John Dellapina is the NHL's director of media relations. He is in Chicago with the NHL's mobile refrigeration unit and will be blogging for NHL.com.
Day 9 - 6:23PM
Just got back to the Continental Presidents Club at O'Hare after the best two-hour cab ride of my life.
That's because I was fortunate enough to get scooped out of the mounting snow -- now about four inches on the ground here -- by Mr. Issac Gender.
A proud native of the Northeast African nation of Eritrea, Gender became an American citizen and devoted Chicagoan. We're lucky to have him. And not just because he can get you from Wrigley Field to O'Hare in a pretty fair snowstorm safe and sound. He also can make two hours pass as if they were 20 minutes because of his ability to delve deep into the politics of just about every corner of the globe with passion, insight and a desire to come up with solutions for seemingly intractable problems.
I'll try to continue reflecting on how fortunate I was to spend the ride with him while I watch the flight departure board here post one cancellation after another. The good news: I got moved up from the 7:55 flight to Newark onto the 6:10. Of course, the 6:10 isn't scheduled to leave before 7:55. So everything is relative.
Should have stuck with my first plan, which was to ask Mike Hooper to simply get back into the NHL's 53-foot mobile refrigeration trailer and drive me all the way back home. I have no doubt that our rig could have accomplished the job. Nor that Mike, having wriggled the behemoth through the streets of Chicago to its parking spot along Waveland Ave., would have been able to get me home and then get back here in time for Dan Craig to put all of the truck's bells, whistles, pipes and pumps to work starting tomorrow or the next day in order to build the NHL Winter Classic 2009 rink inside Wrigley.
Dan, by the way, was a trouper today. Already at work on his version of a playoff beard -- the Winter Classic is to our ice guru what the playoffs are to our players -- Dan happily swapped coats with Mike so that he'd have the proper logos to show off when he consented to do the on-the-street interviews I asked him to do on what was supposed to be his only day free of media obligations this month.
The highlight: When one of the TV reporters asked me whom she should talk to about the inner workings of the truck, I pointed out Dan and arranged for an interview. When the camera rolled, she asked him, "So, what does this truck do?" His reply: "I have no idea. I just wandered down this street. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night." After a moment of horror for the TV crew, a hearty chuckle was had by all and Dan went on to explain how we could make outdoor ice on the equator with this truck if we really wanted to.
Time to seek out some greasy airport food. Mini-muffins aren't going to cut it at this hour. And I can't bring myself to dig into DiLo's doggie bag from Taco Bell...of course, that might change if I'm still sitting here at breakfast time tomorrow morning.
Day 9 - 4:00PM
In a cab heading back to O'Hare now. Very slowly because the snow is coming down.
But I don't mind. It's warm in here and my fingers and toes are finally beginning to thaw. (Note to my wife, Joy: The boots might not have gone with the business clothes, but they would have been a far better choice.)
While the 12 degree Chicago weather was getting to me, Bobby Hull
didn't seem to mind.
We met him at the Taco Bell on the corner of Clark and Addison - don't worry, DiLo, I got a doggie bag.
Upon taking my seat in the big rig (no biggie, since he's a forward and I'm a D -- I might not have been as accomodating for Pierre Pilote
), the Golden Jet rolled down the window, took off his gloves and rode down the last block of Waveland Ave. like.Caesar entering Rome.
He then held court for nearly a dozen camera crews with our 53-foot refrigeration trailer behind him and Wrigley Field's left field wall in front of him.
Hull regaled the reporters with tales of playing outdoor hockey and how this was balmy weather compared with the cold the day he sat inside Wrigley in 1963 to watch the Bears beat the Giants for the NFL title.
As I'm a print guy, I had a notebook and pen, but no camera. Fortunately, Mike isn't only a superb truck driver, he's also a camera buff.
He climbed back into the truck to get his camera and asked me to snap a shot of him and Hull. That done, I would love to have put my glives back on, but Mike had another photo request: one between the two young ladies (Jenna is the brunette, Ashley the blonde) on hand who are part of the 'Hawks' ice crew. He appears somehow cozy and warm in that shot.
