Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Blackhawks fan in Vancouver: trip review


Pregame graphics on the ice at Rogers Arena, Vancouver

My trip to Vancouver was definitely my most anticipated trip, for a number of reasons. First, I was getting to see friends I had not seen in a long time in both Seattle and Vancouver - always a plus. I hadn't been to Seattle since 1989, and had never been to Vancouver - actually, I don't think I've been to Canada since I was, oh, two years old - and I was going to get to see hockey in the same venue where Olympic hockey played out. Lots of pluses, all around, so I was very eager for this trip.

My time in Seattle was altogether too short, made shorter by a late-evening flight arrival, and then I spent part of Wednesday morning driving around looking for a Best Buy where I could buy an upgrade card for my Garmin GPS. It hadn't occurred to me to check my Garmin before I left on my trip if it included maps for Canada (it didn't). On the bright side, my new upgrade card is good for all of North America, including the Caribbean, so I'm apparently all set for a while. I love my little GPS unit - most of the time. Sometimes GPS units take that "direct route" thing a little too seriously and take you in odd routes, but I digress.

The drive from Seattle to Vancouver is supposed to be gorgeous. I'll take everybody's word for it, because it rained most of the drive up, and snowed most of the way back. However, just after crossing the Canadian border (which took about all of 90 seconds), the sun broke out and I got some really beautiful vistas heading north into Vancouver during what passes for local rush hour. My first glimpses of the city were far off, temptingly pretty, and after driving through residential areas, suddenly crested a ridge on Granville, and there was my first proper view of the city.


Yes, that's a Starbucks on the right, and no, I didn't stop. I stuck to Tim Horton's and Blenz and other local coffee shops for my caffeine fixes in Vancouver. I can get Starbucks at home!

I managed to get into town just in time to see a pretty good sunset. I swear I fell instantly in love with Vancouver the minute I was crossing the Granville Bridge into the city. Vancouver is ringed by mountains, of course, but the city itself is somewhat hilly, sprawled around a bay/harbor, not unlike Sydney or San Francisco. It's a very modern place: the architecture is absolutely studded with glass, which not only allows its residents eye-popping views of their beautiful city, but also creates a glistening, futuristic look. At sunset, the city is it up, shimmering citadels lining the shore, spectacular. I would call it one of the top five entrances I've ever had into a city: a moment that seared itself into my memory. 


 Science World dome on the harbor

Of course, the Vancouver skyline is more familiar than most would realize, since so many movies and TV shows are shot here. The first night, I was too tired from 24 hours of traveling to do much exploring, although I did drive around the city a bit. I also had some fabulous tapas at a Spanish restaurant called La Bodega (1277 Howe St), which was a short walk from my hotel. If you go, try the Plato Variado, an assortment of their cold appetizers - I thought the Mejillones Picantes were especially good. I would've eaten there every night, it was so good, but hey, I'm in a new city, I have to keep trying new places!

Unfortunately, the weather wasn't particularly cooperative, but that didn't keep me from exploring the city and the suburbs a bit on Thursday. Did some shopping and some sight-seeing, but didn't feel much like museums or the like. I had planned to spend Thursday exploring some of the local natural attractions and maybe driving to Whistler, but rain kept me close to the city. 

View of Vancouver as seen from Granville Island

Thursday, I went to Granville Island - a collection of shops, market and artists' studios - with a friend, and we ate at a restaurant called The Sandbar, which was located under Granville Bridge with great views of the city. Excellent seafood - thumbs up for their mahi-mahi with a chipolte sauce - and good wine.

Did you know British Columbia is home to wineries? Several, in fact. At The Sandbar, I enjoyed a really good Red Rooster Riesling - I think that if you're going to travel, you should try out local vintages, not stuff you can get at home. Red Rooster was so yum I had it again on Saturday; unfortunately, I didn't have much luck tracking down a bottle or two to take home.

Also on Granville Island: one of Rogers' Chocolates retail outlets, close to The Sandbar. Rogers' celebrated their 125th anniversary in 2010, and let me tell you - their chocolates are delicious. I just might have to order some of them by mail order, they are that good. Make sure to try their Empress Squares and Victoria Creams!



