Bubble wrap it all up
Stopped at the Main Media Center this early morning as this trip almost ended as it began -- in a frenzy of stress.
The gold medal game, is a "ticketed" event for the media, which means that the credential you've been using the entire tournament is no longer valid. You have to go to your National Organizing Committee (NOC) and sign up in advance. The media relations people here never really told anyone about this. They issued a release that was just put in a pile somewhere at 8 p.m. on Friday while we were all working on the semifinal games. So unless you were from a major media outlet and received automatic attention, you had to scramble and call in some favors.
Kinda ridiculous when you consider that we owned credentials that limited us to the Main Media Center and the ice hockey venues. The credentials wouldn't have been good had we tried to get into curling, for example.
Thankfully, Dave Fischer from USA Hockey was able to sort me out with one ticket and a lovely woman from the International Olympic Committee supplied me with two others. So we got in.
With time to spare, I took one last look at the Main Media Center and the disassembly of this virtual town was well under way.
To get to the IOC ticket desk, I strolled though Pavilion 5, a little city of eight-foot high white walls. There's a Kodak shop in there and a newsstand as well as offices for outlets such as Getty Images, which shared one of the many "side streets" in this city with the IOC. Passing by the door I noticed that what once looked like the office in an internet start-up company lay strewn with boxes and packing paper.
Everywhere you turned in the MMC this morning people scurried about with boxes on flat-bed carts. Even at 9:30 a.m. the local post office and express shipping areas were doing brisk business.
Yearning for eggs, something I haven't had since leaving the U.S., I stopped into the make-shift McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin (yes, I was THAT desperate for an egg). And the crew was busy serving, but also sensing that this was it for their fast food careers.
Outside, waiting for the bus to take me to the Palasport, volunteers clustered, arms on shoulders, to pose for photos, a scene that I saw repeated several times in the MMC and among the McDonald's staff.
This massive event, with its self-sustaining infrastructure, will mostly disappear. The temporary transit system and broadcast center (Torino Olympic Broadcast Operations or TOBO) will be gone and so will the tents for security, as well as the volunteers in the olive alpine army hats and feathers.
Some of the hard structures will remain, the arenas and municipal infrastructure. Perhaps, for a time, some of the spirit will glow on. The refuse left behind from the many tourists, workers, volunteers and temporary structures will linger for weeks at least. Merchants and hoteliers will count their riches.
The Main Media Center will disappear like an old shanty town that rose at the fringes of a gold mine ... and the 2006 Winter Olympics will be committed to history books and video, soon to become a distant memory, but a good one for most.
Laying it on the line
This tournament has been completely incredible.
I want to thank the players for not only going out and giving their all, but also taking the time to work so long with the media.
When you see a guy like Teemu Selanne standing in the Mixed Zone, saying the same thing for the 30th time in an hour, his helmet still on his head, sweat dripping down his face, his gloves still on, you know that you have a special athlete and person.
And it's not just Teemu. It's everybody. Even in losing, guys were gracious enough to come out and spend time with the media. Players who had beat writers here, were always good enough to stop and give their local writers some extra quotes.
The level of play and intensity? Heck, you'd think the Stanley Cup was on the line. I've seen faces come off the ice worn and bloodied. The players are saying there's more hitting on the smaller rink, but I've seen plenty of hitting. Guys have left it all on the ice in this tournament.
And that is what separates hockey from that sham of a basketball tournament that takes place in the Summer Games. The pro hoops league in North America tries to pass itself off as the most "international" league on the continent. Please.
Major League Baseball has more international players than basketball and even with the World Baseball Classic coming up, does anyone expect the United States to lose?
The Olympic hockey tournament is one of the greatest tournaments ever assembled (even if you don't like soccer, the World Cup is pretty powerful too) because of the depth of all the teams. The fact that Team Canada, with the deepest player selection pool and a star-studded roster didn't make it to the gold medal game should tell you all you need to know.
So, thank you players, for being the most available, hardest working, toughest guys on the planet.
Now, onto the daily stuff: My wife arrived in Torino today. Her luggage didn't. We have to get that sorted out before heading to Rome for a few days on Monday.
On the way to the airport I got to see some of the center of the city, which is much prettier than the neighborhoods that contain the Olympic venues. The weather painted a damp, cold and gray day with low hanging clouds.
Exiting the congestion and moving toward the muted winter beiges and greens of a rural area, we passed by an enormous, walled cemetery. Occasionally an open gate would reveal row after row of file cabinets. Another glimpse showed mausoleums similar to those found in New Orleans cemeteries. Florists with beautiful bouquets and the bright yellows and reds of spring cropped up at various points outside the gates.
