Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hounding haul: Los Angeles Kings

Any time a Western Conference team, such as the Los Angeles Kings, hits Hockey Bay, you can always expect a crowd. Seeing that some teams visit every two or three years, it's understandable. Another aspect to drawing a crowd is that most of the teams, provided they haven't had too much success and it's gone to their heads, are relatively good signers.

The Kings, save for Mike Richards, Jack Johnson and Jonathan Quick, were pretty good. In some cases, the players would sign only one, but most were willing to do multiples. And, by doing so, a solid day of hounding, especially when it's a tag-team effort, is possible.

Among the 34 autographs that Colin and I scored during the Kings' visit in early February, including the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Lewiston Maineiacs third jersey, shown above, signed by goalie Jonathan Bernier:

Pucks signed by
Top row: Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar; and
Bottom row: Andrei Loktionov and coach Darryl Sutter

A puck signed by goalie coach Bill Ranford

A Maineiacs pucked by Bernier

Brown and Kopitar knocking out one side of a quad memorablia card

Brown adding to the work-in-progress Threads collection

Cards signed by
Top row: Bernier, Kyle Clifford, Davis Drewiske and Loktionov; and
Bottom row: Brad Richardson, Rob Scuderi, Kevin Westgarth and Justin Williams

Matt Greene added his "signature" to four cards, as did

Dustin Penner and 

Jarrett Stoll

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Hockey Life: Crossing the line

Something happened last Monday that I'm not exactly proud of. Not only did I embarrass myself, as well as others, but I failed to model a positive behavior for Colin. And that, I believe, is what bothers me the most.

It came at the end of the Big Bear Tournament last weekend, one in which Colin's team, playing up a division, didn't fare so well. Facing a team they had beaten earlier in the tournament -- for their only win in four games -- the so-called consolation game failed to fit the billing.

It wasn't the outcome of the game, though, that caused my frustration to boil over. To be honest, I knew, going in, that the kids would have a tough time of it. While many will move up in the fall, they played against kids two years older, bigger and that much more experienced.

Still, that really wasn't a factor. What was took place at the end of the consolation game. Moments after the final buzzer, just as the teams started to gather at center ice for a postgame handshake, one of the opponent's players, added to the roster for this tournament only, skated into our kids' zone and started showboating for his father's video camera.

Colin, in what I believe to be a show of incredible courage and a sign of leadership, took offense to the kid's actions, skating down to confront the kid. After telling him to leave, Colin "bellied" up to the kid, making his point and wanting to look him squarely in the eyes.

Unfortunately, despite our earlier discussions about not being an instigator, Colin "initiated" the contact. In response, the kid, a few inches taller and much heavier than Colin, responded with a two-handed push and then a punch that sent Colin sprawling into the netting of the goal.

Given that Colin and this kid have a history (he once drilled Colin face-first into the boards, hitting him from behind, during a summer league, three-on-three no-contact scrimmage), I'd had enough. I didn't actually see Colin bump this kid, all I saw was the retaliation. And, like their first encounter, I had words with the kid's father, wondering whether he still condoned such actions.

My mistake, though, was crossing the line. Rather than simply comment that his son's actions were not a surprise, I took a much more personal approach, questioning the father's parenting skills as well as his manliness. Though it was in the heat of the moment, I should have kept my mouth shut. Not only was it stupid for me to do that, but it also showed foolish selfishness on my part.

Even worse, it was an example of behavior that I would never want Colin to display, in public or in private, in any instance. The deed, however, was done and all I can do is apologize. I've reached out to the father, through Colin's coach, to do just that. It's my hope we can meet over a cup of coffee and talk, getting to know each other as fellow hockey dads.

As Colin has grown with this game, I've stressed two things -- respect your opponent and, just as important, stick up for your team.

Win or lose, at game's end, you congratulate the other team for their efforts. If an opponent is hurt, you drop to a knee until he rises and then tap your stick on the ice. If he makes a sweet play, you tell him so. Conversely, if Colin scores a goal, I've told him not to go overboard in celebrating. Raise your stick, point to the teammate who passed him the puck and think of the goal as a team, rather than an individual, accomplishment.

As for sticking up for his team, Colin showed he understands that. Though he might be small in stature, he has the heart of a lion. Bump or not, I was proud of his actions.

In hindsight, though, it looks like I still had something to learn about respect. After last Monday, I'm hoping that lesson has finally sunk into my thick skull.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Hockey Life: Tourney time

Now that the fall-winter travel season is over, Colin and his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning teammates find themselves fully immersed in tournaments. This weekend, they're playing in the Big Bear Tournament right here in the Tampa Bay area. In a couple of weeks, they'll be playing in the state championships.

Though they're a Squirt A team, meaning the kids are 9 and 10 years old, they're playing up a division this weekend, against Peewee (11 and 12 years old) teams. With most of the kids turning 11 in the months ahead, it makes sense, as one line of reasoning goes, to give them, as well as the other teams, a taste of what to expect down the road.

How will it affect the team's performance in the upcoming state championships, when they'll be playing within their division? Well, that remains to be seen. I'd rather go into a major tournament like that on a roll, not on our heels. Getting knocked around by bigger kids seldom produces positive outcomes. These kids are resilient, though, and I'm sure they'll bounce right back.

The Big Bear Tournament, however, seems a bit different. In the three previous tournaments, the kids have mostly played two games a day over two days before heading into championship play. This Big Bear event, the kids are playing just once a day. After night games the past two days (earning 1-1 record, to date), the kids will play at 2:15 p.m. today. To me, that just doesn't have a tournament feel.

Granted, we're still pretty new to this game. All told, this is Colin's fourth tournament. We're used to playing an early game, heading off to lunch, watching another game or perusing the pro shop and then playing the second game of the day. That way, it's easy to make it a day at the rink, one of the allures of participating in tournaments.

What makes tournaments fun, I believe, is contributing to the buzz at the rink. It's a chance to catch up with old friends who play for other teams. It's a time to make new friends, remembering that uniforms aside, the kids are all the same -- hockey players. And, for me, it's continuing the quest for the best cup of hot coffee at a cold rink.

The best part of the Big Bear Tournament, so far, has been that it allows us to take part in the Hockey Weekend Across America festivities, a celebration of the game we love here in the United States.

On Friday, dubbed  the "Wear Your Favorite Jersey" day, I pulled my old Mitchell & Ness Kansas City Scouts jersey out of the closet. The Missus drew a couple of smiles with her Hartford Whalers jersey. Colin's favorite?  His Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning #37.

Yesterday was "Try Hockey for Free" day. Not sure where we fit in to that scenario. If that was the case, perhaps one-quarter of our entry fee should have been returned, right? I doubt that will happen, though. So, here's hoping that more than a few kids caught the hockey bug, thanks to a free introductory twirl around the many rinks that opened their doors to kids.

That brings us to today, which, if you're not involved in a tournament, is all about playing the game of hockey. For at least 30 minutes, you should pick up a stick, find a puck or hockey ball and take part in this sport we love. It can be passing the puck out in the street, practicing your stickhandling or hitting the corners of the net out back on the patio. All that matters is going out and playing some hockey.

That reminds me, I have to pack Colin's gear bag for this afternoon's game.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hounding haul: Florida Panthers

There's no other way to say it: Pound for pound, player for player, the Florida Panthers are one of the top signing teams in the NHL. In years past, when the team wasn't playing well, it was easy to understand. This season, though, they're not letting the success they've enjoyed go to their heads.

Colin and I added another 25 autographs on a recent Saturday morning hounding adventure.

Among them:

Pucks from Brian Campbell, left, and Sean Bergenheim;

An 8x10 from Bergenheim;

An 8 x 10 from Shawn Matthias;

Cards from
Top row: Scott Celemmensen, Keaton Ellerby, Jason Garrison, Mikael Samuelsson
Bottom row: Mike Santorelli, Kris Versteeg, Mike Weaver and Stephen Weiss; 

Four cards from John Madden;

Cards from Campbell, top, and Tomas Fleischmann; and

Prospect cards from Tomas Kopecky, left, and Erik Gubrandson.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hounding haul: Columbus Blue Jackets

For the most part, especially over the past few months, Tuesday afternoons meant leaving early for the rink and beating rush-hour traffic and getting Colin to his Jr. Lightning practice in Oldsmar. Three weeks ago, thanks to some free tickets to the Columbus-Tampa Bay game, we had a change in plans.

