We didn’t get the chance to see who was responsible for busting the glass at the beginning of the Canadiens’ practice at the MasterCard Centre, but from the reaction of fans standing next to it when it happened, a morning coffee won’t probably won’t be necessary most after having the puck literally tear through the glass in front of them and end up on the other side. Not sure if the Leafs’ defensemen, who were practicing on another sheet of ice at the MasterCard Centre got wind of the glass-shattering blast, but if they did, a few of them might think twice before blocking too many shots on Saturday night.
Back when we first started up our On the Road feature a last year, the first entry in the blog was a photo we took of the visitors’ dressing room at the ACC for the first game of the 2011-12 season that happened to be between the Habs and the Leafs. People were pretty much getting knocked down left and right by the sheer amount of media clamouring to get their mics and recorders into scrums surrounding Habs players. Two years later, with a monster match-up between the two playoff-bound teams on tap to close out the campaign, it somehow managed to be even worse this time around. As we did the first time, let’s play a little game… can you count how many reporters are crammed into this shot? It should also be noted that the other side of the room looked exactly the same – we just didn’t have a lens wide enough to capture the whole scene.
If you’re a Canadiens fan in Montreal, English or French, you’ve more than likely had the pleasure of hearing RDS’s Pierre Houde expertly calling the Habs’ play-by-play on TV at least a few times in your life. While it’s no secret that Pierre has an in-depth knowledge of and passion for hockey, few know about his other big passion – aviation. A licensed pilot, Pierre took advantage of his Friday in Toronto to head to the air field, rent a plane and take to the skies above Canada’s biggest city for an afternoon of high-flying fun. Generous enough to share a few pictures of his scenic voyage with us during the team’s morning skate, we couldn’t resist asking him to let us post one, taking our final On the Road entry for the season off the road and into the skies.
On Friday, the Habs held an optional practice at the Maple Leafs’ practice facility, the MasterCard Centre, in Etobioke. At least half the Habs that took part in the morning practice had played for the Hamilton Bulldogs at one point or another in their careers. Since Hamilton happens to be just down the road, there were more than a couple of fans that showed up for the practice rocking Bulldogs jerseys. Not sure if this particular fan was missing the presence of Tinordi, Weber, Dumont or Blunden from the Hamilton squad, but was clearly on site to cheer them all on. We know it’s not a Bulldogs-Marlies match-up, but he’ll just have to settle for a Habs-Leafs tilt on Saturday night.
Winnipeg might not have its own metro system, but with two kilometers of underground passageways and skywalks, getting around in their bitterly cold and snow heavy winters can still be a breeze. Of course, with 32 km of underground passageways snaking throughout its downtown core, Montreal can still proudly wear its crown as the most adept city at avoiding the slushy outdoors of wintertime. Despite it being almost May, when we opened our drapes on Wednesday morning in Winnipeg, it was snowing hard enough to make us decide that it was time to see if our hotel connected directly to the MTS Center without us ever having to go outside. It did, and allowed us to feel only slightly better about the all the text we kept getting from Montreal telling us it was sunny and almost 20 degrees.
Just like in Montreal metro stations, musicians take full advantage of the indoor passageways to busk and try to make a few bucks from the 21,000 employees and customers wandering throughout the sprawl that encompasses 200 stores, 60 restaurants and two hotels. The big difference is that buskers in Winnipeg can rock out on the skywalks instead of only in the underground, allowing them the chance to catch a few rays while they strum away.
Once we finally decided to step out from the shelter of the numerous underground passages and skywalks of downtown Winnipeg’s shopping district, a hotdog stand occupying a nearby street corner immediately drew our attention. Why? Because we haven’t seen one in Montreal since they were banned in the city in 1947. In reality, Montreal still won’t be seeing any food carts of this type for a while still, but the freezing-cold vendor, happily selling hot dogs on a gray Winnipeg afternoon still got us hyped for the fact that this summer, for the first time in nearly 70 years, Montreal will be getting its own dose of street food back, as food trucks have finally been approved to roam certain designated areas of the city peddling their very delicious wares.
Like the majority of cities around North America, not to mention the rest of the world, graffiti plays a big part in the look of Newark’s urban landscape. As with most graffiti, certain pieces are nicer than others and can range from simple tags on bus stop benches to intricate murals that cover the entire sides of buildings. While making the commute between the airport and the hotel, we couldn’t help but notice one piece in particular that on first glance appeared to be a shoutout to Habs star-defenseman and fan favorite P.K. Subban – created, we assume, to raise awareness of his candidacy for the cover of NHL14. While five minutes of internet research revealed that the tag “PK”, often found alongside “KID”, is actually an extremely popular tag around the New Jersey area, we still decided after some consideration that this particular tag was, in fact, clearly in place to get folks to go online and vote P.K. Subban for the cover of NHL14 as the graffiti artist who put it up undoubtedly already did himself.
