Roadtripping with Mario #3

So after our adventure to U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Mario wanted to go to Hartford, Connecticut to see his beloved Hartford Whalers play, and for the chance for him to interview his favorite player, Andrew Cassels.

What? Interview a player? How does that work?

Well, back in those days I was the publisher of a little minor league hockey rag (fanzine, really) called "Hockey Talk" that started as a radio show. And soon failed.

But more on that in a future "Blogging Up The Past" episode I'll call, for now, "The Hockey Talk Years."

But, to quote Dr. Phil, "It ain't about you."

And he's right:

This is about Roadtripping with Mario Part III Visiting the Hartford Whalers.

When I first met Mario and he found out I was a hockey fan, we nearly did not become friends when he told me that he loved the Hartford Whalers.

The who?

Yeah, you know them now as the probably-going-to-go-to-the-Stanley-Cup-Finals-Carolina Hurricanes.

Coached by Peter Laviolette. Who got his start behind the bench as the coach for the Wheeling Nailers. ECHL Reference in da' house, bitches. (Sorry.)

Back then, they were the Hartford Whalers. In addition to them sucking, badly, they were the annual clearance isle for players at the trading deadline.

Any other NHL GM: "Hey, Hartford, I'll give you, um, some broken sticks and a guy with three bad knees for your best player."

Hartford GM: "Um, what kind of broken sticks? If they're Koho's, sure."

Other GM: "Yeah, they're Koho's. Sure they are. (Hey, subordinate go paint KOHO on those sticks we got from the high school hockey program.)"

Case in point: March 4, 1991: Pittsburgh gets Ulf Samuelsson, Ron Francis and Grant Jennings for Zarley Zalapski, John Cullen, and Jeff Parker going to Hartford. The Pens won two Stanley Cups. The Whalers made the playoffs the next two years, exited in the first round both years, and never returned to the post season, eventually leaving Hartford to become the Carolina Hurricanes at the start of the 1997-98 season.

But back to Roadtripping with Mario Part III Visiting the Hartford Whalers.

We take off for Hartford we drive through Waterford, New York, after an ice storm. It's beautiful. The interstate goes through the city, built up in the hills. Everything, including the road, is glazed over. We're scared, but we arrive safely at our hotel.

The same hotel the players are staying at. We get there just in time to check in and walk through the connecting walkway to the Hartford Civic Center. Home of the Whalers. For a game against Detroit.

We were there the night Chris Osgood scored a goal against the Whalers. Osgood was, at the time, a goalie for Detroit. The date: March 6, 1996.

He was a dick after the game. With a dead-fish handshake. I've had girls give better handshakes. Pre-teen age girls.

But while I was trying to talk to Osgood, Mario was on the other side of the building in the Whaler's locker room and press area. He was talking to Paul Maurice, the Whaler's coach. And that night, on NESN, if you watched the press conference, you saw a very large, very red-haired, very pale guy ask Paul Maurice a question in the press conference. Mario said that tape was one of his favorite possessions. Yep, he was in heaven.

And the next day, there was no game. There was, however, a wicked east-coast snowstorm that blanketed the area. And us? We drove to NYC in a blizzard. No idea where we were going, or what we were going to do when we got there. So we got there. Saw a couple of big buildings, bridges and the NYC Police told us that a weather emergency had been declared and we should go back to wherever we came from. So we turned around and went back to Hartford. In a bilizzard. On iced-over roads. Took us for-fucking-ever to get back. What a good way to waste a day. NOT.

We did stop to shop at some mall where Mario was hoping to find a good jersey. He didn't. We did spend like an hour at this cool-ass hockey store though. Then went to the food court. Had some food, went back to the hotel and played floor hockey until we fell asleep.

The next night, Thursday, Toronto was in town. We went to the morning skate before the game. THAT was cool. Watching the guys you see on TV in practice, having fun, joking, laughing, annoying each other with sticks to the skates, pretend fights ... it was a lot of fun.

Mario collected some ice from the arena down near where the Zamboni tunnel was. He put it in a film canister and decided that he would put it in a glass bottle and always keep with him as his little bit of Hartford.

And Mario got to meet, talk with, and interview his favorite player, Andrew Cassels. To this day nobody really knows why Cassels was Mario's favorite player. Nice guy. Humble. But nowhere near a star, let alone a superstar. But hey, you like who you like, and he liked Andy.

Me? I went over to the Toronto locker room to interview Tie Domi.

And turned into fanboy.

I tried to talk to him for about five minutes about hockey and basically wasted his time with three stupid questions that even had him looking weird at me. He was standing next to Mats Sundin, who was looking weird at me. Finally, I realized I was being a tool. I apologized and turned to leave. He saw that in my camera bag I had a CD from a band called the Alarm that I had purchased at the mall the day before. It was a bootleg of the (since legally released) King Biscuit Flower Hour performance from Boston in 1985 where Mike Peters talks about teaching Bono how to play acoustic guitar.) I was listening to it while watching the morning skate. And then Tie said "I'm a big fan of the Alarm. What CD is that?"

So I pulled it out. And he said he didn't have it. So I gave it to him. Then we started talking about The Alarm. How they stayed at Tie's house the last time they played in Toronto. How he got them tickets for their first ever hockey game. How totally fucking cool Mike Peters is. And how they're such a great band that was unfortunately kicked into the shadow of U2 and they never escaped.

They're more talented. More approachable. And better musicians. Yet they couldn't sell records in the US. Because of U2. Matters not now. Betamax was better than VHS. Mac is better than PC. Autumn Under Echoes is better than just about anyone else out there and the list goes on.

ANYWAY we talked about the Alarm. And that was very cool. Tie said he'd send me some bootlegs he had when he got back home to Toronto.

So he took my card (business cards rule).

And ya know what ... he actually sent me two bootlegs of the Alarm. On cassette. Which was very cool.

And we traded a couple of other shows, too.

Which is better than most guys trade when it comes to Tie Domi.

The Albanian Assassin on Ice Skates is one of the NHL's most feared enforcers.

Luckily for me he's a cool dude. With good musical tastes.

Because I totally fanboy-ed out talking to him before we started talking about music.

And I did embarrass myself.

And I did learn a valuable lesson even when you fanboy, sometimes good things come out of it.

Gotta love road-tripping with Mario!

Eventually, we'll have Roadtripping With Mario Part IV Hershey Park and the American Hockey League All Star Game USA vs. The World.

Where we met Barry Melrose.

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