World Cup whirlwind

Tracking down Buff, Trouba and Laine -- by planes, trains and automobile


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Planes, trains, automobiles and hockey pucks: Come along for the ride as I spend a week criss-crossing the continent in the lead-up to this weekend’s start of the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/09/2016 (2377 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Planes, trains, automobiles and hockey pucks: Come along for the ride as I spend a week criss-crossing the continent in the lead-up to this weekend’s start of the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.


Day 1-2: Ottawa

I have one objective in the nation’s capital — an interview with elusive Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien.

The Jets have long maintained Byfuglien doesn’t like to do media and they enable him by only rarely making him available, despite NHL rules to the contrary.

So imagine my surprise when Byfuglien not only agrees, through a Team USA spokesman, to do an interview with me in Ottawa but also answers every question with long, detailed, thoughtful and funny responses. I walk away thinking that maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t with Byfuglien.

I watch Canada play the U.S. from the press box of Canadian Tire Centre. I’m seated next to living Canadian journalism legend Roy MacGregor. I’m too shy to introduce myself and we don’t talk until the end of the game when he looks over at me and says, “Are you going down to the dressing room, Paul?”

The point of this story — Roy McGregor knew my name!!!

Canada beats USA 5-2.

Travel tip: On major routes that utilize large planes, Air Canada flights will often have two adjacent emergency exit rows. When you check in online 24 hours before your flight, you will find that while Air Canada charges an extra fee to select any vacant seats in the second exit row (nearer the rear of the plane), any vacant seats in the first emergency exit row (closer to the front) are free within 24 hours of a flight departing..

What’s the catch? The seats in the first emergency exit row are free because they don’t recline, to ensure you’re not blocking passage through the second exit row in the event of an emergency. But here’s the thing: unless you’re flying overnight and/or overseas, you shouldn’t be reclining your seat nowadays anyway. We’re all in this together and fliers who recline their seats are increasingly regarded as pariahs by their fellow travellers. Just because it’s your right doesn’t make it right.


Day 3: Montreal

The crowd has gotten a bit more casual since hockey moved from the Montreal Forum to the Bell Centre, but these are still the best dressed fans in hockey.

In no other city will you see ordinary hockey fans at games wearing suits and ties and women in fur coats like you will in Montreal. Hockey has become such an ingrained part of this city’s culture that they treat it that way — as a cultural event no different than the opera or symphony.

North America beats Europe 7-4.

Travel tip: Europeans, Americans living in the densely populated Northeast Corridor and most Asian and Latin American countries long ago figured out train travel is the most civilized form of travel.

And that’s also true in the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto triangle, about the only place in Canada where there are enough people to make passenger trains economically viable. While the train station in Ottawa is located outside the city centre, the stations in both Toronto and Montreal are right downtown. The bottom line is the bottom line — a train ticket from Ottawa to Montreal cost me just $33, vs $120 for a flight. And then I saved another $45 on a cab fare from the Montreal airport to downtown.


Day 4-5: Washington, D.C.

The Verizon Center where the Washington Capitals play is built on some of the most coveted land in all of the U.S. located just blocks from the U.S. Capitol and within walking distance of the White House and Washington Monument. The land is surely worth more than the arena — and the arena’s very nice.

I have one goal in D.C. — spend as much time with Patrik Laine as I can. But I’m worried the Finns will be restricting access to the 18-year-old Jets phenom in what is his debut on the North American stage.

I need not have worried. Once they open the dressing room doors, everyone is available and approachable, including Laine. And nowhere in sight are the ubiquitous “minders” you see in NHL dressing rooms, hovering over every conversation and ready to shut it down at a moment’s notice.

The Finns go on to lose 3-2 to Team USA but Laine does me and my story a favour when he scores his first goal of the pre-tournament in the third period.

Travel tip: There are three airports you can use to fly into D.C. — Dulles, BWI and Reagan — but the first two are a nightmare because they are located so far from the city centre and traffic into D.C. is a tire fire. It took me as long to drive from Dulles to downtown D.C. as it did to fly from Toronto to D.C..

Fly into Reagan whenever possible. It’s just minutes from downtown and takeoffs and landings are spectacular, with all the amazing Washington landmarks in plain view.


Day 6: Pittsburgh

I have seen former Jets winger Kris King in the press box of every city on this trip and we finally introduce ourselves when we end up on the same flight from D.C. to Pittsburgh.

King works with the NHL’s hockey operations department these days but we talk about his days with the Jets and, in particular, the 1992 trade that brought him and Tie Domi from the Rangers to Winnipeg in exchange for Ed Olczyk.

It was a controversial trade at the time and King tells me about landing in Winnipeg and picking up the Free Press to see a front page headline, ‘Goons For Goals.’ “And I thought,” King laughs, “this is going to be interesting.”.

I have neither the heart or the courage to tell him I was one of the reporters who worked on that story.

I see two games in Pittsburgh — North America loses 3-2 to Czech Republic, while Canada beats USA 3-2 in overtime.

I talk to Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba after the first game. He is unusually generous with his time and open and expansive with his answers, causing me — once again — to wonder if the problem in Winnipeg isn’t with the players but with the way the Jets handle their media relations.

Travel tip: Just because a hotel calls itself an “airport” hotel doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near the airport.

I’ve run into this a few times, but the “Pittsburgh Sheraton Airport” was a particularly egregious example. A cab from the airport to the hotel cost me $25, which is ridiculous. And then from the hotel to downtown somehow still cost more than if I’d just taken a cab from the airport to downtown in the first place.

Use Google Maps when you book “airport” hotels and you won’t get burned like I did.


Day 7: Toronto

I arrive in Toronto, where I will be based for the next week covering the World Cup of Hockey, to see mayor John Tory has proclaimed Toronto “the world capital of hockey.”

That’s an interesting way to describe the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but then Toronto has never been known for its humility.

The tournament will be played at Air Canada Centre and all the teams are staying at a nearby hotel within walking distance. It quickly becomes apparent from a walk through the hotel bar that the biggest egos at this event won’t be the players but rather the insufferable national media that covers hockey in this country.

There is an unavoidable reflected glory that comes with covering hockey in a rabid country like Canada — and way too many media people who think that means it’s about them.

Travel tip: Two words: Porter Airlines.

Porter is the best airline in North America as far as I’m concerned and if this Toronto-based airline went national, no Canadians would fly with anyone else.

Porter is basically a discount airline that provides business class service to everyone. In Toronto, everyone gets free access to a beautifully appointed lounge that is better than any Air Canada lounge I’ve used. Booze on the planes is free and served in an actual glass. And when you fly into Toronto, you land at Billy Bishop Airport, which is located downtown. I walked to my hotel, saving a $60 cab fare from Pearson.

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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