Friday, August 31, 2012

Less than 24 hours

If getting his new Brandon Jr. Bulls sweaters Wednesday night wasn't enough to drive home the point that the 2012-13 travel season was nearing, this should seal the deal: Colin will play his first game with the Peewee A squad in less than 24 hours.

All told, he will be playing four, possibly five games this weekend during a Labor Day tournament taking place at rinks in Brandon, Ellenton and Oldsmar. Playing with a different organization last year, his squad won the Squirt A championship.

Looking ahead, the Central Florida Hockey League season starts Sept. 15 down at Germain Arena in Estero, getting the longest road trip of the campaign out of the way nice and early. All other regular season games will be at rinks within the Tampa Bay area.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Hockey Life: Making do

Growing up in Machias, N.Y., nestled in dairy farming land within the foothills of the Allegheny plateau, we didn't have as many amenities to enjoy as the kids living in any big city. We had a town park, where we could swim, play baseball, hoops and tennis, and we had ponds, swamps and Lime Lake. Really, that was about it.

The nearest rink, for street hockey only, was in Arcade, about a dozen miles away. To us, though, it was like Madison Square Garden, with benches for teams, rooms for "fans" and, for me, a comfortable penalty box. For where we lived, it was the best we had. And we loved it.

That's not to say, though, that we didn't have fun in our little hometown.

In summer, the diamond was just one place to hang out. We'd play "Baseball 500," where scoring points by catching pop flies, line drives and grounders got you to the plate. Back yards, as well as side yards, hosted two-hand-touch football games. Hours at the town pool were followed by bike rides to Lil's or Rauch's, for 16-ounce glass bottles of Pepsi (25 cents with a nickel deposit) and some junk food (Hostess apple pies were my favorite).

Heading into fall, we knew winter wasn't all that far behind. That meant hockey season was coming. Tennis courts, at the town park or at Broad Bay Circle, became our de facto training camps. I was lucky enough to have a long, straight paved driveway, too, where I could work on my slap and snap shots. Before long, even before the first flake of snow, our street hockey season was upon us.

Bodies of water, frozen over by winter's chill, were where we learned to skate and dreamed of becoming the next hockey heroes. Nothing real organized, mind you, nothing but pure pond hockey. It didn't matter, either. Ice was ice. Once, if memory serves me correct, we even played a game (and brawled) in a cornfield outside of Franklinville. Talk about a Winter Classic.

As kids, we didn't know any better as to what others had. Most, if not all, of us grew up in blue- or white-collar, two-income families. For many of us, anything beyond high school, maybe community college, was out of our reach. If we wanted something, we worked for it, teaching a lesson that serves us to this day.

Now that I'm older, taking this trip down memory lane thanks to some pictures from a childhood buddy, I can see how those days truly shaped my life, providing a course to follow and, as a father today, pass along. Not once have I looked back on those days, wishing they were different. Doing so would discredit those memories.

Making do, back then as well as today, is what I do. It's all I've ever known.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Don't laugh too hard

Here's me, posing for a "hockey card" photo, back in 1977 or 1978. I played for the Machias Norsemen, a street hockey team in the still-in-existence Arcade (N.Y.) Hockey League. 

And, yes, I had a license to drive that curve. Those old Air-Flo sticks had so much whip in them.

If you want a few more laughs, here's the album at Facebook.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Hockey Life: Change in routines

Once a year, here in the states, there's a day when parents are encouraged to bring their child or children to work. It's a day to bond mostly, but it also serves to give the kids an idea of what their parents do to put a roof over their heads, food on the table and, in our case, ice under skates.

For the past six years, though, we've done it a bit differently. Thanks to my accommodating employer, one that understands the complexities of life brought about by my work schedule, Colin has joined me at work about two to three times a week, his visits lasting only an hour or two.

For me, it was nice being able to see him for a bit every day. I work nights, you see, helping in various forms to produce the largest daily paper in Florida. As a result, we don't spend too many nights at home together as a family. So, I take what time Colin and I had.

Granted, Colin has done his part, being much more seen than heard and, if I do say so myself, ingratiating himself to the newsroom. A number of his drawings, as well as other pieces of his handiwork, fill cubicles. In a way -- actually, in many ways -- he became part of the fabric.

It wasn't out of the ordinary for him to help me design pages or publish stories to the paper's website. Nor was it for him to engage in conversations with my colleagues, from the publisher to supervisors to my peers. Even walking out of the newsroom, partially dressed for hockey practice, brought more smiles than raised eyebrows.

Starting tomorrow, that's all about to change.

During his days in elementary school, our schedules meshed. His school day was ending just as my workday was starting. Rather than put him in an after-school program, he spent the time with me in the newsroom until The Missus ended her day. Going forward, that won't be the case.

