Closing in on the Atlantic Division, With Work To Do on the Metropolitan Division

Something about seeing the New York City skyline unexpectedly was comforting last week.

As my plane descended from the clouds toward LaGuardia, the first thing I see at dawn is the Chrysler Building at a distance behind trees upon trees. Everyone fixates on the Empire State Building, but the art deco tower is what tells me that I’m in New York.

We flew past the skyline, seeing taillights pile up on the Queensboro Bridge as we skirt past neighborhoods on the way to touchdown. New York is romanticized ad nauseam and I’ve never been one to gush over the city or felt the urge to take those random trips to the Big Apple.

I wanted to get off the plane and take a different vacation instead on my way to Montreal after landing in New York. “Oh, I should be here. It looks pretty nice in the morning. Am I here for some sort of 30 Rock episode? Is that Kimmy Schmidt’s neighborhood?”

So, I’m kind of itching to get some of the New York area arenas out of the way next despite my brain telling me I should get Toronto and Buffalo done first.

I had an incredible time in Montreal – a beautiful city with an unexpected heatwave that gave me a feeling of being in Europe. The food, the beer, the art, the people and the nice officer who honked at me for jaywalking in front of his car all made Montreal magnifique. The experience is why I’m excited to continue my journey to other cities when I can.

What I have left in the Eastern Conference is mainly the Metropolitan Division, with NYR, NYI, NJD and PHI on the manifest. Buffalo and Toronto are my lone Atlantic Division cities left, unless you count Detroit. More on that in a minute.

My NHL arena tour hasn’t made any stops in the New York metro area and now I have the urge to just drive up there in the next year and see a game — not necessarily at Madison Square Garden. I want to torture myself by experiencing not-made-for-hockey Barclays Center in Brooklyn before the Islanders head out to another arena. Or even the Prudential Center in Newark, where fans rave about the sightlines in the arena but run as fast as they can to get out of Newark.

My last visit to New York in 2011 for orientation with one of my former employers didn’t leave much time for me to get out to the city and do the things I had on my list for awhile: pay respects at the 9/11 Memorial, visit One World Trade Center, get to the NHL Store NYC and maybe see a show on Broadway because isn’t everyone supposed to?

That’s the great part about this journey I’m taking. Every city has something to offer and a reason to come back. I’ve been to New York City, what two or three times? And I still have to go back for three hockey games.

I’m going to have to go back to Detroit — when I saw them in 2009 they were in Joe Louis Arena and in the Western Conference. So it’s the one city I’m going to have to visit twice due to conference swaps. (Fortunately, Columbus was accomplished two seasons ago when they came east.) By the looks of Little Caesars Arena, the return to Detroit will absolutely be worth it.

The Western Conference is another challenge all in itself. I managed to cross off one way back in 2005 seeing the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild coming out of the lockout. (Damn you Detroit for moving conferences!) I have Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on the docket for December. After that, I’m not sure of my plan  of attack for the west.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to in each remaining Eastern Conference city, outside of the game and arena itself:

Buffalo: Buffalo is the top U.S. market for Labatt beer and the company is opening The John Labatt House downtown to be a restaurant and pilot brewery. I’m not a wings guy, but I’m sure a stop to the Anchor Bar is in order. Player to watch: Jack Eichel

Toronto: On the journey between Buffalo and Toronto is the all-new Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The building and rink look beautiful. This has to be a winter stop for me. Once I get to The Six, I can head back to Gretzky’s restaurant and the Hockey Hall of Fame for the first time since 2001—my only visit to the city. Player to watch: Auston Matthews

Manhattan (New York Rangers): Allllll the pizza! I’ll just walk in any direction and find something that’ll strike my fancy because that’s New York. Player to watch: Tony DeAngelo

Brooklyn (New York Islanders): Bagels? Hipsters? A bridge? Brooklyn is just too cool for itself. Maybe I’ll go over to the more pretentious Williamsburg and have a coffee at a shop shown in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  Player to watch: Josh Ho-Sang

