On Friday afternoon we set out in the car on the way to our Bruins adventure in Phoenix Arizona. For me Phoenix has always been one of those places I drove through or made a connecting flight. When I lived in San Diego, Phoenix was that place where all the tourists came from to crowd the beaches in the summer. We called them "Zoners." Visiting Phoenix for me was at once new and exciting and yet familiar.
We awoke on Saturday to a beautiful sunny day (of course). I opened my laptop to check the latest news online; Bish was saying that he was going to head over to the Arena in an hour or so. I also found out that I had won our family pool to guess the score of the game in Dallas the night before. I won the jelly bean with the closest guess of 3-1 Dallas (the actual score was 4-1). I was pleased to see that Fernandez had started and with 4 goals against it looked likely that we'd see Timmy that night. My 8-year-old and I are big fans of Tim Thomas and it was our fondest wish that we'd get to see him play.
I called the Bruins fan line and it was still claiming the Bruins would have a pre-game skate at 11:30 AM. I tried every number I could find to see when the Coyotes would be practicing, but came up empty (it was a Saturday after all). So we just headed across town to the Arena.
Phoenix is a typical southwestern city: dirty brown desert, malls, and homes spread out as far as the eye can see. I was surprised to discover that the Arena was far enough on the Western edge of Glendale (and civilization it seemed) that the area around it was almost rural. The parking would likely amaze those used to a more urban setting; the Arena is attached to a mall and theater complex and you can park anywhere you like in the surrounding lots for free. I asked about the Bruins skate at the ticket window and they directed me to gate 3. The security guard at the door was nice, but seemed a little confused. He said that the visiting team practices weren't generally open to the public. But the Coyotes were still on the ice so he let us in.
The Arena is gorgeous! The seats go up steeply and I could see immediately that we'd have a great view from ours. There were only a few small groups of fans in the seats, mostly near the top. Most of the Coyotes had gone, and all but one assistant coach. We went right down to the glass and watched Fredrik Sjostrum, Josh Gratton, and Martin Hanzal shoot on David Aebischer. They were all scratches that night. It wasn't Bruins but it was fun nonetheless. When they were done Sjostrum and Gratton tossed some pucks over the boards for us. I had to look these guys up when I got back to the hotel as I don't pay all that much attention to other teams. Sitting there I was struck by how little I knew about the players I was watching. I couldn't pick them out of a lineup even with their numbers on.
As they left the ice it was a half hour before the Bruins skate was scheduled and we figured we'd just sit there until someone told us we had to leave. But it wasn't long before a very nice man came by and diplomatically informed us that the Bruins had canceled their pre-game skate. Everyone had been very nice.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Glendale and were back at the Arena when the gates opened at 5:30. They were having some sort of event outside but it was crowded so we just went straight in. My wife and I split up with one adult and one kid. I got the oldest who is eight, and my wife got our 6 year old. We wandered all around the Arena. As game time neared we met near the Bruins tunnel. The first familiar face I saw was NESN's Rob Simpson, who was standing at the Bruins bench. He looked very cross. It made me wonder if he was just having a really bad day or if he's the kind of person who turns it on for the camera? I smiled at him (which wasn't hard because I was wearing a permanent grin at the time) and I actually noticed him avoid looking at me. I think I spotted Bish up by the press area on the main concourse.
The tunnel is covered with black cloth nearly to the end so there wasn't much to see of the players emerging. That, and there were several Arena people standing in the few places one could get close. My wife ended up along the boards near the door, chatting up the people who were sitting there. I ended up a few rows back, trying to stay out of the way as best I could. Fortunately there weren't a lot of people sitting in that area. There was room for my 8-year-old with my wife so I sent him down to her just before the players emerged. They announced the Coyotes and I looked toward their tunnel. In doing so I missed the first Bruins skate onto the ice in front of me. It was almost overwhelming even for me (and I can only imagine what it is like for an 8-year-old) to see the Bruins explode onto the ice with the loud music, flashing lights, and roaring crowd.
Looking out on the ice I suddenly saw all these familiar faces! There was Chara, and PJ, and Savvy. Hell, they were all there! I was struck by how earlier in the day I didn't know anything about the players I had been watching practice, yet here were my Bruins and I didn't need names or numbers. I recognized their faces. There went Lucic, and Muzz! And of course, Tim Thomas. Timmy skated out from the tunnel then doubled back and sat down on the ice to stretch along the boards right in front of us! My wife pointed to Timmy's head, which was mere inches away. I just stood there grinning, trying to take it all in. It was fun to watch the players check out the crowd as they skated by, trying not to be obvious. They all looked happy to be there. At some point Timmy skated from the goal out toward the blue line and in profile I saw that grin of his. I knew right then that everything was going to be all right. Not only was he going to start but he was going to have a great night.
Back in our seats the game went quickly. The crowd was friendly and low key. There were grumbles over the turnovers in the first period but most people seemed resigned to just enjoy the game no matter who won. I could see Gretzky screaming at his players on the bench. There were Bruins jerseys scattered all around. A guy one row down had an Esposito and the guy a few seats to his left an Orr. There were a lot of couples in the crowd; it was always he in his brand new Bruins sweater and her in her Coyotes Brown. I was the guy in the regular shirt. My wife had been seen shopping online for a Jersey for me for months, so I expected her to come through with one. Sigh. When the Bruins scored there was a pretty good cheer from the crowd. It was enough to drown out the moans. And I was glad that the Coyotes scored because it was fun hearing the crowd roar. I am sure it made an impression on the kids.
A couple of things impressed me. Kobasew had a great game. This was the first time he's impressed me. The forecheck looked great, and it was refreshing to see such hustle after the misery at the end of last season. Kessel was buzzing all over. Timmy was both solid and fun to watch. I loved the save while laying on his back without his stick! The best goalies are the ones who play a little crazy. And I really liked the lines. They made sense to me. Last year's lines always mystified me. Take for instance, Lucic with Kessel and PJ. It's a combination of skills and levels of experience that compliment one another. I really liked what I saw. The fact that the Bruins won was just icing on the cake.
The evening was capped-off perfectly when they announced the three stars and Timmy was the No. 1. We couldn't have asked for a better time! All the way home I kept high-fiving my son and saying, "We got to see Timmy play and he was the first star!"