Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Parade time

Video of Colin and his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A teammates helping the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Lightning Girls hand out beads during in the Gasparilla Children's Parade.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Hockey Life: That went quick

It's amazing just how quickly time can fly by. It seems just like yesterday, rather than last August, that Colin was starting his first regular season game of fall-winter travel hockey, playing for the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A squad. But here we are, as the calendar gets ready to turn to February, with the kids having only tournament games in the weeks ahead.

Going into the campaign, I wasn't quite sure what to expect -- from Colin as well as his team. But after competing hard in preseason tournament in South Florida and then winning one over the Labor Day weekend, it was easy to think there would be some happy hockey days.

To some degree, that gut feeling came true. The team, the result of a merger between the Tampa Bay Titans and Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning, established itself as a solid squad, finishing second, with a 13-5 record, in its nine-team Central Florida Hockey League division.

Thankfully, the team had more peaks and valleys. Exciting victories over competitive teams were far more common than days when the kids, for whatever reason, were out of sync. Brilliant displays of teamwork overcame painful teaching moments. Team gatherings at restaurants, even when other diners were behaving worse than our kids, were hilariously memorable.

For Colin, though, it has been a season of growth. In all honesty, my expectations going into his first campaign were rather low -- get a handle on the speed and caliber of the play, keep game-changing mistakes to a minimum and, if he was lucky, score at least five points.

As one proud hockey father, I'm delighted to say that Colin greatly exceeded those expectations.

It took only a few games for him to understand that he could skate with these kids and, in some cases, pull ahead. After a few shaky moments early on, he earned a spot on his team's penalty-killing unit. And, despite what refs missed and error-prone Pointstreak logged, he nearly averaged a point a game (7 goals and 8 assists in 18 games).

Really, I couldn't ask for more. To his credit, though, he went above and beyond. He developed a reputation for being a pest, willing to forecheck, backcheck and not shy away from puck battles. His passing, in my opinion, improved with each game. Most of all, though, he showed there wasn't an ounce of quit in him.

When we started this journey, it was our goal to raise a hockey player. Not a goal scorer, nor a team's star. Just a hockey player, one willing to do all of the little things that make a difference. Though he has plenty to work on, Colin's first fall-winter season of travel team hockey showed he took steps in the right direction.

Well done, buddy. You should be proud of yourself.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Another look

Here's video from the Tampa Bay Lightning of Colin's turn as the Lightning Dream Kid on Jan. 17 before the Boston Bruins-Tampa Bay Lightning game.

Please know, too, Colin plays at the Squirt A level, not AAA.

Hopefully, the music and video will synch better.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Hockey Life: My big adventure

Editor's note: This post is Colin's first for The Hockey Life.

Last week, when my one of my favorite hockey teams, the Boston Bruins, and my best NHL buddy, Patrice Bergeron, came to town, I was excited because I’d get to be the Lightning Dream Kid and skate before the Tampa Bay Lightning game.

After getting dressed in my gear and putting on my Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning jersey (I really wanted to wear my Bruins Bergeron jersey, but they wouldn’t let me)., I got to watch the warmups from the Zamboni tunnel.  As the players skated around, all I could think about was what I would have to do in just a few minutes.

Before hitting the ice, when I got to skate to the Thunderstruck song, my only thought was “don’t fall.” I  concentrated on the music and lights and doing my best.

Once on the ice, I really didn’t hear the crowd and the noise and kind of tuned it out. For my first lap, I was told to skate behind the first net and in front of the second net, but without thinking, I nearly skated behind the second net because that’s what I do in practice.

After my second lap and ending up at center ice with the spotlights on me, it felt amazing. There were so many lights. There were white lights, silver lights and blue lights. It looked really cool when they were shining through my cage. By then, I could hear the crowd. It was cheering so loudly, too, that it was amazing.

I then skated over to the Lightning bench and waited for the players to give me fist bumps as they came on the ice. It was really fun getting fist bumps, but some of the head taps from players surprised me. The ones that surprised me the most were three in a row from Vinny (Lecavalier), then Marty (St. Louis) and then Stammer (Steven Stamkos). It seemed like they patted me on the head like they do their teammates after they score a goal. Really, it didn’t bother me at all

During the national anthem, I got to stand next to any of the starters I wanted. Since Adam Hall, my favorite Lightning player is hurt, I stood next to Nate Thompson, one of my other favorite Lightning players. I didn’t know how to hold my helmet and other gear, so I looked around how to do it. By the time I figured it out, the anthem had started.

