Since the team had the day off in San Jose on Friday (thanks, Michel!), we decided to take advantage of our free afternoon in the sun to tour the Bay area while documenting a few of our favorite things for the On the Road Blog. To start our tour of the city right, we set sail for a boat cruise around the Bay to get an up close view of some of San Francisco’s iconic landmarks.
It may be a notorious prison that housed some of the world’s most dangerous criminal masterminds for 30 years, but we’ll always have a soft spot for Alcatraz. Back in the 1980s, when the Canadiens started the postseason, then-general manager Serge Savard – who knew exactly how much trouble a bunch of 20-something-year-old hockey players could get into in Montreal in the springtime – rented rooms for the team at a hotel off the island on the South Shore to keep them on their best behavior. Stranded with little contact with the outside world, the locale became known affectionately among the players as “Alcatraz” for the duration of their stay. Thanks to their time spent in the playoffs distraction-free, the team captured the franchise’s 23rd Stanley Cup in 1986. Based on its contribution to Canadiens lore, The Rock has officially made its way onto our list of favorites.
Growing up, there’s nothing we loved more than racing home from school in time to catch Full House at 4:00 p.m. every weekday afternoon. We were raised by the lessons Danny Tanner taught us in 22-minute blocks and there’s perhaps no better way to bring us back to our childhood than a trip to San Francisco to see where the magic happened in person. Set in the city, every episode started with a shot of the family enjoying a peaceful picnic in Alamo Park across from the famous Painted Ladies so to bring that sense of nostalgia back, we hit up the park to snap a few shots of our childhood in photo form.
Opened in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge has withstood the test of time over the years and is also on our list of favorite things under the category of “well-preserved bridges”. The most photographed bridge in the world, it was named one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers and has designated lanes for bicycles and pedestrians to take in the beauty of the San Francisco skyline while suspended 220 feet above the bay. Thanks to our intrepid local tour guide, Mike, who drove us around to find the best views in the city between stops for authentic fish tacos and Ghirardelli chocolate-covered strawberries, we were able to shoot the bridge from just about every angle imaginable.
After the week we’ve spent out west, there’s one thing we can confirm for sure: the best decision Gary Bettman has ever made was adding a rule that every team has to travel to every NHL city every year. Thanks for the sunshine, warm weather and memories, California. The only thing that would make us happier would be to add one last favorite to the list before heading home: a big win against the Sharks.
We apologize in advance for the feelings of nostalgia that are bound to come with reading the Phoenix edition of the On the Road blog. First, seeing the lush lawn and blazing sun will harken fans back to a time in Montreal that feels like it was a lot longer than seven months ago, when flip flops and T-shirts were the outfits of choice and there wasn’t a snow bank or winter tire to be seen for miles. Second, seeing photos of spring training in action is sure to re-open old wounds for Expos fans who would love nothing more than to see Nos Amours hit the diamond on a sunny day, even under the roof at the Big O. For this edition of the blog, we hit up Camelback Ranch to watch the White Sox take on the Mariners in Cactus League exhibition action from prime seats on the centerfield lawn.
For just $11, we were able to get within a warning track of Seattle and Chicago’s boys of summer. The official spring training facility of the Sox and Dodgers until they relocate to their permanent digs in Chicago and LA, respectively, for the regular season in April, the “Ranch” has room for 13,000 fans, but also features a dozen smaller diamonds for local teams to get their swing on. While we weren’t able to stay until the final pitch, we can confirm the Mariners pulled off a comeback, registering five unanswered runs to win 7-4.
While we were cheering more for a day in the sun than for either team in particular, we have to admit we had a soft spot for Seattle after noticing former Expos center fielder Endy “Bagel” Chavez on the roster. One of the last 10 active players remaining in the league to have played in Montreal, the 36-year-old slugger – who played for the ‘Spos from 2002 to 2004 – finished his day having gone 1-for-4.
