I'm anticipating a record number of replies for this blog, so don't disappoint me by acting all nonchalant about what I'm about to write. It will take me a while to compose.
As some of you may remember, I was lucky enough to go on two quick one-day road trips to Vancouver and Calgary in December, but this past week marked my first full road trip experience, complete with customs, in-flight movies, and behind-the-scenes access to some of the nicest arenas in the NHL.
I promised a recap, so here you go:
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18
Our Air Canada Jetz aircraft that carried us on this fabulous tour of the US midwest.
We arrived at Edmonton International at around noon, cleared US customs and security, and then boarded our Air Canada Jetz flight to Denver. I wasn't too hungry so didn't partake in the hot meal, but instead grabbed a tuna sandwich and yogurt parfait. And probably a chocolate bar, although I don't remember exactly.
I also don't really remember which movie was playing on the flight, mostly because I was engrossed in conversation with Sportsnet colour commentator Louie DeBrusk. Louie's broadcast partner Kevin Quinn was a little perturbed that he had to sit by himself across the aisle, but – good sport as he is – he got over it in a few days.
Because the team didn't skate that morning, JJ Hebert, Oilers Manager of Communications & Media Relations, ensured that the media would have a few minutes to interview Craig MacTavish mid-flight. Thus, I grabbed my voice recorder and joined 630 CHED's Bob Stauffer, the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson, the Edmonton Sun's Derek Van Diest, Louie, and Kevin in the aisle for a scrum with the Head Coach
About an hour later, we landed in Denver. The players and coaching staff usually have their own bus on the road, so I filed onto the media shuttle with the journalistic all-stars. The airport is pretty far from the city, so we got to enjoy the rustic Colorado scenery for nearly 30 minutes. The treeless, rusty rolling hills reminded me of old Westerns -- I half expected tumbleweeds to blow across the freeway or raging cattle rustlers to come over the horizon. No dice.
Upon arrival at the hotel, I uploaded the audio from the plane and then spent the afternoon exploring the neighbourhood (aka. the nearby mall). Rod Phillips invited me to dinner, and it was very nice to spend an hour or two chatting hockey with CHED's broadcast team, Derek, and Jim. THURSDAY, MARCH 19
The next morning, the players and media shared the same bus to Pepsi Center for the morning skate. The Avs arena is located in downtown Denver near Mile High Stadium, so if you've ever watched a Broncos NFL game on TV, you might recall the beautiful Rocky Mountain backdrop. For the first time in my career, I wished NHL hockey was an outdoor sport.
Upon arrival at the rink via the loading ramp, JJ distributed our media passes and then I retrieved my video gear from the Oilers trainers (including camera, monopod, sun gun (light that attaches to the top of the camera), microphone, chargers, and Oilers backdrop). Because this equipment is too large to carry on the plane, the trainers are kind enough to include it among the hockey bags, skate sharpener, sticks, and other gear they transport from rink to plane and back again. For their efforts, we pay them back in praise and blog mentions.
With camera and microphone in hand, I watched the tail end of the Avalanche skate and joined Bob Stauffer in the home locker room for pre-game comments
. After that, we headed back out to the stands and shot the game preview with Louie DeBrusk
and then a one-on-one interview with GM Steve Tambellini
The Oilers were on the ice throughout these interviews, so Rod provided me with the line combinations afterwards. I emailed these back to Marc Ciampa in Edmonton, and he added to the game preview and posted them on our Twitter
. After the Oilers skate, Bob and I headed back to the locker room to talk to a few of our players
, bussed back with the team to the hotel, and I then retreated to my hotel room to edit and upload the audio and video for Marc and Dan Tencer.
Pre-game at the Pepsi Center in Denver, CO.
Before long, it was time to pack up my things and bus back to Pepsi Center. The Oilers media contingent enjoyed a pre-game meal in the downstairs media lounge (beef stew, mashed potatoes, etc.), then headed up to the press box for the game. I watched the first two periods from that perspective and then returned downstairs to set up my laptop in the media room and get the camera equipment ready.
I think this is when the camera's monopod (like a tripod but . . . mono) broke. I refuse to take responsibility for this tragedy, so I blame everything on the A/V gods. This is why, Oilers fans, video was a bit shaky from this point on.
Anyhoo, the Oilers scratches filtered down from the press box in the final minutes of the game, and from the hallway outside, I heard cheering and music immediately after the final buzzer. The Oilers beat the Avs 8-1. After a short wait, JJ opened up the locker room and the media rushed in. I interviewed a few players and then caught MacTavish's comments outside in the hall
. I quickly repacked the camera case and rolled up the backdrop for the trainers and then scurried back to the media lounge to edit and post audio.
