Archive for October, 2011

Prince Edward Island

October 30th, 2011 Comments off

One of the great things about this trip is that I’ve been able to visit places that I didn’t know existed.  For example, before the trip, I was at best only vaguely aware of Prince Edward Island, but now not only do I know where it is, I can say I’ve been there!

They love three things in PEI: potatoes, the Confederation Bridge, and hockey.

The view from the driver's seat as I drove towards PEI on the Confederation Bridge. Hockey lay yonder!

I couldn’t believe how much hockey was in PEI.  Recall that it’s just a bit larger than Rhode Island in land area and has the population of a mid-sized suburb: 140,000 souls.  It’s remarkable, then, that almost 6% of the island residents are registered with the provincial hockey governing body, Hockey PEI.  Only 1% of Minnesotans are registered with the equivalent organization.

Consider, too, that there are 27 rinks in PEI, which works out to be the highest rinks-per-capita of any province.  That’s even higher than the rinks-per-capita value of Blaine, MN, which boasts 10 indoor sheets and a population of 57,000.

I’m not sure if I would have had trouble finding a game on the island, but fortunately, Wes did the legwork for me.  He very enthusiastically commented on my blog about hockey in PEI, and then he emailed me before I had a chance to respond to his comment.  He’d find me a game, he assured me, and he came through.

Wes normally organized his own pickup hockey group, but they weren’t going to be playing while I was in town, so he sent out feelers to his friends and their friends for other pickups and league games.  That’s how he came upon a team needing a goalie the first night I would be in town.

When I got to the rink, I found that not only was the team short a goalie, they were in need of more players in general.  There was much celebration when the sixth skater walked in about 15 minutes before the game, thus giving us a token sub on the bench.

Wes was at the rink to meet me in person, and when he saw how sparse the dressing room was, he casually offered to suit up and help with the effort; he had his gear with him in his car trunk.  I guess in Canada you never know when a hockey game is going to break out.  His proposal was gladly accepted.

Despite the numerous blank lines on the game roster, the skaters were in high spirits in the locker room, and it wasn’t just the beer.  The ages of the group ranged from mid-20s to early 40s, and the way the guys talked and skated implied extensive previous hockey experience. A couple guys worked in construction, and at least two more were farmers.  Wes and I were outliers of sorts, with our university degrees and white-collar jobs, but we all got along with the rest of the team regardless.  Whenever I couldn’t understand what one of the guys was saying — we were getting towards Newfoundland, after all, I’d just smile and laugh along, and that seemed to do the trick.

We started the game strong, but after about 20 minutes we (or at least I) started to run out of steam.  A few more players for our side showed up during the game.   Sadly,  it wasn’t enough. We fell to our opponents.  They were as gracious in victory as we were in defeat.

Group photo after the game in PEI. Wes is to the left of me (my right).

The young ref who took the post-game group photo skated up to me as I was collecting my water bottle from the net.  He was lanky and a bit shorter than me, and he couldn’t have been older than 16.

“You’re on some sort of trip?” he asked.

“Yup, I’m from Minnesota and I’m traveling to every state and province to play hockey,” I replied.

“Wow.  Sign me up!  What did you think of the hockey here?”

“Well, if you guys grow potatoes as well as you play hockey, then Idaho has a lot to be worried about.”

He gave me a confused look, laughed, wished me luck, and skated away.  Note to self: international commerce jokes best avoided during small-talk on the ice.


That olde-tyme hockey smell

October 26th, 2011 Comments off

If I didn’t have a strategy for dealing with the smell of my hockey gear on this trip, it would eat me alive.

Hockey gear, hockey gear, why do you smell so?

Not like raindrops and lolipops but like death and skid row.

— Me, trying to be poetic

The smell of hockey is familiar to anyone who has spent time in a rink or with a player.  It’s a very distinctive smell, one totally unlike normal body odor and only vaguely similar to those stenches associated with other sports.  The combination of ice, sweat, and bulky pads seems to provide an ideal reproduction environment for some hockey-specific cocktail of microorganisms.

The smell of a hockey bag or locker room is as much a part of the game as sticks and pucks. Even though the odor is synonymous with the game, it’s pretty tough to describe to those unfamiliar with its aromatic nuances.

