Hockey Road Trip: The Alberta Engagement

06 July 2018

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!


As luck would have it, my friend Janine offered to let us stay at her house in Canmore, since she would be out of town during out visit.  Nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains about an hour away from both Lake Louise and Calgary, the quiet town of Canmore was the perfect base of operations for the first part of our trip.  We landed in Calgary in the early afternoon, and made it to Janine's house just before the sun set.  The house was beautiful and spacious, and this was the view looking out of the living room window:

Famished from the flight, we went into town to grab dinner at Patrino's Steak House & Pub, where we feasted on Italian food and watched the Calgary Flames game on TV, then stopped at a grocery store to load up on supplies before heading home.  Tomorrow would be the "big day", and I knew I wanted to get plenty of rest to settle my nerves (Editor's note: no amount of rest would settle them).


My bride is here, because my equal is here, and my likeness.  

It was all I could hear when I woke up that morning.  I had to make sure I got it right, word for word, to make the proposal impeccable.  The butterflies were circling in my stomach, but I did manage to eat a small breakfast before we left the house.  We then hopped in the rental car and drove up the snow-covered highway to Lake Louise, as Rochester's lines repeated over and over in my head.

My bride is here, because my equal is here, and my likeness.  

I didn't really know where to stop once I got there, but the Chateau Lake Louise seemed like the best place to start.  A thin layer of snow and ice had covered the parking lot, though we did manage to make our way to the trail surrounding the lake with little difficulty.  The ring was inside the box, which was delicately placed in my coat pocket as we walked around the picturesque setting.  At this point, it was just a matter of when and where: I didn't want to draw a crowd, so I waited until there was some distance between us and most of the other tourists.  When the moment came, I held her close and uttered those words before dropping to one knee:

"My bride is here, because my equal is here, and my likeness.  Charlene, will you be my Companion?"

I don't know if it was the pressure of the situation or the frigid temperatures from the ground, but my hands were shaking uncontrollably as I removed the ring from my pocket.  The shock had overwhelmed her and she answered with a resounding, "YES!"  Finally, I could breathe again.  I held her close once again, and professed my undying love and wish to spend the rest of my life with her.  It couldn't have been more perfect - she would be my wife!

The first picture of the newly-engaged couple
We went back inside the Chateau to have lunch, then spent the next couple of hours walking around the premises, allowing time for Charlene to call her family and give them the good news.  With my nerves finally settled, we headed next to the scenic ski resort town of Banff to bask in the glow of our romance.  

We casually walked the streets before stopping to have a delicious meal at the Park Distillery, where Charlene got her first taste of poutine!  Night was about to fall, so it was time to head back to Canmore to relax for the evening - I felt relieved, but glad that I got to share the moment with someone so special.


We set out in the morning for the four-hour journey to Edmonton, briefly stopping for lunch at the Heritage Ranch in Red Deer, the same restaurant where I ate during my previous Alberta trip.  After dropping off our things at the Airbnb where we were staying, we ventured over to the famous West Edmonton Mall, the largest of its kind in North America.  Charlene LOVES malls, and I had been looking forward to going back again - we only had a few hours, so we covered as much ground as we could before stopping to eat in the food court, and wrapping up the night at the movie theater.

I really enjoyed the hockey comedy, GOON, and was excited to learn that there would be a sequel.  However, the second film would only be given a theatrical release in Canada (not the United States), and luckily it was still playing at the mall when we arrived.  While not quite as good as its predecessor - which I made Charlene watch with me on the flight up - GOON: LAST OF THE ENFORCERS was a very amusing R-rated romp.

There were few places in Edmonton that interested Charlene nearly as much as the mall, so she insisted we go back again the next day - sure, why not?


Upon our return to the massive shopping center, we headed directly to the Antique Photo Parlour:  Charlene had seen it the night before and asked that we pose for an old-timey picture to commemorate both our trip and engagement, to which I gladly agreed.  She had taken a few of these photos in her life, but it was all new to me and I found it quite enjoyable - now we have another prized memento of our life!

A few more hours of time-killing would follow (including lunch and miniature golf), before we headed to the Ice District downtown to get ready for the Oilers game and meet my friend Jay for dinner.  He and I had met at an Oilers-Kings game in Los Angeles, where he gave me his business card and told me to let him know when I'd be in town to see the new arena.  Jay is a wonderful person - a Canadian personified - and we had a great time swapping stories with his friends at Vivo Pizzeria.  He'd even told his wife Susan about my collection of NHL shot glasses, and she was nice enough to pick up an Oilers one for me!

Now it was off to Rogers Place, an absolute gem of a building.  An architectural wonder by every stretch of the imagination, this was a fantastic place to spend an evening.  There was a large indoor concourse just outside the arena where the fans could gather before games - I'm sure this comes in handy during the brutally cold winter months.  But now it was game time, and the Anaheim Ducks were in town for a Hockey Night in Canada matchup featuring the top two teams in the Pacific Division!


Jay and Susan are season ticket holders, and they managed to secure the two seats next to them for Charlene and I, providing a great view in the lower bowl!  It was a tough and tightly-contested game right from the start, and though Edmonton was dominating play they wouldn't break through until Connor McDavid opened the scoring in the final minute of the first period.

As is my custom, we used the second period to track down the Oilers mascot, a lynx named Hunter, as the the Ducks surged back to tie the game, eventually taking the lead early in the third period on a goal by Patrick Eaves.  The Oilers continued to pour on the offense, but they just couldn't solve Anaheim netminder John Gibson.