Many of the mausoleums were festooned with wreaths and flowers meaning that these people may be gone, but they are not forgotten by their loved ones.
My immediate thought: "How many of those people died from the affects of cigarettes." As is the case in most of Europe, folks here like their tobacco, although they are changing the laws and I'm surprised to know that it's banned in most restaurants.
In contrast to the lifeless quiet of the cemetery, soccer fields and farms took up the space just across the road. It marked a juxtaposition of the joys of life and the silence of death.
Sports create so much joy for us. Let's not forget its place.
Olympics as a way of lifeHaven't blogged in a couple of days.
Thanks to everyone for the great feedback and your kind words. I hope you're having as much fun reading this as I am writing.
Funny event of the day: Darryl Haberman and I stopped off at a supermarket called Carrefour today to get some supplies. We were cruising through the cold cut section when I spied -- how could I miss it? -- a salami that was, I swear, the size of a bobsled. I guess when some folks entertain around here, they need cuts that size for the antipasta.
We're well into our second week here and, once you get to this point, it's easy to think that this is what you're going to do be doing for the rest of your life. You get into a routine. I feel like I'm always going to wake up in my little room, that's beginning to feel like a New York City apartment, throw open the doors to the balcony to cool off the room, and step into a shower that might have both water pressure and hot water (and if it doesn't, I deal with it now).
The shower is followed by a little complimentary breakfast in the hotel and a brisk walk to one of two rinks where I watch as many as three hockey games per day -- live -- while watching others on the televisions in the work rooms.
The cool thing about the Olympics is its sheer size. Even in hockey, they bang out game after game after game. And in between that, on 12 channels or so in the press room, you can watch bobsledding, luge, skeleton, speed skating -- short and long -- skiing and the ever-mesmerizing curling.
|Entertaining? This salami should impress your guests.|
The X-Games garbage, the freestyle skiing and half-pipe snowboarding ... I know why it's been added to the Games. I get it. Doesn't mean I need to like it, although the downhill snowboard races on those courses are really cool.
But, overall I feel so lucky to be here. Everything that's happened so far would be enough to make me thankful for my job -- and then there was Monday night.
One of the perks of working at the NHL is that you get to see the Stanley Cup fairly often. Over the years, each time I see the Cup in the office or at a special event, I take the time to at least visit it for a few seconds. That's because I don't ever want to take it for granted.
But, imagine having the Cup at a quiet dinner? That's what happened on Monday night when Phil Pritchard of the Hockey Hall of Fame -- one of the Cup Keepers -- joined our travel party for dinner.
Yup, the Cup sat right at the end of the table with us. And I'm thinking: "There are guys who sweat and ache to get a moment like this."
I felt almost unworthy of this incredible privilege and it just makes me realize how lucky I've been in my life. That dinner was kind of like an Olympic Thanksgiving.
Remember kids, always pay attention in schoolWhat a day Sunday turned out to be.
Phil Coffey wasn't feeling well today, which left me tackling much of the copy. If you've missed Phil's more-than-descriptive game stories, that's why you didn't get any today.
Having Phil is crucial for not only pumping out the content, but also tackling the monster known as the "Mixed Zone." The Mixed Zone is a European way of handling massive quantities of media. I guess it's a necessary evil at an event as large as the Olympics, where they have broadcasters who need time and foreign journalists who require time in native tongues, etc.
You couldn't pack everyone into a dressing room and let them at it, fist fights would breakout. Plus, games go off here like clockwork. You need at least four dressing rooms -- and perhaps six -- to accommodate the teams as they come in and out of the arena, so keeping corridors free of the media hordes isn't a bad thing either.
The Mixed Zone works like this: The players come off the ice and head down a series of chutes. Their first mission is to do TV because TV is king and gets everything it wants (that's the old bitter print guy in me). The players then proceed to foreign media and then down the rest of the chute.
Basically, everyone just presses up against the barrier and asks players to stop and chat as they pass by. A scrum ensues. If you're not on the rail and you're deaf like I am (too much death metal during my salad days), you're probably not going to get any quotes.
Having Phil and Darryl Haberman as part of the team means that we can tag-team the beast by being in many places at once, hopping into openings to get on the rail like a thoroughbred heading down the stretch.
We all know that the Olympics are an international event. Hold it in a country outside North America and suddenly you have to deal with several languages. Languages have always been a bit of a hobby of mine. I studied Spanish for five years and get by pretty well. Spending a good chunk of time goofing off in Montreal in the '90's, I've got a little French comprehension in my pocket.
