The email began simply enough, “We did it.” My new friends, Zoltan Barthos (far right) and Attila Szamlas (center) are Hungarian sports fans who had a goal. The pair wanted to set a Guinness World Record for witnessing the most NHL hockey games in 31 days.
To set the world record, they had to dodge a blizzard, take a 90 minute Uber ride from Baltimore to Philadelphia, add one more game on a moments notice, and they slept at the scene of a double homicide in Dallas. Really. They visited all 31 arenas. It took 24 plane rides, a few road trips, and a few train rides.
They’re normal guys who fell in love with hockey. Due to the time difference, they often watch in wee hours of the morning or they get to watch west coast hockey with breakfast. Fleury and eggs? They attempted to contact NHL teams on their own, but you can imagine that didn’t go well until they turned to their friend–a sports media professional in Hungary. A few phone calls later, the idea was ahead full steam.
Barthos and Szalmas packed light for the journey. They lived out of one duffle bag each for nearly five weeks, despite a few wicked weather changes.
“It was hard to handle,” wrote Barthos. “Some days it was (68 degrees), other days it was (5 degrees). And we were always in a different time zone.”
The record attempt began on Feb. 19 in Nashville and concluded March 21 in Buffalo, though they did make a point to see the Penguins as much as possible. They are Crosby fans and caught the Penguins five times. But, the marathon trip was not without harrowing incidents.
“A night before we got to Dallas, our Airbnb host called us to say we should cancel the rooms. A double murder happened in the building,” said Barthos. “But we decided to go ahead. So we were sleeping in the crime scene!”
Crazy. To control expenses over the past couple Penguins runs, I’ve stayed in a couple sketchy places including a little motel in Ottawa which kept their landscaping equipment inside the attached Chinese restaurant and a basement apartment in Washington D.C. which smelled like a wet dog and had too many mirrors in too many uncomfortable positions. I also went to the wrong airport in San Jose.
I’ve not yet had to dodge police tape to go to bed.
On March 17, our heroes received an email from Guinness. During their record attempt, someone else beat them to it (Who the hell else thougth of this?!). The new record was 31 games in 31 days but Barthos and Szamlas came to North America to set a world record, not tie one. They needed to act fast.
Fate and luck stepped in.
When they received the email, the pair were in Buffalo for a day game. Fortunately, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a home game that night. So, immediately after they witnessed the Sabres beat the Chicago Blackhawks, they raced to Toronto for a Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens tilt.
Not a bad rivalry game to squeeze into a jampacked month. “We arrived 40 minutes before faceoff,” the gregarious Barthos beamed.
Mother Nature almost had her say, as well.
On March 7, they were caught in Columbus. They were headed to Philadephia for the Penguins-Flyers game but the snow grounded all flights. In desperation, they jumped on a flight to Charlotte. Then one to Baltimore to take a train into Philadelphia.
These guys are good. But when the arrived in Baltimore, all of the trains were canceled, too.
So, they piled into an Uber from Baltimore to Philadelphia. That’s about a $200 car ride at non-peak times if you can find a driver crazy enough to do it. They found an UberX driver willing to brave the weather on the dangerous journey.
“As we arrived in Philadelphia, everything was closed. So, we got into the Philadelphia Fire Department building. They showed us the fire trucks and how they worked,” Barthos said. “Really cool guys. It was a crazy idea but it worked!”
Trip of a Lifetime
Along the 31 day journey, they kicked field goals at Ford Field in Detroit, courtesy of the Detroit Lions and took in the sites of every city. On Feb. 24, they completed a rare hat trick. They caught a spring training game in Arizona, the Arizona Coyotes game, then the Phoenix Suns game. MLB-NHL-NBA.
They also rolled into the Beach Volleyball World Series in Miami and Speedskating Shorttrack World Championship in Montreal.
And you thought you were a sports addict?
I met the guys in the press box on March 5. Like most teams, the Penguins welcomed them. The NHL PR department also got involved to ensure the Hungarian dynamic duo could complete the record-setting feat. While I scribbled notes and furiously wrote, Barthos wanted to talk.
I was curious how a couple of fans with broken English found their way into the press box and sat beside me. Though it didn’t take long before I was in full blown conversation with the guys and giving restaurant recommendations in many cities around the league and telling tales of Sidney Crosby.
The guys definitely enjoyed their trip.
“There was also more sightseeing. We maybe slept five hours per night,” Barthos joked.
But, they made it. All 31 arenas. 32 games in 31 days and now they’re resting back home in Hungary.
Godspeed Gentlemen. Perhaps next year you can do 33. The Primanti’s is on me.
Here is Barthos’ Instagram feed if you’re so inclined to follow the trip!