Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Road Trip Recap: Part V It's Hockey Night Tonight!

Road Trip Recaps: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

As we were getting ready for the night's festivities, Heather recommended that we catch the end of the Habs-Sharks game at the hotel bar.  So we headed downstairs decked out in full Bruins gear, eliciting random looks as one might expect in enemy territory.  Grabbed a couple of seats at the bar, only to find the AC Milan - Brescia match on instead.  Hey Ronaldino is still fun to watch.

We downed our beverages, but not before striking up another hockey conversation with some people at the bar.  Did I mention I like this city?

On our way out we noticed a little something hanging on the wall.  I thought this was good sign.

And then it was time to go.  So without further delay, let's get to the good stuff.  And I'm going to use my normal game rundown, adapted for the road:

Just the facts, Jack (Edwards)
  • Regular Season game #25, road game #13
  • Boston Bruins (14-8-2) at. Toronto Maple Leafs (8-12-4)
  • Second game aginst the Leafs (Bruins won 2-0 at home on October 28)
John Blue Plate Special

We hopped a cab down to the Air Canada Centre, striking up a nice conversation with our cabbie.  We asked him if he had any recommendations for a good bar in the area and he mentioned that there was this brand new place just across the street from the arena.  So we checked it out.  For about one minute.

Real Sports is a gleaming new building with huge flat screens and a very tony appearance, like GameOn!, but more chic.  Velvet ropes and bouncers outside, dark wood and glass inside.  Long lines and expensive beers.  We quickly realized that this wasn't our kind of place, so told Heather to follow me to place just up the street that might do the trick.

So we headed to the Loose Moose on Front Street.

Much, much better.

I had been there before, as it was the pregame hangout place for a bunch of us before we saw the Red Sox get absolutely slaughtered by the Blue Jays on August 23, 2008.

This time, it was Leafs fans, not Sox ones, who took over the bar.  And they were good people.  We managed to grab a couple seats at the bar from a couple of guys who were in town on business and sat next to a couple of kids who were at their first Leafs game by way of British Columbia.  I grabbed a beer.  Heather, on the other hand, thinking we were still at the Four's, had a mixed drink.  Unlike the drinks at the Four's, these were kiddie cup size.  I had a hunch that this was going to be the case hence my choice to go with the brews.

Of course, we were getting hungry too, so we grabbed a menu.  What to order?  There were the standard burgers and sandwiches.  And then there was this:

A buffalo chicken sandwich served on waffles.

Heather seemed a bit hesitant.  She wasn't sold on waffles as a bread substitute. But I insisted and she ended up going along with it.

We were not disappointed. This was SO good.

I know that chicken and waffles is fast becoming a popular dish as restaurants have found another foodie treat to beat into the ground.  Usually, though, that involves fried chicken served on top of Belgian waffles and served with maple syrup.  This was a much simpler concept, replacing a roll with waffles, and serving it on top of a pound of fries.

After devouring that fabulous meal, I wasn't really hungry once inside the arena.  But I was thirsty, so I grabbed a beer.  During the first intermission, we took a walk around the concourse again.  That's when we found the Tim Horton's stand.

Large coffee - $1.50.

You read that right.

I love this place.  You're talking $3.50 for a comparable Dunks at the Garden and that's after waiting 5 minutes in line because some pink hat wants whipped cream on her coolatta and another 5 waiting for the guy to get your drink while you hope they got your order right.

The Couture Corner

I'm just going to lay it out here - Toronto is the world capital for sweater porn.

Sweaters of just about every style worn by the Leafs in their existence were on display here.  Better yet, they were for sale here too.

Immediately across from the Real Sports bar is the Real Sports Apparel Store.  Now, it should be noted that the store is owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the same company that owns the Leafs and the Air Canada Center as well as the Raptors, Toronto FC and the Marlies of the AHL.  This place has the absolute best selection I have ever seen at  team run store.

I mean, look at this: Gretzky throwbacks, late 80s Lemieuxs, and loads of different Leafs sweaters, including the late 80s/early 90s Wendell Clark and mid 90s Doug Gilmour ones seen here.

This is just plain sick.  Want a mid-70s Borje Salming or Daryl Sittler? They have it.  Want a late 60s Johhny Bower? Sure.  Late 90s Mats Sundin? No problem.

We almost had this at one time at the FleetCenter, but the guy who used to order all the old Bruins sweaters was fired and his replacements just haven't had the same demand and/or desire to order more of them.  Then again, with the way the current Bruins sweaters are selling out, the store isn't hurting for sales, either.

Even the customers bring it here:

A late 60s Lanny MacDonald.  Although the other one may be an Andrew Raycroft 3rd.  But, damn, if those aren't sweet.

Have I mentioned that we hadn't even stepped foot in the arena yet?

After looking around and finding some sweet (if not outrageously expensive) Hockey Night in Canada branded travel mugs (we'll be getting those online, thanks), we made our way into the rink.

Wide open concourses.  Loads of food choices.  Even free beer samples!

We walked around downstairs for a bit then headed upstairs to take a lap around the place as the teams were warming up.

Toronto fans bring their "A" game when it comes to wearing their colors:

Tie Domi 3rd, circa 2005

Pound for pound, Domi was one of the toughest goons I've ever seen.  Sure, I hated him when he was playing against the Bruins, but I always kinda liked him as a player.  He would have been an interesting Bruin, Jay Miller meets PJ Stock.

