Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Hockey Life: Sunday mornings

I'm writing live this morning, as it might be the last time I can for a few months. Now, don't worry. Nothing is wrong. It's just that after our most recent respite, it's time to get back to what had become our normal Sunday morning routine.

Beginning next Sunday, at 11:30  a.m. to be exact, our mornings will, once again, belong to hockey. Taking a break after his travel team season, Colin will return to his roots, rejoining the lineup of the Pinellas Police Athletic League Stars for the Tampa Bay Metro League's spring recreational season.

As every hockey parent knows, game mornings are a bit of a process. It's setting the alarm clock to allow for a road trip, ranging from 20 minutes to two hours. It's making sure the hockey bag is packed and nothing, especially a mouthpiece or neck guard, is forgotten. It's being grateful, too, for an everything bagel with cream cheese and a travel cup of coffee.

For the past two months, give or take a few days, our Sunday mornings have been different. A lot different. Breakfast meant pancakes or french toast, scrambled eggs or omelets, bacon or sausage and, just this morning,  fruit cups. It also meant two cups of coffee, out of a diner-style mug. And, I had time to read the Sunday paper, not just the sports section.

Make no mistake, I'm not complaining. Like Colin, I was missing the drill, as well as the thrills, of game days. After more than two years of Colin playing in some form of a season, Sunday mornings became part of the routine and, honestly, something to look forward to. Conversely, a relaxing Sunday morning at home, much less rare than it once was, is something to treasure, too.

Returning to the P.A.L. program is what we're looking forward to the most. From his first days in the program, we've felt like a part of the Stars family. Through wins and losses, including a painful lesson a few years ago, there's more to this program than playing hockey.

To this day, Colin is known as "Mini Man," a nickname bestowed upon him by the head coach's son. We've attended the team's holiday party, despite Colin playing for another team. One drill within Colin's weekly skating sessions are called "Coach Dons," after an instructor at P.A.L.'s summer hockey camp. It wasn't uncommon for us, either, to attend P.A.L. games, even if Colin wasn't playing.

Colin even knows Miss Julie's disdain for a certain furry rodent, meaning he seldom hesitates to remind her about it. And now, upon news of a particular birthday present, he can't wait to see her.

By no means is this a knock against any other program or coach, but it's different with the Stars. There's a certain sense of comfort that comes with the program. I guess that's why it'll be easy to get back into the game-day routine. The next chapter starts a week from today.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Happy birthday, buddy boy

Sitting above my home desk, viewable with the slightest glance up, are two images that provide all of the inspiration I'll ever need. When life gets frustrating or I'm feeling particularly lazy, all it takes is a single look and life immediately pops into crystal-clear perspective. Colin, of course, is featured prominently in both.

One of the images, shown above, was taken at Ristuccia Arena, the Boston Bruins practice facility, sometime during the 2003-04 NHL season. We were occasional visitors to the team's open practices, with Colin being the recipient of many ice-cold pucks from Bruins players. Those visits, I believe, planted the seeds of our hockey adventure. 

The other image is this mock front page from the Boston Herald (my employer at the time), commemorating his birth. I'd waited a few months to create the page, wanting to capture the first few months of his life in photographs to use as pieces of art.

Beyond the main photo (another one of my all-time favorites), I get the biggest kick out of the main headline. I must admit, it isn't mine. It came from a Herald colleague, who used it for the newsroom announcement. It was simply too good to pass up.

I'm getting nostalgic today because it's Colin's 11th birthday.  Right now, we're getting ready for his party at a mall rink and then we'll catch a movie. We'll cap his day attending a Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer game.

As a daddy, all I can say is just how quickly the days have passed. It doesn't seem all that long ago that he was just a toddler, looking up at me with his curious eyes, bouncing on my knee, as NHL players went through practice less than 50 feet away.

These days, we're both wrestling a bit with his transition from a little boy to a 'tween. As much as I'd like for him to stay a "little boy," and I get the sense that feeling is mutual, I'm noticing he's growing more mature every day. I know, too, that his teenage years, and all that can entail, await.

That's why, as his father, I've spent a lot of time building a bond with him over hockey. As you can see, it's been a part of his life since his first days. From watching those Bruins practices to us playing hockey in the basement to his turn as a Lightning Dream Kid this past season, our favorite sport has been the common denominator for many shared memories.

