Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hounding haul: Washington Capitals

Over the past few years, I've developed a case of low expectations any time the Washington Capitals come to town. For the most part, it's because getting autographs from Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin are near to impossible. Despite that, the Capitals seem to draw more hounds, dealers and fans.

In this case, though, it was our limited time on a Saturday morning in February that led to us adding only a baker's dozen of autographs to the collection.

Some of the items we managed to get signed:

Pucks signed by Joel Ward

four cards signed by Mike Knuble; and

 cards signed by, from left, Mike Green, Michal Neuvirth, Jeff Schultz and Tomas Vokoun.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hounding haul: San Jose Sharks

Every so often, when the hockey plants align, we're able to hound two NHL teams at the same time. That happened in mid-February when the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks were staying at the Westin Harbor Island hotel.

So, while heading out for the Senators, I packed some items for the Sharks. And why we added only six autographs, we can't complain about the two big-name players who we managed to see that day:

Pucks signed by Dan Boyle, left, and Patrick Marleau;

Marleau signed this trio of cards ...

... and Boyle added this card.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hounding haul: Ottawa Senators

In getting ready to hound NHL teams, I usually pull together a team set of cards, with as many as four cards per player. Some times, we're able to get all four cards signed. Other times, we're happy to walk away with a single card signed.

Fortune must have been on our side in mid-February, when the Ottawa Senators traveled to Hockey Bay to play the Tampa Bay Lightning. In what was a continuation of a run of solid hounding days, we walked away with another 28 autographs, including 27 cards, for the collection.

The Senators who signed four cards for us were:

Goalie Alex Auld,

defenseman Matt Carkner,

left winger Nick Foligno and

center Kyle Turris.

Also signing cards that day were:

Milan Michalek, from left, Chris Neil and Chris Phillips, and

Bobby Butler, left, and Zack Smith.

Don't worry, either, as I didn't get shut out on pucks. Though I had 2012 All Star Game pucks some for Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza (who we came up empty-handed with), Michalek signed this Senators puck. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hockey Life: The big ice

Over the past few years, Colin has been fortunate enough to attend quite a few hockey clinics sponsored by the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Called Lightning Made Clinics, these hour-long events, held four times a season, are much more than participating in a series of drills.

What makes them special, from Colin's perspective, is they present an opportunity to skate and play on a sheet of NHL ice. While thousands can watch from their seats as NHL players toil, few ever get the chance to set a narrow steel blade upon the ice and experience the game from that level.

Granted, this past Wednesday wasn't the first time Colin has skated at the Forum. He had his time at center ice before a Boston Bruins-Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this season. While that has been the highlight, to date, he's skated there nearly 10 times over the past few years. Each time, it's always a thrill.

To skate on the ice where a Game 7 decided who won the Stanley Cup is, by far, like taking a step back into hockey history. To know that Lightning stars Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis ply their trade there is pretty heady. And to look around the Forum and think about thousands of cheering fans is the stuff that only fuels dreams.

The purpose of these clinics, though, is to focus on the tools needed to make these dreams come true.

This past Wednesday, however, was a bit different. Up until then, the Lightning Made Clinics over the past two seasons followed a uniform format -- skating, passing drills, some one-on-one drills and, time permitting, a scrimmage to close out the evening. This recent clinic, however, followed USA Hockey's American Development Model.

In these clinics, the ice is separated into stations, so to speak, where kids work on different skills. Instead of pucks, kids pass tennis balls. Blue foam circles and soccer balls are used, too. A stick's handle, rather than the blade, is used to pass and shoot. Rather than simply being another practice, this approach appeared to be much more fun.

I like to tell people, by borrowing a line from Hillary Rodham Clinton, that it'll take a village to raise our hockey player. No one coach or player determines Colin's future. Instead, it's every hockey person we meet, from NHL players during hounding to coaches at clinics, who offers something useful.

These clinics, thankfully, are important wayposts along Colin's hockey journey.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What it's all about

As much as I like to brag that Colin is a hockey player, I'm even more proud when he brings home from school a piece of paper like this. Five A's and two B's earned him this honor.

