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The rarely updated blog of Joel Dixon

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Saturday, April 08, 2017

Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 2 (Contract Signing, Training and Game)

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 08/04/2017 08:56:14

The "fantasy" aspect of the Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp approached warp speed on Day 2 with the contract signing and jersey presentation. I knew that Mario Lemieux himself would be signing my 5-day "skilled hockey player" contract and presenting me with my #53 jersey - but as I entered the contract signing room I was met with a surprise. As the Penguins had defeated all challengers in the most recent NHL season, the Stanley Cup served as an incredible backdrop to the jersey presentation photograph. I'm sure some of the camp goers would have been in awe of one of sport's most storied trophies, but I almost ignored the Cup with my attention fixed on the fact that Mario Lemieux was signing a contract specifically for me (the fact I had visited the cup previously in my travels was also a factor). I had a quick chat to Mario about my travel plans after leaving Pittsburgh (at least I think I did, it was a bit of a blur) before Pao and I got a photo with Lemieux (and that Cup). Sure, it was all fantasy and contrived - but what took no longer than 5 minutes will remain a fond memory as long as I live.

Five Day Bargain
Joel Dixon of Surrey Hills (I probably should have guessed they didn't want me to be so specific when they asked my "hometown" during the application process)

No Hold Out
The the stuff of dreams is made a reality - I still can't believe the opportunity I've had

Now that the camp had secured my skills (for the week anyway) we piled onto the bus and drove to the Penguins' practice facility in Cranberry. Team Adams (the group I was placed with) had a training session first up, so we headed to our locker rooms to change. Time for another shock to the system, I walked into the locker room and my gear was neatly laid out with my jersey hanging name and numbers facing out. I'm a huge fan of Penguin's equipment manager Dana Heinze and his Twitter account - so I've seen so many pictures of the Penguin's locker room setups. Seeing my gear laid out, my skates freshly sharpened and a table stacked with various snacks and tapes - I really started to get a small insight into the life of a hockey player. It sounds like such a small thing, but the camp's volunteer equipment managers had a huge impact on the feel of the camp for me - I was not expecting how much they would bring to the experience.

More Gear
Love the old school NHL logo on the shoulder

Sharp Work Desk
Jason Binnie was often stuck here - but we all really appreciated having freshly sharpened skates waiting for us at the locker rooms

After all the preamble, it was finally time to throw on my skates - and I was justifiably shitscared. My lead up to camp wasn't ideal as I had fractured my foot three months prior, which ruined my chance for some last minute fitness gains (admittedly I was probably too late for any real fitness - by about 12 years). My doctor was a good sport and we eventually settled on enough anti-inflammatories / painkillers to keep me walking and skating throughout the camp period (and following holiday). Even so, I wasn't sure how the foot would hold up to 5 days of constant skating (when I usually only have a chance to skate once or twice a week). I also had a new pair of sticks (which turned out to be two inches shorter than my normal sticks) and a heap of new gear to break in - all while playing the most important games of my hockey life. Thankfully, when I stepped onto the practice ice, had a few laps and started the simpler drills my foot felt fine and I started to feel a little better. Then Mario Lemieux joined us on the rink and my butt resumed clenching.

Brains Trust
Our coach Pierre Larouche was the youngest player to score 50 goals (until Gretzky) and captain Jay Caufield telestrates for Root Sports (and was part of my favourite bad movie) - yet they still weren't enough as we completely botched most of the drills they drew up

Mario Tries
Mario tried to catch me...

And Fails
... but had to give up (*cough*)

I wasn't expecting Mario Lemieux and Mark Recchi to be joining us for training, but it was really cool seeing them skating around the ice. Sure enough - I found myself in line for a pair drill - and Mario was lined up next to me. A few turns later and it was Recchi standing there. I passed a puck to both (and received one) so as far as I was concerned at that point - the camp would have ended a success if my foot didn't hold up and I had to go home. To add to the good-time feelings, I scored a goal in the end-of-training shootout and seemed to catch the attention of my coach and Mario - can't ask for more than that.

Dont Fail
I think I was pleading with the puck and my stick to be nice for this drill


Yes, I stuffed up the second pass, but things went better after that. I should point out that the dude that defended far too hard on the drill was Bryan, the guy I enjoyed hanging out with for the week - he felt terrible he didn't just let Mario's pass go through. I gave him a hard time about it (of course), but I was just happy to be there!


I was having trouble puck-handling with my new stick - but at least I managed to hold it together long enough for this one!

Getting changed in the locker room I was still feeling pretty good (even though we stuffed pretty much every drill). Our coach told us not to worry - as bad trainings lead to good games and good trainings lead to poor games - little did I know how right he was.

Before that ominous game, we had a tour of the Penguins locker rooms - and it completely blew me away. The extensive weights room had very few weights - most machines operating via hydraulics with the program and results being saved on individual FOB tokens for each player. The player's kitchen and social area was pretty cool too - I would love to sit in the corner and just see how all the players interact during downtime. Most impressive was the team's change room at the practice facility - an (almost) exact replica of the facilities at PPG Paints home arena. Everyone's gear was hanging up ready for the team's return from Dallas (except for Crosby, of course, as he only uses one set of gear that comes with him for every game / training). We had a meal cooked by the team's chef (pretty damn delicious, considering it was all healthy) and started to get ready for our first game of camp.

