I told the border agent when I arrived in Canada I was there to cover the Bruins in the NHL playoffs. I had letters from the league and the Globe, and would comply with a mandatory 14-day quarantine before actually seeing any real live hockey.
He told me he hoped I’d have a short stay. Then he returned my passport and let me in.
I had no idea how long I’d be there.
If the Bruins advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, the Globe wanted a reporter in the arena, so I needed to be in position ahead of that while the second round played out in Toronto. Here’s a diary from a trip to Edmonton to cover a hockey team that never showed up.
Day 1: Monday, Aug. 24
When you’re on the road 100-plus nights a year covering a sport, the pre-airport routine becomes reflex. Grab the suitcase. Backpack. Shower kit. Lay out the clothes.
This was a little more involved.
I was packing for 10 days ... or perhaps six weeks. My hotel reservation ran from Aug. 23 to Oct. 4. If the Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup Final, I might be seeing snow.
I wound up with 120 pounds of luggage, in two checked suitcases and two carry-ons, ready to work and play in three seasons.
I was also traveling for the first time in the COVID-19 era. I packed so much hand sanitizer that back in April, I would have been social-media-shamed for hoarding.
The airlines, meanwhile, have become pandemic pros.
Everyone on my Air Canada flights had a row to themselves. A flight attendant delivered a plastic bag with pretzels, a water bottle, headphones, white rubber gloves, a backup mask, cleaning wipes and a fun-size hand sanitizer bottle, plus a note from Canada’s Chief Medical Officer that we’re all in this together.
All of us, even reporters who cover the Bruins and Customs officers who cheer for the Maple Leafs.
Day 2: Tuesday, Aug. 25
My first day in Edmonton, I was in a suite on the eighth floor of the Courtyard Downtown. The view was lovely, overlooking the sun-splashed parks and trails of the North Saskatchewan River Valley. Everyone I had encountered so far had been extremely pleasant, from the front desk staff to the Uber driver who spent most of the 30-minute airport ride ranting about President Trump.
I was happy to be there. But I had regrets once I learned the windows didn’t open.
Before packing, I thought about renting an Airbnb in the boonies. If I had to quarantine in place once entering the country, did I have to go all the way to Edmonton at all? I could have rented a place by the lake somewhere in, say, Quebec. At least I could sit outside.
Oh well. Next pandemic, I’ll be smarter.
Day 3: Wednesday, Aug. 26
Everything I ate and drank on the trip, whether prepared or in grocery form, would have to be delivered. A Canadian app, Skip the Dishes, fed me the entire time.
All it took was a few taps on my phone and a 20-minute wait.
I had savory omelettes, Tex-Mex burritos, spectacular Indian food, vegan pan-asian, and a turmeric latte.
If you told 10-year-old me I would one day be staying in a well-stocked hotel suite, getting paid to write about hockey, and eating whatever I wanted, I’d wonder if I was the star of “Home Alone.”
I was feeling like Kevin McCallister. Then a TV reporter from Vancouver, in town to cover the Canucks, dropped a few cans of Albertan craft beer at the front desk.
I could get used to this.
Day 4: Thursday, Aug. 27
It sure would be nice to take one, perhaps even two, breaths of fresh summertime air.
I’m looking out my window at the trails across the street. There’s a languorous river, surrounded by trees … and barely anyone trekking around. Would anyone let a dumb American step outside for a minute?
My Canadian hockey writer friends were enjoying this, perhaps more than they let on.
“It would be quite the story if you got deported,” one of them suggested.
An American hockey writer told me he made the mistake of posting a picture with a friend he ran into at his Edmonton place of quarantine. The NHL let him know the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were aware.
“These people,” he said, “don’t [fool] around.”
The possible penalties for a quarantine breach: six months in jail and a $750,000 fine. That works out to $575,000 US.
I doubt the Globe would let me expense it.
Day 5: Friday, Aug. 28
I watched the Mr. Rogers biopic, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” on the connection from Toronto to Edmonton. It was wonderful. Tom Hanks was great, as usual. It made me tear up.
Every time something arrives at my door — water, food, a garbage bag filled with hotel towels and toiletries — I sing-song say to myself, “Speedy Delivery,” in a Mr. McFeely voice.
I’m starting to wonder if I’m cracking, a little bit.
Day 6: Saturday, Aug. 29
At least I can work out.
I am not allowed to use the hotel gym, but the hotel staff, bless them forever, have been delivering dumbbells on a luggage cart and then sanitizing them after I use them. They will be tipped with gratitude.
Those weights, plus my ab ball, exercise bands, and collapsible foam roller, let me get in a good sweat daily. I have enough space to jog between the bedroom and the living room.
Oh, man, I’m feeling good. I could do this for another couple weeks, no problem.
Day 7: Sunday, Aug. 30
On second thought, I might not have to.
The Bruins haven’t won a game since I arrived here, and are down, 3-1, in the Lightning series. If they don’t rally, I’m heading home.
That means no more Sportsnet, the NHL rights-holder up here.
Canadian hockey coverage is generally smarter and more in-depth than what we get in the US. In a country of all hockey, all the time, the analysts and commentators are top-notch. They bring understated humor and sharp takes, and lack the buffoonery we sometimes see in the States.
It’s a refreshing change.
Day 8: Monday, Aug. 31
The Bruins lose. The season is done. The next available flight is Wednesday.
I’ve already started packing.