— Chris Peters, “Sink the Stink

The details of the smell vary from person to person and from year to year.  Sometimes, it conjures thoughts of aged cheese.  Other times, the chewy aroma of bread fills the air.  Still, despite the minor variances on the olfactory theme, the dominant underlying notes remain clear: hockey smells like hockey.

The odor is not necessarily repugnant.  To hockey players, it brings to mind the thrill of the ice.  To hockey parents, thoughts of their kids and their bygone youth.  To fans, great games won or lost by the home team.

When I smell hockey, it means that fun is near.  The smell of hockey means that I am about to either observe or participate in the greatest game on earth.

I admit it, my goalie gear smells a bit.  Even thought the smell can have some appeal in certain contexts, I want to be able to escape it, too.  There’s no way I’d be able to tolerate the hundreds of hours spent driving on this trip if I were forced to smell my pads the entire time.  Fortunately, I’ve worked out a three-part solution:

1. Segregation: I do not transport my gear in Sam‘s cargo area.  Instead, I use a cargo box to physically separate my equipment from the air I breathe in the car.

It’s not your typical roof-mount cargo box.  Instead, it’s a Thule Transporter box that mounts to any Class II or Class III receiver hitch.  You can see my review for more details, but the gist is that by being hitch-mounted, it’s easy to access my gear, my gas mileage isn’t affected, and I don’t have to worry about driving under low-hanging beams.

The Thule 665C hitch-mount cargo box holds all of my goalie gear, but the fit is like a glove.

2. Chemicals: Febreze is a wonderful thing.  I keep a bottle in my gear bag.

3. Drying: I always set my gear out to dry after games.  Not only does that help to reduce the smell, it also frees me from having to don cold, wet pads at the next ice time.  At home, I had a drying rack for my gear.  On the road, I’ve had to improvise.

The best place I’ve dried my gear on the trip was at my dad’s house in Phoenix.  There, I set my gear on the balcony, and the 10% humidity coupled with the 110-degree air temperature left my pads bone-dry in about 5 seconds.

In many other cases, I’ve had to do the airing-out indoors.  Apologies to my friends and family who have dealt with that.  As for the various motel rooms that I’ve left smelling like ice arena dressing rooms, well… as a good Minnesotan, I feel bad about that too.

In hotel rooms, I set out my gear wherever there’s a chance of good airflow.  If the windows open, I open them.  If the bathroom has an exhaust fan, I turn it on.  I hang some items in the closet area, and I drape others over the shower curtain rod.  If a washer and dryer are handy, I’ll run my hockey undergarments through the cycle.

Perhaps one day they’ll invent hockey equipment that doesn’t smell, but in the meantime, my strategy of technology and discipline seems to be good enough to keep the trip going.

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Thanksgiving in Canada

October 25th, 2011 Comments off

I don’t know if hockey is a traditional part of Canadian Thanksgiving, but playing some puck was how I celebrated the holiday.

It was getting close to the time I needed to be in New Brunswick, and I still didn’t have a game lined up.  The most viable options appeared to be the rinks in Moncton or Fredericton, but I didn’t have any connections in either city and the rinks had nothing scheduled on the holiday.  I booked a hotel in Moncton and wracked my brain for some way to scare up a game.  Then it hit me: Kijiji.

Kijiji is basically like Craigslist.  While both services are available in Canada and the States, Kijiji tends to be the more popular option north of the border.

I ran a few searches for hockey in New Brunswick on Kijiji, and I stumbled upon a posting:

Players needed for pickup hockey

We are looking for a few players to join our hockey pickup games. every Monday at 12pm (noon) from October until March. $10 / skater for each game or $160 for the entire season. Open to all skill levels.

I was going to be in New Brunswick on a Monday, so it seemed perfect.  Two questions: would they play on the holiday, and would they need a goalie?  Only one way to find out.


Are you playing any pickup this coming Monday (Thanksgiving)? If so, are you looking for a goalie? I’ll be in the area from out of town and am looking for a game to play in. Let me know. Thanks!


The response came quickly:

Hi Jeff,

We’re playing this Monday but should be covered for goalies. I’ll keep you in mind if one of the goalies cancels before then.



