28 February 2019

Hockey Road Trip: Ontario Odyssey (Part 2)


Part 1 of the Ontario Odyssey found Charlene and I gallivanting throughout the province, but now it was time for my travel companion Chad to join us as we completed a very busy week...

THURSDAY: 29 MARCH 2018

Chad arrived in Toronto at 6am after taking a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, so we immediately brought him to our Airbnb in order to squeeze in a quick nap before the day's itinerary unfolded.  We had tickets for the Blue Jays home opener, and our initial thought was to visit both the CN Tower and Ripley's Aquarium before the game (both are included in the Toronto CityPASS), since they are located directly next door to Rogers Centre.  Unfortunately, we arrived downtown amid dreary conditions and THIS was our view of the majestic CN Tower:


As a result, we decided to postpone our visit to the top of the Tower until Saturday, and instead spent the morning at the aquarium.  Charlene was an Animal Science major in college, so she took particular interest in observing the various species as we slowly made our way around the premises - it was definitely a terrific way to spend a couple of hours.



We still had some time to kill before the baseball game, and the perfect place for lunch was only a few blocks away: Wayne Gretzky's Toronto.  Packed with what seemed like an endless supply of memorabilia celebrating the game's greatest player, this restaurant is a must-see location for any hockey fan.  I had to check out every square inch of the place while I was waiting for my food - which was a delicious burger with the Great One's number 99 toasted into the bun!

13 February 2019

Hockey Road Trip: Ontario Odyssey (Part 1)


Often touted as the "Center of the Hockey Universe", Toronto holds a special place to those of us that follow this beloved sport.  The NHL has one of its three headquarters in the city, with this branch notably serving as home to the Central Scouting Bureau and the "Situation Room", where in-game video replays are scrutinized.  Many current and former players hail from the province of Ontario, often developing their skills in minor midget organizations as well as the junior teams that make up the Ontario Hockey League.  Last but certainly not least, the Hockey Hall of Fame is located in downtown Toronto, adding to the mystique of the fabled city.

Owing to its history, I had always planned on Toronto being the final city on my "quest", but I bumped it up the list when I saw that the final week of March 2018 presented several sporting opportunities in the area that I couldn't pass up.  Both the home opener of the MLB's Toronto Blue Jays and the first round of the OHL Playoffs would occur during this period, which also coincided with Good Friday to allow me one extra vacation day from work.  I even added an extra day to the beginning of the trip to visit Niagara Falls: my fiancee Charlene had always wanted to visit, and was quite jealous when I told her about my Buffalo trip.

I would spend most of the spring keeping track of the OHL standings and drafted a spreadsheet to monitor the potential playoff matchups amongst no less than a dozen different junior teams.  Once the schedule was finalized, it was just a matter of prioritizing the teams and arenas that were highly-recommended, and coming up with sightseeing suggestions to take place during each day.  We flew directly to Buffalo on a Thursday, in order to relax and prepare for the massive odyssey that would feature eight hockey games in eight days!

FRIDAY: 23 MARCH 2018

It was a frigid morning (what else from Buffalo?) as we headed to Niagara Falls State Park, arriving just before Noon.  We wanted to give ourselves as much time as possible to see everything, so we walked slowly around the area, crossing over to the Canadian side and back.  Charlene was just as amazed as I had hoped, which made the day that much more enjoyable.  We stopped in various shops to stay out of the cold, then ventured back to Buffalo as the sun was setting - typical tourists for the day, going home early to rest up for the longest day of the trip.




03 October 2018

Squire Report, Vol 13: Year Two


So how does this team follow up such a historic and record-breaking season?  With a very active summer and an outstanding 6-1 record in the preseason!  I can't wait for Year Two to begin, but here's a quick recap of the recent news...

PATCHING UP A HOLE IN THE TOP SIX

With the departure of James Neal and David Perron via free agency, the Golden Knights were left to fill a void at wing - which precipitated the blockbuster trade that brought Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty to Vegas.  One of the NHL's best wingers of the past decade, Pacioretty has tallied at least 30 goals and 60 points in five of his last six full seasons, while representing the USA in both the Olympics (2014) and World Cup of Hockey (2016).  With their top line already in place, the Knights now add important scoring depth for the second line, where Pacioretty will likely line up next to Paul Stastny, a longtime friend from their days with Team USA.

