat, and it remains unoccupied.  Jean Beliveau was the first NHL player I idolized when I first started following hockey as a young boy.  He epitomized class and grace, and in a category all on its own.

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As I made my way to my seat, I snapped a photo of the most famous face-off circle in all of hockey, a pristine sheet of ice ready and waiting for tonight’s combatants.  For the pre-game skate, I focussed most of my attention on two players  – Carey Price and PK Subban, two key players for the Habs.

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The Montreal Canadiens have a captivating countdown to the game.  Utilizing 3-D graphics (similar to what I saw in Tampa Bay), the ice is turned into a video screen, and while the photos give you an idea of things, there’s nothing like seeing it live.  Very very cool!  Another thing they do is show the birthplace of the team’s starting line-up.  Featured below (on the Jumbotron) is Brendan Gallagher, who just happens to hail from my hometown – Edmonton, Alberta.

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As I have for 28 games in a row now, I took a photo of the opening face-off.  Sometimes my shutter grabs the referee dropping the puck, sometimes I capture the puck between two player’s sticks, and other times, the puck is on its way to a player outside the face-off circle.  In a fast-paced game like hockey, a lot of things happen in a half of a second, about the time it takes me to snap a photo.

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Tonight’s game was one my favourite hockey games of the trip.  Two “original six” teams, one assured of a playoff spot (the Habs), the other (the Wings) trying to make the playoffs.  I’ve watched the Wings a lot this trip – once at Joe Louis Arena, and with tonight’s game, five games on the road.  Interesting thing about the Red Wings is that almost all of their players shoot left-handed.  Kind of reminds me of the Habs in the 70’s, when only Guy Lafleur and Mario Tremblay shot right-handed.

With lots at stake, the game was like a playoff game, and the energy inside the Bell Centre was electric.  The Canadiens tied the game 3-3 with about 8 minutes to go in the third period, and Lars Eller scored in overtime to give Montreal a 4-3 win over Detroit. (Detroit earned a berth in the playoffs with the overtime loss point.)

With the game over, I expected to see throngs of fans leave the building, but almost everyone stayed to see the players salute the fans, then hear the three star selections, and thereafter, stay for an on-ice interview with the first star, Carey Price.  (Price was also the recipient of  a pie in the face from his teammates, and for breaking a long-standing Montreal Canadiens record for wins in a season.  Price won his 43rd game of the season, passing Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden.

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It’s a weeknight here in Montreal, an no one seems to want to go home after the game is over.  I made my way back to my hotel (ideally located, only two blocks from the Bell Centre), and the hotel lounge and bar (as are other venues all around downtown Montreal) are filled with fans who just watched the game.  Très bien Montreal!

 

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Game #27: Washington Capitals (April 8, 2015)

April 8, 2015

Game #27 in Washington was the most enjoyable night of my trip!  And it’s interesting how it came to be.  About ten days ago, I heard from someone (Nestor Aparicio from WNST Baltimore) who caught my story on nhl.com, and he reached out to the Washington Capitals (a team he has close connections with), and a few days later, I heard from Peter Robinson with the Capitals who offered to show me around the rink.

I arrived at the Verizon Center about 2 1/2 hours before puck drop to meet up with Peter, Nestor, and his son Barry.  (That’s me pictured with Nestor below, and I took a photo of Peter by the Washington Capitals recliner in one of their fan lounges.)IMG_9066IMG_9022

We started the tour in the concourse area, and I found it very interesting how the Capitals showcase hat-tricks for their fans.  After a player scores a hat-trick, they collect all the hats thrown on the ice, and they put them in a display bin for the fans to see all the details.

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We headed up to the press box area to check out the view from above, and later on, I had the opportunity to meet up with Ben Raby, host and producer for the Washington Capitals radio network, and play-by-play announcer John Walton.

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Thereafter, we descended about six floors to check out the action in the areas around the arena surface.  I saw the Washington Capitals players warming up with a soccer ball, but no pictures this time.  But I did get a photo of the “Red Rockers,” the Spirit Team for the Washington Capitals.  I also climbed up an Olympia ice-cleaner (not Zamboni).

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We still had time to catch Mitch Korn (known as the “goalie whisperer”) talk to season tickets holders and invited guests about his prowess as a goalie coach.

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I had the opportunity to check out the team’s production studio, and afterwards, did an interview with Haley Milon.

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Before going to our seats, I had a chance to check out some of the special fan lounges and seating they have at the Verizon Center.  Very impressive!

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Later on in the night (in the second intermission) I was introduced to Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, along with one of the special guests in his suite – former NFL commissioner.

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Finishing up the night, I attended a media press conference with Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz taking the podium to answer a few post-game questions.  Thereafter, I had the opportunity to meet Barry Trotz – what a classy and friendly guy!  (Not surprised that he grew up in Manitoba.)

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As I was ready to head home for the night, I ran into Capitals anthem singer Bob McDonald, and thereafter, in-arena host Erin Magee.

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And here’s my host and new friend from the Capitals, Peter Robinson, presenting me with a Winter Classic jersey to commemorate my visit.  Thanks to Peter and the Washington Capitals for making my 27th stop so special!  And thanks again to Nestor Aparicio for all your help in setting things up with the Capitals!  Nestor is doing a 30 games in 30 days baseball tour this summer (and with a charity purpose), and he’s also planning a 30 game 30 night hockey trip next season. I will be one of his biggest supporters!

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I didn’t want to leave, so one of the last things I did was get a shot taken on the ice, with the Washington Capitals logo in the background.

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I had a lot of fun before and after the game, but in between, there was a very good hockey game. The Capitals already clinched a playoff spot earlier this week, but they wanted to secure home ice for the first round of the playoffs.  And the Bruins are in a dogfight to make the playoffs, so there was a lot at stake in the game.  The Caps came out on top, shutting out the Bruins 3-0, with Braden Holtby stopping all 27 shots on net.  It was definitely a “Rock the Red” night at the Verizon Center.  The Caps must have the most fans wearing team jerseys to their games in the entire NHL.  Very cool experience, and great to see the Caps get a very important win!

 

 

 

 

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Game #26: Colorado Avalanche (April 7, 2015)

April 8, 2015

I’ve been asked a number of times how many rinks I’ve visited before I took this trip.  The answer is an unimpressive seven, and the rinks include Toronto (old and new), Montreal (old and new), Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Chicago and Colorado.

As for Colorado (Denver), I’ve watched about 4-5 Avalanche games at the Pepsi Center before, and I’ve always been impressed with their arena.  It’s a beautiful modern arena, so I thought I knew what to expect, but I was in for a surprise.  The Pepsi Center has a new Jumbotron, and it has to be the biggest in the NHL.  (Tampa Bay’s is quite huge too, but it’s screen size is not quite as big as the one at the Pepsi Center.)  It stretches as wide as the distance between the two blue lines – it seems the size of a small apartment building.

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I met up with the T.V. production crew for the visiting team for this game – the Nashville Predators, a team and organization which I have really grown to like.  They gave me a tour of the building (as visitors), which included where the players warm up, the broadcast booth (up high in the press box), and the production truck(s) which sit in the underbelly of the arena.  Very cool!

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I was interviewed by Pete Weber, who does the play-by-play for the Predators, and I also met up with his sidekick, color commentator (and former NHL player) Stu Grimson.

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After the interview, I headed down to take a few photos of the various areas where fans congregate for food, drink or conversation, or where they sit to watch the game.

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In my travels, I ran into the Avalanche Ice Girls, and they insisted on a photo, for which I obliged.  I also tried to get a photo with the Avalanche mascot Bernie, but it was tough to compete with children of single-digit ages, who stood in line before me.

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I always enjoy the countdown to the puck-drop, and the Av’s do a very good job of this.

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The Colorado Avalanche have enjoyed great success in the NHL, winning cups in 1996 and 2001, as the banners demonstrate.  They also have a few Hall-of-Famers honored in the rafters.

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It was a treat to join a friend of a friend to tonight’s game – Steve and his wife Donna.  Sight unseen, we had never met before, but their warmth and hospitality made stop #26 in my 30 game trip very nice.

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Game #25: Minnesota Wild (April 6, 2015)

April 6, 2015

I arrived in Minneapolis early today, so I had a few hours of leisure time before the game.  In making my way around the Nicollet Mall area, I happened upon a statue of Mary Tyler Moore on the boulevard.  I also happened upon a neat little French bistro (go figure – in Minneapolis) which made a “croque monsieur” which would rival anything you would find in France.  (Sorry – I only have a photo of the bistro, not the sandwich.)

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In making my way to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul later on, I learned that taking the Metro was free if you were going to the hockey game.  (At least that’s what the guy told me for a fee of $5.00!  Hmmm?)

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The Xcel Center is a gorgeous facility, definitely top 10 in the league for arenas, and maybe better than that.   Take a look.

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It was clear that I was in hockey town/state, and with playoff positions on the line (for the Wild, and the visiting Jets), the energy level was like that of a playoff game.  I would rank the Wild fans as one of the louder arenas, this despite the fact that I was unable to hear the fans cheer a goal from the home team.

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In making my usual arena observations, I noticed that the goal judges (who no longer sit behind the net), are perched up high on both sides of the rink at the Xcel Center. Definitely a great viewpoint!