Day 9 - 2:00PM
Met up with Mike Hooper, our Londoner-turned-Guelph native and truck jockey, and we ducked into a diner not far from Wrigley. It's called Kitsch'n on Roscoe.
As we were talking about the flattest place on earth (don't ask how the conversation got there), our waitress wondered if we were talking about the Canadian prairie.
Of course we were.
Turns out she's a transplant from Brantford, Ontario (by way of Labradour, New Brunswick).
Naturally, I asked if she knew the Gretzkys. Of course, she did.
"We used to go to the same church, St. Mark's Anglican Church," Holly Larson told us. Holly is the same age as Wayne's younger brother Brent and the two were friends growing up.
Holly came to Chicago with a friend to attend the Cubs-Expos season opener in '95, fell in love with the city and Wrigley Field and never went back.
She's looking for tickets to the Winter Classic. But then, isn't everybody?
All we had to give her were a couple of the cool fridge magnets Mike had in his truck (baseball background with the Winter Classic logo).
Off to meet a guy named Hull now. Supposedly had a pretty wicked slapshot back in the day. Who are we kidding? Probably still does.
Day 9 - 10:30AM
Just sitting here in the toasty home away from home that is the Continental Presidents Club at O'Hare wondering: What is the record for mini-muffins consumed in one stay?
Ah, forget it. If barbecue sauce were available, I'm sure DiLorenzo would have posted a Gretzky-like number I could never approach.
Anyway, also wondering what the heck I'm doing in Chicago on a mission to accompany the NHL's modern marvel (our 53-foot rink refrigeration truck) to its home away from home -- a Costanza-worthy parking spot on Waveland Ave., from where it will enable Dan Craig to make and monitor the ice for the NHL Winter Classic 2009 at Wrigley Field.
After all, just seven months ago, I was running around Detroit, buttonholing the commissioner every time I saw him and carrying on a running e-mail correspondence with deputy commish Bill Daly trying to derail this venture and resuscitate the expiring hopes (my hopes, let's be honest) of Yankee Stadium playing host to the second Winter Classic. Hey, I was still at the New York Daily News back then, covering the Rangers, and giddy over the prospect of a hockey game serving as the final competition ever staged at Yankee Stadium. What better way to tweak all the seamheads in our town who have come to believe -- with the help of the local papers and all-sports radio -- that baseball is somehow superior to the other sports?
Much to my dismay then -- and delight now -- there were larger considerations other than my personal issues. And thanks to a baseball/hockey man named John McDonough (Blackhawks president, former Cubs president), we get to play hockey on New Year's Day in one of America's true sporting shrines. Actually, the Detroit Red Wings
and Chicago Blackhawks
get that honor. But I'm bringing my skates and expect to take a few twirls on the rink that Craig and The Truck built -- or, will have built -- inside the Friendly Confines.
First things first, though. I'll be meeting up with our erudite truck driver, Mike Hooper, at an undisclosed rendezvous point in a couple of hours to hop into the cab for the final few miles on The Road to Wrigley. Our plan is to pull up along Waveland Ave. at around 1:45 p.m. CT. McDonough, Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney, 'Hawks legend Bobby Hull
and the home team's mascot and ice crew will comprise the welcoming party. And I'll check back in to let you know how it's going.
In the meantime, where did they go with those mini-muffins?
Michael DiLorenzo is the NHL's director of corporate communicatiions. He is on the road to the Winter Classic with the NHL's mobile refrigeration unit from Mobile, Alabama to Chicago and will be blogging for NHL.com.
Day 5 - 9PM
The Road to the NHL Winter Classic rolls on, and so! too, does this blog (in the interest of disclosure, I am no longer with Mike Hooper and his big rig). As part of our effort to get all NHL fans buzzing about the big game (not just Hawks and Wings fans), I asked some of my Twitter pals to suggest storylines to follow (you can reach me on Twitter @umassdilo). One avid NHL fan wanted me to talk to Blackhawks assistant GM Rick Dudley with a couple of interesting questions. I'd never met Dudley, but knew him as a ham-and-egg player that appearead on my first NHL fight tape, and who was a solid coach with Florida. He was kind enough to call me today en route to Edmonton and here's how today's Road to the NHL Classic interview went:
Q: Why did you wear a headband when you played?
