EDMONTON, ALBERTA – My first sentence is going to sound like I’m kissing up here, but it’s always been an honor to come to Canada for hockey games. My first ever road trip with the Colorado Avalanche was to this country, Sept. of 1995, to Cornwall, Ontario. Twenty five years later, I’m sitting in an Airbnb in Edmonton, serving (technically) Day 2 of a 14-day quarantine.
Why am I in Edmonton, Alberta, serving a 14-day quarantine? Because the Avalanche are playing postseason games here in a couple weeks and I’ll be god-damned if I’m not going to be in the building when they happen. Of the hundreds of Avs playoff games since ’95, there are two I’ve missed. The first was Game 6 of the 1998 first-round series right here in Edmonton. My grandmother passed away and I went to Ashfield, Massachusetts, for the services. The other was Game 4 of the 2008 first-round series with Minnesota. Let’s just say I had some “intestinal” issues and leave it at that.
I have a credential to cover the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs for Colorado Hockey Now. Yesterday, I boarded a flight from Denver to Vancouver, then took a flight from Vancouver to Edmonton, landing at about 11 p.m. I was in my airbnb just before midnight, courtesy of a friend in the media business who not only drove me straight here from the airport but who also made a nice grocery run for me. I have some good Alberta beef, I have waffles, I have apples and potato chips and mac and cheese, I have Monster energy drinks and I have lots and lots of spaghetti – with red sauce and some white clam sauce. I also have packages of frozen elk, moose and venison. My friend is a “game” specialist, and while I have never, ever tried venison, moose or elk, I will….think about trying it.
Yesterday was, to use one of my new favorite words, dystopian. Denver International Airport had all the activity of one of my book signings many years ago. I did one at the Tattered Cover for a book I wrote on the Broncos and exactly two people showed up to ask questions to me and former Bronco kicker Jim Turner.
Neither of them bought a book. To put a new twist on a line from “Glengarry Glen Ross”, I think they “just liked to talk to sports writers.”
This was the scene near my gate yesterday, at about 3 p.m. in Concourse A:
I’ll tell you what, I was depressed when the pic was snapped. I really worry for my city, my state and my country right now. I don’t mean to sound pretentious on that. But seeing such a normally busy, economically important place such as Denver’s airport having a cricket atmosphere makes me worry. Yesterday was the first time I’ve been at DIA since March, when it was packed full of busy, mask-free people striding about their lives.
But I got on a flight I was never too sold would actually take off, mask on.
It was then on to Vancouver, on a small regional jet, and I’d say it was about half full, which was more than I expected based on that scene at the gate earlier. In Vancouver safely, it was then time for the moment of truth: customs.
Customs people have heard all the bullshit before. “That’s not MY hashish, officer!” “What, how did I EVER forget to declare that $30,000 ring I bought at a deep exchange rate???”
I got a pretty heavy grilling from my agent, most of which I’d rehearsed my answers to on the flight. A lot of questions about what my purpose was in Canada, how long I’d be staying, where I’d be staying, what my physical condition was, what my temperature was (they had a thing that took it, on your forehead) and they needed to see lots of “credentials”, not just a passport like normal.
I had a photoshopped Colorado Hockey Now logo on an 8-11 piece of paper and a letter from the NHL somehow declaring my services were “essential.”
I thought for sure I’d be put right back on the next flight to Denver.
Finally, however, the customs agent got out her “rubberstamp” device and lightly punched my customs form as being sufficient to pass.
So this is where I want to say thanks to the NHL for granting me a credential in the first place. My understanding is that a very small number of credentials will be granted to media in the “hub” cities of Edmonton and Toronto, but I got one. I think this is where having covered the Avs and the NHL for 25 years now paid off some for me.
The Vancouver airport is where things got even more dystopian. Other than my flight in from Denver, I did not see ANY gate open in the entire, massive airport. There was NOBODY around. None of the stores and restaurants were open. There was one store open, where they sold sodas and snacks and magazines and stuff like that, but that was IT.
My flight to Vancouver, inside the Air Canada plane cabin, looked like this:
Everybody had their mask on, nobody – nobody – talked to each other. People rarely even looked at each other. That was depressing, too. People just don’t talk to each other anymore. That trend started before the masks, because of cellphones, but it’s gotten worse. I was actually trying to be chatty with people, which is not my normal self. But I didn’t get very far.
Touchdown in Edmonton and on to the Airbnb. My pal picked me up with a trunk full of groceries. Walking through the door to the Airbnb? Here’s what it looks like:
That bed has a nice, firm mattress, which is what I need as a guy with a horrible back.
That leads me to this: The last few weeks I’ve really been working hard at Pilates, on the Reformer, to help the back. Joe Sakic is the one who actually got me to try it. Don’t forget, Joe’s career was cut short prematurely over a back injury.
My doctor said it’s either that or a fusion surgery that will have only a 60-70% chance of working. For the last few months, I’ve been taking prednisone to ease the pain in the back and hamstrings. The Pilates was helping me get off the steroids. Now, though, I’m cooped up for two weeks. If I’m caught out of this Airbnb – if the Canadian authorities find out I went out, for any reason other than a medical emergency, I risk a six-month jail sentence and/or a $750,000 fine. Canada isn’t $$%%$@%$-ing around with this virus.
So, yeah, I’m probably going to start getting out of shape again. I mean, I can do situps and pushups, but that’s about it.
Here are some other rooms in the Airbnb:
The second bedroom, which now serves as a place to put my luggage (yes, that’s the extent of my luggage. You’d be amazed at how much you can cram into a computer rollerbag. Not a chance in hell I’m ever going to pay to check a bag. Never).
A nice little living room with a TV. No cable, but I got Netflix and some other “channels” I hope to figure out how to access.
I think the artwork of a couple of birds is a nice touch.
My food supply for now:
No doubt some of the local pizza shops or whatever restaurants are on the Postmates list will be getting calls from me during this quarantine. But with some great local friends here, like my media buddy, I feel confident I’ll survive this just fine.
Depending how well the Avs do in the playoffs is how long I’ll be here. If they go all the way to the Cup Finals, I plan on staying. Well, if I can cover all that costs, that is.
Several of you out there have generously donated to the Avalanche Travel Tip Jar for this trip. If you want to donate as well, here is the link. No pressure or anything lol. But I won’t turn it down. (By the way, if you get some kind of “your session has expired” message when you click on that link – as has happened a few times I hear – you can just click on the actual Avs Travel Tip Jar button to the right of where you’re scrolling right now, and it should work just fine. It’s all safe and secure).
I want some “content” ideas from you here. I can’t be with the team for the next 13 days, but I will be in the building when they start playing actual games, starting with the Aug. 2 Western Conference round-robin game with the St. Louis Blues. I will try to do as unique numbers of stuff as I’ve ever done. Also while here: I plan to start a novel I’ve been thinking about writing. Oh, and I also want to direct.
Bottom line: thank you for helping to get me here. I hope to repay you with the best coverage as I possibly can, on the team we all care about.