The momentum would finally change when Antoine Vermette took a costly penalty for the Ducks late in the game, giving the fearsome Edmonton power play one last chance to take the ice and they would not disappoint - Milan Lucic, the highly-touted free-agent signing of the prior offseason, tapped in a rebound to tie the contest with just under two minutes to play.  Regulation time would end with the score knotted at 2, even though the Oilers had outshot Anaheim 36-18.  This set the stage for one of the most dramatic moments I'd ever witnessed at a hockey game.

Just over a minute into the 3-on-3 overtime period, Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf skated into the Edmonton zone and lost his footing, which created an odd-man rush for the Oilers going the other direction.  McDavid deftly skated into the offensive zone and fed a beautiful no-look pass to Leon Draisaitl, who one-timed a shot past the sprawling Ducks goalie to cap off the come from behind victory and send the fans into a frenzy!

I could not have asked for a better finish, as the goal happened right in front of me and I was immediately engulfed by enthusiastic fans offering hugs and high-fives.  The phenom known as Connor McDavid had delighted the Edmonton faithful, which of course led to him being named the First Star of the game.  His final salute to the fans elicited an even bigger response than the overtime goal itself!

What a truly memorable night with some wonderful people - I certainly hope to be back in Edmonton again soon, especially if I can watch another Oilers game with this terrific bunch:

With our new friends: Glen, Gina, Jay & Susan


Another chilly morning with light snow flurries would greet us, as we set off for the lengthy drive to Calgary.  Our first stop was Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, which gave us a couple of hours to learn about some of the most noteworthy athletes and sports figures the nation has ever seen, from Wayne Gretzky to basketball inventor James Naismith!

We then checked into our downtown hotel room to relax for a bit, before walking to the Scotiabank Saddledome, home of the Calgary Flames.  We found a great dinner spot along the way (Tuk Tuk Thai), and arrived at the arena just as the snowfall began to get heavier.  The Saddledome is the second-oldest arena in the NHL - behind only New York's Madison Square Garden - and feels like a throwback to a bygone era: it's very quaint and cozy, with a charm all its own.  Having been built in the early 1980's and used for the 1988 Winter Olympics, it certainly feels outdated but historic at the same time.

This would be Calgary's final home game of the regular season, so there was a sale on most merchandise in advance of the team leaving town for a weeklong road trip to wrap up their schedule.  We did a couple of laps around the singular concourse, then headed to our seats for the opening face-off.


We'd be seeing those same Anaheim Ducks again, though it would be somewhat unfair to compare this game to the night before: the Flames were all but locked into the fourth place spot in the Pacific Division and would be a wild-card team in the upcoming playoffs, so the intensity wasn't quite the same as it was when the Oilers were Anaheim's opponent.  The first period was slow to start, and the crowd was taken out of the game momentarily when the Ducks took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.  

Our mascot hunt would commence during the next period, so we weren't even paying attention when the Flames tied the game on back-to-back goals from Kris Versteeg.  But it was totally worth it to capture what could be my greatest mascot photo ever!

While perusing the sale items in the team store, I instantly fell in love with this Harvey the Hound puppet - not only did I have to buy it, but I HAD to be photographed with Harvey himself while it rested on my hand.  Mission accomplished!  

Harvey is quite a hoot, and I loved his work on the Lion King Cam!
The Ducks would go in front on a goal by Korbinian Holzer while we were still out wandering around, but we did return in time to see Michael Frolik tie the score early in the third, setting the stage for an exciting finish.

Unfortunately for the home fans, the happiness would be short-lived as Anaheim's Logan Shaw netted the game-winner with just over three minutes remaining, and the Ducks flew back south with a hard-fought 4-3 victory.  It may not have been the conclusion I had hoped for, but it was an entertaining night all around.  We prepared to brave the elements once again for a blustery walk back to our hotel, but it had actually warmed up enough to allow us to take a leisurely stroll through the Alberta night.


Our flight home wasn't until 7pm, so we had one final day to do some sightseeing and gave ourselves an early start to make the most of it.  We began at the world-famous Calgary Tower, where we walked around and bought souvenirs at the gift shop without actually going up into the tower itself (honestly, we were in a bit of a time crunch and didn't want to pay the steep admission price).  Darkness from the night before had limited our ability to see much of the exterior of the Saddledome, so I suggested we go there to marvel at the architecture in daylight.  Believe me, it is a sight to behold!

The Calgary Tower can be seen just to the left of the Saddledome
The final destination of our trip would be Telus Spark, Calgary's interactive science museum, which was hosting a very special exhibit with us in mind.  In addition to the aforementioned Jane Eyre and Doctor Who, my fiancee is also an avid fan of Star Trek and its various incarnations.  As it so happened, our visit would coincide with Telus Spark serving as home to the Star Trek: Starfleet Academy Experience, an in-depth look at the science of the famed television series.  Charlene grabbed tickets as soon as our travel dates were confirmed, and it was a wonderful way to bring our time in Alberta to a close.

The exhibit featured an array of hands-on activities which allowed guests to perform medical examinations in the Sick Bay, engage in target practice using a phaser, and even learn how to speak Klingon!  We completed all of the tests and received certificates via e-mail after we returned home.

Science Officer Charlene trying to determine this Klingon's ailment
Sadly for us, it was time to return to the warm and sunny confines of Los Angeles - here's wishing that all of our neighbors to the North will "Live Long and Prosper!"


Though our new friend Susan was thoughtful enough to buy me an Oilers shot glass before I arrived, that still didn't stop me from picking up another ceramic glass to honor the exciting Connor McDavid.  I also had to have something emblazoned with the Rogers Place Inaugural Season logo, ultimately settling on this cool puck.  Finally, there were no shot glasses for sale at the Saddledome, but I struck gold on eBay with this awesome Flames glass that features the Calgary skyline behind the "Flaming C"!


Another visit to the arctic climate of Canada, for a brief-but-tranquil vacation in the frozen prairie...

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