Archive for the ‘Personal Reflections’ category

The Cup Resides in Chicago – Some Thoughts in The Afterglow

June 12, 2010

 

It finally happened…. 

In my lifetime… 

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup! 

Ahhh, the celebration amidst friends and family was sweet indeed.  I was hoping to have pics by now of us celebrating, and me wearing my Bobby Hull autographed sweatshirt, but will post those when I receive them via email. 

There was a time, right after the Hawks bumped off the Sharks, that I thought the Cup was going to be theirs.  I wasn’t going to make predictions though, or write about their shortcomings, or about how Patrick Kane still rubs me the wrong way a little bit.  I just thought that the worst competition was eliminated and that Philadelphia wouldn’t be that tough – but then I hadn’t really seen much of any of the Flyers’ games.  

I really want to take my hat off to Philly.  I mean, they ground, and crashed, and limped and fought the Hawks all the way.  While all eyes were looking at Anti Niemi to be the weak spot, nobody looked to Michael Leighton.  Sure he was great earlier in the playoffs but he’s still Michael Leighton and against a high firepower team like the Hawks, I wasn’t sure he could handle it.  

In the end, Niemi wasn’t a weak spot, even though he wasn’t great either. 

Michael Leighton was a weak spot.  

Goalies.  This series showed how important they can be in a game.  If either goalie got relatively hot in this series- I don’t mean scalding Patrick Roy hot,  just a notch above Anti Niemi- the series would’ve definitely gone to that team.   

Philly needs to look at their goaltending situation in the off season.  That last goal just shouldn’t happen. Period. 

Speaking of which, that has to be the most bizarre finish to a tournament competition in the history of sports.    We sat there watching, not sure to jump and scream or wait for the next face off or what.  Kane saw it go in , and Leighton knew it was in as well (I just think Leighton was trying to sell it to the ref that he had it in his pads and was hoping for a whistle.)  Everyone else just looked and thought, “What happened?”  (I love how Anti Niemi acted when Kane jumped him.  He acted like someone in an airport getting hugged by a person who mistook him for someone else.) 

Then there’s this song from YouTube that pokes fun at how many people jumped on the Blackhawks Bandwagon.  To be truthful, it got frustrating in how getting tickets for the Blackhawks was like getting tickets for the Chicago Cubs.  I mean, sure you could get tickets, but the tickets from the 300 level and above were the first ones to sell out.  It just cost too darn much and was too hard to get a group of folks together for a game at a reasonable price.   I mean, there can’t be that many people who know hockey in this city, right? 

But, as with the Cubs, when everybody loves a team (incidentally, I’m a Sox fan) everyone left doesn’t want to be left out. (Witness 2 million people at the rally today!)  One thing is for sure: John McDonough and crew know how to market.  

Still, here my brothers and I had a Blackhawk head painted on the floor of our basement when we were kids in the early 70’s!  (It’s still there when we sold the house this May, as this picture will attest.) 

The Hawks Emblem on the Basement Floor from My Childhood - Look Closely, it's There.

 

So yeah, it felt at times that it was (more…)

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My Goalie Masks Through The Years

February 4, 2009

As promised, here is a summary pic of my masks through the years. 

masks1This is a reproduction of my first mask.  A paper plate.  (more…)

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….