18 May 2018

Au Revoir, Le Colisee: Coupe Memorial 2015

When I started my quest to see a game in every NHL arena, I also hoped to see as many games in some of the older arenas which previously hosted NHL franchises.  In most cases, this would be due to the team moving to a newer building and keeping their previous arena open - but there were also a few markets in which the NHL team relocated.  Such was the case with Quebec City.

After entertaining hockey fans for over 20 years in both the WHA and NHL, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, leaving the city - and its historic arena, Le Colisee - devoid of the highest level of professional hockey.  A minor league team would quickly move into the vacated building for the following season, before giving way in 1999 to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).  That year also saw the naming rights purchased by a large soda company, with the arena being re-named Colisee Pepsi.

While researching the "defunct" NHL arenas, I learned that Le Colisee would be closing its doors for good in 2015, after more than 65 years of serving Quebec City with various sporting events and concerts.  The new state-of-the-art Videotron Centre was set to open right next door with the hope of luring a new NHL franchise back to the province, but the legendary venue was given a very prominent swan song: hosting the MasterCard Memorial Cup (or Coupe Memorial, as the French-speaking locals called it), the trophy awarded to the ultimate winner of the Canadian Hockey League.

The round-robin tournament would feature the champions of the CHL's three individual leagues - the Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the QMJHL - as well as the host Remparts, and was to be held during the last ten days of May.  The opening weekend of the tournament coincided with the Memorial Day holiday, so I planned a four-day vacation in order to see every team in action over the course of three games.  I even found an Airbnb that was walking distance from Le Colisee!

09 May 2018

Squire Report, Vol 9: Playoffs

The magical run extends into the postseason, and away we go...


I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little skeptical about the Knights’ chances in this series: the Kings were an experienced team that had been through some physical playoff battles in the past, and I wasn’t sure that Vegas could match that intensity. I also keep waiting for the clock to strike midnight on this Cinderella season, but it was just not meant to be.

Right from the first game, the Knights established their own physical presence and showed that they would not be pushed around. They clamped down on defense and limited the Kings to low-percentage shots from the outside, keeping the area around Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease clear from high-danger opportunities. As a result, Los Angeles would only score THREE goals in the midst of the four-game Vegas sweep.

Fleury was outstanding in the series, pitching two shutouts and finishing with an other-worldly save percentage of .977! I’ve long been a critic of Brayden McNabb, but the former King was a warrior in the series, and ultimately scored the only goal in the clinching Game 4. This Vegas season would continue with another matchup against a California team - could they keep up their stellar play?


For their next series, the Knights would face a team who stood as a polar opposite to Los Angeles: the San Jose Sharks, who preferred a speed-oriented attack, in contrast to the heavy style played by the Kings. Seeing as how this would match the Vegas identity, the winning team would have to simply find another dimension to their game and rise up. Both teams finished off their first-round opponents with a sweep, giving each group an entire week to rest before the “track meet” began. And they’re off…

Vegas wound up shaking off the rust better than San Jose, jumping on them quick and often to cruise to a 7-0 victory in Game 1. The next two games were more evenly matched, with each team winning once in overtime, before Sharks goalie Martin Jones recorded a shutout of his own in Game 4 to even things up. Now a best-of-3 series, Vegas utilized their depth and turned to one of their impressive rookies to help close out their foes from northern California.

26 April 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Tobacco Road Tumble

When we set out to do all these hockey road trips, I always had my eye on North Carolina - I knew very little about the state (besides its tobacco-infused history), but it always seemed like a hotbed of sports success. Expansion teams in the NFL and NBA arrived in Charlotte at the dawn of the 1990’s, which set the stage for the NHL’s Hartford Whalers to relocate to Raleigh in the latter part of the decade.

