15 December 2017

Hockey Road Trip: Rust Belt Roundabout


Years ago, one of my friends suggested we open up a sports bar that would focus exclusively on teams from some overlooked cities in the Midwest, such as St. Louis, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. He even had a clever name for this would-be establishment: The Rust Belt. I wasn’t overly familiar with that term, but he informed me that it referred to that region near the Great Lakes that was a booming industrial mecca at the beginning of the 20th century, only to see the manufacturing jobs disappear and the population dwindle.

From Chicago to Buffalo, the Rust Belt is home to several NHL teams - but for this trip I would focus on the rich history of western Pennsylvania. In addition to visiting Pittsburgh, I could travel to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well as Johnstown, where my favorite sports movie (Slap Shot) was filmed. And though I’d already been to a couple of games in Columbus, my travel companion Chad had yet to visit the city, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to go back to one of my favorite NHL venues.

I also scheduled this trip to coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday, as I have family and friends in neighboring Ohio. My good friends Tony and Kasey live in Dayton, so they decided to make the four-hour drive and join us in Pittsburgh for the Penguins game. From there, they would drive us back to Ohio for Thanksgiving dinner - my sister would meet us for the holiday - and we could see the Blue Jackets in Columbus the following day.

30 November 2017

Squire Report, Vol 4: Futures


Another crazy month as the team continues to surprise the hockey world...

GOALIE CAROUSEL

It’s mind-boggling how unlucky the Knights have been with their goalie situation. Marc-AndrĂ© Fleury was specifically chosen in the Expansion Draft to be the starter in net and face of the franchise, while Malcolm Subban was singled out by goalie coach Dave Prior to be the future in goal. On July 1, GM George McPhee signed two free agent goalies, Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace, but both were supposed to spend the season in the AHL. Then the unthinkable happened.

Injuries to both Fleury and Subban forced the Knights to recall Dansk and Lagace, and fire up a mountain of trade speculation from media and fans around the league - this would only grow worse when Dansk got hurt as well, and the Knights had to call up 19-year-old Dylan Ferguson from the WHL. Though it was strictly an “emergency recall” in case Lagace got hurt (thankfully, he didn’t), Ferguson still got to travel and practice with the team - and even managed to take the ice in the final minutes of a blowout loss in Edmonton:


It’s easy to chastise McPhee for not bringing in another goalie, but I think he played the situation perfectly. This season is not about wins & losses so much as it is about evaluation. There is no reason for McPhee to give up assets to acquire a goalie who would have no place on the roster once the injured players returned. Furthermore, this rash of injuries gave McPhee and Prior the best chance to get an up-close look at each of the goalies in the system during NHL game action, rather than just seeing them in practice or the AHL.

22 November 2017

Hockey Road Trip: Northwest Holiday


After years of anticipation, I finally made my first trip to Canada in 2015 - and just as I had feared, I was eager to return almost immediately. At this point, I was just over halfway finished with my tour of all of the NHL arenas, but I still had six more Canadian cities to visit. The next trip would be the result of a scheduling quirk involving an American icon.

I’ve been a fan of Madonna and her music for as long as I could remember, a period spanning more than 30 years. I can vividly remember seeing her videos on MTV constantly, hearing her music on the radio, and just being kept updated on her whereabouts throughout my entire life - I even got to proudly cheer on my older sister as she finished second place in a talent show by lip-synching "Lucky Star"!

In the fall of 2015, Madonna embarked on a worldwide tour to celebrate the release of her latest album, Rebel Heart.  I quickly found Los Angeles on the tour schedule once the dates were announced, but was astonished by the exorbitant price of the tickets.  My travel companion Chad, who was also interested in witnessing this concert, suggested we check the rest of the tour schedule to see if Madonna would be performing in a city that was home to an NHL arena we had yet to visit.  But would we be in luck?