The New Jersey Devils organization turned 30 years old in 2012 and to celebrate, the team unveiled their Championship Plaza. But since a championship plaza just wouldn’t be any good without a statue for fans to enjoy, the Devils installed a 22-foot, 7,000-pound stainless steel statue of a New Jersey Devils hockey player to add some allure to the area. Created by artist Jon Krawczyk, the statue arrived in Newark all the way from Malibu before finally landing in its permanent home in front of the Prudential Center. While the mammoth statue isn’t dedicated to Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Howie Morenz or Guy Lafleur, we’re still happy to give it props for being huge, shiny and awesome.
Several days ago, a story detailing the origins of the names of the 30 teams that comprise Major League Baseball caught our eye. With that in mind, we decided to use our visit to Pittsburgh to offer up a short history lesson that examined the origins behind the names of the three professional sports teams based in the Steel City – the Steelers, Pirates and of course, the Penguins.
Let’s begin with a quick look at the Steelers. The locals are quick to point out that the once thriving steel industry in the city isn’t what it used to be. During the Second World War, more than 90,000 people made their living working with steel in one way or another in Pittsburgh. In an attempt to capitalize on that employment trend and create a sense of ownership and loyalty towards his football team, Art Rooney elected to change the name of his franchise from the Pirates to the Steelers in 1940 as a tribute to the hard-working steelworkers across the region. Some sixty years later, Rooney’s efforts are still paying dividends as the Steelers remain one of the most popular teams in the NFL. While many of the steel mills and factories in Pittsburgh have since closed their doors, their workers will never be forgotten. On the river banks where countless mills and factories once stood, a monument was erected last September to honor those who made steel their life’s work. No, the monument is not one featuring two Transformer robots engaged in mortal combat, but rather two giant steelworkers constructed out of steel beams from an old bridge.
On to the Pirates, the pride of baseball fans in the Steel City. They too changed their name at some point in their history. Founded in 1882, the club was initially known as the Pittsburg (no "h") Alleghenies, then the Pittsburg (still no "h") Innocents before finally adopting the Pirates moniker in 1891 during which time the Pittsburgh-based ball club was accused by a Philadelphia journalist of « pirating » second baseman Louis Bierbauer away from the Philadelphia Athletics American Association team. Not fearing any controversy whatsoever, the owners of the team decided to rename their team the Pirates. While Bierbauer didn’t manage to lead the Pirates to much success on the field, he has been immortalized in the Pirates’ new stadium, PNC Park, with a restaurant on the 200-level known as Bierbauer’s Grill.
It’s safe to say that no penguin is capable of living in Pittsbugh’s climate. These living specimens, including the macaroni penguin, can however be observed at the local aquarium. So, why are the Penguins actually called the Penguins? That’s an excellent question. That honor belongs to Carol McGregor, the spouse of one of the club’s initial owners. The story goes that McGregor sought out the nickname for the old Civic Arena, which was then known as the Igloo. After learning of the arctic-like moniker, McGregor drew the connection – igloo…ice…Penguins!
The Bell Centre is a pretty cool place to work. If we’re tired of sitting at our desks all day, we’re just a swipe card away from choosing one of the 21,273 seats to sit in and stare up at the 24 Stanley Cup banners and 17 retired jerseys hanging in the rafters to soak in the history of hockey’s most iconic club. As awesome as that can be, we think we met our match during a trip to the UFC Canada office in downtown Toronto.
It’s no secret we’re big fans of the UFC. In fact, flip through the current issue of CANADIENS magazine, and you’ll see two big-time UFC stars (Georges St-Pierre and longtime Brandon Prust friend, Sam Stout) grace our pages. We stopped by the UFC Canada headquarters in Toronto to drop off a few copies of the mag and couldn’t believe their keen eye for detail. For example, step into the boardroom and you’ll never be at a loss for inspiration. Not only do the big wigs at the UFC do their brainstorming while looking up at before and after shots of their fighters and other signed memorabilia, the table they sit around is actually shaped like an octagon. In the middle of the table, instead of a phone for conference calls, they also keep a tiny diorama of the upcoming fight to help ideas flow a little more freely.
More exciting than the actual conference room itself is how the crew at the UFC get jacked up before a big meeting. There’s nothing that keeps your eye on the prize like literally staring at the UFC championship belt on your way into a planning session. Want to feel like a champ before giving a big presentation? Some people get prepped by using tools like positive self-talk; others throw on a diamond-encrusted trophy.
