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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Heritage Classic - Finding A Sense Of Familiarity With Four Days To Go

by Amanda Stein

Its crazy planning for a trip somewhere you’ve never been and know very little about and that’s what’s going on in my brain at the moment!

I’m not a good traveler. I love to travel, but I’m not any good at it.

Organizing flights; I’m always scared I’ve booked the wrong dates and times. Booking hotels; just the cost is enough to make me sick.

Transportation when I arrive? Forget it, a nightmare.

Worst off, I’m out of my daily routine without my things and my apartment, and I actually have panic attacks in the days leading up to the departure!

My journey to the upcoming Heritage Classic in Calgary is no different.

I have all the same travel anxiety that I would with any normal trip, but this will be unique experience that I so am greatly looking forward to!

What I look forward to the most is the familiarity when I finally arrive.

One of my closest friends from childhood lives in Calgary and I’ll be staying with her most of the trip, and I also have friends that are traveling a day or two after I arrive to meet me there.

Most importantly, I’ll have that familiar feeling that comes from spending oodles of time in an arena.

For me, being in an NHL arena is my escape.

I can focus on what’s going on, on the ice, and become consumed in all things hockey, if only for a few hours of the day. This time, however, being in a new arena and in a new city has my nerves jittering a little.

As it is, it can be a little intimidating looking around an NHL locker room, even one like the Canadiens' that I visit a few times a week.

Sometimes there are fifty people in there and I’m suddenly keenly aware I’m the only woman. Other times, you’re standing in a scrum next to some of the biggest names in the hockey broadcast world. These situations can be nerve racking but you get used to it as time goes on.

I’m used to how things go down in Brossard and at the Bell Centre, but an event the magnitude of the Heritage Classic is new and I feel like a rookie on all levels!

But being thrown into the Heritage Classic, where the familiarity of the Bell Centre is gone, will keep me on my toes.

I can only begin to imagine the buzz that will take over the city of Calgary in the days leading up to Sunday's match. I can't say I've felt the excitement make its way over to Montreal quite yet, but I guess it's not the same as in Calgary since they are hosting the event.

Admittedly, there is excitement from people I’ve talked to here at home, but the distance between the cities hasn't quite allowed the hype reach Montreal just yet.

That’s why I needed to go to Calgary.

This will be the most high profile event I’ll have covered to date in my young career. The opportunity is a great one and I look forward to taking it all in as a fan of the game. I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched, live, a game being played outdoors before.

My brothers weren’t big on hockey, and I could usually be found making snow forts with my friends while the boys on my block played on ice patches in the park. So this will truly be a new experience for me in ever sense!

The buzz of the Bell Centre is contagious, even when you’re sitting up in the press box, and that's only 21,273 people. The Heritage Classic capacity will likely be in the neighborhood of 40,000 attendees.

And that, my friends, is reason enough to make the trip!

I had a chat with Drew Stafford in the Sabres locker room before their game against the Habs yesterday. Once the "this is a big game for your team" chat was over, we spoke about his Winter Classic experience—Stafford was a member of the inaugural Winter Classic back in 2008.

We chatted about how he tried to keep warm during the game, how blocking shots was a more intense feeling when you're frozen and how it brings players back to their roots of playing on frozen ponds.

This event, which took place nearly three years ago, was still clear as day in the memory of this 25 year-old forward. As we continued talking, it became clear to me that these outdoors games are truly something special.

And that's when the magnitude of what I am about to experience truly hit me. Standing there in the visitor’s locker room at the Bell Centre, I it sunk in that I’ll be at the Heritage Classic this Sunday to experience it all first hand.

Stafford said it was a once in a lifetime experience for the players.

Well based on what I've heard so far, I have a feeling it will be the same for a certain media member.

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Amanda is a reporter, producer and on-air contributor for the Team 990 (AM 990) in Montreal. Amanda covers the Montreal Canadiens and visiting NHL teams, usually from inside the dressing room. She can be reached on Twitter (@amandacstein) and email amanda@team990.com.

(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images North America)

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