So, I survived my first red-eye flight…barely! You'd think it’s a great idea to jump on a flight at 12:40 am so you can sleep and wake up in your destination city. Well, things don’t always work out the way you imagine. With a two hour time difference (arriving at 6:30 am Eastern), it isn’t the best plan, especially if there are a few crying babies within arm’s reach on the plane.
That aside, I made it to Toronto. Oh ya, the tournament is in Buffalo, NY. Here we are, a co-worker of mine and I, waiting at the terminal for some off-site car rental company to pick us up. A half hour later after wandering around the Toronto airport at 4:30 am Calgary time trying to figure out where the pickup spot is, we finally get picked up and get to the car rental.
The drive to the border was quick and painless, however getting through the border was a different story. They pulled us in because we told them we were working the World Junior Tournament. They said, “Oh, you’ll need to go in and get a visa and a stamp etc, etc.”
Twenty-five minutes later, we’re through and on our way to the World Junior Championships. Hurray!
12:30 FINLAND SLOVAKIA
With 2 hours of sleep and no idea when or where or if we can sleep, we race to the first game between Finland and Slovakia. The Finns are much stronger this year than last dominating Slovakia 6-0. Calgary Flames prospect and Finnish goaltender Joni Ortio was playing great, holding down the number two spot in GAA and save percentage behind the USA's Jack Campbell.
Although he didn’t see a lot of action, he still helped his team win their third straight game.
Next up was a huge game between Canada and Sweden. Two very evenly matched teams battling to win their division.
The intensity of the game was amazing and felt like the semi-finals. End-to-end action from start to finish. After regulation, we're tied 5-5! To OT we go! That didn’t help so we went to a Shootout.
Olivier Roy is usually spectacular in the shootout, however Team Sweden scored twice and took the game. The sellout crowd of nearly 18,000 fans left the building with sad faces.
We were off to ring in the New Year by visiting Niagara Falls at mid-night in +12 unusually warm weather.
Saturday was a day off from games. We are back at it again on Sunday.
SUNDAY JANUARY 2nd- QUARTER-FINALS
Well, here we are on Sunday. The start of the quarter-finals. Here is when it starts to get exciting. This is the day that the hairs start to stand up on your arm because it's do or die. Every power play, every shot, every scoring chance and every odd-man rush matters that much more.
With the off day on New Years Day, a reception for the 2012 WJC was held for media at the Hyatt hotel. We joined in for the free food and drinks as well as mingling with very important people involved in the WJC process from around the world.
After that we just couldn't stay away from hockey so we had to take in a Sabres vs. Bruins game at HSBC arena. At first I admit, I wasn't overly excited about going to a Sabres game however, my opinion quickly changed when I felt the excitement in the building.
A sold out crowd, just as loud as any Canadian team. They sold Canadian beer, and even sang the Canadian anthem before the puck dropped even though they were not hosting a Canadian team. A Canadian banner hung from the rafters. Right beside that hang the French Connection banners. A famous Buffalo Sabres line from the 70's. Rene Robert, Gilbert Perreault and Richard Martin.
The game itself was amazing. There was no defense whatsoever which resulted in a 6-5 SO win for the home team Sabres. Tyler Seguin was his amazing self knocking in one of his own and a nice assist.
Rumours were flying around that he might stay in Buffalo as he is on the reserve list for team Canada. Meaning that because Schwartz is injured, Seguin may be able to step in for Canada today....I reitterate, these were rumours...but how cool would that be?
Anyways, more to come....for now, GAME ON. GO CANADA!
Well that was stressful for a bit there. Nevertheless we pulled it off. We're off to the semi-finals to play the Americans. Canada finished with 50 shots on Benjamin Conz who was brilliant in net for the Swiss but just couldn't keep them all out and who can blame him?
The second game between Team Finland and Team Russia was a heartbreaker. Finland started the game off very strong and by the middle of the third period, it looked like they were off to the semis to face their rivals, Team Sweden.
With just four minutes to play in regulation, Finland was up by a pair of goals and Ortio was playing amazing. He absolutely robbed a couple of Russian chances and looked like there was no way that he'd let another one in after the quick Russian goal at the beginning of the game.
