Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Hockey Life: Road trip notes

Heading south over the Sunshine Skyway, high above the mouth of Tampa Bay.

Even though Colin's team split its two games, I have to say that Saturday's day trip to Estero, Fla., which lasted a little more than 12 hours, was some of the most fun I've had in hockey in some time. Of course, the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Pee Wee White A team's shutout was the highlight, but the day also offered up a full lineup of memorable events:

~ If I've said it once, I've said it 100 times: Yoder's, an Amish restaurant in Sarasota, is one of my favorite places to eat.  From the moment we found a parking spot in front of the restaurant to the delicious apple fritter French toast I had for breakfast, it was well worth an early departure.

~ Sure, some other drivers may have been a bit upset, but I got the biggest kick out watching of a pair of whooping cranes walking down a lane of Cattlemen Road in Sarasota. It's like they didn't have a care in the world. Thanks, too, to the driver in the lane who stopped and waited for the birds to move along.

~ Yes, I'm far more yuppie than redneck, but I have the hardest time not stopping at the Bass Pro Shops store along Interstate 75 just a few miles north of Germain Arena. I love watching the variety of Florida fish swim in the aquarium and easily become mesmerized by the size of the snook swimming in the pool.

~ Ask Colin, too, about his new camo cold-weather gear leggings. Every so often, but not nearly enough, I do what I can to keep the him from becoming a full-fledged city boy. With that in mind, we definitely have to get in some more fishing.

~ I was continually amazed at just how smooth a new car rides. Rather than subject our two jalopies to the trip, we splurged and rented a 2014 Toyota Camry (Why, yes, Colin, that is what you call a "a new car smell.") for the weekend. How new? The odometer read only 30 miles. Several times, and I'm embarrassed to admit it, I was surprised to see the speedometer's needle beyond 85 mph.

~ Had the distinct pleasure of introducing The Missus, who has always wanted a pet pig, to Noel (or is it Noelle?), a miniature teacup pig who's quickly becoming the team's pet mascot. It didn't take long for The Missus to scoop up and snuggle the puny porker, who belongs to the family of one of Colin's teammates. Before long, Noel was sound asleep in her arms.  

~  Nice touch, too, by one of the referees at Colin's second game of the day. He gave the game puck to Ryan, the team's goalie, after he posted a 4-0 shutout, including a particularly sweet save on a third-period breakaway, after a pretty tough loss in the day's first game. "Nice way to rebound," the ref told him.

~ From what I hear, Colin made some friends Saturday night on one of the Jr. Everblades teams. Funny thing, though, they used cuss words, and some pretty naughty ones at that, to express their greetings. I guess the kids were getting tired of him being his usual pest self and crashing their net. Excellent work, buddy boy.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Hockey Life: So, this is travel hockey?

At the beginning of any travel season, one of the major questions, beyond just how competitive will the team be, is just how much traveling you'll have to do over the course of the season. In our case, the hockey gods were very kind to us.

Of the nine travel hockey weekends, stretching from September to February, we'll have to travel outside the Tampa Bay area only once. That road trip? It's this upcoming weekend, when we head about two to three hours south to Estero, Fla, for a doubleheader.

We know of other teams, including fellow Pee Wee squads within the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning organization, that have had to make more than one trip to Estero, so far, as well as head east to Kissimmee. Those trips alone are likely more than what we've put on our cars all season.

Thankfully, we play later in the day, with the two games in less than three hours apart. The late start, so to speak, means we don't have to leave the house before sunrise to make a 7 a.m. game. So, once again, the hockey gods were with us.

Bottom line, we have absolutely no complaints making this round-trip ride.That doesn't mean, though, that we won't leave early next Saturday. To us, the road trip is more than just a few travel hockey games.

There's a certain Amish restaurant in Sarasota, about an hour south of us, that has been on my radar for the past few weeks. Granted, it might be too early for fried chicken, but I'm thinking pancakes or waffles, made from scratch, might be in my future.

