Well, I’m midway through my first lengthy road trip of the season – a cross-continental, 10-day marathon that takes the Oilers to exotic cities like Buffalo and Ottawa.
Currently, I am sitting in the press box of downtown Buffalo’s HSBC Arena. Derek Van Diest of the Edmonton Sun sits beside me, and beside him is Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal. Other than us three, we are surrounded by Buffalo media, scouts, and other people that I do not know but am sure do excellent work in their respective fields.
Marc Ciampa is writing tonight’s game recap, so that frees me up to update you on the trip so far. Here are the highlights:
We flew to Denver last Saturday morning and arrived in the early afternoon. The Oilers practiced at a former air force hanger than was converted into two ice rinks (nicer than it sounds).
While watching practice from the viewing area, about half a dozen of young hockey players descended on our group and asked if we were injured Oilers. I’m pretty sure they weren’t directing that question at me, but rather at our PR staff who kind of look like NHL players in that generic guy-in-a-suit-at-a-hockey-rink kind of way.
JJ Hebert and Patrick Garland kindly corrected them, and then quickly directed the kids’ attention to former Oiler and current Sportsnet/PPV broadcaster Louie DeBrusk. To encourage Louie’s throng of fans (as if it needs encouraging), Bob Stauffer decided to pull up some of Louie’s old fights on YouTube.
The old-school scraps and flowing mullets kept us all occupied for about an hour, at which point I joined Bob downstairs to gather quotes from the players and coaches. Then we hopped on our respective busses (one for the players and coaches, one for the media) and headed to downtown Denver.
In the grand scheme of things, I’ve been to very few NHL arenas, but Pepsi Center is one of them and definitely one of my favourites. It’s located downtown and within view of the mountains and features a very large media lounge with wickedly delicious macaroni and cheese. Gold stars for everyone.
As you may remember, the Oilers battled hard vs. the Avalanche and won Sunday’s game 5-3. I was down near the locker room at the final buzzer, and it struck me that there wasn’t much cheering or hollering after the victory. The boys hadn’t been playing very well up until that game, and you could tell that they were pleased with the win but knew it was merely the first step in the right direction.
Our flight to Ottawa wasn’t scheduled until the following morning, so I had the luxury of finishing my post-game video and updating the website from the comfort of a hotel bathrobe and slippers.
Louie sits beside me on the Oilers flights, and we had over three hours to praise the onboard food options and discuss the advantages of my new Mac Book Pro en route to Ottawa. Like in Denver, we arrived in the early afternoon and promptly headed to Scotiabank Place for practice.
As you may have heard, the Senators arena is located well outside Ottawa and nestled in a sea of parking lots. The commute’s a killer and the exterior façade isn’t so impressive, but it’s pretty nice inside. My favourite part was the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of Oilers fans in the crowd Tuesday night. I’m sure they’re not there every night, but it was nice of them to show up and make the place feel like home. So thoughtful!
Although we played one of our best road games of the season that night, the Sens secured the shootout win and Bob and I entered the somber room for post-game comments. Although the loss was weighing heavily on everyone, one bright spot was call-up Ryan O’Marra.
With Robert Nilsson out with a concussion and Steve MacIntyre snagged off waivers, the Oilers were faced with a depleted line-up Tuesday and placed the emergency call to Springfield.
O’Marra, an outgoing 22-year-old, didn’t make it in time for warm-up and barely made the game. Minutes before opening puck drop, he was rushed into the arena, got dressed, and made his NHL debut. The chaotic day had Ryan in a happy daze by the time the game was over, and I don’t think Bob and I were the only ones to share his excitement.
With the next game less than 24 hours away, I submitted my post-game audio and rushed out of the arena to catch the bus to the aiport. Destination: Buffalo!
I know how it feels to come from a city that people like making fun of, and so I won’t say any bad things about Buffalo. It’s on the water, there are plenty of old, warehouse buildings that have been converted into lofts and hotels, and apparently they invented spicy chicken wings. Buffalo could be my kind of town, but unfortunately I’ll be here for less than a day.
We arrived very late last night, and after uploading post-game video and updating the website, I went straight to bed. Off to the rink this morning, then back to the hotel to file pre-game comments, then back to the rink for the game. I probably spent a grand total of 43 seconds enjoying the crisp New York air.
The Oilers are currently down 2-0, so hopefully they can pull it together and head to a mini-break on a high note. We’ve got three days off in Atlanta, so there will be plenty of practicing and strategizing before the weekend.
I’ll update you on the latter half of the trip next week.
The flight to Denver from Edmonton.
Young hockey players watching the Oilers practice in Denver.
Oilers Hall of Fame broadcaster Rod Phillips watching practice in Ottawa.