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I was selected for a second intermission fan contest called “High Low,” and I think the contest was rigged.  (In a good way, because despite wanting to answer the final question incorrectly, I was “guided” toward the correct answer.)  And I won a prize pack which included a whole bunch of Minnesota Wild goodies.  I was also interviewed about my trip, and I have to give the Wild announcer great credit for promoting the cause (Make-A-Wish).

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Tonight’s game was the last home game of the season for the Wild, and it was announced that the team set a season record for attendance.  Well done Wild fans!  In my 25 days of traveling, I would rank the Wild fans as top 5 in three categories:  friendly, knowledgeable, and loud!  (And loud in a good way!)

 

 

 

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Game #24: Detroit Red Wings (April 5, 2015)

April 5, 2015

I’m reticent to provide an arena report on a team which is about to move into a new arena.  (i.e. New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers, and most recently visited, the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.) Interestingly. the three teams with new arenas underway (the Islanders already have theirs lined up for next season) are probably the last three NHL dynasty teams:  the Islanders with four consecutive cups in the early 80’s (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983), the Oilers with five cups in seven years (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990), and the Red Wings with four cup wins in 11 seasons (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008).

When looking at the Joe Louis Arena (which is one of the few arenas without a corporate sponsor name), it’s easy to pick on the inadequacies of the rink in comparison to the modern day arenas, but location is not one of them for Detroit.  It’s located in the downtown area, not far away actually from where the new arena will go.  (Which is scheduled for completion in 2017.)

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Here are a few photos an hour before game time, but at intermission time, it was a challenge to get a photo of these areas, just because how packed it was.  One example is the Red Wings merchandise store (I think they have more of the these than any other team visited), and it was packed before game time, at both intermissions, and after the game was over.

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I found it interesting to see the entire coaching staff of the Red Wings on the bench for the pre-game skate (haven’t seen this yet), and only the Caps head coach (Barry Trotz) on the bench for the same warm-up event.  Not a big deal at all, but it’s the kind of thing you notice when you’re watching hockey games day after day after day.

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With the warm-up over, I was excited to see the the countdown to the puck-drop, but I was under-whelmed.  (Opposite of Red Wings forward Darren Helm, who “over-(w)helms” me with his hard work and play on the ice.)  I know the team is moving to a new facility in two years, but there was no excitement or build-up to the team coming out on the ice.  I know the product is the hockey team (and the Red Wings have been a very good hockey team, and for a long time), but fans want entertainment value too.  I hope they pick this up when they move to the new arena.  Just ask former star Red Wings player Steve Yzerman, GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Tampa Bay has a great product on the ice, but they also make going to a hockey game an entertainment event.

I’m sure the Red Wings will elevate the entertainment part of the game experience for hockey fans, but Red Wings fans should be proud of their team’s history – 11 Stanley Cups, and a professional North American sports league record of 23 consecutive seasons of making the playoffs.  That’s quite amazing!  Take a look at their banners.

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And now take a look at some of their past greats, including Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Alex Delvecchio.

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Here’s the perspective from my seat (amazing that I could purchase such a good seat one hour before game time), and the puck drop thereafter.

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I’m always interested to see what teams do for various parts of the game, and as an example, I thought it was interesting that the Red Wings do not utilize “ice girls” to clean the ice during the commercial breaks, but why do the Red Wings ice cleaners “need” helmets, but the “ice girls” (who clean the ice in some other rinks) do not?

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Wrapping things up, I have to say that it was very nice to see a kiosk serving a “sub sandwich” at a hockey game.  I took advantage of the offering, and while a salad or fruit plate would have been a healthier option, I justified my dinner selection as being way better than a hot dog or a burger!IMG_0812

I’m off to Minneapolis tomorrow, and it should be a great game – two teams (the Wild and the Jets) fighting for playoff positions.  And I just found out that I’ve been selected to participate in their second intermission contest.  Should be very interesting!

 

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Game #23: Ottawa Senators (April 4, 2015)

April 5, 2015

I was joined by my good friend Alex Beaudoin from Ottawa for my 23rd game, so this definitely added to the enjoyment level.   We arrived at the Canadian Tire Centre early for the game (my usual practice), and as you can see by the below picture, the arena is out on its own, with a location outside of the Ottawa metropolitan area.

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It may not be the most ideal location for an arena (especially for fans of downtown arenas), so for this reason, there’s been some recent discussion about building a new arena in the downtown core.

While the Canadian Tire Centre is not the most modern arena in the NHL, it’s still only 20 years old, and has more than enough seating capacity (19,961 seats) for an NHL team.

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Before settling into our seats, we grabbed a bite to eat, and after learning that my good friend had never eaten a reuben before, this was our selection.  It now ranks as one of my favourite foods eaten at a hockey game so far in my trip.

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But as good as the food was, this is not why you go to a hockey game in Ottawa.  The Senators are battling for a spot in the playoffs, so this game was a huge one for the team.  And there’s nothing like being in a Canadian arena with playoff fever.

With the game about to start, the anthems were sung, and when the Canadian anthem was sung, it was the loudest I’ve heard any fans (Canada or U.S.) sing along with their anthem. With the anthem sung, the fans began the “Go Sens Go” chant, and before the ten minute mark of the first period, built up a 3-0 lead on the visiting Washington Capitals.

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The Ottawa Senators made a very nice presentation to me just before the end of the second period.  Included in their presentation were two Ottawa Senators jerseys, one with my name (and number 30 on the back), the other, a team signed Senators jersey.  As much as I would treasure the team signed jersey (and I would), I will be donating this jersey to be auctioned off with proceeds going to Make-A-Wish.  And the best part of the presentation – the Senators made a donation of $2,200.00 to Make-A-Wish, which is absolutely awesome!

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In the second intermission, I caught one of the most entertaining intermission events – the battling Prime Ministers.  It was hilarious to see these caricatures of past Prime Ministers duelling it out on the ice.

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Getting back to the hockey game, the Capitals battled back to tie the score 3-3 in the third, but Kyle Turris scored a beauty in overtime to give the Senators a much needed win.  Hurray for the Senators!

I would like to thank the Ottawa Senators for making my 23rd stop so special, and I would like to thank Chelsea from their PR department for her hospitality.  And thanks to my friend Alex for joining me to this game – here’s a “selfie” with the two of us at the game.

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Game #22: Anaheim Ducks (April 3, 2015)

April 4, 2015

Today was one of only three days in my trip which did not involve an airport.  The L.A. to Anaheim leg of the trip is the shortest in travel time and distance.  This gave me a chance to get caught up on a few things, and get some well needed rest.

I arrived at the Honda Center well in advance of the game, and had no problem purchasing a ticket to the game at the ticket window.

Here is a shot of the Honda Center as you approach the main entrance, and similar to what they do in L.A., Fox Sports conducts their coverage of the game outside the arena.

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The Ducks store was packed with people shopping, and a number of them wanted a customized jersey.  They do this on the spot, adding whatever you want on the name bar.

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Here are a few shots in and around the concourse levels of the arena, some of the unique kiosks include Anaheim Pizza and a tequila bar.

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As I was taking a few pictures of the pre-game skate, I ran into a few of the Ducks boosters, and they obliged me with a photo.  They got a a kick out my 30games-30nights trip, and they impressed me with their hockey knowledge.  And speaking of hockey knowledge, a Ducks fan (Wally) recognized me from some media coverage, and we talked hockey for about 10-15 minutes before the game.  Wally was a Kings fans going back to the 70’s (he could recite the full names of the “Triple Crown Line”), but he switched to Anaheim when the team was founded.  Talking to the local fans about hockey, and their favourite team is one of the things I enjoy about this trip.

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One of the mainstays in my reports are the banners or any retired (or honored) jerseys which hang from the rafters.  And also, a snapshot of the team’s Jumbotron.   (This one sure has a lot of 2’s on it.)  I’ve also included a shot of the crowd cheering a Ducks goal.  It was not the Ducks night though, as they went down in defeat, losing to Colorado 4-2, the last goal an empty-netter.

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A skirmish broke out late in the second period, but it was diffused very quickly.   After 22 games in my trip, there has only been one fight, which is an indication that fighting is down in the NHL.  (And also, a lot of teams are in playoff mode, a time in the hockey season when fighting takes place less than the regular season.)  The Ducks mascot, Wild Wing, got all charged up with the action on the ice!

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I left promptly after this game to catch a red-eye to Ottawa.  This is the most gruelling travel day of my trip.  There are no direct flights from L.A. to Ottawa, so while my original plan was to fly out at 7 a.m., with the stopover, I would not have landed in Ottawa until 5:14 p.m.  That’s cutting it too close for a 7:00 p.m. game.   With my new plan, I leave L.A. at 12:15 a.m., and with a stopover in Philadelphia, I arrive in Ottawa around 1:00 p.m.  The flying time is only (?) 7  hours, but with a 3 hour stopover, added to a 3 hour time zone change, it makes for a long trip.  Hopefully I can nap in Ottawa before the game tonight.

I’m looking forward to the last week of my trip!  I get to see the remaining three “original six” teams of my trip:  Detroit (April 5th), Montreal (April 9th), and Toronto (April 11th).

 

 

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Game #21: Los Angeles Kings (April 2, 2015)

April 3, 2015

Staples Center was a rink I was looking forward to visit, and it didn’t disappoint.  I met up with Lauren Wiedmeier with the Kings, who heard about my 30games-30nights trip a few weeks ago.