What seems like seconds later, we were airport-bound. I edited video on the bus and, thanks to our diligent and efficient Air Canada flight crew, we were soon in the air en-route to Chicago (in-flight movie: Batman Begins). Landed in Illinois, bussed to our hotel in downtown Chicago, uploaded video to the website, and then got to sleep at 3am local time.
FRIDAY, MARCH 20
Due to our late arrival, the team did not skate Friday morning in Chicago. Instead, JJ provided us with access to a few players at noon in the hotel. Because my camera gear went straight to the rink with the trainers the night before, I relied on Massage Therapist Stephen Lines to leave it at the front desk under my name so I would have it in the morning.
After shooting, editing, and posting our player interviews
and game preview
in the hotel, I spent an hour or two walking around downtown Chicago. David Kalan, Club Website Producer at the NHL.com head offices in New York, had provided me with detailed directions for two “can't miss” local restaurants, but I wasn't in the mood for getting lost so I settled for a panini and soup near the hotel. He was not pleased about this decision once I informed him.
I returned to my room at about four, packed up, met the crew in the lobby, and bussed to the United Center. The Blackhawks arena is huge and loud and generally impressive. The crowd cheers incessantly throughout the Star Spangled Banner and gives a standing ovation for every Hawks goal. I was blown away.
The game was a heart-stopper, and even though I was in the basement hallway for the third period, I could feel the intensity through the thick brick walls. The Oilers scratches headed into the locker room near the end of the third, and I could hear them cheering and cursing every overtime and shootout play. Though I was keeping my eye on a hallway TV monitor, the broadcast didn't inform me the Oilers had won – it was JF Jacques, Theo Peckham
, Zack Stortini, and Steve MacIntyre whooping it up just beyond the closed door.
Needless to say, the players were in a good mood after the game. While I was struggling to hold the monopod-less camera and microphone contraption (microphone attached to a hockey stick) for an interview, JF Jacques came to the rescue -- or at least I thought he did. He offered to hold the mic for me and I graciously accepted. But moments into my interview with Jason Strudwick, the mic starting swinging wildly and jammed Jason in the face. I sternly told JF to smarten up, but to the delight of the other players around us, the antics continued.
The microphone issues rendered the video useless for post-game, but you can click here to watch it
. In JF's defence, he later told me that Zack Stortini had grabbed the mic stick and was causing all the problems. I'm not sure if I believe him, but you can draw your own conclusions.Editing and posting the legitimate post-game interviews
carried me to bus departure and then flight departure and eventually to our St. Paul hotel at 2am.SATURDAY, MARCH 21
Like the day before, our late arrival meant no morning skate in Minnesota on Saturday. My camera gear was waiting at the front desk in the morning (thank you, Mr. Lines), and Bob and I spoke to Sam Gagner and Craig MacTavish in the hotel lobby
After editing and posting the audio and video, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll around sunny St. Paul that afternoon. Our historic old hotel is surrounded by other old buildings near the river, so it was nice to check things out and explore a city I probably wouldn't ever see otherwise. SUNDAY, MARCH 22
Pre-game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN.
The 2pm start meant we checked out of the hotel and arrived at the Xcel Energy Center at around noon. I love matinees for many reasons: no morning skate, evening off, and – last but not least – brunch in the media lounge.
I've heard from a few people that the Wild's arena is one of the nicest in the NHL, and though I didn't have a chance to check out the concourse, the press box certainly didn't disappoint. Three seating levels and plenty of private booths made for a spacious two periods of hockey.
Unfortunately, this game didn't end in locker room cheers and music because the Wild beat the Oilers 3-0. The room was quiet and somber in comparison to the first two games, and perhaps as a result, I managed to gather my post-game quotes
, edit, post, and hop on the bus in record time.
When I assumed my spot on the plane (a row all to myself) and finished rendering the post-game video, I spotted a large group of guys in matching track suits walking out to the jet parked beside us. I should say “large group of LARGE guys” because when they approached an average-sized airport worker, it was obvious that these guys were basketball players. Not sure if it was the NBA's Timberwolves or a U.S. college team, but I was nonetheless impressed by their stature and comfy-looking outfits (we were all in post-game business attire).
We took off shortly after that. I enjoyed a chicken stirfry and watched bits of Ocean's 13. I hear that Dustin Penner is the go-to movie picker, but I cannot confirm that report. Edmonton welcomed us back with a miserable blizzard and dangerous highway conditions. I (cautiously) drove home, posted the post-game video, and then went to bed at a reasonable hour.
All in all, it was a great experience. I am in awe of the team's trainers and the marathons they pull while on the road, and I am truly thankful for the flight crew and the hospitality they showed us even when we were tired and cranky (or maybe that was just me).
Steve Taylor is on this next road trip. I'm sure Phoenix, Anaheim, and the entire Oilers crew will treat him well, as they always do.