Sunday, February 28, 2010 - 21:44

In a couple of hours, every Canadian will wait with baited breath for Jacques Rogge to say the words that mean so much to every Olympic host country.

They will gather inside BC Place, at home in front of their television sets or near movie screens set up in locations around the city, eager for the IOC president to declare the 2010 Winter Games to be the best Olympics of all time.

Well let me beat Mr. Rogge to the punch. These Winter Games have set the gold standard as the best Winter Games ever. At least they are the best of the four winter Games I’ve had the pleasure of covering.

I have a good friend who always says that a room is just a room, it’s what you do with it that counts. Well, the same can be said for a hockey rink, a speedskating oval or a state-of-the art media center. A building is just a building, no matter how many bells and whistles it has attached to it.

What put these Olympics over the top are the people of Vancouver, who have earned a gold medal for friendliness, passion and national pride.

Acres of trees were killed to print all the stories about how most Vancouver residents didn’t want the Games, thought they were too expensive, too inconvenient, etc. Well, those people must’ve taken a three-week vacation to Puerto Vallarta because they were seldom seen or heard from the time I landed on Feb. 8 until today.

Maybe I’ll pass them tomorrow morning at the Vancouver airport, which they are reporting will be the busiest day in the airport’s history since local residents found out there were two-for-one slot machine tokens in Las Vegas.

My time here has been nothing short of amazing, a word I usually reserve to describe a very special brand of bourbon. I probably run the risk of losing my journalistic green card for actually saying something nice about somebody, but it’s the truth.

Everyone that I met, from the bus driver who took me on a scenic tour of the city before finally dropping me off on our third pass by my hotel to the people who strip searched me at the main press centre after reading my comments about the lax security to the woman who triple checked my credential before allowing me to use the men’s room at the Hockey Canada Place, has been as nice as can be.

I can count on my thumbs the number of people who rubbed me the wrong way in Vancouver. I can’t even pull out of my driveway at home without doubling that number. The people have been great, and they are who made these Olympics so special for not only me but for others.

Most of the people I met during my three weeks here were genuinely interested in where I was from, and once they found out that I worked for USA Hockey wanted to know if I had any secrets for sneaking a puck past Ryan Miller. And they wanted a USA Hockey pin, in that order.

Even walking around the streets wearing USA Hockey gear and toting a USA Hockey computer bag, which I’m hoping to never sling over my shoulder again, people were great. Their idea of trash talking was to say, “Go Canada Go,” when they saw the crest on my jacket. Fair enough.

Even the few knuckleheads who did get out of line were shut down by their fellow countrymen.

Don’t get me wrong we wanted to beat Canada in hockey worse than most people want to see Simon Cowell say something nice. The feeling is mutual. But there is a respect that continues to grow as we continually meet in the finals of many major tournaments.

They got on the board first by taking gold in women’s hockey. We came within an eyelash of getting even with the men. We'll just have to let our sled hockey team, or sledge hockey for you Europeans, can settle the score.

Canadians love their hockey. You have to give them that. As Brian Burke said, it’s not a sport, it’s a cult, a religion. I get that. I’ve seen it first hand, and truly respect that. 

But Canadians shouldn’t question the passion that many of us have for the game. We eat it, live it and breathe it, just like they do.

Sure, NBC may not want to interrupt the ice dancing compulsory dance competition to show the first U.S. vs. Canada game in its entirety, thus exiling it to MSNBC, but American hockey fans found it on their 300 channels of satellite television and tuned in with record numbers.

One word of warning though, Objects in Your Rearview Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear. We are catching up at all levels of the game, in some ways passing you.

But I digress.

The city of Vancouver and the local organizers bent over backwards to create a fun family environment, and they definitely succeeded.

Sure, sometimes you waited longer to experience the Olympic spirit than it takes to get a McDonalds burger without pickles and onions. People waited in line for seven hours for a 30 second zip line ride across Robson Square, but the looks on the faces of those who completed the ride seemed to show that it was worth the wait. Or maybe they were just thrilled that they could finally use the restroom.

Like every Olympics, these Games had their share of ups and downs. If you spent too much time reading the local papers you would think the downs outweighed the ups by a three-to-one margin.

There was the tragic death of the Georgian luger, a faulty cauldron at the opening ceremony, issues with the fence surrounding the Olympic flame, too many empty seats at some venues, weather issues in the mountains and a lack of toilet paper in the men’s bathroom at the main press centre.

And while the Canadians didn’t own the podium the way they had hoped, they still eclipsed their previous best number of medals by a wide margin.

If I were a Canadian, I would be so proud of what my fellow countrymen were able to pull off these past 17 days in Vancouver. You showed the rest of the world that being a Canadian means more than dressing like Red Green, singing like Bryan Adams and drinking beer like the McKenzie brothers. Not that there's anything wrong with any of those things.

You have shown us all how to host the world’s biggest party and make everyone feel like welcomed guests.

Saturday, February 27, 2010 - 20:33

The other night I had my first and probably only brush with greatness on the streets of Vancouver. No disrespect to the U.S. Men’s and Women’s hockey teams, which have been great in their own right.

I was getting off the train line, weaving my way through the crowd while dodging raindrops, when I almost walked right into Vince Vaughn. 

Vince Vaughn cheers on Team USA.Vince Vaughn cheers on Team USA.Now I wouldn’t know who this guy was if we don’t have every copy of People Magazine ever printed kicking around our house. But because we do, I know that he is an actor and one in a long line of leading men who have been romantically linked to Jennifer Aniston. Who knew? I would’ve thought he was just another long-suffering Cubs fan.

So anyway, we cruise past, make quick eye contact and move on. I should’ve let it wash away with the evening rain shower, but instead I pull off to the side and text to my daughter the movie buff that I just saw Vince Vaughn on Georgia Street.

“OMG. No way! I’m so jealous,” she texted back.

Yes, I do lead a charmed life.

Vancouver has been full of celebrities these past few weeks. Some I’ve heard of, like Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Yvan Cournoyer. Others I'd really have no idea that they were anybody of supposed significance if not for the ear-piercing shrieks of fans inside the arena.

I know that the town is teeming with celebrities because I see it on the morning news when these three celebrity shoe-sniffers ramble on about the parties they attended the night before, the celebrities they stalked and the schwag they managed to swipe.

“You see this glass? Michael Phelps took a drink from this glass.”

That is met with the appropriate oohs and aahs as they genuflect in the direction of a fingerprint-smudged highball glass as if were the Holy Grail.