As it turned out, she'd be playing in Vancouver just after the hockey season started, and both the Canucks and the WHL's Vancouver Giants were in town during the same week.  As I continue to tour the continent to see these NHL arenas, I've made my best effort to see older arenas that hosted NHL teams in the past: thankfully for me, the Vancouver Giants play their home games in the Pacific Coliseum, the longtime home of the Canucks.  It was too perfect!

Quick backstory: my father served in the United States Navy for 25 years.  He travelled all over the world, and told me that THE most beautiful city he'd ever been to was Vancouver (he was there for Expo 86).  In fact, when I told him of my mission to see a game in every NHL arena, he was very excited about the idea of my visit to the beautiful surroundings in British Columbia.  I couldn't wait, so Chad and I quickly made our reservations and set off to the Great White North once again!

26 October 2017

Squire Report, Vol 3: History!


So much to talk about, so let's get right to it - the inaugural regular season has begun!!

HISTORY IN DALLAS

Yes, the 31st National Hockey League team played its first game in Dallas on Friday, October 7.  It was a hard-fought, up-tempo contest that saw Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury turn in a dazzling performance, stopping 45 of 46 Dallas Stars shots to earn 1st Star of the Game.  Just when it seemed bleak in the 3rd period, the Knights found another hero in winger James Neal, who scored twice in the final 10 minutes to help carry Vegas to an improbable 2-1 win.  After all of the months of planning, it was amazing to see the team actually take the ice and come out of a very hostile environment with a tough road victory.  

To make matters even better, the Knights carried this momentum into Arizona the very next day - it was a tight-checking game and Vegas trailed 1-0 going into the late stages, before Nate Schmidt tied the game just after Fleury was pulled for an extra attacker with a little over a minute to play.  Building on his heroics from the opening game, James Neal would bury the OT winner and send the Coyotes fans home unhappy on the wrong end of a 2-1 defeat.  

Two wins in two road games.  Now it was time to head home, to face an adoring crowd in need of healing...

THE EMOTIONAL HOME OPENER


When I booked my flight and hotel room earlier this summer to see the first home game in Vegas Golden Knights history, there was no way I could imagine that I would be on hand for one of the most dramatic games one could possibly witness.  After the tragic events that rocked the city just nine days earlier, Las Vegas was now ready to throw all of their emotional support into their new hockey team, and the Knights pulled out all of the stops.

20 October 2017

Hockey Road Trip: All Up In Alberta


The Great White North.

It’s always been there, hovering above my home country like an angel looking down upon us - yet it seemed so distant for so many years. I knew I’d have to visit when I started these hockey trips, but it didn’t really sink in until I finally got my passport in 2013.

Now it was time to finally set foot in Canada.

Seven NHL cities to choose from: there was no priority placed on any of them, except one. The city of Edmonton had already announced that they were building a new home for the Oilers, which would open in the fall of 2016 and replace the historic confines of Rexall Place. I knew this had to be my first stop, as the arena's penultimate season was drawing to a close.

My travel companion Chad had just started a new job and wouldn’t be able to take any days off from work, which meant we had to see a weekend game. Of course this wasn’t a problem for me, as it would coincide with an opportunity for us to see a Hockey Night in Canada game on Saturday night, which I had always longed to do and specifically scheduled when planning this initial visit north.  Even better - the Oilers would be playing their provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames!

Since I had accumulated several vacation days and really needed the time away from work, I decided to go up a few days earlier, with the intent of traversing Alberta and seeing some WHL playoff games in person. I booked my flights, grabbed my passport and off I went!

09 October 2017

One Memorable Night: Hockey Under the Stars

Isn’t it nice to spend time outdoors? Feeling the crisp air brushing across your skin, smelling the pleasant aromas in the surrounding atmosphere, and - for allergy sufferers like me - having your eyes water and nose run uncontrollably (PS. I’m getting allergy shots now to combat this). Back in 2008, the NHL decided to stage a game outdoors in a football stadium, and for a league that was struggling to gain viewership it was a resounding success. Thus, the Winter Classic was born, to be held every year on New Years Day.

