Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Hockey Life: Three points

Random thoughts, in no particular order, that I'm taking away from the Holiday Invitational hockey tournament last week at Germain Arena in Estero:

~ OF ALL THE PICTURES we've taken of Colin playing hockey this year, from Lightning Made Clinics to the P.A.L. Stars to the Jr. Bulls, the one shown above is my favorite. It's not game action, so to speak, but it was taken during a tournament game.

Though I'd seen this picture before, showing members of the East Coast Hockey League's Orlando Solar Bears in a game against the Florida Everblades, I knew I had to take one of Colin and a few of his teammates when they played on the big rink. Pretty clever marketing, if you ask me.

I'm hoping, too, I wasn't the only parent to take a picture like this.Certainly, I could've waited until the kids were lined up better, but I felt it was best to use the opportunity when it presented itself. It was there for the taking.

Years from now, I'm sure Colin will still get a chuckle out of it, as it represents a comedic highlight of a season that hasn't been the most fun.

~ MAJOR STICKS TAPS for the Brandon Jr. Bulls Peewee A squad and its performance during the tournament. The kids swept their division, winning all four games. Even more commendable is they won despite scoring only eight goals. The fact the team and its red-hot goalie, Troy, gave up only two goals went a long, long way toward winning their division.

Unfortunately, they lost their first semifinal game, 6-5 in overtime. They fought back from a quick 2-0 deficit and, with three minutes remaining in the game, led 5-4. Still, there was absolutely no reason for the kids to hang their heads. It was a solid and completely respectable effort.

We'll see how their performance carries over with tournaments in Atlanta in January and Charlotte, N.C., in February.

~ THE JR. BULLS HAD a bit of a scare in its opening game when it started out with a very thin bench. All told, only eight players had arrived by the time the puck dropped on Wednesday's first game. It seems a traffic jam, brought about by an accident along Interstate 75 north of the rink, delayed the arrival of a number of players.

It wasn't until the second period that all players arrived for the game. In a way, it was kind of funny seeing them stand at a rink door awaiting a whistle so they could join the team.

Thankfully, we missed the traffic, as we left earlier in the day so we could scout the team's first opponent. That luck, however, disappeared as we headed home Friday. Another accident, this time at the I-75 and I-275 interchange north of Ellenton, backed up traffic for miles.

What should've been a two-hour ride home turned into a four-hour adventure that included a ride around Tampa Bay before we finally made it home in time for The Missus' birthday.

By the way, Carrabba's is overpriced and overrated.

P.S. Colin scored some autographs from University of Maine and Ferris State players during the tournament. Look for a post about that this week.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas, folks

From our hockey home to yours, Christmas greetings to our hockey friends all over the world.

~ 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.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Band of brothers

Sure, it would've been much nicer, as far as we're concerned, had the Pinellas Sheriff's P.A.L. Stars won the Metro League title, but Colin was proud to stand with his teammates Saturday night to watch the Scorpions accept their championship medals.

He'll be back with the Stars, the first organized team he played for, during the spring rec season, working on his leadership and hockey skills.

The upcoming season will serve as an opportunity to pay back P.A.L. Stars alums, like Steven, Joey and Daniel, who took him under their wings back when he was just getting started. Now, it's his turn to welcome someone into the Stars family.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Hockey Life: Tourney time

Beginning this week and heading through mid-February, Colin and his Brandon Jr. Bulls teammates will be playing in more tournament games than anything else. It's that time of the year that puts the "travel" in travel hockey: tournament season.

Tournaments provide, at the minimum, four games in two days. Making the semifinals adds another game. Playing for the championship means a sixth game. All told, the kids could play 18 games in less than two months, matching the sum of their Central Florida Hockey League season, which runs from October to February.

Unlike last season, when tournament time was new to us and proved to be highly enjoyable, we're heading into this one with mixed feelings. While we always look forward to watching Colin play, there are a couple of others factors that are worth considering.

This season's journey begins Wednesday, when we head down to Estero, Fla., for the team to skate in the Holiday Invitational at Germain Arena. Thankfully, it's a two-hour ride down and we're familiar with the surroundings. Even better, we'll get to catch up with friends whose son is also playing in the tournament.

After that, we could find ourselves in Atlanta over the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday weekend in mid-January. Though we paid our entry fee and have made hotel and car reservations, I'm not sure we're going. Like any tournament, the costs can quickly add up. This one, when it's done, could cost us, at the least, between $700-$800.

To us, that's a big chunk of change. Especially when, about a month later, the team is scheduled to play near Charlotte, N.C. While that trip will likely be as expensive, there's more incentive to go on that one. We have relatives in South Carolina, so we'll stay with them. That tournament, too, will give them their first  opportunity to see Colin play hockey. That alone makes the trip, which is the most appealing one of the plate, worth every last penny.

All told, though, these three tournaments could cost us (I'm estimating between $1,700 or $2,000) more than the CFHL season fees (about $1,650).  These costs include the tournament fees, lodging, transportation (we'll rent cars rather drive our high-mileage vehicles and it'll be cheaper than airfare for three), food and incidentals. It all adds up -- very quickly, too.

For that very reason, finances are the driving force behind any decision. Only recently has my freelance work, which pays for Colin's hockey, started to ramp up. When I had a steady gig, it wasn't much of a problem. I saw the rewards of my consistent 60- to 65-hour weeks, factoring in my 40 hours at the newspaper. Sadly, I haven't had too many of those since July. Colin's hockey, unfortunately, has felt that pinch.

Yes, we knew going in, as we have with other seasons, that travel hockey isn't cheap. That's why I put in the extra time, when it's available, so we can afford this luxury. These days, it's more important to replenish our finances and be much more selective with our spending. We already passed on one tournament, down in South Florida after Thanksgiving, for that reason. Those savings will help make our Christmas a little merrier and cover some of the costs of this week's road trip.

This week's trip represents our first extended stay, so to speak, with the Brandon Jr. Bulls organization. Because we haven't had the best of times this season, because of a recurring (and hopefully resolved) issue, I'm curious how this trip will go, from how the kids play during their games to what happens off the ice.

As an aside (and, likely, a future Sunday column topic), I'm hoping that one disturbing story about parental drinking during the South Florida tournament isn't repeated. It seems, and not just within the Jr. Bulls organization, that some parents believe tournaments are a reason to party hard. Thankfully, I'm not one of those parents.

This week will also be a first for Colin and me. The Missus has to work, so it'll just be us boys. That's why we're approaching this like a pair of teammates on a minor-league road trip -- hanging out, making some memories and having as much fun for as little money as we can. I'm thinking it'll be much more father-son bonding than anything else.

Bottom line, this tournament season should be mostly about hockey and having fun. Let's hope it is.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Interesting stats

Just last week, I liked a page on Facebook dedicated to getting rid of bullying here in the Tampa Bay area. Given that we've had to deal with it repeatedly this travel team hockey season (and, sadly, it still hasn't gone away), it's a subject that hits close to home.

The group shared an image that detailed the personal consequences of bullying. Two pieces of information stand out. 1.) What the victim of bullying goes through, as we've noticed that here at home. 2.) The path that bullies can take as they grow older.

Bottom line, it's unfortunate that this remains a problem, here in Tampa Bay and across the nation. Unfortunately, some people -- adults and children alike -- just don't get it.

And, if people don't like what I'm saying here, that's too bad. I'm only telling the truth.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hockey Life: Cemetery Swamp

One of the best parts of growing up in Machias, N.Y. -- and there were many -- were pond hockey adventures during the winter. Many afternoons were spent living out my hockey dreams across the rough patches of ice in western New York.

Really, it didn't matter where we all skated. It could be Lime Lake, a pond in a farmer's field or out back behind the Gilbert's. Some of my first strides were taken on an ice patch, formed when snow turned to slush and then froze, in a cut-down corn field.

For the most part, though, my home rink, so to speak, was Cemetery Swamp, just down Roszyk Hill Road from where I grew up. As long as it froze over, and none of us fell in, that's all that mattered.

In a way, it was my hockey classroom. A laboratory, perhaps. It was my place to learn how to skate, practice my dekes (if I ever had any) and put the puck on net.  It was where I could try, fail and, every once in a blue moon, succeed.