Before going inside the arena, I took a few photos of the area outside the arena, which is rich with restaurants and bars in this part of downtown Los Angeles.  And while snapping photos of the area outside the rink, I ran into Kevin Lowe from the Oilers.  How about that!IMG_8692IMG_8688IMG_8689IMG_0686

And just outside the arena entrance, there were statues of former Kings greats Luc Robitaille and Wayne Gretzky.  I ran into a few Oilers fans, who joined me for the photo with the Wayne Gretzky.  I’m guessing there were about 300-400 Oilers fans in the building for tonight’s game.   IMG_8688IMG_8685

Getting back to the tour, Lauren presented me with a couple of nice gifts on behalf of the Kings organization:  a vial containing the melted ice from their Stanley Cup winning game in 2014, and a signed puck by Kings player Dwight King.  (If you’re name was King, who else would you play for?  Lauren also presented my with an authentic Stanley Cup ring from the Kings win in 2014, but she presented it for me to look at, not to keep!

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I also had the opportunity to watch the Kings players warm up with a soccer ball before the pre-game skate, and about 45 minutes later, I watched them enter the arena for the game.IMG_8701IMG_8718IMG_8704IMG_8728

In the first intermission, I did an interview with Fox Sports, the interview which took place in a booth just outside of Staples Center

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As I was running out to do the interview, I ran into Chad Johnson and his cool son Jeremy, who were there to cheer on the Oilers.  Chad reached out to me a few weeks ago, with hopes to meet up at the game, and he bought me a beer, and promised to make a donation Make-A-Wish.

The game did not go the way of Oilers fans, as the Kings trounced the Oilers 8-2.  There was a lot for the Kings fans to cheer about tonight, and they did so in a very loud fashion.

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I finished watching the game in their club section, and was looked after a very pleasant Deborah, who got a kick out of my 30games-30nights trip. The final picture shows very special seating for the high-rollers who want to see a game in ultimate style.

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I was very impressed with the Staples Center, certainly one of the top buildings in the NHL.  It has everything a hockey fan (or basketball fan, concert goer, etc.) would want when enjoying their favourite sport or event!

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Game #20: San Jose Sharks (April 1, 2015)

April 2, 2015

Today was a bit of a tough day for me.  I was feeling a bit exhausted, so I wasn’t 100% for the game in San Jose.  I usually make my way around the rink, talking to as many fans as possible, but for this game, I did this less than usual.  I was still able to get a lot of photos of the rink, and the various eating and drinking spots, all which impressed me from a fan’s perspective.

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At the pre-game skate, I watched Jarome Iginla warming up, thinking that this may be the last game I see him play.  I hope not, because he’s one of my favourite NHL players, and he still contributes on the ice. In looking up at the rafters, I noticed all of the banners honoring the Sharks achievements, but for all their success in the regular season, they have not had the same success in the playoffs.

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The Sharks have one of the biggest Jumbotrons, with two upper rings (used mostly for ads), and a lower ring surrounding their big screen.  As the players make their way on the ice to start the game, it’s really cool to see them come flying out through their illuminated shark.

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And speaking of sharks, I was energized and thrilled to see my friend Sharkie, the Sharks mascot.  We’ve been communicating through social media the last few weeks, and he said he would come look for me at the game, and he sure did!  It definitely lifted my spirits, and I have a new favourite mascot – Sharkie!

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Last but not least, I have to comment on the Sharks fans.  Great fans, and I really like how they use their arms to mimic a shark’s bite when the team goes on the power play.  And when the Sharks score a goal, Dr. Who is played, and the fans shout out “Hey” on beat!  Very loud and very cool!  And last night, I got to hear this celebration five times, as the Sharks beat the Avalanche 5-1. The last two goals were empty-netters, and true to form, Av’s coach Patrick Roy pulled his goalie with lots of time left in the third period.  (Over five minutes to play in the game.)  I almost saw Sharks goalie Berra score on the empty net, but the puck was stopped by a Colorado defenseman.  It would have been neat to him score.

 

 

 

 

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Game #19: Nashville Predators (March 31, 2015)

April 1, 2015

I arrived to this game early, because I wanted to walk around “The District,” a very cool part of Nashville’s downtown, which is situated right beside the Bridgestone Arena.  This is the best location for an arena so far in my trip.

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I headed over to the rink about 1 1/2 hours prior to puck-drop, and to do three interviews about my 30 game trip.  The Predators are doing very well this season, and the Preds fans are sure into their hockey.  I was stopped a number of times from fans who either read, heard or saw media coverage of my trip.  For this game, I was interviewed by Justin Bradford from ESPN / Penalty Box Radio, and pictured below Alexis Witman from the Predaors, and Darren McFarland and Willie Daunic from 102.5 “The Game.”

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Bridgestone Arena is another top notch facility.  I probably sound like a broken record, but there are a lot of great food choices (southern BBQ), and I tried a Tennessee lager – “Hap and Harry’s,” which is now my favorite beer of this trip.  (And only $9.00 for a 16 oz cup.)IMG_8583IMG_8573IMG_8557 IMG_8564

Diamond Rio sang the U.S. anthem to start the game, and from game start through until the end, the Predators fans were a vocal group, probably the loudest fans I’ve heard so far in my trip.

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I couldn’t wait for the game to start.  I heard the fans here are very loud, and they did not disappoint.  I got a kick out of them chanting “you suck,” after each opposing player was introduced, and they saved a “you suck too” for the coach.  All in good fun!   It’s also cool to see a lot of their fans get out of their seats when a power play is called, showing two fingers as if the fingers are fangs for a Predators power play which is about to pounce on their opponent.  Neat!

In looking around the crowd, there were lots of fans wearing the home town jerseys, rivalling the Flames and Blackhawks crowds for the highest percentage of home town jerseys in the crowd.

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In the second intermission, the crowd was entertained by a local band, and while a lot of folks were out in the concourses enjoying food and drink, there were lots of fans enjoying the music!   I think Nashville is kinda known as a music city!  :)

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I had an great time at this game.  Nashville fans are awesome, and if there’s a louder crowd cheering on a hockey game in the NHL, I haven’t come across one yet!  (I would love to hear this crowd, amongst other team’s crowds in the playoffs.)

Last but not least, in leaving the arena, fans have access to numerous places to grab a bite or drink, and take in some of the local entertainment!

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Game #18: St. Louis Blues (March 30, 2015)

March 31, 2015

I love being in a hockey city, and St. Louis is a hockey city.  They were part of a group of six expansion teams joining the “original six” teams for the 1967-1968 season, so they’ve been in the NHL for almost 50 years.

The St. Louis Blues have never won the Stanley Cup, but they have been a strong contender the last number of years.  I’m predicting they will go a long way in the playoffs this season.

I met up with Phil Forsman from the Blues PR department before the game, and he gave me a tour of the building, and similar to my experience in TB, I was able to watch the players warm up before the game.  Thereafter I was taken to the penalty box (and just like the players, I didn’t agree with the call), for an interview with NHL.com.  They actually have a camera situated at the bottom of every arena’s jumbotron to conduct interviews, etc.

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The Blues play their games in Scottrade Center, a building which is about 20 years old, but it doesn’t seem that old.  It has the same feel as any of the more modern arenas I’ve visited.  Lots of elbow space, lots of natural light, great food and eating, and lots of seats to watch a hockey game – over 20,000 capacity counting standing room!

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I exceeded my budget a bit for this game, purchasing a ticket for $178.00 in the lower bowl, which gave me access to their club lounge on the main level.  The ticket price included complimentary food (buffet) and drinks – a pretty good deal!

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At the pregame skate, I noticed someone from my hometown (Edmonton) holding a sign up behind the home team net.  I made my way over to introduce myself to mom (Danielle) and daughter (Renee) both who already knew about my 30games-30nights hockey trip.IMG_8491IMG_8496

Here’s a pic of another young fan with a hockey sign – Connor who was attending his first NHL game.  When I said that it was my first NHL game too, he didn’t believe me!  I’ve also added a picture of the St. Louis Blues mascot (Louie) – he’s probably the tallest mascot I’ve seen on my tour so far.

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Another mainstay in every arena is the 50/50 draw, where fans can purchase tickets, with 50% of the money going to the winner, and 50% of the money going to a local charity.  The ticket sellers are volunteers, and here’s Maddie who sold me my ticket.  I also ran into a Wayne Gretzky fan, who remembers the brief time Gretzky played in St. Louis, so Gretzky could play with his buddy Brett Hull.  Hull is one of three players with statues in front of the arena, joining Al MacInnis and Bernie Federko.  The Blues also have a “trophy case” featuring jerseys, sticks, etc. worn or used by players from the past eras.

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In finishing up my “report,” I’ve included a few mainstays of each arena visit, a photo of the retired (or honored) jerseys in the rafters, and a shot of the Jumbotron.  And lastly, I’ve included a pic of a young hockey fan.  Maybe he will see 30 games in 30 nights some day!

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(For new visitors to my site, be sure to check out past team/arena reports on my Blog page on this site.)

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Game #17: New Jersey Devils (March 29, 2015)

March 29, 2015

I had an amazing time at the Devils game last night.  I was welcomed at the game by Brian Fisher, Director Public Relations for the New Jersey Devils.  We met up about 1 1/2 hours before game time, and Brian gave me a tour of their beautiful facility.  In my previous 16 visits to NHL arenas, I’ve seen some impressive buildings, but Prudential Center has to be the best one I’ve seen yet. Sightlines from all seats in the building are great, lower bowl seats are probably the widest I’ve seen so far.  (Except for the first six rows of seats between the blue-lines at Madison Square Gardens.)