His school days, in a middle-school magnet program that stresses a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum, begin and end about an hour later from last year's schedule. This change, albeit slight, throws a necessary monkey wrench into the works.

Rather than picking him up most every day, I'll now drop him off at school every morning. Sure, he could ride a school bus across town, but we'd miss out, even if it's measured in minutes, on our time together. Though it means a little less sleep for me, it's a deal I'd make day after day after day.

Any time with Colin, for me, is quality time.

The Missus, too, is changing her routine. She has adjusted her work schedule, starting earlier each day, so she can pick him up most every afternoon. Given the logistics (her office is about a 10-minute ride from the school), it simply made sense.

Despite these changes, we'll still have our Boys Night Out. Rather than take him skating at the Countryside mall rink most Wednesday afternoons, as we've done for the past six years, I'll take Colin to his practices for the Brandon Jr. Bulls Peewee A team. Train-hunting trips, a staple of our father-son adventures, will also remain a part of our weekly drill.

So, yes, change is in the air. Rather than fight it, as really there's little we can do, we'll embrace it. It's all about growing up, even for me, and, as I've said many times before, moving forward. That's the only way to go.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Want to help?

As any hockey parent will tell you, it costs a ton of money to play travel hockey. That's the reason we started CMS 37's Hockey Wear, an online store at CafePress.

The first line of products, so to speak, will be Smell cookies? It was a G-rated phrase that Colin came up with last season to get into the minds and under the skins of opponents. Guess what? It worked.

While some people may not agree with that kind of "trash-talking," I thought it was brilliant. Still do. Not only is it a question, asked before face-offs, that got some kids thinking, but you could also see them sniffing the air.

Take a look, will you, and see if you can't find something, especially clothing, that will help support Colin's hockey journey.

I imagine, too, we'll add more lines as the season progresses.

As always, thanks for your support.

Great news

Two pieces of news arrived in one email this morning:

~ Colin gets to wear his #37 this season for the Brandon Jr. Bulls Peewee A squad; and

~ After a season-opening ride to Estero, the rest of his games are at rinks in Brandon, Clearwater and Oldsmar. For a travel season, this is pretty sweet:

Sept. 15:  Jr. Everblades, 12:15 p.m. and Lady Vipers, 3:15 p.m. at Germain Arena in Estero
Sept. 29: Flames Red, 12:45 p.m. and Scorpions Red, 3:30 p.m. at TBSA in Oldsmar
Oct. 13: Jr. Lightning Blue, 11:30 a.m. and Scorpions Black, 2:30 p.m. at TBSA in Oldsmar
Oct. 27: Vipers, 8:30 a.m. and Flames Black, 5 p.m. at Ice Sports Forum in Brandon
Nov. 10: Jr. Knights, 2:30 p.m. and Scorpions Red, 5:30 p.m. at TBSA in Oldsmar
Dec. 1: Vipers, 4:45 p.m. and Jr. Lightning White, 7:30 p.m. at Clearwater Ice Arena
Dec. 15: Lady Vipers, 9 a.m. and Jr. Everblades, 2:30 p.m. at Ice Sports Forum in Brandon
Jan. 12: Scorpions Red, 8:30 a.m. and Flames Black, 5 p.m. at Ice Sports Forum in Brandon
Feb. 2: Scorpions Black, 3:15 p.m. and Jr. Lightning Blue, 6:15 p.m. at Clearwater Ice Arena

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Back to work

Like I said Sunday, it's time to continue this journey of ours. The first step in the newest chapter took place last night, when Colin participated in his first practice as a member of the Brandon Jr. Bulls Peewee A team.

The team's first games will be in the Labor Day Challenge tournament over the holiday weekend in Ellenton. Until then, it's all about working on his game and getting to know his new teammates.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Hockey Life: Dedication

He busted his butt during the season, earning time on the penalty kill unit and, when the situation warranted it, the final minutes of a game. He showed up at every Friday night clinic, going just as hard as he would in a game. Still, it didn't matter. Colin didn't make the cut.

Sure, he was disappointed. Why shouldn't he be? It had little, we believe, to do with his abilities. Still, though, he knew it wasn't time to give up. That would be way too easy.

And that, my friends, would make him a quitter.

Instead, Colin used the experience as motivation. He kept skating, most every Wednesday at the mall rink as well as a few clinics here in Florida and New Hampshire. The patio out back was well-used, too, serving as his platform for shooting drills (10 to 12 rounds of 20 pucks each) four to five times a week.

Though he did what others kids do during the summer -- going on vacation, playing video games and chilling out -- Colin also worked on his game. Some times, he needed encouragement. Most times, though, he didn't. The sessions weren't chores. No, they were part of his summer fun.

Really, and I'm not being a daddy here, I wouldn't have blamed him if he wanted to take off the summer from hockey. For more than two-plus years, hardly a week went by when he wasn't on the ice. Taking a break, I suppose, was just what he needed.