Chill Zone
This is where the players can chill before training. Kitchen in the back, Xbox One and PS4 in front of these comfy chairs. I tried to hide out in here until the next training days later - but they were onto me

No Crosby
This is just the locker rooms in the training facility - but still look amazing. Crosby's gear travels with him, of course

The first thing I noticed when the game started was Paul Coffey's incredible skating. It was unlike anything I've seen before, he took a few smooth strides and he was already up to top speed. I suspect he may have lost a step or two since his Pittsburgh days - but you couldn't tell from ice level. Watching him swing around the net and fly around the opposition like they were pylons was such a joy - I couldn't have asked for a better team captain.

Line One
You know, just lining up for a faceoff with Coffey as one of my D-men

Crouching Wolverine
One of the professional photos taken during our first game - it looks like I just checked someone but I assure you I did not

During training I was thinking I wasn't so much slower than my teammates, but when we started the game I realised that I was just slow enough to matter. I was always a step or two away from where I wanted to be. I was beaten in most puck battles and felt like I was constantly chasing my opposition player. I had a few good shifts (even stole the puck from Tie Domi at one point), but was certainly on the poor side of average.

Just Tie To Stop Me
After stealing the puck from Domi (more luck than anything really). At one point Domi stood in front of our bench and welcomed anyone to drop the mitts. Huge regret that I didn't take him up on the offer!

Not wanting to be a defensive liability, I didn't want to change while the puck was in our zone - unfortunately my line didn't get the puck deep into their zone at all the first period - which meant my first few shifts were longer than I wanted. This upset the center that was coming on when I was going off.

Now I have been on the receiving end of this before - especially during pick-up games back home - so he was justified in his annoyance. What I don't feel he was justified in was how he choose to deal with that annoyance. Instead of telling me personally to watch my shift lengths - he choose to yell his concerns at me in front of the whole team, following this up with a threat to take a slapshot to my ankles so I would have to go home. Not exactly in the spirit of a charity camp as far as I was concerned.

While it felt like shit to be treated like this in front of my short-term team (especially since I admittedly caused the problem) - I actually think it helped in a small way. The other members of the team seemed to agree that the reaction wasn't proportional to my crime - and most of them told me to "ignore that guy" and had a quick chat with me to see how I was going. I was so happy to be a part of the camp - I wasn't about to let that one guy ruin it for me. So while I did take shorter shifts (without caring too much where the puck was while doing so) I kept a positive attitude and I think it helped me bond better with a few of the other players on the team.

After the game the short-shifted angry man did seek me out to apologise, and did so again in-front of the whole team before a later game, which I do appreciate - especially as I could see he felt bad about the way he reacted. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a bit of a dampener on the camp for me - but it was no worse than the self-inflicted dampener that was the general lack of skill and fitness I had compared to the rest of the participants. At least I've got something to improve on for next year!


This is the 3rd in the Joel Goes To Camp series
Game 1 - Pittsburgh Arrival - Border Security Magic, 2017Game 2 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 1 (Registration and Penguins Stadium Series)Game 3 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 2 (Contract Signing, Training and Game)
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Monday, April 03, 2017

Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 1 (Registration and Penguins Stadium Series)

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 03/04/2017 09:45:29
Updated by Joel Dixon at 08/04/2017 05:11:37


Three years ago, while listening to a Pens game on the radio, I heard a tantalising ad - come and watch Mario Lemieux play hockey at the CONSOL Energy Center - scheduled for my birthday no less! I was lucky enough to see a few of Mario's final games way back in 2005, but that was a long time ago. Having another chance to watch 66 flying around the ice had me momentarily consider taking a week off work and take a quick trip to Pittsburgh.

It didn't take too long to realise that a week-long trip to Pittsburgh to watch a few exhibition games wasn't the most financially prudent decision I could make, even if it offers a chance to watch my all-time hockey hero playing again. As my disappointment gradually dissipated I looked into the event that brought Lemieux out from seclusion and back on the ice, perhaps it would happen again next year so I could plan a proper hockey holiday. When I discovered it was part of a yearly Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp I was struck with an unbelievable possibility. As I'm sure is the case for most Australians, the sum of my fantasy camp knowledge comes from a particularly memorable Seinfeld episode, but as I understood it, this camp could allow me to play hockey with Mario Lemieux (but, you know, not punch him). I looked into it further, the Mario Lemieux Foundation was actually offering regular people the chance to experience the life of an NHL player while meeting a bunch of ex-NHL stars. While I had only started playing ice hockey a few months prior, I put my name down on the waiting list and dreamt about the camp a few nights each week. The invite took longer than I had expected, but once I finally received that magical acceptance email - Pao and I immediately started planning our trip!

Day 1 of camp started with registration and gear distribution. I knew that I was going to receive a playing uniform with my name and number on it (based on the vintage 1986 All-Star game designs) including a helmet and gloves - but that was just the start! I was given a large hockey bag (with my name and number on it - I'll never get sick of that) and we were whisked through 4 rooms as the bag was filled with Lemieux Camp-themed sports attire. Tracksuit, puffy jacket, hats, skate guards and jumpers were all piled into my bag - and as a camp guest Pao also received all of the non-uniform items as well. At the end of the experience we headed up to the hotel room to catch our breath and evaluate all the awesome swag that I will now wear until the last thread fades.

