So the NHL season ended with Mum’s beloved Blackhawks’ capturing the Stanley Cup for the third time in six years! No more thrills now until the Fall – and yet I’ve still got hockey on the brain…
I was just at this annual black tie event, having a fine time people-watching and swillin’ the bubbly when I noticed my colleague Jason across the room – and I was suddenly struck by this massive wave of melancholy.
No offense at all to Jason! He was looking sharp as he always does at this soiree. Only this time he was clean-shaven – a grooming choice that reminded me how last year he was sporting a playoff beard in solidarity with our L.A. Kings. The Kings were still in the midst of clawing their way to winning the 2014 Stanley Cup – and although this season ended without even cause for 5:00 shadow, I’m still immensely proud of those boys. Melancholy. But proud.
Anyway, that’s why this post is in both the “Traveling Bits” and “Sports Bits” sections of my blog. The fact that hockey came to mind in the middle of some black tie affair just shows that (admittedly, to the annoyance of some…) “the best game you can name” is rarely far from my thoughts – even when I’m planning vacations!
As I’ve recounted before, hockey entered my life in a huge way in 1993 when the Kings made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. My sudden and utter fascination with the sport even led to trying my own hand at it! So, about a decade later when I agreed to meet up with the folks for a holiday in Alberta, our itinerary just had to include Edmonton: home of the legendary Oilers and former realm of my all-time favorite player Jari Kurri and, of course, of “The Great One” – Wayne Gretzky.
Our trip plans included taking in spectacular natural scenery in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper. We’d been to that gorgeous neck of the Canadian Rockies before, so we knew we couldn’t possibly go wrong there. But Edmonton was an unknown for us – which comes out of putting a pin in a map based solely on where they’re famous for putting a biscuit in a basket.
And which is part of what makes life fun.
On arriving in Edmonton, our first “discovery” was Fort Edmonton Park. Back in the 19th century, the big reason for a sojourn in Edmonton would have been to trade for furs. The Hudson’s Bay Company set up a post there to trade with locals for beaver pelts needed to satisfy the current passion for fashionable men’s hats.
The park offers charming depictions of other eras in Edmonton’s history, but we opted just to enjoy a pleasant train ride across the grounds to focus on the fort. The buildings and atmosphere made it easy to get a feel for what it would have been like living, working and bartering there back in the day. We were especially impressed by the trading post and example of the kind of “York Boat” that pelt peddlers would use to paddle goods to Hudson Bay.
Next we took a look at (and really only scratched the surface of) Edmonton’s contemporary vision for a “trading post” – the amazingly vast and varied West Edmonton Mall. Besides housing loads of stores (over 800) in which to indulge a passion for shopping, there are also restaurants, clubs, movie theatres, an amusement park, a water park with a wave machine and, I’m sure, much much more. I never thought I’d say this about a shopping mall but this one truly is awesome!
Despite the astonishing array of recreational choices, our favorite mall activity turned out to be settling down with coffees and doughnuts at a Tim Horton’s that overlooked a busy hockey rink. From our omniscient perch, we followed a spirited game between teams of kids who, besides being darling, already played position better than I ever did (I so should have been taking notes…). We couldn’t help wondering if there might be a future pro out there who’d one day earn the right to hoist the Stanley Cup.
And speaking of! The last stop of the day was the big reason for our hitting Edmonton in the first place – to view for ourselves the arena that’s been the scene of epic Cup hoisting on many an occasion. It was then called Skyreach Center, is now Rexall Place and will shortly be the ex-home of the Oilers. A new venue is being built for them – but it was in the building before us that Gretzky, Kurri and so many other hockey legends created such magic in the ’80’s and beyond.
With the careful reverence that to me such a storied place commanded, I timidly approached and gently tested one of its portals. Alas, it was locked (being late summer). So I yanked a bit harder on several more of the glass gateways into that hallowed hall. Still no luck. Finally, I rattled the heck out of every stupid door I could find because I was so close to getting a glimpse of that beautiful ice and, hey, when was I going to pass this way again, right?!
Nope. Ah well. Resigned, I finally figured it would have to be enough to rest my hands on the building walls, hoping to absorb some of the energy and artistry that took place just inside. What a privilege to have witnessed those days, I thought. What a thrill!
It was my privilege to see Gretzky play for a number of years n L.A. When he became a King, he undertook the mission of raising awareness of hockey in the city – and while he was at it, in the whole state. He raised the spirits of longtime Kings fans. And he raised expectations that were finally fulfilled when the Kings became champions in 2012. Gretzky paved the way for that success – and there’s a terrific statue honoring him in front of Staples Center.
But there’s a statue of him in Edmonton too. And this likeness raises the matchless Stanley Cup as the real Great One did four times there. Right there. (Contented sigh!)
You just don’t know where following a passion will take you. For some, it will lead to holding the Cup on high as Gretzky did. It will prompt others to grow a beard in the hope of wearing it with pride deep into June. For me, a passion for hockey was never going to lead to a Cup – but, among so many other gifts, I’m pleased that it led to a lovely and sentimental adventure in Edmonton with the folks. It was a trip filled with top shelf scenery, along with some scratch-your-back-with-a-hacksaw surprises.
What can I say? It was peanut butter!
Like the old joke goes: we went to a hockey game and a delightful vacation broke out. Okay, the saying doesn’t exactly go like that. But it’s very nice when it happens!