Archive for March 2007

The Seven Year Rookie

March 24, 2007

After the last Blackhawks loss at the hand of the LA Kings, Head Coach Denis Savard said the following about Martin Havlat in this article from the Daily Herald:

“He’s learning to be the go-to guy because he wasn’t the go-to guy in Ottawa,” Savard said. “That’s a process for him, too. I know he’s been in the league seven years, and that’s a long time, but he’s still learning.”

The question is, is Havlat a go-to guy?

As an aside, would anyone say something this ridiculous about Sidney Crosby?

Sticks and Stones…

March 21, 2007

The hockey stick has evolved from a widdled branch to a sophisticated, high-tech, computer designed piece of equipment.

 Only, they break….all the time!  Oh, they’ve gotten better over the last year, but those woven, composite, tubular works of technology shatter at the worst possible moments.

When the defenseman is at the point and he gets the perfect feed for the one-timer…it breaks…

When the draw is won back to the point…it breaks…

When a player charges to the net and gets down on one knee and leans on  his stick, gets the perfect pass…it breaks…

Now really…what advantage is there to a lighter, whippier stick if it breaks at the worst times?

Ask any soldier this question: “If I gave you this gun- it’s light, cool looking, made using the highest technology, and it could mow down the enemy in droves, would you take it?”

The answer is, “Yes!”

Now, tell him the bad news, “It’ll jam every 100 shots.”

“$^#(%$(# if I’m putting my life on the line with that type of #((!$&#!!!”

 The hockey player’s stick is his weapon…it simply cannot jam!! When will stick manufacturers realize this? More importantly, when will players start realizing it and demand better quality?

Going to the Wolves…

March 13, 2007

I’m sitting here watching the Blackhawks be outshot by San Jose, 15-1, fifteen minutes through the first period.  Whoops..16-1 in shots.  Blackhawks are losing 2-0. 

I hear people say, I don’t watch the Wolves because the AHL isn’t as good as the NHL.  Excuse me…

First of all, the Blackhawk roster has multiple people that, for all  intents and purposes, are from Norfolk.  They are AHL’ers.  And they’re not AHL veterans, they could very well be playing in Norfolk.

Second, hockey is about competitiveness.  While AHL players will admit that the speed of the NHL is slightly faster, if there is parity in a league, it’s not discernable. 

The Chicago Wolves are competitive and Champions.  They have an organization that wants Championships.  When the Wolves failed to make the playoffs last year, Season Ticket holders received a letter from management apologizing for not making the playoffs.  An apology!!  When was the last time a Blackhawk Season Ticket holder received anything other than a bill from the Wirtzes??

Three championships for the Wolves…I drank from the Turner Cup the night of their first Championship.  Earlier in the post-game celebration (waaaay earlier!) I bumped into an 80 year old man.  He looked at me, my stogie smoldering, and said, “Of all the hockey championships I’ve witnessed in Chicago, this is the sweetest!” How sweet indeed!!! 

Great, competitive hockey at a reasonable cost has been the hallmark of the Wolves.  Please tell me how the Blackhawks meet those criteria.  Right….I didn’t think you could.

I’m coming to the conclusion that those people who refuse to watch the Wolves at best don’t watch hockey, and at worst, don’t know hockey. 

The Devil’s Trapezoid

March 11, 2007

The Devil’s Triangle is a location in Bermuda that ships avoid because of unexplained disappearances. The Devil’s Trapezoid is located behind the Goalie on NHL/AHL rinks.  It’s a restricted area behind the goal line that limits where the goaltender  can play the puck because of unexplained stupidity by the NHL Board of Governors.

Don’t get me wrong. Rules are fine-but rules also have to follow common sense or they’re not rules at all but unnecessary constraints.  All other rules in hockey make sense-well, more or less.  Offsides rules prevent cherry picking: simply waiting next to the other net for the puck to come your way so that you can get an unencumbered crack at the goalie.  Icing prevents teams from avoiding the play by dumping pucks out of their own zones.  These rules all make sense.  Now we turn to this ridiculous trapezoid behind the net.