As you can see in the picture above, taken in the mid 1970s, hockey equipment was optional. Though we all had skates (I was rocking a pair of Bauer Special Pro 95s, size 12), few of us had hockey gloves, shin guards or shoulder pads. Forget helmets and cages, too. We didn't get those until later, shortly after I knocked out a kid's tooth playing street hockey.

For me, my hockey uniform consisted of layers. Two to three pairs of socks. Long johns under sweat pants or a pair of jeans. A warmup jacket over a sweat shirt (or two), long-sleeve turtleneck and a T-shirt. Looking back, the layers likely served just as much as bodily protection against hard spills as for simply staying warm.

Making our way onto the Cemetery Swamp ice was a bit of an adventure, too.

After getting ready at a friend's house across the street, we'd run down the driveway, across the road and traverse a downward slope in Maple Grove Cemetery to reach the swamp's edge. Like any cemetery, not all of the grave markers stood erect. No, some were flush with the ground. Every so often, when a steel blade met granite, someone would take a spill. Laughter, predictably, would ensue.

For the most part, winter's brutal grip meant the swamp froze solid to the edge. During the so-called shoulders of the season, when temps reached the 40s, there would be some gaps between terra firma and ice. At times, these gaps were mere inches, easily covered in a single step. Others, though, meant taking a leap. Those, too, often solicited laughs, especially after an awkward landing, hard fall or a small splash.

Then, and only then, did we begin to clear the ice. With shovels in hand, we clear away enough snow to form a playing surface, with the piled-up scrapings serving as boards. Not by NHL standards, mind you, but large enough for eight to 10 kids, at the least, to play. In time, we'd learned to build a plow -- a half-sheet of plywood attached to two 2-by-4s -- that two of us would use to clear snow from the rink.

The biggest thing I remember about Cemetery Swamp was the ice being bumpy, rippled and rough. Reeds would stick through. So would small branches. Warm days (relatively speaking) followed by cold nights turned footprints into obstacles. Only once, in the increasingly windy hours before the Blizzard of 1977 that socked Buffalo with mountains of snow, did we skate on smooth ice.

As a result, I was something of a "mudder." I could easily navigate the perils of Cemetery Swamp, but struggled to maintain my balance on any suburban Buffalo rink. It would take me a good 10 warmups laps before I got my legs under me. Once, before trying out for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, I took a spill, nearly wiping out another kid as I slid into the boards.

It was not my finest moment on ice.

Many years later, after moving to Florida, it was that embarrassment, which I remember just like it happened yesterday, that motivated me to not make the same mistake with Colin. Not only did he start skating at a much younger age (6, vs. my 15), but he has always skated on a rink. That's why, I'm proud to say, he's 10 times the skater I ever was or will be.

I'll admit, though, that I wish, for many reasons, we could move back north, to either western New York or New England. Sure, it would be nice to live closer to family and old friends. I miss the change of seasons, too. And, yes, it would be nice for Colin to play a little pond hockey -- just like his old man once did -- out on Cemetery Swamp.

Some day, we'll make that happen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What a sad, sad day

I can not, for the life of me, begin to fathom the tortured pain that the parents and kin of those slain Connecticut schoolchildren are feeling. What a horrible, senseless tragedy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A worthwhile read

Doesn't matter if you're a parent, hockey fan or whatever, if you don't tear up at times reading about this family's journey, you have a cold, cold heart. I'll admit, it does require a sizable investment of time, but it's worth every last second.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Hockey Life: Positive messages

It's not that I want to throw my support behind the National Hockey League and team owners during this extended lockout, but I have to give props to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and its owner Jeff Vinik, for their continued support of youth hockey here in Hockey Bay.

For the past few years now, the team has held its Lightning Made Clinics for players 12 years old and under at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. In these sessions, the kids run through skills-based drills and, if time allows, participate in scrimmages. Colin, shown above at Friday night's clinic, has been fortunate enough to participate in quite a few, including one earlier this year.

The clinics, utilizing methods promoted by USA Hockey's American Development Model, are led by Brian Bradley, a former Lighting player. It's not uncommon, though, to see other ex-players, such Dave Andreychuk, Chris Dingman and Jassen Cullimore, among others, helping out.

For the kids, it must be a hoot, skating on an NHL rink. Colin tells me that it's some of the most fun he has ever had playing hockey. I can imagine. To be out there dreaming that, one day, the seats could be full and it isn't a clinic, but a real NHL game.

To me, that's what it's all about. And, really, it doesn't get any better than that.

*  *  *

Before heading into work Saturday, The Missus told me that Miracle, the movie about Team USA's gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics, would be airing later that night on AMC. After making a mental note to turn it on at the office, I also suggested that the young American hockey player in our house watch it.

Honestly, I knew he would watch it without my asking. We've watched it together a couple of times before. I've told him stories about what it meant for the nation and USA Hockey. I've even shared how I still get goosebumps watching certain scenes, especially the ending.

Basically, my line of thinking is that if any American-born hockey player (or a fan, for that matter) doesn't get pumped up watching Miracle, there's something wrong. We'll see today, when Colin suits up for the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars, how much of an impact the movie makes on him.

*  *  *

I must say, and I'm happy to do so, that life within our Brandon Jr. Bulls travel-team season has become far more enjoyable. It seems the message was sent -- loud and clear -- that teammates deserve respect and rules must be followed. It's nice going to games and practices these days, when all we're thinking about is how well the team will play.

Really, that's all we wanted. I bet, too, that's all anybody involved with this wanted. Well, we have that now and we're looking forward to the weeks ahead to see just how good this team can be.

We'll be busy over the next 10 week or so, with tournaments in Estero, Fla., Atlanta, and Charlotte, N.C., on the agenda, as well as the team's remaining six games of the Central Florida Hockey League regular season.

Addendum 12/14/12: Colin was concerned that there may have been another incident after Monday's practice, but I told him, as I have before, it's best to ignore what this kid, as well as most others, have to say to him. Some day, they'll all grow up.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Hockey Life: Simplest of gifts

When I was a kid, my favorite holiday wasn't Christmas or Halloween. Instead, it was Thanksgiving. And while it was nice to gather with family and stuff myself silly, the day always meant a little more. It meant that my birthday was only days away.

Over the years, my priorities changed. In my 20s, it was simply another reason to have another cold one ... or two ... or three. In time, though, especially with each milestone birthday, I realized there was more to life than partying, with or without birthday cake.

Now that I'm older, inching along on my second half-century, birthdays are becoming just another day among the 365 or 366, depending upon the year. Sure, I like getting presents, though most have become, at my own request, far more practical in nature. My need for toys, or another shot of tequila, has long since passed.

These days, I appreciate more of the simpler things. To take the time to slow down and look around. To soak up the surroundings. To savor the moments. To understand -- finally, after more than 50 years of roaming this planet -- what's important.

That's why, without a doubt, it was one of my best birthdays ever this past Saturday. Even though I had to use a personal day to get the time off from the paper, it was time well spent. It was more than watching St. Petersburg's Santa with The Missus and Colin. Same, too, with the mind-clearing walk home from downtown.

What made my day was as simple as this: watching Colin play hockey.

While we've circle specific games on the schedule this season, Dec. 1 had the biggest red one around it. Colin had two games with his Jr. Bulls Peewee A squad that day and, because of my shrewd planning with vacation time, I was able to watch both. That, alone, was my present to myself.

Knowing that friends would be joining us added to the enjoyment. I've been fortunate enough to renew a friendship from my college days, so it was pretty neat when he and his daughter came out to watch Colin play. It's always a hoot, too, when one of my hounding buddies shows up, sharing stories of his adventures from the road.

Colin did his part, scoring his team's first goal -- the eventual game-winner -- and adding a pair of assists in the first game of the evening. Later, in the second game, he showed poise and that lessons have been learned in making two solid plays while killing off a penalty. It's a shame the kids, who all skated hard, didn't sweep the day.

But, really, no complaints. None whatsoever, not even in the least bit. Thankfully, it was a day to stand back and watch my son play my favorite game. It was appreciating that he's 10 times the skater I ever was. It was seeing again, in his ever-increasing flashes of recognition, that it's worth all we do to have him play. And it was knowing that we're headed down the right path with him.

I couldn't have asked for a better gift.

Friday, November 30, 2012

It works every time

Because it would embarrass him, I won't share the one word that Mama used to get Colin to flash a real smile for his "official" 2012-13 Brandon Jr. Bulls Peewee A portrait.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Good-faith effort

Given the need for objectivity within my occupation, it's easy for that concept to play a significant role here on this blog. Not only is it fair, but it's also the right thing to do.