Because I don't want to put the miles on either of our jalopies, we're even renting a car for the trip. Sure, it adds to the expense, but the peace of mind that comes with it is easy to justify. Of course, the trunk is big enough for one, possibly two hockey bags.

Part of the fun of a road trip to Estero is checking out Germain Arena's pro shop. To me, it has the best prices on sticks I've seen. Thankfully, Colin's well-stocked in that department, so much so that I won't have to wrap one for Christmas. Besides, he already has his new skates, an early Christmas present.

Having said all of this, though, I'll add that we'll make another trip, this one involving multiple nights in a hotel, to Estero in the days after Christmas for a tournament. And, then, three weeks later, we head 11 to 12 hours north, to Charlotte, N.C., for another tournament.

Once again, though, no complaints. That's why it's called travel hockey.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Hockey Life: Like the old days

The Lightning's Big Three reunited, if only for a moment:
Philadelphia's Vinny Lecavalier, New York's Brad Richards and Tampa Bay's Marty St. Louis.
During the school year, I look forward to the holiday breaks and teacher-training sessions within the calendar. Sure, they're days I get to spend with Colin. But when three NHL teams visit within a week, like they did last week, we put that free time to good use.

Despite my best intentions, I haven't done as much hounding as I had hoped to this season. Between freelance projects, my real job and Colin's hockey, I've had to pass on some teams, even my beloved Buffalo Sabres. So, this was a way to catch up, so to speak, in more ways than one.

Back in the day -- primarily meaning when we lived in the Boston area -- very seldom did I miss any NHL team coming to town, easily having 30-plus adventures a season, not including trips for American Hockey League teams. My hockey bag would hold 20, sometimes 25, pucks for teams. I'd have four cards for most every player, coach or analyst.

It was all about racking them up.

These days, though, that isn't the case. I seldom carry more than five or six pucks. The card books aren't nearly as thick. And, really, when Colin's with me, it's more about him scoring autographs, especially when it comes to his hand-drawn team sheets. That's exactly what we did last week.

All told, we added nearly 110 autographs to the collection. Of that amount, we had the best luck with the Philadelphia Flyers and, of course, the Tampa Bay Lightning. In one day alone, in a span of little more than four hours, we snagged more than we did from the other two teams -- the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Sometimes, that's just the way it is.

Still, we got some big names for our efforts - the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist and Brad Richards, the Lightning's Marty St. Louis, Philly's Vinny Lecavalier and Claude Giroux and Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury. Yes, it would've been nice to add a couple more from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to the mix, but Colin was one person away when Crosby stopped signing and Malkin went straight from the hotel to the team bus.

Just like Boston, you win some and you lose some.

Honestly, though, there are no complaints. Not when I get to spend time with my favorite hounding buddy, catch up with old friends, have a few laughs with familiar faces and add to the collection. Even better, the Christmas break is only a few weeks away. I'm sure we'll find time to get in a little hounding then, too, maybe even some college teams.

Until then, you can look forward to reports from past hounding adventures. The autographs, dating to mid October, are stacking up.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hockey snapshot No. 2


Seconds into a travel hockey game last Saturday, between two of the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning's three Pee Wee A-level teams, I couldn't help but smile watching Colin -- crossing over in only his second or third stride -- take off after the puck following the opening faceoff. All season long, his hustle factor has improved with each game.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Hockey Life: Catching up

A number of dispatches, mostly to bring everyone up to speed and, perhaps, explain the lack of posts over the past few weeks:

~ The meeting with the Event Development Institute, affiliated with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, to bring an international youth hockey tournament to the Tampa Bay area in the next year to 18 months went as well as could be expected -- they let me in the building and didn't call security when I sat down at the table.

Seriously, though, it was a thrill to share this idea with people in place to potentially make it happen. They asked great questions and, hopefully, my answers were good enough. With some luck, we'll move forward with this project. An answer should arrive in the next week or so.

Either way, I'll share the news.

~  A few years ago, I made a deal with Colin. Any time he logged a hat trick, I'd buy him a hat. Earlier today, I kept that promise for the second such time. Eight days ago, in a rec league game for the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars, he scored three times, including the game-tying goal, in a 4-4 game.

