BIG CITY NIGHTS: AS GOOD AS IT GETS

 

A Saturday night in The Big Apple on their very first trip to New York to play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden? I’m here to tell you, Edmonton Oilers rookies Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi have hit the jackpot right out of the blocks.
I have no idea what kind of game Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi will have in a matinee against the Rangers at MSG Sunday, but as long as they get to the rink before the opening face-off — something the unofficial mayor of Brighton Beach, Boris Mironov, had difficulty with — it’s all good.

Whether you’re a wide-eyed NHL rookie or a seasoned reporter, any road trip involving a stop in New York City — we used to stay there even when we weren’t playing the Rangers because, hell, a game against the Devils in New Jersey, or the New York Islanders on Long Island was close enough — was a good trip. Dibs on that, baby.

As sensory overload goes, New York slaps you in the mouth like no other city. The skyline. The sheer size of Manhattan. There are more taxis on any given block in NYC than Edmonton has cars, and any one of them will mow you down if you step off the curb at the wrong time.

 The grime. The bustle. The sea of humanity. The street people. The bright lights in Times Square. The bars in Greenwich Village. Great restaurants on every corner, down every alley. Street vendors selling knock-off Gucci bags and fake Rolex watches. They could always spot this sucker from a block away.

I was the rube from out-of-town with a goofy look of awe on my face, a wallet at the ready and a blazing neon sign on my back that said: take this guy for every bit of per diem he’s carrying. I was not alone.

And it damn sure didn’t even have to be Saturday night.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

What are Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi and the rest of the Oilers doing in the Big Apple Saturday night? Anything they want to, that’s what. At least, that’s pretty much how I approached it the half-dozen or so times I travelled there with the team.

I’d have my clothes thrown in my room and every advance story and sidebar I needed to write done and filed in a New York minute after we’d landed so I could get out and start seeing everything there was to see. Likewise for Jim Matheson or Kevin Karius or Kevin Quinn and every other media-type on the trip. Ready to go? Absolutely. The second you left the hotel lobby, things became a blur. The one certainty was that I’d be up half the night — out for dinner, having a beer or 15, walking the streets looking for electronics, tossing change into the guitar cases of street musicians, avoiding the maniacs in those NY cabs and buying "Rolex" watches.

I seldom if ever gave a thought to why I was there in the first place and more often than not found myself saying, "Holy shit, what time is it?" That, in itself, makes me laugh, given I’d have four or five of those bogus timepieces on me at any one time.

I can’t imagine the kids will be much different — better restaurants, a better crowd and better watches, probably — their first time in the Big Apple, a city that exudes attitude. I’ve still got the black T-shirt I bought there on my last visit. None of this "I love NY" stuff. The shirt, in big white letters on the front, simply reads: "New York Fucking City."
Got a problem with that?

THE WATCH THING

— Craig MacTavish once told me even players bought knock-off watches in New York. From $20 for the lousy ones to $50 or more for higher quality knock-offs, you could get a sharp looking "Rolex." It might only last six weeks, but who cares? It was $20. I took that to heart.

My first trip to New York I bought six watches. Two stopped working within 24 hours. Two more were toast by the time we got back to Edmonton. Two others lasted 18 months. A bargain.

— I coughed up $75 on one trip for a "deluxe" knock-off Rolex for my wife. You have to sort through the street guys to find the ones with the best knock-offs. They’ve staked their turf on every corner, moving only when the cops come along and tell them to keep moving.

The guy I settled on had, like, 40 of them pinned to the lining of his jacket. The watch looked good. Nice pearl face on it. Heavy. Good guts, he told me. I even got a box to go with it. Damn thing stopped working the next day. My wife still has it.

— On another trip, former equipment man Sparky Kulchisky wanted a watch and knew I could get him one. I found my guy outside a fast food joint near the hotel. I gave him two $20s and he gave me two watches.

I walked across the street and handed them to Sparky. "How much?" Sparky asked. "Forty," I said. He gave me the dough. I handed him the watches. When I did, one of the winding mechanisms fell out of one of them, bounced at his feet and fell through a grate. That’s a record, even for a bogus Rolex. Sorry, Sparky.

ACTUAL HOCKEY STUFF

— MSG has a real aura about it, mostly because of all the big-time events that are held there. In terms of facilities, it’s dated, somewhat worn and, in the bowels of the place, claustrophobic with narrow halls and low very ceilings, especially in the dressing room areas.

— A ramp winds from the arena level down to the street level and it’s so damn steep you could have a luge team train on the damn thing. More than one player and reporter hustling to get to the bus has ended up on his ass navigating it. I tore the ass out of a perfectly good pair of (knock-off) pants I’d bought the day before when I took a skid.