I found out that you could take tours of Rogers Arena for CA$12. Tours run twice a week (Wednesdays and Fridays), three times a day, arena schedule permitting. If you tour in the summer, you'll get to see the Canucks' or visitors' locker rooms; during the hockey season, they show you a video of the locker rooms instead, because the team is usually using the facilities during tour times.


The team store is located at a corner of the arena, and it's open every day. Tours depart from the upper level of the store, which opens into the main concourse of the arena.

Review of the store:  LOTS of selections, notably in their broad range of T-shirts, hats, and oh yes, women's gear! You may remember myself, Chicks Who Give A Puck, and other female fans/blogs supporting a wider variety/range of women-targeted gear. Well, the female Canucks fans are very lucky, because they have tons to choose from. Despite the store's odd configuration (small area downstairs; V-shaped shopping area upstairs), there is plenty to choose from here. I ended up with a team puck, and a hat with the orca "C" logo. (I bought one, ended up getting it signed by several guys on the team; then had to buy myself another one.) I would've bought the 3-pack of Christmas ornament mini-pucks (and used stickers to make them into Blackhawks pucks!) but they were really expensive and there was no choice to buy just a single one.

ROGERS ARENA TOUR

Rogers Arena (original General Motors Place) was opened in 1995, original built to be the home of both the Vancouver Canucks and the Vancouver Grizzles (NBA). The Grizzles lasted six seasons in Vancouver before relocating to Nashville; the Canucks still call Rogers home.

Rogers seats 18,860 for ice hockey and 19,700 for basketball, including 88 luxury suites, 12 hospitality suites and almost 2,200 club seats. Rogers is also known for having some of the most expensive ticket prices in the NHL - the very-top-row seats that set us back CA$125 apiece at Rogers would cost somewhere between $40-65 in Chicago. And although the Canucks have never brought home the Stanley Cup in 40 years of team history, their hockey fans are as die-hard as any in Canada, and Canucks tickets are hard to come by.


The tour started up in the Best Buy Club at the top level of the arena. In addition to the private boxes, there are two club/restaurant areas with season ticket holder seating - the Best Buy Club and the Wiser's Centre Ice Grill. These STHs include some food and drinks, but I think you were also required to buy a certain amount more per game. There is also a private dining area called the Captain's Club that you can buy membership for.

We got to walk through the press boxes (both home and visiting) as well as spend some time in the GM's box, located between the two press suites. The tour then showed us one of the private suites, which were decorated in pictures of Canucks team history. The pictures in the suite we went into caught my eye, because they featured Brent Sopel, who used to play for the Canucks, and who spent the past few years with the Blackhawks before being traded to Atlanta this past summer.

An interesting view down to the ice level: they were folding out the seats for the hockey game, something you don't see every day:



We walked around to the other side of the arena and got to see the broadcast gondola, where the radio and TV broadcasters are during a game. Below that was Wiser's, which gave us a really nice view of the center ice emblem, and the start of that morning's practice.



The tour was very thorough, but the best part was we got to watch about 20 minutes of the Canucks practice. Then our guide took us down to the service corridor level - again, we didn't get to see either team's locker rooms, but hey, I got to sit on a Zamboni - actually, not technically a Zamboni, I think they were Olympia brand. Close enough; I was happy. We also got to watch the practice from right behind one of the goal nets - we were standing behind Corey Schneider - for another 10 or 15 minutes, and I got a used practice puck! 

Sorry, no practice pictures - we weren't supposed to/allowed to take pics of the players during practice. (I sooooo wanted pictures of Schneider's goalie mask!)

Saturday, I spend the day with friends playing tourist around the city, which was a lot of fun, and had lunch at an outstanding brewpub in Gastown called Steamworks Brewing Company. Get the Beer Soup, and the Brew House Burger - both wow.