What did he get? A knit tuque with headphones built into the ear flaps. Oh, yeah, he also earned his second Player of the Week hard hat from the Stars.


~ On the travel hockey front, Colin scored his first goal of the 2013-14 season. Took him 12 games, mind you, but it wasn't for the lack of trying. At first, he had to get some opportunities at this level. Then, he started hitting goal posts and crossbars. But, on Saturday, he finally lit the lamp, so to speak, with a wrister that eluded the goalie.

It's nice to see his hard work and persistence pay off.

~ The biggest reason I have written much lately? I'm heading into the home stretch of working 23 out of 26 days. Counting up my freelance work and some OT shifts, this is my last of three straight 63-hour weeks. Money's nice and I need to sleep, so something had to give.

Still, it's what this hockey dad has to do.

~ Yes, I also have to catch up with hounding reports. I've been out for the Los Angeles Kings (not so great), Minnesota Wild (the best, so far) and Boston Bruins (not so bad). This week alone, Colin and I will put in some hounding adventures with the N.Y. Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and, quite possibly, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

You can look forward, too, to the return of Colin's hand-drawn team sheets.

~ For any of you keeping track, you may have noticed that I completed my Long Walk Home earlier this week. More than a year ago, when I started walking on a consistent basis as a way to shed tonnage, I set a goal of walking the 1,254.10 miles from our home in Hockey Bay to my hometown of Machias, N.Y.

With that goal reached, I've set my sights on Machias, Maine, the hometown of my hometown's original settlers, a trek of nearly 800 miles. On Thursday, Colin and I will participate in another father-son adventure, the Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot's 5K Fun Run.

We'll walk, not run. That, alone, will knock out another 3 miles.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thank you, folks


Over the past months, we've posted auctions on eBay, using game-used pink tape from Colin's hockey sticks, to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. All told, these auctions raised more than $100. Today, we donated $107. 50 from my PayPal account to the group.

As always, we appreciate your support.

PayPal logo Nov 16, 2013 12:41:11 PST
Transaction ID: 8HG36399FM6187031
Hello Ronald V. Saar,

You sent a payment of $107.50 USD to Donation via PayPal Giving Fund
(care@paypalgivingfund.org)


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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fundraising auction No. 5


With this fifth fundraising auction at eBay, featuring this hockey stick blade tape wrap, we're wrapping up Colin's efforts to raise money for breast cancer research. So far, we've raised more than $76 with the past four items.

The fourth auction, which came down to the final hour, ended successfully, when Jim, a Pioneer Central High classmate, stepped up. He joins Brett, AJ and Jerry in helping to support Colin's efforts, both on and off the ice.

This week's item saw plenty of action: one recreational hockey league game and three practices. Tthe tape comes from the Reebok RibCor 23K stick that Colin used to score one of two goals in his rec league game.

The starting bid remains at $2.49 as does the $3 shipping fee. Remember, we're not doing this to make money for ourselves. We're even donating the shipping fees. All proceeds from these auctions will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

As always, we appreciate your support.

Click here to check out the current auction

Hockey snapshot No. 1


It's just a moment within a rec league game, but this photo, taken by The Missus last Saturday during Colin's Pinellas P.A.L. Stars game, has become one of my favorites. Why? Because it shows Colin doing what he does best, getting ready to swoop in on an unsuspecting opponent, gain body position and take away the puck.

All along, we've said we were raising a complete hockey player, not just some one-dimensional goal scorer. Granted, I'd like it, and so would he, if he scored a little more in his travel-hockey games. But, it's doing the little things like this that tell me he's headed down the right path.

Where will it take him? Who knows? I'm just along for the ride, no matter how long or how far it lasts.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Hockey Life: Taking the next step

It all started a couple of months ago with reading a story in the newspaper. The Event Development Institute, a group in Tampa that helps people and organizations transform ideas into realities, was accepting applications for events. Why not, I figured, submit my idea. So, I did, offering a bare-bones description in the online form.

