Never thought I was going to get married. Not that I fancied myself a paramour, and not that I was necessarily bothered by the cultural baggage that the institution of marriage has attached to it like a prison ankle bracelet.
No, I just couldn’t foresee circumstances where it would come to pass.
Until I met Laura.
And that’s the way those things work.
Laura is the balance to my cynical, over-informed take on the world-at-large. She’s the idealist, the dreamer, the schemer.
I am the Minister of Finance, the naysayer, the chamber of sober second thought.
You need both approaches in order to approach the world.
After dancing around each other for a handful of years, we decided to brave the choppy waters of matrimony, and tied the knot in November 2001. Five days before the introduction of the Xbox.
Who gets married in November?
Well, we did, and a heck of a lot of other people, judging by the Weddings ‘R Us place we got hitched in.
The benefits are considerable. More open slots, most people are in town, classy wedding photos, and off-season for traditional honeymoon spots.
Meaning the road was wide open for us to head towards a plunge pool on some tropical isle.
So we got on that road…and drove up to Quebec City.
My wife is a lifelong Toronto girl. One that used to think the mountain in Hamilton was actually a mountain (until I dragged her to the Rockies in Alberta).
Hey, she assured me, it was going to be a romantic getaway, in one of the most romantic cities on the continent.
My only recollections of the place date back to June 1983, when the band I was playing in at the time had a gig at a club called Le Shoe Clack. Great gig. Great folks. Slept in the park that night. Not so great.
There was also that time in the mid-70’s when my family, on the way to Saint John for the summer, stopped in Quebec City for the night. We toured the place in a horse-and-carriage, and slept in a campsite nearby. Not so bad.
Point being, both times I visited the old walled city, it was in the summer. When it was warm.
I asked my new bride if she could point out Quebec City on a map. It was an unfair question.
She’s a smart woman, but geography is not her thing. She thought Anaheim was in Florida.
Suffice to say she was slightly surprised to discover that our honeymoon destination was well north of Montreal, which is two hours north of Ottawa, which she’d been to, which can be frickin’ cold in mid-November.
Undaunted, she smiled and assured me we’d have a lovely time.
Which we did. Mainly because nobody in their right mind goes to Quebec City in November.
Our hotel was pretty much empty, ala the Overlook Hotel in winter. We walked around all the historic sites freely. There were no lineups to get into the bars and restaurants. The local pizza joint put up with my fractured French, and made some wonderful pies.
Not bad. Maybe this woman knew something.
Then it occurred to me. Quebec City. November. Feed those variables into a computer, and the machine spits out one word.
Okay two words.
First word. Cold.
Second word. Hockey.
Of course! Quebec City. The spiritual home of Guy Lafleur. The birthplace of Patrick Roy. Where Jean Beliveau became a legend. Le Colisee.
Which is still standing, though they renamed it the Pepsi Colisee, or make that, Colisee Pepsi.
The long time home of the Quebec International Pee Wee Tournament. Where the hated Quebec Nordiques played. Damn you Dale Hunter!
Had to go, even if it wasn’t open. Had to go.
Found out the American Hockey League Quebec Citadelles were playing on the Tuesday night, hosting the Albany River Rats.
Trouble was, the wife was just settling into our fine hotel, and getting acquainted with all that the city had to offer.
Le Chateau Frontenac, the old walled city (we found that by accident), the Plains of Abraham, great restaurants, and cozy bars.
She’s wasn’t going to want to spend one of the nights cooped up in a drafty old arena.
But our marriage was only four days old, and Laura was still in a giving mood…though she groused about it, if only slightly.
That would change when we got there at 5:45 pm for a 7:05 start.
I honestly thought tickets might be hard to come by.
It started to snow as we drove through the slippery streets of the city, trying to locate the arena, MapQuest at the point in history not an option.
We finally found it, and I must admit, seeing Le Colisee for the first time in person, it gave me goose bumps. Plus it was bloody snowing out.
As I gazed up lovingly at the visage of the old barn, my wife made mention of the fact we were one of maybe a half dozen cars in the entire parking lot.
What happened to that walk up crowd, she asked, the pre-game tailgate parties, the lineup around the block?
Okay, so I was wrong. There would be no crush of people clamouring to watch AHL hockey on this night.
We made our way through the slush to the front doors, thankfully finding them open. The woman working the ticket window that night was just settling in when we arrived, and she looked somewhat surprised we were there that early.