On The Gear
It's hard to pick a favourite, but I absolutely love the "Lemieux Camp Hockey" authentic-style logo on the sweatshirt

We didn't have much time to appreciate our goodies, as Pao and I had signed up to participate in a tour of Pittsburgh's UPMC Children's Hospital - to understand exactly what our donations go towards. I'm glad that we decided to squeeze in the hospital visit, it gave us a great feeling knowing that we were contributing towards such an amazing program. Going through serious health issues during his NHL career (chronic back pain, bone infection and Hodgkin's lymphoma) Mario Lemieux created his foundation to help in the fight against cancer. In 1996 Mario's son Austin was born profoundly premature requiring months of intensive care. Mario and his wife Nathalie wanted to spend as much time as possible in hospital with their newborn - but there was nothing to keep their other two toddlers occupied. In 2000 Nathalie started a program to build Austin's Playrooms - providing families a chance to get away from everything medical while still being able to visit their sick loved ones. Pao and I were able to tour the playrooms and are happy to be part of such an important project.

Staff Announcement
I'm going to have to check out our own Children's Hospital at some point and see how it measures up

We came back to the hotel after the tour and sat around waiting for the welcome dinner to start. It was at this time that Paul Coffey, one of the NHL's 100 greatest players and a personal favourite, arrived and sat down at the table I was sitting at. I was more than a little starstruck but like all the pros at the camp, as I would later find out, he was more than happy to chat and was even interested in why an Australian would learn to love hockey. Being the first camp participant from outside of North America was a great way to meet people (not just the Hockey Hall of Fame members) as most people seemed interested in why an Aussie would follow hockey. I also used that opportunity to explain to everyone why I would be so much worse on skates than they are!

As luck would have it, the year I was selected to join the camp coincided with the Penguins being selected to host the NHL Stadium Series, playing a game against our bitter rivals the Philadelphia Flyers outdoors at Heinz Field. So on the first night of camp we all went to watch the game as a group, with Mario Lemieux joining us on the bus. As further luck would have it - I sat across from Mario on the bus and had a quick discussion with him (again, about hockey in Australia) to which he seemed interested (and I probably seemed like a huge fanboy). Someone ended up sitting between us which gave me a chance to realise that there was a police car with sirens blazing and our bus wasn't getting out of the way. A few minutes after that I realised that we were actually enjoying a police escort - which certainly cut down on travel time to the stadium.

While the view of a hockey game from a football stadium wasn't the best - the outdoor game was pretty awesome with all was considered. There were real-life penguins on a side rink playing around with Iceburgh (the first real penguins at a game for quite some time now), the 67,000-strong crowd was thunderous and in the second period snow started to fall. The picturesque environment, and the fact that this was my first live hockey game in over 10 years, meant I was glued to my seat even though there was a warm bar area available to us.

Beaner
It was pretty cool to see the players have a chance to play in an outdoor game - cooler still that I would be doing the same in a few days!

Penguins In Water
One of the penguins kicked a puck, I nearly died!

Le Tits Now
Let down by my lack of photography skill as usual, but I hope this photo can almost convey the awesome spectacle

Crosby scored (always happy to see that), Malkin was dominating and the good guys won - I was never in danger of complaining! We took the bus home (no escort this time) and went to bed. Day one at camp was amazing - but I was pretty sure that day two was going to be even better!


This is the 2nd in the Joel Goes To Camp series
Game 1 - Pittsburgh Arrival - Border Security Magic, 2017Game 2 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 1 (Registration and Penguins Stadium Series)Game 3 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 2 (Contract Signing, Training and Game)
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pittsburgh Arrival - Border Security Magic, 2017

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 21/03/2017 03:48:34

For 3 grueling years I've been on a waiting list to attend the Mario Lemieux Fantasy Hockey Camp - a 5-day camp giving participants a glimpse into the life of an NHL hockey player and a chance to play and interact with some of the biggest names in hockey. The chance to play hockey along-side and against Mario Lemieux as well as other favourites such as Larry Murphy, Paul Coffey and Pierre Turgeon - while contributing to the Mario Lemieux Foundation - made the decision to join the list a no-brainer. When my name finally reached the top of the list, Pao and I planned a 4-week holiday in the U.S. - and took the opportunity to bring my little brother Tay as a 21st birthday present (I set a silly precedent by doing similar with my sister years ago).

This incredibly generous gift (which I hope ensures Tay remembers me once his music career makes him millions) was almost completely wasted at the conclusion of our our first flight (of a healthy 15 hours). We arrived at the LAX airport and headed through customs and border control mostly concerned with the impending 6-hour wait for our following flight to Pittsburgh. Taylor headed off to one counter while Pao and I went to another for our passport checks. We were waived through quickly while Taylor was asked to head to the "B Sign" for further checks. We tried to wait in the area for him to head out, but were requested to move through and exit the terminal. What followed was 6 hours of interrogation for Tay while Pao and I were harried from one terminal to another trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

Dignified
I think it's time someone updated the Customs Declaration card I was given upon entry in the U.S.

Initially we waited a few hours as the exit point, assured that he would be coming out in any minute. After an hour I started asking questions only to be told that 1 hours is not enough time for processing, just wait an hour more. The information we received was different every time we asked - but the one consistency was that they were not interested in letting me speak to the officer that was actually detaining him. Luckily our flight was delayed 2 hours, otherwise Pao and I would have been stuck in LA needing to scramble our way onto Pittsburgh before the camp started. In the end we were told repeatedly that customs must have found something in his bag, and it was very unlikely that he would be let into the country (while telling him that we had already left LAX). Once we finally resigned ourselves to rush onwards to our connecting flight, we were told Taylor finally made it through the detainment and was on his way to our terminal. I had assumed that Taylor's ... bedraggled ... appearance was the cause for agents to be concerned - but it turns out Australian Mem Fox (responsible for one of my favourite books from childhood) had similar treatment soon after Taylor's ordeal - and she's a 70-year-old children's author. While Mem Fox received a written apology for the mistreatment - I'm fairly sure Taylor won't be afforded the same courtesy. I'm sure the worrying that Pao and I went through is nothing compared to the complete shit that Taylor was subjected to - but I'm thankful that we did eventually make it onto our connecting flight and arrived in Pittsburgh not too worse for wear.