During the anthem, I accidentally hit goalie Mathieu Garon’s pads a couple of times with my stick. After the second time, he looked down and gave me a look. After that, I kept better control of my stick. Even though I wanted to laugh a little and say “I’m sorry,” I kept my mouth shut during the national anthem.

Later, after taking off my hockey equipment, I certainly felt like I wanted to pass out. I felt so stressed, because I kept myself together so tightly, and relieved that I had done it without falling, it felt like my vision was blurry for a couple of seconds.

After drinking some Fierce Grape Gatorade, I felt better. I just sat there and let my heart rate settle down. One time I put my hand over my heart and it was like dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit. After a while, I calmed down.  After my Dad packed my gear into my hockey bag, we headed upstairs and joined my Mama and friend Sofia to watch the game.

To sum up the night, from skating the laps to getting fist bumps from the players to standing on the blueline with one of my favorite Lightning players to watching the game with my family and friend, it was the most perfect night I could imagine.

I hope I get to do it again someday. If I don't, it's something that I'll remember for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fulfilling a dream

If nothing else ever happens in Colin's hockey career, he'll always be able to tell the story of how one night, when he was 10 years old, he took part in an NHL game between his two favorite teams -- the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Beyond his game-opening skate, to the thumping beat of AC/DC's Thunderstruck, at a sold-out Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Lightning Dream Kid experience also featured:

~ greeting the Lightning players as they made their way onto the ice; and

~  hanging out with Tampa Bay's Nate Thompson on the blueline during the national anthem.

There's also a behind-the scenes photo gallery of the night's events.

Special thanks to Kelli Yeloushan of the Tampa Bay Lightning for making a kid's dream come true.

Lightning fist bumps

After the skate, Colin was able to greet Tampa Bay Lightning players as they made their way to the ice before the start of the game against the Boston Bruins. The head taps, some heavier than others, were a bonus, Colin said.

Hanging with Nate

The final part of the Lightning Dream Kid experience was standing with the Lightning players on the blueline during the national anthem. With Tampa Bay starting its checking line against the Boston Bruins, Colin stood next to Nate Thompson, another American-born player.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tonight's the night

If you're heading to tonight's game between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, you might want to make sure you're settled in your seat after warmups. At 7:30 p.m., when the lights dim inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Colin gets his turn as a Lightning Dream Kid.

To the thumping beat of AC/DC's Thunderstruck, Colin, decked out in his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning uniform, will hit the ice, kicking off the night's festivities. After greeting Lightning players at the bench door, he'll get to stand with the Lightning starters on the blueline during the national anthem.

That he might share the ice, even for only a few moments, with his best NHL buddy, Boston's Patrice Bergeron, will make it extra special. Either way, it's a moment that Colin is unlikely to forget.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Hockey Life: The 160-foot shortie

Taken during the Florida International Hockey Invitational tournament over the holidays,
not his most recent Central Florida Hockey League game. (Photo by Sam J. Barranco Jr.)
When we started this hockey adventure five years ago, I knew, in all honesty, that Colin was unlikely to be a goal scorer. Yes, I figured he'd scored a few, but that was never the singular focus of our goal -- raising a complete, well-rounded hockey player who stood a good chance of making teams, no matter the level.

Since then, he has shown that, on occasion, he can put the puck in the net. Most have come off of a rebound, the result of hanging around the net and being in the right place at the right time. He has even posted a couple of hat tricks, all coming in rec league games where goals can come fairly easily. His two  biggest goals -- game-winners -- found the twine in the waning moments of a contest.

Last week, though, he scored the most remarkable goal, to date, of his young travel-team career. Playing defense on the penalty kill, the puck landed on his stick as he skated near the left faceoff circle in his defensive zone. As he has been taught to do, he took a quick look up the ice, saw the middle was open and, as best as he could, gave the puck a ride.

At the moment, my thoughts were to remind him later to kill as much time off of the clock before clearing the puck. Then, I noticed the puck was heading toward the net. Another mental note, I thought, was to have him aim for a corner, as it would erase more time.

I glanced away from the play, to ask The Missus to remind me of the teaching moments, just as the puck neared the goalie. But, rather than play it safe and drop to her knees and form a wall to the slow-moving puck, the goalie took a swipe at it. That act caught my attention.