If there was one thing I took away from this weekend, it's that Leafs fans absolutely love Wendell Clark.

The first overall pick in the 1995 entry draft, Clark had 3 separate stints with the Leafs, serving as captain from 1991 to 1994.  He was a decent scorer, but was also known to be very physical ala Cam Neely.  He was traded to the Nordiques in 1994.  As part of the deal, Toronto received a young Swedish centre named Mats Sundin.  I think they made out ok in that one.

The Leafs honored his #17 in 2008.

1994 Wendell Clark Nordiques home and 1995 Islanders Away

This completely blew my mind.

As I said, Toronto fans love Wendell Clark, but this took it to a new level.  Clark played one season each for these two teams before returning to the Leafs midway through the 1995 season.  Those Quebec sweaters were beautiful in their simplicity featuring the fleur de lis.  As for the the Islanders one, aka the Gorton 'fishsticks' ones, they were so ugly that they have a certain charm to them.

Going, Going, Gondola

This was my first time visiting the Air Canada Centre.  I had heard from numerous people, both friends and on TV that this was one of the best places to see a game in the NHL.  So I would be remiss if I didn not share a little bit of the building with you.

There weren't a lot of memorabilia type displays (most places in the concourses were taken up by food stands and merchandise vendors), but this one stood out to me.  Photos of every player who wore the captain's C for the Leafs.  I wish the Bruins would do something like this, but then again, they'd have to have pictures of Jason Allison and Joe Thornton.  So maybe not.

The sightlines were great.  No columns and the balcony seats were set at a fairly steep angle putting you closer to the ice than a comparable seat at the Garden.

Hockey is presented in a fairly pure form here.  No t-shirt cannons. No crappy music.  Trivia questions based on the history of the Leafs.  I loved every bit of it.

I really like how the Leafs honor their Stanley Cup winners.  Simple banners with a picture of the cup featuring the team logo at the time and the year on the bottom. 

The other interesting thing they do is that they  really don't retire numbers in the traditional sense.  Only the numbers 5 (Bill Barilko) and 6 (Ae Bailey) have been taken out of circulation.  Great players have their numbers 'honored' instead, much like what NFL teams do with their rings of honor.  Hence you have the number 1 worn by hall of famer Johnny Bower and Bruins reject Andrew Raycroft.

One other really interesting feature is the Foster Hewitt media gondola.

Hewitt was a longtime radio broadcaster in Canada who gained fame calling the national hockey night in Canada broadcasts for 40 years.  The old Maple Leaf Gardens featured a gondola hanging at the top of the building where broadcasters were stationed.  When the Air Canada Center was built, the pressbox was named in his honor.

The Row 12 Rundown

Well, seeing that we were on a road trip with just the two of us, 307 wasn't represented all that well.  We had seats in section 323, row 11 and they were fantastic.

Doosh of the Day

Even north of the border, there are societal losers to be found.

Honorable mention goes to the bunch of college age kids in front of us who went from mild mannered clowns when the Leafs were trailing to full-fledged asshats once they tied it up.  Also need to give a shout out to the 12 year old girls in the train station after the game who tried to talk trash to us, despite the fact they've never seen the Leafs even make it to the finals in their lifetime.

But the winner goes to the self proclaimed Penguins fan outside the train station on Front Street who said the happiest day of his life was when Ulf Samuelsson took out Cam Neely's knees.  Very few taunts tend to get me worked up like someone who glorifies a player getting injured, regardless of what team they play for  (yes, even the Habs).

To her credit, Heather suggested we hop in cab and get out of there before things escalated.  So we headed back towards the hotel.

The Clothes Line

I was a little concerned that with a scarcity of tickets available, there would be few Bruins fans there for the game.  Boy was I wrong.  There were plenty.  Including this guy:

1972 Wayne Cashman home

I've seen a lot of early 70s Bruins replicas.  But those tend to feature the same players: Orr, Bucyk, Esposito, Cheevers.  But this was the first time I've ever seen a Cashman, the career Bruin who served as captain form 1978 to 1983.

As for what we wore, I went with the 1970 Orr and Heather went with the late 80s Neely.  We figured we'd get along with more fans if we wore players that are Hall of Famers that are universally (well, almost) respected among hockey fans.

The Lobel Prize

We all know that the Leafs have Phil Kessel.  What we also know is that Kessel has never scored against the Bruins sinced he was traded.  And he still hasn't, sort of.  The box score shows that he had no goals or assists and landed 6 shots on net (all of which were saved by Tim Thomas), but it was his goal scored in final round of the shootout that gave the Leafs a 3-2 victory and landed him the first star of the game award.

That hurt, real bad.

It also didn't help that Kris Versteeg, a pretty decent player who was once a Bruins minor leaguer (traded to Chicago for the forgetable Brandon Bochenski), tied the game at 2-2 at 19:18 of the third period.


The Home End

Though the Bruins got a point, this felt like a bad loss.  Giving up 2 points to a division rival was bad. Having Phil Kessel be the one to seal the deal was worse. Furthermore, a good portion of the good will and camaraderie we felt druing the day was a bit diminished by the way a few classless fans acted towards us after the game.

I really hoped to go out after the game and celebrate with a pint or two, but we headed back to the hotel bar and relaxed instead.  Besides, we had to be up early to catch the bus back to the airport. So we went back to the room and watched the late game on the CBC and headed off to bed shortly thereafter.

