It’s 930AM on a Saturday in Northern Minnesota. I am sitting in a quiet cabin in the North woods sipping coffee and looking out the huge A-frame windows at a snow-covered view. We’ve pretty much got everything you can ever want up here today; a fire in the wood stove keeping us warm, a boot hockey rink out back if we feel like having some outdoor fun, beautiful views, two barn kitties curled up (which makes the scene seem almost too picturesque), and of course good friends and family.
While everyone else is quietly reading or playing outside, my attention is drawn elsewhere, and like a true kid of technology, I am streaming news to my computer via my iPhone. I want to see who was chosen last during the All Star Draft, of course it was Logan Couture, he is still the at the bottom of the totem pole in the NHL having just made his rookie debut at the same All Star Game last year, at least this year he gets a car and some money for his favorite grassroots hockey charity…and I, get a decent segue into my real post for today: The 2011 All Star Game in Raleigh – Canadian Magic in the Southern U.S.
This time last year I was in Raleigh, about to touch the Stanley Cup for the first time EVER in my life…but I had already been hit with what can only be called “Hockey Magic” and would have been content to end my trip a happy girl after the previous nights’ happenings. Arriving in Raleigh the night before, my friend Jim and I had said that the only thing we wanted to get from our trip to the ASG were those coveted passes into the All Star Draft event on Friday night, not only because it was the first time for both of us at an All Star Game, it was also the first time for the new draft format. So we went to the convention center in downtown Raleigh to Fan Fair and started checking things out. I decided to be a total nerd and put on Ovi’s gear over at the stall displays, get my picture taken in front of the floor to ceiling banners of hockey greats, drink a bunch of beer, and buy a bunch of merch I probably didn’t need.
Following a pit stop at the refreshments stand (read “After we refilled our beers”) we were strolling along past a display of merchandise when a man in a suit came up to us and started asking Jim about his Tampa Bay Lightning sweater…this was it Gongers, after brief small talk the man asked us if we’d like to go into the draft and handed us those coveted wristbands.
My All Star Game dream had come true not even three hours into the trip. The draft was awesome, the players had a great time messing around as they went through the arduous task of selecting teams, and we just had fun cheering for our favorites. Minus the fact that I wanted to shove the kid screaming “OVI OVI OVI” over and over and over again down the bleachers in front of me, it was awesome! Afterwards we were standing in front of the stage being obnoxious and taking photos of Giroux and Briere for our friend Laura back in Georgia who is a huge Flyers fan. We were chirpin her and sending all kinds of mean things about the Flyers while standing about 5 feet away from the two men. In retrospect, I probably should have been asking for their autographs…especially since at this years Winter Classic I may or may not have been spotted wearing a Giroux shirt…I’ll plead the 5th on that. Ok, moving on.
So there I am, about to touch the Stanley Cup when I realize, I am the luckiest girl in the world and I wouldn’t trade this for anything. I wouldn’t have even traded my crappy seats for the Super Skills Contest that night for anything! And when I say crappy seats, I mean ALL the way at the top of RBC Center in Raleigh…against the wall. But ya know what, it was those very seats that lead to what can only be summed up as the greatest Canadian experience ever! Odd that my greatest experience with Canadians happened in the Southern United States, but I’m not complaining.
After kickin’ it and having a blast from our perch during the Super Skills Contest on Saturday night we decided head out and explore some of what Raleigh had to offer. On the way down I realized we had left the Skills breakdown sheets at our seats but was way too lazy to go back up to get them. We detoured into the lower bowl to grab some that other people had left. As I walked back up the steps I see my friend Jim talking to a group of Canadians (they were all in team Canada jerseys, it was an easy assumption to make that they were all from Canada before I heard their accents). The men in question were all sitting in a box suite sipping beer and making lively conversation with Jim and then myself as I walked up. Next thing we know, we’ve been invited to join them in their suite for a beer during the game the next day. You don’t pass up an offer like that, EVER! Here’s why…
The next day we headed back to RBC for the actual All Star Game. We made our way back to our new Canadian friends’ suite where we were not only offered beer and food, we were also invited to become a part of their group for the evening. We gladly accepted and took our places as honorary Canadians for the night. At one point in the night one of our benefactors gave me his all access pass and I went with another member of the group into the area where all of the media was reporting from. I ran into Taylor Hall, who we had briefly met the day before at an autograph signing, who was incredibly nice and then…I met someone I never thought I would see live in person. We walked over to the Hockey Night In Canada desk and bam, Ron MacLean! I met Ron MacLean! I was pretty stoked about that, got a picture, don’t tell me you gongers wouldn’t have haha, and then moved along.
Everything from the game was awesome, from the use of an old school “pick up game” being used at the start of the game, to the presentation of the NHL Guardians…which by the way is still a running joke with the Detroit Guardian forever having the tagline “ding ding here comes the sh*t mobile”…which is a whole different story, and last but certainly not least, the fake rivalries we made up for the game. Luckily for us, our pre-brought jerseys lined up with the draft and I got Ovi and Burns on my team while Jim got Stammer and Marty. We were all pretty happy with the weekend.
Our Canadian crew was not only the most gracious group of people I have ever met, they were also the most hospitable people I have EVER met in the South…and I lived there for SIX years! Everything this group did for us, two complete strangers mind you, was amazing! Letting us watch the game from their suite, feeding us there and giving us drinks, letting us use their all access passes, and to top it all off, bringing us on their bus with them to downtown Raleigh where they continued to pay for our food and booze and where they became friends we still talk to today. Late last night I received a text from one of them that said “Happy 1 Year Anniversary!” and I couldn’t help but smile and reflect on such an amazing weekend!
I’ve been typing so long now that I didn’t even realize it has started snowing outside, and I feel both happy and sad. I am incredibly blessed to be in such a beautiful place, but a part of me really wishes I was in Ottawa this weekend for the All Star Game activities. I really could care less who is on what team, who wins the skills contest, or who performs there. What I care about is the amazing atmosphere of fan camaraderie, the obvious fun the players are having, the event that draws true lovers of the game and the men who play together,so that for a brief suspended moment in time, we can all get along and it doesn’t matter who plays for which team or who you’re a fan of. All that matters during the All Star Game is that we get the chance to be one team, one fight, loving and defending the game we have built our lives around. Last year I also learned that Southern hospitality has nothing on Canadian hospitality…although, the city of Raleigh did an outstanding job hosting the ASG and the fans at RBC were, as always, wonderful people to fill an arena with!
Of course dear Gongers, rumors swirled all weekend of Gongers dancing on pool tables in dive hockey bars where people may know your name but good luck figuring out what the bar is actually called, “Where? What do you mean you don’t know if that’s a B or a 13?”, downing bottles of vodka in sleek nightclubs, causing some good old fashioned mayhem around town,and living the Gongshow mantra of “Wheel, Snipe, Party,” but hey…it wouldn’t be a hockey weekend off without some shenanigans now would it?
Until next time Gongers, W.S.P. and continue being the Beauties I know you all are!
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