Saturday, February 18, 2017

How to Go to a Hockey Game In Newfoundland

Continuing my bid to do trip guides for all 50 American States and all 50 Canadian Provinces. On Friday, February 24, and Saturday, February 25, the New Jersey Devils' top farm team, the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League, will face the St. John's Ice Caps in the easternmost city in North America: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.

There is a Newfoundland in New Jersey, an unincorporated community that straddles West Milford in Passaic County and Jefferson in Morris County. It's about 35 miles west of Midtown Manhattan, about halfway between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. This Newfoundland is considerably farther away.

Before You Go. Newfoundland is in Canada, so you will need a passport. And you will need to change your money. At last check, US$1.00 = C$1.31, and C$1.00 = US 76 cents. And I advise you to call your bank and let them know that you will be in a foreign country, so they won't see credit or debit card purchases from a foreign country pop up and think your card has been stolen.

Newfoundland has a weird time zone: While the rest of Canada's Maritime Provinces (a.k.a. "Atlantic Canada"), including Labrador, which is attached to the mainland, is 1 hour ahead of the Eastern Time Zone, the island on which Newfoundland sits is an hour and a half ahead. In other words, when it's 12:00 noon in New York, Montreal and Toronto, it's 1:00 PM in Halifax, but it's 1:30 PM in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Despite being in Canada, and an oceanfront city where wind can be an issue, and with this being winter, the weather is not expected to be all that cold. The Telegram, Newfoundland's largest newspaper, is predicting temperatures to be in the mid-30s on Friday afternoon and the low 20s at night, and the high 20s most of Saturday. The problem could be precipitation: They're calling for "a few flurries" on Friday, which doesn't sound so bad, but "ice pellets" on Saturday night, which could be a problem going into or getting out of the game.

Also, remember that they use the metric system. A speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour means 62 miles an hour. And don't be fooled by the seemingly low gas prices: That's per liter, not per gallon, and, in spite of Canada being a major oil-producing nation, you'll actually be paying more for gas up there. So, in order to avoid both confusion and "sticker-shock," get your car filled up before you reach the border.

Tickets. The Mile One Centre seats 6,287, but this is a minor-league game, and the Ice Caps and the Albany Devils aren't major rivals. So getting tickets shouldn't be hard: You might be able to walk up to the window on the day of the game and get one.

Seats are $37 between the goals, $34 in the corners, and $30 behind them. All of these prices are in Canadian dollars.

Getting There. It's 1,666 road miles from Times Square in Manhattan to the Mile One Centre in downtown St. John's. Halifax. It would be about 160 miles less as the crow flies, but you won't be able to do that unless a bridge is ever built connecting Cape Cod and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. It's 1,133 miles from downtown St. John's to the closest border crossing, at Calais, Maine. If you can afford to fly, you should.

Because the only other option is driving. Greyhound Canada doesn't go to Newfoundland. Nor does VIA Rail Canada. Air Canada can get you to from New York to St. John's International Airport for under $700, but you'd have to change planes in Toronto each way -- in other words, go 500 miles west, and then go 1,900 miles east, and then reverse the process.

Here's the driving directions. Start out as if you're going to Boston: Take Interstate 95 North to New Haven. Take Exit 48, Interstate 91 North to Hartford. Take Exit 30, Interstate 84 East into Massachusetts. You'll merge with Interstate 90 East, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and take that until you reach Interstate 495, Boston's outer beltway.

But instead of continuing on the Mass Pike to Boston, take Exit 11A onto I-495 North, into Boston's northern suburbs, until you reunite with I-95 North at Salisbury, just before reaching the New Hampshire State Line. You'll cross New Hampshire and go into Maine. Take Exit 182A onto U.S. Route 1A, turn left on State Route 46, right on State Route 9, then follow this rural route all the way to Baring, where you'll meet up with U.S. Route 1. Turn left at International Avenue, and you'll reach the Border.

Don't get cute. Show your passport. If they ask for any other ID, show them that. If you have anything that could be considered a weapon, even a pair of nail clippers, it's probably best to mention that. Don't make any wiseass remarks about Canada. When they ask you your purpose for visiting Canada, tell them you' re visiting Halifax as a tourist. (That is the truth.) Presuming you don't do or say anything stupid, you should get across with no trouble.