Given this newfound opportunity, we followed part of our routine -- leaving ahead of the road-clogging drive-home crush-- and got in a little hounding.

While we didn't add many autographs to the collection (10, in total), it was the still fun to go out and get back into the hounding groove. Given out activities since then, I'd day it jump-started the season for us.

Rick Nash, commemorating Canada's gold medal in 2010;

Ryan Johansen, who was drafted fourth overall in 2020;

A couple of cards signed, if that's what you want to call it, by Nash; and

A quartet of cards, including a pair from sets-in-progress, from Colton Gillies.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Introduction: Ottawa's Colin Greening

Colin Greening, a winger for the Ottawa Senators, meet 
Colin Saar, a winger for the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A squad.

Racking 'em up

We've found some time over the past few weeks to get out and hound some of the NHL teams visiting Hockey Bay. We're also planning a trip or two over the next few weeks.

In the days ahead, expect reports on the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Hockey Life: Kind words

For the past three years or so, I've taken Colin skating most Wednesday afternoons at a rink inside the Westfield Countryside mall. In that time, he has taught himself how to cross over, skate backwards and, get this, even do the moonwalk. More than anything else, though, it has helped build his stamina, skating 15-lap sets at three-quarter speed for hours on end.

My contributions have been minor. I pick him up after school (it's early release day) and head north on U.S. 19 until we're at the mall. Once there, I get money from an ATM to pay the $5.35, tax included, for the ice time. After tying his skates -- at my request, not his -- I'll grab a Powerade for him and a cup of Starbucks Pike Place for me. After that, I find a rinkside chair, sit back and watch him skate for the next two-plus hours.

The best part of our trips to the mall rink, however, doesn't come from watching him skate. Sure, it has been rewarding to watch him progress from the early, shaky-ankle days. I readily admit, without a ounce of hesitation or envy, that he's 100 times the skater I ever was. That's why I thoroughly enjoy the handful of compliments he gets from people who stop to watch every time he's working out.

Most people want to know how old he is (10) and how long he has been skating (six years). Quite a few are surprised to hear that he's from St. Petersburg, not just visiting from Canada, Minnesota or New England. Some even ask, much to my amusement, if he plays hockey.

This past Wednesday, on what could be our last visit to that rink until summer because of a change in practice schedules, Colin received some of the kindest words ever.

An older gentleman, spending his winter away from Ontario, stopped by for a quick chat. I recognized him from last year when he first complimented Colin's skating, telling him that he "skated like he was from Canada." This time, though, he was even more gracious.

"I stopped by the mall today hoping your son would be skating. I remember you said he skated most Wednesdays," he told me. "He's quite the skater. He's made great strides over the past year. Now, you  need to move to Ontario."

Like any proud father, all I could do was smile, thank him for his kind words and promise to pass along his well wishes. It's one thing when you sing your child's praises -- be they academic, altruistic or athletic -- but it's another when someone else, without prompting or a vested interest, recognizes your child's abilities.

Having said that, though, we won't let that go to our heads. Skating is just one piece of the hockey puzzle and there's plenty of room for improvement. And, just like any other "A" player, Colin must work on all aspects of the game if he wants to play at its highest levels.

Thankfully, kind words provide the motivation.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Did you know?

Mention the name Tony Esposito to most hockey fans, especially those under the age of 35, and they'll tell you he spent his career tending the net for the Chicago Blackhawks. Actually, he broke into the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, playing 13 games in the 1968-69 season.

He signed this puck for us recently before a Lightning game, offering up his distinctive signature and Hall of Fame notation.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Hockey Life: Glimpse of the past

After 40 minutes of working on passing, stopping clearing passes and practicing one-timers Wednesday, Colin and I packed up the car and headed to the Countryside mall rink for an abbreviated skating session. A break from our usual routine on early release day at school, it was just one of the many things on our to-do list for the afternoon.

As I turned right from East Bay Drive onto Belcher Road, it didn't take long for nearly 30 years of memories to flood my mind. On the left, about four blocks down Belcher, sat an apartment complex that is a part of my history, from my first tour of duty, so to speak, in the Tampa Bay area.

