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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Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Hockey Life: Never forget

Our thousand words, in a single photograph.

Nearing home

The end of a long hockey day, taken Saturday night as we crossed the Sunshine Skyway over Tampa Bay.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bragging daddy alert: Season opener

The Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A squad showed no quit, coming back from a 3-0 first-period deficit to make the Jr. Everblades earn a hard-fought 4-3 win in the Central Florida Hockey League season opener. In the second game, Colin scored his first goal of the regular season and had three assists in a 15-2 win over the Raiders.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What in God's name?

All day long, my mind has been occupied thinking of the continued sorrow that has hit the hockey community. First, Derek Boogaard. Then, Rick Rypien. And, just last week, Wade Belak. Now, the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Coincidence? A message? All I can do is pray.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New duds

New-look jerseys for the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A squad.

I guess winning the Labor Day Challenge over the weekend carried some extra benefits. Then, again, it just may be pure coincidence.

Either way, the kids have them in time for the season opener in Estero this weekend.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The thrill of victory

Want to know what it's like to win a youth hockey tournament?

Just take a look at this picture of Colin, moments after the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirts A won the Labor Day Challenge in Ellenton earlier today, beating the Space Coast Hurricanes, 3-1, in the finals.

The team went 5-0 during the four-day event, including the two playoff games today. Last week, in Coral Springs, the team finished with a 2-1-1 record.

For the Labor Day tournament, Colin had a goal (incorrectly credited on the official score sheet to one of the team's two goalies) in Sunday's game and finished with a plus-3.

Special thanks, too, to Sam J. Barranco Jr. for taking and sharing this photo

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bragging Daddy Alert #2

Colin scored his first goal of the fall-winter season today, pitching in during the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A's 6-0 victory over the Scorpions "2" on Sunday. He tells me it came during a scrum in front of the net and he dove to knock it in.

I guess Colin was motivated after being "forgotten" by his coaches in the third period of Saturday's game.

The team won its division, finishing the qualifier 3-0. Next game is at 7:15 a.m. Monday in Ellenton. If they win that game, and it's against the team they beat Friday night, they play for the Labor Day Challenge championship.

Guess what? I get to watch the first game. Thanks to a colleague at the paper, I even get to watch the second game, if necessary. That, alone, is good enough for me.

The Hockey Life: Tying skates

For the past five-plus years, ever since moving down here to Hockey Bay, I've played an integral role in Colin's ice time. No, it's not packing his hockey bag. Nor is it taking him to a rink, be it in Clearwater, Brandon, Oldsmar or Ellenton. Those duties, as every hockey parent knows, are a given.

My key role has been to tie Colin's skates. Not too loose nor too tight. Just right, so he has enough ankle support without cutting off circulation. Tight enough to keep his foot in place, not swimming around in each boot. A well-tied skate, I believe, maximizes the power of each stride.

Along the way, I've also helped him with his equipment. At first, it was making sure the shin guards and elbow pads went on the correct appendages. That's why most gear for young kids come with an "L" or "R," a useful guide for those in a hurry. In the past few seasons, though, he's taken over that responsibility, as he should have, though jerseys, sometimes, require a little assistance navigating his shoulder pads.

Tying his skates, however, has been a constant. It didn't matter the place, either. I'd tie them before Wednesday afternoon skating sessions at the rink inside a Clearwater mall. Same, too, for practices. My favorite time, though, came before games. It meant that I'd be able to watch him play.

Understand, too, that I never, ever complained about the callouses on my pinkies or index fingers. I wore them as signs of honor.

As much as I knew he needed to learn to do it for himself, it was my last pregame duty as a hockey dad. He has been tying his shoes for years now, so it wasn't for not knowing how. A lack of upper body strength to tighten the laces, perhaps, but that's why they make lace tighteners. 

Honestly, I just didn't want to give it up. It provided one more opportunity to talk before the game, to remind him to play hard, not back down and do his best to put his team in the best position possible for a win. A last-minute pep talk, so to speak, even if it meant getting in his grill a little bit.

This season, his first full with a travel team, marks a change. With a new rule of no parents in the locker room on game day, it has meant that someone else -- namely the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirts A coaches -- would be responsible for tying his skates. I knew, too, that Colin wouldn't be alone in needing help.

Last night, in learning about all of the drama of a thrilling, last-second 3-2 victory in the Labor Day Challenge tournament, Colin dropped a bombshell on his old man. He told me he'd tied his own skates -- for the first time ever. By hand, too, without using a lace tightener. He also owned up that he batted. 500 in doing so. While his right skate felt just fine, he asked one of his coaches to tighten the left skate.

You know, the kid just might be a hockey player someday.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

For Tyler

For the past 18 months, Colin has had an embellishment on his hockey helmets -- two letters and two numbers. The "TD 46" are in memory of Tyler Dobies, one of his older hockey "brothers" who unfortunately paid the ultimate price for making a mistake.

Though he had his demons, which were unbeknownst to us, Tyler always looked out for Colin on the ice during pickup games. Rather than sweep Tyler's death under the rug, we use this unfortunate incident as a valuable teaching lesson for Colin.

In return, Colin, through his new helmet, continues to honor his positive memories of Tyler.