Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Hockey Life: Hockey in New Hampshire

Of the many things we had on our road-trip agenda -- from Niagara Falls to family reunions to historical detours -- the sport of hockey, in some fashion, held a number of spots on the to-do list. Just because we were tourists, I reasoned, didn't mean hockey wasn't an attraction.

Early on, it was taking Colin to the street hockey rink where I played as a teen in western New York. There was also attending the Buffalo Sabres' Blue & Gold development camp scrimmage. A pair of street hockey balls, picked at a Dick's Sporting Goods in Buffalo, were even among the souvenirs.

The biggest hockey adventures, though, came a few days later, after arriving in New Hampshire.

Because Colin learned to skate and play hockey down here in Florida, I wanted to afford him the opportunities to do the same in an area more closely associated with the game. Let's face it, Florida, for the time being, isn't known as being a hockey hotbed. New England, on the other hand, carries that distinction.

Beyond a trip to Beantown, where Colin "met" a Bruins legend, most of these activities would take place in New Hampshire. The majority, too, happened at a rink just up the road from his grandparents' home. The most fun one, though, captured above, took place right in his Nana and Babop's driveway.

To further prove a point that you don't need ice to play, Colin and one of his new buddies, Cam, as well as a slow-footed 50-year-old, kept themselves busy for nearly an hour playing a pickup game of shinny. No Zambonis, bluelines or boards. Just hockey sticks and one of the street hockey balls from Dick's. Two solar-powered lights along the driveway served as the goal.

To save myself from further embarrassment, let's just say the kids won.

I must admit, though, that the two trips we made to The Rinks at Exeter before that impromptu game served a definite purpose. Though he's not among the so-called "elite" here in Hockey Bay, I believe he's becoming a solid, all-around player. That's why I wanted to see how Colin stacked up against youth hockey players in New England.

From an objective point of view, Colin held his own out on the ice. He wasn't the best, nor was he the worst, in a pair of sessions devoted to power skating and skills. He was well within the top five out of 30 in skating and, maybe, the top eight within the skills session. Bottom line: he acquitted himself well.

Granted, most of the others appeared to be within their first year or so of hockey. His efforts, however, certainly cast a positive light on the state of youth hockey players here in Florida. By the end of the second session, most everyone at the rink, from the players to the coaches, knew about the "kid from Florida."

I must say, too, that I was impressed by the coaches at the sessions. Each skater received individual attention, suited specifically to their abilities. That's the way it should be. Colin also said he learned more in those combined 100 minutes of ice time than he did in his past season of travel hockey.

An exaggeration or not, it was money and time better spent.

After leaving the second session, I wondered to myself how much would be different if Colin had spent the past six-plus years playing hockey in New Hampshire, rather than here in Florida. I'm thinking he'd be a bit further along the way. It's best, I guess, to leave the past in the past.

All we can do, though, is look ahead, apply lessons learned and continue the journey.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bruins swag

Any trip back to New England wouldn't be complete without paying a visit to Colin's "Uncle Johnny" in Nashua, N.H. Furthermore, any visit to Uncle Johny's wouldn't be complete without his sharing of Boston Bruins memorabilia. 

As we've learned, saying "no" is out of the question. Instead, we truly appreciate his generosity.

Besides the Bruins Patrice Bergeron jersey, complete with a 2011 Stanley Cup champions patch, that Colin received, we also were given, among other items, a sample Massachusetts "Invest in Youth Hockey" license plate signed by Bruins legend Cam Neely and a signed photo by Neely appearing as Sea Bass in Dumb and Dumber.

We also received this game-used stick signed by Bruins goalie Tim Thomas:

Gee, I wonder where all of the red paint on the back of the stick's shaft came from? A net, perhaps?

Though Thomas may have worn out his welcome in Boston, this stick will have a home here in Hockey Bay.

Once again, thanks Uncle Johnny.

Addendum: On a side note, Colin scored some Stanley Cup champion bargains at the Bruins Pro Shop inside the TD Banknorth Garden, too. A hat, T-shirt, Stanley Cup banners magnets, street sign and a pin for under $30.

He's glad he waited a year to buy the souvenirs, as he likely saved himself close to $70 over all of those gotta-have-it-right-now prices that others paid.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Back home

After 16 days on the road, we pulled in front of the house to find a freshly mowed and edged lawn, and our cats, Bella and Taz, happy to see us.