I'm pleased to say that things are looking better regarding the current situation we've been dealing with for the past few months in Colin's travel-team season. We haven't had an issue in more than two weeks, which means we're headed in the right direction.

Honestly, that's all we ever wanted. We didn't ask for any of this nonsense, but we're weren't going to back down. And it's our sincere hope that we keep heading down this new path.

At the least, we're hoping that this serves as a teaching moment for everyone involved, including ourselves. Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Hockey Life: Nice hat

I'm not a big fan of hockey parents rewarding their kids for every goal they score, shutout they earn or game they win. To me, it sends a mixed message. Yes, it's nice to celebrate their success, but it also can build expectations for rewards on each and every achievement.

In our case, we reward Colin for his academic achievements, knowing full well those will likely take him further in life than anything else. Making the principal's list earns him $50. The honor roll is worth $25. And that's on top of $5 for every A and $2 for every B, as long as he doesn't get a C or below in any other subject.

Having said that, though, I'm not above making exceptions to my no-hockey rewards rule in special circumstances. I told Colin recently, after he spied a certain hat -- a fedora -- during a trip to our local  Target, that if he scored a hat trick this season, no matter which team he was playing for, I'd buy him that hat. Well, earlier today, I had to take him back to our local Target store.

Playing for the Pinellas Sheriff's Police Athletic League Stars, the program where he started his hockey journey, Colin scored not just three goals for a hat trick yesterday, but added another pair during an 11-1 victory during the 2012 Turkey Shootout recreational hockey tournament.

Yes, five goals in one game, topping his previous best of four. No assists, though, meaning he played the role of a puck hog. Ah, just kidding, buddy. Here's a copy of the score sheet for his scrapbook.

In talking with him about the game, as I missed it because of work, he told me it was some of the most fun he has had in a while, just playing hockey and not having to deal with anything else. It's no secret that he enjoys a much greater comfort level playing for the Stars. He has been a part of the program for nearly four years now. And, really, we feel much more a part of the Stars family, if you will, than any other team we've been associated with.

His effort during the game only reinforces the point that a clear mind leads to a sharper focus on hockey. Rather than let the ongoing, unresolved and unnecessary nonsense that we're dealing with in his travel-team season weigh heavy on him, Colin simply went out and, literally, played the game of his life.

Amazing, isn't it?

There's a bit of irony in all of this, too. Colin's travel team, the Jr. Bulls, took part in a tournament in South Florida over the weekend. Though we paid the tournament fee, we stayed here in Hockey Bay and played much closer to home. Our decision, too, boiled down to finances, nothing else.

I couldn't justify spending another $700, between lodging, transportation (we would've had to rent a car, as ours have high mileage), food and gas. Simply put, our pockets aren't as deep as I'd like. All told, playing for the Stars this weekend cost us less than $50, between the fee, gas and food.

Oh, yeah, plus the $9.99, plus tax, for Colin's new fedora.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My 1,000 words

Some posts, as well as photos, don't take a lot of words to send a message. Like this photo. He may not be the biggest or the strongest, but there isn't an ounce of quit in this kid.

Keep going hard, buddy boy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More than hockey

To think that Colin spends his free time only playing, practicing or thinking about hockey would be incorrect. He also spends time building items with Legos.

For his most recent creation -- a Conrail SD80MAC diesel-electric locomotive engine -- he spent seven hours over three days building it in the freehand style, which he tells me means not using any instructions, and relying on only one photo as a point of reference.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Hockey Life: One simple rule

If you've ever been in a hockey locker room, as a player, coach or a parent, you'll know what I mean. Those places, and it doesn't matter where, are, quite simply, an assault to some of our senses. And that's not a good thing.

First and foremost, most every hockey locker room stinks. Not being blunt. No, just being honest. Between the lingering scent of a washdown in bleach or the aromatic aftermath of sweat-filled hockey bags, the smell filling nasal passages is, in a word, nasty.

It's no surprise, too, that locker rooms can get loud. From pregame pump-up music to the celebratory whoops and whistles of a hard-fought victory, it takes mere minutes to leave ears ringing. Not nearly as bad as the stench, mind you, but enough to resonate, if you will, for hours.

Yes, locker rooms can be downright funky, rowdy places. Locker rooms, no matter the sport, must be one other thing, too: a safe environment.

Beyond the camaraderie and the respect that comes with being teammates, the locker room is home. It's a place to feel safe and, without hesitation, a place to let down your guard. Just like you'd feel with your family. You shouldn't have to worry about being humiliated or worse by a teammate. And, yet, it happens.

Thankfully, especially when it comes to youth sports, there are rules and programs in place to shield participants, no matter the age, from these concerns. USA Hockey, the governing body of the sport here in the states, is no exception. Just this year, it approved guidelines, in its SafeSport Program, to deal with locker room behavior.

Really, you'd think that these rules wouldn't need to be put in print. There are just some incidents that common sense, no matter the age, would keep from happening. Still, though, there's the reality of life. Some people, no matter their age, will choose to not practice common sense and, honestly, the basics of being a good teammate and a decent human being.

That's where coaches come in.

Everyone knows being a coach is a thankless position. Coaches, who often serve this position in a volunteer capacity, have to also be parents, teachers, counselors, psychologists, taskmasters and chauffeurs. You name it, a coach has likely filled that role. To me, though, providing and maintaining a safe and non-hostile environment would be one of the most important duties for any coach.

Given all of the good that can take place in a locker room, there are also unfortunate instances and illegal incidents that can occur with the confines. That's why USA Hockey, in its SafeSport program, mandates that a coach or a screened adult (someone who has gone through a background check and has been cleared by the organization or team) must be in the locker room when players are present.

From the SafeSport program's handbook, specifically the top of page 10:

"It is the policy of USA Hockey that all USA Hockey Member Programs have at least one responsible screened adult present directly monitoring the locker room during all team events to assure that only participants (coaches and players), approved team personnel and family members are permitted in the locker room and to supervise the conduct in the locker room. Any individual meetings between a minor participant and a coach or other adult in a locker room shall require that a second responsible adult is present. The responsible adult that monitors and supervises the locker room shall have been screened in compliance with Section III of this Handbook."

Pretty straightforward, isn't it? It's not a guideline. It's a policy. And that makes it an unbending rule.

Part of being a coach is knowing and following the rules, and not just ones pertaining to hockey. To me, it's also upon an organization, be it its board of directors or its youth program director, to make sure any and all rules, policies or guidelines are followed.

Following this one simple rule -- one that, really, is dripping in common sense -- certainly would eliminate any opportunity for foolishness, wouldn't it? I certainly think so. Sadly, though, it doesn't happen all of the time. Even worse, some player -- most often a kid -- usually pays the price.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hitting NHL ice

Colin takes a faceoff at center ice of the Tampa Bay Times Forum,
in a view from the Lightning Vision jumbo screen above the rink.
Even with the NHL lockout, there's still something pretty special about watching your kid play hockey on an NHL rink. That will be us later today, when Colin skates with the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars in a youth hockey game during Battle of the Badges festivities at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Stars, who play in a local recreational league, will take on the Scorpions, another rec league team, in a full game. That takes place, though, after the kids, as well as the parents, get a tour, led by former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk, of the Lightning's locker room.

We're hearing, too, that the teams will play a five-minute exhibition during the first intermission of the Battles of the Badges, which pits police officers against fire fighters in a hockey game.

Though Colin has skated at the Forum before, this is the first time he has ever played a game on an NHL rink. And as excited as we are about this, I can only imagine how pumped he'll be.

It's days like this that make for positive hockey memories.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Test of strength

No one ever told us that this hockey journey would be easy. This is just another test by the Hockey Gods that Colin must endure.

Don't worry, buddy boy, your daddy will always have your back.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Now that I have your attention ...

,,, here are a few links related to bullying that some people, including the many new visitors we've had over the past few days, might find informational:

~ Florida Statute 1006.147, also known as the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act. Though this relates to an educational setting, the principles could be applied to other areas.

