The NHL is a labor of love for Bill and Lisa Kurpel.
For the past 10 years, the Stoney Creek, Ontario residents have been traveling North America to watch NHL games, specifically those featuring their beloved Buffalo Sabres. Their bucket list included seeing a game in every NHL arena and they checked off the last one on Tuesday when they entered the Scotiabank Saddledome for the Sabres road game against the Calgary Flames.
"It started on a whim, I think," Bill Kurpel said. "I was always a Sabres fan, and we liked to travel, so we thought 'why don't we try to go to every arena,' and it started from there."
Bill introduced Lisa to hockey when they first met, and she fell in love with the sport. When Bill retired from his job 10 years ago, they got Sabres season tickets. The Sabres won the Presidents' Trophy that season, and Bill and Lisa began going to some of their road games. The arena tour took off from there.
"Every person that we told as we were going along, especially the guys, thought it was the coolest thing to do together," Lisa said. "They say, 'I wish that my wife would do that with me,' or 'that's a really neat idea.'"
"We don't have kids, so it's easier for us to travel," Bill said. "Other people go to Disney, or wherever they take their kids. These were our vacations."
The Kurpels said the Sabres have accounted for about 80 percent of their total games attended. Because Lisa works, and because Buffalo only makes one trip to each Western Conference city each season and hasn't reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2010-11, they find themselves branching out to see other teams, too.
"When the Sabres are playing golf, fortunately we're still watching hockey," Lisa said.
The couple is partial to the older arenas. They preferred the Saddledome to Edmonton's new arena, Rogers Place, which they attended for the first time when the Sabres played the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday. Lisa's favorite arena is one of the NHL's oldest, Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, because it is classic and a three-hour trip from their home. She also has a sentimental reason.
"It's always going to be my favorite because I met Gordie Howe there," she said. "You can't really top that."
Together they watched Sidney Crosby hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time after the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final in 2009. They were at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills of the NFL when Crosby and the Penguins defeated the Sabres 2-1 in a shootout at the 2008 NHL Winter Classic. They met Commissioner Gary Bettman at a game at KeyBank Center in Buffalo and celebrated Howe's birthday on more than one occasion in Detroit.
However, their goal was paused briefly when Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer in fall of 2013. She underwent chemotherapy, and her last session was completed just before they left for a hockey trip to Arizona and Los Angeles in April of 2014.
"It was a long winter of 2013-14, and it was really difficult," Lisa said. "Knowing that I would have finished the treatments in April, and LA and Phoenix was a reward for getting through them. It was something to look forward to, and it made those trips special. It got me through the long winter."
"Lisa's doing great," Bill said of her health since she finished treatment.
Their tour of new NHL arenas is completed for now, but that will not stop the Kurpels from attending games. They're planning to go to Detroit for at least three more games at Joe Louis Arena to celebrate its final season and have already started planning a trip for two new arenas next season, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and Little Caesars Arena, the Red Wings new home.
"Our goal is to just keep going," Bill said.
With Alexandra Stanton and Kelsey MacDonald, NHL Real-Team Correspondents