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.

22 September 2017

Hockey Road Trip: Sunshine State Safari


Florida. The Final Frontier. Or as some might even call it, The Sunshine State. So often in my life, everything comes back to Florida.

Just like so many Navy brats before and after me, Florida was my home for a brief period. More than once, in fact. Not long after I was born in the suburbs of Chicago, my father would get transferred to the Jacksonville area for a short stint in the late 1970’s. At the dawn of the following decade, we were shipped off to Maine for nine months, returning back to Jacksonville as I began kindergarten in 1981. My memories of Florida aren't too vivid, though I do distinctly recall my mother working for a local aquarium. Midway through my first year of grade school, the family would return to Illinois, but it wouldn't be the last time I'd set foot in The Sunshine State.

As I was finishing up my studies in film school, a couple of my classmates made a deal with a would-be producer to make a short film in Florida, which we would shoot after we graduated in the summer of 2001. We had a crew of 10 and we spent a week on Sanibel Island, just off the gulf coast near Fort Myers. I remember how it rained for about 20 minutes every day, and how we were terrorized by the local insects (namely, the no-see-ums) on a daily basis. But it was a fun life experience that made everyone feel like working members of the film industry.

Once Chad and I detailed the plan to visit every NHL arena, we immediately focused our attention to arenas that were due to be replaced or teams who had legendary players that were set to retire soon. This led us to New Jersey in the first year of our voyages, to see Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr (who is STILL playing professional hockey, as of this writing), so I then suggested that we go to Tampa to see Martin St. Louis, who was approaching 40 at the time. I was also a fan of the University of Florida football team and had always wanted to see a game there, so the plan was set: we'd visit Florida in the fall of 2014. But then something unexpected happened…

30 August 2017

Squire Report, Vol 1: Prelude


As I mentioned in my “Regeneration” post, I’ve decided to adopt the Vegas Golden Knights as my new favorite team. I’m fascinated with the idea of constructing a hockey team in the salary cap era, and it’s fun to cheer them on from Day One. My hope is to publish this report every month, and possibly even more often, as I’m sure I’ll feel the need to add an occasional “special report” from time to time. So without any further adieu, let’s get to it…

AN ACTUAL NHL ROSTER

When the NHL first announced that they were expanding to Las Vegas, the idea of a roster full of players seemed like such a distant memory - but with the completion of the Expansion Draft in late June, that was finally the case. GM George McPhee had the privilege of choosing one player from each of the 30 existing franchises, which led to massive speculation and increased interest from both fans and media for the preceding months. Even though the NHL had set up the expansion rules to allow Vegas to be as competitive as possible during their inaugural season (which likely would have hindered their long-term success), McPhee smartly opted to build this team for the future, making a series of shrewd transactions to maximize the potential of his “free” assets as follows:

- Acquiring draft picks and young expansion-exempt prospects in exchange for choosing high-salary players, some of whom may never play again due to injury;
- Selecting certain players specifically to trade them immediately afterward, through pre-arranged deals with the other GM’s across the league;
- Choosing older players with expiring contracts to move at the trade deadline for additional picks, rather than taking questionable unproven players that would have been susceptible to waivers had they not made the team.

This method of roster construction left naysayers to insist that McPhee had mishandled his draft selections in lieu of icing the best team possible. But when you look closer, there was a valid reason for most of his selections, starting with the fact that you can only have 23 players on the opening night roster. This limitation meant that McPhee had to find a way to get immediate value out of several of his selections, knowing that at least seven of the chosen players could be lost to waivers if he didn’t make the right decision. So he started wheeling and dealing…

25 August 2017

Regeneration

We all go through changes - it’s a part of life.

But how you face the inevitability of change should help to define you as a person. I’ve always felt that change, in general, should improve me in a way that I hadn’t yet realized, thereby allowing me the chance to see things with increased optimism. Why not learn from your surroundings, especially if it leads to personal satisfaction?

A lot has happened to me since I started this blog four years ago. I’ve made new friends, connected with fellow writers, and discovered the power of Twitter (for better or worse). My love of hockey has grown stronger as a result, and I’ve found that I can be actively engaged in my favorite sport while living and working in a town dominated by the entertainment industry. I also turned 40 years old - my mother became a grandmother at that age, but I wasn’t even close to finding love myself. But that all changed too...

I met Charlene in April 2016. Less than a year later, I asked her to marry me. She is a consistent inspiration in my daily life, and makes me want to be the best man that I can be. She is also a blogger, and we even had a lengthy discussion about our respective websites - and writing in general - during our first date. I’ve learned so much by following her example, and in turn she has used her experience to help me get the most out of my blog. She took it upon herself to design a logo for Hockey Transplant, helping to motivate me to get back on track and write with a purpose. She created business cards for me to hand out, got me to create an Instagram account, and - as one of the greatest birthday presents ever - had a t-shirt made with the HT logo.

She also introduced me to her favorite TV show...Doctor Who.

While the dictionary describes regeneration as “spiritual renewal or revival”, fans of the hit BBC series know that the word carries so much more meaning. In addition to the spiritual aspects of change, the element of physical transformation is also required when one Doctor transitions into the next - the difference is startling but welcome. The show prides itself of evolution and re-growth (two words: Female Doctor!), which is something sports fans should be used to by now. Whether it’s something as simple a rule change, or as drastic as a beloved player (or even team) changing locations, we’ve become accustomed to progress whether we like it or not. But what about changing the internal thought process that goes into being a sports fan itself? Could there be physical changes which might be induced at the same time?

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