Walwin Blackmore and Keith Braye, are hockey fans.
For five years, the Grand Falls-Windsor friends have been on a hockey mission.
The friends go way back, as Braye was a student of Blackmore’s at Booth Memorial, and ended up staying in contact over the years, hunting, fishing, and going in the woods.
Braye now know lives in Ottawa, and Blackmore used to visit him three or four times a year when he was involved on a federal committee. They always went to a hockey game in Montreal or Ottawa, and he even met Patrick Roy and got an autograph at one point.
The federal program got cut, but Blackmore still wanted to go see hockey games.
And games they have seen.
“The plan was to go to see at least one home game for each of the 30 teams,” Blackmore said. “Right now I’ve been to 22 of the 30 arenas.”
They have the East Coast done – the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, all the way down through the two Florida teams.
“This past March we finished off the Canadian teams – Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver,” he said.
The year before last they went to games in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Detroit, Columbus, Chicago, the two Florida teams and Carolina.
Like other years, this year, their sixth (though they missed one year for the players strikes), they got the new schedule and planned their route depending on home games.
If time allows, they look for a major junior team or American hockey league team playing in the area, and also visit places of national importance.
“We mix in a little bit of culture with our sports,” Blackmore said.
Blackmore said he noticed something interesting in the stands of the games of the newer teams to the league.
“People don’t know a whole lot about hockey,” he said, adding at one arena definitions of tripping, off-sides, etc. were on the jumbo tron so people would know what was happening.
A couple sitting next to them were amazed at how much Blackmore and Braye knew about hockey.
“What was amazing was the fact that they didn’t know very much about hockey,” Blackmore said.
In Carolina they were giving out scarves and at intermission they went back and said they were from Newfoundland. After explaining where Newfoundland was, they asked if they could get a couple more scarves, and they got two more.
“It’s a great bit of fun, joking with people and talking about all kinds of nonsense,” he said.
During intermission at a game in Pittsburgh they were chitchatting with a man and his son — who was approximately 12-years-old — about where they’ve been and what they were doing.
“About 10 minutes left, the father and the young fellow left,” Blackmore said. “In about five minutes the young fellow came back with a Pittsburgh foam finger, and he gave it to me and said ‘I never met anybody from Newfoundland before.’ So he gave me the finger.”
In New York, they went to an afternoon Rangers game, and they had tickets for the Islanders game at 7:30 p.m.
The Rangers game went into overtime, then a shootout. By that time they figured they wouldn’t get a train to Long Island for the night game.
They left the Rangers game early to catch the last train, and made it to the game. It was Halloween weekend and they had a snowstorm. On the way back to Grand Central Station, which was close to their hotel, an announcement told them the train wouldn’t be going to Grand Central Station because a tree had fallen across the railway track.
A women sitting near them helped them out after they told her they didn’t know where they were going. She said ‘follow me.’
They followed her wherever she went, got on another train and got back to Grand Central Station.
In Boston they stayed at a hotel which was a converted old abandoned water tank.
“The first thing I told the missus when I got back was ‘I was tanked in Boston.’”
“In the New Year my buddy and I are going to Arizona and California to take in the four teams out there – three in California and one in Arizona,” Blackmore said.
They then have just have four arenas, unless the new team – Las Vegas - that’s in the talks joins the league, then they will have to add another stop.
The four teams they will have left — Minnesota, Dallas, Colorado and St. Louis — are in a central part of the States, Blackmore explained.
“In many cases unless you fly you are talking a day or two to drive between each one, that is going to be a real challenge,” he said.
However, for now, they are hopeful by the end of the hockey season they will have 26 teams done.
“Every place I go I look to buy a game puck,” Blackmore said. “I now have 22. By next season I’ll have 26. Add on Las Vegas, I’ll have five left to go.”