Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Meet The Wild, Part 1 (goalies)

With about a month until camp, and considering the general dearth of actual hockey news to chew on right now, I thought I'd start taking a look at the roster to see where the holes are, where it's strongest, etc.

Up first is the goalies. In addition to being the most important position on a team, it is also the position with the least amount of change from last year - at least so far.

Niklas Backstrom is 30 (will not turn 31 until Valentine's Day Eve 2009), and is in the last year of his contract that pays him $3.1M (same cap hit). He will be an UFA after this season - more on that later. According to goaliesarchive.com, Nik has a NHL career regular season record of:

GP 99
WLT 56-21-14
GAA 2.17
SPCT .923

Very, very, solid numbers.

His NHL career playoffs record is interesting.

GP 11
WLT 3-8
GAA 2.55
SPCT .911

Of course, the Wild is 0-2 in those two series - though you can hardly fault Backstrom for either series loss.

Backstrom is much maligned for his shootout shortcomings. Nhlshootouts.com tells me that he has the third-worst winning percentage (.267) among goalies with at least 10 shootout appearances in the league. He also has the second-worst SPCT (.491) among goalies with at least 30 shots faced.

Josh Harding is 24 and is in the last year of his contract that pays him $750k ($725k cap hit) after which he will be a RFA. According to goaliesarchive.com, Josh has a NHL career regular season record of:

GP 39
WLT 16-18-3
GAA 2.61
SPCT .916

Decent numbers, in a backup capacity.

Josh has one relief appearance in the playoffs, where he played one period.

Josh has not appeared in enough shootouts to be ranked at nhlshootouts.com.

"Solid" and "decent" are hardly confidence-inspiring adjectives in describing your netminding tandem. Especially when you consider that the goalies in Lemaire's system receive the benefits of the heightened defensive awareness/execution of the rest of the players on the team - which, given the circumstances around JL's "decision process" on returning or not this season, you'd think would be even more in play in 08-09 than it was in 07-08.

Harding is clearly the heir apparent right now, though Backstrom is hardly over the hill. You'd think JL will be hoping to see Hards earn a full tandem role this season, to give DR the insight needed to proceed with each of their contract situations. While it's good (for the team) that both are playing for contracts, and neither really has a margin for error, it's tough to hope you can get more out of a goalie than you already do - particularly when arguably the greatest asset of one of them is his strict adherence to routine.

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, the 2009 UFA list for goalies isn't exactly star-studded, so, should either Harding grab the brass ring or Backstrom falter, sending Backstrom out in a trade at the deadline might bring a decent return - though the extent to which that return would be blunted by the fact that he played "poorly"/was outplayed by Harding to be getting traded in the first place obviously remains to be seen.

"Should the Wild goalies be better" is really not a pertinent question. Or, at least, it's not more pertinent than, "Does the Wild need better goaltending?"

I'm not sure the Wild is an upgrade from Backs/Hards to Luongo away from Cup contention this year. No, those two don't steal too many games, but they really don't give any games away, either. And, on the list of the Wild's overall issues, I think "lack of elite goaltending" is probably not in the top three (depth at center, supplementary scoring and team toughness all being more prevalent, off the top of my head).

I guess the bottom line is that Backstrom and Harding both control their own fate this season. Again, that ought to be a good thing for the team overall as players tend to perform well in contract years. I don't think it's just Backstrom that could end up as trade bait either. If they both play at the same level, then I could see where Harding would be more desirable to another team than Nik. That the team is relatively thin at goalie at the AHL level (and below), is a concern as well. So you'd think that, for DR to trade Harding he'd have to get back another young goalie who is at least NHL back-up quality - and with some upside.

Should be an interesting year between the pipes for the Wild.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Gaborik Un-Update

There is no news on Gaborik's extension situation. Risebrough and Lynn flew to Slovakia and wined and dined him for four hours. They gave him a look under the hood of the organEYEzation, so to speak. It was informative and interesting and included some give and take about Gaborik's worth to the team, his future, etc.