The papers, also, are packed with stories about who was seen where, the parties they attended and the outfits they had on. If they were wearing anything but a raincoat in this city then they’re bigger idiots than I thought.

I don’t run with the Grey Poupon crowd. I’m more the yellow mustard in the little packets type. They’re more Chardonnay and champagne; I’d rather smoke cigars and drink Molson with the Canadian women’s team.

But hey, different strokes for different folks.

Rummaging through some back issues of the paper last night – what else would I be doing on a Friday night in the most happening city in North America – I came across several stories about what the pretty people have been up to.

And here’s what I learned:

Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell were spotted at a coffee shop. No kidding? I haven’t seen anybody in Vancouver who doesn’t drink at least a gallon of the stuff a day. There’s a coffee shop on every block, and sometimes even more. There are actually two Starbucks on facing corners near Robson Street. Talk about not doing your market research.

Arnold Schwarzenegger not only carried the Olympic torch, he was spotted pumping iron at Steve Nash’s Gym. Now I’m not from California, so it’s really none of my business, but I would think he has some other heavy lifting to do back home.

Paris Hilton and her entourage have been spotted at both the Barcelona Ultra Lounge and the Irish House. I’ll have to find out where those places are on a map so I can run far, run fast in the other direction.

Cindy Crawford and none other than Oprah have been seen on the streets. I didn’t know Oprah ever left the couch on the set of her talk show. I figure she’d do what Ellen did and beam in the Olympic athletes for interviews via satellite dish. A separate story said that Oprah loves those red mittens. Now I know who bought all the mittens.

There have also been reports of Shania Twain buying tofu at a vegetarian market and Scarlett Johansson at a yoga studio. Those are two more places I’m not likely to be caught dead in.

My other brush with greatness came when some wise-guy weatherman from the local TV station spotted me waiting in line for tickets to a curling event. “Hey look, it’s George Clooney. We have a George Clooney sighting here in Vancouver.”

Yeah, right. If I did look like George Clooney, and that's a mighty big if, do you really think I’d be standing in line for curling tickets?

Friday, February 26, 2010 - 13:19

I used to work with a guy at a newspaper who would grimace every time the news editor would ask him to write a headline that involved squeezing big blocked letters into very small spaces.

He would shout across the newsroom to the editor who designed the page, "When you die and go to hell, and trust me you will go to hell, I hope you have to write these ridiculous headlines all day long."

I feel the same way about the genius who dreamt up the concept of the Olympic mixed zone, where mosh pit meets the media.

It’s dark, cramped, uncomfortable and smells bad. Kind of like what I would imagine hell is like. 

My experiences in the mixed zone date back to covering various test events leading up to the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

I remember one event in particular where I was having what I thought was a pleasant conversation with American figure skater Tara Lipinski when suddenly I felt this warm breath on the back of my neck and the smell of a landfill all around me. I look back and find a gaggle of humanity hovering over, around and under me. It was all elbows and eyeballs hovering inches from my ears.

I can only imagine what it looked like from little ol’ Tara’s perspective. Here you have 200 or so sumo-sized scribes who wouldn’t know the difference between a triple axel and a triple cheeseburger suddenly shouting out questions about poise and grace and artistic impressions.

But I digress.

Here in Vancouver, the mixed zone is in a rather odd location. You have to go through the kitchen and food storage area to get there. The worst part of that is they never have any sandwiches or leftover hors d’oeuvres on platters for you can grab as you go running by.

There are cases of Coors Light and Molson Canadian but I think it would look a little obvious if I went walking out of Hockey Canada Place with one under my arm. Of course I could use one as a step stool to see over the crowd.

What you will find are food service workers who always seem to time the taking out of the trash with the end of the game, and thus bogging down the mad cattle rush of media down the narrow corridor leading to the mixed zone.

Once inside the mixed zone, you hope to find a coveted spot next to the railing and pray that the player you’re featuring in your story stops in front of you. That’s when the real fun begins.

You can usually get in the first question, two if you’re lucky, before someone fires off a question about the player’s grandmother from Hackensack.

And don’t even get me started about the personal hygiene of some mothers’ sons. I had to crawl through a week’s worth of garbage during a Crossing of the Line ceremony in the Navy and probably smelled better than some members of the Fourth Estate. 

And there’s always one journalist who has his Hannah Montana backpack still on his back taking up the space of three people, and two media groupies talking so loudly about their weekend plans that you can’t hear what the athletes are saying.

Some athletes are so soft spoken that you can’t hear a word they say even if you’re right in front of them. I have a great microphone that can pick up the sounds of a gnat belching, but it can’t reel in the words of Ryan Kesler. That is definitely a man who lets his actions on the ice do his talking for him.

As much fun as the mixed zone ISN’T for the media, it has to be as fun as a tooth extraction for the athletes. At the Hockey Canada Place players enter the ice from their bench, which is a short walk from their dressing room. When they exit the ice they skate through the end ice resurfacer door and walk what must seem like a quarter-mile gauntlet, answering the same questions over and over until they reach the sanctity, and sanity, of their locker room.

The trick is to not make eye contact, kind of like dealing with panhandlers in front of my hotel. The lucky few who make it through unscathed are usually showered and are already ordering an appetizer at a local restaurant by the time some of their teammates are finishing their media obligations.

Those who do get caught up in the rush, especially the goaltenders, are the ones I really feel sorry for. Here they are, having just played their hearts out for 60 minutes and now they’re standing there, dripping sweat and answering questions about everything from why British bookies have wagered a bundle on their imminent demise to their predictions of the next American Idol.

Press officers have done a good job of keeping the focus on the game, but they can only be so many places at once.

The Olympics seem to be one of the few sporting events that employs the mixed zone system. Most sports that I know of use press conferences. Some give certain press people access inside locker rooms or let athletes answer questions on the field of play. While all have their benefits and drawbacks, they are infinitely better than mixed zones.

Here’s my suggestion to the IOC: take the top three or four "stars of the game" along with the coaches, and bring them to a press conference, just like the NHL does for the Stanley Cup playoffs. If you’re a reporter from Dog Slobber, Arkansas and there’s a hometown athlete competing in the event, pull them aside so they can get what they need.

I understand that the networks have ponied up more money than the gross national product of Lichtenstein to broadcast the Games and they need their access to athletes. Give it to them. Pull aside their chosen athletes and let them hang back on the ice or field of play for a quick interview.