But my biggest regret is Russian. I decided to sign up for it in college because it was the last class I needed during class registration and it was shortest among all the language lines. Two years later, a couple of C's, a D and an F, I was back in Spanish to complete my language requirement.
The Russian text book we used didn't have phrases like "What is your dog's name?" It had us asking such useful oldies as: "How far is the sugar beet plantation?" and "Where is the region of extraction?"
I kid you not. I am not making this up.
After so many years, about all I have left is an ability to read the alphabet and use a couple of phrases like: "Hi," "How are you?" and "Give me a beer."
So, there I was on Sunday morning after the Russia-Latvia tilt. I don't have Phil and Darryl's trying to help, but with mostly Russian media tooling away in the mother tongue, it was tough to try and grab any quotes.
At one point I was trying to speak with Maxim Sushinsky and I whispered to one of the Russian reporters next to me -- in Russian -- "Do you know if he speaks English?" The guy shot me a puzzled look -- and I will explain it this way:
While I may not have fluency in any of these languages, I am a master of accents. Every native speaker tells me that I have a great accent. And that's nice, but you know what happens when you have a great accent and you get lucky enough to string together a sentence that sounds like you know what you're doing? People assume that you're fluent and they pummel you with words! You then have to admit that you really don't speak the language -- and it's embarrassing and frustrating.
So, when I asked the reporter about Sushinsky, his look said: "If you can ask me that question in Russian, why don't you speak with him in Russian?"
I asked Sushinsky if he spoke English. He didn't, so I walked away kicking myself.
Oh, and the other day when we visited the IIHF's House of Hockey, many of the folks working in the dining area are Swiss -- or at least spoke German. Again, I know how to get a bartender's attention and get some food and beverage near my face.
Although the German line I can speak well is: My dirty underwear is on my head. It's "Mein gestanken (sp?) unterhausen ist auf mein kapf." I used that one in Germany several years ago as an ice breaker and it's guaranteed to drop 'em to the floor in laughter.
Well, it snowed here for much of the day. First time I've been to the Winter Olympics and actually seen snow. The weather has been lovely with fairly warm temps and a lot of sun. The skiing venues are pretty far off to our west and in the mountains, obviously. We've seen them on the many televisions in the press rooms and it's like being in two different worlds because it's snowing there and sunny here on most days. Wacky.
You can tell we've turned the corner in the tournament because the media is now coming out in droves. All the spots in the work room are taken up. The press box has reserved seats for some weird media outlets -- like Time Magazine that would never write game stories on deadline -- and none for others like, um, us! So that's causing some tension because guys with legit work to do are getting kicked out of reserved seats that are empty because the people from those publications will only show up for the gold medal game.
The tension among the media tends to ebb and flow. Tempers can flair in the mixed zone if someone breaches etiquette. Today for example, some Swedish guy was standing near the edge of a scrum talking on his cell phone. Two of us bumped him and spun him around because we couldn't hear from our positions on the fringe. He eventually hung up and spent the next three minutes glowering at me. I have zero tolerance for cell phones and detest the fact that I own one even if it is convenient from time to time.
The press room here at the Esposizioni is smaller than the Palasport and must be about 95 degrees. We open the doors once in a while not only to cool off but to freshen the air.
Conditions here can get cramped and when you throw together people from around the globe you get different social standards. Not everyone respects personal space or they make noise when everyone is trying to write and... hygiene is not always at the top of the agenda, which reminds me, I have to take another load of laundry down to the front desk tomorrow morning.
Atmosphere thicker than cheeseThicker than Swiss cheese and frothy like the head of a fine Canadian ale, the atmosphere at the Torino Esposizioni turned out to be one of the greatest things I've experienced in all my years of covering and watching sports.
Successful media people are selfish and wily. They block out press box seats early and since Phil Coffey and myself are seasoned vets, we got our spots in the press box just as warm-ups for the Canada-Switzerland game were coming to a conclusion.
The stands across from us were a block of red and white. But was it for Canada or the Swiss? Turns out when you're a bobsled run away from the Olympics, as the Swiss are here in Northern Italy, they turn out in droves and in the craziest get-ups you'll ever see.
When the Swiss invade (which isn't often) they come wearing wigs and hats and they tote massive cow bells -- that look they've been stripped off the local church -- and trumpets, bugles and other noise makers. They bring flags and banners and wear a myriad of jerseys that range from that of their national team to those of the clubs in their national league.