I did not give up.  We had a bit more back-and-forth that didn’t get me anywhere, then I sent this:

Ok, thanks for the info.  I’m just passing through this weekend (I’m this guy: ), but thanks for the offer to put me on the list.

Best of luck this hockey season!


Playing the trip card worked:

Hi Jeff,

I didn’t know you’re on a quest 🙂

For the Monday pickup I’m one of the goalies — I don’t mind giving you my spot if that means you can check New Brunswick off your list 🙂

Let me know,


Success!  For the third time on the trip, one of my goalie brethren yielded his net so that I could play.

Cosmin turned out to be an upbeat guy who had moved to Canada from Romania over a decade prior.  He walked into the dressing room wearing a Steam Whistle t-shirt, and I found him immediately likable.

In his day job, he was a researcher for Canada’s National Research Council.  With a PhD in computer science and areas of research in artificial intelligence and natural language processing, he was no intellectual slouch, but he interacted swimmingly with all of the guys at the skate no matter the colors of their collars.

He told me that there seemed to be an abundance of goalies in New Brunswick, so he had started his weekly pick-up game in part to give him a place to tend goal.  I felt honored to take his place for a week.

Thankful, even.


Hockey au Canada francais

October 24th, 2011 Comments off

Driving from Ottawa toward Montreal, I noticed an increasing bias towards the French language in the signs and advertisements along the road.  Then I crossed the border, and the English language seemed to be wiped from the Earth.

The Canadian flag became as rare as a unicorn, replaced instead with the azure-and-argent Fleudelise in front of businesses, homes, and provincial government buildings.  Strange restaurants appeared in place of more familiar chains.  The colors of the road construction cones changed from the black plastic with orange stripes seen in the rest of Canada, to orange plastic with white stripes.

I was not in Kansas anymore.  Then again, I have yet to visit Kansas at all on this trip.  But I digress.

There’s no Canada like French Canada.

— South Park, “Christmas in Canada”

The brilliantly warm orange and red colors of the rural Quebec autumn quickly gave way to the cold steel and concrete of Montreal.  Pastoral scenes changed to vast expanses of black tarmac.  I had been going along at a decent clip until then, but once near the city, the traffic was terrible.  Not once in the 48 hours I spent in Montreal did I see something other than bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeways.

Eventually, I made it to my hotel.  I popped on the tube to watch the Habs regular-season opener against the Leafs, but I found that the only broadcast of the game was in French.  I do not speak French.  I watched anyway.

The game was exciting in the same manner that watching a soccer broadcast in Spanish draws you in.  There was something about hearing the action described in that Romance language that seemed to enhance the subtle flourishes of skill usually missed.  Perhaps I was simply better able to pay attention to the game without trying to simultaneously process the call.

South Park's depiction of French Canada was inaccurate: I saw no beret shops the entire time I was in Quebec. (From "Christmas in Canada")

I played hockey of my own the next day thanks to Vimal.  Most hockey players I’ve seen on this trip have been white males.  Almost all of them, if I’m honest.  Vimal helped to break that pattern: he was of Indian heritage.

Talkative, energetic, and outgoing, Vimal was a student at Concordia University in the southern part of Montreal.  He had invited me to join him at a pick-up game at a nearby rink, and I jumped at the opportunity.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the ice.  Would people shun me for not speaking French?  Would the game be noticeably different?  Would guys be drinking wine after the game instead of beer?

No, no, and no.

I was the only goalie to show up for the skate despite a good number of skaters being present.  That might have been the rink’s fault: that rink was the only one up to that point in the trip that had required goalies to pay to do the drop-in.  It was only a few dollars, but at risk of sounding entitled, that was an affront to goaltending norms.

Once past the greedy rink gatekeeper, everything was fine.  The guys appreciated having at least one goalie, the teams were horribly lopsided, and nobody played defense.  It was just like pick-up hockey in English Canada and America.

Vimal and me. Observation: this rink in Montreal was one of the only ones I saw in Canada that had an American flag; almost all rinks in the US have Canadian flags. Then again, this was also one of the few times in Quebec where I saw a Canadian flag.