I’m sure no one cares what one little ol’ journalist thinks. Mixed zones have probably been around since the Games of Ancient Greece. They were good enough for scribes chiseling notes on stone tablets, they’re good enough in this modern media age.

There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. I have only a few more hockey games to deal with. Hopefully one of them will involve the United States playing Canada in the gold-medal game.

Now that will be the Super Bowl of mixed zones.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 16:33

To borrow a phrase from Al Bundy, the Olympics are no time for regrets. That’s what anniversaries are for.

(Apologies, of course, to my beautiful wife.)

“Citius, Altius, Fortius” is the Olympic motto for Faster, Stronger, Higher. In this era of instant gratification and intense media scrutiny, some skeptics would have you believe a better Olympic motto would be “woulda, coulda, shoulda.”

And that’s too bad because they’re missing a good game.

My daughter Jessica and I were talking about this as we enjoyed a late night stroll through the depressed and deserted streets of Vancouver after the United States had beaten Canada at its own game earlier in the day.

Jessica felt sorry for the Canadian athletes and the unbelievable pressure they were feeling because of their “Own the Podium” program and the money the government put in place to help local athletes achieve Olympic success.

A couple of days earlier she saw Canadian skeleton racer Mellisa Hollingsworth break down and cry on national television, apologizing for shaming her country. She finished fifth, less than a second from gold and the blink of an eye from the podium.

“I feel like I’ve let my entire country down,” a tearful Hollingsworth said afterward.

If I was a Canadian, I would seek her out and say that there’s no apology necessary. You ran a great race, eclipsed a personal best time. Her only crime was taking one turn a little too wide, which cost her a split second of time.

One little slip and your dream of Olympic glory goes up in smoke. That’s the nature of sport. Only one athlete or one team can reach the top of the podium. That’s out of how many athletes who are competing here? That doesn't take into account the hundreds and thousands of athletes who didn't make the cut to come here.

The fact that there is only one winner doesn't make everyone else losers. For them success can and should be measured in other forms. The time and effort they've put into perfecting their craft. The people who have supported them; the friendships they formed; the goals they reached.

Olympic gold comes to a select few. The Olympic spirit is available to everyone. It's all a matter of enjoying the journey, enjoying the ride.

That’s the message we try to get across to parents and players in youth hockey. Some people get so wrapped up in winning the next tournament, making the next AAA team, reaching the next level, that they lose sight of the moment.

I think about that every time I go to a USA Hockey National Championship tournament. Over the course of five days you see the best players and teams from around the country. You see great goals and amazing saves. You witness wonderful displays of athleticism and moments of true sportsmanship. The only thing missing are smiles in the lobby of the rink.

I always toy with the idea of approaching a hockey dad who looks like the veins in his forehead are about to explode and ask him if things are really as bad as they appear. Your child is healthy, athletically fit, and is obviously a pretty good hockey player. They are making new friends and creating lasting memories. They are learning valuable lessons about sportsmanship and teamwork. And let’s be honest, playing at this level of youth hockey isn’t cheap so there’s a pretty good chance that you’re doing fairly well from a financial standpoint.

Let’s face it. The chances of a youth hockey player reaching this level are about as slim as me getting invited to the swankiest parties in Vancouver. There’s a pretty good chance it’s not going to happen, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Hopefully that thought resonates with readers better than it did with the bouncers at the exclusive Budweiser party. 

So bigger, faster, farther is not about becoming an Olympic champion in skeleton racing or a National champion in youth hockey. It’s about doing your best, working hard to improve every day in whatever endeavor you chose.

Most importantly, it’s about enjoying the journey you take to get there. Because one day soon you’ll blink and it will be over. That doesn’t mean there’s not a certain amount of disappointment in not succeeding.

There are always things we regret when we look back at our Olympic experiences. The shot that sails over the crossbar. The triple axel that isn’t landed. The turn on the slopes we took a little too wide. The free buffet we missed at the media centre.

The one thing we shouldn’t regret is that we didn’t enjoy the journey and cherish the wonderful memories we gathered along the way.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - 22:12

Monday was a beautiful day in downtown Vancouver. The birds were singing, the sun was shining and the temperatures were hovering in the mid-50s.

Still, there was a dark cloud hanging over the city, and all of Canada for that matter.

Those pesky Americans, the team that has flown under the radar for most of the tournament, had its coming out party in a 5-3 shocker over the mighty Canadians.

The loss sent Canada into the qualification bracket and the whole country into a deep funk. The streets of Vancouver, which hours earlier rocked in raucous celebration, were now eerily silent.

“It was almost like we shut down the city that night,” said U.S. forward Patrick Kane.

It was a far cry from the street scene 24 hours earlier. The Royal Mounted Police ordered liquor stores to close at 7 p.m., in an attempt to raise the collective sobriety level on the city streets. There was talk of doing it again on Sunday until the Americans provided their own 12-step program to cut back on drinking.

It was an odd feeling to walk through Robson Square without being bounced like a pinball. Even the famous zip line couldn’t raise the spirits of the downtrodden fans. The once seven-hour wait was cut down to mere minutes. Who feels like soaring like an eagle after the home team lays an egg?

It didn’t get any better with dawn’s first light. People walked around with a bad case of the Monday morning blues, looking like someone had just shot their dog.

U.S. General Manager Brian Burke will be the first to tell you, that dog may be hurting, but it sure ain’t dead. There is too much pride and star power for this team to go down without a fight. Of course their road to gold just got a lot bumpier.

Canadian fans have been pretty good sports about their cousins to the south coming up here and beating them at their own game, as they love to call it up here.

The Canadian hockey ego has been knocked down a peg or two, but as anyone who watched Canada play at this year's World Junior Championship in Saskatoon, you can never count them out.

That’s what the fans who watched the game at Yaggers Pub pointed out. They were the first to give credit where credit is due, and directed their anger at their goalie Martin Brodeur.

Well, the people have spoken and the Canadian hockey leadership has listened. They made the switch to local goaltending hero Roberto Luongo. No sooner had word slipped out that Bobby Loo, as they call him up here, would be back in goal that the streets were filled with people sporting Luongo jerseys.

Even Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson made sure he was seen wearing one. This is no time to support Brodeur if you entertain thoughts of reelection.

As anyone knows, Canadians are a hearty bunch. They weren’t crying in their beer for long. They shook off the sting of losing, cheered mightily for their heroes against Germany and got ready to face off against Russia in a matchup that many felt would be in the gold-medal game.

