Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Hockey Life: Accepting risks

When you work in the newspaper industry, bad news is part of the drill. A young father gets killed in Afghanistan. A motorcycle wreck claims yet another life. The cruel abuse animals. Day after day, unfortunately, it goes on.

Over time, it's easy to become desensitized by the news. Unfortunately, these events, the tragedies you know rip apart others lives, mean very little. They're just another headline to write, another story to edit and, yes, another deadline to make. That's one of the things I dislike about my profession.

Last week, we had another tragedy to report. A 12-year-old boy, driving a race car at a central Florida track, hit the wall hard. His injuries were severe. Rescue personnel had to cut him out of the car. A few days later, this young warrior died of his injuries.

To the racing community, his death served as a reminder of the dangers inherent to the sport of racing. Still, some parents said, it wouldn't stop them from letting their child get behind the wheel for another race this weekend. Doing so, they reasoned, would honor the boy's memory.

To me, this sad, sad story of death was different. It hit home. It just wasn't a headline to write. Nor was it simply another story to edit. And, really, I didn't give a rat's ass about deadlines.

For parents, losing a child, no matter the age or circumstances, is the absolute worst nightmare.

When Colin started playing hockey, I knew he would face certain risks within playing the game. Hockey is a physical sport. From bumps and bruises to cheap-shot hits from behind, there's a certain amount of risk associated with the game.

Every year, it seems, bad news of serious injuries breaks. Players get cut by razor-sharp skate blades. Bad hits, intentional or otherwise, paralyze others. A frozen puck, in an ill-timed moment of misfortune, stops a heart. Yes, hockey is that dangerous.

That's one of the reasons hockey parents spend as much money as they do on equipment. In our case, we've paid more for Colin's latest helmet than his skates. You'd find two, not just one, neck guards in his hockey bag. He has been taught, too, that it's better to turtle -- and skate another shift -- than it is to take a nasty hit head-on.

Yes, I suppose it would be easier, and likely far smarter, to eliminate these risks. I'm sure there's just as much satisfaction to be gained through playing less-risky sports or participating in safer activities. I'll admit, sleep was a little hard to come by this past week as I wrestled with this question.

As hockey parents, we have to accept these risks, albeit sometimes hesitantly, every time we send our child out onto the ice. It doesn't matter if it's a practice, stick-and-shoot or travel-team league game. All it takes is a heartbeat for the world to spin 180 degrees. Living with that possibility is a fact of life, not just the hockey life.

To me, the benefits Colin gains through playing hockey outweigh the risks of what could happen. He has learned the value of teamwork and setting goals. Losses have taught him what it takes to win. And, if he's lucky, he'll realize the reward for his hard work. These aren't just hockey lessons, either.

If you think about it, we face risks every day we climb out of bed. Riding a bicycle is dangerous. So is walking across a street. And, like that 12-year-old boy, there's no guarantee we'll arrive at our destination any time we get behind a wheel. Does that keep us from living our lives? No.

Though I seldom set foot in a church, I do believe in God. Through personal experiences, gained from reckless days more than 25 years ago, I also believe in guardian angels. That's why I ask them all to watch over Colin, not just in hockey, but in everything he does.

Knock on wood, my prayers, for Colin as well as others, will continue to be answered.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Here's my pick

I'm thinking the New Jersey Devils will capture Lord Stanley's cup in six games. Experience, as in Marty Brodeur, will be the difference.

If I'm wrong, I'm sure Colin, who says the Los Angeles Kings are his favorite Western Conference team, will be happy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Making it official

Before last Christmas, I told Colin that he could get a new Lightning jersey personalized with a player's name and number. Rather than Steven StamkosMarty St. LouisVinny Lecavalier or Victor Hedman, Colin said he wanted one of Adam Hall. Given that both are grinders -- players who place as much emphasis on defense as offense -- it made perfect sense to me.

Earlier tonight, during a break from playing street hockey, Colin had Hall sign his Lightning  #18 jersey for him during the Lightning Summer Tour stop in Pinellas Park. Now that it's signed, it's unlikely it'll see any more practices. Skating sessions and Lightning games, however, will be just fine.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Hockey Life: He'll have to wait

There are moments in life, no matter your age, when opportunities present themselves.  These guideposts, if you will, often determine, for good or for bad, the path we follow. It's up to us to make the best of them.

At the tender age of 11, Colin was supposed to face one of his first this afternoon.

A few weeks ago, he was invited to take part in a tryout for a AAA-level hockey team. Last week, though, we received word it was canceled. It represented a big step, for sure, as he has only two seasons of travel hockey, playing at the A level, under his belt. Still, he would've taken to the ice. It's better to try and fail than not to try at all.

