By HOWARD BERGER
OTTAWA (Jan. 27) – So, let’s see… winter has officially been here for one month and six days – a period during which the climate in Ontario has resembled mid-spring or early-autumn. That can only mean one thing: the weather Gods were waiting for me to get in the car.
Holy mackerel, what I went through driving from Toronto to our nation’s capital today!
Mother Nature has clearly been saving up, as anyone that lives in the southern tier of our province would know. She must also realize that I virtually never drive to Ottawa in the midst of the hockey season… simply to avoid this. But, with obscene air-fares across the board in Canada right now, it made more sense to risk my life.
Consider the full gamut of winter hell – from freezing rain, to blowing snow, to blinding snow and treacherous roads. I saw it all during the four-and-a-half-hour joy ride along Highway 401, and particularly on the northbound stretch of Highway 416 into the capital region. It wasn’t a long, arduous trek, as many people smarter than yours truly stayed home. But, it required the concentration of a fighter-pilot to navigate through slush; around slow-pokes that – on dry, sunny days – travel 101 kilometres-per-hour in the normal 100-kph zone (they slowed to between 75 and 90 today), and to wait out the ubiquitous “owners of the road” – the transport-truckers who block the left-hand passing lane for minutes on end while attempting to overtake slower colleagues.
That was the fun part.
More nightmarish were the moments spent with my face practically flush against the windshield, peering through a relentless torrent of snow-flakes the size of table-napkins (or so it seemed). Turning eastbound onto the Queensway (Highway 417) in the direction of downtown Ottawa, I said to myself, “Well, that was a difficult drive but at least there were no major slow-downs.” No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than I noticed countless break-lights up ahead – traffic coming to a dead-stop about 15 seconds later. “Way to go, Howard!” I said out loud. “Of all the days to think you’re in the clear.” With that came a sequence of automobile gymnastics – four lanes of clogged freeway somehow snaking and meandering out of the way to allow a phalanx of emergency vehicles access to whatever was causing the disarray. I envisioned a chain-mishap with several car fires and likely some horrific injuries.
Turns out some poor schmuck had zigged when he should have zagged, making contact with the guard-rail in the passing lane and slightly denting his front fender. The guy was standing outside the nearly-pristine automobile with a weak smile, knowing his benign brilliance had ensnared half the city. Thankfully, the pace picked up immediately afterward and I was able to drop my bags in my hotel room before heading across downtown to the luxurious Westin, where members of both NHL All-Star teams gathered on Media Day with some 300 reporters from around the globe. If viewed from above, these workers would have resembled a collection of mice moving hither and yon – men and women holding TV cameras, microphones, mini-disc recorders and note-pads somehow avoiding a catastrophic pile-up while scampering amid the bemused players.
At the epicentre of the chaos were panel-tables at which TSN on one side, and the NHL Network on the other, hosted live telecasts – media relations personnel from the individual clubs promptly delivering All-Stars to each site for interview segments. It was nicely done – as per usual – by the league’s event organizers.
But, enough with the words. Time, now, to have a peek at my photo-review of today’s odyssey.
IT WAS PRETTY, SO LONG AS YOU WEREN’T DRIVING IN IT – TREES ALONG HIGHWAY 401 ENVELOPED IN ICE FROM A FREEZING-RAIN STORM THAT ACCOMPANIED ME MOST OF THE WAY FROM TORONTO TO OTTAWA.
APPROACHING THE HOME-TOWN OF DOUG GILMOUR AND DONALD S. CHERRY, I WAS REMINDED OF HAROLD BALLARD (ABOVE) AND THE GLORIOUS WINTER WEATHER IN EASTERN ONTARIO (BELOW).
CONDITIONS WERE FRIGHTFUL (ABOVE AND BELOW) AS I NEARED OTTAWA ON HIGHWAY 416.
