Hockey in the Rockies

First, I take no credit for the title. And second, if I could give this post a subtitle, it would be: starting with a horse and ending with a blizzard.

In other words, what started off as a plan to go to Vail and see some hockey ended up being way, way more of an adventure than anyone had anticipated.

As evidenced by #5 on my Colorado bucket list, I've been planning on making this trip ever since finding out about the NCAA women's college hockey tournament that would be held there (for Mark Johnson reasons). I ended up sending a group email to all the interns about it to see if anyone would be interested in joining... and it ended up turning into this complicated organizational task involving several more group emails and buying tickets for people that would eventually bail on me. Suh-weet. But eventually we had our final group, the day finally arrived and we hit the road en route to Vail!

The adventure started less than 45 minutes into the almost three hour drive. We hit some crazy traffic, only to realize it was being caused by a car that was forced to stop when the trailer attached to it flipped over. And there was a horse in the trailer. As we drove by, it was flailing around in there trying to find its footing, and we were able to watch through the rear windshield as it got itself out and began walking around on the road. It's lucky the cars were moving so slowly, otherwise that horse would've survived its trailer flipping over only to end up as roadkill. Nothin' like starting the trip off with a bang!

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful and absolutely gorgeous. Colorado is unlike anywhere I've ever seen before.

Credit for both photos goes to Lauren.
We stopped in a little town called Frisco for a bathroom break, and it was like something out of a movie.

When we got to Vail it was snowing lightly and I was immediately in love. I love these quaint little mountain towns, and Vail had a very European feel to it. So we stopped at the arena to pick up our tickets before wandering around for a little while.

Our tickets were good for both of that day's games; Northeastern vs. St. Cloud at two, and Wisconsin vs. Boston University at five. Since we a) really wanted to explore a little bit, and b) were really there to see the second game, we ended up getting to the arena again just in time to see the third period of the first game. I've got to say, I really enjoyed it. I might actually now be partial to women's hockey over men's hockey. There were so few whistles, and I'm a big fan of how there's no unnecessary fighting or crunching people into the boards. The final minute was also kind of ridiculous: Northeastern pulled its goalie, and St. Cloud had two opportunities to score on the empty net. On one, the shot hit the post, and on the other, the puck was cleared out of St. Cloud's zone and juuuuust went wide. It was intense!

Let's just talk about how inconvenient ice rinks are to take pictures in, okay? Yeesh.
We had about an hour in between games, which was plenty of time to figure out which bench Wisconsin would be using and move over there. ;) And then I got to wait in agony for the coaching staff to come out. (Really excited + really cold = lots of shivering, just FYI. Not that I know from experience or anything. *shifty eyes*) But then they came out and I was literally five feet behind Mark Johnson. If the glass wasn't there, I could've leaned forward and tapped him on the shoulder.

Not even sorry for the creeper pictures. Not. Even. Sorry.
There were two little girls sitting in the row in front of us, and I'm pretty sure he knew them because he turned around and waved to them. And I was right behind them wearing my bright blue coat, so I'm like 99% sure he noticed me in his periphery. ;D I was having the most epic internal fangirl attack. It was awesome.

It may sound strange, but it was really cool seeing him as an actual person. I've seen what he could do as a player, but outside of that he's just a guy, wearing a tie with a funky pattern on it and joking around with his assistant coaches. And he's a coach, calm and unruffled until a bad call is made, prompting a heated discussion with the ref, or until no call is made at all, leading him to throw his arms in the air, lean back against the glass and rub his hands down his face in frustration. I'd never experienced him as anything other than the 22-year-old who put the puck between Vladimir Myshkin's legs and looked like he was 15. But now he's well into his 50s and is one of the most successful women's hockey coaches in the country. It was great getting to see him from this perspective!

Oh, wait, there was a game going on too, right? Yeahhh, I think I recall something like that happening. Wisconsin beat BU 5-0, which surprised the heck out of me, considering both teams are top 10 in the nation.

There were some craaazy penalties in the second period...

It's a little cozy with three of you in there, isn't it?
...which completely blew my initial perception of women's hockey out of the water! Hah.

By the end of the second period, it still hadn't stopped snowing and the roads were getting bad, so we left before the third period to attempt to make some headway before the weather got any worse. That ended up being a fantastic decision, as it was now basically a blizzard and the roads were atrocious.

Photo credit goes to Lauren.
But Katie and her trusty car Felix handled it like champs, and we made it through the storm (on mountain roads, no less!) alive and in one piece. A drive that's usually less than three hours took us upwards of four and a half, but we made it! And finally, of course, no true adventure would be complete without a desperate-times-call-for-desperate-measures food run at McDonald's.

One small check for my Colorado bucket list, one giant check for an awesome day. :)

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