It is true that goalies already can’t touch the puck past center ice.  I’m not sure why a goalie would want to, but this rule exists, and I can accept it because it rarely comes into play.  However, forcing a goalie to not play the puck outside the Devil’s Trapezoid happens all the time and it does nothing for the flow of the game other than to delay the game in some instances, and irritate the goalies in all instances. 

Looking back, this change was one of many made by the “New NHL” after the lockout.  It was supposed to help the game.   How does one determine whether a certain change helps or hinders? By metrics.  Changes meant to speed up the game at faceoffs have sped up the game. It’s measurable.  How can one measure the impact of having goaltender forbidden zones?  You can’t.  Problem number one.

Problem Number Two: Goalies have to play tic tac toe to themselves.  Everyone has seen occasions where goalies pass the puck to themselves, thus avoiding touching the puck in the forbidden zones.  It defies common sense.

Problem Three: With the desperation of a person trying to catch an open face peanut butter sandwich before it hits the carpeting, goalies have to race out and attempt to get the puck prior to crossing the goal line in the corners.  If he grabs it, he still has to wait in some cases for his teammate to come by and pick up the puck, or he plays tic tac toe (see Problem #2).  However, if the goalie is unsuccessful he must gaze longingly at the puck on the other side of the line with the look that a dog has after seeing said peanut butter sandwich hit the shag.  He can’t touch it, even though he could, because he’ll get slapped.  Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this speeds up the game.

As a goalie myself, I’m thankful I haven’t had to deal with this rule (which is thankfully non-existent in certain amateur and international levels.)  I can only hope that the NHL will wise up to the absurdity of this rule and change it so that future generations’ only exposure to it will be the memories of the times that goalies had to live in fear of the Devil’s Trapezoid.

Does Nationwide Hockey Translate into Nationwide Talent?

March 4, 2007

There are ice rinks springing up all over the country especially in those areas where traditionally the only ice has been in margaritas.  But, does this actually translate into an increase in the development of talent?

It will be interesting to see, but I have a feeling it won’t.  Great baseball players come from those areas (like the Dominican Republic) where playing baseball in any way, shape or form is the norm.  Great basketball players were playing hoop early in their lives on neighborhood courts.  Both of these sports can be played anywhere at anytime where the weather cooperates.

Hockey, by default, requires ice.  While ice can be made artificially and ice time rented, it is not the same as waking up in the morning, walking out your back door and playing your neighbors in a game of pond hockey.  In the Southern states, ice time must be rented and ice time is precious.  There is a lack of spontaneity.  Not to mention there is a lack of toughness bred.

Shoveling off your ice, playing in less than ideal weather situations, skating on less than perfect ice, with less than perfect skates, all breeds a certain type of player, a certain type of passionate person.   It’s the type of person that most people point out is usually the humblest of all professional athletes. 

It all comes from “playing” hockey on one’s own-having fun with the sport.  Humans learn best when practice and playing are separated by a blurry line.  They learn deeper when playing and having fun. Until  ice time becomes free in the South and children can spontaneously have pickup games after school, the best hockey talent will come out of those areas of the country where frozen water is more common on the ground than indoors.

Warm Cotton on Concrete

March 3, 2007

Concrete and ice are similar in alot of ways. They’re both hard surfaces that can be smooth or bumpy.  They can also both be skated on.   Ice requires skates; a finished concrete floor requires warm cotton socks.

The floor in our basement was finished concrete.  The stairs came down almost in the middle of the basement, just to the right of “center ice.”  Center ice is the proper phrase because my older brother (and I to a much lesser extent) painted the floor to resemble various rinks.  The greyish-brownish glint of the concrete remained but we painted blue lines, and the center ice area as well as the goal area.   We used various paints, and permanent markers, and once even tried crayon but that didn’t work as well because our socks got stuck on the wax and we couldn’t slide in our “skates”. 

At one time the floor looked like Chicago Stadium.  Another time it looked like the ice of the Minnesota Northstars.  Still other times it represented St. Louis, Montreal and New York and once even had an “All-Star” look as the center ice circle contained multiple team crests around the periphery.  We didn’t have to use any type of paint remover to change to new arenas. It’s amazing how efficiently a few hours of sliding socks wears away paint and markers. (If chemicals were needed, a bottle of “Fantastik” usually did the trick.)

