"You go to the box, you know. Two minutes by yourself, and you feel shame."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Field Trip: Hokejs Bez Alus Ir Dailslidosana!

OK, I've got a ton of catching up to do, and I've got 2 points through 6 games this season, but in the meantime check this out.

Jen and I got the chance to watch Latvia v. Switzerland in the IIHF World Championships in a local (Irish) pub in Riga our last day in Latvia. The local brewery, Aldaris, had some promo people in the pub wandering around painting people with the Latvian flag and stencils of their unimpeachable tagline:
Hokejs Bez Alus Ir Dailslidosana!
(Hockey Without Beer Equals Figure Skating!)

Awesome.

So, they took our picture, and lo and behold, it ended up on their website.

Unfortunately, Latvia lost 2-1 to Switzerland. But Latvia hockey fans, being the most boisterous in Europe, still wandered Riga, happily drunk.

Prieka!

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Do You Believe In Miracles?

"Yes, yes I do believe in miracles." -- Vladislav Tretiak, Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team

So do I. Because on March 16, 2007, a full 6 months after I began skating at Chelsea Piers, and almost 20 games after I joined the Blue Bombers, a miracle occurred.

I scored a goal.

I was starting to believe that a goal, for me, was like Bigfoot: I want to believe it exists, but I'm sure that I'll never see it in my lifetime. I'm not sure how I actually got on the schnide, but it seemed that getting off was going to be about as easy as getting off of the 3 train at 18th street. I'd had a few legitimate chances, with an emphasis on "few", but I'd blown open net looks from crisp passes, steering them wide. And with our dismal start, I wasn't the only one having a hard time finding the net.

It didn't look good on Friday night either. Playing the Hornets, a decent upper-middle D6 team, we were experiencing our classic 2nd period meltdown. Founding Bomber Scott found the net in the 2nd, but we were still down 5-1 late in the 3rd. I'd been playing a pretty decent game, despite the fact that it was an 11:30pm game, there was 5 inches of snow and sleet on the ground, and I'd taken a cab to the rink because I'd given up on the C train after waiting 15 minutes on the platform. I was open for passes on the left wing, and I even handled some of them. Got off two long shots from the top of the left circle, one of which ended up in the netting above the end boards.

But late in the game, I was resigning myself to another point-less night. Scott reminds me of Phil from Gang Green in some ways: he makes a living hanging around the far post, getting rebounds. That's how he scored our lone goal. As a team, we're not great at crashing the net looking to scoop up junk. We get too many one-man breakaways or shots that arrive before the cavalry shows up in front of the net. One of the Wednesday night coaches told us that 90% of the goals in the NHL aren't those long, pretty wrist shots or slap shots. They're mostly rebounds or deflections. Guess I had this in the back of my mind with less than 4 minutes left in the game.

We were making a go of it late, despite being down by 4 goals. A couple of rushes on my shift, a couple of good shots from the other side of the ice. Suddenly, I find myself camped on the left side of the slot, no one's marked me, and a deflection comes spinning out into the slot. It's coming slowly, because the puck's on its side, spinning like a quarter. The goalie's still leaning the other way, but as I slap at the puck, he dives wildly back across the goal mouth. Miraculously, I got the puck up (and at such close range), and the goalie still got some body on it. I think it clipped his jersey between his arm and torso before settling in the back of the net, waist-high.

It was almost anti-climactic. I mean, we were down 4 goals with as many minutes to go. I didn't celebrate much, just raised my stick over my head solemnly, and tapped a few gloves on the way to the bench. Once there, I mostly muttered "Finally!" to Scott and Karel.

They scored another goal before it was all over. With that, our + / - was -18 after 4 games.

But I'm off the schnide.

G: 1
A: 0
PM: 0

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Introducing: Biff McDouche

This guy seems to be a recurring theme, so I figured I'd run with it.

I really dig the Wednesday clinic, and while it can't replicate the camaraderie of OIC's Thursday skate, it makes up for it in the quality of instruction.

And then there's Biff McDouche.

Seriously, I've never quite seen a guy who's so painfully unaware of himself. Sure, there was that Asian guy who used to hog the puck and yell at newbies who fucked up drills in the Sunday Buttcrackofdawn skate at OIC. But Biff takes that cringing misanthropy to a whole new level. Must be the Canadian in him.

