I’m a lifelong hockey fan, who didn’t get a chance to see my first live game until I was 20 years old. I cheered for the Montreal Canadiens growing up, switching over to the Oilers in the 80’s. It was great watching the Oilers in their glory years, but I stuck with the team, becoming a season ticket holder in 1996, when the team was in danger of moving to Houston, Texas. It was tough for many years, but I remained an Oilers fan, even though I watched and cheered for other teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s great being an Oilers fan today, with an exciting young team led by Connor McDavid, and the new Rogers Place arena, the jewel of the NHL right now.
I got the idea to see 30 games in 30 nights back in November 2003, just after watching the first NHL outdoor game in Edmonton. (-20 degrees, and I loved it!) At the time, I had only watched games in two other cities (Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, and the Montreal Forum), and thought how great it would be to see a game in all 30 rinks.
I first looked at taking this trip during the 2004-2005 season, but those plans changed when the season was cancelled. A variety of other factors caused me to postpone the trip for a number of seasons thereafter, taking us up to the 2014-2015 season.
Hearing the news that the NHL was looking at expanding the number of teams, I made up my mind to take this trip before it was too late. (I guess one could do 31 games in 31 nights, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.)
In looking at the 2014-2015 schedule, I first looked at taking the trip to include a game on Hockey Day in Canada (February 14, 2015), but other parts of the trip did not work out.
So I decided to make the trip over the last 30 days of the regular season, starting with the New York Islanders on March 13th, and finishing up with a Leafs-Canadiens game on Saturday April 11th. (A game featured on Hockey Night in Canada.)
While there’s a hockey game on any given day through the hockey season (save and except the Christmas and All-star breaks), it’s quite challenging to find 30 consecutive games in 30 different cities. And it’s also challenging to find games close to each other so you’re not flying all over the place.
In putting together the schedule, I isolated game nights where there were only two or three games being played, so these were cornerstone dates in my schedule. I also endeavoured to make the Florida games (Panthers and Lightning), California games (Sharks, Kings and Ducks), and Western Canadian games (Oilers, Canucks, Flames and Jets) on consecutive dates, and I was successful in doing so.
Lastly, I really wanted to see the Boston Bruins play on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve never been to Boston, but I can’t think of a better time to see the Bruins play than on March 17th.
Why the last 30 days of the season?
The biggest reason is that the last 30 games of the season are the most exciting regular season games. There are sure to be a lot of teams vying to make the playoffs, or improve their playoff position. And even for the teams without a chance of making the playoffs, their opponents may be in a different situation, so the non-playoff bound teams can play spoiler. The other reason to take the trip late in the hockey season is the weather. While there are no guarantees, there is less likelihood of a snow storm in late March or early April.
I started my trip (and finished my trip) away from my home base (Edmonton), and all told, I travelled approximately 24,000 miles (40,000 km), which is equivalent to the distance around the earth.
It was a planes, trains and automobiles adventure (glad it was not like the movie), with 28 trips taken by flight, two trips by car, and one by train. (Amtrak, from New York to Philadelphia.)
In booking flights, I tried my best to get flights early in the day to allow for any delays or potential cancellations which could take place. There were 28 flights in total, the shortest between Pittsburgh and Buffalo (346 km), and the longest trip from Nashville to San Jose. (3,116 km, which includes a stopover in Denver.)
I flew five different airlines: Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta, United and Southwest. In most cases, I chose the airline based on pricing and available flights. Air Canada was my favourite airline. Consistently good, but ironically, it was an Air Canada flight (Montreal to Columbus, with a stopover in Toronto), which almost caused me to miss a game. It was already a tight travel day, and the Toronto-Columbus flight was delayed a little over two hours due to a mechanical issue. I ended up arriving in Columbus at 5:30 p.m. for the 7:00 game start. It would have been a shame to miss game #29 (or even the puck drop), but I made it with time to spare.
I packed light, going the carry-on route, which is the best risk-free way to travel. (No worries about lost bags, and very good flexibility with any travel delays or cancellations.) In taking the trip late in the hockey season, there was less need for heavy winter gear, even with games in the northern colder cities.
I was fortunate enough to find a few hotels with laundry facilities in my travels, so that was helpful. And for any items collected on the way (jerseys, programs, game pucks, etc.), I shipped them back home.
Most of my accommodations were booked in the downtown area (not because of proximity to arena locations necessarily), but more to experience (albeit for a short time) the feeling of each city. My budget was modest for hotels, but minimum requirements included a hotel which provided good internet access, gym facilities, and in some cases, laundry facilities. The Sheraton Hotel was my hotel of choice, with 22 out of my 30 nights in a Sheraton. And it was consistently great!
Health / Fitness
It was a grueling 30 days, but nothing to complain about. Proper rest was important (at least 6 hours of sleep per night), with a usual “head to the pillow” time of around midnight – 1 a.m. (allowing time to get back from the game, and blogging daily updates). There were only a handful of early flights which allowed for less than 6 hours of sleep. No big deal – if it was a long flight, I was able to get a bit of rest on the plane.
Proper diet was important, but hard to do when your “dinner” meal took place at a hockey rink.
I made a point of eating healthily the first two meals of the day, so I could try out the most popular arena food items. A hot dog was not going to kill me, as long as I kept it to a few bites after all.
My budget was $100.00 per game for tickets, but as it turned out, I exceeded my budget a bit. And mostly because of my desire for good seats – which for me, were seats between the blue lines, and about 15- 22 rows above ice level.
Early on, I booked tickets ahead of time, but later on, I just went to the rink before game time, and purchased my tickets. I had no problem getting a ticket for any games, including Montreal for their last game of the regular season. Two reasons for that – number one, most teams keep individual game tickets available for all games, and number two – when you only need one ticket, it’s a bit easier to get one seat.
There were a number of games where I had company, and for those games, I purchased tickets in advance. And for tickets which were generously provided by a number of teams (i.e. Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Nashville, Minnesota, Washington, Toronto for example), I donated the ticket value to Make-A-Wish.
Thanks to my wife Michele for all her support. Ever since I brought up the idea of this trip, there was nothing but encouragement and support! She helped double-check all my travel plans, and despite being a nervous flyer, she decided to join me for the first six games of my trip! (I think the Bruins game on St. Patrick’s day sealed the deal for an Irish lass!)
Thanks to all the media for your interest and coverage of this trip! Thanks to Deanne Bolton for your help in promoting this trip! And thanks to Brandon Bolin for an amazing website design!
Thanks to Cailey Buxton, Jon Hagan, and Kate Suggitt (my daughter) for your help with Social Media. I was chosen as the “Social Media Captain” for the Tampa Bay Lightning game on March 20th – not bad for a guy who only signed up for Twitter and Facebook a week before taking the trip!
Thanks to all my work colleagues for all your encouragement and support! And thanks to my brother/partner Tom for holding down the fort while I was way on this trip!
And thanks to all my friends and family for your support too!
And most importantly, I would also like to thank everyone for their support of Make-A-Wish! I was overwhelmed with all of the support! Thank you!