There has been no negotiating. Hell, to the best of our knowledge there hasn't even been an offer extended yet.

All this crap about Russia or trades is just bored hockey people trying to fill the most boring part of the year.

When there's actual news, I'm confident we'll learn about it.

Until then, everyone calm down.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Campfire Tales

Alleve is my friend.

I am happy to report that the 2008 Lifetime Hockey camp was another tremendous success.

First, after all my hand wringing and teeth gnashing over the baggage situation, I ended up only having to pay the $25 fee for the second bag - both ways! Apparently, FourthBest's bark is much worse than it's bite insofar as their size restriction is concerned. I think that, when the bags did not weigh more than the allotted 50 lbs, they were disinclined to break out the tape measure.

I can't say enough about how well the camp went, nor how well it is run. The "local" staff (Dan and Mark, primarily) really have it down to a science by now, and that allows the coaching staff (who come in from Red Deer, Alberta) to just focus on what they do best: teach the game of hockey.

And they don't just teach it. They inspire a passion for the game that you would expect out of a group of Canadians. They don't talk over people's heads, they respect that - at a camp for beginners and intermediate adult players - the range of ability and experience will vary widely - and they manage to do all this while both imparting some great hockey knowledge and making the experience fun.

Skaters are on the ice at least 3-4 hours a day (not including open ice sessions which many campers take advantage of) for a total of around 15 hours of ice time with a coach. This is supplemented with dryland and chalk talk sessions, yoga and nutritional instruction and information, a coaches game and reception, continental breakfast and hot lunch every day, and great camaraderie throughout.

Full boat (ie no discounts - which are available to returning alumni), skaters pay $545 to attend the camp. While $36/hour of supervised ice time isn't a very good deal, the entire camp includes nearly 40 hours at the rink. I don't think anyone there would feel that $13.62/hour for the camp is a bad deal.

But the real testament to the camp's value comes from the campers themselves. On Sunday morning my buddy and I were sitting outside the rink before getting dressed for the end of camp tournament, talking hockey with three guys: one from West Virginia who is part of a small-but-dedicated group of hockey enthusiasts who get together for pick-up hockey in that ultra-non-traditional market, one from the VA/DC area who is also a Caps season ticket holder (that's the sign of a true hockey fan right there), and the third who had traveled from Sheffield, ENGLAND to attend camp this year after learning about it a couple years ago.

Then there were the two gentlemen who attended camp from Japan this year, one of whom is reported to have been a member of the Japanese national team at one point. The story there was that they are trying to build a similar program in Japan and were here on a fact finding mission. While there was a spoken language barrier, it was fun and cool to communication on the ice* with those guys - and I'm sure I speak for everyone at the camp when I say that we wish them all the best.

Approximately 40% of the campers this year were women. That's awesome! A common scene later in the afternoons was a bunch of women sitting around under one of the trees outside the rink, a drink in hand, kibbitzing about this or that.

I mean, this is the kind of scene that the people that don't believe hockey CAN grow in America need to see. Does it mean hockey WILL grow in America? Not necessarily, no. And I realize that there's a difference in that this took place in Minnesota as opposed to, say, Atlanta or Phoenix. But it did take place, and it attracted people from literally all over the world. There was a father/son/daughter group there. At least one husband-wife tandem.

It's 80 degrees and beautiful outside, but there are 80-odd adults working their fannies off inside in soggy, smelly hockey gear for upwards of 12 hours a day - for no other reason than they love the game.

Why don't you ever hear about football camps like that?

So, my hat's off to the people that make Lifetime Hockey go. It's a great experience for all involved.