But you can never have enough of a good thing, right? So in 2014, the NHL announced they would add another set of outdoor games, dubbed the Stadium Series, which would allow additional teams (especially those that weren’t big enough TV draws for the Winter Classic) to experience the phenomenon. The inaugural Stadium Series game would be held at historic Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, featuring the Kings squaring off against their rivals from down Interstate 5, the Anaheim Ducks. It was quite the spectacle, including a beach volleyball court set up near the hockey rink, and a pre-game concert from KISS.

As much as I would have enjoyed seeing this, I was actually up the coast in San Jose, to see my first Sharks game. So when the NHL announced the following season that the Stadium Series would be returning to California, I knew I had to go. Even better, this game would be played at a football stadium - Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara - which offers much better sightlines for outdoor hockey than a baseball stadium. The San Jose Sharks were hosting the Kings, so I convinced my travel companion Chad to join me on this journey, as we booked our flights and hotel room and headed north.

29 September 2017

Squire Report, Vol 2: Debut


After months of planning and roster-building, the day has finally come: the Vegas Golden Knights are playing actual hockey games. Okay, for the purposes of this discussion, “actual games” will mean “rookie scrimmages” and “preseason contests”, but you get my drift. On to the action…

EL SEGUNDO INTRODUCTION


I had the great fortune to be in attendance for the very first game to feature Golden Knight players squaring off against another team: the initial rookie game against the prospects of the Los Angeles Kings, played at the Kings’ practice facility in El Segundo. Maybe it's just me, but I felt a certain buzz in the air as I entered the venue. The stands were packed, the media was assembled, and officials/executives from both clubs were hovering from a distance.

Included among these team officials was Pierre Turgeon, a player I had always admired during his five years in St. Louis, who was recently hired as an "Offensive Coordinator" for the Kings.

Before the game started, I immediately made my way to the concourse behind the stands, where I shared a few words with Knights insider Gary Lawless. From there, I recognized Vegas reporter Steve Carp and introduced myself - I would “interview” him later in the evening, but for now we just chatted about the makeup of the team. He also introduced me to the people sitting directly next to him: Lisa Dillman, longtime writer for the LA Times, now working for NHL.com; and Dan Marrazza, the “social media coordinator” behind the ever-popular Golden Knights Twitter feed.

The puck was soon dropped and the two teams captivated the crowd instantly. It was clear that the Kings fans in attendance had been starved for hockey, while those of us cheering for the Knights (of which there was a small handful, including some of the players’ families) were just excited to finally see those jerseys on the ice. The pace was quick right from the opening face-off, and an audible gasp could be heard throughout the building when Tomas Hyka scored for the Knights less than two minutes in.

What followed was a highly contentious and spirited affair, as both sets of future stars looked to impress their respective management team. There were big hits, a couple of fights, and skirmishes after many of the whistles. Undrafted and playing on a tryout, Vegas goalie Logan Thompson was stellar, stopping every shot the Kings fired at him. He was replaced halfway through the game by 6th round draft pick Jiri Patera, who struggled from the start, allowing the first Kings goal soon after taking the ice, as well as five more goals before the game would end.

Though the Knights would fall by a score of 6-2, it was still a promising look into the team's future. Aside from Patera’s struggles, many of the prospects looked great: 1st round picks Nick Suzuki and Cody Glass showed promise; Reid Duke excelled as the top center, earning the faith the team showed in signing him as a free agent; and Tyler Wong, signed to an AHL-only contract, did not look out of place.

The Knights would exact their revenge the following day, defeating the Kings 4-0 behind a stellar goaltending performance from Dylan Ferguson (a 2017 7th round pick from Dallas, who was traded to Vegas in the deal that sent expansion pick Marc Methot to the Stars). It may have been nothing more than a meaningless rookie scrimmage, but the first “victory” in franchise history still had a certain charm to it. Training camp would start the next day back in Nevada, but the kids did a great job during their brief moment in the spotlight.

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