Since then, mostly during my walks, the idea or, more accurately, the concept formulated in my mind. It was more than planning. Sponsorships, logistics, marketing and execution are all a part of the plan. And, yes, I figured it would a long shot. Who was I, some guy working out of a small desk tucked into the corner of a toy room/office, to think it was even worthy of consideration.

Well, guess what?

It seems the idea passed its first test. Last Tuesday, an email arrived sharing the news. I'll be meeting with the institute's advisory committee within the next two weeks to further discuss the concept. By no means does the meeting signify a green light, but it's a step in the right direction.

So, what's the idea? Let me give you three guesses, and the first two don't count.

My pitch is to bring an international level hockey tournament to the Tampa Bay area. Not just one that draws teams from Florida and, maybe, the Southeast. No, the idea is to draw teams from throughout the United States, Canada and, with a little bit of luck, from Europe and Scandinavia. If you're going to dream, you might as well dream big, right?

Think Quebec's pee wee tournament and national gatherings sponsored by big-name hockey gear companies. Rather than appealing to just local teams, the idea is to bring some of the best youth hockey teams from all over the world to the warm, sunny locale during the late fall to winter months. I'm thinking a week or weekend away from knee-deep snow and teeth-chattering cold holds great appeal.

This wouldn't be the run-of-the-mill local tournament, where teams show up, play a minimum of four games and, if the kids are lucky, get a bag tag for their efforts. The idea is to have seminars for league officials, organizations and coaches. Holding clinics or product demonstration sessions for players are a part of the plan, too. And, if the schedules mesh, toss in a Tampa Bay Lightning home game.

In a way, the tournament would be a festival for youth hockey here in Hockey Bay. It would tell the world that our sport of speed is, indeed, played well below the Florida-Georgia line. Hopefully, it would bring people, from as far away as Russia or Sweden, to Tampa Bay's sandy shores. So, yes, there's the aspect that it would continue to build region's brand as a top-shelf tourism destination.

The tournament would also provide solid measuring sticks, so to speak, for local youth hockey organizations and the hundreds of players who hit the local rinks. They'd get an idea of just how far they've come or, perhaps more likely, how much more work they need to do. To me, teaching moments would be plentiful.

Pulling this off would be a monumental task. It's going to take a lot of hard work by myself and many others. The next two weeks will be all about making the necessary contacts and gaining valuable advice. I have to reach out to, and hopefully hear from, associations, companies and people at the national, state and local levels. The better prepared I am going into that meeting, the better chance the idea had of gaining critical support.

It's time, then, for me to get to work.

P.S.:  Here's another shameless plug asking you to help support Colin's fundraising efforts for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. For as little as $5.49, shipping included, you can do your part to help him do his part. As always, we appreciate your support.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fundraising auction No. 4


With an old friend and hockey teammate stepping up, it's time to begin another fundraising auction at eBay, featuring this hockey stick blade tape wrap, to raise money for breast cancer research.

So far, we've raised more than $53 with the past three items. We're very appreciative of Brett, AJ and Jerry helping to support Colin's efforts, both on and off the ice.

This week's item saw plenty of use: two travel hockey games, one recreational hockey league game and two practices. Even better, the tape comes from the Reebok RibCor 23K stick that Colin used to score two goals in his rec league game.

The starting bid remains at $2.49 as does the $3 shipping fee. Remember, we're not doing this to make money for ourselves. We're even donating the shipping fees. All proceeds from these auctions will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

As always, we appreciate your support.

Click here to check out the current auction

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Hockey Life: Moments of a season


There are moments in any hockey season, whether watching or playing, that can last a lifetime for the parties involved. For skaters, it's a first goal or point. For goalies, it's the first win or shutout. And, for a team, it's a first win. Each is a special moment.

On Saturday, during Colin's rec hockey game with his Pinellas P.A.L. Stars squad, we had the privilege of watching three young players -- all in their first year of organized hockey, I believe -- register some important milestones in their respective journeys. Two players scored their first goals and the team's goalie notched his first shutout.