From the moment you enter the building, and to all points traveled, it just feels great to be in this building.  The concourse levels are extremely roomy, and most with natural light coming in to the building.  There is a lot of loftiness to the concourse levels, and food and drink options are endless.

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With the game about to start, I watched the countdown to puck-drop, and I was absolutely blown away.  The Devils use 3D graphics on their ice surface (photos do not show how cool this looks), which makes the pre-game show amazing!

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With the anthems played, I had the opportunity to meet their organist (Pete) – it’s neat to see more and more arenas with organists to complement the variety of other music played at games.

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I always enjoy talking to hockey fans, and to continue my tradition of quizzing a local fan on hockey trivia, I met up with Adam, who is the second person in my trip to score a perfect 10 out of 10!  Nice guy too!  I also met up with a couple of “gals” who saw me at the Carolina Hurricanes game the night before (the Devils were the visiting team), so we took a few pictures.

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I was overwhelmed by the number of food choices offered.  Renowned chef David Burke runs a “bacon bar,” in the arena’s “Fire and Ice” lounges, but I went with the recommended choice:  a Portuguese spicy linguica sandwich, and it was absolutely delicious!  (They have a restaurant section called Ironbound, which honors the Newark neighbourhood where the arena is located.)

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The Devils presented me with two jerseys at the game, one when I arrived (with my name on the back), and the other which was presented at the first break in the second period.  Former Devils player Colin White, and the team mascot (N.J. Devil) presented me with a signed Patrick Elias jersey.  As much as I appreciate and covet a signed player’s jersey, I will be donating this jersey to be auctioned off, with proceeds going to Make-A-Wish.  I’m sure the New Jersey Devils will understand.  And speaking of Make-A-Wish, the Devils donated a portion of the 50/50 proceeds from tonight’s game to Make-A-Wish, so we can add $3,354.00 to our growing donation total!IMG_8380IMG_8391IMG_8389IMG_8390

Funny thing – my brother and sister-in-law (who joined me for the game in Chicago two nights ago), asked me if I would ever want to do a Zamboni ride-along, and I said probably not – it’s more for kids.  Well – I was asked at tonight’s game, and I must be a kid at heart, because I absolutely loved it!

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I did a few interviews at the game, including this one with Devils play-by-play announcer Matt Laughlin.  Great to see (and hear) him call the game for a few minutes before the interview.  In wrapping up the night, I was introduced to Scott O’Neil, who is the CEO for the New Jersey Devils, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Prudential Center.  Nice to chat with an accomplished man in sport and business – he really got a kick out of my 30games-30nights trip.

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Last but not least, I would like to thank Brian Fisher for taking me around the rink, snapping photos, and just being a terrific overall host.

Putting all the special treatment aside, I can objectively say that the Prudential Center is one of the most impressive (if not the best) arena facilities I’ve been in so far this trip!  Devils fans (and concert fans, etc.) have something special in their city!

 

 

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Game #16: Carolina Hurricanes (March 28, 2015)

March 29, 2015

With 14 effective sell-outs of the first 15 games I have attended, I knew this game would be a bit light for fans, but it wasn’t light for entertainment and fan frenzy.

The PNC Center is located about 15 minutes away from downtown Raleigh, and it’s another arena with plenty of fun going on before the game starts.   For tonight’s game, there was a fun-zone area for kids to play, a street hockey surface, and a live band performing for people who arrived early for the game.

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This was the first game where I just walked up to the window and bought a ticket – in previous games, I purchased my tickets in advance.  There were no line-ups, and I was able to buy my favourite seat (14 rows up, and at centre ice) for a little over $100.00.  And this seat provided a club section to order food and drinks at the top of the stairs, an area with incredible elbow room.

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Walking around other areas of the arena showed ample space to move around, and while it’s fair to state that the game was not a sell-out, I could imagine this would still be the case in games which were sold out.

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There were a lot of great food options to consider, but as I usually do, I deferred to the regular fans who suggested that I try the BBQ pulled pork sandwich.  It did not disappoint, and we may have a new “leader” in my favourite arena food so far in my trip.

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This next picture if for my good friends – Cam and Monika, who requested more photos of mascots, and for their daughter Samantha.  (But I really think it’s my friend Cam who likes photos of mascots.)  Also pictured below is a photo of the Canes warming up in their “Go Green” jerseys, which they wear before select home games, and to auction off with proceeds going to a local children’s charity.

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With the the anthem sung, and the game about to start, I witnessed a new Canes tradition –  the sounding of the Warning Siren.  (It’s actually a real “air raid” siren.)  IMG_8286IMG_8266IMG_8264IMG_8263

For game action (and while both teams are effectively out of the playoff race), it was a pretty good hockey game.  The Devils opened the scoring, but the Canes bounced back, winning the game by a score of 3-1!

(* For those looking for my “mid-trip report,” or past blogs, head to my blog page on this site.)

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Mid-Trip Report (After 15 games)

March 28, 2015

It’s been an incredible 15 games, and it’s hard to believe I’m already at the halfway point of my trip.  I’m documenting a lot of things along the way – here’s my report (very subjective of course) with rankings, ratings, and interesting tidbits observed in the 15 arenas visited so far.

Oldest arena:  Technically Madison Square Garden is the oldest arena, but it underwent a $1 billion renovation 3-4 years ago, so it doesn’t count.

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The two oldest arenas (built in 1972 and 1974 respectively) are Nassau Coliseum (Islanders) and Rexall Place (Oilers).  The Islanders are moving to Barclays Center next season (in Brooklyn, where the New York Knicks play), and the Oilers will be moving to their new arena (Rogers Place) for the start of the 2016-2017 season.  The fans for both cities have a lot to look forward to, especially after seeing so many awesome arenas so far in my trip.

Newest arena:  Consol Energy Centre (Penguins) which was built in 2010.  Absolutely gorgeous facility!

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Most seats:  United Center (Chicago) with 19,717 seats, and 22,428 capacity with standing room.

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Least seats:  MTS Centre (Winnipeg), with 15,016 seats  (Probably explains why it’s so hard to get a ticket to a Jets game.)

Loudest arena (fan noise):  Tie between Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers.

Quietest fans:  Buffalo  (But this may be due to the tough season they’re having.  Things will turn around for the Sabres.)

Best fan celebration after a home team goal:  Chicago Blackhawks  (There’s nothing like hearing the fans sing the Chelsea Dagger song.)

Best Jumbotron:  New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers.

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Brightest ice (yes, brightest ice):  Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have the brightest ice.  It’s amazing watching a game in these two cities.  It’s like watching a game on HDTV.

Favourite anthem singers:  It’s a three-way tie between Lauren Hart (Philadelphia), Rene Rancourt (Boston) and Sonya Benson (Tampa Bay), but in fairness, I didn’t get to see Mark Donnelly from Vancouver, who had the night off when I was there.  (Donnelly is the operatic singer who took a tumble when he donned skates to perform the Canadian anthem at the Canucks home opener this season.)

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Best chants during the singing of the national anthem(s):  Chicago for their deafening cheers during the singing of the national anthem, Dallas fans for shouting out “Stars,” Flames fans for shouting out “See” (C), when “O say can you see” is sung, and Jets fans for chanting “True North” when this phrase is sung in the Canadian national anthem.  Very very cool!

Best location for an arena:  New York Rangers, Vancouver and Winnipeg  (It’s great to be able to be in the heart of a city, and see a hockey game.)

Best pre-game experience:  Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Arizona  (The weather probably helps, but they have lots of areas outside their arenas for food and drink, live bands performing before their games, area for kids to play street hockey, etc.)

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Highest priced beer:  $14 at the BB&T Center (Florida Panthers) for a speciality beer.  And for a cocktail and glass of wine at Madison Square Garden – $22.00.IMG_7600IMG_8056

Lowest priced beer:  $8 at First Niagara Center (Buffalo).

Favourite arena food items:  Philly Cheesesteak (Philadelphia of course), Pyrogy Dog (Vancouver), Jumbo Jet Dog (Winnipeg) and the Pepperoni Pizza (Buffalo).

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Favourite Mascot:  Harvey the Hound from the Calgary Flames.  (But I’m biased because he presented me with a custom jersey commemorating my 30 game trip.)

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Best game experience (for me):  Tampa Bay Lightning.  I was named as their Social Captain for this game, and they gave me a grand tour of the building, and seats in their Chase Club.  And I got to meet Phil Esposito, and I was also able to watch the players warm up before the game.IMG_7706IMG_7705IMG_7696IMG_7690

Neatest experience:  Hearing the Canadian national anthem at a Sabres-Caps game in Buffalo. They do this to recognize the large number of Canadian fans who come see games at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo.  Very classy!

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Another neat experience:  Seeing a Boston Bruins game on St. Patrick’s Day!

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Best fans:  I know this is going to sound like a cop-out, but it’s a 15-way tie for me!  The fans in every building have been amazing, some coming up to ask me about my trip, some who want to take their picture with me, and many who promise to make a donation on-line to Make-A-Wish! And all who offer their best wishes!

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Most generous fans:  Well, so far it’s Edmonton, but it’s my home base, and I have not been to 15 cities yet.  We’re about halfway to my goal to raise $30,000 for Make-A-Wish, and I think we will do it!