International Avenue becomes New Brunswick Provincial Route 1. Take this to River Glade, where you'll get on the Trans-Canada Highway. You'll take that around Moncton and into Nova Scotia. Continue past Truro, where you would turn off to head down to Halifax, and go on to North Sydney. Here, the TCH continues as a ferry to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. This ferry covers 110 miles, and takes 9 hours and 15 minutes. Get some sleep.

Upon disembarking at Port aux Basques, remain on the TCH, crossing the entire island, until you reach Exit 41. Take Provincial Route 2 into downtown, where it becomes New Gower Street. The arena and the neighboring City Hall will be on your right.

If all goes well, you should be in New York State (not counting Manhattan) for half an hour, in Connecticut for 2 hours, in Massachusetts for an hour and 15 minutes, New Hampshire for 15 minutes, Maine for 4 hours and 45 minutes, Customs for 15 minutes or less, New Brunswick for 3 and a half hours, 5 and a half hours in Nova Scotia, 9 hours and 15 minutes on the ferry, and 9 and a half hours in Newfoundland. That's almost 37 hours. Given rest stops, it should take about 41 hours. Each way.

Once In the City. Newfoundland (officially, "Newfoundland and Labrador," abbreviated as "NL") is... different. And not just because it was still a colony of Britain until 1949, when it became the 10th and most recently-added Province of Canada. And not just because of that odd time zone, either.
The Vikings landed around AD 1000, but didn't stay, because the natives were harsh and the climate was harsher. In 1497, Venetian explorer Zuan Chabotto -- known as John Cabot to his sponsor, King Henry VII of England -- arrived, becoming the 1st European to reach mainland North America since the Vikings, nearly 500 years earlier. (Although the Cabot and Lodge families of Massachusetts are descended from a John Cabot, it is not the same one.)

Whoever wrote Cabot's charter for King Henry (known by his former title of the Earl of Richmond in Shakespeare's Richard III, and father of Henry VIII) ordered him "to set up our banner on any new-found-land." And the Labrador section was named for Portuguese explorer João Fernandes Lavrador. (Both Newfoundland and Labrador would become names of breeds of dogs.) Both Cabot and Lavrador appear to have been lost at sea around 1501 or so.

Basques from Spain, Portuguese and Frenchmen set up fishing villages in the mid-16th Century, but a 1585 raid put the island under English control for the next 354 years. Off the southwest coast, the islands of the Overseas Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon make up the last part of North America still under French control, though only about 6,000 people live there. 

The combined population of Newfoundland and Labrador is about 530,000, and Prince Edward Island is the only one of Canada's 10 Provinces with fewer people. The capital city of St. John's (usually written with the abbreviation, as opposed to the New Brunswick city, which is nearly always written out as "Saint John" and has no apostrophe) has about 108,000 people, with about twice that in the metropolitan area, making for nearly 40 percent of the entire Province.
Newfoundland and Labrador has a 15 percent Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). That's 5 percent federal, and 10 percent Provincial.
The Confederation Building in St. John's,
the Province's capitol building, and its tallest.

There is a dialect called Newfoundland English, found in both Newfoundland and Labrador. It makes a little bit of sense that easternmost North America and the westernmost British Isles would have some things in common, and Newfoundland English has been compared to the English of England's West Country, such as Bristol, Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall; and to southern and western Ireland. (What we've come to call "pirate talk" also has its origins in England's West Country, due to the portrayal of Cornish actor Robert Newton when playing fictional pirate Long John Silver and real-life pirate Blackbeard in 1950s films.)

Mainland Canada has "Newfie jokes." To Torontonians and pretty much everyone else, Newfies are heavy-drinking, cod-fishing, funny-talking island folk. So, kind of like rednecks, only more sea, less land, and fewer guns.

Many of the jokes are variations on other "dumb person" jokes, such as Polish, Italian, blonde, or fans of whatever team you might hate. Example: During the 1995 Quebec separation referendum, the Newfies were hoping it would pass, and Quebec would leave Canada, because it would make Toronto closer.

Anyway... In St. John's, street addresses increase the further west you get from the harbor (sorry, the Harbour), and the further north you go. There's no subway or light rail. Metrobus Transit runs buses, and a single fare is C$2.50. The drinking age in Newfoundland and Labrador is 19. Postal Codes, in both Newfoundland and Labrador, as the easternmost part of the country, start with the letter A. The Area Code for both Newfoundland and Labrador is 709.

