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December, 2011

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

The OHL Comeback: And then the Kingston mascot molested me…

Kingston, ON I woke up on Friday morning with nothing to do, and, to me, that was outrageous. I only have a guaranteed two weeks of North American hockey to look forward to this season, and I’ll be damned if I don’t make the most of it. So, I decided to get my ass out to an uncharted OHL rink, which meant, as you may have guessed, that I did not have time to do anything other than throw on some clothes, grab my overnight bag (that was luckily still loaded with unused Pittsburgh stuff), and run out the front door like a grotesque and unshowered bat out of Hell.

Hours and hours and hours later, I pulled into Kingston. The traffic all the way down the 401 was brutal, and I have absolutely no idea why! I think there was some severe rubbernecking going on. Unfortunately for the patrons of the K-Rock Centre that night, namely the quiet old man sitting next to me who yelled, “Shit” periodically throughout the game, I didn’t have any time to get cleaned up before heading to the rink as you can tell from my game day shot. Sorry!

The temperature was well into the negative that night, and Kingston had turned into a virtual skating rink. I had to glide all the way to the arena at the pace of a speed skater to avoid losing some of my extremities to the cold. I sought shelter in the first deserted entrance I saw to wait for the gates to open. An usher with a strangely familiar face was pacing around the doorway. I couldn’t shake the fact that I knew him from somewhere. Finally, after racking my brain for the 15 minutes prior to the doors opening, I handed him my ticket and asked, “You didn’t happen to work for Maple Leaf Sports, did you?” Sure enough he WAS one of my old work colleagues from waaaay back in my MLSE days. We weren’t in the same department, and he had facial hair now, which explains why I struggled to place him with confidence at first.

Yeah… Pick up those pucks!

We spent the entirety of the second period shooting the shit, which was fine because neither the Frontenacs nor the Generals scored a single goal in the period, so I didn’t miss anything other than some young boys skating around with a dangerous amount of facial hair for their own good. Anyway, he told me several interesting legends from his time working with the Leafs. Back during the 2003 playoffs he set the ice at the Air Canada Centre with two lucky pennies. One penny was dated 1967 and the other was 2003. He hid each penny under the goal posts in the Leafs zone. For each of the three games hosted in Toronto, NO ONE scored on that net. Now that’s not to say Toronto was never scored upon, just that no one was able to score on that end of the ice. Unfortunately, management found out about the pennies, and made him take them out. He also noted that since he stopped doing the ice at the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs haven’t made the postseason. Interesting… and here’s hoping that his curse is finally lifted this year!

While we were swapping stories, the Fronts mascot, Henry, interrupted us by rubbing my back in a manner that can only be described as somewhere in the realm of post-coital sensuality. I have quite the storied history with mascots doing bizarre things to me. Most notably Griff in Grand Rapids (AHL). He used to attack me ALL the time; every time I went to Van Andel Arena, or if he showed up at another rink that I was also at. He’d always BITE me, or just lurk in my general vicinity with his menacing presence. Then there was Tex in KItchener (OHL) who was most famous for messing up my hair, and that damn Phlex in Philadelphia (AHL) who thought he was better than me! Actually, the most disturbing mascot of all wasn’t even a hockey mascot. Back during one of the Halloween Haunts at Canada’s Wonderland, one of the monsters kept following me around saying, “Yeaaahhh, let’s make a baby.” What I found most uncomfortable about that whole incident, as well as with my Henry encounter, was that the mascot was shorter than me. I don’t know. There’s just something severely off-putting about shortness in mascots.

Despite a loss for the home team, and the fact that the arena poutine made me feel sick (don’t freak out or anything. I think the problem was not the poutine itself, but rather the fact that I crushed not one, but TWO A&W Papa Burgers prior to the game…don’t judge me!), it was an overall great experience to finally get down to the “controversial” K-Rock Centre. Kingston has been #1 on my OHL hit list for a couple seasons now, so it’s a great feeling to finally add this one to my repertoire of episodes of hockey related insanity. Sadly, according to the people of Kingston, the K-Rock Centre raised a lot of eyebrows when it was being built – something to do with the fact that the mayor owns the land that it’s built on. Anyway, the bottom line is that a lot of hockey fans in Kingston refused to support the Fronts as a means of protest against the whole scandal. Hmm makes me wonder if the 67’s and Bulls had a spike in ticket sales since the new rink was built. You really have to feel for the kids in all of this, though. It must be tough to play in front of an empty barn at such and impressionable (and vulnerable) age.