When searching for locations for our On the Road blog, we’re often drawn in by anything at the top of its class: the biggest, best, smallest, etc. For our Anaheim edition of the blog the superlative we went with was “happiest”, the Happiest Place on Earth to be specific: Disneyland. While we didn’t get a chance to see Mickey and Co. in the actual park, we did manage to stroll around the happiest downtown core on the planet, Downtown Disney.
During our walk around the “shoppertainment center” filled with March Breaking kids convincing parents to buy everything from mouse ears to churros, we stopped by the Lego Store to check out some of the intricate Disney characters brought to life in block form. The second-biggest Lego store after the one in Downtown Disney Orlando, the Anaheim location featured larger-than-life Lego versions of the Incredible Hulk, Belle and the Beast, and Woody and Buzz Lightyear, among others. There was also a building station on hand so kids could create their own Lego men and women, but sadly there were no mini yellow hockey players for us to add to the roster.
The final stop on our tour of Downtown Disney was at the ESPN Zone to enjoy some kid-free company while watching the Lakers/Pelicans, the University of Oregon/Arizona State and Sharks/Hurricanes on the wall-to-wall screens. One of just two ESPN Zone locations still in operation, the Anaheim-based sports bar also features a miniature electronic model of the heated UCLA-USC football rivalry at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. Created in 2000 by Josh Murray, Greg Rude, Tony Silvera and Laura Welgand, the bite-sized stadium features fans made of rice and beans, among other dried food products. When we left to find a table, the Bruins were leading the Trojans 24-7, but based on USC’s all-time 44-30-7 record against UCLA, we wouldn’t bet against a fourth-quarter comeback.
Monday night may be all about the Kings and Habs, but on Sunday, Los Angeles was teeming with big players of a different variety. Landing in the City of Angels just in time to see the tail end of the red carpet festivities ahead of the 86th Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on Sunday night, we spent the evening traipsing around Tinseltown doing a little star gazing. With tight security surrounding the event, it was hard to breach the perimeter around the staging area, but we were able to get just close enough to get a feel for the opulence and extravagance one would expect for a bevy of A-listers on Hollywood’s biggest night of the year.
Hoping to spot Brangelina, Matthew McConaughey or really any of the Oscar winners who were out on the town with gold statues in tow, we hit up a few venues to see and be seen (mostly see…). He may not roll with the same size entourage as U2 or Pharrell, but fellow crooner and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks still drew a crowd on his way in to perform at the W Hollywood Hotel for the fourth annual Salute to the Stars after party, which was recognized by Variety as one of the 10 best post-Oscar celebrations. While we didn’t spot quite as many marquee names as we would have liked, we did get some interesting inside information about how red carpet interviews are executed. First, public relations staffers – the unsung heroes of Hollywood – finagle sweet spots for their clients in primetime to ensure the highest number of flashbulbs and lenses pointed at their dolled-up celebrities as possible. Then, to ensure everyone recognizes people like Breann Johnson for her work in Red Wing, another staffer walks just ahead holding a sign identifying the upcoming star to help interviewers prepare and paparazzi know what name to yell out while they snap away. We’ve always found it easier to just give our stars jerseys with names and numbers on the back to make sure everyone knows who they are, but that’s probably not red carpet appropriate attire…
The Oscars may be a four-hour long show, but that still isn’t enough time to feature every category recognized by the Academy. This may be a little known fact, but canadiens.com actually captured the coveted “Award for Excellence” for the 2013-14 On the Road Blog. We were just honored to be nominated and hadn’t even prepared a speech for the occasion, but given the circumstances, we humbly accepted the award on behalf of the team before being played off by the house orchestra. Thank you to all of you who made this award possible – you know who you are.
Consistently ranked among the top stadiums in the National Football League, Heinz Field is the perfect place for any fervent football fan to get their pigskin fix, particularly if they bleed black and yellow and consider themselves devout members of Steelers Nation. Located in Pittsburgh’s North Shore neighborhood along the Ohio River, the Steelers have been proud to call this impressive stadium home since 2001 with good reason. As remarkable from the outside as it is on the inside, it won’t take you very long to realize just how much the Steelers – like our beloved Canadiens – cherish their long and storied history, one that includes a league-best six Super Bowl titles since joining the NFL back in 1933. A walk at field level reveals a stadium that offers an estimated 65,500 spectators an unforgettable experience on Sundays, along with memories that will last a lifetime. It’s also worth noting that Heinz Field is no stranger to hockey. The facility played host to the 2011 NHL Winter Classic that saw the Capitals down the Penguins 3-1 on New Year’s Day.