A loss tomorrow would really send the country into a long mourning period and bring the Vancouver Games to a grinding halt.

Sunday, February 21, 2010 - 14:46

What is three blocks long, has 10,000 eyes and more dollars than sense?

It’s the line that snakes up, down and around Seymour Street, home of the Hudson Bay Company and the Olympic Super Store.

The only thing “super” about this store is the line of Olympic fans waiting to get inside. Seriously, they do have some very nice stuff, and judging from the prices, they are pretty proud of them. But that’s not stopping fans from standing and spending. Cash registers are ringing all around town as local businesses are cashing in on Olympic fever. Welcome to Vancouver, B.C., where the B.C. stands for “Bring Cash.”

The Hudson Bay Company estimates that 15,000 people are passing through the Olympic store every day. That number is likely to rise as the store will be open around the clock, just in case you get the urge to buy a stuffed Quatchi doll at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Two days ago I shot over there with the family to check things out. We had heard that the lines were crazy, but figured that getting there when the doors opened would be a safe bet. Yeah, right. We walked right in the front door, follow the signs and run smack dab into a barricade. The HBC security guard got a pretty good chuckle over the stupid Americans who thought they were going to just wander in with all their red, white and blue and start grabbing things off the rack.

I felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he goes to Higbee’s Department Store to hit up Santa for an official Red Ryder BB gun. “No kid, the line ends here, it starts back there.”

“Back there” in our case was three city blocks away.

Normally I steer clear of stores, shops, malls, kiosks, flea markets and what have you. But with requests pouring from as far away as Maine for a pair of those damn red mittens I was left with little choice but to join the insanity.

Every Olympics has its “It” item. In Salt Lake City it was those Roots berets. This time around it’s these little red mittens with the Olympic rings on one side and the Canadian maple leaf sewn into the palm.

Hudson Bay was planning to sell about one million pairs of mittens before and during the Games. At last count they’re closing in on three million pairs, and could probably sell a million more. They placed a long-distance call to China to whip up another million pairs or so.

Thinking I’ll beat the rush, I get up the next morning at 6 o’clock, grab some Tim Horton’s coffee, the morning paper, my iPod and set out on my shopping excursion. The line was fairly reasonable at that ungodly hour, only a half a block long. Of course I got behind two people who feel the need to recite their shopping list.

“I need a hoodie for Aunt Martha, a polo for Uncle Frank and toques for the twins.” Just another reason why the iPod is the greatest invention ever made.

By the time the doors open at 9 a.m., Seymour Street is a mass of people as the line snakes up and down the block. As we slowly make our way inside, the man behind me, who seemed perfectly normal just 10 minutes earlier, is riding my heels and breathing down my neck.

Just inside the front door I find the Holy Grail, an entire display of mittens in all their Olympic redness. Of course they are all children’s sizes. All the adult sizes have been sold out for days. You’re welcome to go to the store in neighboring Richmond and stand in line there.

The only thing more absurd than spending two hours in a line to shop are the prices once you get inside. I know that the Olympic spirit doesn’t come cheap but this is over the top.

Still, not wanting the morning to be a total waste of time, I buy a couple pairs of children’s mittens and a $25 stuffed animal.

Five minutes of shopping bliss later, I’m back outside, smugly walking past the line of potential shoppers with hours of waiting ahead of them, and set off looking for another line to stand in.

Friday, February 19, 2010 - 16:55

I managed to pull off what I’m calling the biggest trade this great city has seen since Brian Burke managed to get both of the Sedin twins in the 1999 NHL Draft.

Shaun White can have his Olympic gold medal. I made my own score of top-of-the-podium proportions yesterday.

I traded a USA Hockey Olympic pin for, get this, a Grateful Dead pin produced by the San Francisco Fire Department’s Haight Street division.

I’ll pause a moment to give everyone ample opportunity to collectively say “whoop-di-doo,” but for me this is a bigger deal than a Canadian Zamboni driver finding a Loonie buried at center ice, only a lot rarer.

I know what people will say: what does the Grateful Dead have to do with the Olympics? Other than the fact that they played the Dead’s “I Need A Miracle” while showing highlights of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team on the Jumbotron at Hockey Canada Place, not much.

The point is, that’s the cool thing about pin collecting. Beauty, and perceived value, is in the eye of the beholder. For some it’s all about the joy of collecting. For others, it’s all about the buck.

I’ve run into both kinds on the streets of Vancouver. My trading partner yesterday was a woman named Margie from Missouri. Bad hip and all, she packs up her pins every morning and makes the commute into the city to set up shop at the corner of Burrard and Cordova to trade pins. For her, it’s all about the people she meets, the stories they share and the thrill of the deal. She has been to both summer and winter Olympics, but has never seen an event. Still, she has enough Olympic spirit to fill a room.

Then there’s the wheeler-dealer who took time off from his used car business to trade me a St. Patrick’s Day Olympic pin. I offered up a USA Hockey pin, which he took after huddling with a fellow pinhead. After launching into a lengthy soliloquy about the rarity of this St. Paddy’s pin, he demanded two USA Hockey pins for trade. He said they had a book value of half the St. Paddy’s pin.

That part I just don’t get. How does a pin that is making its debut on the streets of Vancouver already have a book value? Is there a guy sitting in a dark room on the second floor overlooking Robson Square in contact with someone in Geneva who has a line on the futures’ market?

Pins are in many ways the currency of the Olympics. Someone does something nice, you give him or her a pin. You need extra towels in your room, give the maid a pin. All the doormen at my hotel are sporting USA Hockey pins, but only after they swore their allegiance to the red, white and blue.

It’s amazing what you can get some people to do for an Olympic pin. There’s a story in USA Hockey lore that says one experienced international traveler has even been upgraded to first class on an international flight because he gave the right airline worker a pin.

Like all forms of collecting, value is the in the eye of the beholder. Whether it’s hockey cards, decorative spoons or Olympic pins, it comes down to what floats your boat.

For me it’s my new Grateful Dead pin. And I won’t be trading that one any time soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 23:36

One quirky little fact of life for an Olympic journalist is that if it’s news, it’s usually news to those closest to the action.

Seriously, you’re so busy dealing with the here and now, you often have no clue of what’s going on just down the street. Whether it’s some bozo tossing a trashcan through a storefront window in protest or a whole lot of people having a great time at Robson Square, there are always two sides to every Olympic story.