And now I leave you with a rare photo of former Frontenac, Mike Zigomanis, with his pants ON! Sean Avery is also pictured.

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Thursday, December 29th, 2011

The NHL Comeback: Who’s your Daddy, Pittsburgh?!

Pittsburgh, PA “Oh God!! What if I’m PREGNANT!?!?!” I cried, whined, and screamed as I slammed down my third empty glass of cherry flavoured Pepsi at a Kings location just off of the I-79 in Pennsylvania. “I can’t stop drinking this stuff! What if this is a CRAVING?! I DON’T EVEN LIKE CHERRY COKE!!!”

It was the tail end of the 08-09 NHL season, and I was heading home from my first (and extremely epic) Penguins hockey experience at the now abandoned Mellon Arena. I was your textbook panicky 23 year old/ball of paranoia after making a few too many “bad judgement calls” on a previous hockey roadie to see the Phoenix Coyotes take on the Anaheim Ducks in sunny Southern California. “Fuuuuuuck, Mal!! What am I going to do? What if I’ve been knocked up by a stupid douche bag guy and his stupid douche bag baby?!” I was sure of it. The cherry cola craving was the icing on a proverbial cake that was rife with other symptoms. I always knew that hockey would find a way of really screwing me over in the end, and, well, it seemed like the Apocalypse had finally arrived.

I won’t keep you in suspense, if you are, in fact, in suspense. I know you are probably well aware that I have not been toting a baby around over the past few hockey seasons. Yes, the pregnancy test was obviously a glorious single line of negativity and celebration, and so, as far as I know, my womb had not been compromised in Anaheim. As I would discover a few months later in Las Vegas, the Cherry Coke thing was indeed a craving, but it seems to be something my body craves when its in some sort of distress, such as extreme dehydration in the desert heat, or after a night of unintentionally sloppy intoxication on the streets of Pittsburgh. Why do I crave Cherry Coke specifically? I still have no idea.

Fast forward to the 2011-12 hockey season, and I found myself ordering breakfast from that very same Kings location after my first Pens game in the new and spiffy CONSOL Energy Center. I wasn’t hung over (or pregnant), but for old times’ sake I ordered a glass of cherry flavoured Pepsi to go with my food and Frownie. My friend and I (partners in crime since the 2001-02 OHL season) had both been back to Pittsburgh since our now legendary inaugural trip, but not together. “Oh man,” I remarked after a reminiscent sip of my cherry beverage, “Do you remember my pregnancy scare the last time we were here?” I laughed as I took another sip, but truthfully I had nearly forgotten the whole thing. It’s funny how time can make us forget the lethal consequences of our bad behaviour, and I’d definitely be lying if I said I actually learned my lesson (for long) back then.

“Oh, do I ever,” she said, as I suspected she would. You see, over the past 3 years she has been my only source of information for filling in the holes of our first night out in Pittsburgh. A night that involved epic hair disasters, obnoxious rink side manner, mysterious appearing and disappearing nachos, Sidney Crosby autographs, Britney Spears tour buses, and merciless post game attacks on the manhood of certain Penguins players while under the influence of A LOT of various types of alcohol. What’s funny is that 3 years later, I am still learning new things about that first game. This time around I learned that we had taken a cab both to and from the bar after my friend had acquired the much sought after Sid the Kid autograph. I only remember walking away from the gathering of Crosby fans, and stumbling out of the bar while yelling, “Go home, Teenstache!” so I had always just assumed that the bar must have been close to the Igloo, and that we had walked. Not the case, apparently. The bar is actually quite far away, and what I don’t remember from that night could probably fill the pages of a sassy best selling novel.

