Friday, December 30, 2011

Medal winners

Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A squad for its effort in the championship. Even though the kids didn't claim the championship trophy and banner, they all went home with medals around their necks. Eight other teams in their division didn't get to do that.

Most of all, though, I'm proud of Colin's effort during the tournament. He played his heart out and showed that he will go hard, no matter the score, for all of a game.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tournament update

Within two hours, the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A squad will be playing for the championship of the Florida International Hockey Invitational in Estero.

The team completed the round-robin portion, winning three of four games, to make it to this morning's semifinals, which it won 8-4.

So far, Colin has two goals and an assist. One of his goals came this morning in the semifinals.

We've also done a bit of hounding, with Colin scoring team sheets from the University of Maine Black Bears and the University of Massachusetts Minutemen.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hockey week in Florida

By now, we're well on our way south to Estero, Fla., where Colin and his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A teammates will take part in the Florida International Hockey Invitational tournament at Germain Arena.

Four games over two days, beginning at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, means it will be a hockey-filled week. If the team does well, we'll pick up at least one, perhaps two games on Thursday. Right now, though, it's one game at time, with each one being tougher than the game before.

Win or lose  it'll be all fun, and not a drop of work. If we're not at a rink, we'll be either chilling out at the hotel pool (remember, it's in the mid 70s down here this time of the year), taking in a movie, heading to Sanibel Island or simply enjoying what Florida has to offer.

Besides Colin's tournament, Germain Arena will also play host to four college hockey teams -- Clarkson, Cornell, University of Maine and the University of Massachusetts. Besides having tickets to the opening games, I've made some team sheets for each school, so we might get in a little road-trip hounding.

Once we get back home, Colin and I might try hounding the Carolina Hurricanes, though Saturday's 5 p.m. start affects the normal schedule. If not, Colin and The Missus have tickets to the game.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holiday hat trick

Like most hockey-playing kids, Colin got his fair share of equipment this morning -- new skates laces, four rolls of skull-and-crossbones tape, new skate guards, a pair of new-look Lightning socks, a "biscuit" stickhandling puck, a weighted stickhandling ball and his Tampa Bay Lightning Adam Hall #18 jersey.

His Nana and Babop also got him a new pair of shin guards, which he has been using for the past week or so.

Tucked alongside the tree, too, were three autographed hockey sticks from, top to bottom, Tampa Bay's Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos.

Don't worry, either, as he got plenty of other presents.

From our rink to yours

Once again, The Hockey Life family passes along Christmas greetings to our readers from all over the world.

We hope that Hockey Santa brought you everything you asked for, provided you went through the year without any game misconducts.

If he didn't, maybe he left an old, scuffed-up puck in lieu of a lump of coal.

Either way, our best holiday wishes for you:

~ Merry Christmas!

~ Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok (Czech)

~ Hauskaa joulua (Finnish)

~ Joyeux Noel (French)

~ Froehliche Weihnachten (German)

~ Prieci'gus Ziemsve'tkus un Laimi'gu Jauno Gadu! (Latvian)

~ Gledelig Jul (Norwegian)

~ Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom (Russian)

~ Sretan Bozic (Slovakian)

~ Feliz Navidad (Spanish)

~ (Och) Ett Gott Nytt År (Swedish)

~ Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia (Polish)

Source: World of Christmas

Editor's note: The original list first appeared Dec. 25, 2008, at Hound Central 4.0.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A week off?

Beyond watching movies, laughing at Tom & Jerry, playing with Legos, building a train track and counting down the days until Santa visits, Colin also worked on his game during the first week of his Christmas vacation:

~ At least 10 rounds of shooting 14 pucks, practicing his snap shots, wrist shots and backhanders, every morning;

~ Two 90-minute skate-and-shoots, including 20 minutes playing pickup hockey with high-schoolers (at their request) and clicking with kids from other Tampa Bay youth hockey programs;

~ A solid 90-minute session at a roller hockey rink with our buddy Scott, working on his passing, stickhandling and one-timers; and

~ 150 passes -- short, long and over parking-lot islands -- with his old man.

To his credit, Colin says he'll take another 140 shots Christmas Day.

I hope his hard work this past week is rewarded at the Florida International Hockey Invitational tournament next week at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bear-ing gifts

Scott, one of our hounding buddies down here in Hockey Bay, spends quite a bit of time on the road. His business travels take him to quite a few hockey locations. Over the summer, he spent some time up in Hershey, Pa.

Rather than send a postcard or bring back some chocolate, though, he snagged quite a souvenir for his buddy, Colin -- a team-signed stick from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League as well as a program from one of the team's games.

We're going to have to find room on a wall in Colin's room for this beauty.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Picking his spots

After missing on a pair of goals over his past two games (both goalies had nice glove saves), Colin spent some of his holiday break this morning working on his snap shot.

While the mini net got this shot, one of the 140 he took, plenty found their way past the litany of obstacles that he arranged in front of the net.

Sooner or later, all of this practice will pay off.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Here's a question

Is singing Christmas carols before a faceoff really chirping? I could see telling someone they smell funny is chirping, but singing carols? Or asking if they smell cookies. C'mon, now, you can't be serious?.

Unfortunately, someone's coach thinks so. Not so sure I agree, though.

Mind games and getting under an opponent's skin -- no matter the age -- have been and will always be a part of the game.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Hockey Life: Time with Mama

As any parent can tell you, one of the most rewarding parts of the job is spending quality time with your children. Be it reading a story before bedtime or a trip to the neighborhood park, it's times like these when bonds are forged between parent and child.

In our house, that quality time most often happens outside of the traditional realm. Sure, we play board games and have movie nights. every so often, we take a trip to the beach. Mostly, though, our life centers around hockey.

Thanks to a friend at the newspaper, Colin and Mama got to take in a Lightning game last week. It just wasn't any game, either. It was against the Calgary Flames, the team the Lightning beat in 2004 to win Lord Stanley's Cup.

A funny thing happened, though. During warmups, Colin bumped into a Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning teammate. Like Colin, he was there with his mother. They had a spare ticket, too, down in the 100-level seats. It didn't take long for Colin to fill that seat while Mama, much to her credit, made the trip upstairs.

For the first two periods, Colin hung out closer to the ice, watching the game, dancing to get on the Jumbotron (not sure if it happened) and letting his buddy pilfer some fries. Really, they were just being kids.

Toward the end of the second period, though, his buddy's mother noticed that Colin kept looking around, waiting for Mama to show up. She was headed downstairs just as the text message arrived. After a quick stop for ice cream, they headed back to their seats to watch the rest of the game.

"I just wanted to spend some time with her," he told me. "That's my favorite part."

As he usually does, he snuggled up against her. He likes to say that it's because it's cold up there in the 300s In a way, he's right. It does get a bit frosty up there. Still, I think it's more because he likes spending time with Mama.

Over the years, from our first dates along the glass at Snively Arena at the University of New Hampshire to Sunday morning rec league games this past season, Lisa has adopted hockey as her favorite sport. She has a pretty good handle on the rules and knows a good play when she sees one.

If you ask me, I don't think Colin could ask for a better hockey mom.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Luck of the draw

Given our financial commitment to playing travel team hockey, the idea of buying a box of hockey cards is a bit unrealistic. Any cards we buy these days come in fat packs, found at such retail stores as Target or Walmart.

To me, they're a much better deal than the blaster boxes, as long as you buy only a couple of packs. I've never been much of a set collector, viewing cards more as a signing platform than anything else.

Every so often, though, we pull a card that won't ever see the point of a Sharpie, Take this one, for instance, pulled from a fat pack of 1022-12 Upper Deck Hockey Series I. A quick search on eBay found that this Young Guns UD Canvas short print for Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was in demand, fetching more than $100.

Not a bad pull, if you ask me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hounding haul: New York Rangers

Seeing that we missed an opportunity to hound the fresh-faced (and apparently tougher) Florida Panthers a few weeks ago, it really didn't take that much encouragement to head out for the New York Rangers when they visited Hockey Bay a couple of Saturdays ago.

