Hockey Headlines

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Taking A Jaunt

Today's article will be very simple as I run down the activities we experienced while traveling to our destination on Jaunt. If you missed the first article on Jaunt that was posted on Friday, you can read it here. I recommend reading it so you get a sense of where this article is coming from as we run down the itinerary that we followed in flying from Winnipeg to Minneapolis/St. Paul. I'll also have some commentary on the main event from this flight - Jets vs. Wild at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota - but this will give you an idea of what you will more than likely experience when flying to a unique event and destination with Jaunt.

Upon arriving at the terminal, I was welcomed by a number of people, most notably Marketing and Business Manager Dan Rutherford who was my contact on this adventure. He introduced me to Scott and Jon, our pilots for this adventure, and to Caleb, a videographer who would be accompanying us on the trip to document our adventure and produce a short marketing video for Jaunt. Caleb was extremely professional while working, but certainly was a joy to around on this trip.

Arriving next was one of the Jaunt prize winners in Cecil and Ellen. Cecil, a former pilot, and Ellen, his wife, entered to win a trip for two at a local flight conference. Despite being an older couple, these two amazing people made this trip a ton of fun with their enthusiasm, vibrancy, and positive attitude towards the entire experience. I have met many people in my travels, but these two wonderful people are the examples we should all strive to be.

If there was another couple who met the standard set by Cecil and Ellen, it was Dan and Jolene. Dan won the Jaunt experience through a contest run by TSN1290, and these two are a ton of fun. Dan had worked earlier in the day at his job and was due back at work on Sunday morning at 4am, so he was literally wedging this Jaunt trip in between shifts! In knowing this, he didn't take a shift off in this adventure, and was great to chat with about hockey and life as we made the trip. Jolene, a teacher, was a ball of positive energy, and she seemed to soak up every experience on this adventure as she was the envy of all of her students in the past week. These two were fantastic travel companions for the entire group, and I cannot say enough good things about the two couples on this Jaunt.

Joining Dan, Caleb, Cecil, Ellen, Dan, Jolene, and I was a man who really needs no introduction in Winnipeg thanks to his long history of being on the edge of breaking sports news in the Manitoba capital. TSN1290's Jim Toth was the final traveler to arrive, and Jim was an absolute pleasure to speak with on all topics. Through Jim, TSN1290 had been running the contest that Dan and Jolene won, so it was only fitting that the legend joined us on this adventure. Jim was certainly up to the task as everyone got a chance to chat with the local celebrity throughout the day.

After meeting all of these amazing people, lunch was served in the terminal as Jaunt had the meeting of their inaugural passengers catered by Stella's. They brought sandwiches, a cheese plate, and a fruit plate, and all of the food was incredible. Croissant sandwiches were light but tasty, and the assortment of cheeses and fruit met everyone`s tastes. As lunch wound down, Jon and Scott met us once more and began the boarding process as we were given instructions on the plane and about crossing the tarmac to our private aircraft. Let the adventure begin!

We boarded a King Air 200 Executive airplane, and you immediately felt like the flying elite. As per the seat plan, two sat in the front behind the pilots, four sat in the middle, and two sat in the rear of the plane as we taxied onto the runway. Like any airline, the room to maneuver in the plane was limited, but the seats were extremely comfortable and there was more than enough room in and around each seat to accommodate any passenger. Jim, who is rather tall, needed to stretch his legs out in front of him when the tray was used in front of him, but this is more of a detail than a quibble when it came to the comforts of this aircraft. Jon and Scott got us in the air quickly, and our jaunt to Minneapolis/St. Paul via Jaunt was underway!

The hour-and-a-half flight seemed pass very quickly as there was lively conversation among the eight of us. Snacks were provided on the plane, and there was an assortment of chips, granola bars, and other small offerings to accompany water, soft drinks, and coffee. About a half-hour prior to landing, Scott ensured that all passengers filled out their Customs forms in order to expedite getting clearance once we landed to enter the United States. As we began our descent into St. Paul, anticipation turned to excitement for the eight passengers!

We landed at St. Paul Downtown Airport which is a small airport used almost exclusively for private planes and charter flights. We taxied over to the restored and beautifully-historic St. Paul Airport Passenger Terminal which also houses US Customs. Just as Scott predicted, the Customs check was fast and efficient, and we were officially visitors in St. Paul, Minnesota at 3:45pm! From the old terminal, we moved to a newer terminal where we were greeted by a St. Paul tourism official who provided us some nice gifts, a representative from the St. Paul Airport, and our limousine driver! Ok, so it was an SUV, but it was still a waiting car for eight people who were ten minutes away from the Xcel Energy Center!

Our ride took us to the historic Saint Paul Hotel, a gorgeous old hotel that was quite literally far too elegant for a scrub like me. Everything inside felt like it was from Victorian times, right down to the afternoon tea that was wrapping up, and there was a massive wedding happening at the hotel which gave us an opportunity to see a number of lavishly dressed men and women preparing themselves for what looked to be a luxurious ceremony.

