T and B Do Belfast

Randomly, four years ago, Hockey East and the ECAC decided to get together and play a hockey tournament every Thanksgiving up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Apparently this is because Belfast and Boston are sister cities (that a whole bunch of BU alums attended because, well, BU runs the world) and BU alums are the head of the Belfast Giants hockey club and they decided to make this a thing at some meeting between the two cities. The tournament became the Friendship Four and BU was finally announced as part of it last year. So, for a full year, we’d been hoping to pull off this trip to Belfast to go because see hockey in (Northern) Ireland? Sign us up!

To make this happen, a lot of things had to fall into place. Finances (did it as on the cheap as possible), the time off (for B), the flights to look okay (because we weren’t going to buy tickets) … and thankfully, everything came together. Mostly. I’ll get there.

Wednesday, November 21:

Our first day was a travel day. We took the first flight out of DEN to JFK because it looked the best … and because not taking the first flight whenever possible breaks non-revving rules. As a result … it meant we got to sit in the Sky Club at JFK for a very, very long time. Which we did, after we got lunch.

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We changed spots like three times.

The flight to DUB looked good. No fancy business class pods, but we thought we were going to get a row to ourselves (two of a three row). Unfortunately, some guy joined us (we think he was a row off, but we couldn’t say anything). This made for a slightly more uncomfortable flight … especially when it came to sleeping (or trying to. Especially since the dude in the middle in front of us moved to the aisle in front of me and reclined his seat and moved around a lot making it HARD to sleep. That, and the turbulence from hell that almost made me vomit.).

Still, fairly uneventful flight. No movies watched, partially because there was nothing that struck my fancy and partially because I did want to try to sleep some.

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But we got there, and that was all that mattered!

Thursday, November 22:

We landed in Dublin, cleared customs, and then bought tickets for a bus up to Belfast. I wandered around to maybe get a snack, but nothing caught my eye.

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Except this. This did. None of the donuts did, though. Unfortunately.

I ended up nodding off again on the two hour ride … waking up about a half-hour outside of Belfast and extremely nauseous. How I didn’t actually throw up on that ride I don’t know. I had bile come up two or three times. It was not pleasant. But, we made it, and that’s all that matters. We walked the mile or so to our hotel (Hilton Belfast), checked in … and died. Unintentionally, but a nap definitely happened.

Once we woke up, we decided we needed to go out and get some food. We had heard of a Christmas market at City Hall, so we headed over there.

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Belfast City Hall.

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Cool looking ride that I may have gone on had I not had the close puke call earlier …

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Dutch pancakes being made.

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Dutch pancakes. So good. A bit of a different Thanksgiving dinner, but it worked.

Friday, November 23:

We woke up, grabbed breakfast at the hotel, and then ventured out for the morning. Our destination was the Titanic Museum, as we wanted to get there as close to open as possible. We did stop for a cappuccino first, though.

On our walk, we stopped by the Big Fish (Salmon of Knowledge). I had heard about the Salmon of Knowledge thanks to a Maeve Binchy book I had read ages ago, so when I saw the statue on Google Maps, I knew I had to check it out.

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Kind of in love.

From there, it was a short walk across the bridge (in the rain) to the Titanic Museum.

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B successfully sent a message via Morse code!

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Sure, why not?

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On the deck of the ship. Kinda.

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Lunch the day of the sinking.

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The Nomadic (last White Star Line ship remaining) and I forget what’s in front it. But it’s where they used to dry dock ships. I think.

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Husband looked like the sculptures outside so I made him pose.

Afterward, we stopped by the SSE Arena to get tickets for the games (the whole reason we made the trip …) and then grabbed some lunch back near the hotel. I think we ended up napping for a tiny bit (oh, jet lag …) before heading back out to the arena. We skipped the first game (Yale and Union), though.

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Arena.

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The bar inside the entertainment complex next door, Rockies, still had a goalie stick out for Humboldt.

