Hockey Road Trip: Ontario Odyssey (Part 2)

28 February 2019

Part 1 of the Ontario Odyssey found Charlene and I gallivanting throughout the province, but now it was time for my travel companion Chad to join us as we completed a very busy week...


Chad arrived in Toronto at 6am after taking a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, so we immediately brought him to our Airbnb in order to squeeze in a quick nap before the day's itinerary unfolded.  We had tickets for the Blue Jays home opener, and our initial thought was to visit both the CN Tower and Ripley's Aquarium before the game (both are included in the Toronto CityPASS), since they are located directly next door to Rogers Centre.  Unfortunately, we arrived downtown amid dreary conditions and THIS was our view of the majestic CN Tower:

As a result, we decided to postpone our visit to the top of the Tower until Saturday, and instead spent the morning at the aquarium.  Charlene was an Animal Science major in college, so she took particular interest in observing the various species as we slowly made our way around the premises - it was definitely a terrific way to spend a couple of hours.

We still had some time to kill before the baseball game, and the perfect place for lunch was only a few blocks away: Wayne Gretzky's Toronto.  Packed with what seemed like an endless supply of memorabilia celebrating the game's greatest player, this restaurant is a must-see location for any hockey fan.  I had to check out every square inch of the place while I was waiting for my food - which was a delicious burger with the Great One's number 99 toasted into the bun!

Chad and I then headed back to Rogers Centre (Charlene opted to go shopping at the Eaton Centre instead), and while neither of us is much of a baseball fan anymore, I still wanted to see the Opening Day festivities.

However, this day would begin on a somber note as the team would pay tribute to one of their fallen heroes.  Pitcher Roy Halladay - an 8-time All Star who spent a decade playing in Toronto - had passed away in the offseason, and the team honored him during a moving ceremony with his family in attendance, in which they retired his number 32.

The starting lineups for both the Blue Jays and the visiting New York Yankees would then be introduced, followed by a stirring rendition of the Canadian national anthem with the nation's flag encompassing the outfield.

Okay, I have to be honest: I have a VERY hard time sitting through baseball games.  I loved the game as a child, and played in Little League for several years, but I've just lost interest in the sport as my love of hockey has grown.  Chad and I patiently watched the first inning, then immediately grew anxious and wanted to see the next OHL playoff game on our schedule, so we left the stadium and rejoined Charlene for a trip to the suburbs.

It was close to rush hour and still raining, so we were stuck in traffic for a while as we drove to nearby Mississauga, arriving at the Hershey Centre just before puck drop.  The Steelheads had squeaked into the playoffs and held a surprising 2-games-to-1 lead in their series against a formidable Barrie Colts team.

The pivotal Game 4 was exciting throughout: Barrie scored early and extended their lead to 3-1 late in the second period, but the Steelheads fought back to draw even as Michael McLeod (1st round pick of the New Jersey Devils) notched his second goal of the game six minutes into the third.  A late Colts goal looked to be the game-winner until Mississauga's Cole Carter tied the score with less than a minute remaining.  For the third time in five OHL playoff games of our trip, we would see overtime!

Three days earlier, we saw Owen Sound defeat London a mere 33 seconds into overtime, and I assumed that was going to be the shortest extra session we would witness during the week - oh, how wrong I was.  Just as the fans were getting back to their seats, Barrie's Tyler Tucker scored for the second time of the night - SIXTEEN seconds into overtime! - and the Colts skated away with a 5-4 win to even the series.  I certainly would have liked to have seen more hockey, but it was still a thrilling game and a perfect way to end a fun day!


Good Friday.  We tried to come up with a place to go that would still be open in light of the holiday, and our trusty CityPASS provided the answer: the Toronto Zoo.  It was going to be a very cold day, but as many zoo employees have told me - both in Toronto and elsewhere - the animals seem to be rather active in the chilly weather.  Thankfully, that was the case on this day.

Charlene's love for animals has rubbed off on me to some extent, and I had a wonderful time walking around and learning about their habitats - plus, the zookeepers offered terrific insight during their presentations.  I'm particularly fond of polar bears, and seeing them was my favorite part of the day.  This is yet another must-see place while visiting Toronto!

We grabbed a quick lunch at the zoo, then headed to Hamilton for our final OHL game of the trip - the top-seeded Bulldogs were hosting the Ottawa 67's, and I've long wanted to see the FirstOntario Centre out of sheer curiosity.  The arena, originally known as the Copps Coliseum, opened in 1985 with a seating capacity designed to attract a potential NHL franchise, only to see several unsuccessful attempts ensue in the following years.  To fill the void, the OHL's Belleville Bulls moved to the vacant arena in 2015, and this year's team finished in first place in the East Division.