I would've written something for this past Sunday, but we were traveling and I wanted to take a vacation, so to speak, from writing.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

Change in tastes

The first Buffalo Sabres Blue & Gold development camp scrimmage of the hot dog season. Watched the Sabres top prospects at the First Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo.

And, yes, I like relish.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Hockey Life: At the rink

As much fun as our trip back to my hometown has been, the best part, so far, was a little more than an hour spent yesterday morning at a street hockey rink in Arcade, N.Y.. No, it wasn't that there was some old-timers game, though that would've been a hoot. It was taking Colin there, so we could share a memory where I once played.

It was something I've wanted to do for the past few months, revisiting my so-called glory days with him, part of our so-called history tour. That some old friends joined us only made it more enjoyable. Most of the stories they told Colin were true, too.

During our time there, in between setting the record straight and defending my honor, I couldn't help but flash back to those days, to the mid to late 1970s, when my body could cash any check my mind wrote. Talk about a personal trip down memory lane.

There were games played in snowstorms, when we had to clear out the rink, or at least the center and blue lines, between periods. The walks to an Arcade convenience store between games, to load up on junk food or, if necessary, buy a new Mylec Air-Flo. Even the postgame brawls, outside on the park road, bring smiles these days.

Really, though, it was a time to connect and reconnect.

For my buddies, it was great to see them. For one, it has been at least 30 years. Though we've traveled different paths in life, this was one of the rare times when they crossed. Going forward, and especially as we get older, I hope our visits are more frequent.

Want to know what's funny? Even though we're all in our 50s now, I still think of us as kids. This morning, however, tells me we're not. I'll bet we're all feeling the same aches and pains. 

With Colin, it was a little different. Though the rink doesn't seem as big as it did back then, I'm thinking it was larger than life for him. To think that his daddy, about 150 pounds heavier and an inch shorter, played hockey there only reinforced that I just might know what I'm talking about, but only when it comes to hockey.

Of course, we took photos of us at the rink, like this one of Colin and myself, sitting in a penalty box, grinning from ear to ear like two little kids in a hockey store. I know it's one of my favorite pictures. I'm hoping, too, that Colin will feel the same way.

Down the road, should Colin become a father, there will come a day when he'll think back to this trip and, especially, the visit to the rink. Maybe he'll bring his children, especially if they're hockey players, to the Tampa Bay area, showing them where he grew up and, yes, played his earliest hockey.

If I'm still around, I want to tag along. On that day, life, for me, will come full circle.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Hockey Life: Machias, N.Y.

Rather than heading off to a rink today, like we normally would, we stuck close to the house. Instead of packing Colin's hockey bag, we packed clothes, book bags and a cooler. Starting tomorrow, we're on vacation. And rather than stick around Florida, we're heading back home.

Instead of flying, we're taking the scenic route -- two-plus days' worth -- up north. Not only will it save us close to a $1,000, but we'll get to see some of the country, even if it is from the highway. My hometown, little ole Machias, N.Y., with a population of about 2,500, is our first destination.

For the past few weeks, I've become more excited about returning home. For one, it'll be my first time back since my grandmother's memorial service. I'm also looking forward to the town's community day festivities, the outcome of the "You know you grew up ..." page I started for Machias on Facebook last August. Catching up with family, at our 70th annual reunion, and, hopefully, old friends is on the agenda, too.

More than anything else, though, it's about going back to my roots. More than 30 years after leaving, I still think of myself as a small-town kid. Very little in that town -- a single stoplight along Route 16 between Buffalo and Olean -- doesn't hold a memory, most better than others, that shaped my life:

Another reason for the trip, and perhaps this is the biggest, is to provide Colin with a glimpse of his old man's history:

~ When we head down Hazelmere Avenue, he'll learn the location of the Schurr's house, the neighborhood hangout where a bunch of us kids, long before the days of video games, played away many summer hours;

~ After showing him our old trailer, tucked in the weeds of the lot's northwest corner, losing a battle to time, he'll see what the phrase "humble beginnings" truly means;

~ He'll also get to see the cornfield, where I learned to skate on snow that turned to ice; the famed cemetery swamp, the first "rink" many of us ever skated on; and the tennis/basketball court at Broad Bay Circle; where posts for basketball backboards served as goals; and

~ Maybe we'll even sit on the Snayczuk's porch for a bit, the same spot where, as kids, we'd toss Knox Blox, a gelatin dessert my grandmother would make, at cars stopped at the light.Some stuck, some didn't. I always wondered, though, just how long those that did stick stayed on the cars.