30games-30nights

Favourite airport:  None.  :)  No bad experiences to report, but it’s my least favourite part of the day, usually taking between 4 – 8 hours of my day, from leaving my hotel until I check in at my next location.

Other:  I’ve had lots of questions about my health, and for the most part, I feel great!  My sleep patterns are off, and some nights, I only get 4 or 5 hours sleep, but I’m feeling good.  I checked my weight after game #11 in Edmonton, and surprisingly, I lost 4 pounds.  (Which will please my medical team.  I don’t really have a medical team, and for those who know how I fuss about my hair, I don’t really have a “hair management team” either.)

Interestingly, I made sure to book hotels with gyms, but I’ve since learned that you have to actually use the facilities to benefit.  Since I packed light, I only have one pair of shoes (not runners), so I’m trying to stay fit with some in-room exercising, and I’ve been doing a lot of walking!  Speaking of walking, I learned that Buffalo Sabres head coach, Ted Nolan, walks to each and every game his team plays on the road.  Sometimes it’s a few blocks, but sometimes it’s 8 – 10 miles.

I hope you enjoyed my mid-trip report!  And continued thanks to everyone for your support!  (And for your donations to Make-A-Wish!)

 

 

 

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Game #15: Chicago Blackhawks (March 27, 2015)

March 28, 2015

United Centre is one of the few rinks where I attended a game before I took this trip, and it did not disappoint.  It’s called the “Madhouse on Madison” for a reason, and the biggest reason is how much noise the fans make, whether it’s during the singing of the national anthem, or when the Blackhawks score a goal, the fan noise is deafening.

As you enter the United Centre, there is a statue of 6 players from 6 different eras directly in front of the building.  Off to the side of the building are the famous statues of Bobby Hull and Stan Makita.  My brother John, and his wife Isabel joined me for game 15 of my 30-day trip, and they are shown in front of these two statues.

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I was asked to do an interview prior to the game to talk about my trip, and the charitable attachment to Make-A-Wish.  I hope the exposure helps drive the donations to my goal of $30,000..00.  Pictured below, I ran into a young fan who brought a sign to the game, listing each player on the Blackhawks roster.  I love the passion fans have for the game, and this young fan is a great example of a hockey fan!

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In the pre-game skate, I captured some cool shots of some interaction between Brent Seabrook and his young son, first with Seabrook skating by for a touching hello to his young son, and then his teammate Andrew Shaw having some fun with his teammate’s son.  Neat to catch a glimpse of the human side of these NHL players for such a brief moment.

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With the pre-game skate finished, I could hardly wait for the singing of the American national anthem, and it without a doubt the loudest building for this ceremony.  And carrying on to the game, the fans are loud and vocal throughout the game, and there’s nothing like hearing the Blackhawks fans sing the Chelsea Dagger song after they score a goal.  Unfortunately, I only got to hear the fans sing twice tonight, as they went down in defeat to the Columbus Blue Jackets by a score of 5-2.

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Despite the loss, I had a great time at the game.  There’s nothing like being in an “original six” team arena.  The fans are passionate, knowledgable, and loyal.  And even though the venues change, the history of the team (captured by statues, banners, etc.) is commemorated and recognized by their home team fans.

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Game #14: Winnipeg Jets (March 26, 2015)

March 27, 2015

I have made it a point to purchase all of my own hockey tickets, but I’ve received a few kind offers along my travels.  One of those offers was from a Jets season ticket holder by the name of Dorian Cox.  Dorian heard about my adventure about a week ago, and extended an offer to take me to the Jets-Canadiens game, a ticket which was otherwise very hard to find.  (Dorian, by the way, was the first person to answer all 10 questions correctly in my hockey trivia contest.)

Dorian suggested we meet up at a place called the Pint, which was located about 1 1/2 blocks from the MTS Centre.  Great spot to meet before (or after) a hockey game – most of the seats were filled with Jets fans, but a few Habs fans were in the crowd.  I also met up with a work colleague’s sister (Jean Gendron) who presented me with a Jets cap, and wished me well on my trip.

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We arrived at the game early, and wow  – what an impressive facility.  Jets fans have a special building, one which like most of the modern rinks, has lots of windows allowing in light and life into the building.  While low in seat count, it is one of the roomiest rinks I’ve been at so far, with lots of room in the corridors, and plenty of places to hang out before (or after) the game, and during the intermissions.  Few line-ups for food or drink, and lots of places to sit or stand, and plenty of options for epicurean delights or libations.  (I also rubbed the boot of the Timothy Eaton statue, which is supposed to bring the home team good luck.)

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It was highly recommended that I try a Jumbo Jet Dog, and I ordered one with all the fixings ($15.50).  I shared a cut-in-half version with my seat-mate, but pictured below you will see the whole deal.  Absolutely delicious, but not something you want to eat every day!  After settling into my seat, Jets Mascot (Mick E. Moose) gave me a thumbs up for doing the 30games-30nights trip!

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As for the action on the ice, the Jets were facing the first overall team in the NHL (at puck-drop time) – the Montreal Canadiens, and this ordinarily boisterous Jets crowd was joined by about 2,000 Habs fans.  (*Noteworthy that at the time of this writing, there are six teams within two points of each other at the top of the league standings.)

This is the third time I’ve watched the Jets play in my trip so far, and the Jets have impressed me with their hard physical play, strong forechecking – probably the hardest working team I’ve watched so far in my journey.  I was commenting to a few people that there were no fights in the first 13 games of my trip, but sure enough, in game #14, Nathan Beaulieu and Jim Slater dropped their gloves.  (Slater already had a goal and assist in the game, so methinks he was looking for the Gordie Howe hat trick.)  Fighting is definitely down this season, and while fans get out of their seats when a fight occurs, the game is not missing anything without fights taking place.  Indeed, fewer and fewer teams have a designated pugilist on their roster, a guy who can only play 3-4 minutes a night.

The Jets won the game in impressive fashion, by a score of 5-2, and for all five goals scored by the home team, I think this was about the loudest cheering I’ve heard in my trip so far.  And for the last 5-10 minutes of the game (with the Jets seemingly in control), the Jets fans had a bit of fun with the Habs fans, singing “O lay O lay O lay,” and “Na na na…goodbye,”  All in good fun!

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There are no cheerleaders or ice girls at a Jets game, but their ice-cleaners use the “Flying V” strategy for cleaning the ice at the commercial breaks.  Interesting thing about banners at the Jets rink.  There are no banners honouring their past great players (i.e. Bobby Hull, Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, etc.), just the banners you see below.

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Another thing I have to add about Jets fans.  While fans at past games have been great, the Jets fans are the friendliest fans I’ve met in any hockey building.  I was really looking forward to seeing a game in Winnipeg, and it did not disappoint.  I’m cheering for the Jets to make the playoffs, and if they do, look out!  They would be a tough opponent in a best of seven series.

 

 

 

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Game #13: Calgary Flames (March 25, 2015)

March 26, 2015

I was joined for this game by a good friend (Barry Powis), who is a lifelong Calgary Flames fan!  We had our picture taken with a firefighter outside the arena, and I quipped that he may be needed if the Flames get too hot!  I also happened upon a horse outside the Saddledome, near the Stampede grounds.

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I met up with a writer/correspondent for a hockey magazine I publish in Calgary:  Jeremy Freeborn.  He helped line up a few of the interviews which took place that night.  Similar to the recent games in Edmonton and Vancouver, there were a number of media requests to talk about the 30games-30nights hockey trip, and also, the charitable component:  Make-A-Wish.

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When you settle into your seats in the Calgary Saddledome, you know you are in a hockey town, and in hockey town thick in the playoff race.  There are more home town jerseys in this arena (and by far) compared to any of the arenas I’ve been to so far in my journey.  But as with every rink attended so far, there are always a few out-of-town fans, and in this case, I would estimate approximately 300-400 Dallas fans.  You could hear the Stars fans when the U.S. anthem was sung, when they chanted “Stars” when the word stars was sung.  The Flames fans brought the decibel level up significantly, when the words “sea” (“C”) and “red” were sung.   As for building noise (and despite hearing otherwise from a few Flames fans before the game), this was one of the loudest buildings I’ve been in so far, in particular when the local team scored a goal.

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I wanted to get a picture with the official scorekeepers before the game, but it was the one time my photo request was declined.  (They’re not allowed to be photographed with fans.)

In the second intermission, I was surprised with a visit by Harvey the Hound, who presented me with a very special jersey commemorating my 30 day/30 game trip!  So for one hockey game period, my  custom “30games-30nights” jersey was covered up, but it was hard not to be a Flames fan this night.  It was a very classy for the Flames to do this!  I will be pulling for the Flames to make the playoffs!

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Game #12: Vancouver Canucks (March 24, 2015)

March 25, 2015

My daughter (Kate) joined me for my 12th game of my 30 game trip, which was a very nice treat! We arrived at Rogers Centre about an hour before the game, and noticed the Roger Neilson statue as we were about to enter the building. Rogers Centre is located in the downtown area, close to where people live, work, and hang out for food and drink, a great location for an arena!

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As I settled into my seat, I was greeted by someone from the Canucks organization, who presented me with a signed Daniel Sedin hat.  Very cool!  As with each of my previous 11 games, I took a photo of the opening face-off.

