After what he's dubbed the best 30 days of his life, Steve Williamson is finally finished. He's managed to complete a journey no one before him has completed: seeing a hockey game from all 30 NHL arenas in 30 consecutive days.
And on the 31st day? He slept. For 13 solid hours, actually. The night before, in Tampa for the 30th and final arena of his journey, he talked about how much he missed sleeping in his own bed.
"I don't remember what that feels like," he said after having spent the previous 30 nights in various hotels, friends' guest rooms and on couches across North America. It seems he got a nice reminder after the final leg of his journey led him from Tampa to his home back in Orlando late Saturday night.
Williamson had said throughout his journey that the best part of the experience had been meeting the fans, and he reiterated that point Saturday night.
"Hockey's a great sport and I really had no idea how open and welcoming fans would be along the way," he said. "I made some friends that I'm sure, 10, 20 years from now will still be my friends."
After personally experiencing every arena, when asked to pick a favorite, Williamson went with the Molson Centre in Montreal.
"Montreal is just a wonderful city and a wonderful place to watch hockey," he said. "The people get so excited up there. They're in their seats right before the puck drops and they don't get up until the intermission comes along. They're great hockey fans."
Williamson also gave credit to The Savvis Center in St. Louis, where he said the size of the crowd and the atmosphere really surprised him. Asked if there were any disappointments, and he said he had to say western Canada, though he didn't mention a specific city.
"The fans seem to sit on their hands, to some extent," he said. Though every fan in the building seemed to know every aspect of the game, he said they were quieter than he expected them to be.
"When you come down and you watch hockey in a place like Tampa, the crowd gets in to the game," he said.
Despite getting what seemed to be mild food poisoning in Edmonton and sleeping through an alarm in San Jose, Williamson managed to make every puck drop and stayed until the final whistle in all 30 arenas.
"I ate something in Edmonton that did not make me feel good at all," he said. "My stomach was upset for about a day and a half."
Since traveling with only a single suitcase (surely to lessen travel headaches), Williamson said the only souvenirs he has are the ticket stubs from every game. By the end of his trip, Williamson said he was jumping on his suitcase to try and close it because of jerseys teams had given him along the way. He's not sure if he's going to do anything to commemorate his journey, such as a book or something similar. He did say he enjoyed keeping up with his blog on his 30 games in 30 nights Web site, and plans to continue that for at least a while longer.
"I have to go back to work on Monday just like everybody else," he said. "I'm not sure how much time I'll have to pursue those kinds of opportunities."
He did, however, have the time and the ability to take a full month off from his job at the Orlando Travel & Visitors Bureau in order to make this trip a reality. Not many people can even imagine such a lengthy break.
"I went in and told my boss, 'Alright, for three years now I've been making people's vacation dreams come true, now it's my turn. Please help me make my vacation dream come true,'" he said. "And they were very supportive."
When looking back on this trip 20 or 30 years from now, Williamson said he hopes to remember what all the arenas are like, but said he thinks that may be a challenge.
"I started this off in Detroit, and even now, 30 days later, I don't remember as much about Detroit as I remembered before," he said.
One memory he did talk about was getting to watch pre-game warm-ups in Philadelphia from the Flyers' bench.
"I got the chance to sit on the bench in warm-ups, and a couple of the Flyers actually came over to me during warm-ups and asked how much trip was going," he said. "I like to watch the players on the ice, I don't need to meet them in person, but when they actually came up and asked me how I was doing, that made me feel pretty special, and I appreciated that. That will be one of those things I remember the rest of my life."
While some may feel Williamson has good reason to be tired of hockey by now, they couldn't be farther from the truth.
"I'll be back for the next home game," he said, referring to the Lightning. "Absolutely…why not?"