Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Hockey Life: See you in Toronto

Colin, center, with the Molnarovas, from left, Sofia, Zuzanna, Brano and Sara.
It wasn't so much saying good-bye as it was simply saying see you later. Either way, it was a trip to Oldsmar last Sunday that wasn't the easiest to make.

The Molnarovas, friends of ours, were heading back home, across the border, after spending the past few years living down here in the Tampa Bay area. On that night, Brano, the father, was playing in an adult league hockey game. Sofia, his oldest daughter, invited Colin, to the game.

The night before, Colin and Sofia played their last game as teammates for the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars. After the game, the Molnarovas hosted a team party, giving everyone a chance to say good-bye. It was then, Colin tells me, that Sofia extended her invitation. Of course, Colin accepted.

Unfortunately, I had to work, both Saturday and Sunday nights, at the newspaper. That's why I said my good-byes the week before, thanking them for their friendship and sharing plans to see them again in a couple of summers.

It should come as no surprise that hockey was the common denominator for us.

From the kids' first shifts as linemates, we often sat together during games. As hockey dads, we talked about the sport, coaches and raising young hockey players. I'd see Zuzanna, the mother, at Lightning Made Clinics. There were times, too, when Brano would teach the kids how to use the edges of their skates, cutting back and forth, during on-ice games of tag during Sunday skates.

And, yes, it was Sofia who accompanied Colin on the night he served as the Lightning Dream Kid.

Going forward, we'll rely on email and the occasional postcard to stay in touch. We shouldn't be surprised, they told us, if we see them during a vacation to Florida. Still, I know someone who's looking forward to the summer of 2014. Actually, we all are.

That's when, if all goes according to plan, we'll take a two-week road trip to Toronto and, perhaps, Montreal. Besides visiting the Molnarovas, we'll hook up with Mr. Al, Colin's buddy within the Toronto Fire Services. Chances are we'll also check out the Hockey Hall of Fame and some restaurant called Gretzky's.

What I really hope to do, though, is watch the kids -- sisters Sofia and Sara, and Colin -- skate together again. It'll bring back nothing but good memories.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Making my choice

Having worked earlier today, I have an extremely rare Saturday night off from the paper. So, what am I going to do?

Have dinner at a nice restaurant? Nope, can't afford it.

Catch the latest summer action flick? Wrong again.

Watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico? Tempting, but it's raining.

No, I'll spend my time doing something even better -- watching Colin and his Pinellas P.A.L. teammates play a game.

Addendum 6/23: The kids won 6-4. Colin scored the Stars' first goal.

Addendum 6/24: The kids finished the weekend at 1-1. Colin had an assist.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Hockey Life: Getting cut

My source of motivation at work: "A journey must begin with a single step."
As we go through life, we travel through different circles. Sometimes, these visits last a long time. Other times, though, are passing moments. The in-betweens are, well, simply just that.

About this time a year ago, we entered what was a new circle for us -- travel team hockey. Colin had made the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Squirt A squad. And like I said last week, it has been a steep learning curve. In the week since then, we've learned another lesson.

For as much as we hoped that Colin would make one of the organization's two Peewee squads, given his solid season and increased responsibilities, we knew it was possible that he wouldn't make a team. In the end, he didn't make the cut for either the AA or A squad.

I must admit we were a bit stunned, at first, by the news. The Missus said he looked good going through the drills. He even scored a goal and added two assists during the scrimmage. We knew that making the AA squad was a remote possibility. The A squad, we thought, was where he'd land.

Immediately after getting the call from one of the assistant coaches, delivered with a touch of glee, I knew it had little to do with his abilities. And though it took a few days to confirm it, the decision not to add Colin to either roster boiled down to three factors:

~ One coach said that though he appreciated Colin's hard work, he was unable, despite spending the past few months focusing on them in weekly drills and "pond hockey" scrimmages with this coach, to crack the AA roster.

~ It seems that Colin got under the skin of one too many people, be it kids and coaches, for talking (about hockey, Colin says) to players while waiting for his turn, apparently "annoying" one kid in particular, and being way too rambunctious in the locker room. "After a while," the coach told The Missus, "you get tired of dealing with it."

~ Popularity, politics and personalities, as any parent involved with youth sports will attest, delivered the last blow.