*And I do mean that literally. After picking the upper corners on me all day long, I went up to the guy and asked him in pantomime if I was giving him too much over the shoulders. He indicated that I was. A minute later he skated up to me in the crease and asked me in pantomime if I wanted him to continue going top shelf to help me work on it. I did.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Woes of the Traveling Hockey Player

I'm flying an airline that shall remain nameless (rhymes with Fourth-Best) for this trip. I had figured I'd pack all my clothes etc in my big hockey bag, check it all and pay a fee for the extra size/weight.

Turns out FourthBest's fee structure is less-than accomodating to people in my position.

While your first checked piece is free, and the second only carries a $25 fee, the third piece (and each piece thereafter) carries a $100 fee automatically.

That initial fee structure assumes that none of the items in question exceeds 50 lbs. or 62 linear (width+height+length) inches. If an item exceeds the weight restriction (to a max of 70 lbs) you pay an additional $50. If an item exceeds the size restriction you pay an additional $100.

All fees are cumulative, and apply to only one of your outbound or return trips. So, your first bag could cost a max of $150, and your second bag could cost a max of $175. That's a total of $325 each way ($750 round trip!!)

While the average flyer would not have much problem with this, the hockey player - particularly the goalie - has a very big (pun intended) problem.

My leg pads alone are 33 inches long and 12 inches wide (probably 10 inches thick at the thickest). So, putting two of them back to back accounts for a good chunk of the 62 linear inches. Then, adding in the gloves, helmet, skates, pants and chest/arm protector - not to mention the unmentionables - and you've got a pile of gear that FAR exceeds the parameters.

And I haven't packed a single article of clothing yet.

My solution was to break the stuff up into two bags, and keep each of them under both size/weight restrictions, meaning I'd only pay $25 each way.

Easier said than done. First, hockey bags with rigid sides/bottoms are automatically out. So I had to go buy a new, soft-sided bag ($35). Then I had to go buy straps to cinch the thing as small as possible. My first trip to buy straps was to EMS where I bought four sets of the longest straps they had ($17 total). My second trip to buy straps (I guess I'm not so good at the math, a 36 inch strap not being nearly long enough to fit around a bag that big) ended up at Home Depot where I bought some packing latch straps ($15, plus $1 for a bag of Skittles).

I got the leg pads, pants, skates and chest/arm protector (plus a couple miscellaneous items) in the big bag, and cinched up with the second set of straps. But I couldn't get it smaller than 67 linear inches. I even tried hurling every curse word I could think of (including some that were made up) at it, to no avail. It's not 50 lbs, but I'm going to be counting on the ticketing agent not measuring it to avoid the $100 fee.

I fit the gloves, the rest of the unmentionables and my clothes into the other bag, staying within the size/weight restrictions - but I couldn't get my helmet in there as well.

And I still haven't mentioned the sticks!

I simply will not pay FourthBest $100 simply to bounce my $100-per goalie sticks around the belly of one of their planes for a few hours. So I have enlisted Dad in St. Paul to go purchase me a new goalie stick ($50) that I will use at camp and then just leave at his house (I wouldn't have been able to buy one between when I land and when I need to use it at 8:30 tomorrow morning at camp.)

So I will be carrying my helmet onto the plane and counting on some overworked, underpaid, oft-abused ticket agent to not take the time to actually measure my bag, and hope that when it weighs less than 50 lbs they only charge me the $25 extra fee. If not, I'm going to be a much poorer and more angry NiNY by the time I get on the plane tonight.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Plight of the Beer Leaguer

So, I play goal in the beer leagues. It's a blast.

And on Wednesday, I leave to participate in the Lifetime Hockey summer camp for the third time in the last four years. Tom Bast and his crew of hockey savants from Red Deer, Alberta, put on one heckuva camp each summer in Minneapolis, MN (I'm from St. Paul, right across the river.)

Unlike other camps that feature a few former NHL stars and are heavy on reminiscing and light on actual work for the campers, Lifetime is a hockey camp for people who actually want to play hockey. It's geared towards adult, co-ed, no-check beginner to intermediate level hockey players. Played in college and a couple years in junior? This is not the camp for you. Enjoy lacing 'em up with the gang once a week at ungodly hours - but want to improve your game? This is your monastery.