Saturday night, of course, was the big event - the Chicago Blackhawks vs Vancouver Canucks matchup! I have to say that although I got plenty of ribbing about wearing my Blackhawks shirt/jersey around the city, the Vancouver fans were mostly pretty cool. I didn't have one bad/jackass-level incident on this trip (unlike MN or TN), which was especially gratifying, considering how heated the Blackhawks-Canucks rivalry has become. But there were lots of little verbal jabs and comments about my team attire everywhere I went. (One waiter we had made so many "ha ha just kidding" cracks that I seriously inspected my food when it arrived.) If you're wearing an opposing team's jersey/gear, brace yourself for it. Just because they are so gosh-darn NICE doesn't make the insults disappear.

My favorite moment? I got to meet Aaron Douglas from Battlestar Gallactica during one of the game intermissions. (Yeah, me - huge sci fi nerd glee.) He was so nice. We took pictures with him. Said he loved meeting fans, said science fiction fans were awesome, and yes ... he teased me for being a Blackhawks fan. But he was so cool, really nice guy, totally down to earth. (Hey, that's a given - he's both a sci fi actor guy and he's a hockey fan. Enough said.)


Anyway, I know you want the hockey pictures, so here they are - if you want to see more, go to my Vancouver set on Flickr:


Corey Crawford led team onto the ice. He won in goal, 7-1. 


Alex Burrows, #14 of the Canucks
(Gotta have at least one shot of the opposition!)


Team warming up. A few of the Blackhawks are from the Vancouver area, so the Cup made its rounds here this summer with Troy Brouwer, Brent Seabrook, Andrew Ladd (now ATL), and Colin Fraser (now EDM). Duncan Keith is also from British Columbia, but a town called Penticton, a few hours away.

The game had special meaning for Troy Brouwer, whose dad was at the game. His father had suffered a brain aneurysm in the final days of the Blackhawks' regular season. The Blackhawks-Canucks game was the first game his dad had been able to see live since the previous spring. Brouwer scored one of the goals during the game. 


Captain Jonathan Toews during warmup. You don't hear about this kind of thing on the sports channels, because they're usually busy doing pregame chat during warmups, but as the Blackhawks skated off the ice after warmups, Toews tossed his stick up into the crowd of Blackhawks fans who were clustered around the visitors' bench/entry.

 

Jack Skille, #20. I like getting these player profile pics. 
So far, I have good ones of Hossa and Hjalmarsson; now Skille.


Patrick Kane. One one of his skates around, he slapshot the puck into the glass right above my head. (Yes, I was startled - I saw him make a move with his stick, and then *smack!*) I was the only Blackhawks-jersey-wearing fan standing among a bunch of Canucks fans on that stretch of glass, so that was a fun moment. 


Our seats, very last row, 300s. I don't think there's any SRO in this arena, at least, not that I noticed. If this was the UC, there would be an upper concourse above us where the SRO was; here, it was just walls. You can't see it too well in this picture, but there's railings between the rows because the arena is so steep on the upper levels, with little warnings on them to please not lean forward because it obstructs other people's views.


Home team taking the ice


They unfurled these screens during pre-game introduction. They looked very fine/thin, but were substantial enough to project images onto during the pre-game video montage. There were two on each end, it looked pretty cool, actually.


Honoring Pat Burns with a moment of silence.


National Anthem. Pretty awesome listening to almost 19,000 fans singing their national anthem together. (Yes, I learned the words to "O, Canada" so I could sing along, too.) Notice that the seats were full for the start of the game.


Patrick Sharp took the first penalty; he got visited by the famous Green Men (and two Little Green Men). The Green Men were a little lonely - Chicago only took 3 penalties all night.


Late in the 3rd, right before Vancouver scored. (Score was 7-0 Chicago at that point.) Notice how much emptier the place is. Some people just didn't come back after the second period; the people started leaving in bunches around five minutes into the third.


Hawks win! Hawks win! 7-1.

 * * *

Thank you, Vancouver. I had a lot of fun, loved your city, and I cannot wait to visit again!