It was great seeing the smiles on faces, from the players to the coaches to the parents, with each moment. So was watching the hard work these kids have been putting in over the past month or so be rewarded. In games like this, especially at this level and in this particular season, the highs can only temper the lows as kids learn how to play this humbling game.

Take a look at the photo, please, shot by The Missus at the conclusion of the Stars' 6-0 win over the Leafs. (Technically, the score was 8-0, but the scorekeeper stopped keeping track after 6-0.) Yes, a team is celebrating. It's celebrating more than a win, though. It's celebrating milestones.


I'm hoping, too, that each of the boys has a puck to commemorate their achievements. Years from now, those black rubber disks will serve as tangible reminders of a single game they played on an October afternoon on a rink in Florida.

We should know. One such puck sits in a plastic case on a baker's rack in our dining room. Dated March 14, 2010, it's Colin's first goal while playing for the Stars. For him, it's a milestone. For me, it's reason to smile.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fundraising auction No. 3


Here we are, nearing the end of October, and we have yet another fundraising auction at eBay, featuring this hockey stick blade tape wrap, to raise money for breast cancer research.

So far, we've raised more than $30 with the past two items. We're very appreciative of Brett and AJ helping to support Colin's efforts, both on and off the ice.

This week's item saw plenty of use: one recreational hockey league game and four practices.Even better, the tape comes from the Reebok RibCor 23K stick that Colin used to log an assist in his rec league game.

The starting bid remains at $2.49 as does the $3 shipping fee. Remember, we're not doing this to make money for ourselves. All proceeds from these auctions will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

As always, we appreciate your support.

Click here to check out the current auction

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Hockey Life: Great save, Patrice


Save for two years out of the past nine, the annual highlight of our hockey-hounding season has been getting  a photo of Colin with his favorite NHL player, Boston's Patrice Bergeron. Sure, the autographs we get are nice and, as always, are welcome additions to the collection. What we're really after, though, is what you see above.

It's a chance, as it has always been, for a young hockey player who, like many others, dreams of playing in the NHL to meet his idol. Even if only for a few moments, the memories created last a lifetime. For Colin, Patrice, whom he calls Petey, is the reason why he wears No. 37.

As hockey parents, it's our job to do whatever we can to support our child's dreams. Yes, we stress the value of education and remind him often that good grades and a college degree in a growing field will most likely take him further in life than most anything else. Within that, one of the lessons we preach -- in life as well as in hockey -- is being in the right place at the right time.

That's why we found ourselves in Tampa early Saturday morning, waiting and watching for the Bruins. Seeing Patrice, or so we thought, would be a good way to start a hockey-filled day and provide some motivation, through an invitation to Patrice to come watch Colin play for the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars later that day. After an hour of waiting, however, we weren't so sure.

Though Colin stood near the hotel's entrance and called out to Patrice as he headed to the team's bus for the morning skate, Patrice walked past without acknowledging his little buddy. Colin called out again, but Patrice didn't even look back before climbing aboard the bus and settling into a seat near a window close to where we were standing. Even waving at him drew no response. Needless to say, Colin was bummed.

"I was heartbroken," he told me later.

A quick stop at the Krispy Kreme on Kennedy Boulevard, as we headed to Oldsmar for Colin's game,  helped eased some of the disappointment, but I could still tell it was bothering him. To him, Patrice is his buddy. Actually, to Colin, he's more than that. He's someone else to look up to.

Patrice is one of the the first NHL players that Colin, then 4 years old, really first spoke to at any length, back in September 2005 outside the Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, Mass. Since then, they've shared a hug during Patrice's first trip to Tampa following that horrific hit he took in 2007. They've talked about school and hockey as they walked down trolley tracks while Patrice made his way to a morning skate. Heck, they're even on a hockey card together.

All of that, I suppose, has led to an expectation that they'd have their annual moment, so to speak, on Saturday morning. And, when it didn't happen, especially when we missed last year because of school, the disappointment was shared among the three of us. I told Colin he'd have another opportunity to see Patrice later in the day. Deep down inside, I knew (or, at least, hoped really hard) that it wouldn't happen again.