Though the game didn't go exactly as we had hoped for and that we almost never made it up there in the first place, it was a pretty good birthday weekend.

Next year, I'm thinking the Windy City for a B's-Blackhawks game.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Special Edition: Part IV - Donuts, Doonies and Don Cherry

Road Trip Recaps: Part I | Part II | Part III

Ah, Saturday.

After the debacle of the night before, we managed to get a few hours of shuteye in before we got up early in the morning.  If we were so hell bent on getting up there, damn if we weren't going to get in a full day taking in what the city had to offer before the game.

First stop? Tim Horton's in College Park.

Being the native New Englanders that we are, some of you might scream heresy. But remember, this is Canada.  There really aren't any Dunking Donuts here and Tim Horton's is basically their version of Dunks.

Make no mistake, their coffee pales in comparison.  And their idea of a large barely matches a medium back home. What they lack in java offerings is more than made up by their donuts, however.  I introduced Heather to the wonder that is the sour cream glazed donut. I'm a big fan of Dunks' glazed donuts, but those are yeast donuts.  Tim's are cake dounts, with a distinctive richness to them courtesy of the sour cream.  Needless to say, Heather is now a huge fan.  I only got a single donut at this store.  I knew that we would be back later.  Besides, we had another stop to make where we'd be sure to satisfy our appetites.

But first we had to make a quick side trip.

On our way to Tim's from the hotel. I noticed the Best Western Primrose hotel in the distance as we came upon the intersection of Yonge & Carlton.  I immediately remembered it as I had stayed there the last time I was in Toronto to see the Bruins.  That was on January 9, 1999.  The Bruins lost to the Leafs 6-3.  It was the last time the Bruins played at Maple Leaf Gardens

As this was a hockey trip, I would be remiss if I did not make an effort to show Heather this one-time temple of hockey. The building has not been used since the middle of the 1999 season, but the building is still there, devoid of lettering on the marquee and behind some scaffolding.

From there, we made our way south on Yonge Street towards the Eaton Centre.  The Eaton Centre is a huge multistory downtown mall that spans many city blocks.  If there is chain store you can think of, this place probably has it.  Seeing that it was just after 9:00 in the morning, the vast majority of the stores weren't open yet, so we made our way through the place.  Besides, do so provided a nice warm respite from the 20 degree wind chill.

Eventually, we made it down to Front Street and headed west.  Our next stop was but a short distance away: St. Lawrence Market.

When we were planning out this trip, we wanted to hit up more than just bars and typical tourist traps like the CN Tower.  And I solicited opinions from friends as to where we should go.  It was almost universally agreed that a trip to the market was in order.

With the exception of Boston, many of the great cities in North America have large central indoor marketplaces where local merchants, farms and purveyors sell their goods to the public.  Seattle is known for it's famed Pike Place Marketplace.  Philly has the Reading Terminal Market.  Baltimore has Lexington Market.

We were not disappointed.

Bakeries, butcheries, cheese shops, pasta shops, fish mongers, even a kitchen gadget shop, this place had just about everything.  The smell of the fresh baked bread was intoxicating, the line outside one particular bakery was wrapped around itself twice over.  It's a good thing we had but a small bite for breakfast. I found a bagel place that had homemade potato knishes.  They were good, but I should have had them warm them up first. We could not stop looking at the meat cases - not just the numerous types of homemade sausages and charcouterie, the huge rib roasts, stuffed pork loins and the exotic game meats. We came across one particular pasta shop where they were offering samples of their meat ravioli in their marinara sauce.  It seriously was some of the best pasta I've ever had and the sauce was to die for.  Even better, they had a guy making the ravioli right there using a really cool looking pasta extrusion/stuffing machine.

Wearing some Bruins gear, we found ourselves engaged in a few hockey conversations with the locals, all good natured.  What we did notice was an overwhelming sense of defeatism with the Leafs fans.  The fact that the team wasn't performing well and that the Bruins were ale to improve themselves greatly at the expense of the leafs, not just the Kessel/Seguin & draft picks deal, but the Raycroft for Rask trade as well.

As we finished making our rounds about the place (both up and downstairs), we decided we needed one last bite to eat and figured that we should try something that's a local delicacy - the peameal bacon sandwich.  So we stopped at this place:

Paddingtons. The self-proclaimed "Home of the Oink".  With a slogan like that, how could we go wrong?

For those not in the know, peameal bacon is a smoked pork loin dusted in cornmeal.  Its sliced thin and piled on a bun and served with a choice of condiments.  Heather and I went with the honey mustard.  It was fantastic.  Sweet, smoky, moist - the perfect blend of flavor and texture.  If you're ever in the neighborhood, I highly recommend you stop by and grab one for yourself.

After our marketplace jaunt, we headed back down Front Street to the one place any hockey fan should visit when in Toronto - the Hockey Hall of Fame.

This was my third time visiting the place.  Many of the exhibits were the same or had minor updates, but its always a good take, if not only to see the plaques of the newest inductees (well, except that DB Dino Ciccarelli).

Now, one of the highlights of any visit is finding the bubble hockey tables.  Technically known as Super Chexx, very few places have these nowadays, so when you find them, you've just gotta play.  And you knew that the HHoF will always have them. So when Heather and I found an open table, it was game on.

Except it wasn't.  Not quite yet, at least.