Beyond the items that we had, mostly cards and some works in progress, we had a special project to embark upon. And though we ultimately didn't deliver on it (a too-thin autograph that was erased was never replaced), Colin and I won't view the day as a total loss.

In all, we added 20 autographs before and after the Rangers' morning skate.

Signing cards, shown above, were:

Top row: Artem Anisimov, Martin Biron and Brian Boyle;
Middle row: Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik and Brandon Prust; and
Bottom row: Michael Sauer, Marc Staal and Derek Stepan.

Among the highlights:

Henrik Lundqvist on a pair of cards;

Marian Gaborik on a McFarlane base;

Brandon Dubinsky on the USA Hockey jersey; and

Ruslan Fedetenko on a pair of dual-logo cards.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Hockey Life: Playing defense

The call came Friday at work, hours before deadline. It was The Missus, not Colin bearing the news. For a variety of reasons, Colin would be pulling some shifts at defense, not his normal forward positions, in Saturday's games. His first would come against one of the top two teams in the league.

To be honest, I don't know who was more nervous. Having played defense when I was younger, I knew the perils of the positions. For one, it's multitasking. While the primary emphasis is on preventing goals, there are offensive responsibilities, too. And when you screw up, you hear it from everyone.

That's no to say, though, that there aren't plenty of positives about playing defense. Beyond the physicality, from in front of the net to the corners, there's the mental approach. I liken defense to playing chess. You have to anticipate moves, many in advance. You're willing to give up something to win the bigger prize.

More than anything, there's a sense of pride that comes from playing defense. Some of a team's best skaters play defense. Critical thinking, as in defensive awareness and positioning, come into play, too. It's not so much that you're the last line of defense, as that's the goalie, but it's the transitional aspect -- from denying an opponent's progress while launching a counterattack -- that makes it a pivotal position.

Having said that, it can be scary playing defense, especially against a good team  late in the season. That's a lot of pressure for any adult to handle, let alone a 10 year old. Still, if his coach didn't think Colin could handle it, I'm sure he wouldn't have put him back there.

Rather than inundate Colin with intricacies and nuances of the position, we went over some of the basics Saturday morning before the first game: play the logo, not the puck; use the boards; don't let an opponent get behind you; and, really, try to have fun.

It must have worked, as he played well. Didn't get a regular turn, shifting between forward and defense in his team's two wins, but he made solid plays. When he did pull shifts, including one on a penalty kill, he didn't get burned, made smart passes and carried the puck when he had time and space.

Can't expect more than that, right?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Such a deal

With the upcoming name change at my employer -- from the St. Petersburg Times to the Tampa Bay Times, effective, Jan. 1 -- the newspaper recently had a sale on old logo items.

Walking into the sale, I figured to buy some comics umbrellas and maybe a T-shirt or two. What caught my eye, however, was a bin full of hockey sticks. As you can imagine, I made a beeline for it.

It didn't take long to see that a bargain was there for the taking. These two sticks, signed by former Tampa Bay Lightning players Dan Boyle (top) and Brad Richards, were selling for $5 each. Pretty sweet, eh?

The sticks were part of a promotion over the past few years at the St. Pete Times Forum. If a person bought a subscription to the paper, they received an autographed stick as a premium.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Well worth the gamble

During last season's Stanley Cup Finals, Colin and Brett, one of Hound Central's most faithful readers, made a friendly wager on the outcome of the series.

If the Canucks won, Colin would make one of his hand-drawn team sheets and get it signed for Brett. If the Bruins won, Brett would make Colin a custom hockey card of his favorite NHL buddy, Boston's Patrice Bergeron.

Well, we all know who won, don't we? And, in case you forgot, it was Bergeron who scored the Cup-winning goal.

Late last week, Brett came through, holding up his end of the deal, sending Colin not one, but two of his custom cards. Once again, Brett created a pretty nice card, if you ask me. Like I've said before, I won't be surprised if some card manufacturer reaches out to Brett and tap into his top-shelf abilities.

Colin will use one to add to his autograph collection and give Petey, as he calls him, the other card. They should be quite the collector's item, too, as they'll be the only two cards like that in existence.

Editor's note: The scans, for some reason, don't do the card justice. Trust me, it looks far better than this.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Hockey Life: Rewards

Two moments within 24 hours drove home a point that hard work, no matter who does it, is often rewarded. Some times, those rewards can be great, measured far beyond anything financial. Rewards, too, can reinforce a message.

One lesson came yesterday, as Colin and I sat outside the St. Pete Times Forum, waiting on one particular New York Rangers player to head back to the team's hotel after a morning skate.We had him sign a photo, but the signature, written with a silver Sharpie, didn't turn out too good. So I erased it, hoping the player would resign it, this time using a blue Sharpie.

By this time, most all of the other hounds, collectors and dealers had left the area, a shaded park across the street from the Forum. Circular benches surround trees, offering plenty of seating. That's where Colin and I took up our watch.

It didn't take long for Colin to start leaning against me. Next thing I know, he's lifting my right arm and wrapping it around him, snuggling in closer. He then rests his head against my chest. Yes, he's comfortable.

It was, for both of us, the best moment of the day. It had nothing to do with hockey. It had nothing to do with autographs. No, it was something more simple. It was just a father and son, both living busy lives, sharing a rare quiet moment.

It was one of those moments, I realized, that parents live for. I know I'll remember it. I'm hoping he does, too.

About 18 hours earlier, in a hockey rink in Clearwater, Colin was playing in a scrimmage between Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning teams. Rather than having a practice, two Squirt squads -- AA and A -- were squaring off, with Colin wearing the blue with his Squirt A teammates. It was a test for one team, it seems, and, perhaps, a cakewalk for another.

Though we've been approached recently about joining another program and moving up to AA, where the kids are supposed to be "twice as good" as A players, we're quite comfortable with the level that Colin's playing. Though his skating and tenacity, when he's focused, could be viewed as his being ready to move up, we also know there's plenty of room for improvement in other aspects of the game.

Simply put, with Colin being only 10, there's no need for us to rush things.

Another aspect of his game, and one that has brought him attention from inside and outside the Jr. Lightning program, has been his work ethic. It may have taken us some time to reach an understanding, but he fully embraces the need to play as hard as he can -- on every shift -- if he's going to make a difference and, ultimately, have any success in hockey.

The result of his hard work are opportunities, as in scoring chances for himself or, just as importantly, passes to an open teammate. Some times, these prove successful. Other times, well, they're not. But that doesn't keep him from trying.

In Friday's scrimmage, Colin was presented with one such opportunity. After looking to pass but unable to find an open teammate, he simply saucered the puck toward the net, hoping for the best. As it approached the net, the puck hit an opponent's stick and went in.

It proved to be his team's only goal in a 6-1 loss, a reward for his hard work.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Someone's gonna be psyched

Just heard from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Colin will skate as the McDonald's Dream Kid before Tampa Bay's game Tuesday, Jan. 17 against the Boston Bruins.

Kinda ironic, isn't it, seeing that his best NHL buddy, Patrice Bergeron, will look up and see No. 37 on the Lightning blueline during the anthem?

Getting back at it

After a week nearly devoid of hockey, with only an hour of ice time at a stick-and-shoot, our hockey-centric schedule is back in full force.

It kicks off tonight with Colin's Jr. Lightning practice. Tomorrow brings a two-hour skating session, designed on getting his legs and lungs back. That's followed by more practices Thursdays and Friday. Saturday's an off day, though he has a Metro League game Sunday.

After that, the cycle of hockey continues. Routines, I believe, are a good thing.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Hockey Life: Hockey for Christmas

Rather than join the predawn masses who braved the crowds for holiday bargains Friday, I did what sane hockey dads should so -- I slept in. It's not that I don't like passing up good deals, as those help pay the hockey bills around our house, it's just that I'm not a big fan of crowds unless, of course, they're at an NHL game. Besides, aside from a few odds and ends, we've finished our Christmas shopping.

Like any hockey family, items related to the game will be among Colin's haul come Christmas morning. In fact, he already has some of them, namely his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning warmup suit and special edition Steven Stamkos Bauer TotalOne stick still waiting to be cut down for use. And, yes, a sizable portion of his travel team fees are included.

This past Friday night, during a lull at work, I consulted him for another of his Christmas presents. While most kids here in Hockey Bay want a new-look Lightning jersey with a No. 4, No. 26 or No. 91 on the the back, Colin wants one with No. 18, for grinder Tampa Bay's Adam Hall, on the back. Given that's the type of role Colin plays, it makes sense to me.

Beyond those, though, he'll have to wait until Christmas morning to see what else he's getting. There will be a few items, some more necessary than others, that will soon be sitting under the tree. I suppose, too, that there might even be some new equipment to unwrap, but let's keep that between us, shall we?.

Still, though, getting hockey gear for Christmas is an age-old tradition within hockey families. I opened my first real hockey skates, a pair of those Rally Bobby Orr models, one winter morning in Western New York. I could tell, just by the box, what they were. Many a Christmas morning, too, found a new, wooden stick, wrapped only in a bright red bow, propped against a wall near the tree.

Like most hockey families, we stagger the hockey equipment purchases throughout the year. I couldn't imagine having to outfit him, from head (his Mission M11) to toe (Bauer OneSupreme 100s -- youth size, thankfully), all at one time. If you're spending close to $500 on gear, it's hard to find room in the budget for the latest toys or electronic gadget. I feel sorry, too, for families with more than one kid playing hockey, but I guess that's what hand-me-downs are for.

Besides Christmas, Colin's scores hockey gear on his birthday, as a reward for a solid year in school and, well, just because he sometimes needs a new pair of gloves, elbow pads or pants. Going forward, there's a new pair of skates on the horizon. The same holds true for a hockey bag. He's had his eye on a black-and-gold Grit Hockey Tower, one of those trendy bags that more and more kids wheel into rinks.

He'll have to wait a little longer, though. Sooner or later, something better, or newer, will come along that capture kids' attention. That's when I'll find one of the Grit bags on sale, far below the $170 they command these days. I'll tell you what, too, I won't be buying it at 3 a.m. either.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yeah, I'm getting old

Here I am, less than a week away from hitting the mid-century mark, and I get a not-so-very-subtle reminder this morning that I'm not nearly as young as I think I am. Or, more honestly, some parts aren't as nimble or flexible as they were so many years ago.

After watching Colin whiff on a few one-timers in his past few games, it was time to spend a little quality hockey time with him so he could get the timing and the all-important mechanics down. One-timers may look simple, but they're far from it. So, after a Thanksgiving Day session out back on the patio, where I must have said "Keep your head down" at least two dozen times, we went to a roller hockey rink in Clearwater this morning to get in some more work.

Upon arrival, we soon learned that the rink can also be used for soccer. Kinda funny, though, I always thought soccer was played on a pitch, which is much, much larger than a roller hockey rink. Then again, the participants weren't kids, but they weren't old-timers, either.

Rather than turn around and head home, Colin spied an unattended tennis court nearby with tall enough fences that would serve to catch any errant shots. Soon enough, after lacing up his inline hockey skates and taking a few laps around the court, he was good to go, remembering to keep his head down as I passed pucks right in his wheelhouse.

After about a dozen or so sets of four pucks each, he asked if we could reverse roles. He'd pass me the pucks and I'd work on my one-timer. Remember, now, that last time I took a one-timer, in a competitive situation, was more than 20 years ago. Still, it's like riding a horse. All I had to do was keep my head down, transfer my weight -- and there's a lot of it -- from the back to front foot and twist my hips.

Well, I wish it were that simple. The pass was good and I kept my head down. It was that whole transfer-of-weight-and-twisting-my-hips thing, though, that didn't work out so well. Having degenerative disk disease in my spine and faulty hip sockets, brought about from years of playing hockey, baseball and beach volleyball as well as my immense heft, I should have known better than to try this. But, I didn't.

It was the classic case of my left hip being unable to cash the check that my 20-something mind and will had written. About the moment I lifted my left heel to start the twisting transfer of power, it felt like someone drove a screwdriver into my left hip socket. I'm not sure how or why I didn't fall, but Colin saw enough grimacing on my face to notice that something hurt.

"You OK, Dad" he asked.

"Well, buddy," I replied, "I won't be trying that again."

Yes, it would have been easy to call it a day after that. But, even at my age and size, I'm still a hockey player. I'll always take what God has given me and use what's left. Because it didn't hurt to take one-timers off my back foot, placing absolutely no weight or pressure on my left leg, that's what we did for the next few minutes.

Finally, the "soccer" players left the rink. We made our way over and honored its purpose, spending the next 25 minutes or so working on Colin's one-timer, passing rather than shooting the puck and taking rink-long shots.

I knew enough, thankfully, that I'd had enough. With age, I've been told, comes wisdom.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Old-school hounding

Over the past few years, most of our hounding has taken place before morning skates, gametime bus rides to the rink or personal appearances by Tampa Bay Lightning players. Seldom, if ever, have we hounded following a game.

Last Saturday, after watching the Lightning fall to the New Jersey Devils, we gave it a try, hanging out by the Lightning players' parking lot at the St. Pete Times Forum. Know what? It was pretty fun.

Made for a late night, though, as we didn't get home until after 11:45 p.m., well past most of our bedtimes.

Beyond Colin adding a few more signatures to his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning hat, including Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Eric Brewer, we also snagged an extra autograph from Lecavalier on this game program.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Being thankful

On this day of turkey and all of the trimmings, family gatherings and waiting for the Bruins to play the Red Wings tomorrow, there are hockey-related things that I'm grateful for:

~ Colin's interest in hockey and becoming the best, all-around player that he can be. When we started this journey, raising a one-dimensional player was not our goal. No, it was raising a player who would do all of the things that a coach looks for -- hustling on every shift, backchecking like a madman, remembering to play the third-man high in the defensive zone and, as his coach puts, be a royal pain in the (butt).

Well, as long as he keeps doing that, and I can resist the urge to channel the late Herb Brooks and remain an overbearing taskmaster, he'll do just fine. I'm more interested in his effort than anything else. In time, his hard work and selfless play will be rewarded.

~ Benefiting from a dedicated hockey mom who's willing to put up with two goofy, hockey-loving dudes. From hanging out at ice-cold rinks for countless practices and games, to untold piles of stinky hockey clothes in the laundry room and to making between-game meals to hold down travel costs, Colin and I are very lucky to have the love of support of our hockey mom/wife.

~ Working with a pair of coaches who truly understand what we're trying to accomplish. Like I said above, there's a method to the madness. Yes, I hold Colin to a higher standard, trying to teach responsibility and never, ever taking anything for granted. If you don't like it, that's your problem, And, if I'm reliving my childhood through him, so be it. I'm doing what I can so he has all of the opportunities that I never had, for a variety of reasons, when I was a kid.

~ Finally, having the support and understanding of my bosses, who juggle my work schedule so I can attend as many games as I can and let me use comp time to duck out early on some Saturdays or arrive a little late on Sundays. When you work a newspaper schedule like I do, having those extra minutes before and after games makes a big difference. The same goes, too, for my generous co-workers, who've stepped up this week and participated on Colin's fundraiser..

More than anything else, though, I'm most thankful for being able to chase our dream. If you don't have one, please accept my apologies. Without one, there's little purpose to life.

From our house here in Hockey Bay to yours, we hope everyone has the happiest of Thanksgivings and safe travels.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

You're welcome, guys

Early last season, Colin and I embarked on a special hounding adventure with the Boston Bruins. Rather than loading up on autographs for ourselves, we put our hounding talents to work to produce an item for a fundraiser for some very talented youth hockey players up in Wisconsin.

This past Saturday, a friend with connections to the team handed me a  folder. Inside was this picture, a nice letter and some other goodies as a sign of the team's appreciation.

Nice touch, if you ask me. It's all a part of being an extended hockey family.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bragging daddy alert: Hat trick

Colin logged a hat trick earlier today in his Tampa Bay Metro League game against one of the Ellenton teams. Each goal, if I do dare say so myself, was pretty clutch:

~ His first goal, a wrist shot that caught the top corner in the first period, tied the game at 2;
~ the second goal, a low wrister that came a period after he took a pretty hard spill into the end boards, gave his Lightning team a short-lived 6-5 lead in the third; and
~ his hat trick goal, off a goal-mouth scramble with 36.5 second left to play, forged a 7-7 tie.

As easy as it would have been for him to call it a day after hurting his back a bit and getting the wind knocked out of him, the fact that he kept playing, hustled his tail off and didn't quit when his team was behind, showed exactly the fire that burns inside.

All I can say, buddy boy, is well done. You led by example. And that's all I can ask.

The Hockey Life: Boys' night out

In our house, the hockey mom has two kids to deal with. One of us is 10. The other is pushing 50. She's tolerant of our hockey lessons, his stinky hockey gear strewn about a futon and, seemingly, the never ending pile of hockey laundry.

Most moms I know, especially those who haven't an inkling about offsides or disposition for the pursuit of puck dreams, wouldn't allow such things. That's what makes her a good hockey mom. In return, we do her a big favor. At least twice a week, Colin and I hit the road for boys' nights out.

Mostly, it's to give her some peace and quiet around the house. How she uses the time is up to her. She can use it to chill our and relax, hang out with our cats, Bella and the aptly named Taz or shop at Aldi for 10 days worth of groceries. Bottom line, it's a couple nights where she doesn't have to put up with us for a few hours.

On Tuesdays, thanks to a recent change in my work schedule, I get to take Colin to one of two practices he attends with his travel team, the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A squad. On Wednesdays, my Sunday of my workweek, we again head north to an indoor rink at a shopping mall in Clearwater, where Colin does his ice work and I drink coffee. Each day, too, holds it own adventures.

Given that Tuesday's practices are held in a rink about 30-plus miles north of where we live, and the starting time falls shortly after the height of rush hour in car-happy Pinellas County, we often leave early to avoid the daily bumper-to-bumper grind. I'd rather kill time standing in a rink, watching youngsters develop their ice legs, than wondering how many cycles I'll have to sit before clearing the light at 49th Street and Ulmerton Road.

Over the past few weeks, we've fallen into a routine. I pick him up from school and head home. I do a final check on his gear bag, making sure he has his mouthguard and neck protection, while he finishes up his homework for the day. Once we're finished, we load up the car and hit the road.

If we're lucky, meaning we're out of the house before 4 p.m., it takes us 40 minutes to get past the two biggest traffic headaches. As our rewards, we stop at a McDonald's (I know, I know, I know) for some pre-practice grub.Colin gets his Happy Meal of McNuggets. I opt for mushroom-and-swiss Angus third-pounder burger or two $1 chicken sandwiches. After eating, it's only a 10- to 12-minute ride to the rink.

Wednesdays, however, are different. Though hockey is part of the drill, there's always time for something else. After he puts in his ice time, skating between 100 to 120 sprints, logging 30 to 40 laps of skating backward and reinforcing muscle memory with Coach Dons and Coach Gilners drills, we head out for some other adventure.

This past Wednesday was one such adventure. Rather than getting a head start on Christmas shopping or, on occasion, adding to a hockey card collection, we headed over to Tampa for another of the Tampa Bay Lightning's radio shows. This show, held at a McDonald's (yes, I know, I know, I know), had Lightning defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron as a guest.

Seeing that my newfound obligations to a freelance client have seriously cut into my hounding, we use opportunities like these to add, even if it's in piecemeal fashion, to the puck collection. Anytime we can add a pair of pucks, those these signed by Bergeron, we'll do it.

Best of all, though, it keeps us out of Mama's hair.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Follow-up: Getting benched

So, after watching the first period of his Metro League game from the bench, Colin skated his butt off for the last two periods, scoring a goal and an assist.

And though he scored a goal in his second game, what impressed me most was how hard he played in the third period, when the game's outcome was no longer in doubt. It was the fastest I've ever seen him skate in any game.

I think he and I might have crossed a bridge here today. It's been a very bumpy ride over the past few weeks, but we've come to an understanding.

The Hockey Life: Getting benched

Learning experiences are a part of playing hockey. From learning to skate with your head up, avoiding cross-ice passes deep in your zone and remembering to take off your skate guards before hitting the ice, the game serves as a teacher.

Colin got another lesson in his hockey education today. After daydreaming through a recreational game last week, from not hustling during his shifts to twice bobbling pucks while unchallenged at the point, he had to watch from the bench -- at my request, sort of -- for the first period of his recreational Metro League this morning.

Really, I have seen and heard enough. He wasn't sharp during practices or games. He was losing puck battles he would normally win, getting knocked too easily off of the puck. And rather than take full advantage of beneficial matchups, he'd play down to the competition.

So, rather than have another talk about going hard on every shift last week, I let him know, as well as his Metro League coaches, that he'd be watching his next two games, either from the bench or from the stands. He'd also have to tell his teammates why he would be sitting. If he wasn't going to be a leader on the ice, he could at least serve as an example in the locker room.

A few days later, after an e-mail conversation with one of his coaches, I agreed to the one-period benching. Even though I still believe sitting for two games would have better driven home my point, I also understand what he means to that team. Still, he has to learn this very valuable lesson.

By now, most of you are likely thinking that I'm a world-class jerk (or some other word) for holding my 10-year-old to these standards. I disagree. It's teaching him responsibility, the value of hard work, appreciation for other's sacrifices and striving for goals. Too many kids today, I believe, aren't learning the rewards of hard work.

I go hard for Colin, workng 60-plus hours a week, making sure we have enough money for him to pursue his hockey dreams. In return, he has to go hard for us. It's as simple as that. And, lately, he hasn't been keeping up his end of the bargain.

If this was the first time this happened, I'd be much more tolerant. Every kid, and person, has an off day. I do, just ask my bosses. But, it wasn't. I've had this conversation with him about every five or six weeks. And that, I'm afraid, has me concerned.

Part of it, I believe, is the amount of hockey he has been playing. Earlier this season, we would have 13-day stretches when he was doing something related to hockey, either playing, practicing, skating, dry-land training or working on his shot. That's way too much, likley causing burnout. That one, I'll admit, is on me.

Hopefully, we've dodged a bullet at school. He won't get his first report card until the second week of December. So far, we've heard positive reports about homework, test scores and grades. Part of playing hockey means getting good grades, with a nice, little bonus for making honor roll. Conversely, poor grades are a quick, one-way ticket to sitting on the sidelines.

For a variety of reasons, and giving him some time to get away from hockey is chief among them, he'll be playing for only one team in one league at one time going forward. If he makes the travel-team squad for the spring season, then, that's all the hockey he'll be playing. If he doesn't, well, so be it. There's no shame -- for us, at least --  in playing rec hockey.

It'll likely be more fun, and far less pressure, for all of us.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Change in plans

Before the season started, I freelanced for a client that let me work any time I wished. Sadly, I was deemed too much of a generalist, rather than a specialist, and found that it wasn't worth my time, or theirs, to continue.

Thankfully, I landed another client. This one, though, is much different, requiring me to work specific times on specific days. As a result, it has seriously cut into my hounding time. Just today, I passed on hounding the Philadelphia Flyers.

Given the need to keep the funds rolling in, there will likely be many more mornings and hounding adventures that will pass by. Going forward, remaining active in Colin's hockey will take top priority. Doing this freelance work is a big part of it, too. I hope you understand.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Hockey Life: Day off

Everybody needs to take a day off from work and routine. Today was mine. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rehearsal time

Though we won't know exactly what Tampa Bay Lightning game that Colin will get to skate at for a few more days, Wednesday's rehearsal showed that he knows his way around the rink at the St. Pete Times Forum. That's him, in front, in his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning warmups.

We'll let everyone know what game he'll get to hit the ice.

Beyond skating to AC/DC's Thunderstruck and joining the Lightning on-ice during the national anthem, he also gets four tickets to the game, a parking pass and, of course, the bragging rights of doing something that his daddy never did. Lucky kid.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hitting the big ice

Just heard from the Tampa Bay Lightning that Colin has been selected as a Lightning Dream Kid, meaning he gets to skate at the start of a game and then join Lightning players on the blueline for the national anthem.

He has a rehearsal at 6 p.m. tomorrow at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. After that, we'll learn what specific Lightning game he'll get to hit the ice.

I can't wait to tell him.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Hockey Life: Taping stick blades

Just like tying his skates, getting Colin's hockey sticks ready for a game or practice is one of the few things left that he lets me do. He's old enough to do both, I suppose, but it allows me, in a way, to be out there with him. It makes me feel better, too.

Mostly, I appreciate the therapeutic value of it. The physicality needed to tear away the chewed-tape. The attention to detail of scraping away the smallest bit of tape residue with a fingernail. And, then, the act of taping, from the feel to the sound, that completes the task.

Sure, it may look simple, running an inch-wide strip of tape from heel to toe along the blade, but there's much more to it than that.

I first started taping stick blades back in the early 1970s, as a kid playing pickup games on an iced-over, outdoor basketball court at a Catholic school in Buffalo's west side. Because I didn't know better, and really didn't have anyone to teach me, I always used the shiny, black plastic electric tape. I'd dig a roll out of the junk drawer, never taking the time to ask, and wrap the blade. Two layers, too, so it would last longer.

After my mom passed away and I went to live with my grandparents, I'd raid my grandfather's toolbox, looking for the heavier electrical tape. He'd see me taping my stick, but never complained, just reminding me to put it back when I was finished.

A few years later, I discovered the brave new world of white athletic tape, snagging nearly spent rolls from school sports teams. It was wider and made of fabric, just like my grandfather's tape, but it didn't weigh as much. I liked, too, how it got marked up, from either pucks or hockey balls, each one a memory of the last time I had played.

Nearly 40 years later, not much has changed about hockey tape. It's made of cloth, is an inch wide and is sticky on only one side. The biggest difference is it's now available in many colors and patterns. Colin has had the stars and stripes, the Canadian maple leaf and blue camouflage. Unlike others, we've passed on fluorescent offerings. There's just something about a lime green that doesn't go with hockey

Colin's favorite, though, is the skull-and-crossbones tape, shown above on one of his old Bauer sticks. For a while, we used to find it with relative ease, even if it meant making a trip over to Brandon. Lately, though, that hasn't been the case, as it has become scarce. As a result, we're using a dark-blue cloth tape on his Mission Widow youth model.

The one constant, from those early days during freezing Buffalo winters up until sitting in air-conditioned comfort at our dining room table here in Florida, has been the approach. It's always been heel to toe, starting on the backside and ripping a little lip over the top. It doesn't have to be pretty or uniform. No, it just has to do its job.

One adjustment, though, is I've had to learn how to cover the toe in tape, as Colin has a habit of chipping the tips of his blades. Faceoffs, I believe, are the likely culprit. After a few practice tries, though, wrapping the toe has become second nature. Three 8-inch strips, a steady hand, a sharp eye and a pair of scissors is all I need now.

Someday, and that day is fast approaching, he'll tell me that it's his turn to tape his own sticks. He's already started asking, and has tried it once. Didn't do too bad, either. Until I relent, and give it up for good, it's another welcome chore for this hockey dad. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hounding haul: Buffalo Sabres

We may not go out often during the 2011-12 hockey-hounding campaign, but when we do, we'll do so with a purpose. With my hometown Buffalo Sabres visiting Hockey Bay and a free Saturday morning, Colin and I kicked off the season with a strong effort. In less than two hours, we managed to snag 32 autographs.

Some of the highlights:

Top row: Brad Boyes and Jhonas Enroth; and
Bottom row: Jordan Leopold and Rob Ray
A hat trick of pucks from Marc-Andre Gragnani
A pair of pucks from Nathan Gerbe
Christian Erhroff and Jhonas Enroth signed international pucks. 
Sabres goalies Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth added to our ongoing Threads collection.
Top row: Brad Boyes, Jhonas Enroth and Jochen Hect; and
Bottom row: Tyler Myers, Thomas Vanek and Mike Weber
Tyler Ennis signed these four cards.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Every so often, The Missus captures a moment within one of Colin's hockey games when I know that he truly gets the "Go Hard" concept I've been preaching to him for the past few months. This image, taken last Saturday during one of his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning games, is one of those moments.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


We had a nice surprise heading into practice tonight. The champions banner for the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A's undefeated run at the Labor Day Challenge was placed upon a wall at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy.

Going forward, we'll be reminded of that wonderful hockey weekend every time we walk into that rink.

Down the road, I hope it's there long enough for Colin's children, should he be fortunate enough to have any, can see his name on that banner. Of course, having a couple more banners with his name listed on them would be nice, too.

Special thanks, too, to Sam Barranco for taking the photo.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Hockey Life: Fatherhood

Last Sunday's death of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon hit home. It had nothing to do with him being a professional athlete. Nor was it because he lived here in St. Petersburg. I didn't know him, either, only meeting him briefly as Colin got an autograph.

No, the connection was far more personal. He was a daddy, just like me.

When you take away money, jobs and possessions -- all things we've been told, for good or bad, are defining factors --  there are two types of men -- fathers and those who aren't. Fatherhood crosses every line -- racial, socioeconomic, spiritual. It's a common bond for millions of us.

Fathers face an enormous pressure to provide for their families, serve as positive role models and lead our little ones down the path of becoming an adult. Sometimes we get it right. There are times, though, when we're the ones learning. Still, we don't complain. Choosing to become a father means choosing to accept that responsibility.

Over the past week, from the initial news of Wheldon's horrifying crash to yesterday's funeral and memorial service here in his adopted hometown, one thing became crystal clear: as much as the speed of racing brought him fame and fortune, it was being a father to Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, 7 months, that kept him grounded.

If you're looking for one quality that defines a good man, there you go.

Over the past 10-plus years, from the day I first held Colin only minutes after his birth to watching him score a game-winning goal with less than a minute to play yesterday, I've done my best to be a good man. More often than not, I believe, I've reached that goal. Lessons have taught him right from wrong. Honesty, he's learned, is the best policy. He has been held accountable for his actions, as well.

Along the way, we've shared a growing lifetime of memories, far beyond hockey, that bring smiles to our faces. From our fishing (mis)adventures to flying kites to many, many innings of watching minor league baseball, it has been, and I hope it remains, a fun ride. That, to me, is what separates a Daddy from a father.

For whatever reason, which remains elusive to this day, the man listed as my father on my birth certificate played no role in my life. Thankfully, I had plenty of other positive role models, from within and outside of my family, to guide me down my path. In most cases, I learned what to do.

I also know the gut-wrenching pain of losing a parent as a child. That early morning call, when I feigned sleep because I wanted it to be a bad, bad dream, is fresh in my mind, like it happened only yesterday. Nearly 40 years after the fact, it still brings tears. No child should lose a parent.

Wheldon's sons, Sebastian, 2, and Oliver, 7 months, are far too young to even remember him. The only memories of their far-too-short time together were his. As they grow up, I hope they take comfort in knowing that their Daddy, in spirit and from high above, will be watching over them, protecting them and doing his job.

That's what a good daddy does.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ice time at the Forum

Just got word that Colin will attend the first Lightning Made Clinic of the 2011-12 season at the St. Pete Times Forum. He was lucky enough to attend all four free events last year.

A great learning experience, it must to be a hoot, too, skating on the Forum ice.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Taking a pass

Not that my presence was truly missed, but I passed on hounding the Florida Panthers yesterday morning. Seeing that it was the home opener, I really should've made the trip over to Tampa. But, with my car in the garage and a nagging cold that won't go away, I felt it best that I stay home and get some freelance work done.

It's not like the Panthers won't be back this season, too. Even with all of the new faces down there in South Florida, I can wait for a return trip. It also shows the realignment of my priorities this season. That's one of the benefits of not having to hound for a living.

Having said that, Colin and I might head over Saturday morning for the Sabres. Because I'm pulling a night shift and he doesn't play until 2 p.m., our schedules are clear for a morning skate session. Besides, I have a few pucks left over from last season.

Now, if this freakin' cold would go away.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Hockey Life: Getting vocal

There are very few times in life when I choose to simply sit back and stay quiet. Maybe that's the reason why I got into journalism -- to have a voice, as well as a platform when the situation dictated, to make myself heard.

Simply, it's who I am. One of the father figures in my life, for good or bad, taught me to stick up for my beliefs and not be afraid to speak up or out. If you believe in something, he told me, you have every right to tell the world. It's up to others, though, to listen.

People are finding out, too, that my vocal nature extends beyond a newsroom. I tend to get a little loud at Colin's Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning games, hopefully for all of the right reasons.

Most of the time, it's being supportive of the kids, congratulating them on a goal, great hustle or a particularly strong shift. Sometimes, the old player in me comes out, giving a head's up to one of our defensemen if a forward is getting closer and how fast he's approaching. "One hard," if he's close and fast, or "One soft," if the kid is merely taking a twirl. Seldom do I give the refs a hard time. That's what the coaches are supposed to do.

When the third period comes around, though, my voice grows even louder. I'm a big fan of reminding our team, through urging our kids to skate hard, that their hard work wins game. I'll admit to getting in subtle digs at certain programs, one in particular (I still can't fathom why any parent would take their child across the Skyway Bridge to play in that program), that clean, hard hockey, not taking cheap penalties when the game's outcome is no longer in doubt, is the way to go.

From where I sit or stand in a chilly rink, there's nothing wrong with that.

Last weekend's games, a pair of 3-2 victories, were particularly enjoyable and vocal. Both wins came against teams that spanked Colin's teams during the spring season.

The first carried even more satisfaction after that team's parents exulted a bit too much about a month ago when their Squirt A squad lit up a combined Mites-Squirt A squad in a scrimmage. It's funny, I didn't hear them say much after the game this time. I didn't say anything in return, though I was tempted. No, all I did was look at a couple "familiar" faces and smile.

The second game, against one of the self-appointed premier programs, was my best vocal effort of the season, so far. Though their kids were trailing in the third period, I must applaud the parents' efforts to get the team back in the game. And while some of it was comical (one Mom telling everyone else to pass to her kid so he could score all of the goals his team needed), I certainly wasn't about to let it go unchecked.

I answered each and every encouragement with one of my own, drawing upon, once again, telling the Jr. Lightning to work hard so the other team hard to work that much harder. "Make 'em work!" I'd yell. "Make 'em skate!" As the game wound down, though, I think I came up with my best line, even it if might been have perceived as one of two ways: 1.) a bit demoralizing to the other team; and 2.) a bit of sideline coaching.

Holding a 3-1 lead and maintaining possession of the puck in the opponent's end, I waited until the other side's screeching stopped and offered my two cents, simply urging the kids to "Play catch with the puck. There you go, back and forth. Just like baseball, kids, just play catch. We don't need to score again, but they do."

I didn't hear a peep from the other side until the buzzer sounded.

If I'm hard on anyone, yes, it's Colin. Just ask him. He'll tell you. I'll tell him when he has played well, but I'm not too shy about letting him know when he needs to work or skate harder and appreciate the opportunities before him. He's spent too much time working on his skating, shooting and growing hockey sense to take more than the occasional step back.

After getting beat on a center ice faceoff in a rec league game last Sunday and watching the kid pull away from him and score an unassisted goal, I asked Colin, as he skated sheepishly back up ice, very loudly if he enjoyed that goal, as he had the best seat in the house. His response? He won the next faceoff, skated down the ice and nearly scored, clanging one off of the post.

I like when he talks back to me like that.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Revisiting history

During training camp, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher went to great lengths to remind players that this season wasn't about picking up where the team left off last season. No, he said, this season meant starting from scratch.

Well, after last night's loss to the Islanders, dropping the Lighting to 1-2-1 on the season, I'm thinking maybe Boucher might want to revisit his approach. Making the playoffs is hard enough. Having to pull yourself out of a hole only adds to that effort.

Then again, I'm just a hockey dad and a journalist. What the heck do I know?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Hockey Life: It all adds up

As any hockey parent knows, having a child play the game takes commitment, especially a financial one. Beyond the league fees, there always seems to be something that's needed or wanted that cuts into the checking account.

It's not a complaint, though. We knew what we were getting into, long before the big bills of travel hockey. I must admit, though, to longing for those days, that weren't even that long ago, of Hockey 101 and 201. To us, really, it's a lifestyle choice.

Rather than check out the latest TexMex/Asian Fusion/Grilled Cheese restaurant, be the first in line at the new Legoland here in Florida or watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster with a $6 tub of hot-buttered popcorn, you're more apt to find us in some sort of hockey environment, most likely a rink, with a $2 cup of generic coffee.

That's where we feel most at home.

Still, though, after dropping $2,250 for a fall-winter travel season, payable in installments, and then another $360 for some rec league games and ice time, it's amazing just how quickly the extras add up. Trust me, too, there's no nickel-and-diming here.

Over the past seven weeks, we've bought:

~ A $50 tournament T-shirt;

~ two more tournament T-shirts for $44;

~ a new pair of Bauer hockey pants for $50; and

~ a Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning warmup suit for $72.

And that doesn't include the hotel stays, meals out, skate sharpenings, skate laces, rolls of sock and stick tape, bottles of Gatorade and Powerade as well as the weekly Wednesday $5.35 skating sessions at the Westfield Countryside mall. Let's not forget the costs of transportation and food between games. That's how these costs quickly add up.

Granted, these are our decisions. It would be just as easy, I suppose, to say no. Though we don't have as deep pockets as some of our fellow hockey parents, these are the things you do as a parent to support a child's dream. Understand, too, that we'd do the same if Colin wanted to play baseball, chess or the violin.

Some could argue that we'd likely be better off setting money aside for his college education. Valid point. We're fortunate, though, that his grandparents have been doing that. We've focused the past two years paying down our debt. Though we still have some work to do, the end result, given current employment conditions remaining the same, is the opportunity to gain liquidity, so to speak, and play catch-up -- for him and for us.

So, no, we're not putting all of our eggs in one basket.

Given recent developments at my employer, which include another 5 percent across-the-board pay reduction as well as hopefully dodging yet another pink-slip bullet, we're fortunate to afford our hockey luxuries. It's my freelance work that pays the hockey bills.

That doesn't mean, though, that we're standing pat and crossing our fingers that current conditions will continue. That, to me, wouldn't be too smart. I've had a few ideas rolling around in my head for some time now on how to add to our bottom line through hockey.

No, it's not selling autographs. In the weeks ahead, we'll see just how realistic they are. I'll never know if they'll work unless I try. It's time, folks, that we take those steps.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thanks, Victor

Now that the Tampa Bay Lightning's website beat me to the punch, even causing a slight, but tolerable embarrassment, it's time to show the rewards of our efforts in attending last night's Lightning Radio Show at a McDonald's in Tampa.

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman was the guest of honor, taking questions from fans and signing autographs later. Technically, I don't think of these as hounding opportunities, but I seldom look a gift horse, so to speak, in the mouth. An autograph is an autograph, always adding to the collection.