Even in an office plastered with enough eye candy to get you pumped to come to work every morning, everyone is bound to have a bad day every once in a while. The UFC’s got its employees covered on that front, too. Feeling frustrated on a tough day? Forget going for a walk to clear your head; just step up to the Ultimate Fighting Championship Punch Station and channel your inner GSP while pummeling the leather bag like it's Nick Diaz in UFC 158.
Anyone with grade-school aged kids has probably heard of Flat Stanley, a cutout character students print and send to classrooms around the world to spark pen pal exchanges with children in other countries. What you may not know about everyone’s favorite two-dimensional world traveler is that he’s also a Habs fan. At least that’s what we managed to ascertain from this poster advertising Flat Stanley’s big musical debut in downtown Buffalo. We’ve always loved the Flat Stanley concept, but now that we’ve seen him in bleu-blanc-rouge plastered in a window down the street from the First Niagara Center, we can’t help but imagine the potential this has of taking off in every other city in the northeast division, too.
Having spent the majority of our previous trips to Buffalo walking in the rain or eating wings, we decided to mix it up and find something a little more culturally stimulating to pass the time in upstate New York. Sure, we still did a lot of walking in the rain and we ate enough wings to qualify for a contest at a local fair, but we also ventured to the theatre district when we heard the annual Buffalo Niagara Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday night. In addition to an eclectic lineup of films being shown everywhere from The Rapids Theatre in Niagara Falls to The Market Arcade Film & Arts Center down the street from our hotel, the festival also features a special Q&A session with Michael Madsen (of Reservoir Dogs fame) prior to the showing of Quentin Tarantino’s Hell Ride on April 14. Who says nothing fun ever happens in downtown Buffalo?
We even managed to find some local flavor in the film festival lineup while perusing the schedule. Filmed in Montreal, Rouge Sang is a thriller packed with Quebec stars like Isabelle Guérard and Peter Miller.
Liberty, cheesesteaks, brotherly love and notoriously tough sports fans; Philadelphia has made some epic contributions to popular culture over the years. None of those has proven to be as enduring as perhaps the city’s most loveable export, the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith. You may recall a certain game back on February 6 when Smith was in Montreal for Fashion Week and hit up the Bell Centre to cheer on his new favorite Habs, P.K. Subban and Brandon Prust, before grooving for the crowd when his hit song, “Gettin’ Jiggy with It” came on in the arena. After showing us that kind of love in our house, we decided to repay the favor when we made the trip to his old stomping grounds.
First up in our tribute to all things Big Willie Style, we set out to find the “playground where he spent most of his days” from the show’s opening credits. While it’s supposed to be set in West Philadelphia, the actual basketball court is located in the Fairmount section of Philly, in Roberto Clemente Playground. Our concierge warned us we might be venturing into a dangerous area of town, but after seeing a few dozen harmless eight year olds shooting hoops when we arrived, we assumed our well-meaning guardian angel was overly-influenced by seeing Will get spun around at center court by those “guys who were up to no good” so many times in the show’s intro.
Another side benefit of walking to our first stop on the Will Smith Tour of Philadelphia instead of taking a cab was stumbling across the likely inspiration behind the name of his fictitious cousin in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Carlton Banks. Coincidence? Probably. But you never know…
Finally, after digging a little deeper into Smith’s roots in the City of Brotherly Love, we found the address of his old high school, which is actually located in West Philly. Turns out, Will Smith isn’t the only famous alumni to come out of Overbrook High School. Nine former Panthers have played in the NBA, including basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who has a plaque erected in his honor outside the school. Now part-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, Smith, a newly-converted Habs fan, has some pretty tough acts to follow in his current venture into the world of pro sports.
If there’s anything we love, it’s freedom. And treasure hunts. In the spirit of Easter (and the accompanying egg hunts that come with it), we decided to combine two of our favorite things during a balmy day in Boston and follow the red brick road of the iconic “Freedom Trail”. A 2.5-mile stroll through US history, the Freedom Trail steers visitors through 16 historic sites that contributed in a significant way to the American Revolution. Unfortunately, in lieu of chocolate eggs, all we came away with was a basket full of historical information, which we’re more than happy to share. Let the learning begin!
First stop: The Boston Commons. America’s oldest park, the Commons has undergone a number of transformations over the years, from a grazing area for local livestock, to a place of public celebration, to the site of public floggings of pirates, witches, a few Quakers and others who resisted Boston beliefs (Habs fans?). We particularly liked the most recent incarnation of the park during our last visit to Bean Town, when the Commons featured a public ice rink hosting happy skaters throughout the winter months.
