Tag Archives: bus trip

26 Mar

IceDogs Road Trip to Peterborough

Thoughts and observations from Sunday’s road trip to Peterborough to see the IceDogs battle the Petes in Game 2 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

1. The bus was completely full and two people who showed up hoping for an empty seat were turned away. They probably could have filled up one or two buses more if the IceDogs had done something really radical like promote it on their website.

2. Kudos to the IceDogs for having our tickets ready in sealed envelopes before we even stepped on the bus. Normally, the IceDogs rep heads to the box office once we arrive and distributes our tickets there.

3. Once again, I was seemingly the only one on board not sporting any IceDogs paraphernalia. Yes, I’m cheap. Yes, I’m stubborn.

4. Fortunately, unlike last week’s trip to Mississauga, this was not the Drunken Seniors Bus. This group was quiet and well behaved.

5. Though he did keep the pedal to the metal, our driver was alert and attentive. It continues to amaze me how much more safety-conscious the bus drivers are here than they were in the Old Country.

6. En route, I spotted a couple of cars pulled over by the OPP. Given that 110-120 km/h is quite normal on the QEW and the 401, I wonder exactly how fast you have to be going before the boys in blue begin paying attention.

7. On the way there, the woman seated to my left helped herself to one of the mini sugar donuts someone was passing around. Along with the chocolate bar she had on the way back, she would have been better served to employ the Nancy Reagan approach. Just say no.

8. At the 403 split in Oakville, I spotted a Reimer Express truck. He was following a big rig from Bison Transport. Try as I might, I cannot escape the SPRM.

9. Speaking of the SPRM, I spotted this Manitoba-esque pothole on Highway 7 near Peterborough.

10. In spite of some stop-and-go traffic in the universe’s center, we arrived plenty early, allowing me some time to walk around and get some pictures outside.

I also had plenty of time for some shots around the concourse and seating area:

11. They do an outstanding job celebrating their past throughout the building. There are banners hanging from the rafters honoring Roger Neilson, Scotty Bowman, Bob Gainey and Steve Yzerman, among others. There is also a Peterborough Sports Hall of Fame, which I toured before the game.

This Jets jersey from Doug Evans understandably grabbed my attention.


As did these two. The Sabres jersey is from Craig Ramsay, the last Thrashers coach, and the Utah Grizzlies jersey is from Mark McArthur, who I once saw play in the IHL.

12. As I was snapping pictures, someone came up to me to point out a jersey and medal from a member of a women’s hockey team. As they say after the visiting team scores at an IceDogs game, who cares.

13. On the way in, there was no security detail assigned to rifle through women’s purses and such.

14. I toured the souvenir shop and quickly discovered that their prices are just as outrageous as the IceDogs’ are. Given the differences in the price points, a junior team charging $120 for a jersey is the moral equivalent of an NHL team charging $1,000. Certainly no one expects them to give their stuff away, but a price of $70 or $80 would be much more appropriate. And just because everyone else in the league gouges doesn’t make it right.

15. We were seated in their Family Zone, where no alcohol is permitted. Egad! What a novel concept.


16. The sections of this Family Zone were, in order, 18, 19, 17. You can’t make stuff like this up.


17. There was an incredibly steep incline as I walked up to my seat high up in the nosebleed section. There was also next to no leg room. It reminded me of the upper deck at the Winnipeg Arena.

17a. Fortunately, there were no sunflower seed shells in my shorts after I got home.

18. Despite how quiet things were on the bus, there was no lack of enthusiasm around me and among the group. A few seats to my left was someone with a flashing goal light, a giant flag and a bullhorn. On either side of me were two guys screaming at the top of their lungs all night long as if the players and officials could hear them. The guy to my left candidly admitted he might not get his voice back until Tuesday, but I’m surprised it lasted until the third period.

19. The P.A. announcer unnecessarily introduced himself before the game, though at least he didn’t lead off with his name, as if he were the star of the show.

20. The mascot for the Peterborough Petes is not named Pete, but Roger. As I suspected, it is a tribute to the late Roger Neilson, the Petes’ former coach.

21. The anthem singer performed one of the slowest renditions of O Canada I had ever heard, but at least she was fully dressed and sang it entirely in the Canadian language.

22. After the first period, they flashed a message on the scoreboard with a welcome to those on the Niagara IceDogs Fan Bus.


23. During the intermission, Roger came out with a rat cannon reminiscent of Fighting Moose days, but he only fired a few T-shirts into the crowd before making a hasty retreat.

23a. The more I see of other mascots around the OHL, the more I appreciate Bones.

24. Unlike the Mississauga game, the IceDogs came ready to play and put in a spirited effort from start to finish. After Aaron Haydon’s blood had to be scraped off the ice, the IceDogs erased a 1-0 deficit to take a 2-1 lead after one period. They held the lead until late in the second, only to have Peterborough score twice within a minute to take a 3-2 lead to the dressing room. Undaunted, the visitors kept fighting in the third, but were stopped on a breakaway and couldn’t score on a two-minute two-man advantage. Soon after, Peterborough scored to effectively put an end to the competitive phase of the game.

25. Each time the IceDogs scored, everyone in our group stood up and cheered. Except for me. I wish I cared more. But I don’t. I was there for writing fodder and good stories. Which I got. Oh, and highway pictures, of which I got plenty. Soon to appear on a website near you.

26. Each time the Petes scored, an older woman seated in the lower rows stood up and waved what looked to be a dark red bra. I don’t get it. And that’s probably a good thing.

27. Early in the second period, the particularly rabid fan to my left was genuinely surprised when he looked at the scoreboard and saw that the IceDogs were leading 2-1. He had forgotten Ryan Mantha’s first-period goal and thought the game was tied. Only after a fellow fan seated nearby jogged his memory did the light go on. This was the same guy who probably thought I wasn’t paying much attention.

28. After a frustrating episode later in the game, the same guy responded with an F-bomb, but quickly apologized. This is definitely not the Old Country, where such salty locker-room vernacular is part and parcel of daily life.

29. A “Carly J” was one of the winners of a prize as announced on the scoreboard later in the game. Once again, I knew I was not alone.

30. As the end of the game grew ever closer, with a freezing rain warning overnight, I couldn’t help but think back to the late Mike Doran, John Ferguson’s right hand man, who was severely injured in a car accident in 1984 on his way to a game in Peterborough. For that reason, I was especially relieved when our bus pulled up safely in the parking lot at the Meridian Center.

31. There was a surprising amount of traffic out and about given the lateness of the hour. Too much traffic, in fact. As they say, nothing good happens after dark.

20 Mar

IceDogs Road Trip to Mississauga

Thoughts and observations from Sunday afternoon’s road trip to Mississauga:

1. It was officially called the “7th Man Caravan,” but it might have been better termed a “Carabus,” since we went in six school buses along with one wheelchair van.

2. Despite getting there well ahead of time, there was already a large gathering in place when I got there. One thing I’ve noticed about people in this part of the world is that they are exceptionally early, so the fault lies with me. I should have known better.


3. Brianne from the IceDogs office was running around like a chicken with her head cut off trying to organize the large crowd. Though I got the impression that this was a task she had little experience with, it is fair to point out that one person should not have been left to herd so many people. They should have had two or three, at least. It’s not as though they didn’t know we were coming.

4. I was directed into the first bus, which was already half full, as the second was being saved for kids and families. Little could I have known that it was going to end up as the Drunken Seniors Bus, as I was, by far, the youngest person on the bus, and the only sober passenger by the time the day was done.


5. Waiting for the bus to take off, I listened as chatter filled the air. Some of it was about the IceDogs’ playoff chances, but most of it involved their woes in traveling to and from their warm-weather getaway destinations. One couple had cruised the Panama Canal, others had stayed at Mexican resorts, while another couple had been in Cuba. That couple spoke about the time in which their tour company had gone bankrupt, and they were left having to foot the bill or risk not being let out of the country. By far the biggest gripe was with the airlines, and Sun Wing seemed to get the worst reviews.

5a. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure how much I’d have to be paid to go to one of those Latin American or Caribbean countries.

6. Even before we took off, the booze began flowing. Not just beer, but hard liquor was on tap and it quickly began circulating throughout the bus. One particular brew was sickly orange in color and reminded me of the penicillin I used to take so often as a child.

7. In addition to the booze, people were taking advantage of the free popcorn in two dog dishes making their way up and down the aisle as well as the bag of stinky salt and vinegar chips. People will eat anything, regardless of what it is or who has handled it.

8. As Joe, our driver, drove at breakneck speed down the QEW, many on the bus began posting stills and video to Facebook and Twitter. Despite claims to the contrary, the older generation has indeed embraced social media.

9. Looking around, I realized I was seemingly the only one on the bus not wearing any IceDogs paraphernalia. Of course, I don’t own any, though I suppose I may reluctantly give in at some point and buy something. Maybe. I’m not eager to pay those exorbitant prices.

10. After taking the Hurontario Street exit, our bus pulled up alongside a MiWay bus. Made by New Flyer. Try as I might, I can’t escape the SPRM.


11. We made it to the Hershey Center in just over an hour. As many drivers in this part of the world can attest, the 100 km/h speed limit is, in reality, a minimum.

12. After getting some shots around the Hershey Center, I went to find my seat, and for the first time ever at a sporting event, I need the help of an usher. The poorly marked section 14 had a seat 8, but not a seat 108 that I could see. It turned out to be next to seat 6.


Silly me for not knowing better.

12a. The usher’s name was the same as the father of the family that bought our house in the Old Country. The family that moved to Winnipeg from Mississauga. Ruminate on that one for a while.

13. Off to my right, I couldn’t help but notice a picture of the Queen, a fixture at the old Winnipeg Arena. Along with the dull, drab concrete concourse, I had the feeling that I was back in the Old Country. Luckily, there was no trough in the washroom.


14. Speaking of the washroom, I couldn’t help but notice someone who was letting out a big yawn after leaving a stall. Was what he was doing so physically exhausting or did he just fall asleep in there?

14a. Not that this surprises me here anymore, but there was a lineup waiting to use the sink. This is another pleasant change from the Old Country.

15. Seated in the next section to my right were Bill and Denise Burke, the owners who had driven down in their white Beemer. I was not the only one to notice their presence and during the second period, one fan ran down to take a selfie with Bill. He reluctantly smiled for his customer, but after the guy left to go back to his seat, the boss shook his head in disgust.


16. Before the game, the Steelheads introduced their mascot. “Sauga.” How original. It must have been named by the same person who wanted to call Bones “Saint.”

17. The IceDogs’ cheering section gave their heroes a hearty ovation when they came out to start the game, and they probably outnumbered the hometown team’s supporters. To borrow a line from Slap Shot, good seats were still available.

18. It was odd seeing the players turn to the side to face the flag during the playing of O Canada instead of facing one of the ends. It’s the only rink I’ve ever seen that in.

19. They just played a recording of O Canada rather than have a live singer. I can’t say I prefer one over the other.

20. It was nice of the Steelheads to give a warm welcome to those of us who had come from St. Catharines and across Niagara.

21. The IceDogs needed a point to secure the eighth and final playoff Eastern Conference berth, but you’d never have known it from their lackluster play. I saw more intensity from Jets when they were rolling over for the Oilers in the playoffs during the 1980s.

21a. I’m not bitter. Really, I’m not. OK, yes, I am.

22. The loudmouth seated in front of me berating referee Bob Marley all afternoon long would have been better served directing his anger towards the team in white. Not that I’ll rush to defend OHL officials, but when you fail to answer the bell with your season on the line, you have no right to blame the ref. Even if he is a moron, as the loudmouth kept suggesting.

23. Just when I was getting the impression that they wouldn’t have scored if they played all day, the IceDogs managed to break the shutout in the third period. Based on the reaction from the faithful, you’d have thought they just netted the game-winner in sudden-death overtime.

24. Every crowd has a Howie Meeker clone and I had one seated to my left. But even his enthusiasm waned as the game wore on. He was curious about my note taking, but didn’t care enough to ask me about it. And he’s certainly not alone.

25. As the IceDogs were getting blown out, the Kingston-North Bay score became the dominant topic of conversation in the third period. Fortunately for the boys in white, Kingston rallied to beat North Bay to give the IceDogs a playoff berth they neither earned nor deserved.

26. In a classy gesture, the IceDogs raised their sticks in our direction after the game to salute us for coming to cheer them on.

26a. Based on how they had played, it was a gesture I did not feel inclined to reciprocate.

27. Booze dominated the return trip. Not only was plenty being consumed, but many around me were bragging about their drinking exploits in past bus trips.

28. I’ve made the observation in the past that there is nothing more abused than a hockey player’s liver. In this case, it might also apply to a hockey fan’s liver.

29. I could only wonder what would befall these poor souls if they were to ever reintroduce prohibition. Those folks had some serious alcohol-dependency issues.

30. Despite the high level of intoxication among the alcohol-dependent passengers, I only heard the F-bomb used once. This is definitely not the Old Country.

31. Joe again drove at breakneck speed to get us back to St. Catharines quickly. Too quickly. Between Burlington and Hamilton, he even passed a bus from Safeway Tours. The Safeway driver seemed to take offense and pulled into the next lane to try and regain the lead, but Joe would have none of that and kept the pole position all the way to the 406. As someone on the bus said, “Give Joe the checkered flag!”

07 May

London Calling

On Thursday evening, I was one of a busload of fans who went to see the IceDogs take on the Knights in London in the opening game of the OHL’s championship series. It would mark the first time I had been at a championship series of any league in person since the Jets were in the WHA. Yes, it’s been a long time.

As those of you who know me would expect, I was one of the first to arrive at the Jack, where I spotted this woman passed out on the front steps of the IceDogs’ former home rink.

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From the looks of her, she was probably homeless, and someone who our mayor, Walter L. Sendzik (the “L” stands for Liberal), would no doubt like the city to reach out to as part of his “compassionate city model.”

Though apparently lacking the wherewithal to put a roof over her head, she did, however, have the resources to care and feed for the animal in the pink cage. She also dug out a cigarette and lit up before leaving to make way for the gathering crowd.

And I’m supposed to feel sorry for her. Those who are big believers in the social determinants of health obviously conveniently overlook cases like this.

But I digress.

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Before the bus came, I chatted briefly with the other early birds who were waiting. One couple had been on every single road trip since the team moved to St. Catharines in 2007 and a couple of others told stories about how they had been treated in other cities. By and large, it seemed to be an older crowd and it would prove to be a significantly less rowdy bunch than the group who went to Brown’s Town, undoubtedly due to the fact that it was a weekday. I strongly suspect that Saturday’s road trip for Game 2 will be much different and it was probably a blessing in disguise that it was sold out before I could get my name on the list.

Once the bus pulled up to the curb, we all piled on and once again, many brought their coolers full of beer. Since getting highway pictures is more important to me than the game, I undoubtedly get chastised for my ulterior motives when going on these road trips, but the many who gorge themselves on beer have no room to talk. For them, IceDogs hockey is but one of many convenient excuses to get drunk.

One of the more than 50 passengers on board was the owner of Pete’s Pizza, a local chain with many locations in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls. He brought five boxes of pizza on board for the group and on the way, someone walked up and down the aisle offering free pizza. As I was busy taking pictures during the two-hour ride to London, I declined, but it was a nice gesture and worthy of a free plug.

With everyone present and accounted for, we took off just after 3:30 into the thick of rush-hour traffic.

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It was stop and go on the Red Hill Valley Parkway and the Linc, but once we got onto the 403 and left the Hamilton area, traffic moved pretty smoothly.

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Of the many highway pictures I got en route to London, this one in Brantford stood out. As a five-year Winnipeg Jets season ticket holder who saw the Jets roll over so often for Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers, I somehow resisted the urge to blurt out, “Gretzky Sucks!” Old grudges die hard.

Moving on, when we got to Woodstock and merged onto the 401, perhaps the biggest surprise of the ride for me was seeing how much busier the 401 was in this area as compared to the stretch between C.U. and Kingston when we went to Ottawa last year.

Upon reaching London, we exited the 401 at Highbury Avenue and proceeded north for a long tour of the city of over 360,000.

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I spotted these signs along Hamilton Road. Details of this tree trunk tour are left as an exercise to the reader, as I didn’t care enough to check as to what this was all about.

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Making our way through downtown, we pulled up to the Budweiser Gardens and walked across the street as Nick Williams of the IceDogs went to get our tickets.

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Outside Budweiser Gardens.

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Nick was nice enough to give me a seat on the aisle and when they opened the doors, I made a little tour of the rink.

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In the stands. I noted with considerable interest that in a facility named for a popular brand of beer, they had an alcohol-free section, one that I would be a regular in if I lived in London.

To my astonishment, the glass behind the goaltender was even in worse shape that it is at the Meridian Center. I didn’t think that was possible. Then again, the Budweiser Gardens has been around a lot longer than the Meridian Center has.

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Though I had snuck in some food of my own, I paid attention to the offerings and prices at the concessions, as I am always fascinated by the exorbitant prices people are willing to pay for food at sporting events. A hot dog would set you back $4.75, as would a slice of pizza, and even a chocolate bar could not be had for less than $4.25. There were some other options that I could have availed myself of, such as chicken fingers and fries for $7.75, but didn’t.

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Looking outside toward downtown from the 300 level.

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I then headed to my seat high up in the upper deck. The term “nosebleed section” doesn’t do it justice as I had to make the steep climb up to row J. For the benefit of readers in the SPRM, the only rink I’ve been in with a steeper incline was the upper deck at the old Winnipeg Arena.

Interestingly, row J was located one row behind row H. I’m still not sure what happened to row I. Perhaps they’re using a special London alphabet. In any event, this was probably the highest elevation in southwestern Ontario. To say the least, anyone who has a problem with heights needs to avoid the upper deck at the Budweiser Gardens.

Despite the mild temperatures outside, the area where we were sitting was downright cold and even though I had a light jacket on, I was freezing all night long.

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Moments before the pregame introductions, a gentleman from our bus took the seat next to me. He would provide me with more fodder for a future book than the game itself. For the sake of discussion, let’s just call him Jack.

Jack likes beer and I suspect he was well on his way to becoming inebriated even before stepping inside the building. He brought a cooler on board when we went to Brown’s Town and though I didn’t notice this time around, he undoubtedly did likewise on this trip.

Before they even dropped the puck, Jack had made two beer runs, getting his limit of two beers each time. Later in the game, he made another trip and picked up two more cans of his favorite beverage. All told, at $9 a pop, the six beers at the game set him back $54, to say nothing of the beer he probably brought on board what would be termed the “booze bus.”

For the record, after checking their website, a six-pack would have run him $13.95 at LCBO. Plus KST, of course.

In the understatement of the month, Jack is not a careful shopper.

Later in the game, Jack would visit the concessions and both purchase and eat a plate of poutine. From the looks of it, he spent another $6.50 for fries that had been held underneath the back end of a cow with diarrhea.

Jack also has a booming voice. His often-repeated lines of “Come on boys,” “Let’s go boys,” and “Get ‘er done,” resonated in my eardrums during and long after the game. I have no doubt that, despite our distance from the ice and the noise from the other 9,000 screaming fans, some of the players could actually hear him.

No player could move a muscle without a comment from Jack. He was, if nothing else, on top of the action.

Evidently needing some exercise to go along with his beer runs and subsequent trips to the washroom to unload his rented beer, he stood up at one point during the game and did some light calisthenics, swinging his arms around, barely missing me. One loyal reader will understand the reference to a former colleague whose first name rhymes with “truce” who used to do this with regularity during meetings before leaving our place of employment under a cloud.

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Moving on from our friend Jack, I noticed there was a second IceDogs rooting section at the other end of the ice. Seated in the front row were the Burkes along with Wayne Gates, the Communist MPP for Niagara Falls, and the ghost of Jim Bradley. There are unconfirmed rumors circulating around town that he’s still our MPP. But again, I digress.

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Following the pregame introductions, the anthem singer took the microphone. He was good, fully clothed and performed O Canada entirely in the Canadian language. He even paused midway through to allow the crowd to take over for a few verses.

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After the opening faceoff, I noticed how Josh Ho-Sang was booed each time he touched the puck. No doubt, there was some past history dating back to the days when he played for Windsor. There was also a chant for London’s Cliff Pu every time he touched the puck. There was something odd, however, about having 9,000 or so people yelling “poo.”

As I looked around the rink during the play, at the entrance to the ramps in the lower bowl were ads for several real estate agents, one of them being George Georgopolous. All I can say is that it must have been a difficult pregnancy for his mother.

During the first period, London’s Matthew Tkachuk, son of Captain Weasel, the ever-disgruntled ex-captain of the real Jets, was involved in a little fracas. From what I saw, he’s a chip off the old block. He took and doled out plenty of abuse in front of the IceDogs’ net, was certain to be at the center of any display of hostility and took a couple of dives. For his sake, I hope he didn’t inherit his father’s legendary immaturity.

As for the game, which was almost a secondary concern, following a scoreless first period, the IceDogs scored first on somewhat of a fluky goal just after Alex Nedeljkovic stopped Captain Weasel, Jr. on a breakaway. From there, however, it was all downhill. London scored twice before the end of the second and added two more in the third.

As the third period was winding down and the fans were chanting “warm up the bus,” it reminded me of the opening game against Oshawa last season. In that series, the IceDogs lost in five games to a vastly superior team who outclassed them in every respect. I can only hope it doesn’t turn out that way in this series.

Needless to say, it was a rather subdued bunch who reboarded the bus after the game for the ride back to St. Catharines. Nonetheless, as always, it was an interesting and enjoyable experience.

26 Apr

IceDogs Road Trip to Brown’s Town

On Saturday, I was one of a busload of fans who headed north to watch the IceDogs take on the hometown Barrie Colts in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. It would mark my fourth road trip with the IceDogs and second to Barrie, having gone there on the trip last January.

Despite the fact that the team did not publish the trip on its website, Facebook page or Twitter account, they had a full bus of 56 fans and even had to turn some people away. I only heard about it by accident, but I was glad I did. Maybe it’s one of those “you’re just supposed to know”™ things I’ve seen so frequently since coming to this part of the world.

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As loyal readers who know me would expect, I was among the first to arrive at the Jack, where we were scheduled to leave at 4:00.

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As I was talking to a couple of the early arrivers, a couple of pillars of society passed us by.

While we continued chatting about the IceDogs’ improbable run in the playoffs, conversation elsewhere turned to beer. One fan wondered whether or not it would be allowed on the bus and after finding out that they turn a blind eye to it, debated making a run to the nearest beer store on Welland Avenue. I know I’m in the minority, but I’m proud of the fact that I don’t get the attraction to alcoholic beverages.

Nick Williams of the IceDogs arrived around 3:20 to take our money, then the bus pulled up around 3:30. While the others were drawn to the back, I climbed on board and dropped anchor in the front seat so I could get some good highway pictures of 400 between C.U. and Barrie. All told, I would collect more than 130 quality shots, soon to appear on a website near you.

Before we took off, a gentleman seated right behind me asked if I knew where we were sitting. As we began talking, it turns out that not only was he born in the degenerate capital of the SPRM, but he was also born at the same hospital I was. What are the odds?

With everyone on board, we left just before 4:00. As there were no empty seats on the bus, Nick had to bum a ride up to Barrie with one of the many others who were driving up on their own, leaving Matt Johnston in charge of the group. Fans may recall it was Matt who was married at center ice during the second intermission of a game at the Meridian Center earlier this season.

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The late Saturday afternoon traffic in and around the Center of the Universe failed to dampen the enthusiasm on the bus as “Go Dogs Go” chants broke out at regular intervals.

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In spite of the traffic, we still made good time and pulled into Barrie around 6:00. Matt went and got our tickets and we had time to kill before they opened the doors at 6:30.

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After the doors opened, I first went through the team store. Prices, if anything, were even higher than the outrageous amounts the IceDogs charge for their merchandise. For example, a youth hoodie was priced at $89.99. Junior hockey operators seem blissfully unaware that they are not catering to a champagne and caviar crowd wearing suits and ties.

On this night, I would have loved to have been showing my hometown team’s colors, but I flatly refuse to give the IceDogs $120+ for a jersey.

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Moving on, I toured the concourse and got some shots in the stands. Rally towels were on the backs of every seat in the rink, except for those in our section. It was an awfully petty gesture, but IceDogs fans would have the last laugh in the end.

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In the concourse, I spotted several IceDogs players kicking around a soccer ball.

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I was not the only one to stop for some pictures.

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During the warmup, I noticed the ad on the boards for Patrick Brown, leader of the opposition and the next premier of Ontario. Brown hails from this area and was the MP for Barrie before seeking the leadership of the Ontario PC Party. I had the pleasure of meeting him when he came through St. Catharines and did ultimately vote for him when it came time to cast my ballot as a party member.

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Just before the start of the game, Charlie Horse, the Colts’ mascot, paid us a visit. As I observed last year, he doesn’t nearly have the same engaging personality Bones does and for as little as he contributes to the fan experience, they might as well not even bother with a mascot.

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Once the game began, the IceDogs controlled much of the first period, but they weren’t able to get on the board until early in the second when the prime minister scored to send section 118 into a frenzy.

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The lead became 2-0 after Anthony DiFruscia scored from in front of the net, displaying a dexterity with the puck he hasn’t shown in the last two years.

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There were IceDogs fans throughout the rink, but most of us were concentrated in one section, where chants of “Let’s Go IceDogs” and “Ned … Ned … Ned” were raging. After each goal, the “Yes … Yes … Yes” chant also filled the air.

Barrie narrowed the gap with an early third-period goal, but Graham Knott’s marker at the 6:32 mark restored the two-goal lead.

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Brendan Perlini’s goal later in the third all but put the game away, and the IceDogs fans began serenading the Barrie fans on their way to the exits.

Late in the game, acting every bit the part of sore losers, one of the Barrie players took a run at Josh Ho-Sang and was lucky only to get a two-minute penalty on the play. As Ho-Sang was getting to his feet, I can only wonder what might have been if their coach, Dale Hawerchuk, had shown that kind of fire when he played with the Jets, a team that rolled over far too often for Edmonton when I was a Jets season ticket holder.

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In any event, the IceDogs cruised to a 4-1 victory, and after the game, just as they did in Ottawa a year earlier, they came by and saluted us on their way off the ice in a classy gesture.

Fans were in high spirits as they made their way out toward the bus, but things quietened down soon after we started rolling and it was a rather uneventful ride under a full moon back to St. Catharines. We pulled into the Jack at 12:20, and I was back home just after 1:00. It was another winning experience in more ways than one.

29 Oct

An Erie Feeling

Earlier this week, I was on a shopping trip bound for Erie and Grove City, PA. Unlike the others, however, my purpose was not to shop, but to explore Erie and digitally capture many of its sights.

Before boarding in St. Catharines, our tour director issued me a name tag and told me to sit “anywhere you want.” Since I didn’t get an itinerary beforehand, I asked for one and was told rather snottily, “You’ll get one.” The lack of assigned seating is most uncommon, and this was the first bus tour I was on where the itinerary was guarded like a state secret.

Following the last pickup point at Thorold Stone Road in Niagara Falls, our tour director introduced herself and our driver. Since my experiences with them and the tour company are not all positive, I shall not name them publicly.