~ USA Hockey's Safesport Program Handbook. Items of particular interest are on pages 7-10.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pop quiz

So, I'm curious, which of these would be classified as bullying?

a.) A teammate says you suck in front of the locker room;
b.) A teammate threatens to punch you in the nose;
c.) A teammate falsely accuses you of punching an opponent in the helmet cage;
d.) A teammate "sneezes" ice shavings from a skate at you;
e.) A teammate flicks not one, but two drink caps at your head; or
f.) All of the above.

Quitting a team would only mean a bully wins. Sorry, but that's not going to happen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Hockey Life: What NHL?

Admittedly, hearing that the NHL and the NHLPA engaged in substantive talks last week got my hopes up, albeit slightly, that a deal was within reach and, perhaps, we'd be seeing the opening of abbreviated training camps in the days ahead. Alas, reality struck in and, here we are, apparently no closer to a season than a month ago.

Thankfully, and I say this with all sincerity, I've had Colin's hockey, even with its continued nonsense with one kid on his team, to fill my hockey fix, so far, this season. Yesterday's doubleheader, so to speak, serves as a perfect example.

Based on scouting reports from parents on other teams in the league, I figured Colin's Jr. Bulls peewee A squad stood a very good chance of winning its first game of the day. Well, it did, but not by the margin that I expected. It was a hard-fought 1-0 win over a very scrappy Jr. Knights team from Orlando.

This game was closer than the score. In a contest of close calls and a multitude of moments, it came down to one Jr. Bulls player's extra efforts to score the game's only goal in the waning minutes of the third period. To be honest, I can't remember feeling so tense at one of Colin's games. I can still sense the relief that swept over me when I saw a referee signal the goal.

And, as exciting as the first game proved to be, the second of the day, against a Scorpions Red squad that handily won a previous meeting, was that much more.

I'm not a big fan of kids expending any more energy than refueling their bodies between games. And as draining as the first game was, I was less than thrilled, upon returning from a quick walk, when I spied Colin playing kickball in the rink's back parking lot.

After the Scorpions jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead, I could only envision my worst fears coming true. The kids had indeed wore themselves out and, at best, could hope to only keep it close. The Jr. Bulls' response, with a goal a few minutes later, allayed my concerns.

The kids, it seemed, had plenty left in their tanks.

As the game wore on, it became a series of chances. Shots skittered inches wide, tickled goal lines or clanged off of goal posts. Back-checking forwards, Colin included, covered for defensemen. The level of excitement was building.

After the Scorpions scored to take a 2-1 lead, scoring on a power play, my hopes for a Jr. Bulls win disappeared. It was the kind of goal, as the result of the kind of play (retaliation penalty), that can deflate a team. Imagine my surprise, then, when the kid who took the penalty later roofed one past the Scorpions goalie.

My hope, once lost, had returned.

Both teams, with a win on the line, traded chances. Both goalies played phenomenally, making key saves to keep the game tied. But it took only one moment, as our goalie attempted to freeze the puck, for the Scorpions to score the go-ahead goal. Or so I thought. One referee, losing sight of the puck, blew the play dead.

No goal.

Of course, the Scorpions bench and fans erupted, questioning the whistle and call. I'll admit, too, that the Jr. Bulls got away with one there. It was a quick whistle. There's no doubt about it. Later, the same referee took the blame for allowing the Jr. Bulls, killing off another late-game penalty, to play at even strength, which technically, could have meant another penalty. So, yes, two big breaks went the Jr. Bulls' way, with the game ending in a 2-2 tie.

It was the kind of outcome that can become a turning point for a team's season.

At day's end, these were two games played by kids, ranging from 11 to 12 years old, that covered a wide range of emotions, went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows and, without a doubt, were some of the most exciting hockey I've seen in a long, long time.

As far as I'm concerned, if Colin's hockey is all I get to watch, I have no problem with that.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Hockey Life: Show some respect

Having signed up for youth hockey clinics with the Tampa Bay Lightning over the past few years, we find ourselves receiving a biweekly newsletter aimed at youth hockey. Most times, it gets a cursory glance before it heads to the trash folder. Every so often, though, one profiles an issue that seems rather timely.

The latest newsletter, which profiled maintaining positive locker room behavior, hit close to home.

Like I mentioned last week, Colin has had some issues fitting in with his new organization, the Brandon Jr. Bulls. While most of his teammates have accepted him, there have been a few exceptions. In a way, that's understandable. Not everyone gets along, no matter the age. Doesn't matter if it's at school, work or play. It's a reality within life.

As his father, I know that he can be a handful. He can get pumped up -- sometimes too much -- before and after games. It comes with the territory, I suppose, of his high energy level and the fact he has been diagnosed with ADHD.

It wasn't all that long ago when he would find himself upside-down in a locker room garbage can after a game or practice. Back then, he was an 8 year old on a team that had players up to 12 years old. So he felt the way to fit in, so to speak, was to be the class clown.

Maintaining an even keel, though, is something that we've talked about and worked on over the past few years. Show up, get dressed, think about the game (or practice) and do your best. If he does that, everything should take care of itself. And, for the most part, that's what he tries to do.

From what I hear, anecdotally and in-person, Colin can still draw attention to himself. It's part of his personality. In a way, that's a good thing. He is who he is. To reinforce the teaching moment, though, I've told him it might be better to take a better-seen-and-not-heard approach. Sit back, survey the situation, assess his teammates and have fun. In other words, find a way to fit in.

To hear him tell it, that's what he has done. But, I know better. I've heard his voice through locker room doors. Still, though, I don't believe he has crossed any line like, in my estimation, one particular teammate has on more than one occasion.

Since early in the season, a variety of actions, ranging from ridicule in front of teammates to threats of physical violence to having ice shavings "sneezed" in his face, have left Colin feeling uncomfortable in this teammate's presence. Of course, we've brought every instance to the coaching staff's attention. Thankfully, they've listened and have taken this situation seriously.

Understand, too, that Colin knows the consequences of false accusations -- his days of playing hockey would end, not just for this season or team, but for as long as he lives under our roof. I also know, as an observer of the human condition, he doesn't have the stones to lie about any of this.

Look, kids will be kids. Part of their jobs is to push boundaries. Some boundaries, though, should go untouched. Respecting your teammates, especially at this young age, is one of them.

Let's hope that lesson has been learned. We'll find out, I suppose, in the days and weeks ahead. If so, this will become another valuable life lesson for Colin. If not, it'll be time to get others involved.

Like I said before, zero tolerance means just that -- zero tolerance.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Hockey Life: Getting busier

Over the past six weeks, I've made quite a big deal out of my newfound hobby of walking. More so on Facebook and Twitter than a single post here on the blog, I've posted milestones and my miles reached since I started pounding the pavement.

Just last week, for instance, I logged two 100-blocks-walked days on my way to piling up more than 31 miles. I also logged my 100th mile of October last week.

Those distances, however, may not be as great in the coming weeks. I received word last Friday that I landed a freelance writing and editing gig with a Tampa, Florida, law firm.

For us, that's really great news. Extra money, especially around the holidays, always comes in handy. This new opportunity, too, could also open doors to major changes down the road. Or, at least, that's what I'm hoping.

This new responsibility, though, comes with a small price: It'll likely cut into the time available, especially during the early afternoon, to take my walks. I imagine, too, that I won't be logging nearly as many miles.

In the grand scheme of things, there's more to life than making money. That's why I'll structure my days in the weeks ahead to get in a walk, weather and health permitting, every morning after dropping off Colin at school. And I'll find time to squeeze in a few more -- here and there -- to continue losing weight and get healthier.

* * *

It's not just the holidays that will put this new income stream to work. No, Colin's hockey picks up over the next few months, meaning we'll continue to contribute to the nation's economy by supporting his athletic endeavors.

Aside from his Central Florida Hockey League schedule, Colin and his Jr. Bulls Peewee A teammates will be playing in three tournaments in less than three months. It all begins Thanksgiving weekend in Coral Springs, Fla. About a month later, between Christmas and New Year's Day, there's another in Estero, Fla. A trip to Atlanta in Mid-January, for a Martin Luther King's Day tournament, rounds out the trio.

All told, we'll expect to pay between $500 to $700 for each tournament. Between transportation, lodging, sustenance, tournament souvenirs and fees, it all adds up pretty quickly. Still, it's all about having fun.

* * *

Speaking of having fun, it has been increasingly difficult to have much since Colin joined the Jr. Bulls organization this season. Without going into much detail, as a recent and second incident has yet to be dealt with, let's just say there's an issue that, in our viewpoint, hasn't been eliminated.

