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USRT – heading on that Europe sports trip

Nothing like lighting up a few flares in the stands after a big goal

Nothing like lighting up a few flares in the stands after a big goal

If there was ever a good a time to get away from the Buffalo Sabres and the Puck Stop desk here at Artvoice, it would be now.

Back in 2011, we had the priceless opportunity to travel to Europe to cover the Buffalo Sabres as they opened their regular season in Berlin and Helsinki. We did the exhibition game in Mannheim, Germany, where we got to make all sorts of new friends, and a few months later, we got to welcome them here in Buffalo. The trips to Berlin and Helsinki gave us an opportunity to reconnect with our ethnic heritages (Andrew – German; Peter – Finnish). The games were epic, the crowds different than what we got to experience here in our neck of the woods. We rode the high speed rails, clean, efficient, comfortable and always on time. We got to take in not one but two Bundesliga soccer matches, in Hannover and Buffalo’s sister city of Dortmund. Both were terrific experiences.

On our final day in 2011, after a whirlwind day of sightseeing in Berlin which took us to Checkpoint Charlie, Olympic Stadium, the Reichstag, the Kurfurstendamm and the Berliner Dom, we wrapped it all up at a sports bistro in the city, where lo and behold, the Bills-Eagles game was on live on all the TV sets in the house! We reflected on an amazing 10 day journey, and we said…”we gotta do this again.”

That time is upon us. In mid December, we pulled out sports schedules, assessed the frequent flier points in our accounts, checked vacation and time off schedules at work, and cobbled together an 11 day journey through Europe. This time it will be three countries. We leave tomorrow for Munich, Germany, and this weekend will take in a hockey game of their team, EHC Red Bull München, and then a soccer match featuring their powerhouse team Bayern München at the glitzy Allianz Arena.

Hard to imagine here in Buffalo, but over in Mannheim, Hecht is an icon and local hero

Hard to imagine here in Buffalo, but over Mannheim, Hecht is an icon and local hero

Our Adler Mannheim peeps are already expecting us at SAP Arena in Mannheim on Sunday as we do a return visit. Interestingly, both hometown hero Jochen Hecht and Sabres captain Jason Pominville played for the Adler during the NHL lockout. Had the NHL season been cancelled, we were planning an extensive media visit and interview and you’d be reading Pommer’s story from Germany in next week’s Puck Stop. But gratefully (or maybe not so much) the guys are back here in the USA, and we can just hang out and enjoy a game with friends.

Next we shoot down to Berne, the capital of Switzerland. We’ve been told that Post Finance Arena, home of SC Berne in the Swiss League, is the place to experience hockey in that country. Oh yeah, the locals there heard about the USRT and are extending game tickets, a tour and the VIP welcome.

Two days in Switzerland and its us heading north. Overnighting in Köln, home of Germany’s most famous cathedral, and reconnecting with the Kulyk relatives outside of Dortmund. The next day, it’s the Rail Eurostar through the Chunnel, over to the United Kingdom and on to Manchester. One of the biggest supporters of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres living in England, our good friend Chris Boyes, has lined up a rugby match in St Helens, an English Premier League soccer match in Stoke City, and a hockey game in Coventry.

So there you have it – seven games in three sports in three countries.

Many times people ask us about sports travel, and the questions usually revolve around what are the neatest stadiums, who has the hottest cheerleaders, where does one find the best food. The bricks and mortar are fine, the game day experiences can be extraordinary, but the best part about doing what we do has to do with all the strong friendships and fellowships that are built around these trips.

To give you an example, last year in Berlin we met a guy named Peter Dowling, a member of the US Army then stationed in Korea and on leave. He is a friend of WGR Radio sports announcer Pat Malacaro, who was also on that Europe trip. We all got together, became fast friends and had a great time together during our stay in Berlin. Fast forward to the present – Dowling is still in the military now stationed in Vilsack, Germany about 130 miles from Munich. When he saw we were coming, he and his buddy secured tickets to Saturday’s soccer match. They are coming down to Allianz Arena just to hang out with us.

So city hopping by railroad, sightseeing and architecture, seven sporting events, hanging out with some special people. It should be a great time. We will post updates and send over tweets from time to time. Please follow along. We’ll be back in the B-lo on March 4. By then the Sabres will have righted their ship, no?

follow Peter Farrell on Twitter @pfarrellUSRT
follow Andrew Kulyk on Twitter @akulykUSRT