Seems that the tables only took Loonies, the Canadian $1.00 coins.  And all we had were paper bills and doonies ($2.00 coins).  We asked just about everyone around us if they could make change, but no one could help us out.  I was shocked.  He we are in Canada, where it's damn near impossible to buy something and not end up with a half ton of coins in your pocket and no one had a couple of loonies to change.  So I headed to the ticket desk and was able to get the requisite money.  Then it was game on.

Sadly, the tables there didn't feature the US vs. USSR matchup that I grew up with.  Nor did it offer US vs. Canada.  Rather, we had generic red and blue players.  But we did get O Canada as the anthem, which was apropos.  I ended up winning both games, the second one a bit closer than I liked it to be.

As for exhibits, there was not shortage of Boston representation, from the Bobby Orr display, to Don Cherry collectibles, Boston Garden nostalgia, All Star game memorabiliaWinter Classic uniforms, generic team displays and even Paul Stewart's referee sweater.  We spent a lot of time in the Stanley Cup room, which features one of my favorite architectural elements in the world.  The inductee plaques are neat to see, especially with so many Bruins included.  I always get a kick out the fact that Can Neely and Ray Bourque's plaques are located next to each other.  And then there is the Stanley Cup.  I took some pictures of it, but I refuse to touch it until the Bruins win it.  I did, however, snap a couple of photos of the 1970 and 1972 winners on Lord Stanley's chalice.

There was, of course, a lot of non Bruins stuff.  A couple of things that stood out to me: Ray Bourque's Avalanche sweater from 2001 when he won the Cup and Rush drummer Neal Peart's custom drum kit.

I'm really glossing over the hall here, but that's only because I've been there before.  If you haven't gone and you love the sport of hockey, whether it's the NHL, NCAA or international competition, there's something there for you.  And bring the kids too.  There are a lot of interactive games for them to play.

And what kind of museum doesn't have a gift shop?  The hall's store has relocated to upstairs outside the museum from it's old spot downstairs adjacent to the hall.  The new store is decidedly larger than the old one.  As one might expect, there's plenty of banal crap available (keychains, pencils, etc.).  And the children's clothing selection leaves much to be desired (I got my son a "the Next Bobby Orr" t-shirt.  The had no HHoF branded stuff in his size).  It was very heavy on Reebok branched merchandise.  But if you like hockey sweaters, particularly throwback ones, this was the place for you.

When we were in the checkout line, Heather had noticed a silver travel mug embossed with the Hockey Night in Canada logo on it.  She picked it up to look at it, only to find out that it was not for sale. It belonged to the cashier.  Oops.  But she liked it and really wanted one.  And I knew where we might be able to get one.

So we headed out on Front Street towards the entertainment district. Up ahead was the place I had in mind - the CBC broadcast center.  We went inside through a door that someone just exited through. The place was empty and the gift store appeared to be closed.  We went up to the security desk to see if anything was open.  Apparently, the gift store and museum were not open on the weekends. Weird.  It also was apparent that we got in through a locked door and the perhaps we should have not been in there in the first place.  That said, it would have been really cool if we had managed to bump into PJ Stock, Ron McLean, Mike Milbury or even Grapes himself, Don Cherry.

Well, that was bit of a bummer, but I had another place in mind that we needed to check out.  Legends of the Game is a hole in the wall place in the heart of the entertainment district on King Street next to Roy Thomson Hall.  This place is a memorabilia collector's dream.  The vast majority of stuff here is off-beat and out of the ordinary.  Looking for a Leafs sweater?  You might find one.  But you'll probably have a much easier time finding a Garth Iorg autographed Blue Jays pennant first.  The last time I was there, I picked up a really cool Don Cherry bobblehead.  This time, I got a 1994 World Cup pennant, new with tags, for $1.95.  Awesome.

At this point, Heather and I were getting a bit exhausted, having walked around the city for the better part of the day at that point.  What better way to recharge our batteries than to have an afternoon snack at Tim Horton's, conveniently located next door.  This time we went with the maple swirl, a cream filled donut frosted with maple and vanilla.  Heather found it a bit too sweet for her liking, but I loved every bite of mine.  We also used this stop as an opportunity to pick up some trinkets to bring back home.  Heather picked up the Tim Horton's coffee pot tree ornament.  I picked up a box of maple fudge for Jen.

We also took advantage of the free wifi to check in back home.  I also used this opportunity to check out all the news about the Adrian Gonzalez trade.  The day was looking bright. 

We decided to walk back to the hotel.  With the wind picking up off the water and the temperature dropping, I decided to introduce Heather to the underground tunnel system known as PATH.  In a stroke of genius, the City of Toronto has an entire network of underground tunnels connecting major shopping areas, hotels, public transit and corporate centers that spans the heart of downtown.  We made it back to the hotel, turned the TV on to the CBC to catch women's curling from Medicine Hat and relaxed for a bit.  We needed to get ready for the main event.

Up Next: Part V - It's Hockey Night Tonight!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Special Edition: Part III - Terminal Velocity and Panic in the Skies

Part I of our Road Trip Recap can be found here.  Part II is here.

After our harrowing experience on quasi-flight 4547, we returned to the terminal where three American gate agents were working.  All of the scheduled departures had taken off, so the terminal was empty.

The agents told us that there were two flights coming in and that they were seeing if they could turn one of the planes around to bring us to Toronto.  The even posted a 8:30 pm departure time at the gate.  So we waited around, hopeful that we'd get there sometime that night.