Our friend (and huge BU fan) Cindy, whom I’ve known since college, got us into a pregame alumni reception inside the arena, where we got to hang out and eat some snacks.

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And I continued my trend of mascot selfies. Thanks, Rhett!

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Hockey!

BU won their first game, which was awesome. The atmosphere in SSE Arena was actually pretty good. If they don’t sell all the tickets, they give some away to youth groups and the like so we had a giant group of rowdy middle school-aged kids in the front of our section. Holy crap those kids were insane. It was almost more fun watching them than the hockey.

We got out and walked back toward our hotel while waiting to hear about meeting up with other friends there. We grabbed a quick bite at the hotel bar (since we really didn’t eat dinner …) before walking to the Duke of York to say hi to friends. We didn’t stay out too terribly late, but it was fun hanging out in the very, very crowded pub.

Saturday, November 24:

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From breakfast at the hotel.

The one thing I really regret not doing on this trip was heading up to Giant’s Causeway. We didn’t want to rent a car, and all the day tours were full day affairs. Since we had the hockey game … we didn’t want to chance the timing. So instead, we stayed inside the city. Our first stop was to (*sigh*) Starbucks for some coffee … but mainly to get a Northern Ireland coffee mug. We then headed to St. George’s Market – a combination farmer’s market/food hall/Christmas market. We really probably should have gotten some veggies or something there, but oh well.

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From there, we walked to the Belfast peace wall. We had seen a lot of other friends go there earlier in the week and wanted to check it out.

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On the way, in West Belfast.

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Sobering yet completely awesome. Also of note: the UK was trying to figure out their Brexit deal and one of the main points of worry was open borders in Ireland since ain’t no one wants to go back to the Troubles.

We headed off back to the Christmas market so B could get some of the Bailey’s hot chocolate everyone had been raving about.

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We didn’t stay long beyond that, though – too many people and my social anxiety kicked in big time. So, instead of finding lunch there, we found a small cafe within a bookstore for a couple of sandwiches. After lunch, more touristy wandering.

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This awesome alley is right across from the Duke of York (you can see it behind me).

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Same street.

Before the game, we walked back over to the Titanic Museum to get an ornament (had been mulling it over and decided to buy it). Good thing, too, since the museum looks awesome at night.

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Also got a shot of the famous Harland and Wolff (shipbuilding) cranes.

Then it was off to the pregame reception once again.

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L to R: Me, Rhett, Cindy.

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We needed a picture of us!

Unfortunately, BU did not win the Belpot, as they fell to Union that night. Boooooo.

Sunday, November 25:

We didn’t have too early of a wake up Sunday morning, but we did get moving relatively early, since our main goal for the day was to get back down to Dublin.

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Dinosaurs looking out the window one last time.

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Walking to the bus stop.

I took Dramamine for the return trip – just in case – which was probably good. I did end up nodding off again though, which was nice. We got to the airport and then caught a shuttle bus to our hotel – the Holiday Inn Express right near Dublin Airport. Since we were (hopefully) leaving the next day, we didn’t want to do anything too strenuous, besides seriously repack (kind of half-assed it in Belfast). As a result, dinner was also simple at one of the restaurants at the Crowne Plaza next door.

Monday, November 26:

We woke up with enough time to get checked out and grab some breakfast at the hotel before going to the airport. We hit the airport, checked in … and learned we wouldn’t get boarding passes unless they thought we had a chance of making the flight. As a result, we had a few hours to kill before we needed to be back by the counter. Time to play the waiting game. As we checked in with a higher priority, we were able to go past security … but the odds of us getting on did not look to be in our favor.

We went through security and customs as quickly as we could (you clear U.S. Customs in Dublin which is kind of cool … also thank you Global Entry you were worth every penny) and got to the gate to wait … and wait … and learn we were screwed. Dangit. We got escorted back out … got our passports stamped as we “re-entered” Ireland … and then sat for a bit figuring out our next move. We got some food for lunch at the airport, considered going into town … but decided “screw it,” rebooked the Holiday Inn Express, and went back over to the hotel.