For some, these Olympics have been wrought with controversy, tragedy and mistakes. For others, they have been a triumphant success.

The newspapers have been piling up outside my hotel room, which I have christened “USA Hockey World Headquarters” by way of a black Sharpie on the front door. The maids weren’t crazy with the move but a few Olympic pins and so far they have been willing to look the other way.

A day after spending 13 hours in hockey heaven, I made the executive decision to take the morning off. I can’t tell you how nice it was to spend the morning munching on Tim Horton’s Timbits, drinking hotel room coffee and reading the news of the day, or news of the week as the case would be.

I had no idea I have missed so much in such a short period of time. It turns out that I’ve been living at the epicenter of so much bad news and didn’t even know it.

Upon further review of the past week’s worth of news, I have come to learn that VANOC is also being blamed for global warming, the current mortgage crisis and the resurgence of Buffy St. Marie’s singing career.

It’s enough to throw the Fourth Estate into fits. And believe me, you look around the main press center and so many of these scribes are fit to be tied. They even ran out of Charmin in the men’s room.

These are the worst Olympics – EVER!

You doubt me. Just ask the British press. They are already proclaiming these Games to be a complete and utter failure. May I remind our former landlords that the Olympic flame has been lit for less than five days?

The local Vancouver press has taken exception to some of the charges leveled by the British press, and one local columnist has responded in kind by reciting a Netherlands' university study that said British men may be quick on the draw, if you catch my drift.

Talk about tit for tat. You criticize our ability to host an Olympic Games, we’ll question your, well …

Some journalists just seem to find fault in everything. To borrow a line from George Bernard Shaw, some people look at the world and ask why; some journalists ask what happened to all the fresh Danish.

But these Games have given critics plenty to write about. Tragedy on the luge track. A malfunctioning cauldron that delayed the lighting of the Olympic torch. And a number of events postponed at Whistler and nearby Cypress Mountain. News flash: VANOC Responsible For Global Warming.

I’ve always found it somewhat ironic that a ski race could be cancelled due to snow. It’s true. I once spent four days at a ski resort in northern Japan waiting for it to stop snowing so a World Cup ski race could be held. I think my editors back in Tokyo thought I was pulling a fast one.

But here, races have been canceled due to too much snow while thousands of standing-room spectator tickets have been stamped null and void because there’s no snow for them to stand on.

There have also been complaints that locals can’t get close enough to the Olympic flame to light their Marlboros, so organizers agreed to move the fence in.

These are my fourth winter Games and I think they’re off to a great start. Jenny Potter is setting the women’s hockey tournament on fire, the U.S. Men’s Team opened with a victory and I have a great Chinese takeout place right next door.

The crowds have been large and enthusiastic, the television coverage has been first-rate and the people all around have been kind and welcoming.

Sure, the Games are not without their issues, but what massive undertaking is? Even Woodstock was not without its share of problems. OK, that's probably not a good example, but you get my drift.

In the end, despite all the problems, the hands of time seem to have a way of brushing aside the blemishes leaving behind only fond memories for everyone involved.

Every athlete that I’ve personally talked to or have listened to on TV has raved about the facilities, the Village and the organization. Ultimately, isn’t that why we’re all here?

If I haven’t said it before, I’m so happy to cover a nice, safe sport like hockey. The biggest issue we’ve had to deal with came yesterday when they ran out of coffee creamer in the press box during the Canada game.

As someone went to get another pitcher, I saw one scribe shake his head in digust as he sipped his cup of black coffee and proclaim, “These are the worst Olympics, ever!”

Did I mention that the coffee is free for media?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - 13:51

It was hailed as the most anticipated hockey practice in the history of the sport.

The Pope could have been spotted partying at Robson Square and it would not have been the top story on many local broadcasts.

Olympic organizers could have sold tickets to yesterday’s Team Canada practice and sold out the 18,000 seat Hockey Canada Place. Of course watching Russia and the United States practice before and after the Canadians would have made the afternoon’s practice agenda worth the price of admission for hockey fans everywhere.

When it comes to over-the-top hockey coverage, the Canadians have set the ceiling pretty darn high. Their passion for the game comes through in everything they do.

Just ask the CTV morning anchor who actually predicted that Norway, Canada’s opening game opponent, would actually score on Canada’s Roberto Luongo? CTV soon cut to a commercial and when they came back on the air there were only two anchors on the set and Albuquerque had a new morning weatherman.

"This is our sport in our country." That’s the tagline you hear all the time on television, in newspapers and from people on the street. They’re very proud of their hockey heritage, and rightly so.

I love the fact that you can turn on Canadian television any time, night or day, and find half a dozen channels broadcasting something to do with hockey. In the States you’re more likely to find a University of Santa Barbara vs. Boise State college basketball contest than the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals on most sportscasts, but that is the world we live in.

I remember checking into my hotel in Montreal on the eve of the World Cup of Hockey in 2004 and watching a two-hour documentary on the history of the hockey stick. And you know what, it was pretty darn interesting, and probably got better ratings than most Stateside sitcoms.

Despite the Americans' success on the international arena in recent tournaments, most Canadians aren’t giving the U.S. teams much of a chance. That’s just fine with USA Hockey’s coaches and management. The underdog role suits us just fine.

With great attention comes great pressure. Hopefully Steve Yzerman has a place in Michigan that he can retreat to if things don’t turn out golden for the Canadian men. The same probably holds true for the Canadian women, who cruised to a 10-1 victory over Switzerland yesterday.

U.S. teams are quite content to go about their business, tossing around well-worn clichés about taking things “one game at a time” and reveling in their role as tournament underdogs. They are more than happy to live life away from the limelight and leave the prime time pressure to their Canadian counterparts.

Monday, February 15, 2010 - 17:16

Sitting on a media bus every day going back and forth between the rink, you develop a certain connection with the people and places you pass along the way.

There's the old Asian man arranging the fruit on the stands outside the produce market. The sweaty people riding stationary bikes in the window of the fitness center one floor above a doughnut shop. The panhandler who patrols the same corner every day, rain or shine. They have all become a part of my Olympic experience.

You come to marvel at all the Canadian flags hanging from apartment balconies, inside first-floor picture windows, outside storefronts and staked up in front yards. There is a real sense of national pride among the people who live here in Vancouver, as well as those who have come from across Canada to take part in the Olympic experience. I've really been impressed by it.