It's actually a camp for skaters - we goalies are there to make the experience better (read: live targets) for them - and they just do a great job. There's dryland, video/chalk-talk, home made lunches, an up-tempo pace lead by laid back guys, and lots and lots of ice time. I think I'm on the ice for 5:30 on the first day. Yes, Alleve will be at a premium from day two on.

The experience engenders a staunch recidivism among the campers, and there are a lot of familiar faces each year.

I'll try to drop in with some updates along the way.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Hockey Ombudsman 8/6/08

Dear Hockey Ombudsman -

I need your help. My girlfriend is a big Coyotes fan, but I don't know anything about hockey. Her birthday is coming up soon, and I want to get her a jersey. (What can I say? When you're whipped, you're whipped.)

So, my question is: do I go with a name/number on the back? If so, should I get the name/number of a player (she thinks that Shane Doan is hot - I, obviously, want to pull his spleen out of his nose with a hot fire poker for this)? Should I get her last name? No name or number? What do hockey fans like?

Thanks -

Dumbfounded in the Desert

Dear Dumbfounded:

Believe it or not, I get this question a lot - but you are the first guy who has asked it. To be honest, the first thing we should discuss is why your ladyfriend is so much cooler than you are, but that's a different letter I suppose.

There are a couple things to consider here.

First, with all due respect to Mr. Doan (who is a lovely little player), there's at least a good chance he won't play his entire career in Phoenix. So, unless your girlfriend is absolutely, positively, 100%, without a doubt unable to love another player ever, she may not want a Doan jersey in her closet five seasons from now when he's with the Rangers (his contract with the Coyotes runs through the '11-12 season).

Second, when I consulted with Wally LaFrange (who's sort of the Emily Post of hockey), he expressed to me that "Having a name or number of a player on the back of one's jersey is like wearing a t-shirt with the face of your favorite actor silk screened on it to the premiere of his or her new movie. In a word: low-brow."

Third, I personally don't like putting one's own name on the back of a jersey. One exhibits one's support of a team simply by wearing that team's sweater in public. Putting your own name on it is just excessive.

Fourth, the only circumstance in which putting a name or number on the back of a jersey is considered to be acceptible is if the name or number is of an old-school, famous player (preferably a Hall of Famer) from your team's history. If you're a Red Wings fan, for example, you can't go wrong with a #9 or a "Yzerman" on the back of a sweater. But a #22 or "Lebda" might not draw the kind of attention you'd want. Now, what do you do if you (or your girlfriend, ahem) is a fan of a newer team? In the case of the newer expansion teams, you wait. In the case of the Coyotes, you could go with a "Hawerchuk" but I get the feeling that a lot of Coyotes' fans would just assume your girlfriend's last name was Hawerchuk.

Hope that helps!


On Bad Loans and Craig Leipold

As Larry Brooks writes, Mr. Leipold's involvement with the shady dealings of the Nashville owership transfer to "Boots" Del Biaggio has not been fully cleaned up. Brooks even invokes the name of infamous (nefarious?) former Isles "owner" John Spano in his description of Bootsy.

All joking aside, if true, this is exactly the kind of incestuous circle jerk the league doesn't need. I'd like to think the placid people of Minnesota wouldn't stand for this kind of chicanery from their public rich guys.

I'm not calling for a march on 317 Washington St., but I can't shake the feeling that Bettman "took care of" Leipold - reportedly a trusted member of his inner circle within the league - when the Nashville situation became odious to Craig, and Mr. Naegele started to ponder skating off into the sunset. *Mind you, I have zero proof of any of this - ahh, the joys of being an independent blogger!*

At the end of the day, I just want to watch hockey. But I wouldn't mind if the league was an example of honest business practices, either.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wherefore Art Thou Blogger?

