When we boarded the charter flight, we had no idea where we were going.
The destination was supposed to be Denver for UND's first-round playoff series against the Pioneers. But a blizzard was sweeping through the Mile High City and the airport was shut down.
We sat and waited for news. The flight attendants told us the pilots were going to drop us off in either Grand Junction, Colo., or Albuquerque, N.M.
My first thought was that I hope we're going to New Mexico. A story saying the UND hockey team is in New Mexico will register with readers far more than a story saying Grand Junction. My second thought was that if we land in New Mexico, I get to check off another state on my list.
Fortunately, our destination was Albuquerque.
After we landed, I filed a story, rented a car to drive to Denver, then tackled the next most important thing: Finding a great place to eat in New Mexico (more on that later).
Ever since 2012, I have compiled my favorite restaurants and/or bars that I visited that season for my all-dining team (a nod to the numerous All-American and all-conference hockey teams that are named at the end of the year).
Anything can end up on it from a five-star restaurant to a corner hot dog stand.
Not everyone agrees with my choices, as you'll see on my hilarious credential from Miami this season.
Regardless, it's time for the seventh-annual all-dining team:
Tomasita's, Santa Fe, N.M.: Once we landed in New Mexico, I texted former Herald sports and news designer Steph Proffer, who came to us from the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper. I asked her where to eat in New Mexico. She said Tomasita's in Santa Fe. I asked what to order. She said the sopaipillas. So, I did, and it was one of the best meals I had all year. The service was amazing, too. Our waiter answered each of my million questions about what we were eating and how it was made.
Patterson's Cafe, Oxford, Ohio: Considering the small size of the city, Oxford sure has a lot of great eating spots that have landed on the all-dining team over the years. There's a new one this year in Patterson's Cafe. I'm not a huge breakfast person, but this is a must for breakfast eaters in Oxford.
Firehouse Southern Style BBQ, Colorado Springs, Colo.: When you think of barbeque, you think Kansas City or Texas, not Colorado Springs. But Firehouse Southern Style BBQ is the second barbeque joint in Springs to make the all-dining team (joining Front Range Barbeque). Firehouse is located way off the beaten path in the back of a gas station. They let me combine two different orders into one and both were so good.
Secret Pizza, Las Vegas: If you don't know where it's located, you'll never find it. Thankfully, I was with Jake Brandt, who met up with me at Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, pointed to an unmarked hallway and walked down it with me. At the end of this random hallway, there was this small, hidden pizza-by-the-slice place. How can you stay in business when nobody knows where your business is located? The only way is that it has to be great. And it was great.
Yaletown Brewing Company, Vancouver, B.C.: One of the reasons it has taken me so long to post the all-dining team is because I wanted to see if there might be a candidate at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver. Sure enough, Yaletown Brewing Company hit the spot. Not only was it a perfect place to sit outdoors and eat -- the weather was perfect every day in Vancouver, not too hot or cool -- the food was outstanding. Everyone in our group ate something different and everyone loved their meals. A great place in a great neighborhood.
Anchor Bar, Buffalo, N.Y.: When you go to Buffalo, you obviously need to try the wings. Anchor Bar takes credit as being the founder of buffalo wings, so, yes, it can be a tourist trap. Locals avoid it. But while locals suggested other places, I still thought Anchor Bar was my favorite wings place.
Trinity Brewing, Colorado Springs: The menu isn't huge at this brewery in Colorado Springs, but it didn't need to be. The food was great. The atmosphere was excellent. If you're a beer drinker, there are a lot of options. Specialties include burgers, custom-made mac-and-cheese and numerous vegan options.
Oklahoma Joe's, Omaha, Neb.: Oklahoma Joe's is a legendary Kansas City BBQ joint that originated in a gas station. It's a must-stop every time I'm in Kansas City. Now, there's one in Aksarben Village just blocks away from Baxter Arena. When I saw that en route to my hotel, I dropped off my bags and immediately went there. While there are numerous fantastic food places in Aksarben Village, put this one on your list if you're into barbeque. The burnt ends are a must.