You know what else impresses me about this place? We must pass at least five stores that sell supplies to make homemade wine on our way to the rink. Who knew you could grow so many grapes in western Canada.

One thing I've noticed so far at these Olympics. The buses don't seem to be the germ factories I've dealt with at other Games. Nothing says "Olympics" like sitting on a bus next to some Bulgarian hacking up a lung. Maybe that's because these 66-seat deluxe motor coaches are usually one-tenth full.

It reminds me of Nagano in 1998 when my photographer and I were exiled to Nozawa Onsen to cover the biathlon. We would be the only ones on the bus riding up and back. That is until race day when we would be joined by two Slovaks, a Russian and a Finnish journalist who thought he was on the bus for the figure skating venue. Of course they'd all be sitting in the seat next to me spreading every form of Croatian bird flu.

But I digress.

After watching the U.S. Women make chop suey out of China yesterday, I left the UBC Thunderbird Arena and the beautiful University of British Columbia campus for what was likely the last time.

The U.S. Women still have two games to play here but it's not likely that I'll be there to chronicle their double-digit victories. Due to a scheduling snafu, the U.S. Men's Team plays around the same time as the women so my focus will shift to their games, which will be played at the GM Place.

The arena is actually called the Hockey Canada Place, probably because General Motors wouldn't pony up the cash to keep the naming right for the Games.

Anyway, it will be a nice walk -- 1.5 kilometers -- from my hotel to the rink, so I'll be bidding adieu to the buses, and the 35-minute commutes, which would be considerably shorter, by the way, if our driver wouldn't yield to so many pedestrians in the crosswalks.

Still, it's sad that this chapter in my Olympic experience is coming to an end. I'm going to miss the old neighborhood.

Sunday, February 14, 2010 - 14:00

“You can see a lot just by observing.”

It wouldn't be a bona fide sporting event if I didn't quote Yogi Berra at least once.

I don't know if I should attribute it to my military counter terrorism training, an intense paranoia or my inability to color within the lines, but I like to mix up my daily routine as much as possible. Since I've been here I've been trying to take a different way to work everyday. That way I get to see something new. New streets, new shopfront windows and new panhandlers. The ones that I see outside my hotel are starting to get sick of me, and vice versa.

Adding to my growing list of why the iPod is the greatest invention ever made, I can walk by panhandlers and when they start talking I just point to my ears and act like these little white earphones have been surgically implanted and can't be removed without the help of a medical professional, or Steve Jobs.

Anyway, this is my sixth full day in Vancouver and I think I've taken five different paths from my hotel to the main media center, oops. Partly because of a bad sense of direction and partly because of earlier stated character quirks.

It's actually worked out quite well. Vancouver is a fantastic, vibrant city, especially during these Olympic Games, and I heard a rumor that someday soon it might actually stop raining. When that happens I can only imagine the spectacular panoramic views being masked by the clouds and fog.

One of the pitfalls that comes with covering just one sport at the Olympics is you find yourself taking the same route and following the same routine for the entire 17 days. For me life normally consists of a daily path from the hotel to the media centre to the rink back to the media centre and back to the hotel. If there's a bar or burger joint located along the way, all the better. Then one day you stray off the path by a block or two, find yourself staring at the most beautiful building or amazing sight ever created and wonder, "Wow, when did they put that here?"

Anyway, today I tried a new route, turning right out of my hotel on Alberni Street, turned left on to Thurlow Street and straight down the hill. I ended up running smack dab into the Olympic flame, which happens to be burning bright down on Canada Place.

It was pretty cool to see it up close, despite the chain link fence, glowing in the predawn darkness in all of its Olympic glory. No matter how many times I see it, it still gives me a chill and really drives home the point that I am in fact at the Olympics. I can only imagine how locals feel. Ten years in the making and the Olympics are finally here. Just make sure you stay behind the fence.

To get any closer you have to pass through the International Broadcast Centre, but to do that you'd need special permission from God, or Dick Ebersol of NBC Sports.

That figures. Those damn broadcasters get all the perks.

Saturday, February 13, 2010 - 21:13

You can't swing a dead cat in Vancouver these days without hitting someone wearing a powder blue jacket. That's the official uniform for the 25,000 volunteers who seem to be everywhere in this city, performing a variety of tasks from the mundane to the critical.

The overwhelming majority are incredibly nice and completly competent. Then there are those who stood their posts at or around the BC Place, site of last night's Opening Ceremony.

Despite the presence of 60,000 excited fans and the throng of media who came there to share Vancouver's story with the world, this was Ground Zero for incompetency and indifference. Either that or quite a few of them forgot to read the page in the volunteer handbook that talks about being helpful, courteous and kind.

It seems that when VANOC was issuing these fancy outfits, complete with ski coats, fleece vests, and those cute red mittens that are all the rage around town, several of the volunteer kits were missing one very important element -- a clue.

I never thought I'd say this, but I miss the Japanese method of Olympic volunteerism. You assign one person to one door. It is their responsibility to know where the door is located, where it leads, and who can pass through it. If you need to know anything else, you'll need to talk to their supervisor. Who is, you guessed it, on the other side of the door.

With thousands of media from around the world here to cover Canada's coming out party, you would think it would be a good idea to post a sign or two saying, oh, I don't know, MEDIA ENTRANCE TO THE LEFT or MEDIA THIS WAY. Heck, most would've settled for a sign that said MEDIA NOT WANTED. At least then you would know where you stood.

Instead, we were treated like soccer bags kicked from one curb to another. This blue jacket says go to the end of the next street and take a left. Get there and another blue jack looks at you like you're crazy and tells you to turn around and take a right. At one point I was directed down a secure access road and told to talk to a person standing by a gate. When I got there she looked back down the street at the first person and told me to go ask them. It got to the point where they were pointing at each other.

Even when you found a ray of intelligence in the dark storm clouds of ineptitude, it disappeared before you knew it. In spite of my insistence that I wanted to get inside BC Place, I was taken to the Hockey Canada Place and told to go to Gate 10. Of course the was locked and the eight, count 'em eight people with blue jackets, standing out front didn't know what was up.
 
Luckily, a young lady took pity on me and escorted me to the front entrance of the BC Place and pointed me to the media door. I must be in the right place, I thought, when I saw a guy holding a sign that said MEDIA. I almost hugged him. Of course that love affair was short-lived.

"You need a sticker," he said. But I had a press pass. You need a sticker. But I also have a media ticket. You need a sticker. So where do I get a sticker? I don't know.