If you're reading this, Jolene, I'm sure you're still laughing about the young lady who walked past us and stared a hole through me like we were sworn enemies in nature. I'm not sure what I did to set this five year-old off, but if looks could kill I would have been six-feet under the hotel lobby floor.

I did enjoy the statues at Rice Park across from the Saint Paul Hotel. As you may know, famed Peanuts writer and illustrator Charles Schulz was from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and there were statues of his characters in the park. One such statue was of Woodstock and Lucy sitting on a bench, and many children and adults were sitting with Lucy to have their pictures taken with the iconic character. Stuff like this always makes me smile, and it's the kind of character pieces I wish more cities featured that reflect the values of the city, its heritage and history, and its people. Well done, Minneapolis/St. Paul!

From the hotel, we walked a few short blocks to the Xcel Energy Center where opening night for the 2016-17 Minnesota Wild season was in full swing. There was a tailgating party in a parking lot, there were hundreds of people on the streets and in the bars surrounding the arena, and there was certainly electricity in the air. As far as the eye could see, there were Wild and Jets jerseys all over the place. If anyone needed to know, we were definitely in the State of Hockey!

After exploring the tailgate party, the group headed inside to grab a meal prior to the 6pm CT start-time for the hockey game. Once again, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that Jaunt was picking up the tab for dinner, and everyone expressed their gratitude and appreciation for the gesture. In the itinerary we were provided, there was no mention about dinner being covered, so let's give credit to Jaunt for covering all the bases. The eight of us felt like royalty in a foreign land!

We arrived at our seats ten minutes prior to the start of the ceremonies, and I cannot commend Jaunt enough for the location of the seats. We sat in C26 on the 200 level in row eight. This is the row that has its backs to the concourse, and it is the best place to watch a game at Xcel Energy Center without doubt. The view is unobstructed and close enough to see everything, yet far enough back not to miss anything. We had a straight-on view of the massive scoreboard in front of us, and we were seated at center ice - yes, that's the view from my seat - with our backs to a number of concession stands and washrooms. In other words, these were the perfect seats in this writer's humble opinion.

If you watched the game, you watched the Jets show up for about five minutes in this game. They scored a pair of goals late in the first period to take a 2-0 lead, only to squander that lead through the second period and trail 3-2 at the second intermission. The Wild made it 4-2 midway through the third period before Mark Scheifele scored with 18 seconds to play to make it 4-3 and far more respectable than the efforts shown by the Jets on this night. I'm not sure what the Jets were thinking throughout this game, but three shots in 30 minutes from the end of the third period to the midpoint of the third period is a good way to lose a lot of hockey games.

Let's give the Wild some credit as well as they capitalized on mistakes made by the Jets, and they played suffocating defence through the neutral and defensive zones. In other words, they played a good Western Conference game as we've seen Bruce Boudreau employ with the Anaheim Ducks over the last couple of years. Devan Dubnyk was steady if unspectacular, but the players in front of him were opportunistic and it got them the two points.

Pluses on the ice include Eric Staal and Matt Dumba who were all over the ice scoring goals and throwing hits. Minuses on the night included Drew Stafford and his infuriatingly weak play with the puck, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor who always seem to make one move too many before coughing up the puck, and Alex Burmistrov who appears to have zero knowledge of how the Jets' systems work. Nikolaj Ehlers had a solid game for the Jets, but the bright spots were too few and far too dim to see. These two American stars spent some time chatting, though. No word on what the topic was.

Upon leaving the arena, I snagged a Minnesota Wild magnetic calendar which is a nice souvenir on the night to go along with the plastic beer cup I saved from my beverage. I will admit that it's not a t-shirt or jersey, but it's far more economical than the overpriced food and merchandise found at the Xcel Energy Center. I appreciate that the Minnesota Wild are a business, but when a soft pretzel and a beer cost $20 and a golf shirt is $70, you might want to rethink your pricing. Supply and demand suggest that you might be slightly overpriced. I want to watch Zach Parise and Ryan Suter play hockey, not personally fund their exorbitant contracts.

The ride back to St. Paul Downtown Airport was fairly low-key as it seemed like the events of the day began to catch up to us. The flight home saw a few people catch some zees, but I had a lively discussion with Jolene about traveling and some of the great places her and Dan have been. I was very impressed that they had attended the IIHF World Championships in Innsbruck, Germany in 2005! How cool is that? Jolene and I traded stories and money-saving ideas, and the flight home seemed much shorter than we had anticipated. Before we knew it, we were on the ground and exiting the aircraft as our journey with Jaunt had come to an end around 11:45pm. While it was nice to be back, the cooler weather when compared to Minneapolis/St. Paul's warmer weather was still a little shocking!

So that's how the day went down. Tomorrow, I'll be back with some thoughts on the day's travel and events where Jaunt did well, where they may need some improvement, and anything else that needs mentioning. While today felt like a blur with how fast everything went, the experience and the people won't soon be forgotten!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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