Turns out I'd only begun to scratch the surface in cataloguing Biff's coterie of hockey transgressions. In addition to being a cloying eager-beaver who shoots out of turn during warm ups, I've witnessed the following jaw-dropping acts of endearment:
  • Asking Alana how her Valentine's Day was made me cringe out loud.
  • In spite of his clumsy flirting with Alana, he disregards her advice to wait until the Zamboni doors are closed to come out on the ice for warm ups (Alana feels that this is more respectful to the Zamboni guy). Biff sits on the railing next to the door, almost visibly oscillating with anticipation. Invariably, he's the first guy on the ice. The Zamboni guy's barely had time to dismount and shut the doors. Biff gets in almost two full loops before anyone else gets on the ice. Atta boy.
  • Talk about taking the drills too seriously. I've seen Biff fully elbow a guy off the puck on the boards during a 3-on-3 drill. He yells "pass the fucking puck!" during the horseshoe. When he's going out of turn.
  • He's notorious about winging the puck the full length of the ice, "playfully" trying to hit the skate of one of the instructors in a classic "Look at me! Look at me!" ploy for attention. The problem is, he invariably does this in the middle of drills or when the ice is chockablock with skaters warming up. It's only a matter of time before some poor newbie, unsteady as a newborn fawn, steps on the puck and goes careening into the boards. Or someone more experienced does, and clowns this guy in return.
  • Last week, during a full-ice scrimmage, I sat on the bench next to a guy who fully intended to line Biff up. Biff was getting chippy. In a scrimmage. I got a lot of backstory on Biff from this guy.
    • Apparently, Biff has a collection of cringe-worthy sweaters that he used to wear to the clinic with douchetastic slogans on them like you'd find on cafepress (although I do like the "Mo Wanchuk's Dating Service" one). Stuff like "I Have A Big Stick". Enough said.
    • While Biff certainly talks a good game -- at one point, while I was on the ice on D, Biff came down the right wing, blindly passed to no one in the slot (although Nick, one of the instructors, was in the vicinity) and screamed "go to the fucking net!" -- and would have you believe he's in D3, he actually plays for a D7 team.
    • He's also renowned for...wait for it...never coming off of the ice in games and scrimmages.
  • He enthusiastically, and inexplicably, led the warm up stretch last night. He beamed like the teacher's pet who just wrecked the grading curve. Most of us were looking at each other, shaking our heads, as he tried to lead us through a loose series of 5 second stretches.
  • He wears the old LA Kings gold-and-purple sweater and socks.
Every clinic needs its Biff. If only to remind us that, no matter how badly we suck, we're not Biff.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Don't Stop The Bleedin': Blast 8, Blue Bombers 0

(With apologies to Steven Perry...)

Holy shit. Two games in, and we're -15. Completely shut out for the second time, but this time by a good team. The Blast has a creepily similar name and logo to my inaugural team in Oakland, the Arctic Blast. But that's where the similarities end.

The Blast don't belong in D6. They are a far superior team, stacked with talent borrowed even from D1, reminding me of the similar complaints of ringers at OIC. They play team hockey, like they've practiced it.

And they are chippy little bitches. While I certainly contemplated getting a penalty just to break up the monotony and get on the scorecard, these guys easily racked up 6 or more penalties. I lost count. Not that the power plays helped us any, but they were taking chippy little penalties. I've still got scratches and a bruise from getting hooked on the wrist between my glove and elbow pad as I was loading up for a rare shot.

They dominated, and I can't imagine it was that fun for them. I played a decent game, at least, got a couple of (wide...grrr...) shots off, caught and made a decent pass or two, stuffed their best player on a forecheck. But it's still no fun getting pummelled like that. And I can't fathom the mentality of a D1 player who's got nothing better to do than skate circles around a bunch of beer-leaguers on a Friday night.

I started thinking about whether the rink even cared. I imagine the economics of the leagues in NYC are much different that at OIC, which is struggling. There were almost 80 people at evals. There are something like 100 teams at Chelsea Piers right now. There's no shortage of people clamoring to play. So what does the rink care if a team folds because members are pissed about ringers? Andre might have cared, because OIC has a hard time filling the ice. And in a "pot calling the kettle black" turn, the Gulls, a top team in D6, complained to us about the ringers on the Blast.

In any case, we haven't scored a goal for over 6 periods. And I haven't scored a goal in almost a year.