Our tour director noted that our driver was female, which was a first for me on a bus trip. Much like her male counterparts I’ve had on other bus trips since coming to Ontario, however, she was a good, safe driver who was attentive and alert at all times. It continues to amaze me as to how much better the drivers are here in Ontario than in the SPRM, where I’ve often wanted to kiss the ground after stepping off the bus.

Between Niagara Falls and Fort Erie, our tour director mentioned that there were 42 passengers on board, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of them were seniors. Being a shopping trip, I was expecting a busload of teenage princesses. Only two of the passengers were male, and our tour director, unaware as yet as to my purpose for coming along, referred to us as “pack mules.”

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The first official stop, and the only stop besides the one at U.S. customs, came at the Peace Bridge Duty Free store. Before going in, someone from the store came on board to explain our exemptions, then held a drawing for two $10 gift cards. I made no effort to answer the ridiculously easy questions to qualify, since I figured there would be nothing there I would want. After walking around the store, my instincts proved to be correct. The only thing of interest for me there was the free bathroom.

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There was no lineup on the bridge itself, but we had the misfortune of being behind a Greyhound as well as another bus filled with international passengers.

During the hour-long wait, our tour director finally decided pass out copies of the itinerary. As she passed my seat, I made a point to tell her that I would be going my own way tomorrow and not to hold up the bus on my account. While speaking, I could immediately see the bubble caption forming over her head with a big question mark inside of it. With her brain on serious overload, she asked, “Uh, so you’re not checking in at the hotel?”

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Slowly, and carefully, I had to repeat myself, but the concept of someone doing what they wanted to do on a trip was something she could not seem to understand. I think she finally got her head around it a couple of days later, but for all I know, her head might still be spinning.

Reading the vague and skimpy itinerary, I wasn’t the only one who noticed we were scheduled to go shopping immediately after our arrival in Erie instead of first checking in at the hotel. One woman seated in front of me, understandably weary after spending the entire day on the bus, stopped the tour director on her way back up front and asked if it would be possible to go to the hotel first.

Evidently still trying to process what I had told her, the befuddled tour director just couldn’t understand the simple request, and the poor passenger eventually gave up the fight after trying time and again to make herself clear.

While this was going on, memories of the SPRM came raging back as a truck from Bison Transport pulled up next to us. Loyal readers may recall my last crossing at the Peace Bridge when a truck from Reimer Express passed me by.

In good time, we were allowed to pull up into the bus lane next to the customs office, where our driver went outside to light up. This would be a recurring pattern throughout the trip. During every break, long or short, she would never miss an opportunity to smoke, often right next to the door. On one occasion, she lit up inside the bus before stepping outside, and on another, she blew some smoke inside. I’ve encountered many smokers before, but few with this strong of an addiction. She needs help. Seriously.

When the CBP officials finished with the bus in front of us, we all had to go inside and present our passports, and they had us in and out in a flash. The only question I was asked was, “Are you Curtis?” before being ushered off to the side with the other passengers. As is normally the case on these bus trips, they knew we were coming and had already pre-screened us, so there was no need for further interrogation.

After clearing customs and once out of the Buffalo area, our tour director then put on a movie to irritate us all the way to the Quaker State.

In Erie, before dropping us off at Target, our tour director regaled us with the first of two stories on how hard it is for her to find shoes to fit her 9½-size feet. This is not information we needed to know. She also made a specific point to make sure we leave our passports on the bus. My immediate reaction to that announcement was, “Are you nuts?” That will be the frosty Friday I’ll leave my passport unattended.

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While the others made their way through Target, I went up and down Peach Street for my first Pennsylvania highway sign pictures, soon to appear on a website near you.

In a recurring theme over the next couple of days, I would discover that this area is anything but pedestrian-friendly.

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Where there were sidewalks out in the suburbs, they would be like this one, beginning and ending in the middle of grassy patches. Either build one to cover the whole route or don’t bother at all. It’s like building a bridge that only goes halfway across a river.

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On the way, I spotted a haggard old bum slumped on the sidewalk near the eastbound I-90 on-ramp looking to thumb a ride. Along with his long, straggly beard and his dishevelled appearance, he had the look of someone who had just crawled out of a dumpster. My jaw nearly hit the pavement when I saw a woman in 30s or 40s actually stopping to pick this guy up. She should consider herself very fortunate if all she got from this encounter was a car full of fleas.

Before returning to the bus, I spotted a billboard showing the name and mug shot of a wanted man. I could only imagine how bleeding-heart socialists would decry stigmatizing those involved with the criminal justice system. After all, crime is just a theory. Or not.

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Moving on, we finally checked into the hotel around 5:00. Despite being pet-friendly, the room was clean, and there was little smell throughout the hotel. For anyone considering a visit to Erie, I can recommend it.

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The following morning, I caught the M3 bus to downtown Erie, and purchased a day pass from the driver for $2.70. Even though it isn’t that far to the downtown bus terminal, it is a long ride because it goes into each of the malls along the way instead of directly down Peach Street. The bus, however, was clean, with no graffiti, vomit, used gum or condom wrappers anywhere to be seen, unlike the case in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.

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At Millcreek Mall, one guy who was trying to skip out on the fare was giving the driver a song and dance about there being a problem with his transfer. The driver gave him a hard time, but the guy eventually ended up with a free ride.

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After getting to the downtown bus terminal, I went inside to take advantage of the free washroom. I was pleased to see that the washroom and the entire terminal were spotlessly clean and free of bums. As I’ve said before, this is a concept I could get used to.

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On the way to nearby Dobbins Landing, I passed by the Erie County Library and the 9/11 memorial.

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In front of the library, I spotted this painted frog.

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I spotted many others around town during the day, including this one on 26th Street. I would later learn that they were part of the 2004 Lake Erie Art Project.

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Sadly, the tower at Dobbins Landing is only open on weekends at this time of year, but I was able to get some other shots around the area.

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The marker at the end of the pier.

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Overlooking Presque Isle State Park, which I understand is great place for a cyclist to visit.

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The Sheraton hotel and adjacent Bayfront Convention Center.

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The walkway between the hotel and convention center. I tried getting there through the Sheraton, but you need a key card to get up to the eighth floor.

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Elsewhere around the harbor.

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I headed back towards downtown, and after passing by Gannon University, I was again asked for directions, as is most often the case on every trip I take over the border. Unfortunately for the lost tourist, I was unable to help.

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Immediately after turning on to 12th Street/PA 5, I saw this big rig from Ward Trucking. Spotting a truck from them on PA 5 was no accident. Longtime readers will understand.

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Before continuing west, I made a detour to the post office and train station.

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I did a double-take when I saw this mural painted on the side of a nearby road.

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I know that one loyal reader will laugh at the mural along with this offering at a convenience store I spotted later in the day.

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That same loyal reader will also enjoy seeing this shot of the Erie Central Fire Station back at 12th Street.

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I didn’t cover the most scenic areas of the city, but I was amazed as to amount of industry they have there.

