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College Hockey:
Strangers In A Strange Land

Part 1 of 4

Down in the crowded bars, out for a good time
Can’t wait to tell you all what it’s like out there
They call it paradise, I don’t know why
Somebody laid the mountains low, while the town got high
They call it paradise, the place to be
They watched the hazy sun sinking in the sea
They call it paradise, I don’t know why
You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye
– The Eagles, “The Last Resort”

California.

Where the rich and pretty play, where the young and the old frolic.

Where college hockey came for a weekend at the beginning of April.

Where the USCHO staff convened for the weekend.

God help us all.

Tuesday, March 30, 1999

11:05 pm EST

I’m a procrastinator. I know that. Right now I am wondering why I decided to put off packing for California and the Frozen Four until now.

Perhaps it’s because I have a 9:20 flight tomorrow morning. Perhaps it’s because I know I only need four hours’ sleep. Most likely, it’s because I’m just plain lazy.

11:59 pm EST

Where the hell are my shoes?

Wednesday, March 30, 1999

12:01 am EST

Where the hell is my Princeton T-shirt?

12:05 am EST

Hey, The Naked Gun is on TV!

2:00 am EST

I am wondering just exactly why my suitcase won’t close.

What is wrong with this suitcase? It just doesn’t want to zipper closed. I mean, I’m only packing for five days and four nights, right? With pants, shorts, shirts, shoes and other assorted sundries, I can’t be asking for much right about now — or perhaps I am.

2:15 am EST

All right, I got it closed. Aw, man, I forgot my toothbrush…

2:35 am EST

I jump for joy and churn the butter in my house. I have successfully closed my suitcase.

8:30 am EST

Time to head out of the house for the airport. The Great Adventure is about to begin.

I jump into the car and head on off with suitcase (neatly packed) and laptop and head down the highway towards the airport. The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful 50 degrees on this lovely morning. Nothing can get me down — I’m headed to California and the Frozen Four.

2:20 pm PST

Here I am, in the land of the stars. I get off the plane and wonder if I’ll run into any stars in the airport. I think to myself, “They have to be all over the place!”

I think I see the guy that uttered the unforgettable phrase, “Hey, it’s Enrico Pallazzo.” But then I realize it’s only Mike Machnik.

I had planned on meeting Mike, his wife Heather and Dave “Pops” Hendrickson at LAX. From there we would pick up our rental car and then get out on the highway to Anaheim.

So there they were, waiting. Soon we would begin the journey — putting our USCHO staff into a Winnebago and traveling the countryside, taking all challenges and earning money along the way.

No, wait, that’s Road Rules on MTV.

After all the pleasantries I notice that I actually packed the lightest and wonder how the other three actually closed their suitcases. Toting everything out to the curb, we meet our bus and head for the car rental.

Of course, I impressed all when we showed up and there was my name in lights on the board. Car trunk open, name on the space. Man, I love the Gold Club.

We realize that we have a problem — namely, how to fit all of our luggage into the car so that we can actually all go to Anaheim at one time. One of the major problems? Pops brought his golf clubs.

Heather Machnik is unbelievable. I think she has a Ph.D. in physics, the way she figured out how everything fit in the trunk of that car. The only thing that didn’t make the trunk was Pops’ golf club case. That laid upon two laps in the back seat.

She also uttered the first memorable phrase of the trip.

What you have to understand is that Pops is a frequent target of our barbs — not that he doesn’t deserve it. We always kid him that he’s the guy reaching retirement age at USCHO. It’s closer to truth than the old man would like to admit, and besides he dishes out insults faster than he can wolf down a plate of shrimp scampi (not a pretty sight, let me tell you) so he has to take it, too.

But although all the rest of us like to harass Pops without mercy (don’t feel pity for him; we harass everyone else too), Heather doesn’t. She actually treats him with — pardon me while I throw up — respect, the kind that a daughter might give to a father, perhaps.

So with one delicious slip of the tongue, she had us on the floor laughing our, um, heads off. Meaning to say “Dave,” Heather instead came out with …

“Dad.”