G: 0
A: 0
PM: 0

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Getting Off On The Wrong Skate: Los Guapos 7, Blue Bombers 0

And so the Spring season begins at Chelsea Piers. Certainly picking up where we left off. Despite a relatively full roster and low-impact eval recruiting session, the Blue Bombers are still looking for their stride. And the net.

Not sure why we can't score. We had a full bench, stacked with our best players. Los Guapos picked off the best of last season's New York Mac, including one fast dude who definitely didn't belong in D6, but they weren't far and away better than us.

This was a completely unremarkable game. Except for the 7 goals they racked up in the second and third periods. Shades of Gang Green, we played a solid first period, and stayed with Los Guapos the entire period. Then, the first goal opened the floodgates, which didn't close until the Zamboni doors opened at the end.

I think I got a shot or two off, but overall, I felt like I was watching the game more than skating in it. Passes bounced off my stick like my hands were stone. My teammates could always blame rustiness or lack of feel on the ice on the 4 week layoff between seasons. But I'd been skating in the Wednesday clinic, so my excuse consisted of having gotten three days of snowboarding in the previous weekend on top of skating in the clinic.

Not much there.

G: 0
A: 0
PM: 0

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Friday, February 09, 2007

The Other Side Of The Glass Is Half Full

It's Evaluation Time again!

Luckily, this time, I'm on the other side of the glass: I'm watching, evaluating, judging, mocking, selecting. Not skating.

Just before the Spring 2007 season kicks off at Chelsea Piers, I attended the evaluation skate with Carrie, our captain, and teammates Eric and Brian (who were also scouting for their Division 5 team, Homer's Heroes).

Skating in the eval session is nerve-wracking enough, especially considering the fact that when I skated for evals, it was only my second time on the ice at CP. Needless to say, it was much less stressful this time to stand there with a pad and pen while the skaters did all of the hard work.

So, as we casually milled around beside the rink, with a subtle air of superiority, some 70+ skaters (I recall around 60 in my session) warmed up and got ready to impress us.

I was there mainly for support. I figured Carrie and Eric would do all of the selection, and I'd collar guys as they came off of the ice to lure them into the rarified air of D6 hockey. Besides, I didn't want to compare notes with Carrie and find out that our eye for quality rec-league hockey skill diverged significantly. In addition, Carrie had done some serious recruiting in the off-season. Turns out we only really needed one or two skaters, and therefore we could afford to be picky.

We kept simple lists: a column for Yes and a column for No. We jotted down the numbers on the laminated cards pinned to everyone's jerseys based on skill and propensity to fit into D6. The obvious choices -- fast skaters, obvious skill players, good shots -- were about as likely to make our cut as the guys who tripped over the blue lines. There would simply be too much competition for the upper tier of player, so why bother? Turns out my list was pretty compatible with Carrie's, and overlapped where it counted. I recognized a couple of folks from my Wednesday clinic, but not the kinds I'd stick my neck out and try to recruit.

After sitting around cracking jokes at the skaters' expense -- including our current goalie Dominic, who was looking for more ice time on an additional team -- the water break came. I boasted that the drills they ran during my eval session were harder -- where the fuck was the skate-on-one-blade-and-kick-the-other-leg-up-to-the-outstretched-stick drill? -- and we agreed to divide and conquer based on the top 5 or so on our lists. Being the betting guy that I am, I guessed that the guys I was slated to corner would "want to skate in D3 or D4".

And I was right. It wasn't like these guys were superstars. Sure, we could be picky, and were therefore targeting better players, but it was almost as humiliating to get the pseudo-reverse-rejection as it was to skate in a fishbowl with hopes that a team would pick you up. The interchange would go something like this:

Me: Hey, I'm John.
Them: Hey, I'm [redacted].
Me: So, what division are you looking to skate in?
Them: D3 or D4. [I fucking knew it!] What division are you guys in?
Me: [cocky] We're a strong D6 team [And by "strong", I mean we went 5-12 last season.], and we've got some solid D3, D2 players on our team [Great coaching, Carrie!]. We only need, like, one guy, so we're looking for another star.
Them: [looking around] Um, yeah, OK, I see.
[uncomfortable pause]
Me: Yeah, so, I'll tell you what. Here's my captain's contact info, her name is Carrie. Give us a holler if you're interested. [Voice and body language projecting: "You know, when you can't get on a team above D5, you egotistic fuck."]
Them: OK, cool.