From the moment the Swiss faithful poured into this tiny rink (the attendance was announced as 4,769, but sounded like 25,000), they clanged and tooted and sang. They sang songs and chanted and spilled forth so much pride and joy that you think: "They must put this into their chocolate."
The massive cow bells amused me most. They come with a belt that resembles the leather weight lifting belts worn by Hanz and Franz on Saturday Night Live. The first thing I wanted to know is: How big are the cows in Switzerland (they must be big for all the cheese that gets made)?
Operating the bell seems to have two philosophies. The bell ringer can hoist the belt over his shoulder, hold it front of him and ring away with both hands. This resembles some medicine ball exercise and looks healthy for everything but the ringer's hearing.
The second option is to actually buckle up the belt to your waist as one fellow did with much joie de vivre and success. This particular bloke decked himself out in giant white afro wig and a yellow and red Swiss club team jersey. The bell hung in front of his crotch like a giant athletic supporter and when he wanted to ring the bell, he would lift up the front of his jersey -- like a flasher -- grab a hold of the back of the bell and rock his hips.
The motion was quite lewd and deeply disturbing considering he stood directly behind the teenage cheerleaders that populate the Olympic hockey venues.
Our lascivious cow bell ringer controlled this massive section of Swiss fans. They displayed banners and rocked and swayed. They prayed as time wore down on the clock and they saw a miracle unfolding before them.
Fittingly, with 30 seconds to go in the match and a two-goal lead appearing to be finally safe, the Swiss unfurled a massive 40-foot flag and planted it, like a conquering nation, squarely in Canadian ice.
This is what the Olympics are about. This is what wrapping a flag around national pride can do for sport and what sport can do for national pride. As Americans, we get goose bumps watching all this because we have Lake Placid in our hearts. We know what it's like to feel this way inside and we can't help but smile and nod.
The grind is under way
Today is the first day I've had to split from my crew. Phil Coffey and our producer, Darryl Haberman, are over at the Esposizioni to watch the Czechs play the Swiss, Slovakia take on Latvia and the United States play Kazakhstan. I'm at the Palasport on the other side of town for Finland-Italy, Sweden-Russia and Canada-Germany.
Remember my first blog where I described mouth-watering meals and fine dining experiences? Well, now that the men's competition is under way, those evenings are pretty much gone. I know, woe is us!
But, I will say this: The food situation here is improved over Salt Lake. In Utah, we spent the bulk our time in a giant tent outside the E-Center. The food choices each day were hot dogs, soup and this chili that was gastronomical suicide. The rest of the time we ate popcorn and nachos in the arena and if we got done early (11 p.m.) we were able to hit a TGI Friday's near our hotel in Sandy, a suburb of Salt Lake. I still haven't lost the extra 10 pounds I gained on that trip!
Here, there's a really nice cantina just down the hall from the press room. They cook up a wicked tortellini in a cream sauce with prosciutto (what we call "pra-shoot" back home). They also have a plate called Piatto Rustico or "Country Dish" that offers slices of prosciutto and sopresotta (a dried sausage that looks like chunky salami. In New York we call it "soopa-sod") over a bed of escarole and a slice of what my family calls "torta", which is a like a dense quiche, but made with rice, potatoes and spinach in a pie crust. They also throw in a couple of slices of this soft, creamy cheese that looks like parmesan, but has a grey crust. The cheese is soft and flaky, but smooth and creamy.
Today I'm back at the arena at 11 a.m. to get ready for the Finland-Italy tilt. Canada plays Germany later. I stopped into the cantina for a bottle of water and laid my eyes on piles of gorgeous sliced and whole salami, soopa-sod and what looked like a smoked pra-shoot. So, lunch will be a treat today. And of course, if you're concerned about ingesting all the fat in these deli delights, they sell a nice Barolo wine in the cantina for a mere 13 Euros.
Wednesday marked the first of many long days. We arrived at the Palasport at 11 a.m. and with the U.S. game starting at 9 p.m. local time, we didn't leave the arena until 2:30 in the morning. Fortunately we, along with Flyers beat reporter Wayne Fish, managed to catch a cab within seconds of leaving the arena.
I have to admit that I am getting more and more comfortable with the language. On the way back to the hotel I summoned up the courage to ask the driver if he knew anything about the history of our hotel. He didn't, but he asked how much we were paying per night.
When I told him, he asked me three different times to make sure I got the numbers right. When I assured him I hadn't made a mistake he called our hoteliers "bastardi!" And said I they should have a gun because they were thieves. We laughed for quite a while over his reaction.
