Hockey Road Trip: Rocky Mountain High Score!

12 February 2014

One of the reasons for creating this hockey blog was to document my ongoing "quest" to see a game in each NHL city, and at the time of the launch, I had been to SIX of them:  these consisted of markets in which I had either lived (St. Louis, Los Angeles, Anaheim), attended college (Chicago), or had family (Columbus), as well as Phoenix, where I had visited a few times for Spring Training.

While planning my future "hockey road trips", I didn't simply want to drop in to the city, see a game, and then leave.  If possible, I'd like to soak in a little bit of the local culture, and experience as much of the unique aspects of the city as I could.  Also, if time allowed, I'd be interested in seeing an additional sporting event before I left the town in question.

My "travel companion" for these trips would be Chad, a longtime friend that I met in college, who had moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry like myself.  He wasn't too familiar with hockey, but he was always down for adventure and discovering something new.  My hope was that he would soon fall in love with the sport that I've been enamored with for so long.

When it came time to choose my first location late last year, I settled on Denver, Colorado - the fall trip allowed me the opportunity to leave the warm confines of Los Angeles and experience the crisp weather, a highly-anticipated NFL game, and an incredibly random "pop culture event" that happened to occur the same weekend I was in town.

When I was planning the trip over the summer, I thought I would try to get Denver Broncos tickets in order to finally see Peyton Manning in person.  It turned out that there was one weekend in November which featured an Avalanche game on Saturday, followed by a Broncos home game the next day.  The Broncos would be playing the Kansas City Chiefs, their longtime divisional rival - I stumbled upon a deal involving half-price tickets, which turned into a steal as the Chiefs were one of the biggest surprise teams in the NFL, and entered the game against Denver with a 9-0 record.  Since the Broncos were 8-1 at the time, the NFL and NBC decided to change the start time of the game to make it a nationally-televised Sunday Night game.  Sure, this gave us time to do some various sightseeing during Sunday afternoon, but it also meant that we had to stay in the hotel one more night and fly back to Los Angeles in the wee hours of Monday morning.


Okay - I know I just said that I did NOT want to simply arrive in each city and leave shortly thereafter, but this was a unique case: both Chad and I were swamped at work and neither of us could take off too much time, so we planned a quick weekend visit.  I've always been a fan of Motel 6 (especially their prices), so we found their most centralized location.  We chose a short non-stop flight on Southwest Airlines (only about two hours in the air), and arrived in Denver just after Noon.  Completely famished, we picked up our rental car and wound up at a charming local diner near the motel called Hamlin's Cafe.

Now THAT'S a breakfast!!
Of course, eating THAT much food and traveling early in the morning meant that we both dozed off the minute we got to the motel (yes, we're old) - but that only allowed us the perfect opportunity to rest up for the busy weekend, which commenced a few hours later.  Though, before we left, I convinced Chad to stay and watch the conclusion of a pretty exciting college football game between Georgia and Auburn, which ended with one of the most amazing plays that either of us had ever seen (Verne Lundquist is still one of the best play-by-play announcers of all time!):

Our journey in Denver began at the Pepsi Center, home of the Colorado Avalanche [Editor's Note: As the trip occurred in November, you'll notice my "Mo-vember" moustache - I don't think I'll be doing that again]:

The Pepsi Center is a beautiful arena - in addition to the Colorado Avalanche, it is also home to the NBA's Denver Nuggets, and the Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League.  There are plenty of great photo opportunities for the fans in attendance, from a re-creation of the team bench, to a headless hockey player! (yes, I'm WAY too tall for an effective picture):


The Avalanche were one of the hottest teams at the start of the season, while the visiting Florida Panthers sat near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.  You wouldn't have guessed that on this night, as the Panthers jumped out and never looked back, finishing off the Avs with a 4-1 victory.

After the game, we descended into the streets of downtown Denver, and spent the rest of the evening mostly within the area centered around the 16th Street Mall and Civic Center Park. It was somewhat quiet at the time, and it was nice to walk around outside in the brisk Colorado evening.

The Daniels & Fisher Clock Tower lights up the night sky, and is a certified historic landmark that is host to a multitude of events, especially weddings.


After a nice breakfast (i.e. Dunkin' Donuts in our hotel room), we headed to Red Rocks - conveniently located about 20 minutes southwest of Denver.  Being a huge music lover that I am, I had to make sure we visited while we were in town - in addition to being a state park, Red Rocks is home to one of the most historic music venues in America, notably hosting a legendary 1983 performance from U2 that would be recorded for their live album, Under A Blood Red Sky:

It was a beautiful morning for a walk around the park, and there were many people doing the same, as well as working out with trainers on the steps of the amphitheater:

Look closely to see downtown Denver off in the distance at the top of the photograph.
Time for lunch: once I found out that the Casa Bonita restaurant (from the infamous South Park episode) actually existed, I knew that was the place we had to go!

Yes, this cliff diver jumped into a pool of water not far from where we enjoyed our inexpensive Mexican food.  It was a very odd, yet satisfying, experience.

Full from lunch, it was back to downtown Denver and the popular arcade, The One Up. What made this visit even more special, was that our trip coincided with Kong Off 3 - in which gamers assembled to try to set a world record in Donkey Kong.

The restrooms. Classic.

With Billy Mitchell, star of KING OF KONG
After a quick trip through The One Up (there's only so much Donkey Kong a man can watch), we walked to our final tourist destination: Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos.

The atmosphere around the stadium on this late afternoon was incredible.  There were fans everywhere (including many Kansas City Chiefs fans), live music, as well as giant TV screens showing live coverage of the other NFL games taking place at the time.

Once inside, we were treated to a very entertaining game between the two rivals, and I had a wonderful time getting to meet various fans - some which had season tickets and had driven in from nearby states such as South Dakota and Iowa.

The game ended with a Broncos victory, sending the Denver fans home happy, and sending Chad and I back to the motel to get as much sleep as possible before the early morning flight.  So long, Mile High City - we had a blast!


But how to commemorate this great adventure?  Well, during the Avalanche game, Chad and I made a visit to the team store to try to find some piece of merchandise that would be a cool reminder of our trip - something that I could buy from each arena that I visit, to chart the progress of my "quest".  A puck seemed a bit too obvious, and having 30 of those would definitely take up a lot of space.  That being said, I did have to pick up this "festive" puck, since it was "time-stamped" and served as a perfect encapsulation of my trip:

But for documenting the "quest", I decided to go with…shot glasses!  They come in several different shapes/sizes, and usually feature some very interesting artistic designs.  I figured I could also find a nice display case to show them off as well.  Making my decision easy, the team store only had one shot glass to choose from:


A Christmas visit to the frigid Midwest, including a return to one of my favorite arenas, and a journey to a historic hockey palace...

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