A: It was kind of an ironic thing because I had long hair back then. I guess everyone did back then. It started in practice. I always had sweat in my hair, so I put on a headband. In those days in Buffalo, we drew 3-4k fans for practice. It was standing room only in a small practice rink. After a couple of practices, people started bringing headbands to the rink. People wanted me to try it again. It gave me more noteriety than playing with guys like Gil Perreault and the rest of the boys. All of a sudden I was recognizable. And that year I had 31 goals. I guess the headband separated me from the rest of the guys. Plus, I was a bit of a pugilist also. I think I received 500 headbands in the mail. The NHL in its wisdom almost immediately said no printing and team colors only. (I'm not sure if I wore a headband) before Henry Boucha
or not. We didnt do it because of each other."
Q-Who was the best amateur you ever scouted?
A-2 - Alex Ovechkin
. I remember watching Ovechkin and saying "Oh My God." The impact of him over the course of a game, you could see what he brought to the table. In terms of other players, we watched a game in Russia in a tournament. Maybe 12 seconds into the first shift. I said "who in the hell is that?" And it was Malkin. One skate up the ice I said "Oh My Lord." For North Americans, it was Jason Spezza
. I remember the hands. The first shift, he made a play and I said, "Wow, he made a play that is very difficult to make at this level."
Day 4 - 6PM
The Road to the NHL Winter Classic continues on, even without me riding shotgun. However, we know that there's one person that "The Road" cannot continue without, and that is Mike Hooper, our colorful truck driver. Today, Mike guided the truck through Chattanooga, across Nashville and he's now 30 minutes outside of Louisville. Mike reports that he's getting lots of feedback from the road. In his world, that means honking horns and waving.
Mike is from Devon, England, where he spent 24 years trucking before moving to Guelph, Ontario a couple of years ago. Believe it or not, he'd never been to a pro hockey game. Dan Craig was able to help change that last night when he scored him a seat to last night's Rangers @ Thrashers game. Mike reported that he thoroughly enjoyed his first NHL game. "That atmosphere, I draw off it. Everyone is there having a good time. I enjoyed the action, of course, but the atmosphere in the building was great."
We were able to get a photo of Mike during the pre-game fan event. Enjoy.
Remember, you can find me on Twitter @umassdilo where you can suggest some NHL Winter Classic facts and interviews you'd like to see me get, and I'll do my best to get them.
By the way, my first meal upon returning to the NY area wasn't BBQ. It was cold pizza at 2 a.m.
Day 3 - 8PM
Flight delayed and I'm not quite ready to give up the mantle as NHL.com blogger. So as long as I am still technically on "The Road the the NHL Winter Classic," I offer you the following:
Top 3 Hockey Movies:
3-Mystery, Alaska. Outdoor hockey! (Gratuitous, I realize)
2-Miracle on Ice. The original movie about the 1980 USA Olympic team. Steve Guttenberg as Jim Craig. 'Nuff said.
1-Slap Shot. "You guys gotta work on the power play!" Also served as the inspiration for my fantasy hockey team name: '38 Flood (10 bonus points if you get the reference.
Sadly, The Friends of Eddie Coyle has to be left off the list as it's not a hockey movie, just a movie with a great hockey scene (think: Big Bad Bruins). Bob Mitchum acts the heck out of this part and everytime I see him drinking stale coffee and a cold hotdog, I am transported to the late rink in Wilmington, Mass. Which brings me to:
Top 3 Rink Foods (community rinks only):
3-BBQ'd anything. Just kidding, it's crispy french fries.
2-The ubiquitously rectangle shaped rink pizza!
1-There aren't three great community rink foods. Fries and pizza comprise the whole list.