And so it went. As it turns out, Carrie and Brian were more successful in their pursuits while I was cannon fodder. I like to think that by covering the D3 wannabes on our list, I freed them up to pursue more realistic finds. Turns out, we picked up one guy on our list...who was ranked as a 3 by the rink. Carrie's contention is that the rink is much more generous with their rankings, and notorious about inflating the rankings they send out to team captains after evals. She noted that out of our list of Nos, the rink ranked "a 4/5, two 5s, 2 5/6s, 9 out of 13 6s, and 7 out of 9 7s."

Naturally, I joked "I shudder to think of how they ranked me."

Carrie's response? A 6.

Ahem.

But, she continued, "You're not a ringer, but you're solid, and besides, everyone on the team likes you. Personality matters."

I'll take it.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

TMOS Field Trip: Red Wings 4, Rangers 3

It may be a little-known fact that I was born in Detroit. While I haven't been back there since I left at the tender age of 5 (do the math, that was almost 32 years ago), I carry my Detroit origins with me to this day.
Case in point: my allegiance to the Detroit Red Wings.

One of the first sports teams I can recall as a youngster -- along with the Michigan Wolverines -- when I awoke one morning to find an old school felt pennant and hockey puck from a Wings game my parents had gone to when we lived in Detroit. I still have the puck.

So it's a little odd that it's taken me almost 37 years to see the Wings play live. I finally got that opportunity Monday night, at Madison Square Garden, "The World's Most Famous Arena" of all places. (What, no one's heard of the Coliseum in Rome, perhaps?)

My co-worker splits a set of Rangers season tickets at MSG. I'm the lucky recipient of his cast-offs, and I explicitly asked about the Wings game before the season began. I only found out I'd scored the tickets last week, and was excited not only of the prospect of seeing the Wings play in New York, but of enjoying a fine premium beer (served with a pretzel stick in the hollow handle of the mug) after my month-long hiatus on the wagon.

Jen and I met at MSG, and I got the rare chance to wear my Wings hat and sweater to a game. An opponent's game. In New York. Turns out there were plenty of Wings fans in attendance, and frankly, New Yorkers don't really care much about Western Conference teams. They reserve their ire for fans of the Sabres, Islanders, Devils and especially the Flyers. Oh, and their own team.

I'd seen a couple of games at MSG already this season, including a loss to the Sabres, a loss to the Flyers, and a loss to the Senators. And while I genuinely like the Rangers for an Eastern Conference team -- they've got ex-Red Wing star Brendan Shanahan, constantly-drunk Latvian standout Sandis Ozolinsh and minors-fixture Lithuanian Darius Kasparitis -- I was hoping they wouldn't break my unlucky streak with the Wings.

It didn't look good from the outset. Hasek, old as Methuselah yet solid this season for the Wings, coughed up two early goals, just 13 seconds apart in the first 2:31 of the game. The first was a nifty shot from the right circle by -- you guessed it -- former teammate Shanahan. The second occured when Hasek strayed from the net to play a puck, mishandled it, and left a wide-open net for Michael Nylander. "Great", I thought, "the Rangers decide to actually play hockey the one and only time the Wings are in town this season."

Pavel Datsyuk, glaring omission from the All-Star team, got the Wings on the board 7+ minutes in, but the 1-goal disadvatage didn't make it through the period. Marcel Hossa made it 3-1 on a power play goal, almost identical to the shot that Shanny netted in the opening minutes. That's the way the game would stay for another 26 minutes or so: after a scoreless 2nd period, the Rangers were still up 3-1.

But, as I cracked to the guy behind me, "that's why they play 3 periods." Henrik Lundqvist repayed the Wings for Hasek's miscues: mishandling a rebound that Jiri Hudler converted to make it 3-2 just 2:31 into the 3rd. The smattering of Wings fans broke the silence of the Garden, and Detroit started pulling away in terms of outshooting the Rangers. Another mistake by Lundqvist gave Robert Lang an easy walk-in shot that evened the score at 3-3 with about 9 minutes left. The crowd was disintegrating into booing the Rangers, something that I've seen in each of my trips to the Garden. It got worse when Henrik Zetterberg put a nifty shot in on a power play to go ahead for the first time in the game with 7:30 or so left to play. The boos rained down. The fans have no patience for the Rangers. Even when the Rangers pulled Lundqvist in a 4-3 game with a minute left, people were streaming to the exits.

Exciting finish, and one that favored the Wings fans. Especially a guy who got to see his "hometown" play team for the first time. In New York.

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