Sure enough, the goalie missed, allowing the puck to bounce off her right skate blade and trickle, and I do mean t-r-i-c-k-l-e, into the net. Disbelief and a wide range of emotions, swept across the rink.

Colin, in his excitement at scoring an improbable goal, let loose his stick, not as a form of exultation but by accident. The goalie, bless her heart, slammed her stick to the ice, this time making rather solid contact. Her mother, standing outside the rink behind her, went ballistic. It was that much of a moment that a timeout was called. 

Later, on the way home, I made a point of using the goal as a teaching moment. After passing along my earlier notes, as to killing more time, I also told Colin that the goal was a reward for all of his hard work and other missed opportunities. Sure, not every shot he takes will go in, but the Hockey Gods always find a way to balance the ledger.

Friday, January 13, 2012


To say we traveled to Estero, Fla., late last month so Colin could play in a hockey tournament would only be a half-truth. For us, it was a bit of  vacation, too. Rather than sitting at a desk, we hung out around a fire pit. Instead of quick breakfasts, we sat down to full buffets. Colin even did a little bit of hounding.

Trotting out his trademark team sheets (printed out this time, opposed to drawing them), Colin hit up the University of Maine and University of Massachusetts after the squads practiced  before the Florida College Hockey Classic at Germain Arena in Estero:

It was UMaine coach Tim Whitehead who asked to personalize it. Not sure why, but, really, it doesn't matter one bit.

UMass was very accommodating. Each player lined up, waiting his turn to sign the sheet. Once they found out, too, that Colin likes the Bruins, well, that was just the icing on the cake. The guys couldn't believe that a kid in Florida rooted for the B's.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

College humor

Either Jake Morley, captain of the Clarkson men's hockey team, or one of his teammates couldn't resist the urge for a laugh when signing this Florida College Hockey Classic program page for Colin.

If you look closely, you can see that Morley's mug sports a hand-drawn mustache.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Hockey Life: Seven hours

Though the final result fell one win short of the goal, the last day of the Squirt A portion of 2011 Florida International Hockey Invitational tournament at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla., presented one of my favorite things about hockey -- once the game is over and the gear is put away, the players are kids.

After working their way through the tournament, taking two must-win games to finish second in round-robin play, the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning squad easily dispatched the Gulf Coast Flames (with Colin scoring his second goal of the tournament) in the semifinal. Their reward? Playing a team -- the Jr. Everblades -- that has had their number all season long for the championship.

I'll admit, I wasn't surprised at the outcome. The Jr. Everblades have a solid program that stresses winning at all levels with talent distributed evenly among all teams. In the end, though, it wasn't even close. Some kids, including Colin, were playing their hearts out at game's end. Others, however, well, I couldn't say.

Honestly, it's easy to understand just wanting to get the game over when you're getting spanked. It's no fun when you're losing. Still, I was raised to go hard, no matter the score, until the game was over. I'm doing that with Colin, too. That's why, at game's end, he had the most visible show of disappointment.

Tears moistened his cheeks as he knelt on the blueline, waiting his turn to collect his finalist medal and congratulate the Jr. Everblades. Later, he told me, he wasn't sad only because the team lost. What bothered him more, he said, was all about effort.

Within a couple hours, thanks to a grilled cheese sandwich at the All American Grill and a trip to the Disney character store at the Miramar Outlets, Colin was fine and looking forward to the night's festivities -- watching a pair of games at the College Hockey Classic at Germain Arena, at the same rink where he'd played only hours before.

Between that night's two games, we bumped into one of the Jr. Everblades players. Ryan, one of the team's top skaters, is a hounding buddy of Colin's. Before long, we were all sitting together, watching the University of Massachusetts battle Cornell University before the boys took off in search of autographs from players on the University of Maine and Clarkson University squads.

After making their rounds and loading up on signatures, Ryan took Colin up to a section to meet some of his Jr. Everblades teammates. After introductions and assurances that Colin wasn't there to "steal" team secrets, the gathering quickly turned to kids being kids. Some of the Jr. Everblades made sure, too, that Colin hadn't gotten hurt during the game and recognized his best efforts at being a pest.

It didn't take long for the kids, with Colin right in the middle of it, to do their best at getting shown on the arena's Jumbotron, achieving success at least five times, with their goofy dancing and silly antics. It didn't matter who played for whom. Bottom line, they were all hockey players doing what hockey players do best -- having a ton of fun.

Seven hours after a hard loss, Colin had an ear-to-ear grin on his face.