I’ve been (almost) everywhere, man
From time to time, people ask about being on the road, what it’s like, etc., and I’m never sure quite how to answer. But I figured that, with a milestone in reach, I’d try to give a little insight. Pittsburgh is the last of the 30 NHL cities which I have never set foot in. I’ve yet to cover games in Philadelphia and Washington — although this trip will take care of that — but this will be my first-ever trip to the city of Pittsburgh. Overall, I feel very fortunate to have been able to see so much of the United States and Canada. Everywhere I go, no matter how cold it is, I always try to get out and capture a little bit of the city. With that in mind, I decided to rank the road trips. There’s no set criteria. It’s just whatever strikes me, positively or negatively, about these cities/areas, I’ll go with it… Feel free to let me know what you think about some of these places, and/or where I might be off target!
1. Chicago — I’m biased here. Chicago is my favorite city in the United States. I love everything about it. Even when the wind is coming off the lake and blowing snow in your face, it’s still a great time.
2. Philadelphia — I’m quite biased here as well, given that one of my best friends lives in Philadelphia. And I can settle the cheesesteak debate. It’s not Geno’s or Pat’s. It’s a place called Mama’s.
3. Anaheim — This is perhaps my favorite road trip, because I get to drive there and sleep at home. Honda Center also has the best press-box cookies in the league.
4. New York (Rangers) — It’s hard to beat Manhattan. Last year, we had one day and two nights there, and it was by far one of the highlights of the year. New York City is a tourist trap, yes, but it’s a pretty amazing tourist trap. I’ve been to New York four times, and each time I’ve done something different and never come close to being bored.
5. Boston — Great walking city. I’ve been there as a tourist, and even if you’re not into all the American-history stuff — I find it really interesting — there’s plenty to see. On our last morning there this season, I took the `T’ up to the North End (the old Italian neighborhood) and then walked back, past Boston Common, etc. Very cold, but still fun.
6. Phoenix — Not really Phoenix, but Glendale. The place has really changed from when I was there right after it opened. An entire shopping/entertainment complex has been built around the arena, which is convenient but it’s sort of like taking a road trip to The Grove. There’s no particular atmosphere to the place. The arena might be my favorite in the NHL, though. Phoenix/Glendale ranks high simply because of convenience.
7. San Jose — We stay in a really nice part of town here. Hard to complain. Otherwise, San Jose is San Jose. It’s just sort of there. Plus, when they designed the arena, they forgot a press box. That’s actually true. We literally have to climb to the rafters to get to the “press box,” and there are beams running all over the place. Again, bonus points for proximity.
8. Montreal — Very neat. This will sound ignorant, but I didn’t expect to see/hear so much French. Everyone in the service industry speaks English — waiters, hotel employees, etc. — but for many, French is the default. So it’s a bit awkward to be greeted with “Bonjour,” and respond with, “Um, hi, good morning.”
9. St. Louis — Another one of those cities that I probably enjoy more than most people. Really good food — the media crew are big fans of Charlie Gitto’s — and there’s something cool about the Arch and the Mississippi River.
10. Nashville — I’m not really a country-music fan, but this is a really fun city. Broadway is a street full of honky-tonk bars and a really good BBQ place.
11. Calgary — Underrated, in my opinion. Nice downtown to walk around, very friendly people, good food and a lot of good coffee nearby. There’s not a whole lot to the city, but it’s a nice experience when it’s not freezing outside.
12. Minnesota — Another city (St. Paul) that I probably enjoy more than a lot of people. Of all the foods that I consume during a season, Minnesota’s wild-rice soup is one of the best.
13. Vancouver — Loved this city the first time I visited, roughly 10 years ago, but for some reason, my memories didn’t quite hold up when I returned in 2009. It’s still a very clean and pleasant city to walk around, and it’s very scenic. Probably my favorite part of the trip is just staying in the hotel, with a room overlooking the inlet, opening the window and enjoying the view.
14. Toronto — There were two trips to Toronto last year, and both were memorable. Luc Robitaille’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and then we had a couple off days to enjoy this huge city that has a lot of character. Another good, big walking city.
15. Washington — Never been there for work purposes, but I notice that the arena is close to the Mall, Capitol, etc., so hopefully the hotel is as well. Again, if you’re into American history, government, etc., it makes for a much more interesting experience.
16. Ottawa — I’ve been there, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about the city, because we stayed out in the boondocks, closer to the arena. If you ever find yourself in Kenata, there’s an Italian restaurant called Fratelli with good food and good people.
17. Edmonton — If you’re a California native, and you’ve never been to the northern part of “civilized” Canada, there are absolutely no words to describe how cold it can get. We got very lucky with the weather last week, but when we were there last season, it was minus-18. Minus. Eighteen. Bonus points because it’s fun to be in a hockey-made city.
18. Carolina — Of all the “souther” NHL cities, I like Raleigh the best. Scenic, nice arena and it’s where I tried Five Guys for the first time.
19. Colorado — The part of town where the team stays is very nice, but very trendy. I might prefer to spend some time in downtown Denver. One negative: the “Denver” airport is ridiculously far away from Denver. It’s almost beyond explanation. I’m told the location was meant to cut down on flight turbulence. OK, fine. It’s still terribly far.
20. Dallas — Not a big fan. Nice arena, but I’ve yet to see anything that really distinguishes Dallas from any number of big cities. The fact that there’s a Potbelly sandwich place — Bob Miller’s favorite stop — nearby makes for one big redeeming quality.
21. Columbus — There’s surprisingly little life in this area, and nothing to do. My dad was born in Columbus, and he hasn’t been back in more than 55 years. Take that for what it’s worth. There’s nothing terrible about Columbus. There’s nothing particularly fun about it, either.
22. New York (Islanders) — Just our luck this year. We have less than one day in Manhattan, but two on Long Island. The arena is an absolute dump and we stay in an isolated area. I’m told there are good restaurants in the vicinity. Hopefully we find one.
23. Tampa Bay — It’s a tough call between the next three, because to be perfectly honest, if I had to contract three teams from the NHL, I would choose Tampa Bay, Florida and Atlanta. Tampa Bay gets the slight nod because it was a nice hotel.
24. Florida — True story. After dinner one night last season, a Kings staff member decided to try to look for alligators in a local pond. This is not a hockey environment. This is not Edmonton.
25. Atlanta — I sort of feel the same way about Atlanta that I do about Dallas. Atlanta drops further because of humidity.
26. New Jersey — One of the most depressing parts of last season was looking out my hotel window, seeing the Manhattan skyline and…being in New Jersey. The arena is nice, but it’s not in a nice area, and that’s being very polite.
27. Buffalo — Well, the hotel room was nice.
28. Detroit — On the list of my favorite places in the world, Detroit is, well, it’s not on the list. It’s the only place, on the road in any of my assignments with the Kings or the Daily News, where I’ve actually felt unsafe, and I’m really not trying to be provocative by saying that. I know it’s a cliche to pile on Detroit, but I’m just being honest.