Hockey Road Trip: Michigan-za! (Part 2)

14 September 2018

Part 1 of the Michigan-za! saw Chad and I venturing around the great state of Michigan, with four hockey games in four days.  Now, my fiancee Charlene had arrived and we had much more to see...


The busiest day of the trip kicked off with a brief visit to the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor - I was always a big fan of Presidential history as a kid, so it was fun to see an assortment of artifacts on display highlighting the life of the 38th U.S. President.

As an added bonus, the library also detailed his career as a football star at the University of Michigan, and his connections to the school after graduation.  I don't think Chad and Charlene cared too much, but I took my time to peruse the building before we headed to downtown Detroit.

Our first stop in Detroit would be the Motown Museum, which was always at the top of my list of things to do when I originally planned this trip.  It definitely lived up to my expectations, as we were treated to a hour-long tour of the famed recording studio that was both funny and heart-warming.  Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside, so I had to settle for a group picture out front:

I'm sure it goes without saying, but any visit to Detroit MUST include a stop at the Motown Museum!

From there, we stopped by the Detroit Historical Museum to spend a couple of hours learning about the legendary city.  As expected, there was a heavy emphasis on the automotive industry, but it was also fun to read about the famous musicians who hailed from Detroit as well, including Alice Cooper (one of Chad's favorite artists) and Madonna (one of mine).

It was time for dinner, and I had the perfect idea for some local cuisine - the famous Coney Island hot dog.  Contrary to the name, it is a staple of Michigan food history and there are two establishments widely recognized in Detroit as being the must-see places: Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island.  Originally founded by two brothers, the restaurants sit adjacent to each other at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Lafayette Boulevard - since we didn't think it was fair to pick one place over the other, we decided to get a coney dog from both.

We still had some time to kill before the Red Wings game, so we strolled through the downtown area to observe the notable architecture, ultimately arriving at the Little Caesars Arena just as the doors opened to the waiting fans.

Without a doubt, this beautiful building has one of the most impressive lobby and concourse areas I've seen in a hockey arena.  It certainly helps to have a storied NHL franchise as your main tenant, but they've done a wonderful job at spotlighting that rich history, including statues honoring Red Wing greats like Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe, as well as in-depth displays of some of the famous moments and teams of the past.


There was definitely a contrast between the two teams playing on this night: the Red Wings were suffering through mediocrity after having missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years the season before, while the visiting Nashville Predators were on the rise in the Western Conference (and would go on to win the Presidents' Trophy with the NHL's best record).  Making matters worse was the lack of atmosphere inside the rink itself - I don't know if the ticket prices were too exorbitant or if the fans had given up on this current team, but the crowd was quite lifeless throughout the evening.  As a result, we didn't stay for the entire game and I didn't feel too bad about the decision.

A very quiet first period saw the Predators jump out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Scott Hartnell and Kyle Turris, so I used the opportunity to chat up a nearby Red Wings fan and ask him about the state of the franchise during its first season in their new building.  We wound up spending the second period circling the concourse, but I did manage to sneak inside just as Andreas Athanasiou scored to cut the Nashville lead in half.

We continued to mill around for the remainder of the second period, then made our way outside during the intermission.  The teams would go on to trade goals in the final frame, with the Predators eventually prevailing by a score of 3-2.  It wasn't the most memorable experience, but it IS a gorgeous arena - here's hoping the team can turn things around and bring back the excitement!


This was the day to recharge: after taking Chad to the airport for his return flight to Los Angeles, Charlene and I made the three-hour drive south to visit friends in Dayton, Ohio.  I wouldn't dream of coming to the area without seeing Tony and Kasey, two married sweethearts that always open up their home to me, and this was my first chance to show Charlene around town.  We grabbed lunch at Company 7 BBQ, bought some CD's at Omega Music, then wrapped up with dinner at Thai 9 (where we ALWAYS eat when I'm in Dayton).