I have recently had reason* to consider my purpose in blogging. The doldrums of the off-season being fertile ground for such existential soul-searching.

At the risk of being self-indulgent, the reason I started blogging was because I often found myself with extra stuff to say about hockey after making my daily rounds of the on-line hockey world.

Additionally, where some fans might be able to go out to a bar (if not the game itself) and be surrounded by other fans with whom to discuss the game, as a fan of a team that resides 1,000 miles from where I do I would often end up watching on TV (God bless NHL Center Ice!) by myself - particularly those 10:30 pm (local time) starts out on the left coast (my wife having wisely gone off to bed). So, bereft of co-hort with which to discuss the game in person, blogging became my outlet.

As blogging in general (and sports blogging in particular) has grown from one of those rest areas (where you can pull over and stretch your legs, but there aren't any facilities) to a full-service rest stop (with the gas station, truck wash, diner, McDonald's, Starbucks, Cin-A-Bon, convenience store, massage parlor, etc) on the road to journalistic relevance, the most consistent question raised by the card-carrying members of the fourth estate is whether or not, by virtue of the fact that independent bloggers are not beholden to the time-honored traditions of journalistic integrity (not to mention editing/showing any aptitude at all for the English language) that they are, blogging is a legit extension of journalism.

The question, really, is: what is journalism?

Is it an expression of opinion? Is it reporting a representation of fact? Is it the contrivance of reality? Is it the contrivance of the perception of reality?

Does the absence of accountability to a higher authority automatically mean the independent blogger has no integrity?

Does the presence of accountability to a higher authority automatically mean the journalist does have integrity?

Our position here at HTP is that we can not offer better coverage of a team than the professional writers (like Michael Russo, whose coverage of the Wild - and the NHL in general - is comprehensive and indefatigable) do. I don't have press credentials, I don't have any access to the players, coaches or management - I don't even live in the same state! When I'm looking for game info or quotes I go to Russo. I see no value in simply duplicating what he and his hard-working colleagues (like John Shipley at the St. Paul Pioneer Press) produce. And that certainly wouldn't satisfy my initial goal of giving me a cathartic outlet for my own thoughts vis-a-vis the game.

Is that just an attempt to reconcile the lack of accountability? "If it's my opinion, how can it be wrong?" I'd have to say that's probably part of it. And I don't sit around thinking: "If I had an editor would I still write this?" as I'm typing a piece. So, yeah, that could be a strictly self-serving attitude on my part.

On the other hand, I understand that, as the blogosphere starts to garner a greater and greater percentage of the consumer's attention that means their publications are getting a smaller and smaller percentage (there being only so much of that attention to go around). So, for someone who has made journalism his profession, I can see where the emergence of the blogger is a threat to that profession. (That's the main reason you're unlikely to see ads on this blog.)

In trying to respect the job that the professionals do, am I nonetheless hampering those professionals' ability to continue having a job in the first place? I simply can't imagine that I'm shunting a lot of readership away from Russo (or Shipley, or McKenzie, or Kukla, or Eklund for that matter). But, what if a local newspaper - struggling to sell in the first place - doesn't agree? That's a real concern for us, to be honest. If the Strib came out and said "We have to lay off our sports desk in part because the blogging community has stolen enough of our thunder that we can't afford to keep paying them..." I'm really not sure what I'd do. (I harbor no illusion that HTP has any kind of effect on overall subscribership at the Strib or the Pio. We're talking hypotheticals here.)

In closing, is there a space in which HTP can operate that serves our own cathartic purposes without co-opting the work that the actual professionals do? I believe there is. I will continue to try to voice HTP as though we're just two fans standing around in the break room at work, talking about last night's game. This isn't a First Amendment campaign. I just want to talk some puck.

I think I can speak for WRT when I say that doing this has supplemented our hockey experience. So, thanks for a fun year, and for reading - all the available resources.