The powerhouse Bulldogs would jump out early and never look back, cruising to a 4-1 victory that sealed their first round series against the 67's.  Though the game was never in doubt, I still had a great time wandering the concourse, imagining how this venue would look if an NHL team played under its roof.


The final day of the Ontario Odyssey would be our busiest, beginning with our rescheduled visit to the CN Tower - and the weather cooperated perfectly!

We arrived early in order to beat the weekend crowd, quickly making our way inside the glass-fronted elevators to the LookOut Level.  The view was tremendous!

We didn't have much time to waste, so it was back to the ground floor and off to the marquee stop for this entire vacation: the Hockey Hall of Fame!

Seeing this cherished shrine has been on my to-do list for nearly three decades, and I wanted to give myself as much time as possible - Charlene opted to do more shopping, so Chad and I were on our own to take in all of the artifacts and exhibits.  First stop - getting a picture with Stanley Cup:

Due to great fortune and dumb luck, I've actually seen the Cup on more than a half-dozen occasions, but this felt entirely different.  It was special because...I saw the chalice in its home.  I have a hard time finding the right words to express the feeling, but it was absolutely memorable.  As an added bonus, the original Stanley Cup was on display nearby:

From there, we viewed the plaques honoring the enshrined members in the Esso Great Hall - there are so many to highlight, but I had to focus on three in particular:

- Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player who ever lived;

- Scott Niedermayer, one of my favorite players who also scored the greatest goal I've ever seen

- and Brendan Shanahan, who was my favorite player on the St. Louis Blues when I first got into hockey in the early 1990's.

Next up was a marvelous exhibit simply called The Mask, which focused on the artistry and functionality of goalie masks throughout hockey history.

My remaining time in the museum would be spent scrutinizing the vast array of donated equipment and the stories that went with them - such as the net in which Wayne Gretzky scored his record-breaking 802nd goal, an even the FoxTrack puck!

To say that this visit met my lofty expectations would be an understatement: I can honestly state that if I lived in Toronto, I would stop by the Hockey Hall of Fame on a regular basis.  One should be so lucky to be near such hallowed grounds.

A quick stop for dinner would soon be followed by a brisk walk to the Air Canada Centre, home of the fabled Toronto Maple Leafs.  Though it has only been in use for less than 20 years, the arena still has a sense of history about it - perfectly epitomized by the statues of former Leaf greats out front.

Once inside, we settled in for the pregame experience that accompanies a Hockey Night in Canada game - the home team would be facing off with another Canadian franchise, the Winnipeg Jets.  Playing in their 101st season, the Maple Leafs had established a franchise record with their 46th win earlier in the week.  Meanwhile, the Jets were on their way to having the best season in team history, and had just clinched their first playoff appearance in three years.  Time to drop the puck!


We took our seats amidst a very hospitable crowd to witness some tight-checking defensive hockey, as the non-conference opponents attempting to exploit the other's weaknesses.  Each team had one brief power play, but the period would end scoreless.  As is our custom, Chad and I used the next period to hunt down the beloved mascot Carlton - and with the help of several arena employees, we were ultimately successful!

Patrick Marleau would open the scoring early in the second, but two quick goals from Winnipeg's Josh Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien gave the visitors the lead.  Another goal from Andrew Copp propelled the Jets to a 3-1 lead as the period drew to a close.

We did return to our section in time to see the fans sing along to a rousing presentation of "The Hockey Song", though that would be the final highlight for the local fans as the Jets held the 3-1 lead for the remainder of the game.

All in all, it was a fantastic (and thoroughly exhausting) week in the "Center of the Hockey Universe", and I'm so glad that I got to experience it all with those near and dear to me.  The trips for the 2017-18 season had now concluded, and it was now time to prepare for the last three stops on "The Quest"!


Eight games in eight days meant plenty of opportunities to purchase souvenirs: unfortunately, only two of the six OHL teams offered shot glasses (Oshawa and Hamilton), so I bought miniature hockey sticks from the remaining teams*, as well as the Marlies.  They also had no shot glasses for sale at the Leafs game, so I got a nice one from the NHL's website.  The finishing touch was a cool shot glass from the Hall of Fame with my name on it!

*Note: the Mississauga Steelheads did not have much in terms of merchandise - no shot glasses or mini-sticks - so I bought a hat that I wear around my office all the time.


Our final season of "The Quest" kicks off with a visit to The State of Hockey, aka The Land of 10,000 Lakes, aka The North Star State, aka The Gopher State, aka The...

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