Australian Too
Somewhat ironically Mem Fox's latest book is about accepting strangers from differing cultures and treating everyone with respect

After purchasing new SIM cards (a huge advantage over long Europe trips is that a single SIM card will work for every U.S. state you visit - with unlimited data!) we headed to the top item on my list of Pittsburgh food to try - a sandwich topped with coleslaw and chips from a Primanti Bros. restaurant in the Strip District. My Pitts-burger (#2 best seller apparently - there isn't a #1 on the menu) was delicious although Pao wasn't 100% on board with the unique flavour.

Tastes Great Jagoff
An early example of large serving sizes in Pittsburgh - a theme that would be repeated again and again

We took a bus to the Carnegie Mellon University campus, mainly to see "The Fence". A cool tradition specifies that the Fence can only be painted over between the hours of midnight and sunrise, only with paint brushes and if the artists want their message to remain they must stand guard over the Fence every night. The original Fence started in 1920 but collapsed under the weight in 1993. The replacement concrete Fence was red when we saw it, which I guess is pretty cool.

Paint The Fence
I'm not sure what the fence was advertising, but I do know that the dude sitting at the picnic table was mere minutes away from being sconned by a soccer ball

Close-by were two more items on the "food to try" list - Conflict Kitchen provides a rotating menu sourced from cultures that are in conflict with the U.S. (currently Jöhehgöh) and Dave and Andy's Homemade Ice Cream to go a completely different direction (incredibly delicious, especially the hand-rolled waffle cone).

Amiable Flavours
The gahgwahgi:'da:h was quite nice, as was the chilled drink of oya:gi'. More punctuation than I normally eat, but hey - I'm on holiday

Steel Jaw
16 scoops in a cup sounds excellent again for this year please!

We decided to walk down to the Market Square for dinner on the first night. We went to The Yard - mainly because of their extensive grilled cheese menu (they also have a great beer selection, which I noticed much later). Yet again we were caught out by the huge sizes on offer here, having to leave behind half of our meals. We walked back to the hotel and got an early night - I was starting camp the next day!

Just A Grilled Cheese
You buy a grilled cheese and you also get the sweet potato fries and the tomato soup (both quite tasty) - I would get so fat so quickly if I lived in Pittsburgh!


This is the 1st in the Joel Goes To Camp series
Game 1 - Pittsburgh Arrival - Border Security Magic, 2017Game 2 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 1 (Registration and Penguins Stadium Series)Game 3 - Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp 2017 - Day 2 (Contract Signing, Training and Game)
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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Travel Log - Day 18 (The only game that really matters)

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 10/04/2007 22:09:00
Updated by Joel Dixon at 14/01/2008 12:52:14


It Starts
It starts

Firstly, let me take you back. The year was 1994. I was about to start high school, and was probably thinking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or playing Altered Beast on our Sega Mega Drive. My older brother brought home a few games for the aforementioned Mega Drive with a pooled resource of our Christmas / birthday money. One of them, I do not remember and obviously didn't have a huge impact on my life. The second was Sonic the Hedgehog II, a game that I was very excited about. I had played it a fair bit of Sonic at the local video game store, and it did take up a fair amount of my time during that year. The third game was seen as a little odd to me, as Gavin was more of a basketball fan back then, and I didn't think much of it at the time. That third game was NHL 94.

NHL 94 Title Screen
Notice how small the Electronic Arts branding is

Mario
I thought so

Injury
Oops, sorry about that

Nice
Lemieux to Jagr and he scores to tie it at one

Hattrick
He beat him like a rented mule, Mario Lemieux with the hat-trick.

Stars
Gretzky with three pitiful goals gets the third star

With all said and done, I think that that video game has probably had the most effect on my life, more than any other video game. Before NHL 94 I had never heard much about the sport of ice hockey, and only ice skated once when I was around 8 years old. Once I got sick of Sonic and Mr. Prowler I moved on to the NHL game. Initially I played as a few of the teams, and one of my first "favourites" were the Winnipeg Jets (I will buy their jersey one day) mostly due to Teemu Selanne, a gifted scorer. I never really settled on a team until I re-met an old primary school friend who's dad was a huge Penguins fan. The transition was simple for me, as Pittsburgh was also a team I would often play as, with both Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr lighting it up, almost at will.

From then on, my love for the Pittsburgh Penguins only increased. When my parents installed pay TV I was finally able to watch some of the games in full, and allowed my friends and I to watch Mario Lemieux's first comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs at 3 am one December morning (it also introduced me to Mat Hoffman and the X Games, which kindled my love of rollerblading). Becoming a savvy interweb user helped a lot, as I was able to track my favourite team instantly and gain a lot of Penguin information quicker than I had previously encountered.

So that's why I like the Pittsburgh Penguins. Belinda, my lovely wife, on the other hand - chose her favourite NHL team (the Colorado Avalanche) because she likes the colour blue, and the Avs (with some blue on their jerseys) had recently won a Stanley Cup.

I provide this background information, so that you can understand why I deeply wished that the mighty Pens would crush my new wife's favourite team in their showdown match. This was the schedule for Day 18.