All I'm willing to say now, and I've made this point clear to one of the parties involved, is that zero tolerance means zero tolerance. It shouldn't matter if people have been a part of the organization for years or months.

To me, it's time to send a stern message, even if it means making an example of someone.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Hockey Life: Patience

It's funny, if you think about it. After more than 27 years of dealing with deadlines, you'd think one of my better traits, if I have a single one, would be an inordinate amount of patience. Sadly, though, nothing could be further from the truth.

To me, the clock is always ticking. Doesn't matter if it's at work, waiting for that last breaking-news story to arrive, or at home, sitting in the car, ready to go, as someone else is inside the house, in my opinion, simply dubbing around and delaying our departure. As long as I can remember, I've always wanted to get going -- about five minutes ago.

For better or worse, that's who, and how, I am.

Oh, sure, I thought parenting and Colin's hockey journey would break me of this bad habit. And, in some ways, each has. Success is measured in moments. Failure, too. Still, though, there are times when I take a step back. At times, it has been more like taking a giant leap backward.

Over the years, in my attempt to become a more patient person, I've learned not to let situations outside my control bother me. Why get worked up, I'd reason, when someone else is calling the shots? Doesn't make a lick of sense, does it? To some degree, that approach has dulled my sharp edge.

But, when I have a say in the situation --something I work hard at to put myself in that position -- I have little time for anything that keeps me from moving forward. As a result, and this is often a conscious decision, I can be abrupt. Sometimes, or so my tactic goes, it takes stepping on toes to get things done.

Lately, though, I've found the toes I'm stepping upon are my own. And, get this, it's all about my lack of patience.

For most of the past three years, thanks to a downturn in the print journalism industry, I've had to work 60 to 65 hours a week, between the paper and my freelance efforts, just to maintain our hockey lifestyle and, on occasion, add to our bottom line. This isn't a complaint. I'd rather spend my time being productive, rather than sitting around watching TV, staring into a computer monitor or, really, wasting my time.

Earlier this summer, however, my freelance opportunities started drying up. A certain company, whose name is likely familiar to only a handful, kept shooting itself in the foot. Questionable operating practices and, ahem, committing a cardinal sin rocked the operation. Ultimately, these led to a circling of wagons for a handful of shell-shocked workers. As an "independent contractor," I was left on the outside looking in.

Rather than sit back, though, I took a proactive approach, offering my services to any willing (and well-paying) bidder. Though the bites have been few, enough to count on only one hand, I've managed to draw the interest of one big fish. I'll learn, too, in the days ahead, if another might be on the line.

In the case of the first opportunity, a project I've been working on for more than a month now, we're getting down to nitty-gritty time. We've had our meeting. I've shown my abilities. An answer, I believe, will arrive within the next week or so. As much as I wanted the answer two weeks ago, I'm willing to wait. It's that good of an opportunity.

The second opportunity, which is more in the formulation stage, represents a chance to reconnect with an old junior college buddy. In a way, that holds more appeal. I'd like the opportunity to get in, so to speak, on the ground floor and help build a business.

In both cases, though, I know full well there are no guarantees. Each, in an instant, could disappear. But these exercises, if you will, have taught me to be more willing to wait for the right opportunity. Individually or together, should time and effort allow, these opportunities represent a new path, one that could last much, much longer than my current one.

So, yes, patience is a virtue. Maybe, just maybe, I'll learn that this time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

For you, Lionheart

For the past year, Colin has had a "DW 77" on his hockey helmet, a tribute to Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who died in a horrific crash one year ago today. I'm thinking, too, it'll stay there for a long, long time. As a Daddy, I'll make sure it does.

Knowing, too, that you're a daddy, keep looking out, from your perch high above, for Sebastian and Oliver. Soon, they'll be old enough to understand all of the great stories they'll hear about you.

Rest in peace, Dan. We miss you here in St. Petersburg.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Hockey Life: Pink tape

Colin's question was simple enough. He wanted to know if he could get some pink tape for the blade of his hockey stick. Though I knew the answer, I asked him why. He wanted it, he told me, to show his support for the fight against breast cancer.

Since the beginning of the month, he has noticed professional athletes in the NFL and MLB wearing more and more pink -- gloves, hats, wristbands and shoes. Taping his stick blade, he thought, was something that he could do. So, that's why we bought a roll.

After taping his stick before Wednesday's practice, I figured he'd catch a little ribbing from some of his teammates. Boys, you know, will be boys. And as a new kid on the team, he has had to deal with a little nonsense from a  few of the kids.

I was surprised, later, when he told me he hadn't caught any grief. In fact, one teammate asked if he could use it for his stick. Though Colin told him to ask me, I never heard a request. That's too bad, too. I would've let him.

* * * 

Deep down, I know Colin's request was based on more than watching sports on TV. Sure, I know pro athletes are influential. Just look at how they're used to sell sporting goods, cars and Subway sandwiches. I just hope the athletes do it for all of the right reasons, rather than simply trying to look good or, more to the point, pad their pockets.

Whenever money is involved, it's fair to question the motivation. In Colin's case, though, it wasn't about the money. Within our family, as well as our circle of friends, breast cancer has affected many lives. Thankfully, some survived. Others, however, didn't. In all cases, it wreaked an emotional toll.

We talked about it on our way to school one morning last week. I brought up why the color pink was used. I also mentioned how pink ribbons can also symbolize the fight against breast cancer. More than anything else, though, I wanted him to know that he, like so many others, had a personal reason for doing this.

That's why I shared a story about a dear friend who recently beat breast cancer.

* * *

I met Jann more than seven years ago. I was between newspaper jobs and took a job-prospecting trip, hitting the road by heading west, with only two appointments, and no real interviews, on the agenda. Jann, a copy desk chief at a Western New York paper, was my first appointment.

After talking shop, getting the tour and making the acquaintance of that newsroom's tall dog, we headed out for a bite to eat. Within minutes, I learned the depths of her passion for hockey. She wasn't just a fan, but she also played the game.

Needless to say, I was impressed. In more than 27 years, I've met few people who held hockey as dear as I do. Even though I didn't land a job at that paper, I gained something far, far better that day -- a good friend and kindred hockey spirit.

Since then, we've kept in touch, on and off, mostly through Facebook messages. It was one of her Facebook messages, received after a lull in communications, that hit me hard. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer. My heart sank at first, hearing the terrible news. The more I read her message, though, the better I felt. Thankfully, she won her fight.

We've been in touch a few times since then. Of course, we talk about hockey. We talk about life, too. During her recovery, she said the most important day was when she returned to the ice this past summer. To her, putting blades against ice meant everything. She knew she was going to be OK.

That's the reason why Colin, who has yet to meet Jann, has pink tape on his stick blade this month. He plays for her. He plays for my Great-Aunt Carolyne. He plays for everyone and anyone who has been touched by this terrible disease.

And, like millions of others, he does it because he wants to. To him, pink mean strength.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Hockey Life: Going for walks

There was a point last Thursday, during my second walk of the day, where my body nearly overruled my mind. It was hot. It was muggy. I was tired, but I still had another 12 blocks to go. For a moment, all I thought about was getting back to the house, cranking up the AC and plopping my fat butt in my recliner.

It would have been so, so easy.

But then I remembered why I started taking my walks three weeks ago. Sure, the need to give myself insulin shots every night played a role. So did the need to finally take my health seriously. The biggest reason, though, goes beyond both.

About the moment I was hitting that so-called wall, I reached into a back pocket and pulled out my phone. Rather than make a call to someone to come pick me up, I punched out a text message to my Twitter feed:

"I do this so I can play hockey with CMS 37 some day. Getting closer with each step."

In less time than it took for the message to appear online, my resistance to taking one more step dissipated. Those last 12 blocks didn't seem that long. My legs felt lighter. And, if memory serves me, a cool breeze washed across my face. The purpose, thankfully, was restored.

*  *  *

For as long as I can remember, I've always been a big guy. After graduating from high school, standing 6-foot-3 but weighing 230 pounds, I've continually gained weight. During my 20s, when I was fairly active, it came from drinking lots of beer and plowing through plates of chicken wings. As my activity level waned during my 30s and 40s, my weight ballooned.