Nice job, buddy boy.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Hockey Life: Yesterday morning

Now that Colin's hockey season has ended, we've gained some free time on Saturday mornings. As a result, we've found ourselves making more trips across the Gandy Bridge, bound for one of three hotels near the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa.

Yesterday, for instance, was the perfect example.

With another Western Conference team visiting Hockey Bay to play the Lightning -- this time it was the surprising St. Louis Blues -- that was enough of a reason to make the trip. We don't get to see teams like the Blues all that often, so any time one comes in, and the timing is right, it's a hockey-hounding no-brainer.

That's why we got up early, so to speak, and found ourselves joining nearly 20 hounds and hockey fans at Cotanchobee/Fort Brooke Park waiting for Blues players to head over to the rink for the morning skate. Getting autographs, though, is just part of the drill.

The park, you see, is one of Colin's favorite places to hound. Mine, too. There are plenty of places to sit and the shade from trees can provide a respite from the ever-increasingly warmer days of spring. For Colin, it's the playground area that holds the most appeal. Between players, he can climb, slide and run across the apparatus, always within earshot.

On mornings when we do well, like we did with the Blues, our hounding adventures expand to other ways to spend quality time together. One such way is for us to go "train hunting."

Seeing that we both like trains, we've come to learn when and where to see the hulking diesel locomotives that haul freight and passengers. From a small rail staging yard nearby to Tampa's Union Station, we often see trains, or at least freight cars, within 10 minutes of scoring our last autograph of the day. Our established tour, though, takes us north to Brandon, riding parallel to tracks, and then back to Ybor City, the return trip providing a much closer look at the rail lines.

Yesterday's adventure, however, involved something new. As we headed back from Brandon, I noticed a spiraling column of black smoke rising in the distance. At first, I thought it might be coming from a controlled burn. As we got closer, I realized that the smoke wasn't coming from an open field, but an mixed-use area of light industrial and residential properties.

As we got closer, we started to hear the scream of sirens and the loud drone of a fire engine dodging traffic at a stoplight to our left. A glance to the right confirmed our suspicions, as we saw bright orange and red flames dancing from the porch of a house.

"So," I asked Colin, knowing full well the answer that was coming, "wanna go to a fire?"

"Sure," he said, "let's go."

Early in my journalism career, I covered the police beat, meaning I reported on and wrote about crime, bad accidents, court proceedings and, occasionally, fires. At any "scene," I know the drill -- don't park too close and don't get in the way. Those instincts kicked in as we drove near this scene, so close, in fact, that I told Colin to cover his nose and mouth with a handkerchief as we drove down a smoke-filled side street, one away from where the fire trucks were rolling in and getting set up. Some habits, I guess, die hard.

After parking the car, we headed toward the scene, maintaining a safe distance from the action, but close enough to hear the crackling of flames, and watch firefighters connect hoses to trucks and then direct giant streams of water at the flames. Within moments, the fire was snuffed, with firefighters quickly transitioning to mop-up duties and keeping the houses next door soaked to eliminate any risk of damage.

I noticed, too, that no ambulances had arrived and firefighters didn't seem frantic, telling me that no one had been inside the house and that, thankfully, no one had been hurt. The police officers that arrived were relegated to diverting any traffic that stumbled upon the area. Combined, those brought a sense of relief.

As we walked back to the car, Colin summed it up the best: "I never thought that a day of hounding would include watching a fire. It sure has been an exciting day."

Friday, March 16, 2012

One more for the books

Let's be honest, shall we? When we headed out to get Boston's Patrice Bergeron to sign Colin's rookie card earlier this week, it wasn't the only one we hoped he would sign. Also sitting atop our to-do list was this card, another custom created by Brett, that was Colin's reward for winning a friendly wager after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last summer.

Sure, Patrice may have missed the spot designated for his signature, but it's still a keeper that will also find a place of prominence in the display case. Given that it's one of only two or three copies, it's certainly a scarce card that will be prized within our personal collection.

Colin also gave Patrice a copy of this card.

All told, Colin now has three custom cards, all done by Brett, that Bergeron has signed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

That didn't take long

Once again, being in the right place at the right time, even while nursing a cold, meant completing what has quickly become my favorite hockey card ever.

A big thanks to Boston's Patrice Bergeron for signing the card and graciously accepting a copy, and to Brett, the hockey card designer extraordinaire.

This card will soon get prime placement in one of our display cases.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Hockey Life: Catching up

I was heading out of the house Saturday, heading into work, when the big envelope jutting out of the mailbox caught my eye. At first, I thought it was some marketing piece from a car dealership or developer, trying to pique by interest with something other than a form letter. Upon closer review, though, I knew it was something special.

The first hint came at the addressee. Rather than me or The Missus, it was addressed to Colin. And instead of a Florida-based return address, this parcel came from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Within seconds, I knew who it came from. The mystery, however, was what was inside.

From past experiences, I had a good idea that it would be cards of some form. Once Colin opened the mailing package and the bubble-wrapped envelope inside, it became crystal clear -- Colin had his rookie card (shown above, front back back), showing him from his days with the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars, and his best NHL buddy, Boston's Patrice Bergeron.

Now, I've seen some of Brett's custom-card work before and, let me tell you, this guy does top-shelf work. He takes his time and gets things right, rather than just slapping them together and shipping them out. In this case, he definitely has a winner.

The package arrived just in time, too. With Boston playing the Lightning this Tuesday, we have an opportunity to get this card signed, as well as give Patrice a copy of this and another card Brett made for Colin. We just hope that Patrice, who missed some time in today's game in Pittsburgh, makes the trip south and himself available.

More than anything else, we'd like to thank Brett for producing this card for Colin. Wherever hockey takes Colin, be it a rec league or elsewhere in the years ahead, this card will be his best ever.

Slackadaisical, I am

Over the past year (well, actually, 16 months), I've let autographed hockey pucks sit around our home office. For a variety of reasons, I haven't had the time or gumption to put them away. That all changed this weekend.

Over six hours yesterday and today, I chronicled and stored 132 pucks before running out of puck cases with 45 remaining. Of the 177l, the only one I couldn't identify was this Team Canada puck.

I've checked old postings here and at Hound Central 5.0, but haven't been able to figure out who signed it.

I'm hoping that someone can help me with it. If you recognize the signature or have a good idea who it might be, I'd sure appreciate the assistance. If not, I'll likely erase it. And, that, would be a shame.

Beyond that, only three or four pucks will find their way into the home office display cases - Detroits Pavel Datsyuk, on a Russia puck; Tony Esposito, on a Montreal Canadiens old-logo puck, Nicklas Lidstrom, on a Red Wings puck; Steve Yzerman, on a 2001-02 Red Wings Presidents' Trophy puck.

To date, the autographed puck collection stands at 3,247.

It's official

With the 2011-12 regular season and tournaments out of the way, today marks the end of Colin's first campaign in travel-team hockey. It's the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A's end-of-the-season party today at a teammate's house over in Hillsborough County.

Rather than ice skates, the kids were asked to bring their roller-hockey skates, helmets and Lord knows what else. I would've joined Colin and The Missus, but I have to head into work in less than an hour. From what I read in RSVP emails, it sounds like there's going to be some good food, including some "famous" salads. Wish I could have made it.

Oh, well, it's all a part of my life as a hockey dad.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Doing their bit

With Colin home from school today nursing a cold, Taz and Bella are making sure he doesn't try to skate at practice tonight.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Whole new game

The first hot dog of the 2012 baseball season came at Al Lang Field during the opening game of St. Petersburg International Baseball. It was good, not great, as the roll could have been a tad more fresh.

So, what's the connection to hockey, you might ask? That's easy: Team Netherlands 17, Team Canada 5. And we sat near three folks from Toronto. They were Leafs fans, too.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Hockey Life: In the books

Just like that, less than three minutes into overtime, it was over. A shot from in close, on our goalie's short side, rolled over his shoulder and dropped into the net. One team whooped and hollered. The other consoled the goalie. The 2011-12 season for the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A team had run its course.