But college basketball is the dominant obsession, as the region is filled with notable programs from Duke and the University of North Carolina, to NC State and Wake Forest. Hated as they may be in the eyes of many sports fans, I’ve always felt a fondness for Duke. Coach Mike Kryzezewski has built one of the most storied programs in the country, consistently keeping his team near the top of the polls and funneling a pipeline to the professional ranks (even though NBA success has often eluded these players). My high school years were filled with the images of Grant Hill and Christian Laettner winning championships for the Blue Devils, and the sight of Duke fans boisterously cheering on their beloved team during home games at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke’s campus in the city of Durham is just down the highway from the state capital of Raleigh - this path is affectionately referred to as “Tobacco Road”, denoting the popular crop produced by the state. I knew that my trip to see the Hurricanes would HAVE to include a visit to Duke, so I specifically focused on the college basketball schedule each year. Unfortunately, given the popularity of the program and the fact that virtually all of the tickets are reserved for students and season ticket holders, I would have to pay an exorbitant price to see them in person. For conference games against their ACC rivals, Duke tickets would go for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market - as a result, I found a non-conference game at the beginning of the schedule that allowed us to see the Hurricanes the following night.

One added bonus: my cousin Courtney was attending graduate school at North Carolina State, and had offered to give us a tour of Raleigh during our visit. But she would complete her two-year program in the spring of 2017, which pushed this trip a little higher up our list and prompted a visit in November 2016. And away we go!

09 April 2018

Squire Report, Vol 8: Ontario

The Vegas Golden Knights won the Pacific Division in their inaugural season. I cannot believe I just typed that sentence. Rather than dwell on my amazement, I’ll instead use this report to focus on some of the future Knights that I was recently able to see in-person.

As part of my “quest” to see a game in every NHL arena, I found myself in Toronto last month to check the Maple Leafs off the remaining list. I timed out the vacation with the start of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, which provided the opportunity to witness many of the NHL’s future stars, including those drafted by Vegas.


I started with the highest-profile Vegas prospect in Ontario, first-round pick Nick Suzuki. He had just completed an amazing regular season with the Owen Sound Attack, finishing fourth in league scoring with 100 points (42 goals, 58 assists). He and his teammates would square off in the opening round against the London Knights, a perennial OHL powerhouse who was in the middle of a slight rebuild after having won the Memorial Cup two years prior. We arrived in Toronto in the early afternoon, then made the two-and-a-half hour drive to Owen Sound to see the league’s smallest arena.

This was Game 2, with the Attack having prevailed two night earlier in the opening game. Right from the opening faceoff, Suzuki stood out - he played with patience, controlling possession for his line and creating several scoring chances with deft touch from his impressive hands. He finished the game with 3 assists, including the primary setup on the game-winning goal in overtime.

Two nights later, we would be in London for Game 3. While he didn’t have as much success on the road that he had in front of his home crowd, Suzuki was still dangerous every time he touched the puck. Owen Sound would go on to win again in overtime, then close out the sweep later that week - he was impressive throughout the series and while he lined up at center in the OHL, I think Nick Suzuki could be a dynamic playmaker on the wing in the NHL.

London's Evan Bouchard (in the penalty box) will be a 1st round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft

09 March 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Empire State Excursion (Part 2)

During Part 1 of this massive trip, my travel companion Chad and I found ourselves driving from Buffalo to Ottawa to Montreal to Vermont, before finally returning to the state of New York.  The Empire State Excursion would continue at one of the most famous venues in hockey history.


We awakened in our hotel room to see that a sheet of snow had fallen onto the sleepy village of Lake Placid, which only seemed fitting for its popularity among skiers.  We wasted no time in heading to the Olympic Center for a morning tour of the famed locale.  As an added bonus, our tour guide was a member of the organizing committee for the 1980 Winter Olympics, and told incredibly detailed stories with vivid imagery.  We listened quietly as we were led through the facility for about an hour - the guide even showed us a video of the final moments of the famed "Miracle on Ice" game between the United States and the Soviet Union, as we sat in the fabled arena.

Once the tour was completed, we walked over to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, which was also located inside the Olympic Center.  A perfect compliment to the stories told by our tour guide, the Museum had a great display of artifacts to commemorate the two Olympic games hosted in the city (1932 and 1980), which also included a video of the "Miracle on Ice" game playing on a loop.  

American goalie Jim Craig protected this net in the "Miracle on Ice" game
I definitely enjoyed my brief time in this quaint town, but it was time to hit the road once again - we had a 3-hour drive to Utica for our next game, stopping for dinner in Remsen at a charming little 50's-style diner called The Soda Fountain (check out their special "Garbage Plates").  We arrived at the historic Utica Memorial Auditorium with some time to spare, which would end up coming in handy.

