Hockey Road Trip: Northwest Holiday

22 November 2017

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!


We got an early flight on Air Canada and arrived in Vancouver just after Noon.  Famished, we made our way to my favorite worldwide restaurant: the INTERNATIONAL House of Pancakes.  Just when I thought I was going to have my familiar experience of a fine breakfast at all hours of the day, I was disappointed to learn that they did not serve my favorite dish - the waitress sadly informed me: "No, we don't have Biscuits and Gravy up here.  Or that other thing you Americans always seem to ask for - grits!"  Whatever, I got my pancakes and stuffed myself on eggs and hash browns, so it was all good.

We checked into an Airbnb in Burnaby, walked to the nearby train station and headed downtown.  We would spend the next few hours wandering the streets, taking in the atmosphere and perusing the shops, before ultimately grabbing a quick bite at the Cottage Deli in Gastown.  From there, we walked down to Rogers Arena and settled in for the concert.

The Material Girl proceeded to give us a wonderful 2-hour show, and though it leaned heavily on tracks from Rebel Heart (which I find to be average at best), she worked in enough of her classics to entertain the old-school fans like me - hearing "True Blue" and "La Isla Bonita" was a pleasant surprise.  Best of all, she came out during the encore draped in a Canadian flag to perform "Holiday", a perfect way to sum up the show.

*Sadly, my phone at the time did not have the best camera, and virtually all of the photographs I took during the dimly-lit show did not come out very well - but I did get a nice shot of the catwalk before she took the stage:


We wound up with a day to kill, so we made the most of it: by taking a very scenic hike in North Vancouver, spending the day in nature to get away from the hectic life we left behind in California.  As my father had foretold, I was in awe of this beautiful city and took as much time as possible to soak in the amazing views.

We were completely exhausted by the time we got back to Burnaby, so we decided to have dinner at the most aptly-named nearby restaurant we could find: Chad Thai.  And yes, he enjoyed the food, as did I.  But then it was back home to relax again, and prepare ourselves for the busiest day of the trip.


It was finally game day, and we decided to spend the morning and afternoon in Stanley Park, the beautiful nature preserve situated just north of downtown Vancouver.  Leisurely walking around every inch of the area, we spent several hours checking out the totem poles, gardens and landmarks.  Like Thursday's hike, it was another great opportunity to clear one's head while on a vacation.

We got back to Burnaby with enough time to clean up and rest for a moment, then returned to Rogers Arena, stopping for dinner at a Greek restaurant before entering the venue.

I don't know what it is, but I really love this arena - for the second time in three nights, we found ourselves slowly walking through the concourse and checking out all of the displays.  Even though they've never won the Stanley Cup, the Canucks do have a rich history and the venue certainly embraces it:

But now it was time for the game!


The St. Louis Blues were the visitors on this evening, and the game was very physical from the opening faceoff.  Both sides played with a bit of an edge, and the Blues left the ice after the first period with a 1-0 lead - but not before a funny moment when St. Louis defenseman Colton Parayko unleashed a blistering slap shot that broke a pane of glass behind the Canucks net.

The Blues extended their lead in the second period, then began to pull away in the third with a 4-1 lead, though Vancouver would excite the crowd with two late goals - however, they couldn't get the equalizer and the Blues escaped with a 4-3 win.  

It was a very fun Friday night, and we headed back home with an evening of memories - including this one:


Our final day in town began with a visit to the Pacific National Exhibition, as the Vancouver Halloween Parade and Expo was underway - the afternoon featured a Comic Con-like event with various booths selling merchandise and fans dressed up in various costumes.  Sadly, there wasn't much to see, so Chad and I only stuck around for a short while before heading out to eat.  I had one more day to eat Canadian food, so I had to take advantage - I love smoked meat and I love poutine, so why not have them both together?

This deliciousness came courtesy of Belgian Fries, and I was completely full by the time I had consumed about half of the contents of that plate.

I could barely walk after that meal, but we slowly made our way back to the Pacific Coliseum for some junior hockey action.  While the game was certainly competitive - with the visiting Red Deer Rebels ultimately prevailing over the Giants - I would spend most of the time walking around the venue, admiring the architecture and picturing how an NHL team could play for so many years in such intimate surroundings.

It was a great way to relax and unwind before we flew back to Los Angeles the next morning.  I know I'll be back, as I would love to see Vancouver Island and just do some more hiking throughout the city.  I must admit - I'm starting to fall in love with this country!


Luckily for me, I was able to buy my first "pilsner" shot glass at the Canucks game, plus I found a cool glass for sale at the Giants game as well:


One month later, I would use the week of my Thanksgiving vacation to see several games throughout America's industrial sector...

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