*That reason being USA Hockey Magazine's article "Evolution of a Revolution" (by Ricki Dugdale, August, 2008 issue) in which HTP was listed as one of the (ten) "top hockey blogs found on the Web today." WRT, THO and I are extremely honored to be mentioned in the article at all, let alone on that particular list of other people whose work we admire so greatly.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

WRT: Thoughts... on Road Trip Planning

Well, Wild fandom, free-agent season has passed, the schedule has been released, so it must be that time of year again.

Time to plan the upcoming season's road adventures to support our Minnesota Wild. And of course, you must plan in order to get good seats, good rates and good fares.

A lot of people come up to me and ask, 'How do you do it?'

Simple. It's all in the planning. And, admittedly, a little luck is involved.

The planning part is done now, in the heat of summer. Deciding which games to go see is the first order of business. If you travel with someone (be it wife, friend, co-worker or child) you must take their needs also into account. A warm poolside lounge chair, a sunny sky, a hotel with free internet access, that is what my wife wants. She is as happy by a chaise lounge next to a pool as I am at a hockey arena near the glass.

When we are on the road, the game's the thing. Some of my wife's co-workers have commented about her lack of knowledge of Chicago, even though we've attended all but one Wild-Blackhawks game at the United Center since the 2004-05 lockout. Chicago holds no special value for me anymore (I've been going to Chicago since I was 18,) and a lot of the perpetually-trendy Gold Coast/North Side areas are way-y-y out of my league. (Always have been.)

However, she could actually hold her own if you asked her to meet you at the UC, for example, despite the fact that it's in one of the worst neighborhoods in North America. She knows as well as I do how to get to the arena (taxi or CTA bus, don't drive your own car) and, more importantly, how to get away from the arena (CTA #19 Stadium Express bus, with the other Wild fans who are also staying in the Loop). One trip back Downtown, after a Wild victory in 2007, featured the singing of the 'Wild Anthem' as the bus bounced down Madison St., towards the railroad stations.

'New' arenas present different sets of problems, especially if the arena is in an unfamiliar location. Case in point: South Florida's BankAtlantic Center, home of the Florida Panthers, which was built on the edge of the Everglades, in west suburban Sunrise near the massive (5-wing) Sawgrass Mills shopping mall and the TPC Sawgrass golf club. Our problems started when we found out there were two LaQuinta Inns directly across the street from each other, two miles south of the arena. We chose the one which was $10/night less. Not a major mistake, but in hindsight I wish we'd stayed at the other one, due to the better in-hotel breakfast across the street. Little things like that occasionally come back to haunt you.

Another mistake on the same trip: Going for cheaper seats to save a few dollars. You might as well save somewhere else and get better seats in the same area. I thought we were in Dade County from where we were sitting, near the top of the lower level in the cavernous BAC. Sometimes you get lucky, however: we also had seats six rows from the glass for a 2007 game in Buffalo for $38/each, the same seats for a Sabres-Leafs game would have been $140/each.

Hints to avoid disappointment:

1. Determine a budget. And stick to it. There are deals to be had out there. Air fares to cold northern cities don't go thru the roof in the dead of winter. Most airlines need to fill seats on days other than Friday and Sunday. If you can book early enough, wait until your airline of choice has a seat sale. Then go for it. Hotels near arenas sometimes have discounted rates for visiting fans; with some more popular teams, a hotel's hockey package may be the only way to get tickets.

2. Look at the arena's seating chart. Most will tell you which end the home team shoots at in the 1st and 3rd periods. Many arenas discount seats in the other end -- the end that you, as a fan of the visiting team, want anyway. If you are unsure, watch highlights or a prior game from the same arena on TV (another great benefit of having the NHL Network on your cable or satellite) or on that team's website.

Also, know when the tickets go on sale. Most teams will begin selling tickets in mid-September; a few (Chicago, St. Louis, the Florida teams) will start before that. Certain other teams (most notably, Calgary and Edmonton) will only sell a few games at a time, or only on a set date during the season. Yes, that makes it harder to plan for these locations, but it can still be done.