Top 3 Pre-Game Warmup Songs:
3-"The Distance" by Cake.
2-"Ready to Go" by Republica
1-"Eminence Front" by The Who
Top 3 Unique-to-Hockey Hockey Traditions:
2-Hockey Night in Canada
Top 3 Hockey Sticks of my Youth:
3-Christian Bros. Aluminum. The first aluminum stick!
2-Sherwood 7030 Bourque pattern
1-Montreal 66 HMP w/European Curve
Which brings me to...
Top 3 Opponents of my Youth:
3-John Lilley, Wakefield (Mass.)
2-Rob Canavan (South Shore Kings)
1-Keith Tkachuk (North Shore Raiders)
Top 3 NHL Cities for a Weekend of Fun:
Top 3 Must-See Places at the NHL Winter Classic:
3-Five Faces. Get the cheese fries.
2-The Lodge. Just throw your peanut shells on the floor.
1-Wrigleyville North. Just go see it for yourself.
Day 3 - 6:30PM
The Road to the NHL Winter Classic rolls on tonight like an unstoppable rebel force and I, selfishly, wish I was staying on for the ride. Getting back to my roots as a writer has been a lot of fun. Alas, I'm awaiting a (delayed) flight home to the NYC area and Mike Hooper will depart shortly, pointing his rig toward the Windy City (apropos fun fact: it's called the Windy City because of its politicians). With about 800 miles to go, here's what we know:
- I've invented a meal between breakfast and brunch.
- If Twitter is any indication, lots of cities are interested in having The Road to the NHL Winter Classic roll through.
- Likewise, I have had some solid offers for BBQ.
- Speaking of, it turns out that expressing unequivocally your love for one form of cooking will make you the butt of jokes with friends.
- The Chick-Fil-A Bowl had a meeting in my hotel. Some executives wore suits. Some wore sweat suits.
- The poultry conference was kind enough to stay out of Atlanta during my visit this time.
- The unwritten rules of driving I learned in Boston haven't made it to the deep South, and light cycles are longer here.
- Social Media can and should be a part of how we reach fans.
- If Dan Craig's life story had been made into a movie, the late Phil Hartman would have played him. Karl Malden would have also had a shot.
Day 3 - 5:45PM
Subject to change, but keep your eye out for The Road to the NHL Winter Classic in Chattanooga, Nashville, Louisville, Indianapolis. That's all I can say for now.
Day 3 - 5:30PM
You have to hand it to the Thrashers for how they've embraced the NHL Winter Classic rolling through town. Rob Koch and his staff went out of their way to make sure that fans and media alike had special access to the "Road" tour. First, he lined up media availability for Colby Armstrong
, who played in the NHL Winter Classic last season for Pittsburgh. Then, he made former Pen Erik Christensen
available for fan autographs around the refrigeration trailer. In addition, Thrashers Ice Girls helped hand out our special NHL Winter Classic collectible, which is a refrigerator magnet in the shape of a puck (2-D), but that looks like a baseball, white with stitching. It has the Detroit and Chicago logos, plus the NHL Winter Classic and NBC logos, and the January 1 @ 1 p.m info. Oh, and they hosted the rig for 2+ days! A personal note of thanks to the club and to Rob.
Day 3 - 4:30PM
Awaiting the start of the fan event with The Road to the NHL Winter Classic and all things considered it was a good day. The MSG folks were terrific. After some banter with Sam Rosen during the morning skate, John Giannone took Dan Craig outside to the truck and taped a segment about the truck, making ice outside, and the future of the NHL Winter Classic (ie. - When is it coming to New York?!). MSG plans to air the segment during tonight's pre-game show. I got a sneak preview of it and it's good. Dan also was a real good sport all day donning his NHL Winter Classic jersey (he wore Blackhawks; I had hoped to put him in a Red Wings shirt for The Weather Channel, but we ended up not taping there yet, though they will be doing a segment). The guys at FSN and CNN were also great, taking time to come to Philips Arena and tape segments with Dan and the rig. CNN will air its segment about a week out from the game. Keep your eye out for some of this footage, as well as some stuff from Mobile, at NHL.com. I also took some video from the trip and plan to post it when I get back to NYC tonight; had some technical issues sending. I am now a huge fan of the Flip Video device, which is completely idiot proof (insert joke here). More to come.