Before we heard the bad news, we had spoken quite often about the opportunity. The positives were plenty -- skating with and against more talented players and getting on the "radars" of people who may open doors down the road. Conversely, there were some downsides, namely that the cost would have likely been far too prohibitive for us. Bottom line, though, is the benefits would have outweighed the drawbacks, even if it meant working more than the 60 hours I already put in every week.

The main point I kept repeating is that I wouldn't have sent him out there if I thought he'd embarrass himself. We know there's plenty of room of improvement within his stickhandling and, to an extent, his shooting. His skating abilities wouldn't have been a problem, nor should have his hockey sense though, at times, I do wonder..

His greatest strength, I kept telling him, is his intensity. Though I've said this before, we're raising a hockey player, not a goal scorer. When he's on, Colin's game is all about being a pest through forechecking, backchecking and trying to be the first on the puck. From what I've been told, and this includes NHL coaches, all teams love to have this type of player.

Opportunities arise when he plays that way. Stealing a puck often leads to a breakaway and, hopefully, a solid scoring chance for himself or a teammate. Intercepting a pass does, too. A hassled opponent, in a fit of frustration, will take a penalty. And, lately, I've been seeing the light bulbs of rewards for his hard work go off over his head.

We know there are people, as well as other players, who question Colin's abilities. I compare these people to nothing more than bullies at school. They do and say things for one of two reasons: to make themselves feel better about their lives or to try to bring him down to their levels. Rather than shrink away, though, I've encouraged him to use his detractors, as he has before, as a source of motivation.

The biggest question, though, is this: Would he have made the team?

To be honest, I doubt it. Too much work remains, as does showing an improvement in his game each and every time he steps on the ice. Then again, who's to know? It would have been up to him to do his best to make as difficult a decision as he could for the coaching staff. All I ever ask of him is to try his hardest and play to the best of his abilities. If he does that, be it in hockey or life, he'll do fine.

Really, there's no reason to be disappointed by the cancellation. To be invited, after playing for a relatively short time, is a positive step. In a way, the tryout would have served as a litmus test. If he had made the cut, then he would've known he was among the area's best. If he hadn't, then he would've seen what it takes to reach that level. To me, there's something positive in each outcome.

The way we look at it, there will always be more tryouts. After all, he's only 11.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thanks, Miss Joanie

For the past five years, Miss Joanie, the crossing guard at Colin's school, has been a part of our life. At first, she was the person responsible for safe passage across the street when school let out for the day. In time, though, the bond has grown strong, all thanks to hockey.

Our first bond came as the result that she, like Colin, was born in Massachusetts, so we could talk about Boston and its surrounding communities. What really sealed the deal was that she was a hockey fan. She was a hockey grandmother, sharing stories of watching her grandson play.

She told me, too, that her husband had volunteered his time to coach a hockey team here in the Tampa Bay area. When I asked her what team, her response surprised me. Not only did her husband once coach a Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning squad, but that's also the organization her grandson, just like Colin does today, played for when he was younger.

Small world, eh?

During hockey seasons, Miss Joanie always asked how Colin was doing in hockey and repeatedly offered her encouragement before a big game or tryout. When she and her husband attended one of his games, you could see the memories come flooding back.

Miss Joanie pulled me aside the other day. She asked if Colin would be interested in a display case of pucks from all 30 NHL teams. I couldn't say "yes" quick enough and, if he wasn't, I certainly would be. As you can clearly see, Colin was interested and more than happy to accept her offer.

With the end of the school year rapidly approaching and Colin moving to a new school in a different part of the city, the remaining days, and especially June 7 (the last day of school), could be sad. Though we'll exchange phone numbers and invite Miss Joanie to Colin's games, we know that our daily greetings are nearing an end.

In the meantime, I'm going to ask Colin what he would like to do with it. Do we keep it as it is or does it become our primary hounding project in the years ahead? As nice as it looks now, imagine getting a star player or captain, past or present, from each team to sign a puck? Either way, I'll let him decide.

One thing's for certain, though, we'll think of Miss Joanie every time we see it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Hockey Life: My Hockey Mom

Editor's note: Beyond scoring a pair of goals for her earlier today, Colin is writing today's installment of The Hockey Life for his Mama.

Of all the reasons I love my Mama, there are three that are a part of my hockey.

~ The first reason is that she always gets me where I need to be. It doesn't matter if I'm late or not, she always gets me there. Some rides are short and some are long. Sometimes, we hit traffic. Sometimes we don't. I just know that she'll always get me to the rink.

~ The second reason is that she always helps me tie my skates. Or maybe I should say she ties my skates. Doesn't matter if it's a practice or a game, she always ties them just the way I like them, too.

~ The third reason is that she is always there to support me. From finding my neck guards to packing my hockey bag to reminding me about my mouthpiece, she is always there to help and support me.

More than anything else, I love that my Mama is a hockey mom. Hockey moms are the best.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Birthday surprises

It's no secret that the Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron is Colin's favorite NHL player. That fact has been chronicled many, many times. What was a secret, though, was that three game-used sticks were headed Colin's way.