This morning I experienced the first evidence of Italian impatience. In order to get to the Palasport we have to walk past the Esposizioni to a public bus stop. Waiting for the bus I noticed all the tiny cars that populate this city. To put it bluntly: A Mini Cooper is a Cadillac around here. That thought was passing through my head when a car marked "Scuola Guida" or Driving School putted by.
I didn't think much of the student driver, although I felt pleased with myself for the translation. The bus pulled up a few seconds later and soon became trapped behind the student driver. To display his displeasure with the situation, the bus driver edged his bumper to within millimeters of the student driver. In all the buses we've taken so far, this is a common maneuver. Just when you think the bus is going to rear-end a small car, they manage to brake within a hair of the bumper.
Well, the light clicked once and we didn't move because the student driver basically ground to a halt. Our driver finally applied the horn, which is a last resort around here, believe it or not. An attempt to get around the student driver failed when the petrified student moved forward a few feet and jammed on the breaks again. It was as if the instructor was giving him tips on how to draw the ire of bus drivers.
When the light finally turned green for the second time, our driver gunned the bus, pulled into the left lane without looking -- cutting off several cars -- and drag-raced the student driver across a four-lane avenue. Of course, the bus moved, well, like a bus, and not only did we require the full width of the avenue to make the pass, the driver continued forward across the yellow line and into the left hand turning lane -- ignoring oncoming traffic!
If you think Massachusetts, Rhode Island or New Jersey has some bad drivers, you ain't seen nothin'!
After making a switch to a trolley, I disembarked about a block too soon and strolled down a tree lined street with a wall to my right. A chiseled stone sign marked the area as a nursery school and the sounds of children playing burst over the seven-foot high wall. I also passed a hospital, where a man in a lab coat and another man in street clothes were leaning over the hood of a car signing paperwork.
I had no idea what this transaction was about and had little desire to stick around and find out, but I did note in my head that the hospital was there. A block down, I was about to make my turn and head through security at the arena when a woman got off another bus and asked me if I knew the location of the hospital. Of course, I was lucky to be alert this morning (thanks to a double espresso) and responded in Italian. She thanked me and walked off cheerfully.
As we parted, this overwhelming sense of insufferable self-satisfaction rolled through my body because I was able to communicate effectively. Of course, there's a good chance that I supplied the woman with directions to the army barracks around the corner, but there were signs for the hospital, so I think I put her in the ballpark. If I didn't, I'm sure she'd have made like our cab driver and called me a "bastardo".
Have passport, will travel
Before my friends and former teammates start e-mailing about this, I want to make it clear that when I told my little anecdote about the Italian hockey recruiter at the 1983 New York State Junior Championships yesterday, I approached him. He didn't come looking for me.
The guy had told an interesting story and I wanted to learn more so I approached him. I don't want people thinking that I was a good enough player to get scouted. In fact, I spent most of that tournament like a pinball, smashing into every guy who was over six feet tall.
Skating was always my forte, but our team was out-sized by two of the local teams (Amherst and Niagara Falls), so I just decided to go around and hit everything I could. I'd bounce off and get knocked down to the point where my coach said to me: "Can't you stay on your feet, what's the matter with you?"
But, I did manage to score a hat trick in the final game vs. Long Island's Green Machine, so I wasn't a total chump.
My point to all this is that watching Canada play Italy, it was easy to spot the North American guys who've taken the plunge. A total of 11, just a shade under half the roster, were born in North America. Of that total, nine are Canadian. These are guys who had a parent or grandparent come over on the boat or plane and can somehow swing citizenship.
The Canadians: Jason Muzzatti, Carter Trevisani, Giulio Scandella (who scored Italy's first goal), Andre Signoretti, John Parco (who scored the second goal), Tony Iob, Joe Busillo, Mario Chittaroni and Jason Cirone.
The Americans: Tony Tuzzolini and Bob Nardella.
The practice of "importing" happens in every Olympic sport as well as international soccer and it's generally accepted to the point where it draws only a few snickers here and there. And that's because everyone realizes deep down that if they had a chance to compete in the Olympics - even if it meant not having a shot at a medal - they'd do it just for the experience, never mind the Warhol-like 15 minutes of fame.
For many of these players, the opportunity to play against the best the NHL has to offer is not only a challenge, but a lifetime opportunity for closure about their talents and careers. Each of these players will walk away from these games either comfortable with where they are in their hockey lives or confident that they can perhaps move up a level.
These are players who, as youngsters, seemed to be on the right track and somehow got weeded out of the system.