Going In. The Mile One Centre opened in 2001, and seats 6,287 people. The address is 50 New Gower Street. Parking is C$10.
The name of the building comes from Danny Williams -- no, not the Hawaii Five-O character. This guy is from the extreme opposite end of North America. A lawyer and former owner of cable-TV company Cable Atlantic, he bought the naming rights to the new arena, before selling his businesses and going into politics, but kept the naming rights. He chose to name the building the Mile One Centre, based on its location at the beginning of the Trans Canada Highway.

He served as Premier (think "Governor") of Newfoundland and Labrador from 2003 to 2010. After resigning, he brought pro hockey back to Newfoundland, and remains the owner of the St. John's Ice Caps.
The rink runs north-to-south. The Ice Caps are an American Hockey League (AHL) farm team of the Montreal Canadiens, with similar uniforms. Prior to their arrival in 2011, it was home to the AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs (2001-05) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's St. John's Fog Devils (2005-08, no connection to the New Jersey Devils). The Ottawa Senators have held some preseason games there, including 2 in 2014 against the Islanders, who won both.

This will be the last season in the building for the Ice Caps, as the Canadiens are moving them to the Montreal suburb of Laval, as the Laval Rocket, named for Maurice Richard (who was from the nearby Bordeaux neighborhood). So far, no replacement team has been obtained, so the arena will likely remain mostly dormant, at least for the 2017-18 season.

While the Ice Caps name will stay with Danny Williams and the Mile One Centre, and will be used for any new team, for the time being, the last Ice Caps game will be on April 15, against the Toronto Marlies, the Maple Leafs farm team formerly known as the Toronto Marlboros. (The Caps could, however, make the Playoffs.)

Food. Not much information available. The arena website says only, "There are 5 concession stands and many kiosks located throughout Mile One that provide a vast variety of food and beverage selections."

Team History Displays. This is only the 6th season for the Ice Caps, and they've won nothing. Nor did the Fog Devils win anything. The St. John's Maple Leafs won 3 division titles, the 1994 AHL regular-season title, and the 1992 conference title, all before moving into the Mile One Centre. But never the Calder Cup, the AHL Championship.

Maple Leafs alumni include goaltender Felix "the Cat" Potvin and a couple of Stanley Cup-winning coaches, Marc Crawford of the 1996 Colorado Avalanche and Joel Quenneville of the 2010, '13 and '15 Chicago Blackhawks (and a longtime NHL defenseman who was an original 1982-83 member of the New Jersey Devils).

The Fog Devils retired Number 12 for Scott Brophy, a St. John's native who's now out of hockey, having never reached the NHL, and that banner hangs in the Mile One Centre. But anyone who's yet played for the Ice Caps? The only name you're likely to recognize is that of former Devil Stefan Matteau, son of, uh, let's not go there. Defenseman Tom Parisi is from Commack, Long Island. Their Captain, a Swedish left wing named Max Friberg, has played all of 6 games in the NHL, all for the Anaheim Ducks.
Brophy, Brophy, Brophy, Brophy:
Born is the Ki-ing of the-e Newfies!
(Okay, they don't actually sing that.)

Stuff. There is no big team shop in the arena, just a few souvenir stands. There won't be any team videos. The closest thing to a book about local hockey is Bill Abbott's 2000 book The Herder Memorial Trophy: A History of Senior Hockey in Newfoundland and Labrador.

During the Game. You might be rooting for the Albany Devils, but there's no rivalry involved. Ice Caps fans are not going to hassle you. Don't start anything, and you will be safe.

The Ice Caps hold auditions to sing "O, Canada" and, since the opponent will be a U.S.-based team, "The Star-Spangled Banner." Since they're a Canadiens farm team, and Canadiens fans chant, "Go, Habs, go!" and Washington Capitals fans chant, "Go, Caps, go!" St. John's fans also chant, "Go, Caps, go!" But, unlike fans of the Queens-based college basketball team, they do not chant, "We are... St. John's!"

Their mascot is Buddy the Puffin. Puffins are a bird common to Newfoundland, and Buddy has been with the various St. John's teams since 1992, which is why he wears Number 92 on his jersey.
After the Game. If you don't want to get your postgame meal at a chain like Tim Hortons (just south of the arena), The Keg or, God forbid, Jack Astor's, there are options.