As a parent, you always want your child to succeed -- in academics, athletics and in life. If they don't, you want logical, consistent and honest answers. In all three cases, I have little room to argue. That doesn't mean, though, that I won't.

Point by point:

~ Going forward, we'll look for coaches who do more teaching during the season than simply running the kids through drills. Making sure all adults who stand behind the bench are properly licensed will be important, too.

~ This is the most valuable lesson. As much as I've stressed to Colin that hockey is fun, he needs to understand that he has to approach it in a serious manner. If he ever wants to go anywhere in this game, there's little time for goofing off. I think he got the point this time.

~ This one is solely on me. Let's just say that I didn't have complete confidence in the lower two-thirds of last season's staff. Through two incidents, which have been discussed here before, both knew that. Once I learned late Friday night that they were coaching the Peewee A squad, it became crystal clear -- a son was paying for his father's sins.

From where I stand, I haven't burned any bridges. All I'm doing is stating my opinion based on fact and observation. If others disagree, there's little I can do about that.

What I can do, though, is put Colin in the best position to succeed. If it means playing rec hockey for a few seasons, giving him time to build up his skills, so be it. There's more than one team here in the Tampa Bay area. The prospect of saving some money, too, holds great appeal.

Bottom line, buddy boy, I still believe there's something special ahead. So should you. All we can do is use this as motivation to prove people wrong. I don't think of this as a step back. It's the first step in a new journey.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Great job, kids

Congratulations to the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars on their first win of the spring Metro League season.

Nice going-away present for Sofia, too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

There's always rec hockey

Well, we got the call. It looks like Colin will be playing rec hockey this fall. He didn't make the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Peewee fall squad.Though it's disappointing news, hopefully he'll use it as motivation.

From what I'm hearing, Colin apparently had his work cut out for him at the tryouts. I guess popularity is more important than what you bring to the ice. If that's the case, it's best that he didn't make it.

Beyond that, and we say this with all sincerity, congratulations to the kids who made the cut. Good luck this fall.

Stay tuned, though, as I'm sure I'll have something more to say about this Sunday.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Colin's voicemail

Though the Boston Bruins are his favorite NHL team,
the Kings are his favorite Western Conference team.
I must have been away from my desk when he called, prompting Colin to leave this message on my cellphone 20 minutes ago:

"Hi Daddy. I told you so. Love you. Bye."

I have to hand it to the kid. He was right.

Want proof? Just look below. You'll see he picked the Kings in six.

Stanley Cup predictions

Puckhound: Devils in 6
Mama: Kings in 7
Colin: Kings in 6

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Hockey Life: Tryouts

The past year has been, to say the very least, a wicked steep learning curve when it comes to hockey. After three-plus years of skating and playing organized hockey in some fashion, Colin embarked late last spring upon our real-world journey into travel team hockey down here in Florida.

Repeat that to yourself. Travel team hockey in Florida. Sounds weird, right?  Even today, I smirk at the concept. Growing up in western New York, hockey was, to me, a northern sport, played well above the Mason-Dixon Line and in the land of four true seasons.

But here we are, far closer to Cuba than Canada, fully engulfed in travel team hockey. In Florida. In the land of sunshine, palm trees and 90 percent humidity, this afternoon will find Colin, who picked up an assist in two games earlier today, back at the rink.

In less than an hour, as I sit here at home and wonder, Colin will take to the ice to try out for one of two (I believe) Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning fall Peewee squads. I'd be there, if for nothing more than to rate his competition and handicap his outcome, but I'll be at work, putting out another edition.

Maybe that's for the best. He won't have the pressure of my eyes watching his every move, making mental notes and, quite honestly, living and dying with every stride. Yes, I'm one of those hockey dads. Know what? I don't and won't ever apologize for that. It's my right and, to be honest, it's my job.

Colin's job this afternoon remains the same -- skate as hard and play the best that he can. That's what got him on last fall's Squirt A squad. Even with increased competition this year, his effort and growing skill level should be enough.

Also working in his favor, too, is that he's a known commodity. Over the course of the past season, he worked his way into critical minutes of ice time -- killing penalties and protecting leads. And, no matter the score, Colin played hard until the final buzzer. As I've said many, many times, that's the type of player we're raising.

