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.
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.
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.
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!”