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I then headed south along Raspberry Street, where I came across this park, which reminded me of a place in northeast Minneapolis. I stopped for a few minutes at the bench near the gazebo to rest and write some notes before moving on.

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My next target was 26th Street and pictures of US 20.

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On the way, I saw this sign outside someone’s house. It’s not exactly a welcome mat.

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I would also spot this unfriendly greeting painted on a house farther down the street. Have a rotten day yourself.

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This is the kind of thing I would have come up with.

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Another of their buses.

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It must be election time around there as well. I much prefer the American system to the Canadian one, but having to vote on the coroner and constable is going overboard.

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I stopped at this Vietnam veterans memorial near State Street for another rest. I could really have used a lunch break at this point, but I can never seem to find a Subway when I need one. When I’m not in need, however, there’s seemingly one on every street corner.

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Continuing on, I walked past Beirut Auto Sales towards the junction of PA 8 and PA 97. Sadly, I was not exactly welcomed with open arms in this neighborhood, and I have no doubt the locals hanging out on the street are still scratching their heads wondering about the dude who was walking around taking pictures of highway signs. Needless to say, I got my pictures and got out of Dodge, watching my back all the while.

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I couldn’t resist this shot. Is it a blind crossing for pedestrians or a crossing for blind pedestrians?

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Farther north on State Street, I finally found a Subway, but not before walking through a dark railway underpass very reminiscent of the Higgins and Main underpass readers from the SPRM can relate to. I was careful not to make myself an easy target for the would-be hoodlum hiding behind a post and his likely accomplice on the other side eyeing me up.

I spent about a half hour at that Subway recouping some lost energy while listening to a couple of infants screaming and bawling. Once they left, someone came around to clean up, wiping down the tables and the seats with the same rag. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it, and I know it won’t be the last. That’s why I only eat out when I have to.

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After the break, I covered more of the downtown area, passing by the Erie Insurance Arena, home of the OHL’s Erie Otters, whom I’ve seen in St. Catharines three times already.

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One of Erie Insurance’s buildings. Their complex covers an entire block and the grounds are meticulously well-kept.

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The Erie Art Museum. Like the St. Catharines Library, they’re closed on Monday.

Later in the afternoon, I ended up back at the waterfront and the bus terminal, where I caught the bus back to the hotel. It was anything but an enjoyable ride, as it was jam-packed with foul-mouthed teenagers whose favorite words were “like” and another four-letter word beginning with “F.” Making matters worse was that a big, fat guy so large they should have charged him two fares got on and sat right next to me.

The following morning, hotel staff picked up our bags and took them to the bus, then we got on for more shopping around the Millcreek Mall before heading home. Upon boarding, all of us were thrown for a loop when our tour director, without any prior announcement, stuck seat rotation tags throughout the coach. The move was most unwelcome for those who had already stuffed many bags in their overhead compartments.

I had initially assumed the reason for the seat shuffle was to allow those getting off first to sit up front, making it easier at each dropoff point. It would have been a logical thing to do, but our tour director instead must have just drawn names out of a hat. There was a couple from London in front of me and beside me was a woman from Collingwood.

The new crowd around me did make for some different chatter, however. Seated behind me were someone who was fawning over the many dogs she owns before announcing, “Oh, my butt has grown bigger,” as if it was a badge of honor. Later, she would lean across the aisle and ask, “Do you have a beer to borrow?”

While the others went to shop, I took the opportunity to get some more pictures, treading very carefully in the busy, pedestrian-unfriendly area around the mall.

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I couldn’t resist this shot for a former colleague. I’m sure he will take note that his name is spelled in upper case.

There was one particularly interesting episode when I went behind the mall to get a shot of I-79. As I was taking pictures, a security van quickly pulled up, evidently to make sure I wasn’t up to no good. I would later spot that security officer strutting around the mall with his 10-gallon hat like he was a state trooper. Some people do let their job titles go to their head.

Following a lengthy stay at the mall, we made an hour-long stop at Wegmans grocery store, then left for home. En route, we were treated to another annoying movie, interspersed with instructions on how to fill out our declaration cards for the CBSA. At Canadian customs, we had to go inside the office and present our passports and declaration cards, but we were in and out in 12 minutes.

As we made our way down the QEW, I couldn’t help but reflect back on the many bus trips I made to Minneapolis, when I dreaded the prospect of returning to the SPRM. This time around, it was completely different. I was genuinely happy to be returning home, and it was an awfully nice feeling. All the hassle and effort we expended in relocating to St. Catharines continues to pay off.

At the dropoff point, both the driver and tour director seemed a little miffed when I left without giving a tip. For the driver, forcing someone with sinus problems to walk through a cloud of smoke at each stop doesn’t warrant any financial reward. With the tour director, had there been a collection going around, I would have been seriously tempted to take money out. She was annoying, less than organized, and very self-absorbed. I would have enjoyed the trip more had she stayed home.

As for Erie itself, there are nicer parts to the city, including the zoo and Presque Isle State Park, but I didn’t have a chance to see them on this trip. I hope to if I make a return visit.

11 Apr

IceDogs Road Trip to Oshawa

Last night, I was one of 32 fans who made the trip to Oshawa to see the IceDogs open their second-round best-of-seven series against the Generals at the General Motors Center.

While waiting between the double doors at the Jack for our bus to arrive, many others including me were amazed at what a beehive of activity the IceDogs’ former home was on this late Friday afternoon. We could only presume there was a tournament going on as endless streams of kids and their parents kept shuttling back and forth. Space inside was evidently at such a premium that one of the teams had to go to the parking lot across the street to do their pregame stretching.

Among the many parents with their kids was one gentleman who was wearing a jersey from the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club. Yuck! Double yuck! As a good friend and loyal reader would say, “Loser!”

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I was relieved when our bus came so we could get out of the way of all the hustle and bustle. Thinking they had been hired to pick up the team, the dispatcher sent the driver to the Meridian Center and only after inquiring inside did he then come to meet us at the Jack. Our driver was excellent once again, but I knew he wasn’t much of a fan when he asked me what league this was.

The group consisted of a few who had made the trek to Ottawa along with some mothers and their children who brought along some sign-making materials that kept them occupied on the way. Without the photographer and Captain Ammonia to provide their unique brand of entertainment, much to my relief, it would be by far the quietest of the three IceDogs road trips I had been on this year.

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Not unexpectedly, we ran into a fair bit of traffic, but we got to Oshawa in plenty of time.

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While waiting for the doors to open, I got some shots out front of the building and of our group.

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IceDogs owner Bill Burke stopped to shake hands with a few of us on his way in and the Generals mascot, Deke, was having a little fun with us.

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Deke didn’t quite measure up to Bones, but he was one of the better mascots I have seen.

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Despite the long line forming on the street and with the high winds making it miserable outside, arena staff defiantly refused to let us in even a minute before 6:35, one hour before puck drop. Season ticket holders were allowed early entry, but not the rest of us common folk. It’s not any different at the Meridian Center, but at least we get to wait indoors.