We might have done something during Day 18 that was non-hockey related. Perhaps we had a nice meal or saw some more of the town of Pittsburgh. I'm not 100% sure however, as I just thought about my last chance to see the Penguins win a regular season game. As always - dot point goodness:

  • I noticed during my research into this fateful game that the Colorado Avalanche had played a game the night before this one. I looked a little deeper and saw that the Avs had only played back-to-back three times prior in this season. The other three times resulted in a loss in the second game. Hesitant confidence was gained!
  • With Marc-Andre Fleury in net with his golden pads of goodness, I was feeling a little more confident about this match. That little nipper is just awesome to watch in goals.
  • I noticed that once the game started, the Penguins were playing with energy that I had yet to see. They were running around and banging bodies - it was looking like the momentum was all theirs. Maxime Talbot (one of my favourites) was one of the main proponent of the physical play, and it was fun to watch
  • Even more fun was watching the Penguins score the first goal of the game - the crowd was electric. I let myself get excited and started thinking about a win.
  • It only took 6 minutes for me to crash down into depression as the Avalanche tied the score at 1. To the Penguins credit, they kept the pressure up and went ahead again with only a minute to go in the 1st period.
  • After the Pens traded a goal a piece in the 2nd frame, I was still a little edgy being only 1 goal ahead to start the third period. My main man (after Crosby, Lemieux, Fleury etc) Max Talbot made me jump from my chair midway through the 3rd period with a well deserved insurance goal to put the Penguins up 4-2. It was great seeing Talbot's tough physical play rewarded with a goal in an important game.
  • Colorado scored another goal to make it 4-3, but the Penguins held on and I saw my first ever Pittsburgh victory. It was sweet!


Faceoff
The dance begins!

They Score
Belinda got to see a few Colorado goals ...

We score more
... but I got to see an extra Pittsburgh goal

We win
We winned!

Now, although the Penguin's record against the Av's was 0-9-1 in the last 10 games (we won 0, lost 9 and tied 1), the new record is 1-0-0 in the last 1 game! To Bell's credit, she did take the loss much better than I would have. Though I do admit I was a little worried about the plane ride home!


This is the 19th in the Honeymoon Travel Log series
Day 0 - Travel Log - Day 0 (Flights)Day 1 - Travel Log - Day 1 (New York, New York)Day 2 - Travel Log - Day 2 (Thanksgiving)Day 3 - Travel Log - Day 3 (I can't believe it got colder)Day 4 - Travel Log - Day 4 (What is the deal with "New" York anyway?)Day 5 - Travel Log - Day 5 (J-Dix on the six)Day 6 - Travel Log - Day 6 (Niagara Falls, eh?)Day 7 - Travel Log - Day 7 (Wet Wet Wet)Day 8 - Travel Log - Day 8 (New York, New York ... again)Day 9 - Travel Log - Day 9 (Best NHL Game Ever!)Day 10 - Travel Log - Day 10 (Pittsburgh at last!)Day 11 - Travel Log - Day 11 (Best NHL Game Ever - Mach II)Day 12 - Travel Log - Day 12 (Mr. Dixon goes to Washington)Day 13 - Travel Log - Day 13 (Mr. Dixon ... stays in Washington)Day 14 - Travel Log - Day 14 (Washington Zoo-lander)Day 15 - Travel Log - Day 15 (A Day at the Musuems)Day 16 - Travel Log - Day 16 (Worst NHL Game Ever)Day 17 - Travel Log - Day 17 (A kid in a candy-filled toy store)Day 18 - Travel Log - Day 18 (The only game that really matters)Day 19 - Travel Log - Day 19 (Fare thee well America)
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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Travel Log - Day 17 (A kid in a candy-filled toy store)

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 21/03/2007 20:46:00
Updated by Joel Dixon at 15/11/2007 22:39:20


At the start of the 17th day overseas, I was starting to feel a little over travelling. The air travel, poor meals (involving a whole lot of cheese), lack of sleep and general running around was starting to catch up with Bell and I. I was also starting to get a little bit homesick, though this feeling was lessened by the impending show-down between the Mighty Penguins and the lowly Avalanches.

Due to a previous planning issue Day 17 was also a schedule packed with "bumming around". We went into town, and stumbled upon a toy store. It seemed like a proper, old fashioned, not-too-commercial toy store, and was a welcome change from some of the other, more commercialised sights.

The toy store was 3 levels of fun which was quite a feat, as unlike space crazy New York, the toy store had three decent sized levels. The items that interested Bell and I the most was the Christmas decorations.

Being that we were coming close to Christmas at this time, it was understandable that some holiday decorations would be on display. But these weren't just decorations, these were to-scale model representations of various Christmas themes. There were heaps of different varieties, many different ways to enjoy the holiday period with collectibles (here's some examples). The most we would ever see in Australia is a modest nativity scene model, but I must admit we snapped up some pretty cool items.

Nativity Scene
My parents have something that look just like this, I used to love pulling off the moss

Christmas Scene
The M&M Christmas themed decorations we bought in Pittsburgh

MM Factory
Where the magic happens (I'll resist my regular pants joke)

Skating
This one is just awesome, and note the winter M&M tree in the background

Stamps
Such great detail - Yellow obviously needs to be persuaded by Red

As Day 17 was another light-on day for content, I'll post some other pictures of M&M toys Bell and I bought.

Car
Red's quite the ladies man...