We wouldn't have it any other way.

With any luck, and we know it will take a ton of that and skill, Colin will find himself living out his dream. As a daddy, I'm sure my eyes will fill with tears of joy should that ever happen. If it doesn't, it won't be for the lack of trying. As his father, though, I can only hope he shares our love of hockey with his children.

All things considered, I'll be proud of either accomplishment. No matter his age, he'll always be my little boy.

And, really, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Missus' reward

As I started to share the final 2011-12 hounding adventures, searching through photo folders, I stumbled across an impromptu trip we made in February to score a few autographs from Tampa Bay's Ryan Shannon.

It wasn't so much we that absolutely, positively needed to add him to the collection. No, it was more that he's one of The Missus' favorite NHL players. If memory serves correct, she muttered something about "dreamy eyes."

Given how much she has put up with our hockey adventures, from hounding to two-hour road trips to watch Colin play, it was an easy call to make the ride to Tampa (in rush-hour traffic, mind you) so she could meet Shannon at a public appearance.

Of course, we didn't go over empty-handed:

Pretty nice signature on the puck, don't you think?

We even had a few cards for him.

Colin even wore his Ryan Shannon Portland Pirates practice jersey.
Shannon, who got quite the kick out of seeing it, had signed it before.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Freebies rock

Colin scored more than autographs from Tampa Bay's Marty St. Louis and Dwayne Roloson at last Wednesday's Lightning radio show in Tarpon Springs. He also walked away, at night's end, with these pucks from the recent NCAA Frozen Four championships held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa.

Of course, we'll put them to good use. In time, we're hoping that the New York Rangers' Chris Kreider, Florida's Nick Bjugstad and, maybe, Carolina's Jeremy Welsh.

Seeing that souvenir stands were charging $10 to $12 for these pucks during the championships, we'll take as many as we can get.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Much better

Well, that didn't take long. I like this look far better than the experiment of the past few days. Much more traditional, too. Thanks, Brett.

Early birthday present

Now that we're a couple of years into Colin's hockey, he fully understands that Christmases and birthdays will often mean hockey gear as presents. With his 11th birthday coming up Saturday, it was the perfect time to put this concept to work.

At first, we thought we had ordered a pair through one hockey shop. But when a call to check on the status led to us hearing there was no record of them being ordered, we put the kibosh on that. All it took was one phone call to another shop to find a pair -- in stock.

Even though we considered a new pair of Bauer Vapor X 5.0 or 4.0 skates, our pest-in-training ended up picking the new Bauer Supreme One.6 model, shown at left, for his latest set of wheels. His beat-up Bauer Supreme One100s lasted him 13 months.

He'll take his skates out for a spin later today, at TBSA Countryside during his weekly skating session, as he starts breaking them in before his first Tampa Bay Metro League game on May 6. Of course, we'll bring the old pair, just in case.

It took him two hours Wednesday, but he said the skates are now broken in.
Lots of skating backwards and working the edges.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On my Timeline

I imagine many of you are members of Facebook. Among you, I'd dare say many have converted, or have been converted, to the site's Timeline profile. I did, about two months ago. 

This is my so-called "cover" photo. I just love his stance. Looks ready to go, doesn't he?

It was taken Jan. 17 by Tampa Bay Times photographer Dirk Shadd, when Colin served as the Lightning Dream Kid before Tampa Bay's game against the Boston Bruins.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Not all that many

Some day, and hopefully it'll be sooner rather than later, I'll get around to filing Hockey haul posts from our late-season hockey-hounding adventures. Until then, this group portrait, so to speak, will have to work.

Expect reports, in this order, about the Bruins, Lightning, Blues, Oilers, Islanders and the NCAA Frozen Four.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Notice anything new?

So, what do you think of this new look. Is it easier to read? Or do you like the old template, which I likened to the flat black of a puck, better? Does it even matter? Let me know.

Uh, excuse me?

So, I get up from my recliner for a few minutes ...

... and this is what happens.

Like one friend commented at Facebook: "Move your feet, lose your seat."

The Hockey Life: Glory days

Even though it's about three months away, I'm starting to get jacked up about a road trip back home to western New York. More than catching up with family and friends, attending my hometown of Machias' Community Day or my family's 70th annual reunion, there's one event I can't wait to take place.