PLAYERS FROM BOTH ALL-STAR TEAMS GATHERED IN A BALLROOM (ABOVE) ON THE FOURTH FLOOR OF THE WESTIN HOTEL. IT WAS BUSTLING WITH ACTIVITY (BELOW) FROM 4-6 P.M.
IT WASN’T EXACTLY PHIL KESSEL’S COMFORT ZONE, BUT THE MAPLE LEAFS’ LEADING GOAL-SCORER (ABOVE AND BELOW) HUNG IN THERE AND TOOK MYRIAD QUESTIONS FROM SEVERAL WAVES OF MEDIA.
KESSEL’S PROLIFIC RUNNING-MATE IN TORONTO – JOFFREY LUPUL (ABOVE AND BELOW) – TYPICALLY HAD FUN WITH REPORTERS, AS HE IS KNOWN TO DO WITH HIS COPIOUS TWITTER FOLLOWERS.
THE CAPTAIN (ABOVE) ALSO ATTRACTED A LARGE AUDIENCE, AS HE DISCUSSED THE LEAFS UP-AND-DOWN SEASON.
SOME SIGHTS WERE MORE PLEASANT THAN OTHERS, AS BARRY MELROSE OF THE NHL NETWORK (ABOVE) AND PITTSBURGH PENGUINS STAR EVGENI MALKIN (BELOW) TOOK A BACK-SEAT TO THEIR PARTNERS.
THIS WAS A MOMENT MORE PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE SEEN: CAREY PRICE (ABOVE) STARING INCREDULOUSLY AT A PINT-SIZED REPORTER WHO COMPLAINED – LOUDLY – THE HABS GOALIE WASN’T LEANING FAR ENOUGH TOWARD HIM.
FORMER LEAF MIKE JOHNSON (ABOVE LEFT), NOW OF TSN AND THE NHL NETWORK, HAS SOME FUN WITH BRUINS GOALIE TIM THOMAS (ABOVE AND BELOW) PERUSING A LIST OF PLAYERS COMPETING IN THE ALL-STAR GAME ON SUNDAY.
EVERY TIME I LOOK AT ZDENO CHARA (ABOVE) I WONDER HOW IT WAS POSSIBLE THAT BOTH OTTAWA AND THE ISLANDERS TRADED THE MOST DOMINEERING FIGURE IN THE LEAGUE.
ALWAYS COOPERATIVE AND GOOD-NATURED, 500-GOAL MAN JAROME IGINLA TALKED (ABOVE) WITH SWARMS OF MEDIA BEFORE APPEARING WITH BOTH TV NETWORKS – BESIDE JAMES DUTHIE OF TSN AND ZDENO CHARA, THEN (TWO BELOW) WITH BLACKHAWKS STAR PATRICK KANE.
THE WELL-DECORATED JASON SPEZZA CHATS WITH MICHAEL LANDSBERG OF TSN (ABOVE), WHO TAPED HIS NIGHTLY SHOW – OFF THE RECORD – HERE IN OTTAWA.
OTHER POPULAR FIGURES INCLUDED THE NHL’S REIGNING MVP (ABOVE) AND A STAR FORWARD (BELOW) THAT BEGAN HIS CAREER IN THIS CITY – MARIAN HOSSA OF THE BLACKHAWKS.
OKAY, SO CHRISTMAS WAS MORE THAN A MONTH AGO. BUT, I BET THE EVERGREENS HERE DIDN’T LOOK LIKE THIS ON DEC. 25.
PARLIAMENT HILL (ABOVE) AT DUSK ON A SNOWY, BLUSTERY FRIDAY.
SNOWFLAKES ILLUMINATED BY MY CAMERA’S FLASH (ABOVE) APPEAR LIKE TINY COMETS IN FRONT OF THE PEACE TOWER AND ABOVE THE CENTENNIAL FLAME.
MORE “COMETS” FLY THROUGH THE AIR OUTSIDE OUR NATION’S FINAL WORD (ABOVE).