Bilbo's Pizza, Kalamazoo, Mich.: Although Bilbo's is most famous for its deep dish pizza, I tried the thin crust and thought it was terrific. I would recommend it. UND coach Brad Berry also recommends Bilbo's. It's his favorite pizza place from his playing days with the Kalamazoo K-Wings.
Skyline Chili, Oxford: Oh wow, how good does this look? I only went to the most polarizing restaurant in the NCHC twice on this trip to Oxford, and it was amazing both times. This is the three-way (noodles, chili sauce, cheese). A four-way includes onions or beans. A five-way includes both onions and beans.
Gabriel's Gate, Buffalo: Gabriel's Gate was another outstanding wings place in Buffalo. Located on Allen Street in Allentown in a house-like building, the atmosphere here was awesome. The wings were great, too.
Chili's, Colorado Springs: Chili's still has the best chips and salsa around. And this time, I got to enjoy them while watching Rafael Nadal play against Nick Kyrgios in a three-set match on TV. Does life get much better than that?
The 1-Up Arcade Bar, Denver: I know arcade bars are all the rage in larger cities, but this was the best one I've been to so far. Tons of games. Lots of TVs. A pretty good selection of bar food to eat. Fun place.
Sammy's Pizza, Duluth, Minn.: What would an all-dining team be without Sammy's Pizza on it? It just wouldn't be right. The reason why you never see any other Duluth places on the all-dining team is because I would have to eat somewhere else for that to happen.
In-N-Out Burger, Las Vegas: There were a lot of contenders for the final spot, and it took an hour-plus of debate. But in the end, this is the lone story I write all year that my sister reads, and if In-N-Out is left off the team, she'll know it and there could be a big family rift. It might mean no place to stay when I go to the Cities and no opportunities to watch my little nephews dance to Baby Shark. Also, In-N-Out is the king of fast food burgers.
Tomasita's, Santa Fe, N.M.: I never would have imagined in a million years that a place in Santa Fe would end up on the college hockey all-dining team, but here it is. The food, atmosphere and service were all unbelievable and I only wish that I'd be able to stop here on future college hockey trips. Frozen Four in Albuquerque, anyone? Regional in Santa Fe?
2013: Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage
2014: Cherry Cricket, Denver
2015: Ian's Pizza, Madison
2016: American Flatbread, Burlington, Vt.
2017: Bagel and Deli, Oxford, Ohio
2018: New Orleans Takeout, Madison, Wis.
2019: Tomasita's, Santa Fe, N.M.
Rookie of the Year
Trinity Brewing, Colorado Springs: Yes, this was only on the second team this year, but out of all the rookies to watch, I think this one showed the most promise to be a future first-teamer. While the menu isn't huge, it's versatile enough to find something no matter what you're looking for: a full meal, a light snack or just a drink (or even a book).
Coach of the Year
Steph Proffer, Charlotte, N.C.: When I needed a place to eat on the spot (and because she now lives in Charlotte on Eastern Time, my request came in real late at night for her), Steph delivered the year's MVP. That's worth coach of the year honors right there. By the way, she has a track record of delivering on the spot: When UND won the 2016 NCAA national championship, she designed the Herald's 1A page that night and came up with the headline, "Better Eight Than Never."
Hall of Fame Inductee
Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage: With so much uncertainty about the future of the Alaska hockey programs, I am certainly wondering if I'll ever be back in Anchorage at one of my favorite restaurants of all time. So, it's about time that the inaugural MVP of the all-dining team finally gets into the Hall of Fame (inductees are no longer eligible for the all-dining team, because they'd be on it every year). In fact, I have sent two friends to the Brewhouse already this summer during their trips to Anchorage. An all-time great.
Past Hall of Fame Inductees
2015: Cherry Cricket, Denver
2016: Campus Pizza, Minneapolis
2017: Spicy Cajun Hot Dog Vendor, Colorado Springs
2018: Deek's Pizza, Grand Forks
2019: Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage