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.