Above the area where the goal was,  a glass pane opened from a window well that often contained baby birds,  and an occasional dead squirrel.  More often than not that window broke when a shot sailed over the goal.  We experimented with a “soft-puck”, essentially a sock fashioned into a puck shape with a quarter pound of masking tape.  While it was softer, realism suffered because hockey can’t be played with mushy puck.  So, we leaned on tradition and went back to a hard puck…and broken windows. Our parents grew frustrated with having to replace it all the time so we fashioned a heavy cardboard barrier and taped it over the window.  An occasional blast would still break the glass but it kept mom and dad happier.

Games were usually played like half court basketball, with one goalie and two teams made up of one player each.  Those were the times I took the biggest beating because my older brother was (and still is!) eight years my senior.  When he and a friend or a cousin came down I would put on my customized cardboard mask  that sometimes was Tony Esposito style, other times Gerry Cheevers style ( I took great pride in putting stitch marks on the cardboard with a magic marker when I’d get hit in the face with a shot).  Grabbing a baseball glove and a modified cardboard blocker glove I would take my place in nets and….Game on!

Playing in socks as a goalie was always the best from a functional standpoint  because they allowed the greatest freedom of movement, but there was a problem:  Toes always lose in the battle against wooden hockey sticks and orange plastic pucks-especially since the latter were often wrapped with electrical tape to weigh them down which helped them slide and fly more true.  Gym shoes didn’t work as they provided too much friction, but my “Sunday shoes” were perfect.  Yes, they had a little bit of a heel but they allowed me to slide from side to side and kept my toes  from being battered.  Yet, as the humidity rose in the basement and the shoes began to stick on the wet concrete the only choice was to take the shoes off and go back to the socks… and painful toe saves.

 While playing games with my bros and others was fun and honed my budding, butterfly style goaltending skills, there were those times when I would take my regular stick downstairs and shut the door behind me as I descended the steps from the “locker room” to the ice.  As the organ played on in the background of my mind I would put that first foot on the ice and push off from the stairs and begin my “pre-game skate”.  After the obligatory warm up I would slide over to the cassette tape recorder  and press “Play” to start the tape of the National Anthem (and perhaps “Oh Canada” if I was playing a Canadian team).  We recorded it from a Blackhawks’ game we saw on TV.   As the tape played I would stand at attention on the blue line, waiting for it to finish.

At the completion of the Anthem and with a roar of the crowd I’d hit the “Off” button and continue skating around the ice, my mouth alternating between making crowd noises and announcing the game.  With the organ playing and crowd cheering, I’d line up at the center ice circle for the drop of the puck…

…and the game began….

First Skates

March 3, 2007

Where the road met the yard there was a 10 foot long strip of ice that used to form when the water pooled and froze. It was 3 feet wide at its widest.  It was hard and perfect. A couple feet away in the grass, a low spot collected water and froze. It was also good for skating.  It was about 6 feet in diameter but little tufts of grass would stick up and snag on your skates.

Both patches of ice were responsible for dreams…

I’d lace up my racing skates (my first pair) and stomp out through the yard onto the ice.  With total abandonment I’d sprint back and forth, skating for what seemed to be hours.  The skates were too big.  It didn’t matter. 

With ankles bent I’d start at one end of the ice and sprint to the other end and try my best to do a hockey stop.  Sometimes I’d spin, other time I’d shave ice, sometimes I’d fall.  I was afraid of falling because I feared the long blades of the racing skates would impale me.  I fell anyway and got up again.  The constant up and down caused the wrinkles in the leather to chafe through my two pairs of socks. It burned. 

Mom would call me in for dinner as the streetlights were all that lit my skating practice.  I would stumble back through the snow and into the house.  My ankles hurt-badly.   At the base of my foot, where the achilles tendon ties into the heel there would be a red spot the size of a quarter.  It was raw and hypersensitive, but this was a badge of honor.  This was ice skating, speed skating, hockey, all rolled together in my head and heart.  

I wouldn’t trade it for the world….