Plane
... but seems equally enthused when his partner is a scared, peanut-filled yellow male. Fair enough I guess

Spinner
Yellow spins Red right 'round baby (etc)


This is the 18th in the Honeymoon Travel Log series
Day 0 - Travel Log - Day 0 (Flights)Day 1 - Travel Log - Day 1 (New York, New York)Day 2 - Travel Log - Day 2 (Thanksgiving)Day 3 - Travel Log - Day 3 (I can't believe it got colder)Day 4 - Travel Log - Day 4 (What is the deal with "New" York anyway?)Day 5 - Travel Log - Day 5 (J-Dix on the six)Day 6 - Travel Log - Day 6 (Niagara Falls, eh?)Day 7 - Travel Log - Day 7 (Wet Wet Wet)Day 8 - Travel Log - Day 8 (New York, New York ... again)Day 9 - Travel Log - Day 9 (Best NHL Game Ever!)Day 10 - Travel Log - Day 10 (Pittsburgh at last!)Day 11 - Travel Log - Day 11 (Best NHL Game Ever - Mach II)Day 12 - Travel Log - Day 12 (Mr. Dixon goes to Washington)Day 13 - Travel Log - Day 13 (Mr. Dixon ... stays in Washington)Day 14 - Travel Log - Day 14 (Washington Zoo-lander)Day 15 - Travel Log - Day 15 (A Day at the Musuems)Day 16 - Travel Log - Day 16 (Worst NHL Game Ever)Day 17 - Travel Log - Day 17 (A kid in a candy-filled toy store)Day 18 - Travel Log - Day 18 (The only game that really matters)Day 19 - Travel Log - Day 19 (Fare thee well America)
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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Travel Log - Day 16 (Worst NHL Game Ever)

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 17/03/2007 19:32:00

I had originally made a huge plan for our honeymoon, the planes we would catch, hotels we would stay at, hockey games we would watch, tours we would take and the various tourist locations we would gander upon. I created it in HTML and hosted it on my website so I could make changes from work in the weeks leading up to the trip. After I added all of the staples (planes, games and tours etc that we had booked), I would add a few ideas of what we could do on our days without plans. The trips to the Bronx Zoo and the Disney Store were planned in my handy Honeymoon Itinerary before actually booking tickets. For each day we had free I would research the various things available and note down a few options. Unfortunately work got really busy leading up to the honeymoon, so I had only finished planning up to Washington. This all meant that Day 16 was essentially un-planned - and we didn't do much at all really.

But at the tail end of a very busy and exciting honeymoon, both Bell and I were ready for a bit of a change in pace. We were also a little sick of carrying a camera around everywhere we went - so this post will be lacking in photos. We've agreed that we'll have to buy Belinda a new, small camera for the next trip we take.

After waking up very late in the morning (or perhaps the afternoon) we had lunch at a very nice Chinese restaurant. It's a pity it wasn't closer to our house - because I'm sure Bell and I would eat there quite frequently if it were. Other than the very nice meal, we pretty much did nothing other than watch a hockey game - the Penguins vs Minnesota Wild. Speaking of which, here's the summary:

  • Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't playing in net for this game, which was my first disappointment. This was very quickly followed up by another as the Wild scored the first goal just over a minute into the game. It certainly kept the crowd quiet.
  • Crosby was held without a point in the game, but was definitely the best player on the ice. He seemed to be the only one trying.
  • I was very upset by the way the Penguins were playing, they had few shots and were down 3-0 at the end of the second. But the behaviour of the other Penguins fans was unbelievably disgusting. I just cannot imagine a situation that would cause me to boo my own home team. Some of the fans were yelling out disparaging comments about our own players, and people were leaving the game from early in the third period (when Minnesota went up 4-0). I have trouble believing that any of the people booing their own team are true Pens fans. They really don't deserve to live so close!
  • Even though the game was going terribly for the Pens (we were down 5-0) I was amazed with the crowd's response towards the end of the game (in a good way). There had been a minor scuffle earlier on in the game - but nothing I would call a real fight. With less than 5 minutes to go in the game, Brooks Orpik and Kyle Wanvig participated in the first NHL hockey fight that I had witnessed. The audience made the most noise I had ever heard as the Penguins defender clearly won the fight. Sure, most of the negative nellys had gone by this point, but the crowd just went wild. I guess it was a small victory considering, but it did put a slightly positive note at the end of the game.


After the loss we went back to our hotel room a little dejected, but it did raise an interesting point. I had yet to see my favourite team win a game of hockey, and they only had one chance remaining. Against my (now) wife's favourite hockey team. Belinda had hoped that the Penguins would have won the Minnesota game so that I could get the victory out of the way, and lessen the blow of a loss against Colorado. Whatever happened - we would have a long time to talk about it, as our flight home was scheduled for the next day!


This is the 17th in the Honeymoon Travel Log series
Day 0 - Travel Log - Day 0 (Flights)Day 1 - Travel Log - Day 1 (New York, New York)Day 2 - Travel Log - Day 2 (Thanksgiving)Day 3 - Travel Log - Day 3 (I can't believe it got colder)Day 4 - Travel Log - Day 4 (What is the deal with "New" York anyway?)Day 5 - Travel Log - Day 5 (J-Dix on the six)Day 6 - Travel Log - Day 6 (Niagara Falls, eh?)Day 7 - Travel Log - Day 7 (Wet Wet Wet)Day 8 - Travel Log - Day 8 (New York, New York ... again)Day 9 - Travel Log - Day 9 (Best NHL Game Ever!)Day 10 - Travel Log - Day 10 (Pittsburgh at last!)Day 11 - Travel Log - Day 11 (Best NHL Game Ever - Mach II)Day 12 - Travel Log - Day 12 (Mr. Dixon goes to Washington)Day 13 - Travel Log - Day 13 (Mr. Dixon ... stays in Washington)Day 14 - Travel Log - Day 14 (Washington Zoo-lander)Day 15 - Travel Log - Day 15 (A Day at the Musuems)Day 16 - Travel Log - Day 16 (Worst NHL Game Ever)Day 17 - Travel Log - Day 17 (A kid in a candy-filled toy store)Day 18 - Travel Log - Day 18 (The only game that really matters)Day 19 - Travel Log - Day 19 (Fare thee well America)
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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Travel Log - Day 11 (Best NHL Game Ever - Mach II)

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 19/07/2006 15:38:00
Updated by Joel Dixon at 07/04/2017 01:04:21


I was excited waking up on day 10, waking up on day 11 was twice as bad. I actually woke up quite early - a fair few hours before Bell - so I just read a book I had recently purchased.