Around 8:15, they made an announcement: the flight was cancelled.


I said to myself, " not again".

To their credit, they said that there was an Air Canada flight departing at 8:55 and that they would try to get passengers without checked bags on it. I made an absolute beeline to the ticket counter and was second in line.  Problem was, the agents did not have authorization to issue new tickets.  They had to call Dallas for permission.

So here's my issue: As soon as American knew our flight was returning, why didn't they have the agents back in Boston start working on a contingency plan?  They had ample time to get things in order upon our arrival. Never mind the fact that we were all somewhat shaken.  No food or drink vouchers.  Not even an apology or any expression of sympathy.

So it's around 8:30 and time's ticking away as we await for the tickets to get issued. I'm hell bent on getting on that flight.  Our hotel room was paid for and if we didn't get on this flight, we had no assurances that wed get there in time for the game. Finally, we get our new tickets and are told to go to the Air Canada gate which just so happens to be on the other side of terminal B.  Problem was that that part of terminal B is on the other side of the parking garage, so we had to sprint.

Bags in tow, a bunch of us, maybe 15 or so, dashed through the American terminal, across the roadway, through the garage and straight to the security line.

We quickly got our jackets off, bags on the conveyor belt and tickets in hand.  Some of our stuff went through the x-ray machine.  Then the TSA agent took a look at our tickets and told us to hold up.  Not only were we not at the Air Canada gate (we were at the US Airways one), we had something else working against us.

"These aren't valid boarding passes."


Apparently, the tickets the American agents issued to us had to be exchanged at the Air Canada ticket counter.  So we gathered our stuff again and mad a mad dash to the Air Canada ticket counter where there was one man working.

"Can you call them and ask them to hold the flight?" we asked.  He responded politely that he couldn't, but assured us that he'd be able to process all of our passes in time. Sure enough, he did.  We ran to security and they got us through in a very timely fashion.  I was excited, exhausted and exasperated.  I actually ran down the gateway, Heather trailing behind.  We got to our seats in the back.  It was night and day from our other flight.

This plane was brand new. Air Canada flight 369 was on an Embraer 175, a much larger jet with full size seats, video monitors in the seatbacks and USB ports to charge electronic gear.  Those of us who were on the other flight were joking a bit over what we just endured, but ultimately, we just relaxed as much as we could.

We took off and I was smiling.  I knew we were good to go.  That's when Heather turned pale as a ghost.

"I think I left my wallet at security."

Just then I got the ultimate feeling of dread.  Not because she didn't have her credit cards or money (she had her passport on her).  No, we freaked because the game tickets were in there.  In our rush to get to the new flight, with so many people running around and tossing stuff on the conveyor belts, it was highly likely that something was going to get lost.

We were still climbing, so we couldn't get up to check her backpack for another 10 minutes or so.  They were the longest 10 minutes in recent memory.  All the while, I was going through different scenarios in my head as to how we could get our tickets re-issued: Calling the Vice President of the Bruins who we have a relationship with, telling our sob story at the ticket window the next morning, even scalping new tickets.

Finally, the seatbelt light went off.  Heather jumped up out of her seat and grabbed her backpack.  She unzipped the big pocket as we gazed with anticipation.

There it was.  Oh thank god.  Whew.

Ends up that she left a bunch of magazines I had brought behind, but that was the only collateral damage fortunately.

The flight attendants came around with beverage service.  I thought about grabbing a beer, but their choices were bad and worse.  So I went with a coffee.  Heather went with a Coke.  Now here's where Air Canada get some kudos - their Coke is the real stuff, made with sugar, not with corn syrup.  It's a nice touch.

The flight was incredibly smooth and relatively short (the bigger jet apparently travels significantly faster than that piece of crap ERJ-135).  We landed at Pearson, passed though customs and bid farewell to our fellow passengers.  We had noticed on the flight that there was a shuttle bus (the Airport Express) that left the airport and headed downtown to a number of area hotels, including ours, for $19.95 per person.  This was significantly cheaper than the $55 plus tip we'd need for a taxi.  So when we got outside, we found the kiosk to buy tickets.  We were told that if we were to pay buy cash, just wait for the bus, which was coming in about 10 minutes.

The bus arrived, we paid our fare (there's a discount if you buy two tickets at a time) and got onboard.  The bus had power ports and WiFi, so we grabbed our phones and got online to let everyone know we had arrived and were ok.  We pulled into the Delta Chelsea around 11:45, checked into our room, dropped our bags and headed down to the hotel bar for a well deserved drink.

We got back to the room around 1:00 and passed out while watching Rogers SportsNet.  Besides, we had a long day ahead.

Up Next: Part IV - Donuts, Doonies and Don Cherry

Special Edition - Part II: Take Off to the Great White North. Sorta.

Part I of our Road Trip Recap can be found here.

See that picture? 

That's an American Eagle Embraer ERJ-135.  This was supposed to be the plane we
were going to take to Toronto.  Except that it wasn't.  Wanna know why?

Look closer.  See how the landing gear is retracted?  Yeah, see the thing is that the landing gear on ours' wasn't.

And it made for an eventful evening.  Let's take a look back, then.