We did, however, venture out for a very nice walk at the park across the street.

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It had been raining that morning … so this rainbow (it was a full arc, too) was nice to see.

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We’re mature.

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It was a beautiful way to spend some time. I think we both needed a bit of time with some fresh air in nature.

We hit up an Italian place about a block down for dinner and then back to bed … but not before I contacted my parents to have them please go over to our house and brine the turkey sitting in my fridge so we could cook it on Wednesday to have our very delayed Thanksgiving dinner.

Tuesday, November 27:

Second verse, same as the first … except this time when we checked in, they let us go right through (plane was open enough). The security line was much shorter earlier in the morning which was nice. As we didn’t have a gate that early, we were told to just hang out in the departure lounge (or really just around all the Duty Free shops). B bought some whisky. I almost bought a gorgeous cashmere scarf … but couldn’t justify the money on something I’m not sure I’d use all that much. I did, however, find a pair of dachshund socks for his mom. We also got some coffee at a cafe. When the board told us to go through customs, we dutifully followed and then sat at our gate. Or what we thought was our gate (it changed).

In the gate area, we saw a few of the BU fans Cindy introduced us to that also worked for the same airline. I guess they tried the Sunday flight, didn’t get on … and didn’t even try for Monday. They got on too … and ended up sitting behind us.

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We’re going hoooooome!!

Going back was nice as we got #podlife (as I like to call it). My video screen was being stupid so I didn’t watch a movie, but I did read quite a bit.

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T Schmeg the emotional support dinosaur (kidlet babysitter) hung out like this the entire flight.

We got into JFK and then sat in the club for a while until our Denver flight … which we also happily made and I’m pretty sure I slept some on it, too.

It may have been 26 hours later than planned, but we made it home.

Not the longest or best (Northern) Ireland trip, but it was a lot of fun being able to see my hockey team in another country.

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On Jack Parker …

… and a bit on my own hockey background.

With Boston University coach Jack Parker coaching his last game last night (a 1-0 loss to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell), I wanted to write a few words, but I really don’t know why. Maybe it’s just due to my journalistic training.

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I was an NHL fan and had just started learning how to play hockey when I started my college search and I knew that the school had to have hockey (or be very near a team) and, preferably, a way that I could keep playing.

The search came down to the University of Denver and Boston University. A school that gave me some money or a school that gave me none. Staying at home or going far away. Going to school with a friend (and a few acquaintances) and being near my family or going to a place starting completely fresh, knowing only my brother (who also attended BU). I ultimately chose the fresh start.

Being the hockey nerd that I was (I’m arguably more of a tri nerd now, though the hockey nerdiness still lingers), I soon started learning about the men’s varsity program. Signing up for WTBU, the student radio station (ideally for future career experience) and working a few games in studio helped a lot with that as well.  I signed up for the women’s club team* and thus hung out a lot in Walter Brown Arena, at that time, home to both the men’s and women’s teams. Our practices were right after the men’s a few days a week. At that point, I knew who Jack Parker was.

I first truly interacted with him in the Spring of 2002, my freshman year. I was in COM201 (communication writing) and chose, perhaps poorly, given that particular professor, to do a profile on him. When I first called to set up the interview, I was scared shitless. A former smoker, Parker has that gravelly smoker’s voice and combined with a thick Boston accent, was extremely intimidating over the phone. I dreaded doing the interview, but once I was there, it went well (besides my recorder dying on me without my knowledge and me not taking many notes. learning experience, that whole situation, for good and bad). That was when I first learned how much he cared for his players and how his favorite moments in (then) 20-some years of coaching were when Travis Roy’s parents made their first return to WBA after their son’s accident and when J.P. McKersie played in his first game back after a horrific car accident – not the BC games, not the Beanpots, not the National Championships (although I’m sure those are up there).

