This past weekend, I embarked on a trip with my brother that in the end was successful, but full of missteps along the way. We left from Rochester, NY and it was smooth sailing on an early Saturday afternoon until we hit the Canadian border. It was not traffic or a slow crossing, rather my own carelessness. When we were about four cars away, my stomach dropped before I even took out my passport. I had my wife’s. They are located in the same spot and I never checked the picture and brought hers. Figuring the journey would end before even getting into Canada, the officer let us in (I had my license and my passport number). My concern was getting back into the States, which he said “You’ll be fine”, something I figured he was just saying.
With Maple Leaf flags in front of us, it was on to Barrie, about a two hour drive around Lake Ontario and north of the busy highways in Toronto. First stop was the Barrie Molson Centre, where with the remaining daylight I took some exterior pictures of the arena. It was then off to the hotel, which was crawling with kids as I guess it was a huge hockey tournament weekend. We then went downtown to check out the city a bit and grab some dinner. The city centre was only a five minute drive, but the roads were clogged with traffic. As we approached downtown, more traffic and this time people everywhere. It took a little while to figure it out, but they all were converging for one reason…Santaaaaa!!!!. Despite it being half-way through November and 40 days until Christmas, it was indeed a parade for Santa and to light the tree. With the city practically shut down for this, it was back to the hotel briefly before heading to the game. There was a restaurant at the arena and we figured after a little snack at the game, we would eat afterwards.
For my first true OHL game, I was really pumped up and the experience was great. I did expect more from the crowd and even though the place was mostly filled up, I felt like they sat on their hands too often. Only after goals was there any real cheering, but the building did get loud. Barrie’s arena is one of the first of the new batches of OHL facilities and I don’t understand why the surface area of the building is so small. They had plenty of room to work with in the suburban setting, but the concourses were cramped and everything inside felt tight. Why not build out more? I did like the inside as there was some uniqueness to the bowl and the restaurant at one end is a nice touch. I’ll save the details for the official review, but here are a couple other random notes: the concourses smelled wonderfully of popcorn….there is no signage for the box office (very annoying for visitors)…..the floors throughout the whole inside were very sticky and desperately need a mopping. As for the game, it was quite entertaining. Barrie blew open a 2-2 affair with six goals in the last period and the Colts won their sixth in a row. This was the beginning of what my brother and I are hoping will be a journey through the entire OHL. It is a league within driving distance from my old home and I appreciate the smaller buildings and community appeal of the league. This is somewhat inspired by the OHL Arena Travel Guide, an excellent site that has been around for a long time and one that I have followed ever since.
Back to our food situation, after we had some really crappy Pizza Pizza (Jersey spoiled me), we waited out the final whistle to head to the other end for the Horsepower Bar & Grill. After sitting and not getting served, we left and ran across the street to Buffalo Wild Wings (where thanks to Barrie scoring more than five goals, we had free wings!). However, at the door, we got turned away thanks to a full restaurant courtesy of the UFC. It was 10:15 PM at this point and desperate, we ran back to the arena, where they said just appetizers were available. Chicken quesadillas it was and 25 minutes later they were awful. The post-game meal was topped off with Katy Perry’s album playing in the background…because that’s what hockey fans love! My brother and I at least enjoyed Calgary-Edmonton with our crappy quesadillas, though we had to look above a TV left on that was now showing snakes on a cable-access animal show.
After that fiasco, we left in the rain Sunday Morning with the hopes of me being able to get back into the US. Even though we were driving back to Buffalo, the Lewiston crossing was our choice, hoping for shorter lines and good karma since we entered from there. Of course, we sat for 45 minutes waiting and the line on either side of was 19 minutes faster (I counted). Getting to the border, there were indeed some issues, but thankfully all my other credentials passed and after a scolding…I was back in USA! USA! With the GPS time of arrival for Ralph Wilson Stadium now at 11:38 AM, it was a frenzied drive to Orchard Park. First, was a shady bathroom stop near Niagara Falls, where I was handed a key to the bathroom on a wooden block. Because of the small neighborhood setting that the Ralph sits in, there is traffic and usually a lot of it. Since most were already there to tailgate, it wasn’t too terrible and we pulled in at about 12:05 PM. After being denied entrance with my umbrella (and that promptly disappeared after the game), it was a sigh of relief as we headed into the Jim Kelly Club for a quick bite to eat.
Thanks to my brother’s work, we were indeed treated with club seats and I feared the laid-back, corporate setting that I always rip on, but that was not the case. The middle 200 sections were plenty of boisterous and Bills games are always a festive party. It is one of the loudest stadiums in the league (when in full throat) and there is not enough credit for the fan support shown, especially after the last 13 generally crappy seasons. I am a huge Bills fan and playing the Jets, the team I hate the most, brought fear of disappointment. But it turned out to be the best possible result! Buffalo put on an absolute thrashing and the game was made more enjoyable by the abysmal play of one Geno Smith. It was a great afternoon on an unusually mild day and we headed back to the car smiling. An hour of traffic heading back to Rochester, combined with my brother’s unrelenting gas, tempered that smile a bit, but it was still a great game nonetheless. Despite the many issues during this trip, it was well-worth it and quite enjoyable. I’ll have a review of Barrie’s arena up soon, along with updating the one for Ralph Wilson Stadium. Not sure of future winter plans, but will be making those soon.