I had booked our trip on Travelocity.  We got round trip airfare out of Boston on American Airlines and two nights hotel at the Delta Chelsea for a really decent price.   We had looked into flying out on Saturday morning to see if we might be able to hold on to our vacation time at work, but there were no flights out of Boston or Manchester that got us to Toronto before 3:30 pm without breaking the bank.  There was an Air Canada flight leaving Logan at 6:30 am, but that would have cost us over $150 more per person and we would only being paying for one night at the hotel instead of two.  Plus, we'd be spending a boatload of money, only to arrive and have no time to see the city.  So we booked the flights for Friday night at 6:45 pm knowing we'd have to bang out of work a couple of hours early.

It's a good thing we did.

I booked Heather's flight using her married name not knowing her passport was still under her maiden one.  When we realized that this was the case, we decided to get the ticket changed to her maiden name so it would match.  She'd bring a copy of her marriage license with her just in case.

So she called AA and Travelocity, and after wasting an inordinate amount of time on the phone her ticket was changed for a $25 fee.  Or so we thought.

I checked the online reservation to be sure and indeed the change had gone through.  However, when we went to the terminal to retrieve our boarding passes by scanning our passports, I got an error message with hers.  The kiosk told me to go to the customer service counter.  So we did.

Ends up that Travelocity screwed the pooch, royally.  While they changed the name on the reservation, they did not change her name on the actual ticket.  So the ticket agent had to call the American operations center in Dallas to get it fixed.  Apparently Travelocity does this all the time.  After waiting about 15 minutes, we got it fixed, albeit for a $25 name change fee and a $30 transaction fee.  Expensive, yes, but not as bad as it could have been.

So then we went though security where there was the smallest of lines, thankfully.  Sadly, not only did I have to pass through the full body scanner (not bad at all), but I was also patted down afterwards.  It was a half-assed pat down.  Well, they got my ass, but didn't 'touch my junk' as the people like to scream nowadays.

And then we went to our gate in Terminal B.

I hate Terminal B.  Let me give you a quick backstory:

In 2005 my wife, mother and I were flying to Baltimore for Jen's bridal shower.  We were flying out on a Friday night, on American, on an ERJ-175, out of gate B-23.  Everything went fine on that flight.  Until we were cleared for take-off on runway 33L.  We throttled up, began to accelerate and then the pilot shut down the engines.  We had a mechanical problem.

We went back to the terminal where there were people waiting for a bunch of other flights plus the passengers from our flight.  The gate agents had no clue how to deal with us.  They told us repeatedly that they were trying to find us another plane and we waited for over an hour.  They shuttled some people off hurriedly (without their checked baggage) onto a flight to Reagan National in DC.  Then they found a plane to go to BWI.  Unfortunately, it was a smaller plane and it could not accommodate all of us.  It was decided that Jen and I would get on the plane and my mother would fly out in the morning. When they finally took us to a plane (via shuttle bus on the tarmac), we were told that the flight had been cancelled as their time window had closed.  Fortunately, when my mother found out about this back in the terminal, she was the first in line to rebook us on the morning flight with her.

It was a total clusterf*ck.  It made me hate flying American.  It made me hate Terminal B.  And it made me hate the ERJ-175.

So when we got to Terminal B and I saw we were flying out of the same gate on the same type of plane, I had a bit of trepidation.  But this was my epic birthday celebration and I was hell bent on getting to Toronto and having fun.

We got on board and took off fine.  However, just about everyone noticed a loud 'wooshing' noise coming outside the plane.  It didn't seem normal to me, but I dismissed it as excessive wind noise.  Minutes later as we were over the north shore, the captain made an announcement:

Our landing gear was not fully retracting and that was the cause of the noise. They tried cycling it up and down, but it would not retract fully.  They had to leave it down.  However, they could not continue the flight to Toronto.  We would have to return to Boston.

Ok, I thought.  This sucks.  I began thinking of alternate flights. How in the world are we going to get up there in time for the game?

The Captain continued (I'm paraphrasing here):

All indications are that our gear is locked down, but the FAA wants to do a visual inspection so we're going to have to do a low level fly by to ensure that this is the case.  And although all indications are that we are ok, out of precaution we have to assume that this is an emergency situation.  We are going to have to make an emergency landing.

That's when I started to sweat.

Keep in mind, I'm a licensed pilot.  I've been through emergency training.  I've had to have an assist in the air when I couldn't find the airport after fog had rolled in and obscured everything on the gound (I'm VFR rated only).  I've accidentally flown near protected military airspace (oops).  But I also remembered the footage on TV from a few years ago of a JetBlue flight into Los Angeles where the planes front landing gear wasn't locked down.  Fortunately, that plane landed ok.  Unlike that plane, we did not have DirectTV to watch ourselves, either.  That may have been a good thing.

I tried to remain calm and I know Heather was trying to do the same.  But I knew that there were going to be emergency vehicles lined all along the runway when we landed.  I knew all other traffic into and out of the airport was being redirected of put in a holding pattern.  I kept reassuring myself that the gear was fine.  And then I thought worst case - this is a small regional jet.  It can't have that much fuel on it to begin with and the engines are mounted on the aft fuselage.  They won't drag on the ground if the gear folds.

I grabbed my phone out of the seatback and put it in my back pocket.  I tucked my passport in there as well.  Heather did the same.

We came up on Logan from the south and were flying at about 200 feet.  I kept thinking of the fly-by scenes from Top Gun, but this wasn't funny at this point.  The captain came on shortly thereafter and told us that the visual inspection seemed to confirm what the cockpit indications were showing.  We were good to land, though it was still an emergency situation.