01 March 2018

Squire Report, Vol 7: Trades

The Golden Knights continue to roll, as their lead in the Pacific Division has stretched to 10 points.  But this month was all about re-shaping the roster, as Vegas took part in the NHL's annual trade deadline activity...


Making their biggest splash of the day, Vegas traded three draft picks to Detroit to get dynamic winger Tomas Tatar.  It seemed like a bit of an overpayment (2018 1st rounder, 2019 2nd rounder, 2021 3rd rounder), but I can definitely get behind this deal based on what Tatar brings to the team - he's a relentless forechecker with great hands, and should fit very well into the quick-strike transition offense favored by coach Gerard Gallant.  He just turned 27 years old, and is in the first year of a four-year contract that carries a $5.3M cap hit.  After paying his dues with Detroit's AHL club in Grand Rapids, he's been a consistent performer at the NHL level, averaging about 20 goals and 40 points per season.

With the top two lines virtually set in stone, it would appear that Tatar will slot into the Knights' third line playing with Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin, which seems like an embarrassment of riches for the team as they begin their first playoff run.  Adding some scoring touch to this line also allows the team to keep Tomas Nosek and Ryan Carpenter on the fourth line, where they can add the occasional goal to their strong defensive play.  Tatar also becomes a great insurance policy next season, as he could slide into the Top 6 if Vegas chooses not to re-sign one or both of David Perron and James Neal.

But was it worth it to part with those picks?  That's the tough pill to swallow for me.  GM George McPhee did a great job to stockpile draft picks coming out of the Expansion Draft, but I find it hard to believe that an expansion team will go to the Entry Draft after its first season without a 1st round pick, especially when all of the hockey pundits have claimed that this will be a very strong draft.  But these are the tough decisions that McPhee gets paid for, although I'm wondering if owner Bill Foley may have told him to throw caution to the wind and do what it takes to add to this magical season.  On the plus side, Vegas still kept all three of the players they selected in the 1st round last year, especially when you consider that they were one of the teams in the running for Erik Karlsson and that would have most likely required moving at least one of those key prospects:

16 February 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Empire State Excursion (Part 1)

My original intent with the quest to see all 30 NHL arenas was to use this as a way to see portions of North America that I might not otherwise visit. It would be a travelogue of sorts, and I would take every opportunity to see as many historical landmarks and tourist attractions as I could along the way. A quick glance at the list of NHL markets reveals a wide assortment of some of the most popular destinations around.

And then there’s Buffalo.

Everything I had heard about Buffalo said that it was a terrific place to live, with loads of young professionals choosing to relocate and start families there - but it wasn’t known for great tourist attractions, other than nearby Niagara Falls. As a result, I always planned to use my Buffalo trip as a chance to see as much of upstate and western New York as possible, with one extra wrinkle: Canada was close as well.

Considering their proximity, I figured I would visit Toronto and Buffalo on the same trip in order to knock two markets off my list. But there were so many other teams in the area that I wanted to see in person (specifically those in the OHL and AHL), and I found that I could go one step further by going the other direction around Lake Erie to see Montreal and Ottawa instead - thereby knocking out THREE teams along the way! What ensued was my most ambitious trip yet: the Empire State Excursion, which would see my travel companion Chad and I take in EIGHT hockey games in NINE days!

In order to maximize our vacation days in the spring of 2016, I used the Good Friday/Easter holiday as the bookend for the trip. We would fly out of Los Angeles on St. Patrick’s Day, and arrive in Buffalo just before midnight. The massive journey would commence the following morning…


Since the itinerary would have us driving hundreds of miles across two different countries - and also due to the previously-mentioned lack of tourist attractions - I knew my time in Buffalo would be limited. However, I made sure to begin the trip at the one local landmark that I had to visit: the Teddy Roosevelt Inauguration Site. A modest house on the outskirts of the downtown area, the museum houses a terrific display of artifacts relating to the 1901 World’s Fair, notoriously remembered as the site of President William McKinley’s assassination.

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