Day 3 - 1:30PM
I just cheated on barbecue with Mexican. Dan Craig made me do it after the BBQ joint that GPS recommended (Big Ed's Pig and Pit) was shuttered.
Day 3 - 12:30PM
Dan and I are headed to The Weather Channel to drop off some b-roll. Its conceivable that Dan knows everyone in hockey. I think every person from the Thrashers and Rangers stopped to say hello to him while we were at the arena, capped by Glen Sather
. I hope Dan likes BBQ, because I see that in our future.
Day 3 - 11:30AM
We've got heavy rain and tornado warnings, so we're developing an alternate plan for Weather Channel. Turns out, their primary focus is Mother Nature, not hockey.
Day 3 - 10:45AM
Joe Whalen and John Giannone of MSG were kind enough to bump up our segment with them up to 10:30AM. CNN next at 11:30AM.
Day 3 - 10AM
Turns out the exterior of Phillips Arena is noisy with trains and trucks, so we're doing multiple takes. Dan is a pro with interviews. Oh, and Mike Hooper is a Brit!
Day 3 - 9AM
Arrived at Phillips Arena, awaiting FSN. Its pouring out so we have to figure out how best to host the media.
Day 2 - 10PM
Winding down Day Two on the Road to the NHL Winter Classic, here's what we now know:
-- I am not eating a balanced diet.
-- The State of Illinois will get a lot of attention throughout the month of December (because of the 2009 NHL Winter Classic, of course).
-- Atlanta takes a back seat to no city when it comes to traffic.
-- The Road to the NHL Winter Classic has a busy day tomorrow with stops at Fox SportsNet, CNN, The Weather Channel, MSG Network and the Thrashers game tomorrow night.
-- I cut myself shaving and bled BBQ sauce.
-- Hotel cable TV isn't all that good.
-- After negotiating his rig to downtown Phillips Arena, Road to the NHL Winter Classic truck driver Mike Hooper could have beaten Marcia Brady in a driving contest.
-- Twitter is not only a social media platform, but a would-be competitor to Zagats.
-- From Mobile to Atlanta, there are no shortage of places to get waffles.
-- "Hooper drives the truck, Chief." That will never get old.
-- I might be getting tired of BBQ. There, I said it.
Day 2 - 8PM
If I'd gone to the grave knowing Sam and Dave only as that iconic R+B act from the 60s and 70s, I would have been content. Then I discovered Sam & Dave's BBQ2 in Marietta, Ga.
First, the backstory. Ben Wright
is the Web guy for the Atlanta Thrashers
and has been following The Road to the NHL Winter Classic at both NHL.com, as well as my bootleg journal entries and photos at Twitter (you can find me on Twitter @umassdilo). As I was wrapping up at the Marietta Ice Center, I received a note from Ben that I was tantalizingly close to the best pulled chicken I would ever eat.
Faster than you could whip out your Stax record collection and put "Hold On, I'm Comin'" onto the turntable, my car was pointed at Sam & Dave's BBQ2.
Sam & Dave's appears actually to be the restaurant of the competitive Lost Mountain BBQ team. When you enter the unremarkable retail storefront, you realize that Lost Mountain must be pretty competitive - it looks like they robbed Bobby Orr
's trophy case. I don't think these trophies were for participation, either.
I made my way to the register and quickly asked for recommendations. I was told that the ribs were amazing. But Mr. Wright had already recommended the pulled chicken. It was then I remembered that for men of a certain carriage, ordering just one entree can be so limiting. Therefore, I ordered a pulled chicken sandwich with a sidecar of baby back ribs (note to my personal trainer: I opted for the dainty half rack; note to readers: I don't really have a personal trainer). The nice lady taking my order also upsold me on the macaroni and cheese.