One morning during our visit, a father and son (yes, that'll be us) will take a drive to the nearby city of Arcade. Tucked away in the back of the city's park is a street hockey rink. Actually, I think it's called a deck hockey rink. Either way, it'll be our destination.

More than 35 years ago, as a member of the Machias Norsemen, that rink is where I first played any form of organized hockey. It represented a major step up from the tennis courts and paved driveways where I had "played" before. And it was long before any steel blade roughed up any ice, be it a sheet, swamp, lake, pond or cornfield puddle.

At best, playing defense or wing, I like to think I held my own. Did my best to keep our crease open. Had an halfway decent slap shot (which I foolishly nicknamed "The Howitzer"), provided I had time for a huge wind-up, and I certainly wasn't afraid of any contact or, when opportunities presented themselves, getting into a scrap or two (scars on knuckles are proof). If memory serves, one or two even occurred post-game in the parking lot.

I've invited one of my old teammates, Jerry (my best friend growing up) to join us. I also plan on reaching out to a few others, too. Hopefully, it'll be a family-style gathering within a reunion-filled weekend. We're all around 50 years old now, give or take a few years, so this could be one of our last times together as a group.

The point of the visit, though, won't simply be to recall those days. Instead, it'll be to share a few moments in that rink shooting and passing, as well as reminiscing, with Colin. Given my girth and balky hips (still hurting from last week's escapades), I haven't been able to spend much time on the ice with Colin. And, as his dad, that bothers me.

This trip, though, will change that. To me, it'll be one of my favorite stops along the journey.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Now, this is more like it

For those following along with my eBay escapades this past week, you've likely developed a mindset that I'm not the most endearing bidder. No arguments here. From where I sit, I expect to land a bargain every time I place a bid. to me, that's what eBay is all about.

Out of the seven winning bids, this card is the best of the lot. What seals the deal for me is that all four swatches are guaranteed as being game-used. That's what I want in a card. Not "player-worn," "official NHL event" or "photo shoot."

If it isn't "game-used," eBay sellers must be clear about that. When they're not, I have no problems ringing them up. It's all about transparency, if you ask me. Makes me a picky S.O.B., doesn't it?

Even though I'll file this card away in the top-shelf memorabilia card lock box, I will also remember that the shipping fee was the highest of all the winning auctions. Not a major complaint, mind you, just my entitled opinion. If I didn't want to pay it, I never would have made a bid.

In this case, I didn't mind paying a bit of a premium.

2010-11 Black Diamond Quad Jersey Peter Stastny
Winning bid: $1.25
Shipping: $3.50

Friday, April 20, 2012

All the way from Canada

You need to be patient anytime you score the winning bid on a eBay auction for an item being offered north of the border. Though this was the first one of seven we won that evening, it was one of the last to arrive. I don't have a problem with that. 

Given the recycled bubble mailer, though, I thought the shipping was a tad high.

Still, it's fodder for the Threads collection, especially when the card says its "player-worn material." Gee, I wonder what that means.

2011-12 Panini Crown Royale Joe Colborne 
Winning bid: 99 cents
Shipping: $3

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quality time

On most every Wednesday for the past four to five years, I've taken Colin to TBSA Countryside for a skating session. Over the years, these weekly sessions have gone a long, long way to improving his skating. They also serve as bonding moments for father and son.

Sometimes, though, the hockey planets align and the day, or the drill, extends between a couple of hours of ice time. Yesterday was one such instance. And our time, more than eight hours, was truly top shelf.

With Bauer releasing its 2012 line of skates, we've been trying to get Colin a new pair. His current set of wheels, a pair of Bauer Supreme One 100s, have, like his other skates, logged many miles over the past 13 months and are pretty beat up, sustaining gouges and slices from games and practices. The blade, too, is down to about 5/16ths inch deep, the result of many, many sharpenings.

So, after skating for nearly two hours yesterday, we headed to a hockey shop in Oldsmar. With two particular models in mind, we wanted to see if it had any in his size. For him, the skates would be an early birthday present. To keep this long story short, the store had new skates, just not any in his size. His new skates, I'm afraid, will have to be ordered.

Undeterred, we headed onto our next adventure -- the opening night of the Tampa Bay Lightning's summer radio talk show tour at an overwhelmed Chili's restaurant in Tarpon Springs. The featured guests were Tampa Bay's Marty St. Louis and Dwayne Roloson.