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After finally being allowed in, I made a point of circling the concourse and my first target was the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, a dedicated room displaying artifacts of the area’s sporting history.

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Among the many displays was a game-worn jersey from former Manitoba Fighting Moose John MacLean.

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The view from center ice.

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Walking through the concourse, I noticed banners like this honoring past Generals players, such as this one for Scott McCrory, another former Fighting Moose. It is nice to see teams do this and I hope the IceDogs follow suit with something similar once they get enough history of their own.

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On the opposite side of the rink was the “Canadian Hockey House,” a popular restaurant/bar where patrons could sit and watch the game while getting plastered. Unfortunately, this was probably the best choice for anyone looking for food as the offerings at the concessions were most disappointing. All that was on the menu was pizza, hotdogs, nachos and a $10 “carve of the day,” but luckily, I wasn’t in need on this trip as I snuck in some food of my own.

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After taking my seat in section B, so named because it was squarely behind the netting, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s unfortunate gift to the world, I noted with interest that, just as they did in Barrie and Ottawa, they introduced the timekeeper, scorekeeper and goal judges in addition to the on-ice officials. As IceDogs fans say after the announcement of an opponent’s goal, who cares? The announcer didn’t introduce himself before the game, but he made sure to after the game. It’s one less time than what the IceDogs announcer does, but it’s still one time too many.

Looking down at ice level, the glass looked a little hacked up, but it was still reasonably clean and, unlike the case at the Meridian Center, a patron would not have cause to plead for a lower price because of an obstructed view. I couldn’t believe my eyes when someone came out with a squeegee during the second intermission to clean a spot where it had been sprayed earlier in the game. That is one shot I should have taken to send to SMG, who manages the Meridian Center, to prove that it is indeed possible.

I paid special attention when they announced a fan bus trip to the Meridian Center in “Niagara.” Not that I am not proud to be a resident of the region, but team’s and my home is St. Catharines. This is another case highlighting how the previous mayor and council seriously erred in not insisting the team take the name of its home city when making the investment to build the rink. Interestingly, one of the late arrivals two rows in front of me was none other than Dawn Dodge, the recently defeated councillor for my ward, who was adorned in a red IceDogs sweatshirt.

The game itself was controlled by the home team and was much more one-sided than the 5-3 final score would indicate. It was only Brandon Hope’s solid goaltending that kept Oshawa from running up the score. At times, it seemed like the ice was tilted.

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Not helping the visitors’ cause was Vince Dunn’s early ejection for slewfooting as well as the mediocre play of Brendan Perlini and Carter Verhaeghe, two of their top offensive threats. Too many nights have gone by where I’ve barely noticed those two and as I’ve said before, it’s hard to win when your best players aren’t your best players. Those two have the skill to be dominant at this level and both seem content to get by because they are better than their contemporaries. As Kurt Warner once said to Larry Fitzgerald, “Why just be good when you can be great?” Hopefully they’ll learn that lesson once they get to the next level.

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Aside from the game, the two intermissions featured some fun and games including this first-period event with a couple of would-be sumo wrestlers. The last time I saw something like this was at a Fighting Moose game more than a dozen years ago.

After the game, Oshawa fans were eager to rub our noses in it. In addition to some comments outside, a couple of guys came aboard our bus, blew their bullhorn and yelled, “Better luck next year.” Even though one of the guys on the bus didn’t care for it all, it was all good-natured and perhaps later in the series, we’ll be able to return the favor.

As part of a promotion, since the Generals scored four goals, every fan was entitled to a free medium order of fries at McDonald’s, so on our way out, Wade Graham of the IceDogs suggested we go through the drive thru and order 34 medium fries, “just to stick it to them.” It was a good idea and it’s too bad we didn’t go through with it.

Even though the game didn’t go well, it was still a good experience and getting home at 1:00 sure beats getting back at 5:00 as I did after the Ottawa trip. Thanks to everyone at the IceDogs for making the arrangements and I look forward to future trips.

06 Apr

Good Friday in Ottawa

On Good Friday, I was among the group of 28 fans who made the long trek from St. Catharines to Ottawa to see the IceDogs take on the 67’s at TD Place, formerly known as the Ottawa Civic Center, the one-time home of the WHA’s Ottawa Nationals and Civics.

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Not unexpectedly, I was the first of the contingent to arrive at the Jack Gatecliff Arena, where our bus was scheduled to depart at noon for the six-hour drive.

It didn’t take long before I was joined by a few others who also came well ahead of time. One thing I have noticed is that people in this part of the world, very much to their credit and unlike those in my former home city, are chronic early birds.

Also along for the ride was Nino Bourikas and Wade Graham of the IceDogs staff and Nino collected the $100 fare from each of us while waiting for the bus to arrive. Nick Williams normally handles those duties but he was reportedly helping someone move.

Not surprisingly, also among the contingent was Natasa Djermanovic and her family who would take up seats beside and behind me. The sometimes vulgar banter between the team’s official photographer and David, a fan from Welland seated near the back, would certainly liven up the ride.

David was an interesting character and he was so loud that not only could everyone on the bus hear him, but I think passing cars on the 401 could hear him as well. On our way, he was hung up on Belleville and kept asking how far we were from the city that just lost its OHL team. He also made sure to tell us that he had recently recovered from a bout with “ammonia.” I presume he meant pneumonia, but he insisted it was ammonia.

Before leaving, Natasa was proudly showing off the $15,000 400 mm lens she had rented for this weekend and mentioned out loud, “Don’t have fun, don’t do anything because you’re going to be blogged about.” Whether or not that missive was intended for me, my presence certainly didn’t cramp her style.

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Badder Bus Services provided the transportation and according to Nino, their rate was half of what Coach Canada wanted. The discounted price, however, didn’t mean any less comfort or safety for us. Not only was the bus good but both drivers were excellent, in sharp contrast to many I’ve had when living in the SPRM. As an aside, it still feels so good to refer to the SPRM in past tense.

We left at noon and Ron took us to the car pool lot at Burlington, where Lyle took over for the rest of the trip. In Ontario, drivers are only allowed 13 hours on the road and a total of 16 hours on the clock before a rest period and because of the long distance, they needed two drivers to split the job.

Even though we were only going for the day, one older couple brought a trunkful of stuff with them including blankets, pillows, a cooler, a case of Rolling Rock beer and hefty order that cleaned out a nearby Tim Hortons. I was surprised to hear from Lyle that though it is in the contract that no alcohol is allowed on board, they and other carriers willfully turn a blind eye to it.

Not long after we got on the road, I spotted someone who had parked his motorcycle on the side of the QEW and perched himself on a guard rail so he could use his cell phone. Give it a rest. Nino then went to put on a DVD, but thankfully, the audio wasn’t working. Natasa and Captain Ammonia would provide more than enough audio for the trip.

Sitting in the front seat, as loyal readers would expect, I was able to grab many more highway pictures, soon to appear on a Web site near you. Among the new shots came from the 407 ETR, the toll route the dispatcher had given Lyle permission to use.