—  Igor Ulanov is still legend at MSG. Two nights after taking a slapshot in the throat in Columbus with the Oilers to open a road trip in November of 2000, Ulanov took a puck in the mouth at MSG.

Ulanov was spurting blood like he’d been shot in the face, but he wanted to finish the period before getting fixed up. He had to be dragged kicking, screaming and bleeding to the medical room. He needed something like 22 stitches to close the wound. Pain threshold of a cadaver.

— Mironov was one of those players who liked to have a good time on the road and he never had a better time than in NYC. Bobo went AWOL back at the start of the 1998-99 season and ended up getting suspended by Glen Sather. A couple years later, he missed a practice at MSG. I’m guessing he lost track of time looking for watches out in Brighton Beach.

— The press box at MSG isn’t a press box at all, it’s a section in the corner of the rink that sits just about at the top of the end glass. Until the NHL started putting netting in the end zones, more reporters took rubber in the press area at MSG than at any other rink.

TAKE A BITE
— There used to be a restaurant-bar in Greenwich Village called The Garage where you could catch some wicked jazz and have a million beers. Loving jazz as we did, we went there often.

Not far away was one of many clubs that featured open stages where musicians could step up and play. One night in there, a street guy toting a beat-up saxophone blew the doors right off the place. This guy was better on that thing than anybody, and I mean anybody, I’ve ever heard play. He was a dead-ringer for Gizmo Williams.

— Down off East 62nd Street, there used to be an Italian restaurant named Il Vagabondo. Having suffered a surprise KO at the hands of Morley Scott in a food eating contest at a joint called Maggiano’s in Chicago weeks earlier, we held the rematch for the gluttony title at this place.

So devastating was my domination of Scott, including a trip across the street to a bakery where I found a couple of huge pastries to augment the restaurant’s dessert menu, patrons stood and applauded when Scott waved his spaghetti sauce stained bib, signalling, "No mas. No mas." My proudest moment on the way to 300 pounds.

— I regret not posing for a picture with the Naked Cowboy in Times Square when I had the chance. He’s not actually naked, but a muscled-up dude wearing a Speedo and a cowboy hat who makes a living posing for pictures with tourists. Sort of a Fabio-type. If Hall, Eberle or Paajarvi get a chance to pose with this guy, they should.

Puck drop is 12:30 Big Apple time, boys. Have a good one.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

 

  • positivebrontefan

    Ha Ha!!!
    Like kids in a candy store, I’ve never been to NYC but I have been to Amsterdam a couple of times, not quite the same magnitude but a place you can get in a lot of trouble in, all the while having the time of your life.

    Thanks for the stories Robin!

  • Hemmertime

    I love your articles like this. Not sure whether or not I want you to retire from Oilers news. On one hand, you’d leave a huge whole in Oilers coverage, on another, you could write the best damn book of the decade.

  • Mason Storm

    HAHAHA Awesome read. I hate New York for no reason but now i want to go there. Damn you Brownlee I hope you keep more of these un-hockey related articles coming.

    *please keep hockey related articles coming too.

  • Mason Storm

    Hey former ainlay students (and anybody who wants to) help out the school by voting for the titans at state farms friday night feats website (http://memelabs.com/fnf/m/media/view/id/22252 ) you can vote once everyday for each account you set up so if you have multiple accounts you could be a great help. The top 26 get $2500, and then judges are used to find the top ten, after that its back to votes. The judges decision is based on votes too so please help oit the school. We could use the grand prize of $17 500. Also we beat facey so wes in provincial semis.

  • Horcsky

    Haha, oh man this is a solid yarn. After the Raffi Torres cabbie story and then this article, I’m not sure I will read anything better from you RB.

    Edit: Negative props to post #9

  • Seriously Robin. Why are you not putting a book together? A book of your escapades throughout the league is the sort of thing I’d buy in a heartbeat. I bet I wouldn’t be the only one either.

  • haha my dad passed me down one of those fake Rolexes. I wore that thing for like 6 months and it never worked the entire time I had it. I just loved letting people feel how heavy it was and watch them inspect it and be impressed even tho it wasn’t even moving. Haha back in the day the fake Rolex was the ultimate bling.

  • DJ Dynasty Handbag

    not sure if this has been posted anywhere but we should all say a little prayer for a former oiler….

    as per the ottawa sun –

    “Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson — a former teammate to many of the team’s players — and his wife Stephanie have tragically lost their 14-year-old daughter, Daron.

    The Senators confirmed in a statement late Saturday that Daron tried to take her own life by hanging herself at the family’s home. The club said she was rushed to hospital and succumbed to the injuries in ICU.”