As expected, the players drew a long line of people (easily 200-plus) wanting an autograph. Rather than wait in line, Colin started playing street hockey. Before long, I joined him within the "rink," a 50-year-old "kid" trying to stay out of the way and not get hurt.

After three hours of street hockey (in which Colin said he scored 47 goals), with only a short break for a quick walk to grab dinner at a nearby McDonald's, the radio show ended and the autograph line for St. Louis and Roloson was down to maybe 20 people. Thanks to a contact within the organization, Colin was able to get into the line, despite it being cut off about 30 minutes earlier.

Rather than getting some pucks signed (we had two each, tucked away in the hounding bag), Colin had the players autograph his well-used Mission Widow stick, the one that he had just used playing street hockey. To me, that's the way to retire a stick.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I doubt I'm the first to notice, but it looks like Upper Deck was a little confused with two Florida Panthers players cards within its UD Hockey Series II release. This isn't Scottie Upshall, it's Jason Garrison.

At least they got it right on the card's back.

I would have brought this to your attention earlier, but I misplaced it. Only after putting away some other cards, particularly three winning bids on eBay, did I find it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why use tape?

I must admit, that after receiving a message from an eBay seller expressing confusion over my feedback (it was a link to this post), I feel a bit empowered. Not so much to go out and hit up more auctions. No, to leave feedback in the form of blog posts that share my experience from the latest round of winnings bids.

Two more winning auctions, from the same seller, arrived in today's mail.

And while I don't have the same concerns as the first round, I get annoyed with sellers who feel the need to use cheap tape to seal top loaders. Peeling away the tape leaves a sticky residue that renders the top loader useless. Sorry, but I expect a new top loader that allows me to move a card, if I so choose, straight from the envelope to storage box.

Besides, the items were in a team bag, which, to me, renders each strip of tape unnecessary.

There, how's that for feedback? Picky? Maybe. Spot-on accurate? Absolutely. The customer, no matter the outlet, is always right.

2005-06 UD SP Game-Used Marian Gaborik Authentic Fabrics jersey
Winning bid: 99 cents
Shipping: $1.99 

2005-06 UD SP Game-Used Stephen Weiss Authentic Fabrics jersey
Winning bid: 99 cents
Shipping: 50 cents (total of $2.49 for the combined items) 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Hockey Life: Revisiting eBay

There was a time, nearly 10 years ago, when eBay made up the lion's share of my hockey card collecting activities. For the most part, I did way more buying than selling, snagging boxes of new releases and the occasional "must-have" memorabilia card while selling off 25-card packs of team or player sets.

Sure, it was fun waiting for the postal carrier to deliver the latest winning bid, but standing in line to ship a dozen packages to addresses throughout North America got real old real quick. Since then, eBay has been a hit-or-miss venture.

Anytime I visited, it was out of sheer boredom. I'd look mostly for auctions of jersey swatch cards, ending within minutes, at prices between a penny and $1.99. Though it limited my choices, I was surprised at what I could find.

Just like the past, too, I lost more than I won, as I wasn't willing to go past my skin-flint minimum bids, no matter the player or swatch. Seldom, if ever, did I bid on anything that I just absolutely, positively had to have. Taking that approach saved a lot of money, I suppose.

Last week, the eBay bug resurfaced. I remembered that I had a little extra "cash" sitting in a PayPal account, the remnants of my final days with an online media company. Granted, I could have requested a check, like I had done so many times before, but I didn't. Besides, we can always use new candidates for the Threads collection.

Proving that some old habits do die hard, I plugged my favorite search terms into eBay. Once again, I was surprised by the amount of offerings. There were enough, all ending within 20 minutes or so, to whittle my PayPal account to less than the cost ($1.50) to request a check. In this case, though, I won more auctions than I lost.

In the days since then, a few of the cards have made their way to Florida. They're easy to recognize, as they've arrived in padded envelopes, including one that carried six stamps. Tucked inside, in varying, but acceptable, forms of protection, were the cards.

It's funny, though, how the charge for shipping varies, though the means (usually USPS First Class) and methods (penny sleeve, some form of top loader(s) and team bag inside a padded envelope) don't. So far, of the three to arrive, the shipping fees have ranged from $1.81 to $2.99. One seller, whose card has yet to arrive, even charged $3.50.