Finally an usher took pity on me, grabbed my elbow and escorted me through the media entrance, which was located five feet from where another volunteer disavowed any knowledge of media entrances, media in general, newspapers, television sets, blogs, tweets or smoke signals to relay the news of the day.

I finally get inside, watch the ceremony, a good time was had by all and it was time to leave. So it's back to the "Help Desk," an oxymoron if ever there was one, to find out where to catch a shuttle back to the media centre. They had the "when" covered. The "where" turned out to be a bit of a sticking point.

So back outside, into a steady rain, to find a media shuttle. You had a better chance of finding an elephant in a box of Cracker Jack than finding a sign that would lead you in the right direction let alone a media bus stop. There were plenty of signs for the corporate bigwigs from Visa along with someone giving out directions for NBC employees, friends and family. A media bus? Not on your life.

One blue jacket sends me over a bridge, down a walk way and into an empty parking lot. Another sends me back up over the bridge around the BC Place. When you're talking navigating your way around the biggest blow up building in North America, there is no easy way to get from Point A to Point B. Especially not when you're swimming against the tide of 60,000 Canadian revelers.

Even though I was lost and at the end of my rope as far as patience is concerned, there was something comforting about finding a kindred spirit who is every bit as frustrated and angry as I was. It's a  photographer from some East Coast paper, with a camera bag and two telephoto lenses and monopods, who was jerked around his own cast of characters.

Hoping for strength in numbers, we set off together in search of the bus stop. We eventually found it, one street over, with three empty buses sitting there just begging for riders. To Whistler, of course.

At this point we abandon any hope of ever finding a bus. My traveling companion set off in search of a taxi, while I head in the direction of my hotel, and away from anybody wearing a blue jacket.

Friday, February 12, 2010 - 13:01

I remember a scene from The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy stood at the precipice of the haunted woods reading a sign that read, "I'd turn back if I were you." Dorothy wasn't smart enough to heed the warning, and neither am I.

I was invited to join a press junket hosted by Oakley, a former supporter of USA Hockey Magazine, and thought it would be a good idea to go and see if their future advertising plans included reaching potential customers through the pages of the world's largest hockey magazine. (Insert shameless plug, here.) Little did I know that I would be embarking on an odyssey that would take me to the top of a fog-shrouded mountain in Northern Vancouver and smack-dab into the middle of a scene so bizarre that it would win a gold medal for absurdity.

The Oakley Tents provided an oasis of marketing in the midst of the Canadian mountain.The Oakley Tents provided an oasis of marketing in the midst of the Canadian mountain.

The instructions were pretty clear, take the Seabus (Vancouver's version of a ferry) across to Lonsdale Quay, board a van and head up to Grouse Mountain, where the Today Show is broadcasting during the Olympics. When a suspicious package shut down the Seabus, that was my Dorothy moment to turn around and retreat to the creature comforts of the main press center (I mean centre).

Against my better judgment, I stuck it out and was loaded into a rental van along with a group of Chinese journalists and off we went. I'm in the process of compiling a list to send to Steve Jobs of Apple on why the iPod is the greatest invention ever made, and added another entry when our van driver didn't get the correlation between the dinging bell and his unbuckled his seatbelt.

We finally arrived and were whisked inside a tram for a 10-minute ride up the mountain. On a clear day I can only imagine that the view would be amazing. But today I knew what it feels like to be packed inside an aspirin bottle surrounded by cotton balls.

If the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then the best way to reach a journalist is through his liver. Oakley knows this and had plenty of free wine and beer waiting for us, which was needed to sit through the presentation of various products.

Seriously, Oakley does make great products, but sitting and listening to two PR flaks little skit was a little over the top.

"So John, how does it work?" "Well I'll tell you Russ. It's really quite amazing." "It really is John. I've never seen anything like it." Seriously? You guys have crisscrossed the country doing this schtick several times a day for liquored-up dopes and now you're acting like this is new. It's like "Wow Abbott, I had no idea that Who's on First."

Anyway, you have to admire their passion for the products. Again, they do make really good stuff, including hockey visors. But to ask anybody a specific question about them, you have to talk to the vice president of hockey visors, who wasn't available at that moment. Of course not.

Shawn White shows off his fashion sense.Shawn White shows off his fashion sense.More free beer was the carrot used to get me inside a press conference with several Canadian skiers talking about how much they love their googles but not enough to keep me there. I wandered over to the observation deck to stare out into the foggy night and ponder my escape from Witch, I mean Grouse Mountain. That's when the doors popped open and in walked Shawn White and his entourage.  I was just watching him doing flips and spins on 60 Minutes and here he was, laughing and joking three feet from me. They were up there to take part in a fashion show that would begin in five minutes.

It was all starting to make sense. The beer, the umbrellas, the hot chocolate and s'mores at the front door. They really wanted us to trudge across the soggy snow and into a tent to watch a flippin' fashion show. In the rain, no less. 

As White and the other skiers walked a makeshift stage showing off the latest high fashion eye wear, the lights near their feet gave off an eerie glow as they sat steaming in pools of rain water. I could already picture the headlines in today's Vancouver Sun. "Flying Tomato Fried At Fashion Show."

Morbid curiosity wasn't enough to keep me standing under a tent packed shoulder to shoulder with other journalists sipping hot chocolate. It was time to board the tram for the long ride into the dark, foggy abyss. We finally reached the bottom of the mountain and I found my shuttle driver in the parking lot. We quickly loaded the van for the long ride back into downtown Vancouver, with the seatbelt bell dinging the whole way home.

 

Thursday, February 11, 2010 - 12:34

One of the most obvious differences between the Vancouver Games and the previous Olympics I've covered is just how painless it has been to pass through security at the various venues.

Unlike past Games, gaining access to the main press center, or centre as they like to call it here, or the hockey rink is as simple as flashing my media badge. Then one of the 100 extremely bored but super nice security people will wrestle a colleague for the privilege of scanning the bar code on the front of may pass, and voila, my ugly mug pops up on a laptop screen in all its high resolution glory, and I'm free to enter.

Of course, that can all change tomorrow when the Games begin. Somewhere behind the scenes former CIA agents could be working on plans to conduct full-body cavity searches and detailed background checks. Stranger things have happened.

At the Games in Nagano, Salt Lake or Torino, passing through security was like making your way through Checkpoint Charlie in the 1950s. After standing in a line that rivals the worst airport security area, you would have to empty your pockets, turn on every electronic gizmo and gadget in your bag and answer a few questions like, 'what's your mother's maiden name,' before gathering your belongings.

