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.