The low point, so to speak, came when I topped 400 pounds. Honestly, I never knew how much I weighed, as the doctor's scales topped out at 400. On the outside, I'd joke about it to the nurse or the doctor. Deep down inside, though, I was horrified. I was living on borrowed time.

One would think, or so I thought, that watching Colin grow up would motivate me to do something about my weight. And, at times, it has. I'd drop some weight, to the point where I could weigh myself and say, to anyone who cared to listen, that I was heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, my weakness for food and disdain for exercise would win out. I'd gain back the weight I had lost.

I've followed this unhealthy cycle for the past decade. As a result, my attempt to control my Type 2 diabetes with ever-increasing doses of medicine failed to achieve the desired result. At my last doctor's visit, with Colin in the examination room with me, I learned that I had to take the next step -- nightly injections of insulin by sticking a needle into my midsection.

It was then that I knew what I'd been doing wasn't nearly enough. Not even close. The puzzled look in Colin's eyes drove home the point

*  *  *

It took me a few days, after filling the prescription for the little glass vial and hypodermic needles, to summon up the courage to give myself that first shot. I loathed getting bloodwork done. I hate needles. I hate getting shots. And, now, I'd have to give them to myself.

Two months after that first shot, which took me about 10 minutes to do and left me bruised, I now complete the process in less than two minutes. That fear of needles has become an afterthought. I knew, though, that I needed to do more. That's where exercise, in the form of daily walks, and a healthier diet, heavy on fresh vegetables and far fewer carbs, come in.

Over the past six weeks, I've built up my walking routine. At first, the walks, around the neighborhood or near Colin's school, ranged from 14 to 20 blocks every other day or so. Last week, I logged nearly 16.5 miles (250 blocks) in six walks, ranging from 32 to 60 blocks, over four days. If it weren't for being under the weather for two days, those totals would've topped 20 miles and 325-plus blocks.

That one walk, which reached nearly 3 miles, was a turning point. I could've given up, slowed my pace and accepted, with a ton of regret, that this was yet another failed attempt. Thankfully, I refused to surrender and I sent that text. It was just that simple.

I fully understand that this will be a long process. I didn't gain my weight overnight, so I know losing it will take time. But between taking my walks and eating healthier foods, I've begun to see the results. And, unlike before, I'm keeping my eyes on a realistic prize.

Some day, within the next year or so, I will hit the ice to play hockey with Colin. And, on that day, the first of many when I pass along more of life's lessons, I can't wait to see the look in his eyes.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The only benefit?

Thanks to the lockout, I figured that any attempts to add autographs from NHL players this season would likely pass by the wayside. That was until today's mail arrived.

It seems like Minnesota's Mikko Koivu put his newfound free time to good use recently to catch up on his mail, signing this trio of cards for Colin. Honestly, I had forgotten that we'd sent them to him.

While I'm pretty psyched that Koivu completed the O-Pee-Chee Rookie-Sophomore Showdown card, left, that he shares with Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, getting back two work-in-progress specialty set cards was just as exciting.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Hockey Life: Long, long day

After taking a 17-day vacation earlier this summer, I knew I'd have a few remaining paid days off to take in most, if not all, of Colin's travel hockey games this season. With a pair of games yesterday in Oldsmar, I put one of those days to good use.

Thankfully, he didn't have that early of a game, starting at 12:45 p.m. So, rather than getting up at the crack of dawn and wolfing down a travel mug of coffee and one of Lisa's breakfast sandwiches, we all benefited from a rather leisurely morning -- waking up around 8 a.m., having some breakfast, reading the Tampa Bay Times and, in Colin's case, watching some cartoons. Around our house, that doesn't happen too often.

Going in, we knew the day would be long. After his two games, we planned to hook up with some friends, a fellow hockey family playing in another organization, before their second game of the day at another rink. After that, we'd watch that game and, most likely, call it a day. With that in mind, and facing a  45-minute ride to Oldsmar, we left the house around 11 a.m.

It's funny how quickly plans can change.

Once we zeroed in on the logistics and timing, we realized that trying to squeeze in dinner, for a party that could reach at least a dozen people, might be pushing the envelope. Coaches like to have their players at the rink about an hour before game time. Rather than risk them being late, we decided to meet the family at the rink.

Of course, Colin was hungry after playing his games (the team won 4-2 and lost 4-1, and he had an assist in the win). So, rather than dine on processed rink food, we simply stopped for a sit-down meal at one of our favorite chain restaurants, Cody's Roadhouse. With minutes to spare, we arrived early enough for the early bird specials. For the record, my top round steak was pretty tasty.

We caught up with our friends a short time later at the rink. We had seen them earlier in September, at a Labor Day tournament, but really didn't have enough time to sit and visit then. Last night, though, we did, catching up on lives, school and, of course, hockey. During our visit, more friends from last season's organization stopped by to say hello.

In a way, it was like Old Home Days.

We watched our friends' son play and, honestly, shared in the disappointment of watching his team surrender a late-game goal to settle for a 2-2 tie. Even though Colin is with a new organization, and will play against this team in less than two weeks, it's still easy to root for certain kids on the team. And, yes, I'll admit we were doing a little scouting.

Like most youth hockey games, family members and friends of the players gather in the rink's lobby at game's end. It's a time to offer compliments, commiserate over lost chances and, more than likely, catch up until you meet again. Last night was no different, though it was pushing 10 p.m. by the time the kids started to straggle out.

Rather than head home, though, we accepted an invitation to join our friends for a late dinner. Sure, we had eaten about five hours earlier, but, even in my recent health kick of watching my diet and walking for miles, I could always find room for something else. Especially when it meant chicken wings.

After a circuitous trip the the restaurant, arriving about a half hour before closing time, we placed our orders, struck up conversations, watched college football games being shown on a dozen TVs and grew louder, without the benefit of alcohol, by the minute. The next thing we knew, we were the last party in the restaurant.

It was 12:15 a.m.

Understand, please, that I'm not complaining. I live for days like Saturday, when I can sit back, watch Colin play hockey and enjoy the company of good friends. Really, it's one of the most enjoyable aspects of youth hockey.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Hockey Life: Head colds stink

Random thoughts as I wait to find out if this head cold is ramping up or running its course today:

~ Had the NHL not locked out its players, we would've been over at the Ice Sports Forum this weekend watching Tampa Bay Lightning players go through training camp. We're already over there twice a week now for Colin's practices with the Jr. Bulls Peewee A squad, but it's always a kick watching the guys go through some of the same drills as the kids.

As much as we're hockey fans, the NHL is in danger of losing my undivided attention. Our hockey time and money will be devoted to Colin's hockey. Granted, it's not the NHL, but we have pretty good access and a much more vested interest in watching kids play.

Trust me, watching your kid score a goal is pretty cool.

~ Speaking of watching your kid play hockey, I have to pat myself on the back for mastering the concept of managing time off. Between my remaining vacation days, personal days and holiday time, as well as convenient work and game schedules, I'll be able to watch all of Colin's regular season games this year.

Granted, I may miss a tournament should the team decide to play around Thanksgiving, but I should be able to travel to Estero if we play between Christmas and New Year's Day. And the New Year will bring a fresh set of days off, meaning I should be able to travel to Atlanta for a tournament in mid January.

I suppose this wouldn't be as much of a big deal if I had a normal work schedule, like 98 percent of the working world enjoys. But, my newspaper job pays the bills and, with minor sacrifices, allows for Colin to chase his hockey dreams.

~ For years, I never took seriously the fact that I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Sure, I took the medicine that my doctor prescribed, but I felt that was all that was necessary. I figured as long as I took them, I could eat as much as I wanted and become one with my recliner.

Pretty stupid on my part, I'll tell you.

Now that I have to give myself daily shots of insulin, adding the expense that goes with it, I'm taking a much more serious approach. I'm eating smarter, loading up on far more vegetables and fish, while paying more attention to things like fewer carbs and more dietary fiber. I'm also exercising more, mainly walks with a weekly goal of 200 blocks. I hit 213 last week.

Not only do I want to eliminate my need for insulin and other medications (and saving us some money), but it also means I'm likely, for good or bad, to be around a lot longer. Who knows, some day I might be able to go back out on the ice and play hockey with Colin.

To me, that's the most worthwhile goal.