We did a large circle over Boston Harbor, presumably to ditch extra fuel, and then came into final approach.  At this point I was scared.  I admit it.  But I didn't want to show any panic outwardly so I kept looking out the window; first the Deer Island treatment plant, then the harbor, then runway 33L.

As we were about to touch down, the co-pilot exhorted us to "brace!" repeatedly.

Ok, here goes I thought.

Right side gear down.

Left side gear down.

Nose gear down.

We're good, I said to anyone who listened.

And we were.  We taxiied back to the terminal.  I was relieved but still quite shaken.  I waved to the firefighters in their trucks in an attempt to bring some levity to the situation.  There was a guy sitting behind us who had just woke up.  He slept through everything!  It was kind of funny, actually.

We pulled into the gate and exited the plane.  I made sure to thank the crew (again and again) for getting us down in one piece.

And then we got back into the terminal.  Alas, the night was far from over.

Up next: Part III - Terminal Velocity and Panic in the Skies

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Special Edition - Part I: Road Trip!

When the 2010-11 NHL schedule was released, Heather and I immediately scanned it to see what road games the Bruins were playing on Saturday nights.  Why, you ask?  Well, we always try to take in a road game or two every year.  And Saturdays make the most sense as far as being able to go somewhere without using vacation time.

We've done Madison Square Garden with the 307 crew a few years ago on St. Patrick's Day.  We sat in the last row of the blue seats at MSG with a partially obstucted view.  The Bruins were killed 7-0 by the Blueshirts.  It was horrible, but I look back at it fondly.  Besides, we got out of there alive.  So, we had that working for us.

Lately, that's meant taking a trip down to Long Island and seeing the B's take on the Islanders in Uniondale with our friend George, who just so happens to have season tickets down there.
As much as we enjoy making the trek down there (just over a 3 hour drive from the Four's) and hanging out with George, we've been itching for something a bit bigger: Hockey Night in Canada.

You see, for the past few years the scheduling gods at the NHL have not been kind to us.  Very few Saturday nights in Montreal or Toronto, nevermind Chicago.  And if there were games, they were usually very early in the season.

So when the schedule came out this year, one game stood out right away - Saturday, December 4 at Toronto.  My birthday.  We. Had. To. Go.

But it was not going to be easy.  Trying to get tickets to a Maple Leafs game is not a simple undertaking.  They are the hardest regular season tickets to get in the NHL.  The Leafs don't even publish single game ticket prices; Just about every ticket is sold before the season starts.  Very much like trying to get a Red Sox ticket back in 2005, except this has been the case since whenever.  The Leafs, despite their record, bang out the place night in, night out.  Getting tickets for a Tuesday night in October against the Blue Jackets is impossible. Getting tickets against the Bruins is harder.  On a Saturday night? Why even bother?  Oh, and it just so happened to be the national broadcast game on the CBC - Hockey Night in Canada.

In the States, we are accustomed to the aura of Monday Night Football. Granted, the Sunday night game is probably bigger now, but the concept of having a single game in primetime at the end of the week shown to a national audience created a must-see television event.  Being on MNF made the game into something bigger.  If you could get tickets to a MNF game, even better.  Well, that's what it's like in Canada, multiplied by a factor of 10.  Being in Toronto, the home of hockey, was just icing on the cake.

The closest I can compare this to is seeing a MNF game at Lambeau Field or a Sunday night game at Fenway or that place in the Bronx.  But even then it's a reach.

Where we ave the 'fastest three minutes in sports' during halftime, the CBC has "Coaches Corner" with Ron McLean and former Bruins coach/Canadian icon Don Cherry.  For those who don't know, McLean is the host and Cherry (aka Grapes) is the bombastic goof who offers up his take on all things hockey, often without regard for sensitivity or diplomacy.  He's been taken to task before for some of his off-color statements, but I think he's a riot.  And the fact that his custom tailored suits put anything Craig Sager wears to shame is just a bonus.

So it was decided - we must get tickets to this game.

But how?

We started way back in August.  Knowing that we'd have to pursue multiple avenues, we put feelers out with our friends who might have connections.  There were a couple of trump cards we were willing to play, but only in a last ditch effort.  Using them would have required some massive favors.

So we kept at it, but time kept moving by and we didn't have any leads.  All the while, I was checking the travel websites to see what kind of deals were out there for flight & hotel packages.  Because the game was on a Saturday, flying out on Friday night made the most sense as we would be able to take in the city and the Hall of Fame before the game.

As the end of November was rapidlly approaching, we still didn't have tickets.  Heather and I were just about ready to give up.  The dream was dying.

And then we got an email from a friend:

2 tickets.  In the balcony.  Face value plus shipping.

As the kids like to say nowadays, "OMFG"!

I called Heather, incredulous at the fortune that had just fallen into our laps. I made sure that she was still in for the trip. Duh.

Arrangements were made to procure the tickets.  As soon as we knew the deal was sealed, I booked our trip.  Admittedly, I was a bit giddy.

We were going to spend my birthday in Toronto watching the Bruins take on the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Hockey Night in Canada!

Up next: Part II - Take Off, to the Great White North.  Sorta.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Postgame Recap: December 2 - Eight is (More Than) Enough

Before we get to a very special edition of the Bear Maximum (ooh, the intrigue!), I still need to offer a look back on the thorough shellacking the boys doled out on the Lightning last week.
So without further delay....