I wish I could tell you that my first game day experience at the CONSOL Energy Center was just as insane as my first at Mellon Arena, but I can’t. Asia to North America jet lag is a serious bitch. For those of you that have never ventured to the far East, try to imagine the jet lag you get from flying between New York and LA, or Toronto and Vancouver, and then multiple it by a zillion. I am tired ALL. THE. TIME. In fact it was an effort for me NOT to fall asleep during the third period of the Pens/Canes game that night. They say it takes the body one day for every one hour of time difference to adjust from the jet lag, which means that for the 14 hour difference between Toronto and Tokyo, I’ll be adjusted to Eastern Time just as I’m boarding my flight back to Japan on January 8th. Perfect.

The hockey gods saw to it that I was properly welcomed back to the NHL by making me earn my seat at the rink only after conquering the extreme winter weather driving conditions they threw my way. I’m not going to lie, there were definitely some scary situations. We even saw a pick up truck spin out and go into the ditch. Surprisingly, despite being conditioned to cars built for driving on the opposite side of the road, I handled all challenges with, dare I say it, impressive ease. Unfortunately, the horrible weather resulted in a veto on a visit to the Primanti Bros. Strip location, and so, I was forced to get my Pittsburgher cheese steak fix at the rink that night instead. Sadly, it just wasn’t the same.

The post game experience also wasn’t even remotely epic, as a combination of jet lag and an incompetent driver that we swiped from the Marriott across the street from the Pittsburgh arenas by pretending to be guests. Take that, Penguins fans waiting in taxi stands like suckers! Instead of run ins with boys from the team (and obviously there was no babe-o-rama Hal Gill encounter this time either), or adult beverages of any kind, we wound up at your everyday, run of the mill McDonald’s. And if you really want to know, I ordered a caramel sundae as the caramel option is quite scarce in Japan. Exciting, I know.

Anyway, the morning after I was awake bright and early, as the jet lag sees to it that I don’t sleep when I’m supposed to, so I killed some time chewing on a Zagnut bar and manimal watching in the lobby of the same haunted hotel from my 09-10 season opener and double header extravaganza. I’m happy to report that nothing eerie happened this time around. There was one moment where we heard a strange noise that made our hair stand on end for a second, and the room was always a touch too cold, but who knows if that’s anything of importance. The important thing was that there was nothing flying around my hotel room this time!

The drive back to Leafs Nation that day was a little less stressful, and overall an invigorating experience. On my flight home from Narita, Japan on Christmas Eve, I felt like I had just awoken from a very bizarre dream. It was like I had never gone to Japan, and that the last 6+ months had been the product of a psychotic mind as she napped on her flight back from Tampa during the second round of last season’s playoffs. The problem was the reality of my imminent return to the other side of the planet hit me quite hard when I checked my emails from the comfort of my hotel bed the previous evening, and saw that I had a new prospective client back in Japan, and that soon I would return to that life for another 80 days at least.

I had actually been toying with the idea of staying in Japan for an extended period of time. Life over there can’t really be described as anything other than comfortable. It seemed like a waste not to try to make it work for a while, enjoy the world’s most authentic sushi, and learn all there is to know about the Asia League. However, SOME of you will be happy to know that after being back home, albeit for only a few days at this point, I’m not so sure that I can handle much more than the 80 days I have left on my prison sentence, I mean, contract. I think there is a very good chance that I will actually get on that flight on March 31st, and return to the NHL for the second time this season. Besides I feel like a terrible Canadian. After my Pens/Canes match up at CONSOL Energy Center, I have officially checked off ALL the US based NHL arenas from my hit list. How unpatriotic of me to have left Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg (though I don’t feel so bad about that one since it’s new and all) until the very end. Rectifying this situation is now my sole priority! Look out, Western Canada!

Traditional Consumption Figures for Pittsburgh:

Rockstar Energy Drinks: 2
Slim Jims: 3
Overpriced Arena Beer: 1 (Blame the jet lag.)
Primanti Bros: 1

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