I switched ends every 10 minutes during the game.  At one end, I just stood around.  At the other end, I had quite the workout.  I think I was doing pretty well for most of the game, but near the end I was getting pretty tired.  I needed something to recover: poutine.

I had gone out to the bars with a group of people in Jasper, Alberta back in June, and during that experience I ordered a poutine off the menu.  What came out was, according to the Canadians present, not a very good poutine.  They told me I had to try it in Quebec and that it would be better there.  When I made it to Ontario, I asked Matt about poutine, too.  His advice was similar: order it in Quebec.  Thus, after the hockey game, I asked Vimal about poutine.  He said he wasn’t a big fan of cheesy gravy fries, but he knew a good spot.

Not where I ate poutine, but I thought the mascot sculpture deserved a photo: it's a bird eating a fry.

The poutine in Montreal was far better than the one I’d had in Jasper, but it only reinforced my suspicion that it wasn’t really my thing.  At least I learned.

As in Ontario, I decided that Quebec had enough influence on hockey to justify playing there multiple times.  I squeezed in another game the morning I left Montreal.

A woman named Steph invited me to skate with her Saturday-morning group.  Half the time would be for working on skills, and half the time would be for a scrimmage.  They needed another goalie, and I was happy to help out.  The big difference from past ice times: gender.  Mike (the coach) and I were the only men on the ice.  All of the skaters and the other goalie were women.

Thus, Montreal added a second strong dose of diversity to my hockey trek cast.

The skill levels of the women varied widely.  Some had the refinement of high-level competitive play.  Others looked like they had learned to skate the previous week.  They all shared a love of the game.

A love of the game is really what keeps all of us adult rec and pick-up hockey players going.  We do not play for fame, glory, or money.  We put up with the expenses of time and money, the damage to aging knees and backs, the often horrendous ice times — simply because we love playing.  We are children again when we are on the ice, living the youth we have not lost.

I played pretty well except for two goals: one that went in high-glove, and one that went in after I didn’t seal up to my blocker-side post.  That isn’t to say the women made it easy.  Even those who were at the lower end of the skill spectrum had a hunger for the puck; they never gave up.

The women all cheerfully thanked me for coming to their skate, I told them I had a wonderful time (because I had), and then I set off towards Quebec City.


Tough decision

October 23rd, 2011 Comments off

I did not play hockey in Ottawa.  I was supposed to, but I made the cardinal sin of a pickup hockey goalie: I backed out of a game.

After he interviewed me for his article in the Ottawa Citizen, Ken Warren offered to help me find a hockey game in Ottawa.  He put me in contact with Rob Millican, who runs Ottawa Rec Hockey.  Rob responded to me right away with an enthusiastic email saying how much he’d love to have me come and play hockey with the group Thursday morning.  I told him that sounded great and that I’d be there.  That was Tuesday morning around 3:00 a.m.

Later on Tuesday, Ken’s story hit the papers and got the attention of CTV Ottawa’s morning show.  Did I want to be on the show when I was in town on Thursday, they asked?  Of course I did, but there was a problem: I had already committed to the game.

I thought about it for a while.  It was a lose-lose situation.  Either I’d go to the game and regret missing out on the bright lights of television, or I’d go to the television studio and regret missing the game.

I had already played in Ontario, so strictly speaking I didn’t need the Ottawa game to complete the quest, but I really hate backing out of games.  Actually, I didn’t even know what it felt like to back out of a game.  Up until that point, I had never — not even once — backed out of a game after committing to play.

Rob had been accommodating finding me a game on short notice.  He had sounded so excited in his email.  On top of that, I felt like backing out would be a slap in the face for Ken, since he had written such a great article about my trip and had connected me to Rob.

I was tormented.  I felt physically ill, which might seem like an overreaction, but the choice was really getting to me.

In the end, I decided that I would regret not doing the TV interview more than I would regret not doing the game, so 22 hours after I accepted the game, and about 30 hours before the start of the game, I emailed Rob to back out.  He acknowledged the change with a terse response.  Though the tone was neutral, it was such a change from our earlier correspondence that I could tell he was irritated.

Sorry Rob.  Sorry Ken.