I'll get right to the point. Sam & Dave are the 76-77 Canadiens of this BBQ tour. The pulled chicken was simply perfect. Kissed with a rub whose recipe must have come from the angels, it was perfectly smoked and moist, yielding a very pleasant flavor. The sweet-and-tangy sauce on the side was a strong-to-quite-strong compliment.
Then, it was onto the ribs. My personal favorite are baby back ribs and these did not disappoint. A delicious rub was paired with a gentle painting of sauce to create a terrific flavor for ribs that were smoked just right and fell off the bone.
The macaroni and cheese was adequate, though unspectacular. The novelty here was that they use ziti instead of elbow macaroni.
If Sam & Dave's ends up being the last BBQ that I sample on The Road to the NHL Winter Classic, I think I'm going out like Ray Bourque
Day 2 - 5PM
Traveling from Mobile to Atlanta on The Road to the NHL Winter Classic, you don't run into many people who have played outdoor hockey. Today I set out to find someone who could talk about it, and my search brought me to the Marietta (Ga.) Ice Center, home of the Atlanta Knights junior team. [Here's some practice footage that I shot with my Flipcam
] There, I met Kevin Kerr
, the Knights' program director and the coach of their top junior team, which competes in the Southeastern Junior Hockey League. Kerr was wrapping up player meetings when I was welcomed into his spartan office.
The surroundings were extremely familiar to the "office" at Skate 3 in Tyngsboro, Mass., that I called home as the head coach of Alvirne High School in Hudson, NH. Mismatched furniture, jerseys hanging in a corner, practice plans scribbled on greaseboards and notepads, and the smell of hockey in the air. I felt at home.
Kerr is well qualified to discuss both professional and outdoor hockey. He was a third-round selection of the Buffalo Sabres
in the 1986 Entry Draft (one spot ahead of Jyrki Lumme
), and played a remarkable 17 years of minor-league hockey. Throw in a handful of coaching stints at the minor-league level, and you're talking about a seasoned hockey guy. At the same time, Kerr is a native of North Bay, Ontario, where the average high temperature in January is 17 degrees (F), five degrees south of where Dan Craig's sheet of ice at Wrigley Field will be. Kerr is a guy who has spent some time in the elements playing hockey.
"As a coach, I'd bring guys up to Canada and we'd play on the ponds, you know, just to have a little fun playing games," he said. "Hockey was made to be played outdoors."
And then it was back to my rental car to scope out a barbecue place close to the rink.
Day 2 - 2PM
Willie Mays once said of his greatest catches, "I don't compare 'em, I just catch 'em." After sampling a true Texas BBQ joint (editor's note: it's in Georgia), I feel somewhat similar. If Southern and Midwestern BBQ are my Gretz and Mario, then Texas is my Mark Messier
. Strong to quite strong, and on any given night the best player in the world. One Star Ranch should be a must-see for anyone looking for an authentic experience here in Atlanta. After the corn bread and stew, I was treated to a beef rib that fell off the bone, and had just enough sauce to let me know it was there. The saucy baked beans could play on anyone's top-6 sides, and the diced cole slaw brought some zest and sandpaper to the plate. I'll be retreating to Southern BBQ tonight, but for one lunch in December, Texas BBQ was the game's first star.
If Mobile is the East Coast League of BBQ, then the One Star Ranch in Atlanta is the big leagues. On sight, you knew you were walking into a barbecue experience, not just a place that serves BBQ. It is a shack through and through with outdoor seating, a bucket-of-blood bar area, and BB King belting from speakers throughout the shack. My gracious hostess Valerie turned out to be a displaced Devils fan who just completed her studies at Spellman and used to skate at New Jersey's practice rink at the Turtle Back Zoo. After describing their glorious menu, I decided that this needed to be an a la carte experience, starting with a delicious Brunswick Stew featuring corn (off the cob, as Mitch Hedberg said), lima beans and okra. For a sidecar, I chose jalapeno cornbread which was pleasingly dense, almost like a poundcake. Only poundcake never had a bite like this. I'm going to savor the starters, then think about an entree after a quick conference call.