We spent the rest of the evening back at their house, swapping stories and watching the Winter Olympics - it was a pleasant day and a wonderful time was had by all.


Fueled with coffee and donuts from Tim Horton's, we hit the freeway and headed north to Dearborn, Michigan and the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.  This was the perfect way to spend an afternoon, as the variety of exhibits kept us entertained for hours.

I took particular interest in the series of Presidential limousines on display, as well as a decade-by-decade breakdown of American pop culture that allowed me to act on a green screen in front of one of the most iconic music videos of the 1980's, "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads.

Tonight was my chance to take Charlene over the border into Canada, and we stopped in Windsor's Little Italy to have a delicious dinner at Spago.  Another OHL game soon followed, as the defending Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires were hosting the Ottawa 67's - as I've said many times before, I love watching junior hockey due to the community feel that is often present.  We had NHL scouts sitting on one side of us, and billet families on the other.  Plus, they had THREE different mascots wandering around!

Led by their goaltender - Vancouver Canucks draft pick Michael DiPietro - the Spitfires held on for a 2-1 victory, and we would cross the Detroit River into Michigan to head home after a long day.  Farewell for now, Canada!


The western side of Michigan was on the agenda for the day, as we set out for Grand Rapids early in the morning.  The focal point of the day would be the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, a vast institution located in his hometown that featured a stunning array of memorabilia and mementos.  I was amazed by virtually everything in sight, and spent the entire afternoon slowly walking around the premises, both inside and out.  (As she was not nearly as interested in Ford's life as I was, Charlene chose to visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum across the street.)

From there, we journeyed south to Kalamazoo and the campus of Western Michigan University, where the Bronco hockey team was hosting the mighty Bulldogs from the University of Minnesota Duluth.  After strolling around to soak in the ambience of the college setting, we made our way into town for dinner at Maru Sushi, before returning to campus just in time to watch UMD destroy the Broncos by a score of 8-0.  Even though the outcome was never really in doubt (the Bulldogs would go on to win the National Championship two months later), it was still an enjoyable night.


The final day of the Michigan-za! didn't even take place in the state, as another trip south to Ohio was on the horizon.  My sister used to live in the northwest corner of the Buckeye State, and since her daughter was still in the region we decided to meet up with her for dinner.  The day would begin at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums in the city of Fremont, where I had a blast navigating through a multitude of artifacts that depicted the political and military career of the nation's 19th President.  While I was in the museum, Charlene walked next door to take a tour of Spiegel Grove, the sprawling mansion that served as the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hayes.

Next up was the hour-long drive to Tiffin, where I'd spent many summers visiting my sister before she moved to California.  We immediately stopped at Ballreich's to pick up some of their excellent potato chips, and I could only think of one option for dinner: Fort Ball Pizza Palace, whose delectable Italian buffet made it the perfect spot to meet my niece, Megan.  We ate, we talked, we ate some more - but now it was time to head to Toledo and wrap up the trip!

The Toledo Walleye have always ranked near the top of the ECHL in attendance, and the crowd was rocking on this Saturday night!  We had great seats and were treated to an exciting 3-2 win for the home team over the Atlanta Gladiators, plus I got a couple more mascot photos to add to my collection.

All in all, it was exhausting yet thrilling and I'm glad I got to experience it all with people so near and dear to me.  Viva la Michigan-za!


Going to so many games meant picking up lots of merchandise: there were no Red Wings shot glasses at Little Caesars Arena, so I found one on eBay when I got home.  Meanwhile, the Walleye didn't sell them either, though I was able to get glasses from all three colleges in their respective campus bookstores.  Sadly, Windsor was the only OHL team to sell shot glasses in their team store, and I opted to settle for miniature hockey sticks from Saginaw and Toledo.


Not to be outdone, I wrap up the 2017-18 NHL season with a journey to the "center of the hockey universe" that included eight hockey games in only EIGHT days...

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