But before you could be on your way, all those wonderful Olympic pins that you pulled out of your pocket so they wouldn't trigger the metal detectors, would be picked over like candy from a pinata by uniformed policemen and security personnel alike.

I don't know about you but I don't normally make it a habit of refusing requests from cops. I'd always make some joke like, 'hey, remember this when you see me being carted off by a paddy wagon later on,' as I hand each of them a pin.

I was always a few pounds lighter every time I exited a security checkpoint.

Lindsey Vonn was tough to get a clean look at through the wall of media personnel.Lindsey Vonn was tough to get a clean look at through the wall of media personnel.

This morning I was walking into the main press center, I mean centre, with Bruce Bennett, the Godfather of hockey photography, when the security guard stopped him to ask if there was anything in his camera case that he should know about. It was hard to fight the urge to shout out, 'don't forget to tell him about the five pounds of C4 in your case,' but I didn't want to run the risk of watching my best source for great hockey photos being carted off to jail.

Seriously, I don't want to give anyone the wrong idea about Bruce. He's a great guy and a law-abiding citizen, I'm sure. His case was full of nothing but camera bodies, a few lenses, some lights and of course, some Olympic pins.

Which he somehow managed to hold on to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 - 16:22

With so much time spent waiting around for media buses to arrive or depart, the smart journalists use the down time to transcribe notes, write stories, think up interview questions or catch up on sleep that is always in short supply.

Sometimes it's even good to strike up a conversation with someone from another country.

Yesterday, another scheduling snafu with the buses left me with an hour to wait outside the bus stop outside the UBC Thunderbird Arena, where the U.S. Women's Team had just finished practicing.

Standing outside on a warm and sunny winter day with the University of British Columbia baseball team -- that's right, baseball team -- practicing on an adjacent field, I struck up a conversation with a couple of the transportation "supervisors."

That's one thing you notice around here is how everyone associated with the Olympic organizing committee has some sort of official title. Isn't anybody just a regular schmuck who does all the work? That's what I'd want my credential to read -- Official Olympic Schmuck. I definitely have the qualifications for the job.

Before long the line grew and more people joined in on the conversation. That's a great thing about the Olympics -- no conversation seems off limits and the more people who can join in, the better. We had a journalist from Cuba, a technician from Barcelona and a transportation supervisor from Arkansas, who claimed to be good friends with Bill Clinton, all talking about the lack of Olympic spirit in and around Vancouver.

It was interesting to get the locals' take on how the Games are perceived in and around Vancouver. There seems to be an increasing number of people opposed to the Games coming to Vancouver. "The haters" is what the locals call them.

It's hard to know how many of these "haters" there are, but as is usually the case, the vocal minority always seem to be greater in number just because they always seem to find a platform to express their views. And of course, if there are detractors, journalists will surely find them. If there's one thing a journalist on the Olympic beat can sniff out faster than free food, it's controversy.

Still, with cost overruns reaching into the billions, sky-high ticket prices and huge crowds packed in at free events around town, it's hard to totally blame the "haters." But as these locals said, the Olympics are upon us. It's time to shut up and revel in the moment.

My advice to "the haters" is simple. Enjoy the next 17 days. There is nothing in the world quite like the Olympics, especially when they're in your backyard. Besides, you've already paid for the party. You might as well enjoy yourself now, before the bill arrives.

Monday, February 8, 2010 - 23:04

I've only been in Vancouver a few hours and already I feel like I know the city like the back of my hand. That's because our media bus driver cruised up and down most main streets in Vancouver, and a few side streets, more than a few times.

You can't imagine the feeling of helplessness when you cruise past your hotel for the second time. Trying to get my Olympics off to a good start I resisted the overwhelming urge to yell out, "Hey Nimrod, stop the bus!" So I drove around for an extra hour and was rewarded for my patience by being the last media type to be dropped off.

Speaking of patience, USA Hockey's Executive Director Dave Ogrean, who has been to more Olympics than anyone I know, likes to say that the one thing you need to remember to pack when heading off to an Olympics is an extra supply of patience. That's probably the one thing I didn't pack.

Other than a little transportation snafu, everyone here has been so nice. I have never cruised through customs as easily as I did at the Vancouver airport. Of course I've never had an express lane set up solely for the Olympic Family.

Of course the Games haven't started yet. We'll see how things are going as we head into the second week, the weather turns cold and dreary and no Canadian athlete has yet to win a gold medal. We'll see how those smiles are then.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy dealing with all these great volunteers. That is except for a certain directionally-challenged bus driver.

Monday, February 8, 2010 - 22:48

My Vancouver trip is off to a rousing start. After locking myself out of the house at 6:15 this morning, I arrived at the airport and found that my luggage was five pounds overweight. The good news is that now I'm the proud owner of a new carry-on bag. Sure beats paying $150 in extra charges.

Packing for a three-week trip to the Olympics is a little more challenging than a week's vacation in Cancun. While I've already mastered the art of wearing my socks and underwear inside out and backwards to extend their shelf life, all those sweaters, fleeces and sweatshirts take up a lot of room. Not to mention all the snacks I've packed. Do they sell microwavable popcorn north of the border?

The last thing you want to deal with when you're racing off to catch the women's team morning practice is a hotel laundry room. Still, three weeks is a long time, and the last thing you want to do is to smell like the inside of a locker room.

I guess I could have crammed more clothes into a bigger carry-on bag and try to cram it into the overhead like all the other bozos who bring steamer trunks onto the plane and get upset when they won't fit in the overhead.

Turns out all my packing of those extra clothes was all for naught. It's close to 50 degrees up here, and no snow in sight.

I should have just packed like I do for Cancun.

Monday, February 8, 2010 - 12:48

The 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C. are just around the corner and the best hockey players in the world are on their way to duke it out for the gold.

USA Hockey Magazine's Editor-in-Chief Harry Thompson is on his way as well to give you a look beyond the news articles and press releases you'll see everywhere else. Follow Harry on his daily blog as he reaches Vancouver, explores the city, chats with 2010 Olympians and much more.

Don't forget to visit USAHockey.com for game box scores and the latest news on the U.S. Men and Women's Olympic Hockey Teams.

Let the Games begin!

BC Place, site of the opening ceremonies.BC Place, site of the opening ceremonies.

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