For example: College hockey fans, especially Michigan State fans, will remember Tuzzolino and Muzzatti. Tuzzolino played for the Spartans from 1993-97. He ended up as a fifth round pick of the Quebec Nordiques in the '94 Entry Draft. He played six games for the Rangers in 2000-01 and two games for Boston during the '01-'02 season and the rest in the minors and Europe. Tuzzolino spent the last three seasons playing for three different Italian League teams in order to be eligible for the Italian Olympic team. This year he took a step up and is playing for Modo in the Swedish Elite League.
Muzzatti preceded Tuzzolino at Michigan State, minding their nets from 1987-91. He was selected 21st overall by Calgary in the 1988 Draft and was once considered a prime goaltending prospect. Since going pro in 1991, Muzzatti's career has gone from the minors to the NHL, where he played 62 games for Calgary, Hartford, San Jose and a brief stint with the Rangers, to Europe. Since 1998, he's bounced around Europe playing in Germany, Finland and finally Italy, where he spent three seasons with Milano and is currently playing for Bolzano.
Back in 1992, I was talking to Tom Kurvers, who spent some time on the US national team. He talked about watching the Olympics and said: "The Italian team, I play summer hockey with some of those guys back in Minnesota."
But, what if, like this upcoming Baseball Classic, we could divide NHL players among their nationalities? What kind of Italian-American-Canadian fantasy team could we put together?
Now, I'm basing this on players who have names that look Italian and are good enough to make up a dream team. I'm sure there are guys out there with Italian genes, but not the last name to match, so I'm definitely going to miss some guys.
After a real quick look at the player index page on NHL.com, I determined the following: In terms of position, the Italians boast three solid netminders. But most Italian immigrants like to play up front, especially center. This would fall in line with the Roman desire to attack and conquer and the more Da Vinci-esque propensity to create.
Defense? Not so much. Our Team NHL Italia isn't completely weak on the backline, but they don't have any dominant Norris Trophy types, either.
In goal, we'd probably start Florida's Roberto Luongo (a native Quebecer). Although Team Canada coach Pat Quinn said yesterday: "I'm not sure if he's Italian or French. Maybe we should start him against the French team." Rick DiPietro and Marty Turco would vie for playing time.
Up front, this team would showcase Mike Modano, Jason Spezza, Mike Peca and Mike Ricci at center. And the wings wouldn't be too shabby either. Mighty-mite Brian Gionta, sniper Tony Amonte, Edmonton's Fernando Pisani, Pittsburgh's Mark Recchi and Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi. Checkers Jay Pandolfo and the scrappy Rob DiMaio and Ted Donato provide veteran defensive leadership.
On defense, Team NHL Italia would have Tom Poti and Chris Campoli along with Paul Mara, Joe Corvo, Atlanta's Joe Dipenta, Toronto's Carlo Colaiacovo (although this might be a Portuguese name).
The coach: John Tortorella. The GM: Lou Lamoriello.
If I've missed anyone or you have any suggestions on how to beef up the defense, lemme know. I'm recruiting.
Getting to the 'heart' of things
Happy Valentine's Day to everyone! Guys, if you have a men's league game scheduled tonight, I hope you are smart enough to take the time to take care of your wives and girlfriends. Just a tip. It's called "relationship management."
Fittingly, across the Po River from our hotel sits the lovely Castello del Valentino, which was built by the Savoys -- the former rulers of the area -- in the 1500's. The castle underwent renovations in the 1600's and served as the home of Marie Christine, a French princess.
Castello del Valentino is one of the older sites to behold here in Torino, where the structures range in style from medieval to Baroque to Renaissance to Neo-Classical to Art Nouveau to modern. It appears as though the best styles are located in the northern part of the city known as "Centro". In the southern part of the city, near many of the venues, we find a less elegant style of edifice often blighted by, surprisingly, graffiti.
Torino has changed hands so many times over the centuries that it's got its own style and feel. It's been part of various empires including Rome and Napoleonic France. There are only a handful of Roman ruins here, unlike many Italian cities and that's because it's been built, re-built and expanded often during its lifetime.
These days, Torino is probably most famous for the "Shroud of Turin", an image of Jesus' death shroud, and Juventus, the gigantic Italian soccer team. In fact, on Sunday night, we visited Angelino's a second time and it was quite different from the previous trip. The main room contained only a few diners while the backroom was reserved by much of the kitchen and wait staff for viewing the big Juventus-Inter Milan tilt.