While getting autographs was cool, the time Hedman spent answering Colin's question on-air and then talking to him for a few minutes later about playing travel hockey certainly created memories for Colin and myself. And, really, that's the most important thing for us.

For the record, Colin asked Hedman if he ever played travel hockey as a kid. Surprisingly, Hedman said he didn't. There were enough kids and rinks in his hometown that it wasn't necessary to travel. Certainly raised my eyebrows.

A bonus, too, was that Rick Peckham, the show's moderator, added that Colin played for the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning and told listeners about the Squirt A squad's championship at the Labor Day tournament in Ellenton.

Besides adding to Colin's Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning hat, here are the other items we got signed last night:

Hedman signed this new-look Lightning logo puck; and

a promotional T-shirt produced by the Lightning during Hedman's rookie season.

Hat's off

One of the perks of playing travel-team hockey are the amenities that come with it. Some are free. Some cost money. Either way, it's all about the kids representing who they play for. In this case, it's a Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning team hat.

While some of his teammates will likely keep the cap as clean as they can, Colin put his to good use, getting autographs from members of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization over the past weeks.

After getting a good start during the Lightning's training camp in Brandon, scoring the likes of Ryan Malone, Nate Thompson, Adam Hall and Dustin Tokarski (all in blue), Colin added Dave Andreychuk and Victor Hedman last night during a Lightning Radio Show in Tampa.

With the NHL season starting tonight, we're thinking there's plenty of time to fill out the rest of the hat.

No complaints, here

Now that we're hours away from the puck dropping on the 2011-12 NHL season, I figured it about time I started filing posts that deal with housing, specifically some of the autographs we've added. After all, The Hockey Life is much more than one proud hockey dad writing about his son.

This pair of pucks came from the Tampa Bay Lightning's training camp, our first hounding adventure of the campaign. It was on the day of a game, so we thought we might snag some of the Lightning's stars after taking part in a light morning skate. Instead, we found players who wouldn't be playing that night.

After watching the guys skate and run through drills, we made sure we didn't go home empty-handed. Beyond these autographs, from Alexandre Picard (left, on the Lewiston Maineiacs puck) and Daniel Milan, we got to talk to fellow Bolts prospects Cory Conacher and Kevin Quick.

Colin didn't seem to mind, not the least bit. It doesn't matter where they play -- NHL, AHL, juniors or college. To him, a hockey player is a hockey player.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No, not yet

This past Sunday, before Colin took to the ice for a Tampa Bay Metro League game, a fellow hockey parent was lamenting how some parents are foolishly believing their son will someday play in the NHL.

"How many years have kids been skating here in this rink?" he asked anyone willing to listen. "Not a single kid has made it. Nor will any make it."

And though he has a point -- no players have made it to the NHL out of this rink -- I had to bite my lip. It's good he already knows this, I thought to myself, because, well, it'll be a reality for him.

As one of those parents helping their son chase that dream, I don't think it's foolish. No, not the least little bit. It's my job, as a hockey parent, to afford my son every opportunity.

Like I always say, Colin has a long, long, long way to go. That's why I also say we're raising a hockey player, not a goal scorer. We'll know over the next few years if changes, such as moving to a more challenging environment, are in order.

You know what, though? Someone has to be the first. Why not my kid?

Monday, October 3, 2011

My mess

I'm working on my first puck order of the 2011-12 hockey-hounding campaign from Anderson KTP and I still have signed pucks to put away from last season.

Looks like I need to take a day off from my freelance work to get this mess cleaned up. That back corner of the display case looks a little thin, too.

And to think I give Colin a hard time about his messy bedroom and playroom.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Hockey Life: Preparedness

Every hockey journey begins with a first step. Often, it's shaky, as steel meets ice, as naturals are few and far between. In months, those first glides, sometimes accompanied by a guiding hand, show signs of progress. With time and practice, though, confidence takes hold.

To me, that's the beauty of watching your child grow through hockey. As much as you want to rush that process, you know better than to force the issue. Instead, you place your child in the best position possible to succeed, not fail.

Think of it, if you will, as taking baby steps. For us, the foundation for Colin's hockey has been skating. That's why we spent the first three years focused on it. From lessons to our weekly sessions at a mall rink, it has been about developing a stride, increasing his speed and building his wind so he's not tired in the third period of a doubleheader.

Along the way, he's taken part in programs and clinics, at a considerable expense, to learn the basics of the game. Through these efforts, working his way from Intro to Hockey to Hockey 101 and then Hockey 201, he has gained an invaluable knowledge of the rules and basic concepts. Since those early sessions, he has been a student of the game.

Over the past two years, we've deepened our commitment to his hockey through summer camps, semi-private skating lessons and increasing levels of competition to gauge just where he's at and what exactly he needs to work on. Trust me, Colin still has plenty of room for improvement. Still, from Day 1, a brick-by-brick approach has defined our program.

After watching his first Tampa Bay Metro League game last week, it's apparent that our approach with Colin might be viewed as old school. Though our goal is for Colin to work on his leadership skills in this developmental rec league, it didn't take long to understand just how much opportunity would present itself.

Rather than running their children through the normal development programs, as we did with Colin, there are a few parents who've rushed their youngsters into competition, simply for the sake of playing. Honestly, some can barely stop on their skates. Others simply lack ice awareness. A case in point: We had one kid who was offsides three times in a period, called each time as he was 10 feet into the zone and headed toward the net.

Before accusing me of being a hockey snob or asking what business is it of mine what other families do, I believe I have a valid point, one that focuses on safety. In a league that recruited travel-team players, there's a heightened risk that someone lacking even the most basic of skills and understanding of the game can get seriously hurt. It's just not the basics that haven't been grasped.

No, my fear is that one of these kids won't know enough to get out of the way and end up in a collision that injures both players. Even worse, I'm worried that one of these players, in a show of frustration at being in way over his head, could lash out at an opponent in a deliberate attempt to injure. My concerns, sadly, aren't unfounded.

Before Colin's first practice, one such player (a teammate, too) threatened to spear Colin in the berries. I suggested to that young man that 1.) that wouldn't be a good idea; and 2.) that's not what hockey is all about. Where does a kid, who's no more than 12 and can barely keep his skates underneath him, get that idea from?

That brings me back to parents. It seems we have a handful on our team who don't favor taking the slow-road approach with their children, building a solid foundation of skating and teaching the basics. Throwing them into the fire, prepared or not, seems to be their method. Not too smart, if you ask me. And, no, I didn't hesitate to make my feelings known.

To me, this is an issue that must be addressed by the coaches. If I was a coach, I wouldn't play kids who, to me, have no business participating in anything more than a 4-on-4, cross-ice, summer-league scrimmage. If they're not ready, they don't play. It's that simple.  And, if that bruises a parent's overinflated ego, so be it. I'll remind them, too, there's better ways to spend money.

The rink's program needs to revisit its decision, too. One team within the league carries six travel-team players and few, if any, developmental-level players. It's my odd-on favorite to win the league championship. It makes me wonder, though, if money, and not player development and potentially safety, is the only motivation at play here. If so, let's hope that doesn't prove costly -- for parents or the program.

I learned a long time ago that it takes much more than putting on equipment and lacing up skates to become a hockey player. It's a shame that everyone -- from parents to coaches and beyond -- hasn't learned that lesson.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

For Capt. Al and the Beasts

Last season, maybe even two years ago, Capt. Al, began his quest to convert Colin into a Maple Leafs fan. Part of Capt. Al's effort was sending Colin a Maple Leafs jersey. He also sent Colin a patch from his former fire station, the Beasts of Bloor in downtown Toronto.

Well, I finally got around to adding the patch to the Leafs jersey, so Colin always remembers who gave it to him.

Last night, Colin honored the Toronto Fire Service's so-called Beasts by wearing the jersey and patch during his Tampa Bay Metro League team practice.

