As my adventure to the spiritual home country of hockey ends with me sat in seat 39G of Air Canada’s flight to London, I find myself at a loose end and able to start to reflect on what has been a trip of a lifetime. I really should mention that this trip wouldn’t have happened if not for my amazing fiancée Catherine either, so now that’s the mushy part done, let’s talk hockey!
Now, the last time I wrote about the trip, I was looking forward to my second NHL game of the trip in Ottawa and let me tell you, the Canadian Tire Centre certainly doesn’t disappoint, and neither did the game! An 11 goal thriller, two fights and even a first (and second!) NHL goal for a young Hab in the shape of Charlie Hudon.
The arena, dear god, the arena….the CTC is a place like I’ve never been to before to experience hockey. I had thought that the Bell Centre in Montreal had opened my eyes to ‘Hockey night in Canada’, but if they were opened there, Ottawa pulled them out, swung them round and stuffed them back into my mouth!
I could not have imagined how different a game this would feel. I wasn’t on the big screens, I was in the gods again, and the beer was severely overpriced ($11.50 a CAN!) but I loved every minute of it. This is a 17,000 seater arena that is built entirely around the Ottawa Senators and the match night experience. Merchandise stores everywhere, more food options than Belfast City Centre (poutine, mmmm) and a fan bar known as the Fan Deck, where everyone can get a beer and watch the game from behind the away goal (well, twice a game anyway).
I got sucked right in. If I moved to Canada tomorrow, I’ve gotta day I’d go to Ottawa just for Sens games and to call the CTC my home arena!
With views like this and an anthem sung like none I’ve ever heard outside of Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh (the rugby one, not the ice shed they play hockey in there), it all amounted to one of the lasting memories I’ll take away from my time in Canada’s east.
But the holiday didn’t finish after the games were done, oh no! There was one last place that had to be visited. That place, of course, was the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Our final morning of the entire holiday was spent with me wandering the halls of the basement museum pressed up against display cases with the greatest moments in hockey history preserved with jerseys, gloves, sticks, pucks and even nets on show. There are of course some modern twists to this museum experience, not least your chance to test your wrist shot against NHL goalies or prowess between the pipes against the likes of McDavid, Crosby and (*gush*) Shea Weber!
There’s even a chance to check out some Irish and British hockey history here too, with jerseys from both nations on display, as well as some well known names adorning the IIHF Wall of Fame, some of which we’ve discussed at length on past episodes of the podcast!
So, I was busy, but surely there was nothing more to check out? Oh, what’s that you say? I’ve missed out the most important part of the HHoF? Of course I won’t! I got to stand with Lord Stanley’s Cup!
The Cup is imposing. It’s steeped in history. It’s legendary for the superstitions that surround it, so…did I take a once in a lifetime opportunity to touch the cup? No.
Anyone that knows me knows well that I’m not an overly superstitious person. I have some gameday quirks of my own, it’s true. ‘The Hat’ always has to be on is the main one, but other than that, there’s not much that would worry me if I was to do them or not. But to touch the Stanley cup during the season, that’s a step too far. I refuse to be responsible for any scud put on either the Belfast Giants or the Nashville Predators!
Standing in the shadow of the cup will have to do, and will always do me, because let’s be fair, the one I’m more interested in is the Monteith Bowl, and as you can see, I had no issues touching that trophy!
All that’s left for me to say, for the final time for now at least is: I was in Canada, didn’t you know eh?