I forgot about those relationships until he made his retirement announcement late this season, his 40th of coaching at BU (almost his 50th at the university, between playing and being an assistant). Twitter came alive with scores of former players singing his praises, saying how vital Parker was in their development, how many of them still keep in touch. Parker himself said that he had two daughters and then 300+ sons, all from coaching.

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That 2002 interview was not my only interaction with JackPa, though. In either my junior or senior year (I think senior), we decided to try and do the 50/50 raffle at the men’s games as a way to fundraise. For whatever reason, we had to set that up through Parker and as team secretary, that was my job. He had no problems in letting us do it – in part because we held the most successful 50/50 raffle they’d ever seen, which aided his decision to let us do it again once the team made the switch to Agganis Arena. He also knew me by sight  since I basically lived at Walter Brown – not only by being a part of the women’s team, but by being there in a lot of my spare time, too. I lived either on top of the arena or just up the street my four years, and I used WBA as one of my favorite study spots (no internet meant no easy distractions). We then were reintroduced in December 2008, when I covered BU in Denver at the annual Denver Cup tournament and I had to interview him for a game recap.

Given the fact that he knew who I was led me to my favorite Jack Parker moment/memory. I worked as the WCHA columnist for USCHO.com for several years which meant that I got the opportunity to work several Frozen Fours … including 2009, when BU last made it. Thanks to going out to D.C. mostly on my own dime, I didn’t have to work much during the tourney, which meant that I could attempt to be a fan and sit next to my then-boyfriend (now husband) during the games. Working hockey had made it hard for me to be a fan (still is, if I’m being honest with myself), but BU helped change that, if only for a weekend. Watching that title game against Miami University made me a nervous wreck and sitting two sections over from the BU students (led by veteran Section 8ers) brought everything back – all the cheers, all the emotion … everything.

(it also helped Brandon realize that the Dog Pound, the BU student section is AWESOME and one of the best, if not THE best, student sections in the country.)

When BU won in overtime – which, if you know hockey,  you know they probably shouldn’t have; Parker was triple-shifting his top line, but Enrico Blasi just wasn’t pressing as much as he should have and simply got out-coached by a veteran – off a play that made me truly feel for the Miami defenseman (I am a defenseman; I have that empathy), I … I don’t even remember my emotion right now. Stunned, shocked, ecstatic. I hugged Brandon, probably kissed him, tossed my jersey in my bag and high-tailed it down to the basement. I had my media credential and though I didn’t have to write a piece on game, I wanted to congratulate both SID Brian Kelley and Parker himself.

I was able to run down Parker in the hallway after the press conference on his way back to the locker room. I got his attention, he saw me, gave me a huge hug and asked how I was doing (he, predictably, was doing quite well).

I would say that he may have hugged me regardless because he was so happy, but I know that to be false. I also congratulated University of Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin (with whom I had a working relationship) after his team won the 2011 Frozen Four, my last game as a reporter, and I got no hug.

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There are probably still a few people out there who don’t like Jack Parker (fellow Hockey East fans) and are probably glad he’s gone, given his “reputation” of having the officials in his pocket, but, and this may be my bias talking, I don’t think you can’t not respect him and what he’s done. A few friends on Facebook said that he put BU on the map and I agree with them. Parker was considering retirement last year, but given the rape scandals, decided to stay on – partially because he knew it would have looked bad if he left, but mostly because he knew that’s when his team needed him the most. I admire that decision.

So thanks, Coach. I’m proud to have known you and I hope you show your face at a few games – the husband would like to meet you in November when his team, the University of North Dakota, plays at BU. Otherwise, enjoy retirement and may you always have smooth sailing on your likely new home, your boat.

* The women’s club team is now the women’s varsity team and playing the ridiculously undefeated University of Minnesota for the championship in the women’s Frozen Four today. I am so proud of how far that team has come in the few short years it’s been D-I. Go BU!