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Rogers Centre is a great modern building, well laid out with elbow room in the concourses, and plenty of food and drink choices in the lobby areas.  I decided to try the perogy dog, which my daughter sourced out on the internet as a fan favourite.  As we entered the line to order our dog, we were offered a menu to look at the various hot dog choices.  First time I was offered a menu when ordering a hot dog.  The perogy dog was delicious, and ranks tops as my favourite food item eaten thus far into my trip.

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The Canucks faced the Winnipeg Jets tonight, and there were probably 700 Jets fans in the building, their cheering which exceeded their numbers.  The Jets were leading the game 2-0 in the middle of the second period, and I was taken aside to do an interview with Dan Murphy from Sportsnet.  The Canucks proceeded to score three goals just after the interview, and went on to win the game by a score of 5-2, the last two goals scored into the empty net.IMG_8051IMG_8075 - Version 2

A couple of last tidbits about Rogers Centre.  Their stanchions light up (and in different colours), which is very cool during the pre-game countdown and for the national anthem.

Another first for the trip (so far) – they still do the wave in Vancouver, which most rinks (and fans) do less than in past years.  (I haven’t seen the wave in any other rinks up to this point in my trip.) But it makes sense for Vancouver fans to do the wave – their beautiful city is on the ocean after all!  I love Vancouver, and wish I could have enjoyed the city for a longer time!

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Game #11: Edmonton Oilers (March 23, 2015)

March 24, 2015

Great to be home for game #11 of my 30 game trip!  This game was different than the past ten games for a number of reasons.   For the first ten games of my trip, all arena visits were the first ever for me, and all were in the U.S.  As for Rexall Place in Edmonton, I’ve watched hundreds of games at Rexall, going back to when the arena was called Skyreach Centre, and before that, Northlands Coliseum.

After the New York Islanders move into their new building next season, the Oilers will play in the oldest arena in the NHL.  But not for long!  With Rogers Centre scheduled for completion in time for the 2016-2017 season, Oilers fans have a lot to be excited about.

After watching games in places like Tampa, Dallas and Phoenix (Glendale) the past three games, it’s great to see the promenade/concourse/terrace areas some of the newer arenas have for fans to hang out before and after the game.  (Or any other events which take place.)  For Oilers fans, you have a lot to be excited about!  The Winter Garden area of the planned new facility in Edmonton will give Oilers fans an opportunity to enjoy the hockey game experience in an expanded fashion.

Being home for game #11 of my trip, I don’t have a lot of pictures to share.  There was a lot of media attention, for which I was called away to attend, with hopes to promote people to donate to Make-A-Wish at www.30games-30nights.com.

Here are a few shots of folks who enjoyed the game with me tonight.  And yes, it was a luxury suite tonight, courtesy of a good friend (Ron Watamaniuk) who provided his company’s suite for my mid-trip visit.  (And sorry, by the way, for two of my friends wearing jerseys from non-Oiler teams.  They’re delusional of course.)

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The Oilers were awesome in helping promote my “30games-30nights” trip, and made an announcement in the late stages of the second period to promote the charitable part of my special trip.  I’m hoping this translates into more donations to Make-A-Wish!

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I’m off to Vancouver tomorrow, and two more Canadian cities thereafter (Calgary, Winnipeg) before making my trek to the U.S. for eight games in row, then heading back to a game in Ottawa on April 4th.  After that, it’s Detroit, Minnesota, Colorado (Denver), Washington, Montreal, Columbus, and finishing up with Toronto on April 11th, the last regular season game of the season.

 

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Game #10: Arizona Coyotes (March 22, 2015)

March 22, 2015

Important Preamble:

As you can probably tell, I’m having the trip of a lifetime, but there’s one thing I need to ramp up a bit more!  (Actually a lot more!)

This trip is my “wish list” trip, a trip which I was prepared to take for the sheer thrill and enjoyment one gets out of taking a a dream trip.  But its more important purpose is to raise money for Make-A-Wish, so children with life threatening medical conditions can be granted a wish that would not otherwise be possible without your support!

My website has received over 10,000 hits this past week, and our donations are up to around the same dollar amount.  For those who have made a donation so far, thank you very much!

I would like to put out a challenge to those who have not donated (yet), with hopes to significantly raise the donation level!  It only takes a few minutes to make a donation on-line (at the secure Make-A-Wish site), and any amount donated makes a difference!!  So if you haven’t donated to this point, now is the time to do so!!  And for Edmonton fans, let’s pump up the donation thermometer for the game on March 23rd!  It’s my 11th game of my 30-day trip, so I will be there to see your support!!

And now on to the hockey game tonight:

The Arizona Coyotes play out of Glendale (in the Gila River Arena), and their arena is surrounded by restaurants, bars, and shops, providing a reason to go to the game early, and a reason to hang out afterwards.  (And by the way, look how close you can park near the arena, without having a special pass or season ticket holder status.)

For this game, I was joined by a very good friend (Darren) and his awesome son (Benny), who is the coolest and most mature 10-year-old I’ve ever met.  It was great to have company for this game, so thanks Darren for joining me for the tenth game of my 30-game trip!

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It’s a relaxed casual atmosphere before game time, with fans milling about, grabbing a bite or a drink before the game.

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This is the tenth game of my trip, and one interesting thing I’ve noticed is the large number of visiting fans who come to see hockey games in another team’s arena.  Tonight’s game was another example, with Canucks jerseys outnumbering Coyotes jerseys.  A lot of Canadians make Arizona their second home (winter months), so it was neat to hear the number of Canadians who sang along to “O Canada” before the game started.  And it was neat to see a few fans with Gretzky jerseys, recognizing the time the Great One spent with the Coyotes.

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The Gila River Arena is another of the fine new arenas which allows elbow room in the corridors where people mingle, eat, drink, etc. in the intermissions.  IMG_7886IMG_7940

I was selected for a second intermission interview, and beforehand, I had the opportunity to meet up with a man who was the former GM of the team for which Oliver Ekman-Larsson, one of the NHL’s best defensemen, played in Sweden.  (Ekman-Larsson scored the lone Coyotes goal, a beauty of a goal, for which the Swedish fans, amongst Coyotes fans, stood up to cheer.)

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Unfortunately for the home team, the Canucks scored late in the third period (power play goal), and added an empty net goal, with Vancouver beating the Coyotes by a score or 3-1.  For the number of Canadian fans (or Canucks fans) at the game, it was a great win!

 

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Game #9: Dallas Stars (March 21, 2015)

March 21, 2015

Another great hockey game experience!  The Dallas Stars will miss the playoffs, but you would never know it from watching the fan support!  Similar to last night’s game in Tampa Bay, I got to the game about 1 1/2 hours before puck drop, and there was a party going on outside the American Airlines Arena.  The crowd was evenly mixed between fans of the home town team, and fans from the visiting Blackhawks.

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The pre-game show was fantastic, highlighted by the dropping of the illuminated Star from the rafters, and positioned for the Dallas Stars players to enter through its lower arches.  The fans stood on their feet and applauded as the Dallas Stars players came on the ice, and they remained standing (and applauding) right through until the national anthem was performed.  And due to the large number of Blackhawks fans in the building, loud cheering continued through the singing of the American Anthem, which is a tradition in the United Center in Chicago.  The Dallas Stars fans responded with a tradition of their own, and that is to loudly chant “Stars” whenever this word is sung in the American Anthem.

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With the game underway, the visiting team’s fans started the “Go Hawks Go” chant, but the home town team fans responded in kind.  And another interesting thing about this crowd is how they stand and cheer whenever they see a particularly good play.

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Now a word about the concourse levels where people mingle, grab a bite, etc. between periods. This arena is tops so far in the “elbow room” factor,” with lots of room to move around during the intermissions. And similar to most of the new arenas, there are plenty of food (and beverage) choices throughout the concourse levels, and healthy food options too.  Because you can’t just eat hot dogs, pizza and pretzels at every game you attend!  Trust me on that one!

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I got a kick out of their hijinks, where they had some fun with the visiting team fans.  They made a few announcements during the game, letting Chicago fans know they won a prize, and to go claim it outside the building.  Thereafter they would show a Blackhawks fan walking up the stairs, with the implication that they fell for the ruse.  Cute!  And always a crowd favourite is slingshot bowling at the intermission!

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I’m off to Phoenix tomorrow for an Arizona Coyotes game, and they have asked me to be available for a second intermission interview to talk about my trip.  And after that, I head to Edmonton (which is my home base) for game #11 of my trip, where I can meet up with friends and family at the game, which will be very nice.

Thanks everyone for your encouragement and support!  For those who have donated to Make-A-Wish, kudos to you!  And for those who have not (yet) made a donation, let’s make a big splash when I’m in Edmonton on Monday March 23rd!!

 

 

 

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Game #8: Tampa Bay Lightning (March 20, 2015)

March 20, 2015

Wow – what an incredible hockey game experience!  Here’s how to do it right.  First – make sure your hockey team is competitive, and that’s been Tampa Bay for 10+ years, ever since they won the Stanley Cup in 2004!  Arena location is important too, and with the Amalie Arena located in downtown Tampa, it’s in a great location – close to where people work, and where a lot of people live.  (When coming in from the outskirts, you actually drive the opposite of rush-hour traffic when going to the game.  And there’s nightlife not too far from the arena.)