I spent my 20s during the 1980s along Florida's gulf coast, living in Palm Harbor, New Port Richey and Clearwater Beach. Many nights (too many, really) were spent wasting my paychecks at local watering holes, dives and wings joints called Fraternity House, Melons and, of course, the original Hooters.

Beyond that, and that's all I'll admit, details get a little fuzzy.

It was at that apartment complex, though, where my best friend, Brian, and his wife, Sherry, called home. Recently married, they were just starting out, but always had time to help me get in and out of trouble. Quite a few nights found me sleeping on their couch after having a bit too much fun.

For far more reasons than that, and hundreds of stories since those days, our friendship has grown over the years. We're more than friends. We're family. That's why Brian and Sherry, now living in northern Michigan, are Colin's godparents.

As we passed the complex, I quick-keyed their number on my cell phone, hit the "send" button and handed it to Colin. It had been a month or so since we'd spoke and I didn't want the moment, raised through a quick glimpse, to pass.

For the next 20 minutes, Colin spoke to Sherry, relaying recent events in his life, as I drove north to the mall. Along the way, we passed other signposts of the past -- Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, which took us to the beach; the darkened building that was Woody the Printer, my first employer in Florida; and the basketball courts, near the mall, where more than one well-placed knee to a thigh slowed down enough Brian so I could keep up.

All the way, though, I listened in to Colin's conversation. He told Sherry about school and learning that he had gained "gifted" status, meaning a more challenging curriculum and learning experiences. He shared his tale of his 160-foot shorthanded goal and how his team, the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A squad, finished second overall this season. A glimpse into my rearview mirror showed a mile-wide smile on his face.

Each story he told was a part of his history. And this ride to the rink, one of hundreds we've made together over the years, became a memory.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hounding haul: Boston Bruins

To say that we were disappointed by the Boston Bruins a couple of weeks ago would be an understatement. It wasn't that Colin and I scored only eight autographs. Really, that was to be expected. Any time a team wins the Stanley Cup, the players become that much tougher -- from a signing standpoint -- during the next season.

No, our disappointment centered around not being able to see Boston's Patrice Bergeron. Besides having a card to share with his best NHL buddy, Colin also had some pretty big news -- that he'd be skating as the Lightning Dream Kid before the game and, if Patrice started, would be sharing the ice with him during the national anthem.

As we headed home after the Bruins morning skate, I reminded Colin that Patrice has been pretty good to him over the years. The novelty of having one of his biggest fans in Florida, though, might be wearing off, too. To his credit, Colin handled the letdown in pretty good fashion.

Besides, the Bruins come back in March. It's likely, too, that Colin could have another case of Bruins flu. Maybe then, he'll get to ask Patrice, who started the game for Boston, if he noticed him on the ice during the anthem.

Cards signed by, from left, Gregory Campbell, Joe Corvo, Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin.

Milan Lucic signed the one and only puck we could add to the collection.

Nathan Horton added to the Threads project.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bit of hockey history

As much time as we spend in rinks, it's no surprise that we see current and former NHL players. Last year, we had a run of seeing several Tampa Bay Lightning players, including Marty St. Louis, watching their sons play early Sunday morning games.

I remember, too, seeing Mattias Ohlund, out all season for the Lightning this season, buying his son a pair of hockey pants at a pro shop at the rink in Brandon, Fla.

Over the past few years, though, there's been one guy who may have slipped under the radar of quite a few people. Sure, they know him as owning the pro shops at a couple of local rinks, but the fact that he once rode shotgun with Hall of Famer Bobby Hull likely escapes them. That guy is Norm Beaudin.

The first-ever player signed by the World Hockey Association's Winnipeg Jets, Norm scored 103 points, including 38 goals, in that first year, playing alongside the Golden Jet and Chris Bordeleau on the so-called Luxury Line.

Norm also played in a handful of NHL games and, if you look closely enough in the Clearwater Ice Arena store, you can see an enlarged copy of one of his hockey cards.

For the past year, I had meant to have Norm sign this Winnipeg Jets puck but kept forgetting to have it on hand when we went to the Clearwater rink. Even after placing it in Colin's hockey bag, it went unsigned for another month. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, we had Norm sign it. The picture came just a few days ago, as Norm appeared at a store opening.