I propose the formation of a Hall of Fame for those puckheads who distinguish themselves with exceptional execution in the fine art of hockey roadtripping. My friends Mike and Marleen of Portland, Maine, I submit, would be first ballot nominees.
Narration of their feat of Wednesday for the Capitals-Bruins rematch in Boston is not meant to breed petty jealousy; let us instead draw inspiration from it.
My friends, you should know, are naturally advantaged for such adventure: they are retirees, and young still both in calendar and especially spirit. For most of the past 25 years they resided on Capitol Hill, and, over the past 10-plus years most particularly, rarely missed a Caps’ game. Additional distinction: they’ve a vacation home in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and within it is a sizable shrine to Alexander Ovechkin, for all the neighboring Sidney lovers to behold with each and every visit. Mike is especially disciplined about running errands up in the Great White North of Sidney Sympathizers while outfitted in a Capitals’ baseball cap.
Early in their retirement relocation to Maine Mike and Marleen learned of the Amtrak Downeaster. This conveyance demands all of $39 each for coach accommodations and delivers the Mainer literally into the belly of TD Garden, home of the Bruins and Celtics, and home again afterward. In other words, to Boston and back, in complete, spacious comfort, for about the price of parking your car at Dan Snyder’s mausoleum. Mike and Marleen’s fare was slightly discounted by their purchasing their tickets three days ahead of departure. So departing at 2:30 from Portland Wednesday afternoon they left the driving to a conductor, and Mike in particular took advantage of the arrangement.
The Downeaster, you see, offers premium refreshment: Shipyard Export, a Maine delicacy, and Sam Adams, regular and Light. The whistle-wetters are reasonably priced, too: $4.25 — “about half the cost demanded of the same brew inside TD Garden,” Mike reported. I inquired of Michael’s tally of handcrafted ales on his train ride down to Beantown for exhibition hockey, but fruitlessly: “In my retirement I do not count,” he replied.
Using Stubhub, Mike and Marleen were able to procure seats nine rows from the glass — preseason face valued at $89 — for merely $22. They secured a third ticket for their B’s fan friend Mary, and their tickets were overnighted to them.
They arrived at Boston’s North Station at 5:05, conveniently timed to coincide with Boston happy hour. They then reported to Boston Beer Works for additional sustenance. That venue boasts an onsite brewery. Michael enjoyed a five-selection sampler. Bs-sweatered hockey fans crammed the joint. Both Mike and Marleen found the food reasonably priced, and distinctive: “the biggest chicken quesadilla I’ve seen in my life — maybe an inch thick,” Michael reported.
More tavern tourism followed: Mike and Marleen and Mary set off for the Fours — “the best sports bar in America,” as voted by Sports Illustrated, its website boasts. A great sports town has a great sports bar, and my friends confirmed the Fours being that, though they noted the prevalence of Mike Milbury paraphernalia about the joint. All of Boston’s professional sports teams are celebrated at the Fours.
Wednesday represented a number of firsts for Mike and Marleen besides their maiden voyage aboard the Downeaster. Most dramatic among them: taking in a Caps’ game in a road building while wearing the sweaters of their passion. Marleen fancies a Backstrom, Mike an Ovechkin. And while they saw no others of uniform on the Downeaster, inside TD Garden it was quite a different story.
“Literally every section in the rink had Caps’ fans in it, and of course in red,” Marleen told me. Mike and Marleen saw scores of young Caps’ fans moving about the building, most wearing some manner of Ovechkin-themed fashion. In their movements about the arena concourse Mike and Marleen frequently encountered their kind, smiles and high fives quickly following. My friends estimated Wednesday night’s Garden crowd at about 15,000.
It’s highly likely that Wednesday’s attendance was swelled to some degree by a hope on the part of Boston hockey fans for seeing Ovechkin and Semin and Backstrom and Green, but Wednesday also represented a final opportunity for the locals to see the Bs play in Beantown for some while. Immediately after the game the team boarded a plane bound for Belfast, where on Saturday they’ll play an exhibition game against the Belfast Giants Select, an all-star team made up of the best players from the Giants and the rest of the UK Elite League. Then it’s on to Prague for a pair of season-opening games October 9 and 10 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Mike and Marleen were treated respectfully and even with warmth while attired in their allegiance by surroundings Bs’ fans. Few of them understood the game-opening assault Matt Hendricks authored on Greg Campbell. Michael, well suffused with spirits by this time, spiritedly explainined the moral appropriateness of the action as frontier justice for Tuesday night’s late-game mischief by Campbell.
“He did well!” Marleen exclaimed of Hendricks’ handiwork.
Their Bostonian friend Mary didn’t take Wednesday’s outcome so well, but Mike and Malreen knew how they had to acknowledge the victory: back to the Fours, for postgame gloating toasting. They had an 11:20 train home and some time to kill.
“We absolutely loved the experience,” Marleen told me. “Their in-game experience is exceptional — lots of classic rock, and not just snippets but extended samplings of a minute or more. And no silly Dance-Cam, no Kiss Cam. Lots of hockey-themed video and great, great music. We can’t wait to train back for the game on December 18.”