Just the facts, Jack (Edwards)

  • Regular Season game #24, home game #11
  • Boston Bruins (13-8-0-2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (14-8-2-1)
  • Second game aginst the Bolts (Bruins lost 3-1 in Tampa on November 22)
John Blue Plate Special

With my mind admittedly more focused on the game on Saturday than this one and the fact that I was slammed at work, I left the office about 25 minutes later than I had hoped to.

Needless to say, traffic on the Pike was a mess, especially around Newton Corner.

And then there was a delay on the MBTA green line due to a signal problem at Government Center.

Needless to say, I was late.  Fortunately, Heather had already procured a spot upstairs, with help from the father-son duo of Roger and Chris.  I called ahead and told her to order whatever as I had no idea what time I was going to get there.  So she ordered up a Johnny Kelly wrap with bacon with a side of onion rings.

I wasn't exactly starving, so splitting a meal was the way to go.  It was a good call and it hit the spot dead-on.

The Couture Corner

Tampa Bay is not exactly a franchise with a iconic, time tested look.  When they redesigned their look to fit the RBK Edge system in the 2007-8 season, one vould argue they took a turn for the worse.

That said, they do have one of the worst sweaters in their collection to ever (dis)grace the NHL, in my opinion - the 1996-98 third sweater.

I was really hoping to see one of these in person.  Or a early 90's Rob DiMaio one.

I saw neither.  In fact, I think I saw but one Lightning jersey at the game.  Just not a lot of TB fans up here, as it should be.

So I had to go to plan B - find other jerseys of interest.  Here, I had decidely more luck.

Let's take a look:

Syracuse Bulldogs Ogie Ogilthorpe

Who are the Syracuse Bulldogs you ask?  Obvioulsy, you're not a fan of the greatest hockey comedy ever made: Slap Shot.

The Bulldogs are a fictitious team modeled after the Syracuse Blazers of the defunct North American Hockey League.  The Blazers featured a player by the name of Bill "Goldie" Goldthorpe who had a certain penchant for using his fists to coerce opponents into submission.  He was the inspiration for the Ogilthorpe character, played in the movie by Ned Dowd, a Boston native who just so happened to be the brother of the movie's writer, Nancy Dowd.

The call (for fear of retaliation)?


1983-4 Cam Neely #21 Vancouver Canucks Away Rookie Sweater

These pictures do not do this sweater justice.  The Vancouver 'flying V' look is one of the most ridiculed looks in NHL history, but I sorta like it.  The colors were very bold and vibrant.  And it was different.

Plus the fact that this guy is clearly a Neely fan.  And he likes to be different.

I shouldn't even have to consult with the review booth on this one, but here goes anyway:


The Row 12 Rundown

No Kaspers, but we did have a special guest in young Miss Kylee along with Cassie.

Doosh of the Day

Fortunately, the crowd wasn't too bad for this one.  But that doesn't mean it was doosh-free.

I have 2 awards for this one: 1 for the past and 1 for the present.

The past refers to the doosh who stuck his (or her) gum on the bottom of seat 9, aka Heather's seat.  Based on my research, I think it may have been placed there during the Celtics-Blazers game on 12/1 as it was relatively sticky (or so I was told) and that was the last event at the Garden prior to this game.  I don't think it was from the Michael Buble concert on 11/27.

No one wants a gummy bum, after all.

As far as the present day winner, I'm giving it to the kid who sat in Keith's seat (seat 7) next to me who was dipping for most of the game and spitting incessantly into his cup all the while.  He kicked over the cup at some point in the 3rd period, spilling the contents all over the ground in front of his seat.

Just gross, dude.

The Clothes Line

Late 80's/early 90's Glen Wesley

Wesley was a actually a very decent defenseman who was drafted by the Bruins with the draft pick they acquired with Cam Neely in the Barry Pederson trade with Vancouver in 1986.  He was an All Star in 1989.

But his tunure in the Hub will be remembered for 2 things: The open net miss and the trade.
In the first overtime of game 1 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Finals against the Oilers, Wesley was looking at an open net in the slot and fired a backhand shot high and wide.  A gola would have won it for the Bruins and given them some momentum in the series.

The Oilers would go on to win the game in the third overtime period.  They'd win the series as well.

Petr F*cking Klima.

The Bruins would trade Wesley to the Hartford Whalers in 1994 for 3 future first round draft picks.  One of which was used to draft Sergei Samsonov. When Samsonov was traded to Edmonton in 2006, the Bruins received the Oiler's second round pick in that years' entry draft.  That pick was used by the Bruins to slect some guy named Milan Lucic.

So Wesley was good for something, et least.

The Lobel Prize

Tampa Bay has but one fromer B on their roster, former farmhand Nate Thompson.

Thompson played only 4 games for the Bruins, all during the 2006-7 season.  In those games he did absolutely nothing. No points, no penalties.  Bupkus.

In this game, he had 2 shots and finished a -1 for the night.  No harm done here.

The Home End

This was a beatdown.  Bolts goalie Mike Smith had a game to forget, misplaying a shot by Denis Seidenberg he thought was going to carom that went in the net from beyond the blue line.  While it was nice to see the Bruins put eight goals past the Tampa Bay golaies (Smith was mercifly pulled in the 3rd period in favor of Dan Ellis who wasn't much better), I was secretly hoping the'd save some offensive output for the next game in Toronto 2 nights later.

Up Next: The Bear Maximum goes roadtrippin' to the home of hockey!