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And here’s the other thing where Tampa does an incredible job – make the game experience an entertaining night out, starting with the pre-game festivities.  I arrived to the game about 1 1/2 hours before puck drop, and it was great to see a live band playing, and people mingling about, enjoying food and drink, before settling into their seats.  And for those who think waiting around in 82º F / 28º C weather for a game to start, they even have outside heaters!

Now to the game experience.  I think the Tampa Bay pre-game countdown is the best I’ve seen, at least so far in my journey.  The lights, the music, the energy level is electric!IMG_7698IMG_7695

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I would like to thank Caity, Nik and the Tampa Bay Lightning for honouring me as their Social Captain for this game, the 8th game in my 30-game trip!  Nik took me for an incredible tour of the building, which included the “under-belly” of the arena, where the players loosen up before the game, where the anthem singer prepares (Sonya Bryson from the U.S. Air Force), and I even got the opportunity to meet Hall-of-Famer Phil Esposito, the man who was instrumental in bringing an NHL franchise to Tampa Bay!  (Esposito has his own statue, situated in the middle of “Thunder Alley,” at the entrance to the arena.)

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I’ve run into so many great people in my trip, and I love talking hockey  (and about other things) with hockey fans.  Here below is Stu, his wife and son from Ottawa who I met up with at the game.  And I had a great time sitting with four very nice people from the Bay area – Sonny, Rochelle, Shane and Heather.

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I’ve added a few more pictures of the various areas of the arena, including the club areas, a luxury suite, and pre-game dining room.

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Here is a photo of the crowd, which shows the number of Red Wings fans in the building.  I’ve also added a nice shot of the ice.

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And lastly, here’s a picture of me and Nic, from the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Thanks again for an incredible experience!

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By the way, for those keeping score, Tampa Bay beat the Red Wings by a score of 3-1, the last goal scored into the empty net, after a deft move by Lightning captain Steve Stamkos.  (Who, by the way, has amazing soccer skills.   So do his teammates!  Watching them warm up before the game was a real treat!)

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Game 7: Florida Panthers (March 19, 2015)

March 19, 2015

I lost my travel companion today.  My wife (Michele), who joined me for the first six days of my travels, returned home to Edmonton today, while I made my way to Florida.  I will definitely miss her company, and her help with photography and social media, etc.

When landing in Miami, I knew it would be very warm (and it was at 90º F / 32º C, which seems to contrast with the idea of going to see a hockey game.

Going to the game (and with the warm temperatures), I expected to see a lot of fans in shorts and summer clothing, but this wasn’t the case.  In past years, the southern arenas kept their arena temperatures close to room temperature, but not any more, and for the sake of good ice.  IMG_0507IMG_7648IMG_7659

This is the first rink visit where I didn’t pre-purchase a ticket, and primarily because of the low attendance numbers at the BB&T Center this season.  (As you can see by the above photo, they curtain off the upper end seats, so fans do not see too many empty seats.)

It was easy to select a seat for the game, but the line-up was about 40-50 people deep, so it took some time to get my ticket.  (As an aside, this is the first game where I drove to the game.  There is lots of surface parking around the building, and if you don’t mind walking five minutes, parking is free.)

As the game started, there were more chants of “Go Wings Go,” and the Red Wings jerseys in the stands outnumbered the Panthers jerseys.  Notwithstanding the fan support, the Wings lost 3-1, with Roberto Luongo stealing the show in net (with help from two posts), and Jaromir Jagr having a special night on the ice.  Jagr scored one goal and added an assist, but it was his goal which was special, his 718th in his NHL career, passing Phil Esposito to take over 5th place on the all-time goals list.

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As for the ambience in the arena, it’s a very comfortable laid back crowd, especially in comparison to the crowd at Madison Square Garden, where I was last night.  A couple of Panthers fans chatted with me about my trip, and insisted on buying me beer at the game.  I ordered a “Blue Moon” (served in a plastic cup), which is a Belgian-style beer, served with a slice of orange.  Price:  $14.00!  I also had my second hot dog of my trip, and while I liked the dog served in Pittsburgh, the hot dog served at the BB&T Center was very tasty!

That’s it for tonight’s report!  I’m looking forward to tomorrow night’s game in Tampa Bay, where I will be the “Social Captain,” for this game.  It should be a lot of fun!

P.S.  I should identify the “superhero” depicted in one of the above crowd photos.  That’s Captain Panther, and when Florida scores, he stands up, swings his cape, and this pumps up the crowd.

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Game 6: New York Rangers (March 18, 2015)

March 18, 2015

This was one of the games I was looking forward to the most – a battle between two of the NHL’s best teams, two original six teams, and a game played at Madison Square Garden.  The “Garden” is technically the oldest “rink” in the NHL, but after undergoing a $1 billion (yes billion) renovation 3-4 years ago, it’s like a brand new facility.  And what a beautiful facility!  Marble floors in the foyer areas, wooden slats in the rafters, gorgeous lighting, and a spectacular wraparound jumbotron, with slight convex curves on all four sides.  There are plenty of ways to watch the game (and replays) on monitors or screens, including rows of screens which adorn the lower seating in the second level.

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The “Garden” crowd is like no other.  Vocal, boisterous, and coarse at times, their passion for the game shows in the way they cheer, and also the way they jeer their team when they’re not performing to expectations.  At the time of this writing, the Rangers entered this game tied atop the league standings with three other teams, so the Rangers fans have a lot to cheer about this season!

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Opening face-off, a picture taken at each game attended so far!

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The luxury suites look absolutely spectacular, to the extent that most of the inhabitants enjoy the confines of their suites, and lack a certain interest in the game played on the ice below.   IMG_7642

Liam Neeson was spotted in the crowd, and in regular (albeit not cheap) seats, and not in a luxury suite.  He appeared to be quite “taken” with the game!

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Former Rangers player Brad Richards returned to New York to play his old teammates for the first time, and while there was a very nice tribute to Richards, the crowd turned sour when Richards scored the lone goal of the game, a tightly contested game where the goalies stole the show.

Despite the fact that I didn’t get to see the Rangers fans celebrate a single goal, I would have to say that Madison Square Garden was more than enough to make this hockey game an incredible experience!

I’m off to Florida tomorrow, and I’m now going to put some serious miles on my trip odometer.  In the first six cities visited, I amassed a grand total of 1150 miles travelled, getting from game #1 to game #6, but in the next five days, I will travel over 4,500 miles, going from New York to Miami, then Tampa Bay, Dallas, Phoenix, and then to Edmonton, my home base, to reenergize with family and friends for game #11.

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Game 5: Boston (March 17, 2015)

March 18, 2015

Arrived in Boston early to enjoy the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.   Ran into Washington Capitals back-up goalie Phillip Grubauer at the airport, and he obliged for a picture holding the 30games-30nights jersey.

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Enjoyed a great lunch at the Summer Shack, which included Boston Clam Chowder and an “Irish Feast.”

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Headed off to the game early, to get a picture of the Bobby Orr statue, and to make sure we were in our seats for the pre-game skate at the TD Gardens.  There were lineups at all entranceways an hour and a half before game time, the lineups extending to outside the building, on a night where the temperature was hovering around the freezing point.  It’s a slow process to get into your seats, with the slow moving lineups, and security measures in place.  It is to be expected though, especially in view of the terrorism attach which took place in Boston approximately two years ago.

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I was very excited to see my favourite anthem singer, Rene Rancourt (tied with Lauren Hart from Philadelphia as my favourite), who’s finish of the anthem pumps up Bruins fans for the game ahead.

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There is an energy level in the TD Garden which exceeded the energy levels experienced in the first four games I attended.  The Bruins are an original six team, and winners of five Stanley Cups, the most recent win taking place in 2011.  Before the game was two minutes old, the Bruins fans were chanting “Go Bruins Go,” and when the Bruins scored the first goal of the game, the ovation exceeded any of the 13 home team goals scored at the previous four games attended.

With the game taking place on St. Patrick’s Day, the crowd was dressed in a mixture of the Bruins colours (black and gold) and St. Paddy’s Day green, and the fans were having a great time.

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Buffalo battled hard, knotting the game at 1-1, and for those fans who think the Sabres are tanking it to get a top draft pick, my observations at this game (and last night’s game in Buffalo) were/are to the contrary.  The game went to overtime, then shootout, so for tonight’s game, the “luck of the Irish” was not bestowed on the Bruins, who went down in defeat, losing 2-1 to the Buffalo Sabres.

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Game 4: Buffalo Sabres (March 16, 2015)

March 16, 2015

In keeping with my pre-game tradition, I chatted it up with a home team fan, getting him to answer 10 hockey trivia questions.  This lifelong Sabres fan scored 6 1/2 out of 10 on my trivia questions, when I quizzed him at the hotel bar before the game.

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With the Sabres struggling this season, tickets were cheap for this game– $55 for Row 12 seats at the blue line.  Great seats!  The game was announced as a sell out, but there were probably 1,000 empty seats at the First Niagara Centre in Buffalo.  Of the fans in attendance, there were about 2,000 fans there to cheer on Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, their game jerseys exceeding the number of Sabres jerseys in the stands.

And speaking of jerseys, Here’s Edmonton-born Tyler Ennis (he scored the first goal of the game) wearing a St. Patrick’s Day jersey at the pre-game skate, these jerseys which will be auctioned off for a local children’s charity.