3. Avoid being gouged by ridiculous rental car rates. Book in advance and return to the same location. Better yet, use public transit. In many cases, it's the easiest way -- and in some others, the only really safe way --to get in and out of the arena area. (And, it can be fun travelling after the game with fellow Wild fans, as we have in several locations.)

4. The following is especially true with Ticketmaster. If you don't see what you want online, get on the phone and call them. If you get a good TM rep (believe it or not, most really DO want to help you) you'll be able to designate a section near where you REALLY want to sit and find you something you can at least accept. Remember Rule No. 2: the seats you really want are in the home team's end of the ice during the 1st and 3rd periods. Knowing the section number you want most is helpful; TM phone agents can punch that section number in and then tell you what's nearest to that spot. Remember, 'best available' to Ticketmaster (and to fans of the home team) doesn't necessarily mean 'best available' to you.

5. Know what airlines fly where. You can frequently get a better deal with an airline when you are not flying into their 'fortress' hub city. Where there is airline competition, there are lower airfares.

6. Sometimes, the plane is not the best way to get from city to city. Just because your favorite team can fly via charter from, say, Calgary to Edmonton, doesn't mean you have the scratch to do it, too. Short-to-medium hops can better be done by train, car or bus for far less money. Using Calgary to Edmonton as an example, the air fare one-way on Air Canada Jazz (read: Turbo-prop) was well over $300/person one-way. Greyhound had a 2-for-1 sale on for $64. The bus was perfectly fine for the three-hour express run. We saved over $300 just on that alone.

7. Remember, you're on a schedule, too. Travel early in the day. Unless you have no other choice, (usually for financial reasons) try to fly in the morning. The air traffic control system is not as backed up in the morning, and neither are the highways. If anything does occur, you will be able to reschedule plans if there are more options available to you, and that only happens early in the day.

8. Hotels near the arena are conveinent and nice...but not always. You normally pay for that conveinence, either in higher rates or (e.g., like in Edmonton) a poorer-quality hotel which had seen better days. Choose your hotels carefully; hotels near but not real close to the arena give you better quality rooms, and sometimes, have hotel packages which include game tickets.

9. When you get there, find out what's open, especally if a holiday or special event is occuring at the same time as you are there. We wound up in Edmonton on an Easter Sunday, and finally went to an Earl's Steakhouse for dinner. We later found out it was virtually the only restaurant in central Edmonton open that Sunday night, and we missed seeing the Wild players there by less than one hour. Not even the restaurants in four-and-five-star hotels are open normal schedules on holidays and/or weekends.

10. At the game: You will be harassed (sometimes, viciously) by the opposing fans, especially in certain arenas in the South, where they think everything is like football. When you respond, please, think of what a small child would hear. Keep it 'G' rated and all will be cool. Most real fans will respect you. The rest, well, they've been over-served.

Certain arenas (the ones where teams don't draw well) will be more boisterous than others, as there will be hundreds of visiting fans rooting along with you. We have yet to go to an arena where we haven't run into Wild fans, especially as we walk the promenade prior to the warm-ups. Sometimes, there aren't many others (Calgary and the 'C of Red', Edmonton, Vancouver) and sometimes, there are thousands (Phoenix, Florida, Chicago, altho maybe not this season as the Blackhawks announced last week the club passed the 10,000 mark in season tickets), but never have we been the 'Lone Rangers' in an arena.

Other teams' fans kinda get into it also, once they figure out you just came for their game. We've been treated well everywhere we've been (with the notable exception of San Jose's HP Pavilion, whose fans and staff couldn't have been ruder if they possibly tried.)

Remember, the closer to a Wild road win you get, the more vicious they will become. Don't let them get to you. If nothing else, just point to the scoreboard. Let it speak for you.

And above all else: Have fun! (After all, that's why you GO, isn't it?)