I'm a bit disappointed that the card descriptions within the auctions were less than complete. Not one of the cards to arrive contains an official NHL game-used swatch, yet none of the listings mentioned that fact. As a result, each has served as a reminder of "buyer beware."

Another thing that apparently has changed is the feedback system. It seems that eBay sellers now insist that buyers leave feedback first. One even told me to rate the deal as "five stars." Sorry, sellers, but I don't operate that way. You get what you deserve.

Instead, I'll leave this post as my feedback. How's that? From where I sit, you're supposed to leave feedback first. I'm thinking, too, that feedback is far more important to a seller than it is to a buyer. Really, isn't it all about the money?

Bottom line, I'm happy, just not five-star-across-the-board-happy, with what has arrived so far:

2010 UD Black Diamond Dale Hawerchuk quad jersey (official NHL event)
Winning bid: $1.29
Shipping: $1.81

2011-12 UD Hockey Series II Ryan Johansen rookie jersey (photo shoot)
Winning bid: 99 cents
Shipping: $2.99

2006-07 BAP Portraits Jussi Jokinen (photo shoot)
Winning bid: $1.06
Shipping: $2.50

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bragging, once again

Any hockey fans ever heard of Al MacNeil? Old-school Bruins fans might. I know Ken Dryden does. To be honest, I hadn't. Not until, at least, he introduced himself to us earlier today at TBSA Countryside in Clearwater.

It seems that he and his wife were walking around the mall and stopped to watch the skaters at the mall rink. Colin must have caught his eye. A few minutes later, the former NHL player and Stanley Cup-winning coach gave him an unsolicited compliment, especially about his skating backwards.

I'll tell you what. That doesn't happen every day. Though it's not uncommon for people to compliment Colin's skating abilities during his weekly small-ice sessions, none has ever volunteered that he played and coached in the NHL.

Of course, we thanked him, like the others, for his kind words and encouragement. And, yes, we were both pretty proud. As a journalist, though, I had one big question -- who was Al MacNeil. A quick search on Google not only confirmed his identity, but it also showed he has a role in NHL history.

After more than 500 NHL games as a defenseman, MacNeil, as Montreal's coach, played a hunch and started a certain rookie goalie (Ken Dryden) against the Bruins in the opening round of the 1970-71 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Habs upset the B's and went on to win their 17th out of a record 24 Stanley Cups.

Wikipedia tells me the man, a part of four Stanley Cup-winning organizations during his career, spent more than 50 years in professional hockey.

Granted, we know we're chasing a dream that's extremely hard to obtain. And we know there are people who think we're foolish for even thinking about it. It's instances like this, though, that fuel the dream. In the end, there's no better justice than proving people wrong.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Hockey Life: One lucky dude

Unbeknownst to me, Colin must have hired himself a new PR guy. Through this blog, Facebook and Twitter, I thought I was doing a darn good job, as any proud parent would do, of promoting him and his accomplishments.

A string of recent events, though, are boggling, even to me.

Since last Saturday, he has:

 ~ appeared on the Tampa Bay Times Forum Jumbotron three times;
 ~ participated in two events at the NCAA's Frozen Four championships;
 ~ seen himself in a FSL baseball Clearwater Threshers TV commercial (He saw it Wednesday night during Discovery Channel's Sons of Guns, but I haven't.); and
 ~ been in a photograph on Page 10C of Thursday's Tampa Bay Times.

For some kids, that's a good year. But in a week? Come on. And, yet, it gets better.

We're hearing, too, that he has to appear, dressed to the nines, at Ruth Eckerd Hall later this month to accept a Pinellas School District Pride Award in social studies, representing all fifth-graders at Blanton Elementary in St. Petersburg.

So, maybe, he did hire himself a publicist or someone to help spread the word. Given all that's happened in less than two weeks, can you blame him?

Am I complaining? Heck, no. Not in the least little bit. I'm in full-blown, pedal-to-the-metal, top-shelf Bragging Daddy mode right here. And that, my friends, is the best part of being a parent. Every moment becomes a memory that will last a lifetime.

If you can't relate, please, accept my condolences. You don't know what you're missing. Me? I know what I have and am relishing every last second.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Hounding haul: Anaheim Ducks

Every so often, an NHL team throws you for a loop. An easy team to hound suddenly becomes a bunch of Ovechkins. Conversely, a team with a reputation as being tough on hounds eagerly grabs Sharpies. That's why, despite solid efforts to prepare as best as we can for teams, we often go in with low expectations.