There's more pictures, too, at this Facebook photo album.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Hockey Life: Leadership

Two weeks ago, I signed up Colin for another league this fall and winter. Sure, his travel team hockey keeps us busy. Costs a pretty dime, too. But, as I watched him play and practice with this Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A squad so far this season, I knew he needed more.

It's not just more ice time, either. Nor is it to pad his stats, should he be so lucky to even be in that position. No, the real reason he's playing his first game this morning in the Tampa Bay Metro League is to develop his leadership abilities.

As something of a developmental league, there's no shame in getting ice time to improve your skills, in any aspect of the game. Every practice, every shift and every shot will only make him a better player. The ability to serve as a leader to kids younger than him, though, is what this will be all about.

Going into this game, I can't say with absolute certainty how well or poorly the team will play. Given that some of the kids are still getting their ice legs under them suggests we might be in for a long season. I'll be honest with you. That's exactly what I'm looking for. There are more lessons to be learned in a loss than through a win.

In the Sunday mornings ahead, Colin will have the opportunity to show a handful of kids that you don't give up, no matter the score. You skate hard and play even harder. Hopefully, he'll show them the "Go Hard" that's taped to his sticks. For us, there's no other way to play the game.

The opportunities. I believe, extend far beyond the rewards of hard work. He'll help show that it takes a team, and not just one selfish player, to score a goal or win a game. It's one of my hockey math proverbs: It's easier for five to score a single goal than it is for one to score five. Of course, having fun will be part of the drill. After all, hockey's a game.

Part of it, too, is to pay back, with interest, some of the older kids who provided lessons in leadership for Colin. When he first started playing hockey three years ago, he was lucky enough to have some older boys (That's you Steven, Joey, Daniel and, yes, sadly, Tyler) take him under their wings and instill some lessons that have shaped his growing game. It's only right, then, that he returns the favor.

Like any game, all I ask is that he play hard and to the best of his abilities to put his team and teammates in the best possible position for a victory or success. Thankfully, he's been doing that more consistently. Now, he faces the added responsibility of being a leader.

I'm thinking, more than hoping, it'll be a wise investment.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Penciling in dates

It wasn't all that long ago that I swore I would cut back on my/our hounding efforts during the 2011-12 season. Not enough time, I figured, given Colin's hockey commitments. Money, as always, would be an issue. Having checked the Lightning's schedule, however, I'm backing off a bit on that statement.

Conditions exist, I believe, for a normal slate of hounding adventures.

The big change this campaign, though, will come with the different approach to getting items signed. As always, pucks will make up a major component of our efforts. Colin's team sheets, when he's able to attend, will also come into play. Cards, I'm afraid, will take a diminished role. They take up too much prep time. And, if I'm going to spend money, I'd rather buy pucks.

There will be a few projects -- items that fell off the radar the past few seasons -- that will enter the mix.

My goal is to increasingly focus more on quality, rather than quantity. Minimizing the time spent hounding, too, is high on the list. Full-day trips, save for the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings, will be few and far-between. With any luck, 90 minutes will be our longest session.

Having said all that, we kicked off the campaign this morning, turning our attention to the Tampa Bay Lightning. With any hometown team, it's best to get them early, rather than often. Colin will have some 8x10s of himself with some of the players. I'll have quite a few pucks, most likely the result of my wishful thinking.

As for the rest of the season, we're splitting our 24 hounding adventures, mostly taking place on weekdays, into two divisions:

Morning skates
These teams receive top priority

Nov. 4, 2011: Chicago Blackhawks
Nov. 9: Philadelphia Flyers
Nov. 17: Pittsburgh Penguins
Dec. 15: Calgary Flames
Jan. 10, 2012: Vancouver Canucks
Jan. 17: Boston Bruins
Jan. 24: Columbus Blue Jackets
Jan. 31: Washington Capitals
Feb. 2: Winnipeg Jets
Feb. 7: Los Angeles Kings
Feb. 16: San Jose Sharks
Feb. 21: Anaheim Ducks
March 13: Boston Bruins
March 17: St. Louis Blues
March 19: Buffalo Sabres
March 22: Edmonton Oilers

Optional skates
Reserve the right to pass on these teams

Oct. 17, 2011: Florida Panthers
Oct. 20: New York Islanders
Dec. 12: New Jersey Devils
Dec. 31: Carolina Hurricanes
Feb. 28, 2012: Montreal Canadiens
March 2: New York Rangers
March 6: Ottawa Senators
March 15: Toronto Maple Leafs

Of course, this is subject to change. But, still, it provides a roadmap.

We don't need this

D'oh, Canada. I'd expect to read about some yahoo throwing a banana at the Flyers' Wayne Simmonds in Philly, not in Ontario.

Sorry, but one fool can give a province a black eye. Time to become enlightened, folks.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Getting ready for practice

Between our work and school schedules, and the practice rink more than 20 miles from home, Tuesdays are a busy day for our hockey household. What does that mean? Colin has to get dressed for practice at the newsroom.

We'd been dropping him off at a teammate's house, so he could catch an earlier ride to his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning practice. A trial run, with him ready for the ice when The Missus picked him up at the paper, showed he could arrive at the rink in time for practice.

So, after finishing his homework and fueling up on a PB&J or a Fluffernutter, Colin starts the 10-minute process of donning his gear, including his skates, amid the smiles of my newspaper colleagues. Thankfully, we've yet to hear any complaints.

Should his journey lead to bigger pastures, I'm sure many people other than us will remember those Tuesday afternoons. It may not be the most traditional of locker rooms, but, hey, it works.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Names in the paper

One of the perks of working for a newspaper is knowing when items of interest are going to appear within its pages. That's why today's edition was extra special.

News of the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A team's championship at the Labor Day Challenge tournament was included in several sections community sports column.

For the kids, it was a big deal to see their names in print -- in bold type, no less -- for their accomplishment. I'm sure, too, that a few parents (myself included) puffed out their chests in pride after reading the item.

A team photo was submitted with the item. A lack of space on the page, however, limited the news to only the text shown here. Still, no complaints. It's like I told the kids, too: If they win another tournament, maybe we can get a team photo published for that.

The Hockey Life: Responsibility

Just take a look at that mouthpiece. Ugly, isn't it? That's what happens, though, when it's used as a chew toy, not as it's intended -- to reduce the risk of a concussion.

Well, we've had enough.

After asking Colin not to chew on them and then telling him not to do that, we went off in a new direction. Colin, rather than us, is now responsible for buying his mouthguards. And, no, he can't buy the cheap $5 models, like this one. Instead, he'll have to buy the better, brand-name models (read, more expensive) for himself.

That's why we stopped by a national sporting goods store chain last Wednesday, after Colin's two-plus hour skating session at a rink inside a mall in Clearwater. After weighing the costs and benefits of two models, it took only minutes for Colin to spend $16.05, tax included, of his own money for a new mouthguard.

Understand, too, that Colin doesn't receive an allowance. He has certain chores that he has to do to earn his keep, so to speak, around the house. He earns any extra money by washing our cars and performing yard work tasks. Every so often, too, his Nana and Babop send him money for good report cards and assorted holidays.

Our idea is that if he has to pay for something, he might take better care of it. If he wants to keep chewing on his mouthguards, so be it. When it happens, he'll just have to buy another one for himself. Really, it's just that simple.

He's 10 years old now, so it's time, at least in this hockey dad's way of thinking, for him to contribute to his hockey expenditures. Maybe it'll help him understand the huge financial commitment we undertake for him to play hockey.

We've already committed $2,250 for his fall-winter travel hockey season. We'll pay another $360 for a fall-winter rec league, where he can hone skills and develop leadership abilities. He's good on equipment now, as we adopt a piecemeal approach of spreading out those purchases, but there's always something coming down the road (He has his eye on a Grit HT1 Hockey Tower in Bruins colors). And let's not forget the nickel-and-diming costs of sticks, tape and sharpening skates.

To me, his $15 every so often is just a drop in the bucket. The lesson learned, should it happen, will be priceless.

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