That's why, for the most part, I've let him dictate his hockey schedule this summer. His Wednesday skating sessions -- some harder than others as I pushed him out of his comfort zone -- were a given. Anything else, from clinics to stick-and-shoots to his drills, were up to him.

So was trying out for the Jr. Bulls. With rec hockey available as an option, our thinking was that a season or two at that level, without as much pressure, might work in his favor. Colin, however, wanted more. Much more. He had something to prove -- that he could play the game.

He went into each of the three tryout sessions understanding that he had to stand out -- in a good way. There was no slacking off. It was going as hard as he could every time his skates touched ice. It was taking nothing for granted, as we had earlier in the summer. Instead, it was earning his keep.

Going forward, and the next step comes tomorrow night at his first official Jr. Bulls practice, the goal remains the same -- sweat and resolve reap rewards. Once again, it's time to work.

Friday, August 10, 2012

If not 37 ...

We won't know whether Colin will get to wear 37 on his Brandon Jr. Bulls jersey until next week, when the team has its first official practice of the season and we complete all of the paperwork.

If 37 is available, that'll be his number, an homage to Boston's Patrice Bergeron. But if it isn't, we've kicked around a couple of options:

~ 73, for the obvious reason;

~ 18, in a nod to Tampa Bay's Adam Hall, who makes his NHL living the hard way;

~ 9, for Florida's Stephen Weiss, another of Colin's NHL buddies; and

~ 19, for Ottawa's Jason Spezza, another NHL player who has made an impression on Colin.

So, what do you think? Will any of these work? As always, suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Making the effort

Of the many photos we have of Colin, and there are hundreds, this one, taken last Saturday, is one of my favorites. Despite the thermometer topping 90 degrees, Colin went outside and worked on his shot, taking nearly 200 in total.

Sooner or later, buddy boy, it's all going to pay off. Keep up the hard work.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Hockey Life: Returning a call

I must admit, I'm not a slave to my cellphone. Never have been. Hope to never be. To me, it's a tool, not a toy or, even worse, a status symbol. In fact, I use it more to check the time than anything else.

The easiest way I keep my phone from running my life is that it doesn't ring for incoming calls. Instead, it vibrates. As a result, I have a habit, one that may be viewed by some as bad, of missing phone calls. Just ask The Missus.

Last Wednesday night, as we played putt-putt golf in Madeira Beach, I missed another call. I never felt the phone vibrate. Even if I had, I likely wouldn't have answered. Family time is family time.

It wasn't until we returned home, when I was emptying my pockets, that I noticed two things: I'd missed a call and someone had left a message. Interesting, I remembered thinking. Who would be calling me at night, using a number I didn't recognize, and leave a message.

It should come as no surprise, especially to those who know me, that curiosity won out. Ever the journalist, it always does.

The message came from the coach of the Brandon Jr. Bulls Peewee A squad. He was calling to tell us that Colin had, indeed, made the team. He wanted to know whether Colin wanted to play. I knew our answer even before his message had ended. It took but a few seconds to call him back.

Of course, I told the coach, Colin would like to play for the Jr. Bulls squad. Even after disappointing news earlier this summer, we felt he had the abilities to play travel hockey. The coach's call confirmed that.

The call, though, went beyond the acceptance of Jr. Bulls' offer. After the particulars of costs, practice schedule and tournaments, we started talking about philosophies. Atop my list was the coach's approach to teaching. Given that very little took place last season, especially for the money we paid, this is important.

I was pleased to hear, especially within his voice, he looked forward to teaching the kids, individually and as a team. Of course, skating, passing and shooting drills play an important role. But so is teaching the game, he said, from seeing the big picture of the team game to working with players on their individual skills.

That's the answer I was looking for.

Of course, Colin was very excited at the news. He did what I asked him to do, skating and playing as hard as he could during the tryouts. Obviously, it got him noticed. Making the Jr. Bulls' roster was his reward.

The journey, no matter where hockey takes him, continues.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Thanks, Jeff

Three weeks ago today, one of my favorite moments of our 16-day, 13-state and nearly 4,500-mile road trip took place. That's when Colin joined me and some old buddies at the street hockey rink where we all played at many, many moons ago.

It was also the day when Colin picked up one of his best-ever hockey souvenirs, a stick signed by Jeff Sherwood, shown above, once the old guys, myself included, had to call it a day.

Once again, buddy, thanks for the memories. We'll have to do it again. And, next time, Colin will have a signed stick for you.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Never too early

This Hallmark Christmas ornament of Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, which we stumbled upon last week at Westfield Countryside mall in Clearwater, may be the only one sold here in Hockey Bay.

Two certainties, though, are the ornament will adorn our Christmas tree this December and we'll do our best to have Miller autograph the box.