In this case, though, the Anaheim Ducks far exceeded our modest hopes, providing us with our best effort of the 2011-12 hounding campaign.

In only a few hours of hounding, bookended around the team's morning skate, we added another 47 autographs to the collection. We scored autographs from most every player, missing only Saku Koivu.

Signing cards, shown above, were:

Top row: Matt Beleskey, Sheldon Brookbank and Andrew Cogliano;
Middle row: Niklas Hagman, Jonas Hiller and Toni Lydman; and
Bottom row: Rod Pelley, Corey Perry and Lubomir Visnovsky.

Our bounty, however, gets better:

Pucks signed by Cam Fowler,

Teemu Selanne,

Bobby Ryan and 

Corey Perry (pretty sloppy, eh?)

Shouldn't complain, though, as Corey Perry added to the Threads collection ...

... as did Ryan Getzlaf.

Selanne, one of the nicest NHL stars around, also signed these cards.

Quite a few Ducks players signed four cards each, too:

Jeff Deslauriers,

Cam Fowler,

George Parros,

Bobby Ryan and

Luca Sbisa.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Colin's new friends

Colin was part of a contingent of Tampa Bay youth hockey players that welcomed some of the teams to Tampa on Tuesday for this week's NCAA Frozen Four championships. Two teams -- Union College and Ferris State University -- arrived earlier in the day.

Rather than fight rush-hour traffic, we hung around at International Plaza and headed back for another team's arrival -- University of Minnesota. Colin was one of just two youth hockey players to welcome the Golden Gophers.

Here he is with, from left, Seth Helgeson (fourth-round pick by New Jersey in 2009), Ben Marshall (seventh-round pick by Detroit in 2010)  Nick Bjugstad (19th overall in 2010 by the Florida Panthers) and Justin Holl (54th overall in 2010 by the Chicago Blackhawks).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Hockey Life: It was his call

Not too long ago, I wrote that Colin would be taking an extended break from playing league hockey. He had been playing, pretty much nonstop, some form of it for the past two-plus years. It was time, we thought, for him to step up, chill out and rest up.

In its place, with an eye of only playing with a purpose, would be a spring of once-a-week practice/scrimmage sessions with the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning peewee teams as well as his weekly skating sessions on Wednesdays at Countryside Mall. He'd still get his ice time, but wouldn't face the pressure of games.

It's funny, I suppose, how things change.

Starting next week, Colin will return to the Tampa Bay Metro League, putting in a recreational season with the Pinellas Police Athletic League Stars, his first-ever organized team. It was at his own request, too, not mine. He told me, on several occasions, that he missed playing in games. "I want as much ice time as I can get," he would tell me.

Deep down inside, I knew that he would eventually start bugging me to start playing again. Part of our reasoning for taking a break was to let his hunger to play start to bubble over. Our fear was that, after more than 30 months of practices, scrimmages and games, everything was starting to blur.

It wasn't so much his compete level, as he's finally wrapped his head around the need to go hard all the time. No, it was more than the games had become part of the process, rather than something of a reward.

Looking back, I didn't think it would be so soon. I figured he'd like to stay away from the rink, opting instead to go swimming (like he has), fishing (we need to go soon) and flying kites (same here, too), and just being a kid (he has no problems doing that).

Playing for the PAL Stars was a major part of the decision. Not only does he have loyalty to the team, as it was his first, but we've always felt like part of the PAL family, even after he stopped playing for them. Plus, he still has his jersey (even if it, as an adult small, is too big).

Last fall, Colin played for another team during the Metro League's inaugural campaign, helping provide leadership on a roster that was stocked with many first-time or younger players. Looking back, that wasn't a smart move on our part. Trust me, he wasn't the only one frustrated by that decision.

It's our belief, and part of our mantra that his hockey needs to have a purpose, that Colin fits better as a role player -- as in making a good team get a little better -- rather than being the "go-to" guy. Playing with a team of players closer to, and in some cases better than, his skill level will only help him elevate his game.

Come summer, though, it will be time to take a step back, only maintaining his skating sessions and, scheduling and finances permitting, attending a hockey camp and the occasional clinic. And, of course, he'll get to be a kid who goes swimming, fishing and flying kites on windy summer days.