Pops had all the look of Julius Caesar confronting Brutus. (A scene Pops probably witnessed first-hand.)

We figured we were all going to California and that the weather would be great, right? Wrong.

Factor in the wind and the cold, I would say a wind chill of about 35 degrees was what it was like.

It was warmer on the East Coast.

Off we went, headed into the vastness and the jungle known as the California freeway system.

Everything was going just fine. We decided to use the carpool lane and besides we figured if we had any trouble, we had a golf club case shaped like a machine gun that would help us out.

Then we hit the traffic in Anaheim.

Several turns later, we found ourselves at the Hilton, where Phase II of our adventure awaited — checking in.

“I have a room for Dave Henderson,” says the desk clerk.

“No, that’s Hendrickson,” I reply.

“I have no Hendrickson, just a Henderson.”

“OK, yes, his name is Henderson. Can we have our rooms now?”

We had lost the first battle, but by golly, we weren’t going to lose the next.

“No, we don’t want to be on the thirteenth floor.”

“You would like the thirteenth floor?”

“No, not the thirteenth. And oh, yes, we want all three rooms on one floor.”

Now the guy next to him gets involved.

“How about the seventh floor?”

“Sounds good.”

“OK, your rooms are on the twelfth floor.”

Sigh.

We’re expecting Tim Brule, the president of USCHO, as well as the others — Paula Weston, Lee Urton, Scott Brown, Chris Lerch, Todd Milewski, Jim Connelly and Rich Tibbetts.

We’re wondering where they are when the clerk hands us a few messages. They’re from Scott and he’s telling us his room number. Just one hitch there, though. Seems like he has two rooms.

Sigh.

We run into Rich in the lobby of the Hilton. After a few moments of discussion as to where he is staying, we say goodbye. Rich is never to be seen again.

Editor’s note: I think I saw Rich at the UNH-Michigan State semifinal Thursday, but don’t tell Jayson. He’s got kind of an “Unsolved Mysteries” thing going here.

We head on up to the rooms and all of a sudden my phone rings.

“Hey, this is Scott. I’ve got Lee and Lisa (his wife) with me and we’re cruising on Rodeo Drive right now. Did you get a chance to post the preview on the site yet?”

“Uh, no.”

We tentatively make plans to meet back at the hotel around 7:30. Plenty of time for us to grab some grub before we meet up with Scott, Lisa and Lee.

Over dinner, we’re discussing Dave’s fiction, particularly a story that he wrote concerning the Vietnam War. Then it happened — the second memorable phrase gets uttered. Again it’s Heather.

“How is it that you got interested enough to write about Vietnam? You’re not old enough to have done a tour there…are you?”

Of course Mike and I are just laughing too hard to eat right now. Pops is less amused.

Back to the hotel to meet up with Scott, Lisa and Lee, and on the way there we discover this great radio station. 106.7 on the dial and they are playing Garbage, Korn, Manson, Hole, etc. Outstanding.

8:00 pm PST

The phone rings again. What a surprise; it’s Lee telling us that they are going to be late. Seems like they got stuck in that fabled L.A. traffic.

8:35 pm PST

The gang finally starts to arrive. Immediately Scott goes to work posting the preview for the Frozen Four. Some call it dedication. I call it procrastination. But, it gets up within the next hour.

We had made plans to go into L.A. and perhaps get a crack at getting into the Viper Room to mingle with the stars. Instead we wind up at the Hilton bar.

Lo and behold, who’s there? Paula and Todd, along with UNH color commentator Pete Webster. Pops offers to buy the first round since he has something published (probably something he wrote during the Vietnam War while on duty).

Mike and I listen to Pete recount his day’s adventures. Universal Studios, Hollywood…boy, are we jealous.

11:35 pm PST

It’s really 2:35 in the morning for me, so no wonder I’m beat. Off I go to get some shuteye. Meanwhile, Scott has left to go pick up Tim at the airport. The USCHO guru will be arriving soon — therefore, we need our beauty sleep.


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