In fact, our table sat beneath a literal shrine to the soccer club with photos of great players that visited the restaurant including Gianluca Vialli and Arrigo Sacchi, the former Italian national team coach. And at the top of the shrine, the cook and kitchen staff posed with the boys -- i ragazzi -- hugging the Serie A" (Italian League) trophy.
Midway through our meal a loud cheer rose up from the back room. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored off a lovely cross to give Juventus a 1-0 lead. Thirty minutes later, another roar rose from the back and this time Alessandro Del Piero bent a bullet of a shot around the wall on a free kick with five minutes to play to give Juventus a 2-1 lead and assurance of their 29th "scudetto" or Italian championship.
Odd, I thought, that I hadn't heard a peep out of them when Inter knotted the score at one. The victory made for a happy wait staff and crew.
But you're a hockey fan, what do you care about Italian soccer, right?
Well, hockey's hard to find in Torino. There is a pro league in Italy and all the teams are located in the northern reaches of the country, many along the Swiss and Austrian borders. The Milan Vipers are closest to Torino, I believe. Perhaps, after the Olympics, there's a chance that pro hockey will take root here in the lovely Palasport arena.
Just one quick anecdote: I was playing the New York State Junior hockey championships in 1983. We attended a welcome dinner and the guest speaker was a scout for an Italian team. He sought players who might be first generation Italian-Americans, so we chatted. The deal was that you played 40 games, got a house and car and they were looking for import players that they could matriculate into Italian citizens.
"The catch is that you'd have to serve a year in the Italian army," he said.
"Italian army!? They changed sides in two world wars, you wouldn't know who's shooting at you or who to shoot at if a war broke out!" I said.
"Ah c'mon, all you do is sit around play cards," he said.
"No thanks, I'll go to college."
The real players are touching down. We entered the Palasport behind the Detroit's Robert Lang and Colorado's Milan Hejduk this morning. They were holding athlete passes which the security guys hadn't seen yet. The guards were giving the players, who were carrying equipment bags and sticks. a hard time so I jumped in with my little bit of Italian: "Sono giocatori!" -- They are players -- and the guards let them right in after x-raying all the gear and twigs.
So the boys are indeed here. We're preparing for press conferences tonight for both the US and Canada. We'll be spending the bulk of the day in the bowels of the Palasport, the brand-new indoor arena that sits right next to Juventus' stadium, the Stadio Olimpico.
|The stands from behind the net at the Palasport arena.|
The actual spectator area is cool. There's a wide concourse when you walk in the doors and the seats behind the net are built like a giant grandstand. They look almost temporary, but they're not. They're solid concrete. The design makes for this open, bright, futuristic feel that's completely refreshing and unlike anything in North America.
The Esposizioni, the secondary venue here, is really intended to be an exhibition hall. It's within walking distance from our hotel. When you enter the "arena" you realize that both sides of the venue are giant scaffolding structures that are not designed to be there for the long haul. There are no seats behind the net. It looks and feels like a movie set and, I suppose, that's really the mission: Stage games for broadcast.
We're looking forward to spending our time in both arenas. It's odd, but in the first few days of the Olympics you tend spend the bulk of your time in the Main Press Center. It's almost like an incubator where the language is familiar and help is readily available. You get all your technical stuff figured out (cellphones would've been a nightmare to setup without the help of in-house "TIM" expert Giancarlo), your paperwork, directions and confidence, take a deep breath and head out into the various venues of the Olympics.
One other little weird thing I learned today. The Lingotto Fiere, which houses a mall, the Main Press Center and a five-star hotel has a race track on its roof. That's right! This former Fiat factory has a tightly banked race track for testing vehicles. Apparently, they still use it today, although it looks like some kid's Hot Wheels set.
So, we're here. We're ready to get down to writing about hockey and we're sure you're ready to start reading and watching as well! Enjoy it all. It's going to be special.
Eating our way through Torino
TORINO, Italy -- This being a world traveler thing, it ain't easy, lemme tell ya.
Getting off the plane and jumping into the European way of life isn't as easy as it is in say, Paris or Stockholm. Torino is an old, industrial city with non-descript architecture that looks more like Buenos Aires than it does Europe. The Alps loom off in the distance, often shrouded by haze while the city is pocked with pools of furious activity in one neighborhood and the serenity of a river in another.
Myself, along with the NHL.com crew of Phil Coffey and Darryl Haberman and NHL Production's Patti Fallick, left New York Friday -- just in time to avoid the blizzard. After a relatively uneventful flight, we landed in Milan, about a two-hour ride east of Torino.
We were originally going to take train from the airport to the train station that would eventually get us to Torino, but thanks to a long wait involving a money changer, Patti managed to score us a van for hire and so we rolled among the plains and farm lands that sit beneath the craggy and snow-covered Alps.