Not so fast. The Russians had some amazing individual efforts to pull off a miracle come-from-behind win. Yevgeni Kuznetsov showed pulled out all the tricks picking up a goal and an assist to tie the game in the final four minutes and then scored the OT winner fo help lift Russia get to the semi-final round.
Flames prospect Ortio had a long face when I interviewed him and for good reason. Finland had a great team this year but too many late mistakes cost them to lose three OT decisions. Maybe next year.....
To sleep I go as tomorrow is a whole new adventure with Sweden/Russia at 3:30 pm ET and the game of the tournament, Canada/USA at 7:30 pm ET. It's going to be a good one, don't miss it!
MONDAY JANUARY 3rd SEMI-FINALS
I find it very odd that Buffalo is such a ghost town. I realize that it is no Toronto, but figured that since the World Juniors are here, the city would be buzzing a little more than usual and maybe restaurants and bars would stay open longer. This is not the case. Walking around the city, I think so far we've seen four people walking. Most buildings are either abandoned or collapsing, so they look very haunted and scary. Even the church looks like from horror movie set. Spooky in Buffalo.
Here it is Monday. The semi-finals. Finally.
The day started off by attending the USA practice to cover Flames prospect John Ramage. The nerves and excitement showed big time on the faces of each player that came and talked to media. They are as ready as they can be for this game against Canada. USA player Chris Bourque is celebrating a birthday today and was smiling from ear to ear and said he wouldn't ask to celebrate a birthday any other way.
We then had a couple hours to kill so decided to go for lunch at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo. This is the place that created the Buffalo Wing, so thought we'd give that a go.
We got into the cab to take us over and had quite an interesting experience. The cab driver was not more than 25 years old. She must have smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day as the van was so smoky we could barely see out the windows plus it was filthy on top of that. We told her that the car in front had a bunch of papers in the front seat and there were four of us so easier in her van. She relied with, "Really? Our cabs are supposed to be very clean all the time..." Really? Was what we were thinking.
Anyways, about seven minutes into the drive, she commented under her breath, "I hope I'm going the right way." I looked above her head at the GPS that wasn't on. She then picked up her cell phone and called her mother on speaker phone asking how to get to this "famous" bar in the small city of Buffalo, NY. All in all, this was a priceless cab ride just to go for lunch.
The restaurant is very good. The wings are excellent compared to anywhere I've had wings before. The pizza was true NY style pizza. So good that I wanted to take some to the rink but forgot my leftovers on the table. Oh well. We have a game to get to. We waited in the freezing cold for a cab. Meanwhile a limo full of men dressed up in Canada gear offered me a ride but I felt bad to leave the other three "uninvited" friends (all men) behind so I waited for the cab instead...which took 20 minutes.3:30pm
First up is Sweden and Russia. I'm cheering for Sweden not just because of our Flames prospect Tim Erixon, but because I think that if Canada wins to get to the gold game, Sweden Canada will be a good one to watch based on how both Sweden and Russia have been playing. Just personal opinion.
Canada USA took to the ice at 7:30pm in front of a sold out and energized crowd. It did not seem even for a minute that we were on USA soil. We were in Canada and this was Canada's game. A game we have been waiting for since the Gold medal game last year when we lost.
Canada got on the board first and kept the ball rolling throughout the game. They were physical and played with their hearts on their sleeves. They deserved the win, and the win they received. They beat the Americans 4-1 and will advance to the Gold medal game to play the Russians on Wednesday night.TUESDAY JANUARY 4th
Well last night turned up to be a very interesting night. We were past the point of hungry after working 11.5 hours and had no idea where to go. Sober and tired, we were hardly in the mood to be around a bunch of drunk Canadians. Don't get me wrong. I'd be there if I didn't just work 11 hours. We wanted a nice glass of wine and some yummy food. We googled "late food in Buffalo" and found a place called Mothers.
Weird name I know. It gets weirder. We plug the address into the GPS and it takes us to a creepy dark alley. Drove past it twice and finally saw the small biker-like painting on the wall so we parked and cautiously entered the building.
