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Road Trip Journal: December

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
Michael Smith

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The 2014 calendar year came to a close in Pittsburgh for the Carolina Hurricanes, who also visited five other cities during the month of December.

As the team hits the road in 2015, let’s take a look back at our sojourns in the final month of 2014. Here we go!

Tampa Bay: Dec. 10-11

Since suffering a fracture in his right fibula in the team’s second exhibition game, Jordan Staal had not traveled with the team all year. This two-game road trip to Tampa Bay and Philadelphia marked the first trip in which Staal got back on the road and began skating with the team on a regular basis. When he walked onto the plane, his teammates welcomed him with a hearty applause.

This being my first trip to Tampa Bay, I was excited to take in a game at Amalie Arena, which has undergone scores of renovations in the past few years. It now has a ginormous video board, a “Between the Pipes” section for their organ in one of the goal zones of the upper level, PDQ on the concourse and lightning produced from Tesla coils. It’s altogether a pretty cool experience. (Except the 7:30 p.m. weekday start times. Fix that.)

Philadelphia: Dec. 12-13

It wasn’t too long ago that we were in Philadelphia for the 2014 NHL Draft. I have no doubt there are plenty of great restaurant options in the city, but I had to go back to Marathon Grill after eating there in June. It’s really tasty.

There were also, of course, cheesesteaks because what’s a trip to Philadelphia without cheesesteaks?

Matinee games are my absolute favorite. 1 p.m. puck drops should be the norm always. Selfishly, I enjoy early-afternoon puck drops for the breakfast/brunch spread at press meal. But they’re also nice because you can spend the afternoon watching hockey and then have the entire evening and night ahead of you.

Perched high in the press box at Wells Fargo Center on this mid-December afternoon, it was cold. How cold was it? It was so cold that injured forward Andrej Nestrasil retreated to the locker room to take a hot shower. He did not return to press row.

Montreal: Dec. 15-16

This marked our first trip back to Canada since we did a tour of the Western half of the country in late October. Especially at night, I found Montreal to be a very picturesque city at Christmastime. Snow on the ground helped to accentuate that, I’m sure.

Here’s a callback to the Vancvouer Road Trip Journal: we had dinner at Dundee’s, where Discover, the official card of the NHL, is accepted (#GrowingAcceptance). The next day, we had lunch at Reuben’s Deli, which had a specials menu in English and French and a full menu completely in French. Needless to say, I ordered the very delicious smoked meat sandwich off the specials menu.

Centre Bell is a special place. The seats are steeply pitched, which makes for terrific viewing angles. From warm-ups to the show to the game itself, the atmosphere is pretty incredible, and the building can get very loud, as it did late in the third period when Alex Galchenyuk netted his first-career hat trick to seal a 4-1 victory for the Habs.

New York: Dec. 21

This was the team’s second of three trips to New York City this season, as the Rangers are one of two Metropolitan Division opponents that the Canes will face five times (the other is Philadelphia, who the Canes host three times).

Most hotel rooms used for team meals are rather innocuous. The meal room in New York is not one of those rooms. It basically provides a stunning 270 degree view of Manhattan and beyond.

My first visit to Madison Square Garden came on Oct. 16, so I can’t really compare post-renovation MSG to pre-renovation MSG. But I can say it’s one of my favorite buildings. The view from the Chase Bridge, where the press box is located, is amazing. It’s suspended in such a way that it provides a perfect view of the ice, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite places to watch and report on a hockey game.

New Jersey: Dec. 22-23

We stayed over in New York after finishing off the back-to-back, home-and-home set with the Rangers, and on Monday, Dec. 22, we bussed over to Prudential Center for practice. Prior to the Canes getting on the ice, the Devils hosted a number of their season ticket holders for a closed skate.

Our hotel was located near a popular shopping area in New Jersey. When I attempted to do some last-minute Christmas shopping there, a number of other players and staff did as well. Some were more successful than others; I had to run out on Christmas Eve once we got back to Raleigh, so you be the judge.

Brendan Woods joined the Canes in New Jersey, as he would make his NHL debut on the 23rd in front of a number of family and friends. It was the perfect Christmas present for the 22-year-old, and you can read about that here.

Winning is fun, and it was great to see Anton Khudobin finally earn his long-overdue first victory of the season in a 2-1 shootout win. Winning makes for a happy postgame locker room and a cheerful flight home. Merry Christmas.

Tampa Bay: Dec. 27

I really am grateful to work in a league that takes a three-day rest for Christmas. It allows for us to have extended time with our families, which is invaluable around the holidays.

Then it gets interesting as teams have to fly out on the day of the game on the 27th, a common occurrence in the preseason but an extremely rare event during the regular season.

We flew down to Tampa Bay at 8 a.m. on the 27th, going straight to the rink from the airport for the morning skate. Day-of-game flights present a unique challenge for the simple reason that routine is interrupted. Athletes, and especially hockey players, are very routine-oriented. To alter that routine does discombobulate things, to an extent.

But, once the morning skate happens, it’s just like any other gameday.

I was kind of bummed that we visited Tampa Bay twice in a matter of weeks and won’t see it again until next season. I find it to be a good place for hockey.

I'm not sure if it correlated to NC State playing a bowl game nearby the day before, but there was a good amount of red in the crowd, a solid representation of Caniac Nation on the road. That's always great to see.

Pittsburgh: Dec. 30-31

The NHL schedule makers really had a thing for Pittsburgh around the holidays. First Thanksgiving, and then New Year’s Eve.

The two holidays provided quite the contrast in the city, too. Pittsburgh was a virtual ghost town on Thanksgiving, but on New Year’s Eve, the city was bustling for their “First Night” celebration, the Pens game that night and the Steelers game that would be just a few short days away.

I failed to mention the spread on press row in November’s Road Trip Journal. It’s pretty impressive, complete with dry snacks (chips, pretzels, goldfish, etc.) and pretzel bites with nacho cheese.

The game didn’t end favorably, and we were on our way. We landed in Raleigh at a quarter until midnight, and I watched the clock tick to 12:00 as I drove out of the airport parking lot.

***

Trips to Nashville, St. Louis, Ottawa and Toronto are on tap in January. More tales from the road then!



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