Final picture to leave you with: Merry Christmas, Canadian style:




TeamVancouver Canucks
ArenaRogers Arena
800 Griffiths Way
Vancouver, British Columbia V6B 6G1
Canada

Seating capacity for hockey: 18,860
Cost of ticketsKnown for some of the priciest tickets in the league. Expect to pay CA$100+ for high-300's in the end zones.
Ease of accessAirports:
Vancouver International (YVR) - approx. 25 minutes

One of the Skytrain's stations, Stadium/Chinatown, is directly adjacent to the arena; and the arena is also on bus lines. There are a few parking garages in the area, but most of the streets surrounding the arena are one-way, and sometimes car GPS can lead you in unexpected directions on streets in the area. It is simply easier to walk or take public transportation to the stadium on game days/nights.
Parking costsVariety of parking choices in the area; prices vary (starting at CA$10+).
Practice facility
Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre at the University of British Columbia
6066 Thunderbird Boulevard
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z3 Canada
(604) 822-6121
Located approximately 13 km / 20 minutes west of Rogers Arena. Call for schedules. (Practices held at Rogers are not open to the public; although if you take a tour of Rogers Arena, you might get to see part of a practice.) There has been ongoing discussions about building a dedicated practice facility for the team much closer to Rogers.
Pre-game meal options outside arenaNot many options within a one-block range of the arena. Better to either choose to eat at the arena; or eat before you arrive. The "Gastown" and Chinatown areas of Vancouver are both within a few blocks' walk north of the arena and are home to many excellent dining choices.
Local hotelsThere are plenty of hotels in the popular West End district and Downtown areas. I stayed at The Inn at False Creek and absolutely loved it; the hotel was in walking distance (across the bridge) from Granville Island, and easy walking distance to the entertainment districts (ie. Granville St., Robson St.). If you're looking for an upscale hotel or major chain (ie. Hyatt, Westin, Fairmont), you will end up staying on the Coal Harbor side of West End - hotels there have some spectacular views of Vancouver Harbor, Stanley Park and the mountains north of the city.
Arena exteriorRogers is directly across the street from BC Place; several high-traffic streets circle both arenas.
What to do to fill time if you arrive before doors openNot much to do if you arrive early - any sort of seating is nonexistent; and not really much in terms of bars/restaurants within a 1-block radius of the arena. Two blocks north of the arena on Abbott St. is a Starbucks. However, the area is booming with new construction, so I would expect that the immediate area gains new choices soon.
Arena facilitiesATMs
Arena dining optionsOne of the widest and varieties of selections I've seen so far. LOTS of excellent choices including healthy options. Look for the stand that sells fresh-made doughnut holes - wickedly addictive.
Team store(s)Arena store (southeast corner  of arena at corner of Abbott St & Georgia St) is open before game time. Fantastic selection of team items.
Camera policyFrom Rogers Arena website: "For hockey games there is NO flash photography or video recording. Any cameras with detachable lens or any professional lens that exceeds 75 mm will be confiscated or taken to our Guest Services Centres. Any items stored at the Guest Services Centre is at your own risk."
SignsSigns allowed. No facilities on-site for signs; make your own at home.
Allowed to go down to glass for pre-game picturesYes. Fans were allowed all the way to front row. If you are facing the team benches, the visitors bench is the one on the left.
Special notesMy standard for judging other arenas' pre-game video production/getting the fans amped up is based on the United Center, which I'd rate as "10". I would also give Vancouver's a "10". They have pair of super-thin column-style screens which get dropped down for the pre-game, and they project a variety of pictures and videos of the current team and team history of them. It's pretty spectacular, and the best pre-game warmup show I've seen outside of the UC. Worth making sure you're at the area, and in your seat early enough to witness.

New outside the arena this year is a statue commemorating Roger Neilson and the famous "towel incident" in the 1982 Stanley Cup Playoffs vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks would eventually go on to the Finals that year, and "rally towels" would become a motivational symbol not just for the Canucks but across the NHL.
Good experience for families?Yes, although expensive.

3 comments:

  1. Vancouver looks gorgeous. All during the Olympics coverage I kept thinking I want to go. And now I do again!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for this wonderful & detailed post! I'm a Blackhawks fan heading up to Vancouver for a Blackhawks/Canucks game soon, so it was nice to read about what I can expect. :)

    ReplyDelete

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