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In order for large vehicles such as these buses to use the 407, they must have a transponder that gates like these will read upon entry and exit to calculate the charge.

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Traffic was quite heavy headed in the opposite direction, but things moved smoothly for us most of the way.

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It was my first time east of Toronto and as much as I was paying attention to the highway in front of us, I was equally interested in hearing Lyle’s stories from his two tours of duty in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy Seebees between 1969 and 1972. A native of Hamilton, he drove across the border to Buffalo to meet with a recruiting officer hoping to learn a trade in the service and instead, unexpectedly got shipped off to Vietnam.

I was particularly fascinated by his near-death experiences that he kindly shared with me. On one occasion, a young Viet Cong soldier no more than 14 years old had an AK-47 to his head. Not wanting to see the end, Lyle closed his eyes, “made peace with God” and waited for what seemed like an hour before opening his eyes to find that the young man had gone and let him live.

On another occasion when he was out in the field, he had tied something too tight and needed fixing as a result. He offered to stay to make the repair, but his lieutenant said the next crew would come and take care of it. That crew never came back, leaving him with an understandable case of survivors’ guilt.

There was also another time when a booby trap went off, sending out sharp metal shards, one of which would have sliced through his throat and killed him were it not for his dog tag that fell down around his neck as he was diving out of the way.

Though it bothered him at one time to talk about these incidents, he said it helps him now and today, he speaks to soldiers returning from Iraq, just as World War II and Korea veterans spoke to him after his return from Southeast Asia.

He also mentioned that he and his buddies would always have an annual reunion the week after July 4, but he’s the only survivor of the bunch as the rest have since succumbed to cancer as a direct result of Agent Orange.

Following his discharge, he was given American citizenship and went on to enjoy a 42-year career as an electrician. Today, he drives a bus part time “just for something to do.”

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As we rolled on into Eastern Ontario, the banter between Natasa and Captain Ammonia began to heat up. While passing some farms, they wondered what would happen if a horse and cow were ever to be mated. Captain Ammonia then yelled, “I want to hear some music,” to which Natasa replied, “Plug your ears!”

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Roughly halfway to Ottawa, we stopped for a much-needed break at the Trenton ONRoute, one of many such rest areas along the 401. As I mentioned when I first saw them on the 400 on the way to Barrie, it sure beats the SPRM’s equivalent of a weather-beaten outhouse.

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Past Trenton, we saw the first sign giving the distance to Ottawa.

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We passed this exit that leads a bridge connecting to I-81 in the U.S. As I mentioned to Lyle, it’s one of the few places where you see an Interstate highway sign in Canada.

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At last, we reached the exit for 416 that took us north towards Ottawa.

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After taking the exit off the 417 in Ottawa, I noted with interest that the stop signs read “STOP” and not “ARRET,” as they do in St. Boniface, a suburb of Winnipeg. If the Canadian-language wording is good enough for a city on the shores of the Evil Empire, it ought to be good enough for St. Boniface.

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The IceDogs’ bus was already in the loading dock by the time we got to TD Place, over an hour before game time.

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When we were going in, I paid special attention to the security procedures. Unlike the case at the Meridian Center, there was no one rifling through bags and purses and security staff were friendly. After making a bee-line for the washroom, with plenty of time to spare, I took the opportunity to stroll through the concourse and get some shots inside the seating area.

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Having not eaten for about nine hours, I also needed to scout around for food. There was a little more choice than I found in Barrie and I eventually settled on the $6.50 “Smokin’ Hot 67’s Pizza” with the $5 hot beef sandwich coming in a close second. Consisting of a BBQ sauce base, the pizza had chicken and onions and the taste stayed with me well into the next day, not to mention the fact that I got my monthly supply of grease in the process.

Elsewhere in the concourse, I noticed free charging stations for cell phones, much like I found at Eaton Center in Toronto. Browsing through their souvenir shop, I noticed that they sell 67’s jerseys for $140, $20 more than the IceDogs ask for one of theirs. I consider a $120 price too steep, let alone $140.

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I joined several others in stepping outside to check out the attached football stadium whose grandstands back the arena before the security guards ushered us back inside.

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I nearly fainted when I spotted none other than Kevin Cheveldayoff, assistant general manager of the Mark Chipman Personal Hockey Club, busy on his cell phone, undoubtedly getting marching orders from his boss. What are the odds of running into him here?

After taking my seat, I noticed there was little leg room, but the seats were thickly padded and clean. I also noticed the glass was clean. If they can do it here, in Barrie, at the Xcel Energy Center and at the old Winnipeg Arena, they can do it at the Meridian Center.

We were seated in the parents’ section and Anthony DiFruscia’s mother was directly behind us. To my immediate left was Natasa’s son and on the other side was Captain Ammonia and his brother, who lives in Ottawa. Captain Ammonia’s lungs were still in high gear and he spent much of the night getting into it with a 67’s fan behind him from Gatineau. Even if I had a radio, there would have been no need to listen to the broadcast as I got all the play-by-play I needed from Captain Ammonia.

The game itself that almost seemed anticlimactic after such a long and eventful voyage turned out very well. The IceDogs jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second period and after the 67’s narrowed the gap to 4-3 before intermission, the visitors broke it open in the third for an eventual 8-3 win. Yours truly was very pleased to be among the Niagara rooting contingent yelling “Go Dogs Go” and supporting our home team.

None of the three mascots, those from the 67’s, the REDBLACKS and the soccer Fury could hold a candle to Bones and I mentioned how nice it would have been for Bones to make the trip.

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During the second period, the mascot for the REDBLACKS, not to be confused with the Redblacks, paid us a visit and used the throat-slash gesture to us. Needless to say, that was in exceptionally bad taste and I hope the person underneath the costume realized it.

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Once the game was over, the IceDogs skated over to our section and saluted us on their way off the ice. It was an awfully nice gesture that I think all of us who had made the trek appreciated greatly.

With all of us on board, we took off around 10:10 for the long trip back to St. Catharines. Many of us were snoozing and I was able to get a little shut-eye, but not very much. What little I had was rudely interrupted by Captain Ammonia, who, unable to sleep, decided to come up front and talk to Lyle to spread his misery among those of us who were able to doze a little.

We stopped at the Napanee ONRoute at 12:30, where I went to the washroom while others loaded up at Tim Hortons. Inside the washroom, there was a man at the urinal doing his business while chatting on his cell phone. As I said before, give it a rest.

Lyle was alert and attentive throughout the entire trip, but he made the mistake of using his GPS as a brain substitute once we got to the eastern edge of the GTA. With permission to use the 407, instead of following the clearly marked signs to follow 404, he listened to the GPS that told him to go in the opposite direction. Even after getting back on the correct path, he followed the GPS’s incorrect instructions to get off on a side street. I hope he learned his lesson.

We got back to the Jack at 4:25 in the morning and 50 minutes later, I was walking through my front door. It was a long, exhausting journey that I don’t want to repeat any time soon, but I was still glad I went.

Go Dogs Go!