Day 2 - 12PM
After some exhaustive research of the Atlanta area, I've decided that the next stop on our BBQ tour will be the One Star Ranch. From the stuff I saw online, the place looks like a classic rib shack. And if there's any culinary idea that guarantees excellence its the marriage of shack to cuisine. From the reviews, it seems like there's a kiss of Texas in their barbecuing. I know Texans take their barbecue seriously, perhaps to a prideful fault. I can't say with certainty where Texas ranks as my dining experiences have been limited to some Whattaburgers and the Shuck and Jive in Dallas. Still, my curiosity is piqued. This may be too much information, but I considered wearing the same dress shirt and tie I had on yesterday because it was already stained and I figure a clean shirt will be right in the line of fire.
Day 2 - 10AM
The Road To the NHL Winter Classic continues today from Atlanta, where we were able to get settled last night. Today, we're just navigating the truck over to Phillps Arena and doing some logistical coordination before tomorrow's big Wednesday fan and media event. Today I will venture out into Atlanta tosample some more BBQ and hopefully find a hockey rink. Also, check out XM 204 today for an exclusive interview with our driver Mike Hooper on NHL Live sometime from 12-2p ET. Lastly, I was able to get ahold of some bootleg photos from the event in Mobile yesterday, and and am including them in this post.
Day 1 - 9PM
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get off the highway at Auburn University and see what it had to offer in terms of smoked goodness. That's where I found Byron's Smokehouse and its 5 buck samdwich special. The guy working the controls behind the counter was a friendly sort named Joe. Not only did Joe know about the NHL Winter Classic, he cooks the heck out of a chicken. His pal Lauren Emily recommended a spicy pulled chicken sandwich and a cup of Brunswick Stew, which is a tomato-based chowder with beef and corn. I think it was all delicious, but not sure my testimony would be admissable because of the speed at which it was consumed. Lauren Emily was kind enough to re-charge my Blackberry so I could type these words and get back on the Road to the NHL Winter Classic.
Day 1 - 8PM
Funny thing about the South. Sometimes when you look up "skating rink" in a directory, what they really mean is roller skating rink. I found this out the hard way in Montgomery, Alabama, where two rinks we went to not only did not have their own huge refrigeration trailer, but no ice at all. We probably could have made our own, but the roller skaters might not have liked that. One thing Montgomery has in common with Atwell, its BBQ places are closed during the week. At least the one I wanted to go to. So it's back on the road and we'll look for something closer to Atlanta. A quick shout out to Alabama Five O for keeping me safe out here.
DAY 1 - 6 PM
It's now 6 p.m. ET on The Road to the NHL Winter Classic and here's what we know so far:
-- I pulled off on perhaps the most rural road in Alabama, abour 65 miles south of Montgomery.
-- This is one big truck ... 53' and 22 wheels. We're still awaiting the weight.
-- Many BBQ joints in the South aren't open every day. (Dave Garr says he regrets not telling me that earlier, but promised to make it up to me in Chicago with a BBQ tour there).
-- The bartenders at Dreamland Bar-B-Cue aren't the avid NHL fans I had hoped, but expressed interest in our truck.
-- I've heard more Cher songs on the radio today than in the last 15 years combined. (The number is one).
-- Speaking of radio, finding good stations outside of your hometown always seems harder than it should be.
-- Our driver Mike Hooper has a Minnesota Wild
tee on, and an accent I cannot place. I've narrowed it to Brit, Aussie or Scot.