The season, which spanned nearly six months, didn't seem that long. From the first game, the day after the 10th anniversary of 9/11, to this morning's Silver final at the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida Championships, our lives had revolved around hockey. Maybe that's why it went by so fast.

Two practices a week. Games mostly every other weekend, save for the holidays. Four in-season tournaments, including this weekend. Countless cups of rink coffee. Same, too, for Fierce Grape Gatorades.  Many a team meal that left my face hurting from laughing so much.

From the practical side, it has been a learning experience. For Colin. For The Missus. For me, too. Trust me, as this was our first full season of travel-team hockey, we all learned plenty. And, after spending nearly $3,000 during the season, mostly for the ice time, they were all expensive lessons.

For Colin, it was learning what it takes to play at the travel-team level. The kids are faster and better than  most in any rec league around here. Moves that worked before had been seen hundreds of times. Thankfully, his hard work, tireless energy and never-say-die attitude developed with each game.

For The Missus, it was adding to her already busy days. Like any other Hockey Mom, her day, which often starts before 7 a.m., lasted 15 to 18 hours, once Colin was fed, showered and asleep after another practice, scrimmage or game or his gear was washed, dried and folded. Beyond that, she had to deal with me.

The biggest thing I learned, among the many of the season, was to remember what was best for Colin. There's a certain high, so to speak, from watching your kid participate in a sport. Of course, I want him to do well, but I had to remember that he's just a kid. Sure, he made mistakes. All kids do. Adults, too. As his first coach, though, my job is to turn them into teaching moments, so it's not repeated.

While we all have lofty goals for our kids (if someone tells you they don't, they're lying), it's far more important to look at the big picture. Early on, I wanted as much ice time as I could get for Colin. We signed him up for camps, clinics and rec league play. It didn't take long, though, to realize that it's the quality of that ice time, not the quantity, that's important. Going forward, all of Colin's hockey will have a purpose.

This is where I'm supposed to write that it's all about having fun. In a way, that's right. Kids should have fun. Sports, I believe, teaches life lessons. When two teams compete, one wins and one loses. Winning is fun. Losing, though, sucks. Guess what? The kids know that, too. The difference, as I told Colin many times, is that winners are willing to make that extra effort -- away from the rink, at practice and during a game -- to make sure they experience the joy that comes with winning.

Thankfully, over the course of the season, there were highs. Colin scoring a game-winner with less than a minute to play and watching the team win the Labor Day tournament rank right up there. Conversely, there were lows. Watching the kids get blown out and the occasional smack of favoritism come to mind. The in-betweens, though, filled the gaps, bringing a necessary equilibrium.

Bottom line, and there always is one, Colin's first season was enjoyable and educational. He surpassed the modest scoring goals I'd set for him last fall. He hustled his way onto the penalty-killing unit and was placed in the position of helping to preserve leads. Earning three medals in his first season of play, to me, was a very solid accomplishment.

And that, my friends, is what we'll remember most about this season.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Nice little run

Though there's no real reason why it happened, but a 28-day stretch from Jan. 24 to Feb.  20 turned out to be the busiest hounding month so far of the 2011-12 hockey-hounding campaign. Want proof? I spent more than three hours earlier this week just scanning cards and pucks for future posts.

For the record, Colin and I scored 178 autographs, including 23 pucks, in eight adventures, including one double-dip day featuring the Ottawa Senators and the San Jose Sharks. The Anaheim Ducks, with 47 autographs, gave us our best day.

At best, we have six adventures on the agenda until season's end. Suffice to say, Colin's hockey took greater precedence this season than hounding. Trust me, there are no regrets. His hockey is are far more important than hounding.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

They all add up

Every so often, the Tampa Bay Lightning end up on a national broadcast, such as the NBC Sports Network. As a result, it's easy to score autographs from players-turned-analysts in town for the game.

In this case, it was Brian Engblom, who played for five teams during his 11 years in the NHL. Drafted 22nd overall in 1975 by Montreal, Engblom won three Stanley Cups with the Canadiens.