~ By the way, I'm thinking my cold has started running its course. No sick day for me. Hoping, though, I don't regret this decision about 10:30 or 11 tonight. If so, there will be no one to blame but myself.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Hockey Life: On my soapbox

Hockey, at any level, is a physical game. There's no doubt about that. From open-ice checks to scrums along the boards, hockey players, at any level, will get and receive more than their fair share of bumps and bruises. It's a part of the game.

What isn't, though, are hits that significantly increase the potential for a player, no matter the level, to get injured. Hitting from behind, one of the more dangerous plays in the sport, is exactly what I'm talking about.

If memory serves, there was a big push, not all that long ago, to eliminate hitting from behind. Hockey is physical enough that senseless hits like this, intentional or not, don't need to be a part of the game. To this day, I occasionally see jerseys with a red stop sign emblem centered across the backs of shoulders.

Apparently, that ploy, nor the concept behind it, hasn't sunk in with everyone.

In the second of Colin's games yesterday, he got absolutely crushed into the boards when not one, but two players hit him from behind just as he was releasing a pass up the ice. No penalty was called. From where I was sitting, and because he is my son, I found that hard to believe.

Granted, he could have gotten rid of the puck a little sooner, as his coach correctly explained to him. And, as he has been told before, his shoulders need to be perpendicular, not parallel, to the boards. In this case, his shoulders were diagonal, enough so that both players were able to catch a piece of him from behind.

Still, the bigger issue, I believe, is the inconsistent approach taken by referees employed by the Central Florida Hockey League. In the first game, one player, one of the bigger on Colin's team, was penalized four times for boarding or hitting in some fashion. The first one was, I have to admit, deserved. The others? I'm not so sure. They looked like clean, solid movements while battling for the puck. Obviously, this pair of referees thought otherwise.

In Colin's case, with a different set of referees, the hit, which sent him head- and shoulder-first into the boards, wasn't seen as a penalty. Sadly, it happened within clear view of one, no more than 10 to 20 feet away. Hence, the inconsistency. I thought that maintaining player safety is part of a referee's job.

To me, there's one way to eliminate these hits from behind. Penalize each and every one, with no regard to intent. Rather than a 90-second penalty, make it three minutes. Taking it a step further, repeated violations, throughout a season and not just a game, should bring progressive penalties. The second time a player is called for hitting from behind should bring a five-minute penalty. A third brings an ejection and a one-game suspension. A fourth, well, enjoy your view from the stands, buddy.

Now, that would send a message.

To say that I'm taking sole exception here today to Colin, or any other player, getting hit from behind would be, in a word, incorrect. Just like a Ronco commercial, where for the next 30 minutes, the next 100 callers get a bonus, there's more. Much more. And this, my friends, is where I'm going to step on some toes.

The game in which Colin got rocked occurred against an all-girls team. And before some of you get your undies in a bunch, I have absolutely no problem with girls playing hockey. Never have. Never will. To me, that's one of the best things about watching our sport, knowing that it's available to anyone to play.

Since Colin started playing organized hockey, he has had at least one female teammate on his squads. And he has been taught, from day one, not to look at them simply as girls, but as respected teammates. In fact, he grew quite fond of one.

So, just to make sure that my point is absolutely clear, we have no issues with girls playing hockey. What we have an issue with, though, is when special rules are granted to an all-girls team that, in this case, led to Colin nearly being seriously injured.

Here in the states, divisions are based on age groups and skill level. In our case, Colin, at 11 years old, plays as a peewee in the A, or lowest, level. We don't have an issue with that, either. As a result, we expect him to play against other 11- and 12-year-old kids at roughly the same skill level. Sounds fair, right?

Unfortunately, that's not the case with this one "special" team. It's allowed to have players up to 14 years old on its roster. For those who don't know, 13- and 14-year-olds are considered bantam players.

With this team, a decision was made by CFHL officials, I guess, to allow the inclusion of older, and as a result, bigger players on its roster. One reason? According to one parent, who has a daughter on the team, it was because it wouldn't have had enough to field as close to a full lineup (at least two lines and two sets of defense) as it could get. So, older players were allowed to, as she put it, "play down," a move endorsed by USA Hockey.

I'm sorry, I don't agree with that reasoning. By allowing that to happen, this team, which draws from throughout Florida, has players who are more physically mature (at least 4 to 5 inches taller and upwards of at least 30 to 40 pounds heavier) than the average peewee player. Skill-level aside, and that team does have a couple of solid players, that's neither fair nor reasonable.

Also, this particular mother said this special exemption was allowed because female players have a tendency to get pushed around by boys in bantam-level games. She specifically mentioned broken collarbones as the result of this mismatch. Ironically, that's what nearly happened to Colin when he got tagged by the two female players, who both appeared older than 12 years of age and were significantly heavier than him.

I won't make any apologies for this, but peewee players, no matter the gender, need to play against peewee players. Same, too, for bantams, mini mites or whomever. There's a reason why these age brackets are in place. Sure, the potential for injury exists at any level. But to slant the playing field -- a rink in this case -- to accommodate a certain gender is unreasonable, sets up unrealistic expectations later in life and, as we can attest, dangerous.

To me, if a team can't field enough players to fill an age-specific roster, it has no business playing in a travel-team league. I'm thinking a majority of these girls tried out for other teams and, for whatever reason, didn't make the cut. So, rather than have their children play at the recreational, in-house level, it's my guess that a group of parents, as well-intentioned as they may believe themselves to be, let their egos get the best of them.

Sadly, one dangerous play shows the ridiculousness of more than the CFHL's decision.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Hockey Life: Not feeling it

Two stacks of autographed cards sit on my desk. Out on the dining room table, more than a dozen signed pucks await cataloging, doing nothing more than collecting dust. A scattered pile of photos, some autographed, some not, cover the top of one display case. I see them every day, knowing they need to be put away.

For some reason, though, they've sat untouched for months. Over the summer, when Colin was home, I could understand it. We'd always have something better to do. And that 16-day road trip, well, that was also far more important. And, now, even as I've gained some free time, I give them nothing more than a passing glance.

It wasn't all that long ago, really, when hounding and adding to our collection was a major part of our hockey life. We wouldn't go to NHL or AHL games just to watch. No, it was all about getting items, from jerseys to pucks to cards, signed. There were even Saturday mornings when I'd made a 166-mile round trip to downtown Boston just to get in 45 minutes of hounding.

That doesn't happen anymore.

Part of the reason, I believe, has to do with Colin's hockey. Trust me, too, that's not a complaint. Funding his dream (hell, who am I kidding, our dream) takes up a good chunk of our spare change. That's why, up until a month ago, I was working 60 to 65 hours a week between the paper and my freelance gigs. Even though that has dried up -- temporarily, I hope -- we're finding a way to continue the journey.

Another reason, and this is likely more prevalent than Colin's hockey, was the investment of time it took to hound. Beyond the actual on-site time, often hours hanging out at some hotel, I tried to be prepared, as in having items ready and being able to identify the players. Because we're building a collection, I spent a considerable amount of time researching a player's team history and Vaults 1 and 2 to avoid duplicating autographed items.

Finally, and I said this last season, we still need the NHL to reload. After nearly 15 years of hounding, there are very few players who haven't signed at least one item for us. Sure, we don't mind getting a few extra here and there, but we don't need 15 autographs each from 98 percent of the players in the league. That's why we were choosy in a far fewer trips last season.

Provided there's a season, and we'll know within a week, I'm not real sure how active we'll be. The possibility of a lockout, too, has contributed to my apathy. During the 2004-05 lockout, our location in New England afforded opportunities to get autographs. This time, though, those conditions don't exist.

Should, however, a season take place, we'll try to get in a few sessions. Saturday mornings, when Colin's hockey schedule allows, will be our primary time. I imagine we'll go out for certain teams, too, namely the Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, Winnipeg Jets and most, if not all, of the visiting Western Conference teams.

To that end, I've started buying some cards, picking up O-Pee-Chee fat packs so far. We'll be on the lookout, too, for Score's early offerings. Low-end cards fit the budget. Photos, I'm afraid, aren't even on our radar. As for pucks, I'm hoping to clear out our existing supply before placing an order.

Really, we need more puck cases than anything else. You know, just in case I ever want to put those pucks away.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Getting his stickers

First, we picked up his new home and road sweaters and socks. Then, we added a practice jersey. Thankfully, he already had the royal blue helmet, pants and gloves. All that Colin needed to complete his Brandon Jr. Bulls Peewee A game uniform were his helmet stickers.