In order to facilitate the move, GM George McPhee got Pacioretty to agree to a four-year contract extension worth $7 million per season - a deal that helps both sides, with the player getting significant dollars and the team getting a shorter term for cap flexibility.  I think this is an excellent move all around, and really serves to show the rest of the league that last season was no fluke and that the Knights intend to remain Stanley Cup contenders for the immediate future.  But was the cost to acquire Pacioretty too high?

In exchange for the skilled winger, Vegas had to depart with Tomas Tatar and former 1st round pick Nick Suzuki, as well as a 2nd round pick in 2019.  Honestly, Tatar never really did fit in after being brought over at last season's trade deadline, so his departure is certainly acceptable - as long as you don't lament too hard over the draft picks it took to acquire him, and just chalk that up to "sunk cost".  The team could easily part with another one of their surplus of draft picks, but it was tough to see Suzuki go, especially after seeing him up close twice during the OHL playoffs.  He should be a fantastic player down the road for Montreal (he scored a hat trick in his second game back in the OHL), but that's the price of doing business in today's NHL.

14 September 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Michigan-za! (Part 2)


Part 1 of the Michigan-za! saw Chad and I venturing around the great state of Michigan, with four hockey games in four days.  Now, my fiancee Charlene had arrived and we had much more to see...

TUESDAY: 20 FEBRUARY 2018

The busiest day of the trip kicked off with a brief visit to the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor - I was always a big fan of Presidential history as a kid, so it was fun to see an assortment of artifacts on display highlighting the life of the 38th U.S. President.

As an added bonus, the library also detailed his career as a football star at the University of Michigan, and his connections to the school after graduation.  I don't think Chad and Charlene cared too much, but I took my time to peruse the building before we headed to downtown Detroit.


Our first stop in Detroit would be the Motown Museum, which was always at the top of my list of things to do when I originally planned this trip.  It definitely lived up to my expectations, as we were treated to a hour-long tour of the famed recording studio that was both funny and heart-warming.  Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside, so I had to settle for a group picture out front:


I'm sure it goes without saying, but any visit to Detroit MUST include a stop at the Motown Museum!

17 August 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Michigan-za! (Part 1)


Michigan has a VERY rich hockey history.  In addition to the Detroit Red Wings - who have been a part of the NHL for more than 90 years - the state is loaded with teams at every level, including multiple Division I NCAA programs and various minor-league teams.  The U.S. Men's National Team Development Program is based in the city of Plymouth, and there are even two Michigan teams competing in the Ontario Hockey League.

I had seen very little of Detroit during my previous visit to the city (which was done solely to see the Red Wings before they vacated Joe Louis Arena), so this would be my opportunity to traverse the region and cover as much ground - and watch as many teams - as possible, in addition to visiting the new NHL rink during its inaugural season.  I started out by making a list of all of the teams that I could potential see in person, then ranked them by priority and searched for a specific point in the 2017-18 schedule in which they'd all be playing home games in the same time frame.  The perfect opportunity would occur in mid-February, conveniently wrapped around the President's Day holiday, and allowed me to witness EIGHT games in NINE days!

I divided the journey into two overlapping halves, with the Red Wings game being right in the middle - the first half of the trip would see my travel companion Chad accompany me for the first five days before returning to Los Angeles, while my fiancee Charlene would join the fun for the second half.  Though she passed on joining me during my recent trip to Winnipeg, Charlene had developed a taste for some hockey-related traveling (she was still adapting to the "hockey-related" part), and also wanted to come along to see some friends and family in Ohio.  And away we go!

FRIDAY: 16 FEBRUARY 2018

Chad and I departed Los Angeles very early in the morning, so that even with a layover we still made it to Detroit in the late afternoon.  I found a terrific Airbnb in Ann Arbor, and we quickly checked in and got back on the road - our first stop would be 90 minutes away in the city of Saginaw, home of the OHL's Saginaw Spirit.  

