Fans in attendance on March 30 when the Washington Capitals visited Bridgestone Arena may have noticed Blake Bormet, Matt Buotte and Dan Jurczak wandering the concourse. In a sea of gold Preds jerseys, the jerseys they wore – a Winnipeg Jets sweater, an Eastern Conference All-Star Game jersey and an Atlanta Thrashers throwback – stuck out in the crowd. Much like their jersey choices were a unique site on the concourse, their journey to get to Nashville, a journey that put the three friends in nine NHL cities in 10 days, was as well.
Natives of Maine, Bormet, Buotte and Jurczak have been hockey fans for their entire lives after being introduced to the sport by family members. Growing up in a state without an NHL franchise, Bormet, Buotte and Jurczak, all in their 20s, have many memories of attending Portland Pirates (AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes) games. All three are a bit too young to remember Barry Trotz’s days at the helm of the Pirates team. In 1994-95, Trotz was named AHL Coach of the Year after leading the Pirates to the Calder Cup Championship.
It was at one of these Pirates games that the idea to go on their interesting trip began.
“After a Pirates game one night, I brought up the idea to Matt and Blake and from there we started planning,” Jurczak said. “We mapped out what cities we thought we should go to, and the order we should go. When the schedule came out we started going to work, figuring out the possibilities of which games we could see in what order.”
Once the three worked around their school and work schedules, the “NHL Nine in 10” itinerary was created. When all was said and done, Bormet, Buotte and Jurczak would travel more than 3,500 miles by car, frequently leaving after games and driving late into the night to make the next puck drop.
March 27 – Leave Portland (Maine) at 9:30 a.m.
March 27 – Phoenix at New Jersey, Newark, N.J.
March 28 – Toronto at Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pa.
March 29 – Columbus at Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.
March 30 – Washington at Nashville, Nashville, Tenn.
March 31 – Drive to Niagara Falls, N.Y.
April 1 – Calgary at Toronto, Toronto, Ont.
April 2 – Boston at Detroit, Detroit, Mich.
April 3 – Minnesota at Chicago, Chicago, Ill.
April 4 – Chicago at Columbus, Columbus, Ohio
April 5 – Ottawa at New York Rangers, New York, N.Y.
As they set out on the trip both Bormet and Buotte were looking forward to seeing some of the historical buildings and teams around the NHL. For Bormet, a Leafs fan, taking in a game at the Air Canada Centre was at the top of his list. Buotte, a Hurricanes fan, looked forward to the history of Chicago, Detroit and Toronto, but also getting to watch his favorite team on their home ice.
With eight states and one Canadian province on the itinerary, getting to see many new places was also a highlight of the trip.
“I had only truly seen New England, Florida and Utah,” Jurczak said. “This was a great opportunity to see new places and watch some hockey as well.”
When you’re visiting nine NHL cities in 10 days there are bound to be surprises along the way, but what stood out across the board to Bormet, Buotte and Jurczak was all of the great fellow hockey fans they met throughout their journey.
“We met a ton of people and so many of them had stories about games they’d seen in other arenas or how much their team means to them,” Buotte said. “As a whole, the NHL has a very passionate fan base and we got to see that across a wide array of arenas. Each city supports their team differently, but as a whole the fans were incredibly friendly and passionate.”
This trip to Music City was the first for all three fans, and one that did not come without a bit of a challenge. On the road from Raleigh, N.C. to Nashville, they encountered a snowstorm, but continued to drive through the night to ensure they would still have time to experience the city prior to Sunday’s game.
Before the game, the three enjoyed dinner at Jack’s Bar-B-Que on Broadway, a spot that Bormet would recommend to any hockey fan traveling to see a game in Nashville. Come game time, it was the fans’ energy and passion from the very beginning that Bormet, Buotte and Jurczak still fondly remember about their time in Bridgestone Arena.
“We went to four ‘Original Six’ arenas on our trip and to say Nashville’s atmosphere and fan base was as passionate, if not more, is not an understatement,” Buotte said. “The arena was loud and you could tell that the fans really love their team.”
In the Preds’ 4-3 shootout victory over the visiting Capitals, the Loyal Legion’s love for their team and the sport of hockey was evident.
“The fans were incredibly passionate, and the atmosphere was some of the best of our trip,” Bormet said. “You can tell the fans really love the team and that the team really cares about its fans. It’s truly a first-class organization.”
As fans across the League asked Bormet, Buotte and Jurczak what city was their favorite, Nashville always surfaced as the go-to answer.
“The atmosphere and the fans are incredible,” Buotte said. “They were by far some of the nicest people we met on the road. If you ever have the chance to go to Nashville, do it. It may not be a traditional market, but the fans are as passionate and hospitable as any in the League.”
When their trip wrapped up April 6, Bormet, Buotte and Jurczak traveled home to Portland, Maine and returned to daily lives that didn’t give them the option of sampling a new arena hot dog every night. Looking back, words like “amazing,” “incredible” and “exhilarating” were used to describe the trip, one they all say they would do again in a heartbeat.
“We got to see the Predators play in Nashville, eat cheese steaks in Philadelphia and stand at Niagara Falls all in a week,” Buotte said. “It’s a pretty incredible experience.”