Guess he's good to go now.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Hockey Life: A new season

To say that Colin's 2012-13 season started with two games yesterday at the 2012 Labor Day Challenge wouldn't be entirely accurate. Sure, it was the first time that he skated as a member of the Brandon Jr. Bulls in a game. And, as far as we're concerned, his performance yesterday started to chip away at his season goals.

But, really, the season started a long time ago.

After learning that he wouldn't continue with last season's organization, Colin took it upon himself, with very little encouragement, to work on his game. He wanted to show that he belonged on a travel-team roster. To that end, this is what he did over the summer:

~ Took thousands of shots out on the back patio, adding a little zip to his wrist and snap shots while improving his accuracy. His slap shot and backhander? Well, they remain works in progress;

~ Skated miles at the rink inside Countryside mall, continuing our Wednesday afternoon tradition, while building up his wind and, on occasion, getting out of his comfort zone. A new schedule, though, has put these sessions on hiatus; and

~ Much to the delight of his Babop and parents, Colin showed some kids, and a few coaches, in New Hampshire that, yes, indeed, kids play hockey down here in Florida. One couldn't believe the state had  rinks.

As a sum, rather than individually, all added up to what we're hoping will be a successful season for his Peewee A squad. To that end, these are the three goals that he has set for himself:

~ Approach each team he plays against in the same manner, by going hard and not letting past disappointments dictate his level of effort. Sure, it would be easy to understand if he had a little extra motivation for certain teams -- not just one -- but our way of thinking is why not go all out every game. Granted, that's easier said than done;

~ Continue being a pest. That's what got him onto his first travel team. So, why stop now? Dogging  opponents makes them work even harder, much more than they normally would want to do. It comes with benefits, too. Disrupting a play creates scoring chances, not just for himself, but his teammates as well. Also, a frustrated player, tired of an aggressive forecheck, is likely to take a penalty; and

~ Improving his offensive skills. Not to take anything away from his defense-first approach, but he wants to build upon last season's under-represented results. If he succeeds in reaching his first two goals, he should have plenty of opportunities to do this. One specific area he's concentrating on will be logging far more assists than goals, a sure sign of being a team-first player.

After Saturday's two games, which the Jr. Bulls split, he's still in the "show-me" mode. Though he had some scoring chances in both games, some better than others, and drew a penalty (likely should have drawn a few more, too), it took him a while to get up to speed, game-wise. To me, that was a bit surprising.

Still, the season is just starting and, really, he is learning his way with a new team. In fact, he had a tournament game starting in a few minutes. As long as he makes an all-out effort, he'll do just fine.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Less than 24 hours

If getting his new Brandon Jr. Bulls sweaters Wednesday night wasn't enough to drive home the point that the 2012-13 travel season was nearing, this should seal the deal: Colin will play his first game with the Peewee A squad in less than 24 hours.

All told, he will be playing four, possibly five games this weekend during a Labor Day tournament taking place at rinks in Brandon, Ellenton and Oldsmar. Playing with a different organization last year, his squad won the Squirt A championship.

Looking ahead, the Central Florida Hockey League season starts Sept. 15 down at Germain Arena in Estero, getting the longest road trip of the campaign out of the way nice and early. All other regular season games will be at rinks within the Tampa Bay area.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Hockey Life: Making do

Growing up in Machias, N.Y., nestled in dairy farming land within the foothills of the Allegheny plateau, we didn't have as many amenities to enjoy as the kids living in any big city. We had a town park, where we could swim, play baseball, hoops and tennis, and we had ponds, swamps and Lime Lake. Really, that was about it.

The nearest rink, for street hockey only, was in Arcade, about a dozen miles away. To us, though, it was like Madison Square Garden, with benches for teams, rooms for "fans" and, for me, a comfortable penalty box. For where we lived, it was the best we had. And we loved it.

That's not to say, though, that we didn't have fun in our little hometown.

In summer, the diamond was just one place to hang out. We'd play "Baseball 500," where scoring points by catching pop flies, line drives and grounders got you to the plate. Back yards, as well as side yards, hosted two-hand-touch football games. Hours at the town pool were followed by bike rides to Lil's or Rauch's, for 16-ounce glass bottles of Pepsi (25 cents with a nickel deposit) and some junk food (Hostess apple pies were my favorite).

Heading into fall, we knew winter wasn't all that far behind. That meant hockey season was coming. Tennis courts, at the town park or at Broad Bay Circle, became our de facto training camps. I was lucky enough to have a long, straight paved driveway, too, where I could work on my slap and snap shots. Before long, even before the first flake of snow, our street hockey season was upon us.

Bodies of water, frozen over by winter's chill, were where we learned to skate and dreamed of becoming the next hockey heroes. Nothing real organized, mind you, nothing but pure pond hockey. It didn't matter, either. Ice was ice. Once, if memory serves me correct, we even played a game (and brawled) in a cornfield outside of Franklinville. Talk about a Winter Classic.

As kids, we didn't know any better as to what others had. Most, if not all, of us grew up in blue- or white-collar, two-income families. For many of us, anything beyond high school, maybe community college, was out of our reach. If we wanted something, we worked for it, teaching a lesson that serves us to this day.

Now that I'm older, taking this trip down memory lane thanks to some pictures from a childhood buddy, I can see how those days truly shaped my life, providing a course to follow and, as a father today, pass along. Not once have I looked back on those days, wishing they were different. Doing so would discredit those memories.

Making do, back then as well as today, is what I do. It's all I've ever known.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Don't laugh too hard

Here's me, posing for a "hockey card" photo, back in 1977 or 1978. I played for the Machias Norsemen, a street hockey team in the still-in-existence Arcade (N.Y.) Hockey League. 

And, yes, I had a license to drive that curve. Those old Air-Flo sticks had so much whip in them.

If you want a few more laughs, here's the album at Facebook.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Hockey Life: Change in routines

Once a year, here in the states, there's a day when parents are encouraged to bring their child or children to work. It's a day to bond mostly, but it also serves to give the kids an idea of what their parents do to put a roof over their heads, food on the table and, in our case, ice under skates.

For the past six years, though, we've done it a bit differently. Thanks to my accommodating employer, one that understands the complexities of life brought about by my work schedule, Colin has joined me at work about two to three times a week, his visits lasting only an hour or two.

For me, it was nice being able to see him for a bit every day. I work nights, you see, helping in various forms to produce the largest daily paper in Florida. As a result, we don't spend too many nights at home together as a family. So, I take what time Colin and I had.

Granted, Colin has done his part, being much more seen than heard and, if I do say so myself, ingratiating himself to the newsroom. A number of his drawings, as well as other pieces of his handiwork, fill cubicles. In a way -- actually, in many ways -- he became part of the fabric.

It wasn't out of the ordinary for him to help me design pages or publish stories to the paper's website. Nor was it for him to engage in conversations with my colleagues, from the publisher to supervisors to my peers. Even walking out of the newsroom, partially dressed for hockey practice, brought more smiles than raised eyebrows.

Starting tomorrow, that's all about to change.

During his days in elementary school, our schedules meshed. His school day was ending just as my workday was starting. Rather than put him in an after-school program, he spent the time with me in the newsroom until The Missus ended her day. Going forward, that won't be the case.

His school days, in a middle-school magnet program that stresses a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum, begin and end about an hour later from last year's schedule. This change, albeit slight, throws a necessary monkey wrench into the works.

Rather than picking him up most every day, I'll now drop him off at school every morning. Sure, he could ride a school bus across town, but we'd miss out, even if it's measured in minutes, on our time together. Though it means a little less sleep for me, it's a deal I'd make day after day after day.

Any time with Colin, for me, is quality time.

The Missus, too, is changing her routine. She has adjusted her work schedule, starting earlier each day, so she can pick him up most every afternoon. Given the logistics (her office is about a 10-minute ride from the school), it simply made sense.

Despite these changes, we'll still have our Boys Night Out. Rather than take him skating at the Countryside mall rink most Wednesday afternoons, as we've done for the past six years, I'll take Colin to his practices for the Brandon Jr. Bulls Peewee A team. Train-hunting trips, a staple of our father-son adventures, will also remain a part of our weekly drill.

So, yes, change is in the air. Rather than fight it, as really there's little we can do, we'll embrace it. It's all about growing up, even for me, and, as I've said many times before, moving forward. That's the only way to go.