I'd heard a few days ago that "Uncle Johnny" up in New Hampshire was sending Colin a hat trick of sticks for his birthday. Well, the package arrived Thursday afternoon. And once Colin finished his shooting practice (10 rounds of 17 pucks each), he was able to see what the odd-shaped box contained.

Needless to say, but I'm doing it anyways, Colin was pretty psyched when he saw what was within. Not only was there a stick from Bergeron's NHL rookie season, shown above, but the package also contained this signed stick:

Bergeron used this stick, which he verified within his autograph, against the Ottawa Senators
on Nov. 11, 2006, at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston. 

All three of the stick blades. Note, too, that the top stick, from the 2003-04 NHL season,
is all wood, not made of composite materials

All three sticks, as Lisa noted, are different in height, an adjustment Bergeron made during his career.

The unsigned stick, shown on the far left, was broken, but repaired nicely by "Uncle Johnny."

Colin now has four game-used Bergeron sticks, with three being signed. His first one, a Christmas present in 2005, is a pretty funny story.

The bottom photo shows Bergeron's name imprinted on the shaft of each stick.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Hockey Life: Being honest

When it comes to your kids, it's easy to brag. Be it academics, athletics or whatever, praising your child's accomplishments is one of the rights that parents have earned. At least, that's what I tell myself every time I sing Colin's praises.

Between this blog, Facebook and my Twitter feed, I'd dare say that 80 percent of my posts, updates and tweets are about Colin. Of those, nearly all portray him in positive light. And, honestly, that's to be expected. It makes me feel good about myself when sharing good news.

I like to think, though, it's also part of my responsibility, as a parent, to add balance. Call it reality, if you will, but to always share the successes, without balancing the books with setbacks and losses, is the purest form of self-centered spin control. And, honestly, it's pretty easy to get into the habit.

Really, it could be the journalist in me, making an attempt, albeit a weak one, to maintain objectivity. While I love to share his successes, I know that this isn't a perfect world. Like anyone else, all children, and not just Colin, have good days and, yes, bad days. Who doesn't? I know I do.

Take this morning, for example.

Today marked the start of a new Tampa Bay Metro League recreational hockey season, with Colin rejoining the Pinellas Police Athletic League Stars team. Though we considered taking off the two spring seasons, as Colin had played some form of hockey for more than two years straight, he talked me into letting him play.

While he appreciated the skills gained in practices and opportunities provided in scrimmages, he missed the thrill of playing in games that count. There's a big difference, he told me, between winning, losing and simply having ice time.

As a hockey dad, that was music to my ears.

We signed him up, on the condition that he would take this season, even if it was in a recreational league, as serious as any travel-team league. And, given his time off, he clearly understood his responsibility to play each game like he was shot out of a cannon, going as hard as he could for each and every shift.

Sure, playing hockey is all about having fun. It's just that winning and scoring, and getting better with every game, makes it much more so.

In this dose of reality, let's just say with crystal-clear honesty, that there remains plenty of room for improvement in Colin's game. In the first period, he played as though he was shot out of a squirt gun. Sure, he skated, but he seldom engaged. In hockey, that's not a good thing. You twirl around at public skates, not in games.

To his credit, after a bit of encouragement, he picked up his effort through the rest of the game. He skated smarter, not just harder, and became more engaged. He even scored a goal, burying a wrist shot through the goalie's five-hole from 25 feet out. Still, it wasn't enough, as the Stars lost, 7-3.

After the game, as he was taking off his gear in the locker room, he expected getting an earful on the ride home. He knew he should have crashed more hands, rather than biting on a dangled puck. His passes, one in particular, could have been sharper.

That cannon? well, I didn't even have to bring it up.

I surprised him, though, when I told him he wouldn't be getting the "lecture." I could tell, just by the tone by his voice and his long, puppy-dog face, he knew it wasn't his strongest effort. Even though I ride him hard, the last thing I wanted to do was pile on. After all, it was his first game in two months.

Instead, I told him on the ride home that he likely played himself out of an important tryout coming up in a couple of weeks. It was nice that he scored, but if that was his best effort, there's no way I'd send him out onto that ice. I didn't, however, close the door. He has two more games to show me that he's ready to see if he can hang with the best 2001 birth-year players in the Tampa Bay area.

If he picks up his game, and I'm hoping he will, he'll earn that chance. After all, it's up to him, no matter how much I try to spin it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Worked like a charm

Colin was playing street hockey last night at the Lightning Radio Show when this girl about his age started getting chippy, cross-checking and slashing him, because he had taken the ball from her a couple of times.

After about the third time of getting whacked, he looked at me with a "What should I do?" look.

I told him he was doing just fine and not to retaliate. Then, loud enough to draw most everyone's attention,  I said: "She's just letting you know she likes you."

He didn't have any issues after that.