20 July 2018

Hockey Road Trip: True North Strong and Free

I love Canada...but it can get really cold up there.

This might explain why I had been putting off going to Manitoba for some time.  I've had two different co-workers (both natives of Winnipeg) who tried to explain that visiting the province should be done at either the very beginning OR very end of the hockey season to avoid inclement weather - and even then, March was still dismal and that I should focus my attention on October or November.  This usually meant that I would continually push Winnipeg down the Road Trip list in favor of cities whose weather patterns allowed a little more flexibility.  But now I was running out of places to go...

October 2017 was a busy month: it started with me flying to Vegas for the dramatic home opener of the Golden Knights, and was quickly followed by seeing HAMILTON on stage and Arcade Fire in concert, so I looked to November instead.  From the moment I devised "The Quest", I had every intention of using my Winnipeg trip as a chance to drive to nearby Brandon to see the WHL's Wheat Kings in action, knowing that the odds of ever being in that part of the world again were slim to none.  As it so happened, there was a stretch during the first week of November in which the Wheat Kings and Winnipeg Jets were playing on back-to-back nights on the same weekend, so I penciled that into my schedule and set forth with the planning.

My travel companion Chad had no real interest in seeing Brandon, so I decided to fly up ahead of him and acclimate myself to the surroundings until he arrived for the Jets game.  I'd done my research and found that there weren't too many tourist attractions in Manitoba that called out to me, so I knew my time away from home would be brief - this was well-received by my fiancee, as she passed on coming along for fear that she would be bored.  Traveling alone, it wound up being a very calming trip that allowed me to simply enjoy the tranquility of the vast prairie, which is always a welcome change from the hectic life I have in Los Angeles.  And away we - I mean, "I" - go!


Not surprisingly, there are no direct flights from Los Angeles to Winnipeg - I opted for a layover in one of the most common cities on the route (Minneapolis) and arrived to a frigid Canadian evening just after the sun had set.  At least the airport in Winnipeg was very welcoming for this weary traveler, beaming with pride in their local team:

I checked into my hotel and looked for a place to eat, ultimately settling on Tavern United in Polo Park, a pleasant British-themed sports bar connected to another hotel (Canad Inns).  The food was delicious, and I was able to watch a live Jets game on TV, before I headed out to grab some groceries and return to the hotel for the night.

12 July 2018

Squire Report, Vol 11: Transactions

Player movement and roster construction is dominating the hockey news cycle, so let's see how Vegas shapes up...


COLIN MILLER (4 years, $3.875M cap hit)
Four more years of "Miller Time"!
He was a huge factor on the backend, playing all 82 games and leading the Golden Knights defensemen with 10 goals and 41 points.  He'll turn 26 in October and should be given every opportunity to excel from an offensive standpoint - it's also nice to see GM George McPhee recognize his blossoming talent with the 4-year commitment.  Meanwhile, the cap hit is low enough to keep the team's salary structure in great shape moving forward as well.  I can easily see him outplaying this contract by the time it ends, and I'm excited to watch him continue to develop into a well-rounded defender.

RYAN REAVES (2 years, $2.775M cap hit)
A much-maligned acquisition at the trade deadline (I certainly questioned the move at the time), Reaves shook off some early mistakes and found his role on the team by the end of the regular season.  Once the playoffs started, he quietly went to the press box for the first 9 games and waited for his turn, only to come on strong when re-inserted into the lineup, scoring the game-winning goal to clinch the Western Conference championship against Winnipeg AND the game-tying goal in the third period of Game 1 of the Cup Final.  While the cap hit may seem a little high for a 4th-line player, the two-year term makes it easier to swallow.

