By Matt Vevoda
|Sunday night Williamson made Honda Center the third stop on his 30 Games in 30 Nights voyage.
Steve Williamson is in the midst of a hockey fan’s ultimate adventure.
Beginning Oct. 25 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Williamson began a 30-consecutive night quest that will take him to 30 NHL games in each of the 30 arenas.
“I’m doing this just because it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Williamson said during Sunday’s Ducks-Oilers game, the third stop on his itinerary. “I’m fortunate that I’m able to take a month off of work and my two sons are old enough that they’re not going to miss me when I’m gone. It’s just something that feels right to do. I’ m excited about the opportunity.”
The idea for this once-in-a-lifetime trip was spawned when Williamson was on a previous, yet smaller, trip to see hockey in person.
While working in Osaka, Japan for Universal Studios in 2001, the Orlando native took an 11,000-mile roundtrip journey to watch his favorite team, Tampa Bay, play three West Coast games (at Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose) in four days.
“I thought that was a lot of fun, and wouldn’t it be great to be able to go see all 30 teams in one season,” said Williamson, who now heads up the promotions department at the Orlando Conventions and Visitors Bureau.
“I thought about it for awhile and said I’m sure someone’s done that before, so I wonder if it would be possible to do 30 games in all 30 NHL arenas in 30 consecutive nights. I had the idea then, but the circumstances weren’t right until this year.”
After the 2007-08 NHL schedule was released, Williamson, having already decided this was the year to make the trip, concocted a plan that took into account, among other things, staying away from the colder winter months, getting into each city by 2 p.m. and backup plans if flights were to get cancelled.
“I probably spent about 48 hours behind a computer trying to figure out how this could really work,” Williamson said. “I came up with a few different scenarios and this is the best one.”
Even while taking advantage of frequent flyer miles, accrued hotel points and friends providing tickets to select games, Williamson’s trip is still costly.
“It’s probably going to be in the area of seven to eight thousand. That doesn’t include food, but when I’m home I’m eating food anyway,” said Williamson, decked out in a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey with a big No. 30 on it. “It probably won’t cost me anymore than if I were to take my kids on a vacation for a week.”
Upon arrival in Anaheim, only three days into the trip, Williamson said that so far he is not as tired as he thought he would be, although he figures at some point fatigue will set in.
“I don’t think it’s going to come from flying,” said Williamson, who used to fly 24 hours every couple of weeks while living in Japan. “I have a good body clock, it adjusts well. I don’t know when the fatigue will catch up with me. I’m sure it will but I’ll hang in there.”
Much has changed for the Ducks since the last time Williamson stepped into the Honda Center in 2001. The team has new players, colors and owners, which coincide with championship banners that now hang above the arena.
“There’s no question about it, that when you win the Stanley Cup, it changes the whole feel of a place,” Williamson said. “You’ve got a happy crowd here. That’s the biggest difference I can tell.”
While on his trip, Willamson is most looking forward to getting a chance to watch hockey in Canada. His first stop in the home of the game is Oct. 30 at Bell Centre in Montreal for a Canadiens game against Atlanta.
“I’ve never seen a hockey game up in Canada,” Williamson said. “With a lot of the players being Canadian, I get the sense that it’s going to be a whole new experience up there. I’m looking forward to that.”
Growing up in England, Williamson took a liking to hockey from a young age, when his mother would take him to see his local team, the Wembley Lions in the 1960s.
“In those days there weren’t many fans and you could get right up close to the players,” Williamson said. “I think what got me was the speed of the game and that it’s a very physical sport.”
In 1973, he and his family moved to the U.S., where he and his dad enjoyed season tickets to the New York Rangers for a few years. When hockey decided to come to Florida in 1992, Williamson, living in Orlando, was one of the first people in line for Lightning season tickets.
Having never learned to skate, Williamson, who has seen over 500 NHL games in his life thus far, sees a possible reasoning in his passion for hockey.
“Perhaps I’m living vicariously through my deep-seeded dream to be a hockey player, which of course will never happen,” Williamson said.
The fondest hockey memories Williamson has is of his two favorite teams, the Rangers and the Lightning, each winning Stanley Cups. When his 30-day, 30-game excursion is complete, Williamson said it will rank right up there with those moments.
“Having seen my two favorite teams win the Stanley Cup, I don’t know if you could bottle up that emotion,” Williamson said. “Certainly, when I come back to Tampa Bay on Nov. 24 (for the final game of the trip against New Jersey), after being on the road for 29 days, it’s going to be a sweet homecoming.”