Thursday, 17 April 2014

Eight Tips for a Killer NHL Playoff Trip




Travel and sports are two things that make life awesome. Therefore, it's good math that combining them will equal even more awesome (love math). As a hockey fan, I consider the NHL playoffs a prime season for travel; this may be because my home team is largely ‘playoff-deficient,’ or because, on the off chance they do make the playoffs, I’d need to sell a useful appendage to afford a ticket. Beyond the game itself, sport-related travel allows you to experience the culture of sport in other hotbeds both in your own country and others. You quickly realize that fandom is not one thing, but specific to city, sport and culture.

Here are a few tips for planning a killer NHL playoff trip:

1. Don’t worry, you’ll find tickets.
Getting tickets is less of a concern than many people think with safe and effective services like StubHub. Planning ahead can be tough, with who will play who when only being sorted out a week or two in advance. Be flexible.

2. Follow the fans.
Make an effort to meet other fans while you’re in the city. They will lead you to the best pre and post game activities (likely with cheaper drinks and food). If all else fails, follow the crowd, at least you know they’re of the same mind as you.

3. Festivities.
Research what is happening in the city related to the playoff game you are seeing. Tailgate parties and other pre-game events are a great way to meet other fans.

4. City before team.
Playoff hockey is usually good hockey. If you are a fan of the game you will enjoy almost any tilt you take in. Figure out what cities you want to visit and sync one with a playoff game.

5. Contain.
Good sports trips can be done in a weekend (or long weekend), but you need to keep your ambitions contained. Don’t try and visit far-off attractions; just enjoy the city and the game. Plan a centrally located hotel to reduce travel time.

6. Make it a road trip.
Chances are you’re doing this trip with your buddies. Some of the best memories I have come from the journey, not just the destination. If you’ve got the time, hit the road.

7. Pre-plan... a little.
If you want to do things that will take time (brewery tours, museums, etc.) plan them ahead, but leave room for spontaneity.

8. Fancy hotel: optional.
If you’re going for a weekend chances are you’re not spending a lot of time on your room. Save your coin for the $10 arena beers.

Here’s a quick synopsis of three recent NHL playoff trips I’ve taken, based on three key components of a good sports trip: the fans, the arena and the city itself:


The fans: Detroit is home to some of the most knowledgeable fans I’ve met. We were regaled on team history and politics by two middle aged women who knew more about hockey than we likely ever will.

The arena: Joe Louis Arena (The Joe) is situated right downtown within walking distance of most major hotels and attractions. There are sightline issues in the nosebleeds but they are normally stated when purchasing the ticket.

The city: As detailed in an earlier post, the embattled city of Detroit finds a bright light in their Red Wings. There is plenty to see and do in Detroit, check out the post for details.


The fans: Chicago supports seven major league sports teams and has a sports culture equal to its number of teams. In baseball, you’re either a Cubs or White Sox fan, never both. Luckily the whole town comes together in support of the Blackhawks and the love for the storied franchise is palpable. We found this out in a hurry when we walked into the arena wearing Calgary Flames jerseys and were met with the joking back-and-forth ribbing that one would expect, along with some interactions that were far less joking, bordering on violent. Gotta respect passion.

The arena: The United Centre is located in a more industrial part of the city. Transit can be difficult so stick with cabs to-and-from the arena. A loud arena with a great energy and solid layout.

The city: Chicago is a beautiful, modern, high-end feeling city. While in town, don’t miss Navy Pier on the shores of Lake Michigan full of vendors and restaurants. You’ll also want to see Wrigley Field and check out a Cubs game while you’re there (or U.S. Cellular Field for a White Sox match, if you swing that way).


The fans: Boston is another sport-crazed city and home to some very no-nonsense hockey fans. Two guys from Rhode Island sitting next to us got so frustrated at the Bruins play during the game we attended that one of them got up and left, while the other gave an educated breakdown of all the ways his beloved and actually quite exceptional team clearly sucked. Great conversation.

The arena: TD Garden is an great venue for sports events. Easy to access by cab or transit and surrounded by attractions, bars (perfect for partying after the game) and restaurants.

The city: Take the time to explore Boston (on foot, if possible). The city’s many neighbourhoods are incredibly unique. A walk across Boylston Street will take you through high-end Copley Square, past the ivy-covered building of Berklee College of Music all the way to the boisterous neighbourhood that surrounds Fenway Park. Don’t miss the history in the city’s college districts including MIT and Harvard which also provide some solid nightlife. Check out Samuel Adams Brewery for a great tour and tasting while you’re there.

It’s playoff time. Grow that beard, sharpen your blades and book a trip.

Real men love sports, check out these posts about our other sports adventures:

Real Man Travels University: Minnesota Golden Gophers
50 Year-Old (NASCAR) Virgin
Monday Night Bachelor Party '04 - Green Bay
Minnesota Vikings Won My Heart 2010
Green Bay vs. Philadelphia November 2003
The Return to Detroit- On Stranger Tides
Our First WIN!

1 comment:

  1. Had the pleasure to join Scott on these trips. One he missed out on was Pittsburgh. Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens in the last year the Penguins played at the Igloo. Was a great trip! Some locals took us to an amazing German bar called HofbrÀuhaus. Before we knew it we were swigging beers on rows of picnic tables and singing along to the polka band on stage. Whether you're a Penguins fan, Steelers fan or a Pirates fan, there is tons to see and do, like manly things.