The Chinched Bistro, a block east of the arena at 7 Queen Street, advertises itself as a "relaxed neighbourhood joint" serving "eclectic, seasonal bistros dishes & cocktails." Nearby, to the west, at 65 Lemarchant Road, Bacalao Nouvelle Newfoundland Cuisine sells Provincial favorites (despite their half-Portuguese, half-French name). East of the arena, George Street, Duckworth Street and Water Street have several options.

These include The Duke of Duckworth pub, at 325 Duckworth Street, said to be the leading pub in the Province for watching English and other European soccer games.

Sidelights. As I said earlier, Newfoundland is different. While hockey is popular there, in large part due to radio (until 1949, CBC announcer Foster Hewitt would begin a broadcast by saying, "Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland"), soccer, rugby union, and, due to the Irish and Scottish influence, Gaelic games are more popular there than in the rest of Canada. (Rugby league, not as much.)

But gridiron football -- both the 11-man, 4-downs, 100-yard variety played in America and the 12-man, 3-downs, 110-yard kind played in Canada --is virtually nonexistent. In each case, the British influence has something to do with it.

Soccer is hosted at King George V Park, a 6,000-seat stadium built in 1925, during the Dominion period, making it the world's oldest existing soccer-specific stadium (others are older, but were originally meant to house multiple sports), as Newfoundland's "national stadium." On September 14, 1985, it hosted the Canadian national team's 2-1 win over Honduras, clinching the country's 1st (and still only) berth in a World Cup, the greatest achievement in the team's history. 3 Carnell Drive, about a mile and a half north of downtown. Bus 3.

Right around the corner, at 20 Lake Avenue at Kings Bridge Road, is the site of St. John's hockey prior to the opening of the Mile One Centre. Opening in 1955, Memorial Stadium seated 4,190 people. After the new arena opened, it was converted into a supermarket, Dominion Memorial Market, about a mile and a half north of downtown. Bus 3.
Baseball is not particularly popular in Newfoundland. Not even the Toronto Blue Jays: While their radio network includes stations from coast to coast, from Vancouver in the West to Halifax in the East, they don't have a station in St. John's, or anywhere else in Newfoundland or Labrador. At any rate, the closest teams in any of the major league sports are the Boston teams, and they're over 1,400 miles away.

Neither Elvis Presley nor The Beatles ever performed in Newfoundland or Labrador. The Mile One Centre is easily the Province's leading concert venue. There are 2 colleges in the Province: The Memorial University of Newfoundland, in St. John's; and the College of the North Atlantic, based in Stephenville on the island's west coast but with a campus in St. John's.

There are 2 notable museums in St. John's: The Rooms, an art museum, at 9 Bonaventure Avenue downtown; and Signal Hill National Historic Site, the location of the last battle of the French and Indian/Seven Years' War, where France finally surrendered North America to Britain on September 15, 1762.

It includes Cabot Tower, built in 1897 to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of John Cabot's arrival, and the 60th Anniversary of Queen Victoria's ascent to the British throne (her Diamond Jubilee). It was from Signal Hill, at a building since destroyed by fire, on December 12, 1901 that Guglielmo Marconi "invented radio," receiving the 1st transatlantic wireless transmission from Poldhu, Cornwall, England. (Which certainly makes sense, given the Cornish connection to Newfoundland.) 230 Signal Hill Road, about 2 1/2 miles northeast of downtown. Not really reachable by bus: Bus 3 will get you from downtown to Cavendish Square, and then it's a half-hour walk up Signal Hill Road.

Neither Newfoundland nor Labrador has yet produced a Prime Minister of Canada, and so there are no historic sites relating to such people. But a government building, the Confederation Building, home to the Provincial Parliament, is the tallest building in the Province, albeit only 210 feet high.

There haven't been many TV shows set in Newfoundland. The longest-running, on CBC from 2010 to 2014, was Republic of Doyle, a police procedural that was both comedy and drama. There have been considerably more films set and made there, most notably part of James Cameron's 1997 Titanic.

*

Newfoundland is a fascinating place. And different. Is it worth all the fuss it takes to get there? Maybe. They do love hockey. And they're playing the Devils' top farm team this weekend. This is the time to check it out, before the Ice Caps move. Who knows when they'll be replaced?

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