  • Hey i read every article, and i love it. I’m not trying to screw anyone, im just tryin to help my old school. The kids there love football, and tho i never played i can sympathize with their love for the sport. Please take this seriously. Btw if youve never seen a high school football game i recomend going its pretty good to watch, and its free (most of the time).

  • I never could understand the allure of fake crap. Honestly, if some dude approached me opening up his coat on the streets of NYC, I’d be running the other way, nothing good will come of that. That Jazz club sounds cool though, Edmonton has almost none of those.

    Tragic story about Luke Richardson, it is a screwed up world for kids nowadays out there. Cyber-bullying, drugs, pedophiles, etc etc.. too common.

  • NYC is utterly amazing. I’ve been there numerous times over the past five years and it never gets old. For anyone ever going there make sure to checkout myopenbar.com. It’s a site that lists events that are offering free booze. A lot of the time it’s for a short time during the night when a bar offers a certain drink for free, and sometimes it may just be a small art gallery offering wine. However sometimes there are big parties listed on it. Our very first time there we ended up at a huge loft party that was $10 cover and open bar all night. We all got split up at the end of the night and I ended up in Times Square at 5am staring at the lights. I woke up the next day in the van with some 17 year old kid sleeping on my shoulder. Apparently my other two friends, drunk and confused, ended up on the subway heading to the Bronx instead of downtown. This kid helped them out and assisted them switching to the proper train but in the process the subway door closed on my friends face, right on the temples. The young kid pulled open the doors and freed my friend just before the train got going! They ended up coming back to the van and drank until they passed out.

    So ya, NYC is an adventure every time.

  • Jamie B.

    I went to NYC in high school and I was definitely the hick standing around with my mouth open. Great place, even though I ended up by myself on the subway back to the hotel from Times Square after midnight on a Saturday, scared to death I was about to be mugged or stabbed or something. Of course it was fine.

    Tomorrow’s game is probably a write-off, huh? You know the Rangers must schedule these early games on purpose. Oh, well, we’ll include it among the rookies’ “learning experiences”.

    By the way, the picture makes this article at least five times more awesome.

    • You don’t have to go near a booze joint or a club to be up all night in NYC. The streets are buzzing late, late into the morning. You can wear out a pair of shoes just walking around, especially your first few times there. I know I did.

  • MJM

    I, for one, love these types of stories. Not just as a fan, but as a young reporter hoping to “live the dream” beyond the streets of WHL cities. Keep ’em coming, guys.

  • Horcsky

    Brownlee, I think this may have been before your time, but are there any stories from you or your older colleagues about any past adventures at Studio 54 ???

  • Quicksilver ballet

    My 50.00 knockoff Rolex works great, going on 8 years now. The Tiger Woods Nike golf clubs and bag i paid 100.00 for look fantanstic in my garage.

    Anyone need Taylor Hall,Jordon Eberle crested pro jerseys (Oilers 3rd) for $30.00 lol.

    GO OILERS!

    • Exactly.

      Yes, buying knock-offs and fake stuff is kind of cheesy, especially since I’m not a slave to big brand names, but I just couldn’t get enough of those watches.

      Swinging deals with the guys hawking the fake stuff is just part of the street scene — like gabbing with the food cart vendors when you’re ordering a big, greasy hotdog, getting one of those caricatures drawn in Times Square or posing with the Naked Cowboy.

  • Mitch

    @Brownlee

    I don’t like that Avery wouldn’t drop his gloves and then clocks Ladi, knocking him into next week, hopefully Ladi has learnt his leason. The score in the hockey game was 5 or 6-2 if you feel you have to fight dont ask questions, there was also nothing wrong with the hit, but that is the way the game is played today.

    Wow there is a glaring need for a dman or 4 on this team. The coaching staff has to learn the forwards to attack as a unit, there’s way to much individualism in this lineup, the players are developing terrible habbits. I’m all on board for this rebuild, I feel it has to be a complete rebuild meaning change everything in player personal. Just one other question why does Khabi start just don’t make sense to me?

    • Avery’s a tough player but a cheap player. He always has been. If Smid is going to come over and challenge him, he has to expect something like that.

      You need to have a book on everybody and Smid had been around long enough to expect a weasel move from Avery.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    You have to hand it to Avery though, he may not be popular in and out of his own dressing room but the kid is willing to do whatever it takes to win. What ever it takes to get the edge/advantage he’s willing to do. I had to laugh when Smid thought his incident was over, then Avery clocks him, call it dirty, call it what you want, the Oilers need a guy or two like this to draw the attention away from the task at hand at times. Lady got what was coming to him, because he let his gaurd down against the wrong guy. There isn’t a better salt’n vinegar in your open wound kinda guy in the game today. Like it or not, we’re going to need a guy like him here in Edmonton within 2 years.