-- More from Montgomery around 7:30 p.m. ET
DAY 1 - 5 PM
My good friend in Chicago, Dave Garr, is a championship brisket man. He's had some impressive finishes at Memphis in May and is always quick with a recommendation to make a good BBQ better (eg, coat your ribs with mustard paint before adding the rub). Anyway, when Mr. Garr insisted that I try Gold's BBQ in Atmore, Ala., I was all ears. Besides, it helped draw the connection to Chicago even more closely. So I've arrived in Atmoren which is right out of Central Casting for the small town South. Lots of roadside stands, and two gentleman that were extremely friendly in pointing me to Gold's. Unfortunately, I've discovered that Gold's is only open Fridays and Saturdays. So I am pointing the Road to the NHL Winter Classic at Montgomery, Ala., where I intend to find a skating rink (I'm told there's one) and talk to the locals about the NHL.
Thinking about how to best connect the journey from the Deep South to Chicago, I thought about some of the things both areas have in common. Two that came to mind were blues music and barbecue. Sincew my GPS can't guide me to any front porch bluesmen, I've directed it to take me to some local barbecue joints. The local CBS news dept and Tanya at CIMCO Refrigeration both recommended Dreamland Bar-B-Q on Old Shell Road here in Mobile. It's not much to look at on the outside (or inside, for that matter), but the fine smell of hickory filled the place. Fun fact: if you're ever searching for BBQ in Mobile and your Blackberry is out of juice, the barkeeps at Dreamland will let you charge it here. Really friendly service, I was immediately greeted like an old friend and given a stack of Sunbeam bread and a side of house sauce. I ordered a half-slab of pork spareribs. The level of hickory was just right, which helped offset the fact that the house sauce, tomato-based with a trace of vinegar, lacked bold flavor or bite. Overall, it was a solid-if-unpectacular start to the BBQd Rink Tour (unofficial title), and I'm going to drive up to Montgomery to see if I can locate an ice rink.
DAY 1 - 1 PM
Got to Battleship Park in Mobile where the USS Alabama is moored. This is where the event is, and where our truck will be launched to the world. The truck is a real eye-grabber, as you can see from the photos. While all of the rink components are right off the shelf, the configuration is totally unique to the NHL trailer. Every system in the truck is redundant, so if one component fails, there will still be ice at Wrigley. I learned that they spent more than 3000 man hours building the equipment configuration and the trailer housing. All of the local news affiliates - Fox, CBS, NBC - showed up. I scored a cool Cimco Refrigeration jacket for my troubles. Now they're off to a weigh station and the Road to the NHL Winter Classic begins ...
DAY 1 - 9 AM
Heard from Dan Craig as we both make our way to Mobile (I am at the Charlotte airport). Dan, as you may know, is our ice guru. He assures quality control for the ice surfaces at all 30 NHL arenas, and anywhere else where we hold events. He's the guy that makes sure 10,000 gallons of water becomes a 1-inch sheet of ice @ 22 degrees. Anyway, Dan reports that the truck looks amazing - our crack graphic design folks put together a wrap for the truck that transform it into a rolling billboard. I am looking forward to seeing it - the trailer alone had to be custom built for the NHL and is 53 feet long. Going to try to snap some photos and video of it.
DAY 1 - 4 AM
There's something comfortably familiar about waking up at 3:30 a.m. for hockey. My father and I spent years during my youth waking up in the pre-dawn hours to drive to Boston-area rinks in Boxboro, Wilmington, Concord and Tyngsboro.
The difference this time is that I'm not up this early to actually play in a game (my competitive career ended two knee operations and 50 pounds ago). In fact, the game in question won't even be played for another 24 days.
Today, I'm headed to Mobile, Alabama (via JFK airport), where I'll catch up with what I believe to be the largest mobile rink refrigeration unit in the world - the same unit that will help Dan Craig, the NHL's ice guru, turn Wrigley Field into a frozen pond at the 2009 NHL Winter Classic, January 1. at 1 p.m. on NBC/CBC.
Today at a ceremony in Mobile, the truck will be launched into the world and will begin "The Road to Wrigley Field" (presented by XM), which is the 1,200 mile journey that will take it from the Deep South to Middle America. The first stop is in Atlanta, where the truck has a date with the media and the fans attending Wednesday's Rangers @ Thrashers game.
I'll be following behind, blogging along the way and passing along as much local flavor as I can.