Newark: It might actually be easier to get to a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty from here. Not sure. Also, maybe Newark is not a place to romanticize. There are bridges to New York, after all. Player to watch: Nico Hischier

Philadelphia: Somehow, I haven’t been able to make it out to Geno’s or Pat’s for a cheesesteak in my visits to Philly. That’s a ludacris sin I committed considering how much I love cheesesteaks. Afterward, I’ll wash all that shame way at Paddy’s Pub. Also, I bought a heavily discounted Flyers jersey for this occasion to avoid being pelted by batteries. Player to watch: Nolan Patrick

Detroit: OK, this is the one trip where I’m really looking forward to the arena experience itself. My jaw dropped watching the video tours of Little Caesars Arena. The LED lighting on the freaking ceiling feels more Vegas than Detroit, but also almost like you walked into a church with all that mosaic lighting. The innovative concourse design with a glass roof is something to behold. If I can afford it, I really want to be in the lounge on the visitor’s side to watch the team walk by during the intermission and warm-ups. It’s been eight years since seeing experiencing Joe Louis Arena and Detroit. How soon can I go back to the Motor City? Player to watch: Mike Green



Summer Hockey In September: A Montreal Affair

IMG_3665Usually when hockey teams say they want to play in the summer, they mean June and the Stanley Cup Final.

It’s OK to overlook September, where pre-season games are played out in equally as muggy temperatures. My trip to the Bell Centre, with my sister Wendy as my guest, felt more like a Florida game. It was in the mid-80s, it was humid and I questioned whether I should wear a jersey to the game in these conditions.

It didn’t matter because what actually made me uncomfortable were the seats inside. I’m not a massive guy but I’ve put on a few pounds over the last two years. Basically, I was sitting in an airplane seat watching a hockey game, unable to pop out of my seat without making an ass out of myself to celebrate a goal. So, I sat and politely applauded the Caps as they marched to a pre-season victory.

You’re going to have to fit in 20,000 seats somehow, and that means having seats for the trimmer Canadian crowd. Everyone is so healthy up north! Not all seats are like that.

As we looked to our right from Section 107 Row F, we noticed that two end seats on the next section were double the size! One even looked like a love seat compared to regular arena seats. It’s a good tip to keep in mind when I return for another game one day.

Looking up in the nosebleeds, the configuration reminded me of the old HersheyPark Arena, where metal bars would be placed in front of each row to avoid hockey fans from tumbling to their death. HersheyPark Arena, still in use for youth hockey, has about 7,000 seats. So, seeing the barriers in a 20,000-seat arena was something to behold.

And you know what? Nearly every one of those 20,000 seats were filled for a weekday pre-season hockey game. (Of note: The official capacity is 21,288. The announced attendance, which includes tickets sold and given away despite not showing up, was 21,288.)

IMG_3719.JPGYou’d expect that dedication in Montreal but it’s another thing to see it. And hear it. The crowd was dedicated to every hit, every missed check, every bounce and of course, every goal. Shit, they even went wild on the 50/50, bringing the total up to like $16,000. It was a hockey symphony that is just a tease of what it could feel like in the regular season and playoffs.

I love quirks in arenas, especially newer ones, that make places stand apart in what’s been deemed the cookie cutter arena age. (Each arena I visit makes me realize how basic Verizon Center Capital One Arena is.) Bell Centre has a few.

The lower concourse is split into two levels with concessions both on the top and lower floors, making it easier to get around. You have Hall of Fame Canadiens Ring of Honor where plaques of 44 integral Habs players are enshrined, really drilling in the history. The history is apparent outside as well with statues on a plaza. Back indoors, on a lower level of the concourse, there is Youpiville! where even a grown ass man like myself had to tour and act like a kid for a ginger Yeti…or whatever Youpi is.

The washrooms deserve an entry here for the long walk down a corridor where you’re not sure if you’re going into the Canadiens dressing room before you see urinals and stalls. It’s a smart design, getting people out of the way and off the concourse, queued up in line. It also gives you time to contemplate why you spent $12 on a can of Molson beer, but more so, why is a can of Molson beer $12 in the city where Molson is headquartered?