While not “officially” documented as a historically significant stop along the trail, it’s hard to argue that the birthplace of the Boston cream pie doesn’t deserve at least an honorable mention as one of the most delicious pieces of the city’s history. Located across the street from the Granary Burying Ground stop on the trail, the Omni Parker House hotel invented the custard-filled local treat that eventually became the official dessert of Massachusetts in 1996.
With just over a block to go before the final stop on the trail, we were treated to a traditional Bostonian greeting when a lost trolley driver with a car full of tourists pulled over to ask us for directions on his first day on the job. When we informed him we were from Montreal, he just grinned, pointed to his 2011 Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Champions cap and said, “Oh. Well in that case, you guys like my hat?” No, rookie trolley driver, we do not.
The last landmark on the trail is also the only mobile site along the red brick road. The USS Constitution enjoyed its maiden voyage on July 22, 1798, and it’s still a fully-functioning vessel. Equipped with 44 canons, the Constitution was one of the most imposing and intimidating ships in the naval fleet in its day. Now used as a museum, the US Navy still takes the old girl out for a sail every once in a while, most recently on August 19, 2012, as part of the Bicentennial Anniversary of the war of 1812.
Those are all very impressive landmarks, but as Montrealers, we’ll always consider the most historically significant dates in Boston history to be: April 3, 1930, April 9, 1946, April 16, 1953, April 16, 1957, April 20, 1958, May 14, 1977, and May 25, 1978.
In our humble opinion, Pittsburgh is one of the most underrated cities with an NHL team. It’s got everything: beautiful architecture, dozens of universities, three major sports teams, 446 bridges… Some might argue there’s almost an embarrassment of riches to choose from when it comes to picking a few places to visit for the On the Road Blog, so we enlisted a little help from the Canadiens’ official Pittsburgh expert, Colby Armstrong, to decide what to see and do during our short stay in the Steel City.
First on Colby’s list was a spot he and his former teammates indulged in from time-to-time on cheat days during his three year stint with the Penguins: Primanti Bros. Sandwiches. A Pittsburgh institution, Primanti Bros. features a variety of sandwich options that all have the same secret ingredient in common: French fries. Since opening in the 1930s, Primanti Bros. has expanded to add over 30 locations around the city, and if you prefer to take your sandwich with a side of beach, there are also three spots located along the ocean in Ft. Lauderdale. Looks like we know where we’ll be going the next time we play the Panthers…
On our way back from Colby’s lunch spot of choice, a comic book store caught our eye. Turns out, Eide’s Entertainment is one of the oldest comic book stores in the United States, dating back to March 18, 1972. While there were plenty of vintage, $5,000 original issues in stock, we decided to stick within our budget and left with a dozen used Archie comics for about $12.84. We still haven’t decided which one of us will have to declare those when we clear customs on the way home.
While combing through the racks looking for a hidden gem, we did happen upon a special edition figurine of Kirk Muller, accompanied by one of his 1995 Canadiens hockey cards. Oddly enough, despite having only played 27 career games with the Islanders during his NHL career, for some reason, Kirk’s action figure features the former Habs captain in Long Island orange and blue in this mis-matched set.
Nearby the Nassau Coliseum you can find Eisenhower Park, clearly named in honor of the 34th president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower. Spread out over 930 acres of land, the park stands out as one of the largest in New York’s metropolitan area. Boasting dozens of sporting venues across its giant terrain, Eisenhower Park has 16 tennis courts, 17 baseball diamonds, the Nassau County Aquatic Center, and three golf courses in addition to a slew of statues commemorating the many firefighters that lost their lives during the events of 9/11. The Commerce Bank PGA tournament was played on Eisenhower Park’s Red Course for the last time in 2008.
As we were heading out of the restaurant on Wednesday night, we couldn’t help but notice a giant, ornate carousel sitting right in the middle of the Uniondale shopping mall we found ourselves in. Unfortunately, the throwback carnival ride was closed for repairs and we didn’t get the chance to see it in action, but since it seemed to have been a staple of the mall for some time, we did a little research to find out just how long. The ride was built completely by hand in Venice, Italy and is an identical replica of the carousel built by German designer Philippe Schneider in 1898 which was actually pulled by real horses all the way up until 1928.
With Easter right around the corner, the Uniondale mall we were visiting happened to have an Easter Bunny meet-and-greet kiosk just beside their broken carousel. You know the deal – kids’ parents pay $15 so their son/daughter can get a hug from a dude in a giant Easter Bunny costume and walk away with a chocolate egg at the end of it all. Maybe the pressure of the Easter Holiday was finally catching up with him, maybe he had to deal with a hoard of particularly bratty kids that day, maybe he had one too many Long Island Ice Teas on his break, or maybe he just has some personal rabbit-issues going on – but what ever the deal was, this bunny definitely seemed to be having a rough end to his day.