To our surprise, the bar/restaurant was very cozy, classy and quiet. We sat at the bar and Sam, who we assumed must be the owner came and poured us a glass of wine. The food was to die for and the NY style cheesecake was even better.
An hour later sipping away on our late night cocktail, Danny Gare, who played eight years with the home town Buffalo Sabres and five years with the Detroit Red Wings, and one with the Edmonton Oilers, overheard that we were from Canada from the other end of the bar. He came over for to introduce himself.
Gere played from 1971 to 1987. He had his number 18 jersey retired by the Buffalo Sabres in November of 2005. He holds team records for most goals by a right winger (267), most game-tying goals (21), and fastest goal scored from start of NHL career (18 seconds into a game versus the Boston Bruins on 10 October 1974).
Being born in 1982, this is not exactly my era of hockey however, you cannot turn away any hockey player, young or old. The BC born retired hockey player chatted with us for a bit before returning to his seat. Just another notable memory from the entire Buffalo experience......fun times! He even invited us up to his suite for the gold medal game! Very cool!
Anyways, that was late last night. Today, Tuesday, is a new day. Not an overly exciting one however as it was an off day, a calm before the storm if I may.
We drove across the border to check out the Niagara Falls side from Canada. Way better view as it turns out! Amazing from that side but pretty frigging cold so couldn't stay long.
We decided to hit up dinner back in Buffalo. The border was not any easier the second time into the states as we "randomly" were aborted from our car and brought inside for inspection. The car was searched and we were quickly questioned before we were on our way. Man, the security at these border crossings are tight!
Back at the hotel to write a story before hitting the hay for the night. Big big big big day tomorrow. This is it. For all the marbles. I need my sleep as I'll need to be in tip top shape tomorrow!
GO CANADA GO
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 5th- MEDAL GAMES
First up was a game that everyone expected to be more exciting than it was. USA and Sweden battling for the Bronze. USA came up with the Bronze medal as it looked that Sweden just wasn't interested in being there. They stopped skating and gave up very early in the game. Flames prospect John Ramage, the captain of Team USA, was very proud of his group and although it wasn't Gold, he was happy that they at least got a medal. This marks the first time in team history that the USA has won back to back medals in this tournament. Well done.
7:30 pm ET
Next up was the game everyone has been waiting for. The Gold. All the marbles. All the bragging rights.
The stage was set and the crowd was electric and about 95% pro-Canada as it has been for every Canada game. Canada broke out of the gates on fire and determined to win this medal. They didn't look back...they didn't let down. They played true Canadian hockey. They scored three goals on Russia and it looked over heading into the third period.
This is when everything went terribly wrong. Canada had played brilliant hockey for 40 minutes with close to zero mistakes. They underestimated Russia as they obviously should have been aware of their last two come-from-behind wins to stay in the tournament. The almost perfect defense and stellar goaltending began the meltdown just over two minutes into the final frame. Russia scored twice in I think 13 seconds to close the gap to 3-2 with a whole period left to play. They tied it up and didn't stop there. The Canadians collapsed completely which was so out of character for this team or any of our Canadian teams, ever.
Russia got the go-ahead winner and then hammered the nail in the coffin picking up their 5th goal of the period with 1:16 left on the clock. That's how things would end. Canada settles for the Silver medal for the second year in a row and will look for revenge next year when the tournament is held in Alberta, Canada.
12:00 am ET
After we were done working, the only place we knew that was open for food late night was the place we went to on Monday night. Mothers. The hole in the wall in a sketchy back alley in DT Buffalo. The food was yet again amazing as was the entire experience. We ordered mussells in a red curry sauce as well as jumbo shrimp cocktail for appies. Then we endulged in steaks. I had the NY strip and he had the ribeye. Unreal food for fair prices. A glass of wine or two was a must as the we had a cheers to wrapping up another WJC.
The server/manager was very nice and even covered our booze for the night stating that it was because Buffalo could have done a better job with the media at the tournament.
We were very pleased as this type of thing never happens at any restaurants I've been to! Free wine just because? Sweet.
Well it's bedtime now and has been a long day. Tomorrow we are off to Toronto to hit up a Leafs vs Blues game. Should be interesting!
Have a good night.