Vegas added to their depth by re-signing some key contributors from their AHL affiliate in Chicago: forwards Stefan Matteau, Brandon Pirri and Tomas Hyka; defenseman Zac Leslie; and goaltenders Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace.  
- Leslie will be looking to build upon an impressive stint with the Wolves, as he tallied 17 points in 27 games after coming over in a trade with Los Angeles.  Depth at the Vegas blueline should keep him in the AHL, but here's hoping he continues his solid play.
- Matteau and Pirri seem destined to remain in Chicago for most of the year, outside of the occasional injury-related call-up to Vegas, but I think Hyka has a chance to shine - his waiver-exempt status could doom him to staying in the AHL, but he has a good chance to stick with the Knights if he has an impressive training camp.  
- Though Lagace did serve as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup during the postseason, I still feel the team sees Dansk as having the brighter future in net.  In addition to his 3-0 record in the NHL, his AHL stats (13-3-2, 2.44 GAA, .918 SV%) were better than Lagace's as well - there's a reason he was the first goalie to be called up from Chicago when injuries struck the Vegas crease.  My only fear is that Dansk could be lost to waivers in much the same fashion that Vegas claimed Malcolm Subban at the beginning of last season.

06 July 2018

Hockey Road Trip: The Alberta Engagement

Two years after my first visit to Alberta, I put forth a plan to return to the province: the Edmonton Oilers had built a strong, young team around budding superstar Connor McDavid, and they were celebrating their inaugural season at Rogers Place.  Plus, I would now have the opportunity to visit Calgary and see the Flames in action as well.  As had been the case with my previous road trips in the 2016-17 season, my travel companion Chad would have difficulty joining me after having just started at a new job, so he decided to pass, which meant that I would bring my girlfriend Charlene along for the ride (just as I did for the Philadelphia trip).

Since we'd be traveling alone, this would also be the perfect opportunity to ask Charlene to marry me.  If I was going to propose, I had always wanted two factors to come into play: it had to be a surprise and it had to be done somewhere romantic.  Chad skipping out was the perfect decoy to keep Charlene misdirected, but I found myself overly worried about what kind of engagement ring to purchase.  When asking several friends and co-workers, I discovered that many of the women enjoyed picking out their own ring - since it was going to be on their finger for the rest of their life, they preferred to have some say in the matter.  Thankfully, another friend came up with the best idea to keep the surprise intact: I would propose with a "promise ring", and then allow Charlene to pick out the actual diamond ring for posterity.

I'd given myself several options for where to pop the question, and Alberta seemed to be a wonderful backdrop.  When we went to the outdoor NHL game in Santa Clara, I had a brief conversation with Kelly Hrudey, who was covering the game for CBC.  Hrudey often worked as a color analyst for the Calgary Flames, and when I mentioned that I was trying to see a game in every NHL arena, I asked him to suggest some Alberta tourist attractions that might be of interest.  He immediately responded: "You have to see Lake Louise - it's SO beautiful".  He couldn't have been more accurate in his assessment, as virtually every picture I had seen of that region of the Canadian Rockies was absolutely breathtaking.  The plan was coming to fruition.

Charlene has two great obsessions: Jane Eyre, the 19th century literary masterpiece (she runs both a website and blog devoted to the book); and Doctor Who, the long-running British television series about an alien time-traveler and his companion.  To give this moment the most sentimental value, I knew I would need to incorporate elements from each into my proposal.

I searched on Etsy to find both a ring box AND promise ring inspired by Doctor Who - the ring box resembled the Doctor's time travel machine (the "Tardis"), while the promise ring featured a Gallifreyan inscription (the language of the Doctor's home planet) on one side, with the phrase "Together Forever Through Time and Space" engraved on the other.  I would then propose my love to her with the exact same words that Mr. Rochester expresses to Jane Eyre in Chapter 23:

"My bride is here, because my equal is here, and my likeness.  Jane, will you marry me?"

I was so proud of myself for devising a plan that seemed too perfect, and one that Charlene would absolutely cherish.  I hid both the ring and the box in my suitcase when she wasn't looking, and we set off to the Great White North!

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