With just over 50 days until the puck drops on the 15th season of hockey in Stockton, the Heat are not the only ones planning for the new season. For us, in addition to our full slate of home games for the new season, there are a few major items that need to be confirmed: a preseason roadie to Bakersfield, a few Golden Knights games, and, most important, the Finest’s annual Canadian hockey trip.
Desperate for live action hockey, we are planning a head start on season by taking in both of the Heat’s preseason games. The Heat travel to Bakersfield on Friday, Sept. 27 and host the Condors on Sunday, Sept. 29. With a 7 p.m. start with California Oil Town (and a 3 ½ hour drive to and from), an overnight stay is required. Hopefully the Heat stay at the same hotel and we get a chance to talk with some of the players.
Next on our hockey calendar are games in Las Vegas in mid-October and over the New Year’s holiday. October is a nice time, as the desert heat is a bearable 80 degrees Fahrenheit with nighttime lows in the upper 50s. Mid-week travel and hotel costs are not that bad, but weekends are a different story, as it is smack dab in the middle of college and NFL football season. If you fear crowds, a Thursday night tilt against the Senators allows you to get out of town prior to the influx of hordes of pigskin fans that congregate in every sports book on the Strip. If you enjoy that atmosphere, like we do, it is a show in itself to witness people screaming at the multitudes of screens about missing a field goal that would cover the spread. The downside: trying to convince the master of the TV controller to show a hockey game on a single screen, especially on a Saturday with 100 college games starting at 9 a.m. and playing through 10 p.m.
New Year’s in Vegas is crazy and better than Times Square in New York (IMHO). With the Strip shut down to vehicle traffic beginning around 7 pm, walking the Strip and watching the fireworks shooting off seven different casinos at midnight is impressive. Maybe better viewing is seeing the cavalcade of drunk people stumble their way on Las Vegas Blvd. The Knights play the Ducks at noon on New Year’s Eve (Tuesday) and the Flyers on Thursday, Jan. 2. We will miss the Heat’s New Year’s Eve game, but Mrs. Finest and I are willing to make that sacrifice. There may be a third trip to Sin City in March or April, but nothing is planned currently. Vegas has always been a great place to visit, but to see the town completely embrace hockey as a whole and the Golden Knights in particular, has turned the city into a full-fledged hockey town that welcomes fans from all teams. Besides watching hockey (with the cheesiest on ice pregame show ever….and totally Vegas), there are so many other things to do besides gambling. If anyone wants to join us, I will buy you a beer (and good local beer). This paragraph brought to you by the Finest Board of Tourism, Vegas division. We are not only the best, but the Finest!
Lastly, we have scoured the schedule and found the best time for us to travel to the Great White North for our annual Flames trip. Last year was so fun that we are doing the same itinerary at the same time of year. This time we are planning Thursday, Feb. 6 against the Predators in Calgary and then on to Vancouver for a ‘Nucks Flames game on Saturday, Feb. 8. This year we miss the team in teal by two days, meaning Mrs. Finest won’t have to pack 2 jerseys; darn (dripping with sarcasm). While we have not secured game tickets yet, we have our hotels booked and researching flight options.
In February 2018, we had great conversations with some FlamesNation and Heat fans before the game, at the Saddledome, and had more hockey talk over drinks with Mickey O after the game. Last year, Skylardog and Free the Flame joined us before and after the game, with Ari dropping by for after-game beers. In Vancouver, OTW, C-Fan in Van, and The Fall all met for pre-game pub and grub. This year we are hoping for a bigger turnout in both cities. Some of our Heat friends have talked about joining us on this trip, but nothing has been set in stone yet.
The previous two years in Calgary, we have pre-gamed at Nania’s and only gained a single point (I blame Mrs. Finest’s teal jersey for last year’s loss). So time to change things up this year (plus we want to try new places). We are staying more downtown Calgary, so looking for a better spot to pre and post-game. Maybe a visit to Bottlescrew Bill’s, Craft Beer Market, or James Joyce is in the cards. In Vancouver, where we gained an overtime point, maybe time to give The Pint Public House or Yaletown Distillery Bar & Kitchen a try. More to come as plans solidify and tickets purchased. If anyone is planning to come down and see the Heat in what may be their final year in Stockton, please hit me up at [email protected] and we can get together for discussion and some libations before, during, and/or after the game.