Still, there are no guarantees he'll make this year's squad. If he does, that's great. It'll be yet another reward for his hard work. If he doesn't, there's always rec hockey. Really, though, it's up to him.

All I can say, buddy boy, is skate hard, play hard and, as always, have fun being a pest.

Addendum 5:35 p.m.: Hearing that about 60 kids tried out for the Peewee teams. Colin hit the ice at 4:45 p.m.

Addendum 6:04 p.m.: Tryouts are over. The coach says he'll try to let everyone know in three to four days.

Addendum 7:16 p.m.: Colin checked in. He scored a goal and had two assists during the scrimmage portion of the tryout. Wicked proud, buddy boy.

Addendum June 13: Colin didn't make the team.

Addendum, June 16: Finally heard why Colin didn't make the team. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What pressure?

Who cares if there is a back-to-back hockey doubleheader tomorrow morning and a tryout for the fall Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning peewee travel team after that? That's tomorrow, not today.

After earning $20 mowing the front and back yards this morning, Colin chills out, so to speak, giving his Slip 'n Slide a workout. Here, he strikes his guitar star pose during one of his many runs.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bragging Daddy Alert: Principal's List

This certificate, which Colin received a day early, will end up costing me $84.

Principal's list: $50
Six A's @ $5 a pop: $30
Two B's @ $2 a pop: $4

Best money I've spent in a long, long time. Nice job, buddy boy.

For the record, he "graduates" tomorrow morning. Once the ceremony ends, he's off for the summer.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Hockey Life: The width of a puck

There are moments in life, no matter your lot, when the outcome of an event hangs in the balance. Some pack more pressure than others, mind you, but there still is the thrill within each instance. Colin, playing in the second of his two games Sunday, got to experience one of those moments.

The score was knotted, 2-2, thanks to a third-period goal by one of his Pinellas P.A.L. Stars teammates. A timeout was called, with each team at their benches drawing up a plan to score the winning goal in the game's waning seconds. Yes, in rec hockey, there's a bit of drama.

The Stars sent out a lineup, cobbled from the top two lines and defensive pairings. Rather than playing center, Colin lined up at left wing for the faceoff. The clock showed 45.6 seconds.

A quick scrum at center ice off the faceoff led to the puck squirting free, heading toward the Stars zone. One of the defenseman pinched up, gathering the puck at the Stars' blue line. Just as a Scorpions player got closer, the defenseman, with a flick of his wrists, dumped the puck ahead.

For the next 20 seconds, the puck went back and forth, from team to team, between the blue lines. From along the glass, the game looked like it was end in a tie. For the Stars, it would mean the first game in five they hadn't lost.

With about 20 seconds left, a Stars defenseman gained control about 15 feet deep into his zone. This time, there wasn't as much pressure. He looked up and saw Colin, slicing in from center ice to the right wing. The pass landed on the skull-and-crossbones tape of Colin's Warrior Widow.

Colin cut hard to the left, crossing over, and looked up ice. Two Scorpions, about 10 feet apart, awaited as he entered their zone. He faked right and cut left, getting past the first player. The same move worked again on the second player. With 18 seconds left, he was in the clear.

For weeks now, Colin has been working on his wrist shot out back on the patio. Ten sets, at the least, of 17 pucks, placed about 15 feet from a regulation-size goal, make up the drill. When he concentrates, he places them 16 to 18 inches off the surface, about 3 to 4 inches inside each post.

As he neared the net, I knew exactly what he was thinking. Save for the sheet of ice, this wasn't that much different than being back home. With 15 seconds left to play, and about 20 feet from the net, Colin took his shot. I wasn't the only parent watching.

Sure enough, the wrist shot sailed toward the net, rising from the ice, on a line to the goalie's blocker side. It wasn't the hardest shot he'd ever taken, but it was with purpose. From where I stood, that second seemed a lot longer.

The goalie's right arm moved down and to the right. The puck caught about 2 inches of the outside edge of his blocker, tumbling to the ice below. With 12 seconds to play, the goalie dropped to his knees and covered the rebound. The moment, at least for Colin, ended with the referee's whistle.

At game's end, with the Stars earning their first point of the season, Colin wasn't all that disappointed. Yes, it would have been nice to score another game-winner. But he knew there would be other opportunities. After all, this was just one game.