The atmosphere was worth it despite the overpriced beer. (And strangely, the overpriced Reebok jerseys that were still only marked down half-off. I picked up a 2016 Winter Classic sweater anyway.)

In so many ways, it was a more enjoyable experience than in Ottawa where my back gave out, I had to sludge through a blizzard to drive back to my hotel, the game was relatively sleepy and front-row seats were more inconvenient than they’re worth.

IMG_3700So, cheers, Montreal! You’ve lived up to your reputation and are a shining hallmark of what hockey games are made of. Even when the visiting team wins 😉

Next arenas on my list: Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Updated List of NHL Arenas I’ve Seen a NHL Game In

Centre Bell — Sept. 20, 2017 (Canadiens 2, Capitals 4. Devante Smith-Pelley scored one of the slowest goals I’ve ever seen. In this pre-season tilt, Smith-Pelley crashed the net as a shot hit goalie Charlie Lindgren, fluttering end over end above the goal until it came down and slid in. That was the game-winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and two assists, earning the first star of the game. Tom Wilson scored in an open net and Jakub Vrana opened the scoring. Nicklas Backstrom was among the scratched. Jonathan Drouin made his debut for the Canadiens, registering an assist.

Canadian Tire Centre – March 14, 2017 (Senators 1, Lightning 2 OT. Victor Hedman scores in OT to snap Senators six-game win streak. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan returned from injury for Sens. Lightning played without injured centers Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov. Also, Ryan Callahan out for the season. Steven Stamkos nears return but misses game from long-term knee injury. Game played during a blizzard.)

Consol Energy Center – Feb. 20, 2016 (Penguins 2, Lightning 4. Steven Stamkos scores 300th career goal. From ESPN: “At 26 years, 13 days old, Stamkos is the ninth-youngest player to score 300 goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the second-youngest active player to get there after Ovechkin, who was 25 years, 200 days old when he scored No. 300 on April 5, 2011. Stamkos also is the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach the mark; he has 162 more goals than Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, the next-closest player from his draft class.

Lightning’s first regular season win in Consol Energy Center.)

Nationwide Arena –  Jan. 2, 2016 (Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4 SO. Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg replaced an injured Curtis McElhinney in OT. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Forsberg is the first NHL goalie to earn his first win in a game while making his debut in overtime.)

BankAtlantic Center/BB&T Center – 2012-13 (multiple/ first game: Panthers 1, Capitals 2 on Feb. 17, 2012. First time Tomas Vokoun played against Panthers in Sunrise with the Caps. Gordie Howe in attendance. Music cut out during anthem.)

Tampa Bay Times Forum/Amalie Arena– 2012-2014 (multiple/ first game: Lightning 4, Capitals 3 OT on Jan. 31, 2012 (Stamkos scores in OT. Ovechkin missed game for suspension. Backstrom was also out for a concussion.)

RBC Center – Oct. 12, 2011 (Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2/Tomas Kaberle notches an assist for his first point with the Hurricanes after winning a Cup with the Bruins the season before.)

Mellon Arena – March 28, 2010 (Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 SO/Phil Kessel’s 30th goal for the Leafs was the first 30-goal season for a Toronto player since Mats Sundin in 2007-08)

TD Garden -Dec. 30, 2010 (Bruins 4, Thrashers 0/Tuuka Rask’s third-career shutout)

Joe Louis Arena – March 17, 2009 (Red Wings 3, Flyers 2/Red Wings score three consecutive goals/Kris Draper’s 1000th game)

United Center – Oct. 23, 2005 (Blackhawks 4, Wild 2/Duncan Keith’s and Rene Bourque’s first career NHL goal/Brian Rolston’s 250th game)

MCI Center/Verizon Center – Pretty much every year since 1998 (multiple/ first game: Capitals 2, Rangers 3 on Jan. 3, 1998/ Dan Cloutier’s NHL debut with the New York Rangers)

US Airways Arena/Capital Centre -Nov.9, 1996 (Capitals 3, Rangers 2)