When Bell finally woke up we decided to see a bit of the City of Pittsburgh. From the hotel room we could see that there was a fair bit of snow cover on the city, which was exciting. Even better - when we stepped outside our hotel room it was actually snowing. In Niagara Falls it was snowing - but really, that was the equivalent of a small spit. This was an actual fall - admittably not pissing down - but definately decent. I rather enjoyed holding my open hands up to the sky and collecting the snow. As a kid I always liked the idea of snow - the most we ever got in Melbourne was a very heavy hail storm - so this was great.

Something that I was entirely unprepared for was the amount of support the town gave to the Steelers. I had read on message boards that Pittsburgh was "Stillers Town" - but I was very surprised. Pretty much 1 out of every 3 or 4 people had some article of Steelers clothing on. Everyone from grandmothers to children was proudly displaying the Steelers name. There was also a lot of Penguin clothing (much more than I'd ever see in Australia) - but it was a little bit of a letdown.

We walked around the city - the first stop was the (now retired) Kaufmann's department store. The first thing I noticed was that half of the store staff were wearing Steelers jerseys as their uniforms (none of them were wearing Penguins jerseys though). We bought me two pairs of shoes (very cheap - and Pittsburgh has no sales tax on clothing) and two extra suitcases to store all of the crap we bought at the Penguins store. There was also a nice cafe in the middle of the store and I filled up on soda spiders. We just had a great day out.

At the end of the trip Belinda and I both agreed that Pittsburgh was one of the nicest cities we'd visited on the trip. The people were great, food was nice and (though it's probably got a lot to do with the snow) the place just looked beautiful. Whenever I list the honeymoon destinations (New York, Niagara Falls, Washington, Pittsburgh) I get a "Why Pittsburgh?". Originally the answer would just be "hawkey" - but now I could honestly say it was a great place to visit. We didn't even end up seeing much more of Pittsburgh than downtown - but it was great fun. I'm looking forward to returning (and Bell is too - which is wonderful)!

Anyway - the most important part of day 11 was the chance to watch the Penguins play at home. About a half-hour before the game's start time we walked around the corner to Mellon Arena. The atmosphere was incredible, and every second person had a Pens jersey on (with about a quarter of those having Crosby's number 87). Afterwards Bell and I both agreed that the Pittsburgh game was so much more of a show, and much more enjoyable (even though it was great in New York). Cheerleaders, free T-Shirts and a mini radio controlled blimp were some of the things that anyone could enjoy - not just fans of hockey.

Matchup
Not as fancy as the Madison Square Garden display (a few extra dead pixels) but it was a great sight!

Banners
How cool are these! And note the Pen's credit card in the background

Me
A few warmups going on behind me

Cheerleaders
The Penguin's cheerleaders shooting t-shirts from a slingshot. Iceburgh was also firing t-shits from a bazooka contraption

Blimp
The Verizon blimp was dropping some kind of vouchars. One dropped right in front of me - but kids snatched it up before I got a chance (and then ran back to their seats on the other side of the stand - bastards!)

Zamboni
"My dad drives the zamboni"

Scoreboard
Go you big skating penguin!

Anyway - another dot-point summary of the game:

  • I saw a few people wearing Steelers jerseys to the game - poor form!
  • I was happy to see Fleury starting in net again, and he played a great game again.
  • The Penguins were robbed early, and I was pissed off. Marcus Nilson's shot hit the crossbar and lay on the goal line - but didn't cross it. Many players on the ice could clearly see that the puck didn't go in - and quickly protested. The referee called the goal and they didn't even go to the video referees for clarrification. 1-0 Calgary.
  • Pittsburgh then tied it up with a spectacular backhander goal by Sidney Crosby. I was extremely happy that I got to witness Crosby scoring - and it was a plus that Mario Lemieux had the second assist on the goal.
  • Langkow scored two early third period goals to put Calgary ahead 3-1 both from great assists from Huselius.
  • Midway through the 3rd I saw Ryan VandenBussche's first NHL goal to bring it up to 3-2.
  • We pulled the goalie towards the end of the game to attempt to score a tying goal - but alas, it was not to be. Made the first non-goal so much more difficult to stomache!


Faceoff
Opening faceoff - people were still only just getting to their seats. What a waste!

Iceburgh
Iceburgh stood up right in front of us. I didn't have the heart to yell "down in front" to him! (so I just pushed him)

More Iceburgh
I'm not 100% - but I think Iceburgh is trying to score here

Again, watching a Penguins game was awesome - it was just a bitch that we lost. Once we left Mellon Arena, we saw that it had been snowing all through the game, and the ground was just covered! Most of the Pens fans were huddled together, head down, running towards their cars. Bell and I were running around playing in the snow, it was quite fun. We even made snow angels!