For the players who are fortunate enough to don a Steelers jersey on game day, this expansive locker room is where the journey to success begins. Head coach Mike Tomlin addresses his troops from the logo at the center of the room before they hit the field. A hub of activity on Sundays, there’s no shortage of space for players to stretch, dress and relax before going head-to-head with some of the toughest competitors on the planet. Going to war once a week isn’t easy on the body, so the Steelers insist their players have everything they need to perform at the highest level over the course of a long and often taxing regular season campaign. Interestingly enough, the Steelers’ locker room is adjacent to one occupied by Heinz Field’s other permanent tenants – the NCAA’s University of Pittsburgh Panthers – a school that boasts alums like Mike Ditka, Dan Marino and Larry Fitzgerald.
No trip to Heinz Field would be complete without taking the time to admire its gigantic scoreboard at the stadium’s south end. Featuring a state-of-the-art Daktronics video board, it also boasts a trademark pair of Heinz Ketchup bottles that weigh in at 8,000 lbs. each. If those bottles were filled to the top, they would contain enough ketchup to give each person seated at Heinz Field at least one 14-ounce bottle to take home. When the Steelers score a touchdown, the bottles atop the jumbotron tip over in celebration.
We all know that the month of April is playoff time in La Belle Province, something Montrealers look forward to as the regular season comes to a close. It also marks the return of those white playoff towels at the Bell Centre. In Pittsburgh, the unique ambiance created by fans waving their “Terrible Towels” has been a part of Steelers tradition since 1975. Over the years, it has become an integral part of the overall football experience at Heinz Field. The towel, which was first created by a Pittsburgh radio station, has undergone several transformations since debuting nearly 40 years ago, but has always maintained its trademark original color scheme.
When you think NASCAR, the first thing that comes to mind is engines revving in Daytona. While the head offices are in Florida, North Carolina is a NASCAR hub, hosting offices in four cities around the state. One of the most popular sports in the US behind only the NFL, NASCAR has a huge following down south and around the world, so we decided to give in to our need for speed and check tickle our racing bones in the Tar Heel State.
The karts at Frankie’s Fun Park may not boast the same level of horsepower as actual stock cars, but sliding around hairpin turns felt like a slightly-less-authentic NASCAR experience nonetheless. Unfortunately, we didn’t hit high speeds of 250 km/h as we had originally hoped; we didn’t even hit the local speed limit of roughly 100 km/h…in fact, we actually probably would’ve been able to cruise through a school zone without getting a ticket.
Still, check out the video below and you’ll see that navigating the sliding track and racing each other through the checkered flag is far from a Sunday drive.
Not only is Fenway Park one of Beantown’s most beloved landmarks, featured in movies such as The Town, Fever Pitch and Field of Dreams, but it also happens to be the oldest ballpark in the Major League as well as the home of the reigning World Series champs.
As it’s the dead of winter in Boston, we weren’t surprised to see the field covered in ice upon our arrival. Indeed, Fenway was the site of the 2010 Winter Classic, which pitted the hometown Bruins against the Philadelphia Flyers. Since then, Frozen Fenway, a tournament attended by some of the top NCAA Division I hockey teams in the country, has become an annual tradition. Immediately following the yearly competition, the rink remains open to the public for several days before being dismantled.
After getting up close and personal with the Green Monster, Fenway’s legendary left-field wall, we ran into a familiar face in the Red Sox museum: retired pitcher Pedro Martinez, one of the most popular athletes in Montreal during his stint with the Expos. The right-hander paced the Red Sox to a long-awaited World Series title in 2004 and dedicated the win to mourning fans in Montreal, who had learned months earlier that their team would move to Washington and become the Nationals.
