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Pens fans: 5 best road trips for fans

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Greetings, hockey fans.
If you’re a Pittsburgh sports fan, you’ll no doubt agree that it’s your birthright to follow your favorite sports teams on the road.
This has become more of a Steelers fan thing over the years, but the more I cover the Penguins, the more I see fans in airports and opposing arenas, following the Penguins around North America.
Given that I’ve been to pretty much every road venue, I thought I’d share a list of the top five places to visit. Since one of the two cities I haven’t visited is Winnipeg – Nashville is the other – I won’t include it on the list, much to the chagrin of a certain columnist at The Trib.
Without any further ado, here’s the list.

1. Montreal

This was a pretty easy decision. If you’ve never been to Montreal, think of New Orleans, only cleaner and obsessed with hockey. The arena experience is wonderful and really, the whole city and is simply reeking of awesomeness.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Montreal. It’s Canada’s version of Las Vegas and New Orleans. If you can’t have a good time here, then you can’t have a good time anywhere.
And did I mention the arena experience? It’s my favorite building in the league, for a lot of reasons. The Montreal fans are as passionate as they come. There is never a dull moment, and even though the Bell Centre isn’t the Montreal Forum, you can still sense the hockey history by attending a home Canadiens game.
If you’re a hockey fan, you have to come here for a game once in your life. Trust me.
(Note: If you fly here, don’t get a rental car. Cabs will take you everywhere you need. You don’t want to drive here. The French are pretty cool, but they drive way too fast.)

2. Tampa

Just because you love hockey doesn’t mean you can’t love warm weather, right?
I’m a huge Tampa fan. Logistically speaking, it’s easy to get there from Pittsburgh – it’s a really inexpensive direct flight – and there are lots of quality, reasonably priced hotels around the arena, around the beach and around nice shopping districts.
Good combination, right?
Tampa is also very underrated on the fun scale. It’s a good party town, if that’s your preference.
If you’re more the relaxed type who likes peace and quiet, Tampa will meet your needs as well. There are some really nice Gulf beaches within a 20-minute drive from Tampa’s building.
And, believe it or not, the Tampa faithful actually follow the Lightning pretty well. It’s not Montreal in terms of in-game atmosphere. But it’s not Long Island or Florida, either.
Totally recommended.

3. Carolina

I’m a huge Raleigh fan, and you should be too.
You can get to North Carolina easily via a flight or a drive, and once you’re there, you’re guaranteed to enjoy yourself.
People in this area are apparently predisposed to be friendly. Seriously, I’ve covered close to 10 games in Raleigh, and I’ve never had a bad experience with anyone. From the Hurricanes staff to their fans to the general citizens of Raleigh, these are just pleasant people to be around.
And did I mention the food? If you like BBQ dishes of any kind, you’re going to be really, really happy in Raleigh. Also, if you’re a Pittsburgh fan, you’ll be welcomed in Raleigh, which boasts a remarkably high population of Western Pennsylvania natives. You just can’t go wrong here.
Also, it’s extremely inexpensive. Flights to Raleigh, rental cars, hotels and restaurants here are all cheaper than the normal American city.

4. New York

There are a lot of good reasons to visit New York City, and seeing the Penguins and Rangers play at Madison Square Garden is one of them.
I won’t get into the city itself. I look at NYC as a place I wouldn’t really want to live, but a place that is wonderful to visit a couple of times a year. You need to see Manhattan if you never have.
But really, this is all about the arena experience. It’s Madison Square Garden. I still remember getting goose bumps the first time I walked into the place. You really can feel the history when you’re there.
Watching a game from MSG has a theatrical feel that’s difficult to describe, but if you’ve been there, you understand.
It’s a mere six-hour drive, should you choose to avoid the expensive New York airfare. It’s not the cheapest city or the cheapest ticket, but it’s worth it, should you get the opportunity.

5. Calgary

Curveball, right? You were expecting Vancouver, or Chicago, or Boston, or Toronto, right?
Well, I’m making a pitch for Calgary.
Much like with Raleigh, Calgary is an unbelievably friendly place. Downtown Calgary actually reminds me of Pittsburgh a little bit, in that there are plenty of outstanding restaurants and bars, and that everything is within reasonable walking distance.
Also, the Saddledome might be outdated, but it’s a totally cool place. I loved it. They shoot flames when the Flames score, and things of that nature.
Strongly recommended, though you probably don’t venture to Alberta often. But it needed to be mentioned that this is a cool place.

Honorable mentions

Toronto is a great hockey town, and I love the ACC. Plus, it’s only a five-hour drive from Pittsburgh. It’s not that I don’t enjoy certain things about Toronto, and the Hockey Hall of Fame is a must-visit. But, ticket prices there are obnoxious, way higher than anywhere else. The atmosphere stinks, which isn’t a coincidence. And driving around Toronto will give you some gray hair.

Vancouver is very beautiful, but it’s a bizarre place. They almost burned the city down, after all. Cool place, but I find it a little overrated.

Boston is a great American city, so you can’t go wrong if you visit here. I’m not a huge fan of the building.

Chicago is also a fine town, one many of you will enjoy when the Penguins head outdoors in March.

Anaheim gets a mention because I like the building and you can walk to Disneyland from there. And, Ben Lovejoy plays there.

The 5 places to avoid

1. Detroit

I’m not picking on Detroit. In fact, I think what has happened there in the past decade is tragic. It was a great American city, and I hope it will be again. But frankly, it’s not a comfortable city to visit and the Joe Louis Arena is a complete dump.

2. New Jersey

Well, it’s close to New York City. So there’s that.

3. Long Island

Well, it’s close to New York City, so there’s that.

4. Philadelphia

If you want to be treated poorly, knock yourself out.

5. Edmonton

As much as I love Calgary, I find Edmonton to be a terribly dull place.

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