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As the game was about to begin, I was touched to see (hear actually) the Canadian anthem sung at a game which featured to American teams.  Later in the game, the Sabres included mention of Canadian troops, when they took the time to honour our men and women who serve in the military.  Very classy move on the part of the Sabres, who I’m sure appreciate the fan support they get from just north of the border.

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With the game underway, the Sabres scored first, and I was a bit surprised to see the small number of Buffalo fans who stood up to cheer.  Perhaps indicative of a tough season, but maybe it’s always been that way?  When Washington scored, every fan dressed in Capitals colours stood up to cheer, in contrast to the Wings-Penguins game the day before, where the Wings fans were a bit more subdued in showing their support for the visiting team.

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The game went back and forth, and was tied 2-2, before the Caps scored to make it 3-2 in the third.  I was a bit surprised to see a number of fans leave with 8 minutes to go in the third period. In a matter of two minutes (and with 6 minutes to go in the third period), the Sabres tied the score at 3-3, sending the game to overtime, and then a shoot-out, where the Capitals came out on top!  Very entertaining game, and I would be remiss not to comment on the First Niagara Center.  After watching games in the beautiful facilities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the Sabres had a lot to live up to.  Buffalo can be very proud of their arena/entertainment complex, and as for the team’s woes on the ice, there are sure to be better times to come!  Just ask an Oilers fan about their team’s future prospects!

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Game 3: Pittsburgh Penguins (March 15)

March 15, 2015

It was tight to make this game, but it wasn’t supposed to be so.  The game was originally scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start., for which I booked a flight to arrive in Pittsburgh around 11:30 a.m.  About two weeks ago, I found out that the game was rescheduled for an earlier start (for broadcast reasons), moving the puck-drop to 12:30 p.m.  For a change fee of $200, I changed my flight to an earlier departure time, which would get me in to Pittsburgh around 9 a.m.  When checking in at the airport this morning, you can imagine my surprise when they told me that I was put on standby, despite the fact I paid for a full fare ticket.  (My wife, who is travelling with me for the first six games of this trip, was quick to offer her boarding pass in the event “standby” became “no fly,” but the thought of splitting up our flights was not very appealing.)  Thankfully things got sorted out at the gate, but it was a reminder how much the successful completion of this trip (making all 30 games) is at the mercy of the airlines, weather, etc.

We ended up getting to the game with time to spare, and after settling in at the Consol Energy Place, we immediately observed what a beautiful arena facility it is!  The arena is located on a hill, which gives it some charm, and like most modern arenas, there are large window areas, which provide natural light to the entranceways as you enter the building.  The jumbotron was massive and impressive, with crystal clear resolution on its four screens.  IMG_7313IMG_7317

The concourse areas are wide, and there are many areas with lots of elbow room during the intermissions.  The shot of me looking at the beautiful mosaic of Mario Lemieux was taken during the first intermission, as is the photo of me talking to arena staff about my trip, and the two photos of my trivia contest subject, who scored 7 out of 10 on my hockey trivia questions.  And once again, these four photos were taken at the intermission of a hockey game!    IMG_7355IMG_7352IMG_7363IMG_7360

 

Food choices are bountiful, with offerings of sushi, gourmet carved turkey on a bun, pulled pork, as well as the usual arena fare.

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As we settled into our seats, my wife suggested that I tweet from my #30g30n handle, and to include a picture she took of me standing beside a cardboard cut-out of Sidney Crosby.  (Which actually looks like a cardboard cut-out of me.)  :)   About ten minutes later, she spotted my tweet on the jumbotron, and was able to take a picture of it on time!  Very neat to see the speed of social media, for which up to ten days ago, I did not even have a twitter account.  (Or Facebook page:  30 games 30 nights.)

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As the game started, there were two non-hockey things which stood out in comparison to the game the day before, a game in which the Flyers beat the Wings by a score of 7-2.   The temperature inside the Consol Energy Place was probably five degrees warmer than in Philadelphia, and the decibel level of stop-in-play music was about 10 decibels lower, the latter more comfortable for my aging ears!  :)  Getting back to the hockey, it should have been predictable that the Wings would come out flying, especially after their one-sided loss the day before.

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While the Penguins outshot the Wings by a margin of 43-25, they lost the game by a score of 5-1. The shot clock did not reflect puck possession or scoring chances, and while I’m not a professional hockey analyst, I would suggest the Penguins did not create enough traffic in front of the Wings net.  And I would also add that most of the Penguins shots were from the perimeter areas, or shot directly at the Wings crest on the goalie’s jersey!  IMG_7382

Off to game four tomorrow, and after two planes, and one train to make the first three games, I’ve rented a car to make the trip to Buffalo.  (This is the “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” part of the trip.)  And not to get too far ahead of tomorrow, I’m starting to get very excited for the Bruins game, which takes place on St. Patrick’s Day.  I’ve “survived” a “Friday the 13th” first game, an “Ides of March” third game, so a St. Patrick’s Day 5th game should bring me the best of luck for the balance of my travels!!

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Game 2: Philadelphia Flyers (March 14)

March 14, 2015

Took an early morning Amtrak from New York to catch Game #2 in Philadelphia, a matinee game with a 1:00 p.m. start.  The early game (and the drizzling rain) did not deter the tailgaters, and it did not deter me from going over and asking my trivia questions.  (Something I plan to do at each and every game.)

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As you can see, they didn’t offer me one of their umbrellas, and come to think of it, they didn’t offer me a beer either!  :)  They were a good group of guys, and they did great on my trivia contest, answering 9 out of 10 questions correctly.  As I entered the Wells Fargo Center, I was impressed with how well set up this arena is, with lots of room in the corridors, and plenty of food choices!  I was persuaded to try the Philly Cheesesteak, having never eaten one before.  It tastes better than it looks!  (Actually, it doesn’t look too bad at all!)

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After downing my “pre-game meal,” I was excited to hear my favourite anthem singer in the NHL – Lauren Hart.  Her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner gives me goosebumps, and to hear it live was a thrill.  With the game now underway, it was great to see the number of fans wearing Flyers jerseys, probably two thirds of the crowd.  The team did not disappoint, jumping up to an early 2-0 lead, and when it looked like Brayden Schenn scored his third goal of the game, it was announced soon afterwards that an earlier goal credited to him was actually scored by Wayne Simmonds.  This brought out the ice-cleaning crew (which includes “ice girls”) to clear the rink of hats thrown on the ice for what many believed was a hat-trick.

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The game got a bit feisty in the third period, and just after I commented to a few fans that fighting is down in the NHL, and that Detroit usually has the lowest number of fighting majors in most recent seasons.  No fights ensued from this melee, but Wayne Simmonds was ejected with a 10-minute misconduct.

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The game finished up 7-2 Flyers, leaving Red Wings coach Mike Babcock to hope for better things at their matinee game with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  I will see his team there, and to report, this was one game which gave me some pre-trip planning anxiety.  The game was originally scheduled for 7:30 p.m., and I only found out about the change (moving the game to 12:30 p.m.) two weeks before I left for my trip.  It cost me a couple of hundreds to change a previously booked flight, but I had to do it.  My plan is to make every one of the 30 scheduled games of my trip!!

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Game 1: New York Islanders (March 13)

March 13, 2015

First of 30 games, and it was a very entertaining game.  Ottawa edged the home team Islanders by a score of 2-1, and Senators goalie (nicknamed the “Hamburger”) stole the show.

Before the game, I went over to chat with some Isles fans and asked if they wanted to take my poll.  I asked them ten hockey trivia questions, and I will be comparing their answers to randomly chosen fans in all other cities.  These fans did pretty good, getting the answers right to 7 out of my 10 questions.

It was great to see the retired jerseys of the players who battled my home-town Oilers during the 80’s, probably the two last dynasty teams we will ever see.  And after this season, we will never see the Islanders in the Nassau Coliseum, as they move to Brooklyn for next season.  What a great old rink with great history, and with great sight-lines for watching the game!  Love the “Yes, yes, yes” chant after the Islanders score a goal!

Thanks to Rich from the Islanders radio network for showing me around the rink, and providing some team/rink history, and thanks for helping promote Make-A-Wish during your broadcast!   For all folks reading, don’t forget to donate!  (And for those who have generously donated so far, many thanks!)

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Pre Trip Planning

March 12, 2015

This trip was in the making for over ten years, a trip which was on my “wish list” for many years, and time (and cost) were the biggest reasons to put it off.  I finally made the decision to make the trip in the fall of 2014, with the idea to catch an NHL game in each different city for the last 30 games of the regular season.

There were many highlight games along the way, including stops in each of the “original six” cities, which included a Bruins game on St. Patrick’s Day.  The first game of my trip took place at Nassau Coliseum, which was the last year the Islanders played in this building, and the last game of my trip took place on Saturday April 11th in Toronto, for a matchup with the Montreal Canadiens, a game which was broadcast on Hockey Night on Canada.

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In order to give you an idea of the planning, here’s a map I created on my rumpus room floor, which shows the location of each NHL city. This map was helpful in making the travel plans, as I looked for ways to keep the travel miles to a reasonable limit. All told, I traveled approximately 24,000 miles (38,000 km), crossing the border a total of eight times, taking 27 flights, one train, and two trips by automobile in making my way from city to city. This trip was a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish, and approximately $43,000.00 was raised.   All costs associated with this trip were my own, so 100% of all donations went directly to Make-A-Wish.

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Rob Suggit 30 Games in 30 Nights