Three years is a long time! Since the Habs haven’t faced the Wings at the Joe Louis Arena since December 2010, we wanted to make sure we soaked up as much of the atmosphere as possible during our visit to Hockeytown. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait until Friday to get a feel for hockey at the Joe, with a rivalry game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University on tap on Thursday night. With Habs prospect Mac Bennett captaining the Wolverines, Canadiens alumni Red Berenson at the helm and former Michigan forward Max Pacioretty in the stands, we decided to root for Michigan, although with Chris Chelios’ sons Dean and Jake in the lineup for State, it was a bit of a tossup.
The Wolverines and Spartans may have been playing on a bigger stage than they’re used to – Joe Louis Arena’s capacity is bigger than Yost and Munn Ice Arenas combined – but with dueling bands in the upper bowls and fans from both sides gleefully singing school fight songs throughout the game, there was definitely a college hockey atmosphere in the rink. The only thing missing was a solid tailgate party.
There’s nothing like a night of college sports. We got to watch Bennett work his magic on the penalty kill – perhaps a look at what Habs fans will see in Montreal down the road – and thanks to a late third period goal by Phil Di Giuseppe, Michigan won its 10th game in the last 11 meetings between the two teams at the Joe. That’s one win for the good guys in the books (sorry, State – we like you too); now we’ll just need one more come Friday night.
As we discovered upon landing in Pittsburgh, leaving Montreal in January doesn’t necessarily guarantee warmer temperatures. Facing the same bitter cold on the road we do at home inspired us to go in search of some classic summertime experiences, including a stop at PNC Park – the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Built in 2001, PNC Park is widely considered one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country. Lined with three bronze statues of some of the greatest Pirates players to ever don the yellow “P”, the stadium has plenty of history to soak in, but one of those bronzed players drew a little more of our attention than the others: Hall-of-Famer Willie Stargell. Why is that, you ask? The legendary slugger actually helped set a Montreal baseball record back in 1978, recording the longest home run in Olympic Stadium history when he cranked a ball 535 feet into the right field bleachers. For years, fans could enjoy a visual reminder of Willie’s long ball during visits to the Big O thanks to a special yellow seat marking the exact location of his homerun shot. When the Expos left for Washington in 2004, the seat was removed and now sits in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, ON.
Outside the stadium leading into the team store, there’s a display at PNC Park with jerseys and T-shirts featuring the Pirates’ biggest stars. It’s no surprise to see 2013 National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen’s shirt on display or that of All-Star third baseman, Pedro Alvarez. Shockingly, we were hard-pressed to find gear featuring our favorite Pirates player, Montreal native Russell Martin, who was left off the wall in favor of team manager, Clint Hurdle. A hardcore Habs fan and the catcher who helped lead Pittsburgh to the team’s first postseason appearance since 1992? Get the man a primo spot on the jersey wall already, Pirates! No word yet from our own consumer products department when the Therrien T-shirts will be arriving in Montreal…
From Montreal to Moscow, pretty much the whole world knows about Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s penchant for, shall we say, unusual and illegal extracurricular activities. While walking around in downtown Toronto, we were amused to see that Mayor Ford’s own constituents weren’t above poking fun at his misadventures. Instead of the ubiquitous Che Guevara or Moose Crossing t-shirts, novelty stores on Bloor proudly displayed their selection of funny Rob Ford apparel, perhaps hoping to capitalize on the newfound notoriety of the city’s pre-eminent politician.
While the Dundas Square in downtown Toronto has all the glitz and glamour of New York’s Time Square, there was a certain je-ne-sais-quoi missing in the atmosphere. On an early weekday morning, there wasn’t quite the hustle and bustle one would witness in the middle of Manhattan. That is not too surprising, though. After all, Toronto is a city of just over 2.5 million inhabitants, while there are closer to 8.4 million New Yorkers going about their business every day. One thing’s for sure, we didn’t see The Naked Cowboy’s winter-hardened cousin in the streets of Hogtown. Maybe he was having a warm cup of coffee at the corner Tim Horton’s.