With two tickets in hand, the wife and I stood in the empty lobby of the famous arena. Just the wife and I. No-one else.
There were some fine old photos adorning the walls of the entrance, but they were beyond my reach, just past the still closed doors.
Thankfully, a young gentleman who worked at the arena opened the doors, and allowed us to stand further inside, enabling me to check out the photos, and other hockey paraphernalia. He was delightful to talk with, more than happy to spin yarns about the place.
Finally, we were permitted inside, and the wife and I (and a stampede of about a dozen other fans) walked into the rink.
You could feel the history of the place whisper to you.
The arena was still in fine shape. The sightlines were fantastic. It looked like hockey, it sounded like hockey, heck, it smelt like hockey, especially after we bought a couple of hotdogs, and a couple of beer.
We watched the two teams warm up, and by then even the wife got into the spirit of the evening.
Wasn’t much of a hockey game, and if memory serves me correct, Albany won that night.
(Well, they didn’t. A quick check of various internet hockey sites reveal that Quebec prevailed 2-1. Shows you how memory is not to be trusted).
Over the years, I’ve tried to recall who suited up for both sides that night. I know Scott Clemmensen was in net for the River Rats. Apparently I’ve been stalking the guy, having also seen him, in person, play for the New Jersey Devils, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Toronto Marlies.
But who else was in the lineup that night? That’s part of the fun of going to a sporting event, and then looking back at it through the years. Who did I see play? Was it Jacques Plante in the net for the Leafs that night, or Bernie Parent? I’m pretty sure Eric Lindros was in the lineup for Team Canada against Sweden in September 1991, and I was there. That sort of thing.
Earlier today, while routing around for a tiny screwdriver I needed to tighten my glasses, I stumbled across the two page lineup sheet from the game. Program number 0348. Le Mardi 13 Novembre 2001. Cost me all of 50 cents.
Les Citadelles de Quebec featured the likes of Ron Hainsey, Francis Bouillon, Michael Ryder, and Arron Asham. I did recall that Marcel Hossa played that night, but didn’t remember that Mike Ribeiro was also in the lineup.
Jason Ward was on that team. Another in the long list of recent Canadiens’ high draft picks that never panned out.
Robin Sadler (1975), Dan Geoffrion (1979), Alain Heroux (1982), Alfie Turcott (1983), Jose Charbonneau (1985), Mark Pederson (1986), Eric Charron (1988), Lindsay Vallis (1989), Brent Bilodeau (1991), David Wilkie (1992), Terry Ryan (1995), Matt Higgins (1996), Eric Chouinard (1998), Alexander Buturlin (1999), and David Fischer (2006).
All these first round draft picks played less than 200 games in the NHL, considerably less. Lindsay Vallis played one game. Robin Sadler walked away from the game. Still waiting on Fischer.
In comparison, Jason Ward is a grizzled NHL veteran with 336 big league games under his belt. The trouble is, much more was expected out of him.
Eric Chouinard got into 90 NHL games with the Canadiens, Flyers, and Wild. He was in the lineup for the Citadelles versus the River Rats.
And for those wondering, the late Doug Wickenheiser does not count as a high draft pick that did not pan out. No, he never lived up to his first overall status in 1980, particularly when one remembers (and people do) that Dave Babych, Denis Savard, and Larry Murphy immediately followed him in the draft. But Wickenheiser was a good player, who took part in 556 NHL games. He only recorded 111 goals and 276 points but he was a contributor. Just ask St. Louis Blues fans.
Les River Rats d’Albany were represented by the aforementioned Clemmensen, as well as Michael Rupp, Ted Drury, and the future captain of the Montreal Canadiens, Brian Gionta. Bobby (make that Bob) Carpenter was the head coach.
Don’t recall the attendance that chilly November night, but if you ever get the chance, go see a hockey game at Le Colisee. It sweats hockey. Wouldn’t make a bad temporary home for a wayward NHL team.
As for the Citadelles, that was their final year in Quebec City. They lasted three seasons there, and then merged with the Hamilton Bulldogs, when the Canadiens joined up with the Edmonton Oilers to share that AHL market for a few years.
As for the marriage, it ticks on eleven years later, though the wife still revels in telling the tale of the time I dragged her, very early, to a minor league hockey game on her honeymoon. In the snow.
Wouldn’t change a thing.