Milan and Torino are both located south of the Italian Alps. Both cities represent the industrial power of northern Italy. Torino was a Fiat town. Its big assembly line factory is now a mall, hotel and exposition center. Currently the "Lingotto Fiere" as its known, is serving as the Main Press Center. The MPC's a virtual city where the media can gather to get information on every Olympic event, find food, get computer help, purchase wi-fi access, get much-needed massages and find things like batteries and cold medicine.
Thank goodness for the MPC because there's plenty of help available and most of it is in English. I've been to Stockholm, Paris and Frankfurt and was amazed at how many people spoke English. Here in Torino, it's the complete opposite. Fortunately, I took a crash Italian course two weeks prior to the trip and it turned out to be the right move. Without that, food, directions and all the little things we've needed would've been much more difficult to obtain. My confidence with the language is growing each day and my goal now is to continue my studies after this trip.
We spent most of Saturday trying to get our hotel straightened out. We were moved from our original hotel only a few days before our flight and were forced to scramble for different accommodations. When we arrived we were greeted by microscopic hotel rooms in a neighborhood that featured hospitals, graffiti and laundry hanging out of windows and balconies. The rooms couldn't have been more than six feet wide. They were the smallest I've ever seen.
|The Borgo E Medioevale with the Torino Esposizioni in the distance.|
Thankfully, the travel agency found us another place across the river. We've got a view of the Borgo E Medioevale, which was built in 1884 to resemble a medieval castle. The building looks truly authentic and serves as a museum detailing all aspects of medieval life.
So Saturday, with jet lag and waiting until 6 p.m. to get situated, turned out to be a long day, but we capped it off with a fine meal at a restaurant located just down the road from our hotel. Packed to the gills, the generous staff found us a table in the back room which featured fieldstone brick walls lined with copper pots and other locale antiquities. Locals mixed with travelers sporting Olympic-themed jackets while a television mounted on the far wall displayed Canada's 16-0 thumping of Italy in women's hockey.
This trip is a bit of magic for me. I'm a first and third (runners on the corners) generation Italian-American. Piacenza, which is located south east of Milan, is my mother's birthplace. She lived there until the age of four having survived World War II and the occupation of my grandmother's farmhouse by German soldiers. My father's family is from Naples. So, coming from an Italian background, with a grandmother who made her own ravioli from scratch, I had some doubt as to how much better authentic Italian food would be.
To my delight, the meal at Angelino's proved spectacular. The atmosphere felt fluid and relaxed. You could dine and chat and not feel rushed. In fact, you really didn't want to leave. The local wine, a Barolo, turned out to be round, almost sweet and perfect. The staff started us off with a buffet antipasta where you basically just walked into a room filled with prosciutto, cheeses, meats, salads, rice dishes and fish and loaded up.
For the second course, they offered two pastas. I opted for a cheese gnocchi (a potato flour dumpling) and watched as waiters visited other tables armed with giant saucepans. The waiters ladle the food from the saucepan onto eagerly awaiting plates.
Watching others receive their food, I couldn't help but notice the rich and creamy nature of the gnocchi formaggio. The sauce, a dense white cream, would stretch in strings from saucepan to plate. Mouth watering and arteries hardening, I wondered if I'd made a healthy choice. But, in a bit of divine intervention, our waiter returned with apologies. They had run out of gnocchi. So we settled on an al dente rigatoni with little tomatoes in olive oil.
We skipped the third course and headed straight for the dessert buffet that contained mixed nuts, fruit, cakes, pies, pastries, cookies and assorted crèmes and after-dinner drinks.
Two and half hours later, we strolled back to our little hotel feeling much more comfortable in our surroundings, confident that we could communicate well enough to fill our bellies, get directions and buy bus tickets.
Perhaps we shouldn't have been so confident. Sunday involved much walking, chasing down wi-fi access and trying, with no success, to get our cell phones sorted out. In fact, as I write this on Monday, we've still got to figure that out.
One moment Sunday turned out to be an unexpected surprise. As we trudged up a hill outside the Torino Esposizioni, where some of the hockey games are played, we ran into an elderly couple who were eager to know who we were. We spent 10 minutes trading shaky Italian and English, but in the end, we understood each other. They told us that they love Americans. They thanked us for helping in World War II.
The couple, like the folks at the restaurant and many of the others we've met so far around town, are kind and gentle and are easing our transition into temporary Italian citizens.
And now that that's out of the way, let's drop the puck!