10 August 2018

Squire Report, Vol 12: Extensions


Settling into the dog days of summer after the blitz of Free Agency, it's time for the Knights to focus on re-signing some of their own players...

THE FLOWER WILL CONTINUE TO BLOOM IN THE DESERT

Coming off what was arguably his best season, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said he wanted to retire in Las Vegas, and his new three-year extension should help that happen.  After setting personal bests during the regular season in both Goals Against Average (2.24) and Save Percentage (.927), "The Flower" continued his excellent play into the spring and was a key factor (THE key factor?) in the team's Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final.  Locking him up for a few more years seemed like the obvious move, and though the $7 million cap hit could cause some problems down the line, I feel it was worth it to keep the face of the Knights franchise in net for the foreseeable future.

But should we worry about his age and not living up to the contract?  I'd argue no, as goalies often play well into their late thirties - Fleury turns 34 in November (this will be the final year of his current deal), which means he'll be 37-going-on-38 when the new contract expires, still a very serviceable age by goalie standards.  One example would be Martin Brodeur - holder of the NHL's records for most wins, shutouts and games played by a goaltender - who didn't see his statistics take a significant dip until he was already 38 years old.

Furthermore, FIVE of the last 12 Vezina Trophy winners were older than Fleury is now, and he just finished 5th in the voting for the award last year (the highest of his career).  A good comparison would be Florida netminder Roberto Luongo, whose career seems to follow a very similar path.  When Luongo turned 34, he had amassed nearly the same amount of regular season minutes played throughout his career (42,885) as Fleury's current number (42,433) - at the age of 36, Luongo would finish 4th in the Vezina voting.

Fleury's extension will also provide time for the Knights to see what they have in Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk, as they try to determine if either one could potentially replace him.  With a stout defensive system playing in front of him, I have no doubt we'll continue to see Fleury perform at the highest level and carry this team forward in the coming years.

20 July 2018

Hockey Road Trip: True North Strong and Free


I love Canada...but it can get really cold up there.

This might explain why I had been putting off going to Manitoba for some time.  I've had two different co-workers (both natives of Winnipeg) who tried to explain that visiting the province should be done at either the very beginning OR very end of the hockey season to avoid inclement weather - and even then, March was still dismal and that I should focus my attention on October or November.  This usually meant that I would continually push Winnipeg down the Road Trip list in favor of cities whose weather patterns allowed a little more flexibility.  But now I was running out of places to go...

October 2017 was a busy month: it started with me flying to Vegas for the dramatic home opener of the Golden Knights, and was quickly followed by seeing HAMILTON on stage and Arcade Fire in concert, so I looked to November instead.  From the moment I devised "The Quest", I had every intention of using my Winnipeg trip as a chance to drive to nearby Brandon to see the WHL's Wheat Kings in action, knowing that the odds of ever being in that part of the world again were slim to none.  As it so happened, there was a stretch during the first week of November in which the Wheat Kings and Winnipeg Jets were playing on back-to-back nights on the same weekend, so I penciled that into my schedule and set forth with the planning.

My travel companion Chad had no real interest in seeing Brandon, so I decided to fly up ahead of him and acclimate myself to the surroundings until he arrived for the Jets game.  I'd done my research and found that there weren't too many tourist attractions in Manitoba that called out to me, so I knew my time away from home would be brief - this was well-received by my fiancee, as she passed on coming along for fear that she would be bored.  Traveling alone, it wound up being a very calming trip that allowed me to simply enjoy the tranquility of the vast prairie, which is always a welcome change from the hectic life I have in Los Angeles.  And away we - I mean, "I" - go!

THURSDAY: 2 NOVEMBER 2017

Not surprisingly, there are no direct flights from Los Angeles to Winnipeg - I opted for a layover in one of the most common cities on the route (Minneapolis) and arrived to a frigid Canadian evening just after the sun had set.  At least the airport in Winnipeg was very welcoming for this weary traveler, beaming with pride in their local team:


I checked into my hotel and looked for a place to eat, ultimately settling on Tavern United in Polo Park, a pleasant British-themed sports bar connected to another hotel (Canad Inns).  The food was delicious, and I was able to watch a live Jets game on TV, before I headed out to grab some groceries and return to the hotel for the night.

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