Thankfully, and I do mean this, Patrice more than made up for it as the Bruins left the hotel for the game against the Lightning. He apologized to Colin, decked out in his "Keep Calm and Bergeron" T-shirt, for not speaking to him earlier in the day. They also engaged in a conversation in French. He even signed Colin's team sheet and a Stanley Cup champions puck.

Even better, we got what came for, getting the traditional photo. By the smiles on their faces, I'm thinking the day turned out just fine.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hounding report: Florida Panthers


The Hockey Hounding Gods aligned the planets for me when the Florida Panthers, one of the best-signing teams in the NHL, opened the 2013-14 hockey-hounding campaign as the opponent in the Tampa Bay Lightning home opener earlier this month.

It's no surprise, to me at least, that I had what I considered a strong start, adding 31 autographs, including a puck (shown above) signed by Florida's Aleksander Barkov, the No. 3 overall pick at the 2013 Draft.

Hockey cards proved to be the platform of the day, as the first 30 were added to the stack. For the record, Panthers defenseman Marcel Goc signed the first two autographs of the campaign.

Signing four cards each were:


Sean Bergenheim, who is seldom, if ever, shy around a Sharpie;


Tomas Fleischmann, who also is pretty consistent in signing this many.

Other Panthers players signing cards were:


Top row: Brian Campbell, Scott Clemmensen, Tom Gilbert; and
Bottom row: Matt Gilroy, Marcel Goc and long-time toughie Scott Gomez;


Top row: Erik Gudbranson, Ed Jovanovski and Tomas Kopecky;
Bottom row: Dmitry Kulikov, Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias;


A trio of toughies in Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg and Ryan Whitney.


Up next: A disappointing trip, in more ways than one, for the Los Angeles Kings.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fundraising auction No. 2


As promised, we've started another fundraising auction at eBay, featuring this hockey stick blade tape wrap, to raise money for breast cancer research.

Despite getting nearly 100 views, the first auction ended without a bid within a week. Thankfully, though, we received one for $25 after the auction closed. Thanks, Brett, for doing that and continuing to support Colin's efforts, both on and off the ice.

This week's item saw plenty of use: two travel hockey games, one recreational league game and three practices. Even better, the tape comes from the Reebok RibCor 23K stick that Colin used to score a goal and two assists in his rec league game.

We've also lowered the starting bid to $2.49 and shipping to $3, beginning this week, in our bid to get you to bid on the item. Remember, we're not doing this to make money for ourselves. All proceeds from these auctions will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

As always, we appreciate your support.

Here's a link to this week's auction: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=231074726706

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Hockey Life: Tough game

Given the score, an abysmal double-digits to 1, it would have been easy to understand any player, seeing the waning moments of the game wind down, to go through the motions. You skate, but with less of a purpose. Rather than mount a last-ditch bid to generate some offense, you're happy to simply clear the puck. Watching from the bench, it seems, isn't all that bad.

Really, all you want is the buzzer to sound.

In this game of life, and not just in hockey, there will always be stinkers of a game. It's s fact of life. Sports, too. And don't let anyone tell you any differently. As much as we all want to win, someone has to lose. That's the way it goes.

In those situations, though, an opportunity presents itself. It all boils down to one simple decision -- do you keep trying hard, no matter the score or outcome? In my book, you do. That's the way I was raised. That's the way I'm raising Colin. There's no other choice.

Yes, it stinks getting shellacked. It isn't fun, in the least little bit, watching the other team run up the score. But, if the team is that good and you're not doing much to stop them, what can you do? Quit? Blame others? Whine about the talent level of the other team? No. No. And no.

So, what can you do? You dig a little harder. You skate a little faster. You look your teammates, as well as the opponents, square in the eye. You don't give up. Instead, you chalk it up as a learning experience and use it as motivation to make sure it never happens again. You grow.