From what I hear, only a few vestiges of my Machias remain. Boehmer's Transportation, down by Gary Herman Memorial Park, is the biggest company in town. Alfie, who once delivered our Olean Times-Herald newspaper, is still running the corner Mobil station. And Miss Joanie, the town's former librarian, is still one of the sweetest people I know.

I'm hoping, too, that there's still a newspaper box outside Lil's Delicatessen, where we'd suck down 16-ounce glass bottles of Pepsi that cost, if memory serves, a quarter or 35 cents..

Sadly, some of the mile markers of my youth, so to speak, are no longer open. The Machias Surplus, one of the three places where a kid could spend a buck, isn't open. Nor is Rauch's Delicatessen, the place where I earned my first dollar, stocking the candy shelves. As a commentary on life, I suppose, not everything survives.

Still, it'll be good to go back home. It has been far too long.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Hockey Life: Taking a gamble

Deep down inside, Colin didn't want to walk away from travel hockey without a fight. Politics aside, he believes, as do we, that he's good enough to play. Though it's late in the tryout season, with three of the four teams in the area already picking their players, he knew he had one last opportunity.

The tryout, held for the Jr. Bulls Peewee squads out of Brandon, was last Tuesday. Like most others around Hockey Bay, it drew a crowd, with upwards of 40 kids hitting the ice. Colin, wearing a blue #32 penny, was one of them.

As we signed up, one line on the form asked for the position(s) he was seeking. I wrote "Forward." Seeing that he has played up front in nearly all of his games, I thought it was no-brainer. But when we turned in the slip, Colin asked the lady, as she confirmed what position, if he could change it to "anything."

His motivation, I believe, wasn't of desperation, but of increasing his chances of making the cut.

Before the tryout, as he sat outside the locker room showing a calm, focused demeanor, my advice was to play his game. Be a pest. Win his battles. Make a difference. Stand out.

The tryout, which the kids did amid some bouts of ice-hugging fog, was standard hockey fare. Skating. Passing. Shooting. As usual, he did better in some than others. The big deal -- the one that captured every parent's attention -- was the scrimmage.

For as long as I can remember, from Colin's first days in any organized hockey competition, he has played either center or on a wing. We've also placed more emphasis, perhaps to a fault even, on having him focus on the defensive aspects of the positions -- forechecking, backchecking, playing his position and, when necessary, covering for a pinching defenseman. I've preached that these are the things -- once again, politics aside -- that would help him make any team.

In his first shift during the scrimmage, when he was the fourth player off the bench, he hung back and played defense. That caught my attention. He did the same thing for his second and third shifts, too. I began to wonder if he had forgotten what we talked about. I was less than pleased, too, when he played defense on his final two shifts.

To me, a tryout is all about standing out in a positive way. Yes, you have to take some chances, but you also have to show the coaches what you can do. By being back on defense, a position that he has played at in fewer than five games, he wasn't doing that.

At best, he did OK, taking away a puck and, for the most part, making safe plays and solid decisions. He jumped up into the play once, trying to steal the puck from a kid with his head down, but missed and tripped. Thankfully, his squad's goalie bailed him out.

On the way home, I let him know, in no uncertain terms, of my displeasure. Really, I couldn't believe that he'd take that big of  a gamble to try out for a different position. To me, it didn't make a lick of sense and, I told him, it would likely cost him any chance to play travel hockey later this year.

Finally, he explained his reasoning, telling me that he hung back and played defense because he saw three other kids skate around and chase the puck. Had he joined the fray, he said, his squad would've been down a defender.

"That's what you've told me to do," Colin said. "If a defenseman goes in, I circle back and cover the point."

You know, I couldn't argue with him. He showed he has listened and remembered. He also showed some hockey sense. Most importantly, I'd say, is that he showed a willingness to put his team, even if it was a tryout squad, above himself.

So, will his gamble pay off? We've heard that he, as well as 20 other kids, survived the first cut for the Peewee A squad. Two more practices/tryouts await before the final cuts. Hopefully, he'll be able to make both sessions, as we're heading north here in a couple of weeks.

If he can't, there's little we can do. If he can, though, he has promised me that he'll play his game.