12 June 2020

One Memorable Night: History in Boston!

Throughout the six years that it took my friend Chad and I to complete "The Quest" to see a game in every NHL arena, there was a thought that entered my brain and wouldn't leave: I HAD to see the Stanley Cup awarded.  It would be a great footnote for our adventures and a moment that most hockey fans would treasure.  As luck would have it, just after finishing "The Quest" in Boston earlier in 2019, we would return to the same city that June for our date with history:

It was one year ago today - but let's go back and provide some context to this triumphant occasion...

From the moment I became a hockey fan, I knew this was true to me: the Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in professional sports.  The year was 1993, which happened to be the 100th anniversary of the Cup first being awarded, and the league commissioned a patch which adorned the jerseys of every team that season.  I immediately knew that this was no ordinary trophy - it was special.  Maybe it's because each player on the winning team gets his name etched on the Cup.  Maybe it's because each player on the winning team gets to spend a day with the Cup that summer.  But I also think it has to do with the way it is presented each June...

During my childhood, I remember all of the championship trophies of the other major sports being given to the winning team in their locker room - a cramped space packed with reporters and drowning in champagne.  Meanwhile, the Stanley Cup was awarded on the playing surface itself, so that all of the fans in attendance could share the moment when the team captain raised the Cup over his head and passed it along to his teammates (I also like that the Cup is given from the commissioner to a PLAYER, while many of the other sports have their championship trophies given to the OWNER first).  I can't be the only one who noticed this trend, because it seemed like the other sports started giving out their championship trophy on the playing field not long afterward.

I consider myself quite lucky to have seen the Stanley Cup in person on multiple occasions, with photos to prove it:

1. In 1996, I stood in line for over two and a half hours to see the Cup at Union Station in St. Louis during the NHL Entry Draft;
2. A much shorter line (about 30 minutes) greeted me when I saw the Cup inside of Staples Center during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles;
3. When the Los Angeles Kings won the Cup in both 2012 and 2014, they brought the trophy to the 20th Century Fox studio lot where I worked so that the employees could see it.  Both years, the lines were incredibly long, but I did make sure to get a cool photo with the Kings mascot Bailey while the Cup rested in the background;
4. During my Hockey Road Trip to Toronto, I waited in a short line to see the Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

But I'd never seen the Stanley Cup handed out on the ice, and I now had the means to make that happen.  Of course, I had experienced my share of near-misses...

05 June 2020

Hockeywood: The Sequel!

That's me and my good friend (and Hockey Road Trip companion) Chad at the 2017 NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles.  It had always been my intention to see hockey's finest in their annual mid-season exhibition, so I was stoked when it came to our town three years ago.  That year was extra special because the NHL was celebrating its centennial and honored the 100 greatest players in league history, with many of them being on hand for the weekend's festivities.  I know the game itself may not be the most competitive or dramatic, but these All-Star Games are really designed for the fans and I highly recommend everyone try to attend at least once.

Fortune struck the hockey-loving residents of Southern California a few years later when the American Hockey League announced that the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic would be coming to Ontario, the suburb located less than 40 miles east of Los Angeles.  Minor-league hockey has been played in the Inland Empire since the Ontario Reign joined the ECHL in 2008, and greater things were to come when the team moved up to the AHL in 2015.  The Reign have consistently been near the top of the AHL's attendance charts, so it was only a matter of time before they got their chance to host the All-Star Game.

Chad instinctively bought tickets - which included admission to both the All-Star Skills Competition and All-Star Challenge - as soon as they went on sale, remembering how much fun we'd had at the NHL equivalent just a few years prior.  The only drawback was the timing: in order to avoid competing against the NHL All-Star Game and Skills Competition (which have recently been held on a Friday and Saturday), the AHL would stage their events during the days immediately following the NHL, with their Skills Competition on Sunday and the All-Star Game on Monday.  Given the distance and the usual amount of traffic getting out to Ontario, it just meant we'd have to use a half-day of vacation time to leave work early and watch the All-Star Game, but it was totally worth it!


Chad and I embarked on the hour-long drive to Ontario, arriving around 4pm to see a large crowd of fans wandering around the parking lot of Toyota Arena.  There was a "fan fest" in place, which featured several booths with food and merchandise for sale, as well as games and activities to win random prizes.  There were dozens of fans lined up to enter the arena, even though the doors hadn't yet opened, so we decided to walk around and see what the AHL had to offer.  I won a LA Galaxy sticker, a Dave and Buster's shot glass, and we were also handed some free sunglasses - we weren't thrilled with the dining options at the booths and food trucks outside, so we headed inside to eat once the doors opened.

I have to say it: the Toyota Arena is beautiful.  I've been to numerous games (and a Metallica concert) and I've always loved the layout and design of the building, with its wide concourses and open viewing areas at the ends of the ice.  The AHL couldn't have chosen a better venue to hold their All-Star competition, and we had a great time strolling around and soaking up the energy.

The best part was that there were mascots EVERYWHERE!!  Chad and I have always tried to get pictures with mascots at every game we attend, and we managed to meet several at the NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles, so this afternoon turned into a scavenger hunt.  One by one, we quickly hunted down all of the AHL mascots we had not met previously and posed for a picture with them.

By the time the hunt had concluded for the night, I met five mascots: Chubby (Charlotte Checkers), Griff (Grand Rapids Griffins), T-Bone (San Antonio Rampage), Roscoe (Milwaukee Admirals), and my personal favorite Ringo (Texas Stars).  They were all very active and kept the younger fans entertained with their antics.  What can I say?  Interacting with mascots always seems to bring out the kid in me, and I'm very grateful that so many teams continue to employ them and value their importance.

Clockwise from upper left: Chubby, Griff, Roscoe, T-Bone
Ringo had us in stitches all night long

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