Turning Back the Clock in Edmonton
The Friday night (Oct. 27) flight from Vancouver to Edmonton marked the third flight of the trip, and the third in four days. It also marked the third time zone change in four days for Washington, and the impending game against the Oilers would also be the third in four days. By this part of the trip, with two games left to play and three-plus days on the road still ahead, I was feeling the fatigue. And I hadn’t even been on the ice.
The ride to Edmonton was quieter than the one to Vancouver. With the next game only 18 hours away, I think some guys were looking to steal some sleep en route to Alberta. I spent the ride as I spend most of them, writing and working as long as my laptop’s battery would permit.
I looked out the window as the plane descended into Edmonton. It was snowing. It wasn’t coming down particularly heavily, but it was coming down steadily and continuously. And there was an accumulation on the ground.
The bus ride from the airport to our Edmonton hotel took more than 30 minutes, so I grabbed some sleep on the way. When I woke up, we were in downtown Edmonton, pulling up in front of the hotel. It was 2:30 a.m.
Virtually everyone in our traveling party headed upstairs to grab some sleep after learning that Glen Hanlon had scrapped the scheduled morning skate at Rexall Place. No sleep for me, though. I wrote most of the Vancouver postgame notebook on the plane, but before I could sleep I had to post that piece, and then write and post the gameday preview for the Edmonton game. Complicating matters was my inability to get and maintain an internet connection. After some phone calls and some troubleshooting, I was finally online to stay. But it was after 4 a.m. now, too.
I finally finished up and hit the pillow around 7:30. My kids called at 11:30, and then Tarik called to see if I wanted to get some lunch somewhere. Might as well, I figured. Sleep wasn’t happening.
We headed out onto the snowy streets, and I was glad I had grabbed an overcoat before leaving Baltimore. It was still snowing, and there were several inches on the ground by now. After lunch, I grabbed a short nap before showering and catching the team bus to the rink.
There weren’t many players on the bus. Most grabbed a cab and went over early. It was getting dark by now, and it was still snowing. The freeway leading up to the rink is called “Wayne Gretzky Drive,” which is pretty cool.
By the time the bus arrived, more than half of the players were already in the building. The usual handful of players was playing with a soccer ball in the bowels of the arena while others were busy readying their sticks for the night’s action. Upon entering the aging arena, I waited along with Craig Laughlin for Hanlon to come out and tell us about his lineup changes and the reasoning behind them.
After a short chat with the coach, we jammed ourselves into the tiny elevator and made our way up to press level. At Rexall, that means walking part of the concourse, going through the seating area and climbing a staircase to the catwalk that rings the ice surface from high above the rink. I made a note to myself to keep coffee consumption to a minimum. Any restroom trips would involve retracing my steps, and doing so during intermission when the concourse would be jammed with others looking to do the same.
The public address announcer at Rexall kept referring to the “hockey game” in virtually all of his announcements. I liked that. With those frequent pronouncements, the snow outside and the Hockey Night in Canada crew inside, it definitely felt like hockey season. I found some irony in the fact that Alex Ovechkin was making his debut against the Oilers exactly 27 years after Wayne Gretzky had made his first appearance against Washington, both in the same building.
I also liked Edmonton’s in-game production. It was all about the hockey, no goofy games, ridiculous sponsored stunts or other affronts to the attention span. Also, I noted some “white space” in the production. The folks in control did not feel compelled to continuously bombard the crowd with announcements, music or worse intrusions. It was nice just to feel “the buzz” that naturally permeated the old barn, free from music and man-made hype. It dawned on me that it had probably been more than 20 years since I had been in a hockey rink during a game without hearing sound and seeing something on the overhead scoreboard. I savored it, knowing it might be more than 20 years before it happens again.
The game turned out poorly for the Caps, and the locker room was extremely subdued afterwards. After hearing Brian Sutherby and Ben Clymer’s takes on the defeat, I began the long trek back to the media catwalk. I felt bad for Sutherby, an honest and hard-working Edmonton lad who desperately wanted to put on a good show for the home folks.
It was nice not to have to leave town immediately after the game as we had done in Denver and Vancouver. I took my time in finishing my work, and did not take the team bus back to the hotel.
Tarik said he’d give me a ride back to the hotel. We finished working, and then went to look for his rental car. The winds were swirling and the snow was still coming down. By the time we got to the car, we had circled the entire arena and we were quite frozen.
Given an extra hour with the clocks moving back, we made our way to the hotel bar for a couple of beers. Every television in the joint was showing a replay of the game we had just witnessed, so we didn’t stay long. We had to get up early on Sunday to make the drive down to Calgary for Monday’s game against the Flames.