This is the 12th in the Honeymoon Travel Log series
Day 0 - Travel Log - Day 0 (Flights)Day 1 - Travel Log - Day 1 (New York, New York)Day 2 - Travel Log - Day 2 (Thanksgiving)Day 3 - Travel Log - Day 3 (I can't believe it got colder)Day 4 - Travel Log - Day 4 (What is the deal with "New" York anyway?)Day 5 - Travel Log - Day 5 (J-Dix on the six)Day 6 - Travel Log - Day 6 (Niagara Falls, eh?)Day 7 - Travel Log - Day 7 (Wet Wet Wet)Day 8 - Travel Log - Day 8 (New York, New York ... again)Day 9 - Travel Log - Day 9 (Best NHL Game Ever!)Day 10 - Travel Log - Day 10 (Pittsburgh at last!)Day 11 - Travel Log - Day 11 (Best NHL Game Ever - Mach II)Day 12 - Travel Log - Day 12 (Mr. Dixon goes to Washington)Day 13 - Travel Log - Day 13 (Mr. Dixon ... stays in Washington)Day 14 - Travel Log - Day 14 (Washington Zoo-lander)Day 15 - Travel Log - Day 15 (A Day at the Musuems)Day 16 - Travel Log - Day 16 (Worst NHL Game Ever)Day 17 - Travel Log - Day 17 (A kid in a candy-filled toy store)Day 18 - Travel Log - Day 18 (The only game that really matters)Day 19 - Travel Log - Day 19 (Fare thee well America)
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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Travel Log - Day 10 (Pittsburgh at last!)

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 02/07/2006 16:45:00

I woke up on day 10 with a real excited feeling - as this was the day we were finally going to Pittsburgh. We woke up early and left straight away to La Guardia Airport. The flight from New York to Pittsburgh was quite enjoyable, it only took an hour and a half and it was much less packed than the Red Eye we took earlier.

The first thing I did after touching down in Pittsburgh was purchase a Post-Gazette newspaper from the airport. At first it was great to actually buy the paper I had been reading online for many years - but then I realised it was a bit of a waste as I only read three articles from the sports section.

We took a Shuttle bus downtown, and checked into our hotel. Most hotels have a mint on your pillow to welcome you - the one we stayed at handed out cookies (which was muchly appreciated). Anyway, after dropping off our bags and scoping out the hotel room (much nicer compared to the one we just left) we set off to pick up the hockey tickets.

Our Room
I really liked the Pittsburgh room - no neo-romantic Ostro-Goths here

Once we left the hotel and started looking for the building to pick up our tickets we saw that Mellon Arena was literally across the road from us. Being this close to The Igloo was another dream come true, and the hockey flags around the place just topped it off.

Mellon Arena
Mellon Arena - Terror goes into over-time

Crosby Sign
One of the flags around the 'Burgh

The place we picked our hockey tickets up was pretty cool in itself - as it was Mario Lemieux's actual office. The decorations around the room were very nice too - especially the next-game countdown.

Jerseys
A little display outside the ticket office

Countdown
Time until the next Pen's home game. I would be lying if I didn't think of ripping it off the wall and running!

Mario Returns
I'm sure this paper sold a few copies

Hall of Fame
Fleury's distinctive pads can be seen in the foreground

After picking up the tickets we went straight to the Arena to see if the memorabilia store was open, fortunately (unfortunately for my wallet) it was. I had another "WOW! This is awesome" moments when we stepped inside - looking at a sea of Black and Gold. All the Penguins stuff was cool and we bought lots of it!

Jersey Front
The first thing I bought - a Crosby Pens home jersey

Jersey Back
Wearing this in Melbourne - I'm sure some people are wondering when Bing played Ice Hockey

Grey Top

Black Top
A couple of sweet hoodies, for the casual man about the town

Jacket Front

Jacket Back
Don't get me wrong - I'm not the kind of guy that normally wears leather jackets. But this jacket is just awesome - and will be treasured for years

Pens Shelf
The only things I got from the Pens store here is the shot glass and cool tiny replica of a goalies mask. The plastic cup was filled with sprite at one of the Pens games

Pens Bin
My final purchase seen in action - next to my computer desk


This is the 11th in the Honeymoon Travel Log series
Day 0 - Travel Log - Day 0 (Flights)Day 1 - Travel Log - Day 1 (New York, New York)Day 2 - Travel Log - Day 2 (Thanksgiving)Day 3 - Travel Log - Day 3 (I can't believe it got colder)Day 4 - Travel Log - Day 4 (What is the deal with "New" York anyway?)Day 5 - Travel Log - Day 5 (J-Dix on the six)Day 6 - Travel Log - Day 6 (Niagara Falls, eh?)Day 7 - Travel Log - Day 7 (Wet Wet Wet)Day 8 - Travel Log - Day 8 (New York, New York ... again)Day 9 - Travel Log - Day 9 (Best NHL Game Ever!)Day 10 - Travel Log - Day 10 (Pittsburgh at last!)Day 11 - Travel Log - Day 11 (Best NHL Game Ever - Mach II)Day 12 - Travel Log - Day 12 (Mr. Dixon goes to Washington)Day 13 - Travel Log - Day 13 (Mr. Dixon ... stays in Washington)Day 14 - Travel Log - Day 14 (Washington Zoo-lander)Day 15 - Travel Log - Day 15 (A Day at the Musuems)Day 16 - Travel Log - Day 16 (Worst NHL Game Ever)Day 17 - Travel Log - Day 17 (A kid in a candy-filled toy store)Day 18 - Travel Log - Day 18 (The only game that really matters)Day 19 - Travel Log - Day 19 (Fare thee well America)
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