Really, that's all you can do. And, thankfully, that's what Colin did.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Raising awareness and money


Each October, CMS 37 wraps his hockey stick blades in pink tape to help raise awareness for breast cancer research. Last year, he gave away the wrappings to people who have defeated breast cancer or felt the loss of having someone they love die from the disease.

This year, CMS 37 is again participating in his project, but we're adding a different element. Each week, through Saturday, Nov. 2, we'll change the tape on his two sticks, making one available to someone we know and putting the other up for auction on eBay.

If the item sells, and we hope it does, you have our word that all proceeds from this week's auction will be donated, through eBay's Giving Works program, to the Breast Cancer Research Fund.

The auctions, which will be listed every Monday afternoon, will last seven days, with the final one ending Monday. Nov. 11. The opening bid for this week's pink hockey stick tape wrap, shown above, is $2.49 with a Buy It Now price of $9.99. Shipping and handling is a flat rate of $3.

Remember, we're not making a penny on this. All proceeds will go to charity. This week's auction, if successful, will benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Here's a link to this week's auction: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=231069455689

As always, we appreciate your consideration of participating in this event. Thank you.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Hockey Life: Someday, soon

From all of the roles within a hockey game, from playing to watching, there's really only one left that truly captivates my attention -- coaching. Not sure why, but a voice inside my head keeps turning up the volume. At first, it was a whisper. Over the years, and especially over the past few, the voice has gotten louder.

And, now, it's at a point where it's too hard to ignore anymore.

More than anything else, the curiosity to see whether I'd be good at it is the motivating factor. I've played the game long enough to know. I've watched games, at most every level. And, for the past six-plus years, I've worked with Colin on different aspects of the game.

For good or bad, though, I want to find a way, and more importantly the time, to become certified, even if I don't work with any other players but my own son. It's more about gaining insight into the teaching, the dynamics and the behind-the-scenes mechanics of building a team from scratch.

The biggest obstacle, I believe, is my work schedule, primarily nights and weekends. Unfortunately, I've yet to win a ginormous Powerball jackpot, meaning that I'll have to continue within journalism, as I have for the past 28-plus years now, and remain far from being one-dimensional. But, still, if this can be done online, and I believe it can, there's no reason to not try.

Trust me, I have no delusions of grandeur. I'd be happy as the proverbial clam, if you will, to work with a rec-league team, serving as a substitute or, perhaps, starting out as an assistant. Just like anything else I've done, I've worked my way up learning the ropes. Sure, I may understand the game, but there's a lot to learn about coaching. In a way, it'd be like serving an apprenticeship.

As a coach, it's more important to create hockey players, people who are willing to adopt the team concept. Sure, each team needs its superstars, so to speak. But a team still needs players who hustle, make smart plays and never put themselves above their teammates. Those are lessons, I believe, that can last a lifetime.

Here in Florida, I've witnessed both ends of the coaching spectrum. There are solid coaches who command the respect of their players and parents, even outside of their organization. Good coaches, too, who are in it for the teaching. Unfortunately, there are others who do it only so their child can make a team or, far worse, fail to maintain a safe environment for their players.

Thankfully, each one provides a teaching moment. That's why it's time to start learning.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Hockey Life: Breathing easier


There was a moment Saturday afternoon, in between Colin's two games with his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Pee Wee A White teammates, when I simply sat back, smiled and enjoyed the scene. It had been a long, long time.

Here was a youth hockey team, fresh off its best victory -- so far -- of the young season, taking up one side of the Courtside Grille. Most of the kids were gathered at one table, playing games on their smartphones or sharing an order of calamari. Yes, calamari. At other tables, including ours, families enjoyed their meals, making small talk, above the din of the kids, between bites.

In a word, it was nice.

It was nice to see that teammates can get along. It was nice to see that teammates can respect each other. It was nice to see all of the teammates having fun. And, after last season's debacle with another organization, it was nice to see that it was even possible.

Going into this season, our primary goal was to have fun. To be able to enjoy ourselves. To be able to enjoy the company we keep. To look forward to games and, honestly, practices. A month into the season, our expectations have been exceeded. Even better, we've yet to see, hear or learn of anything to the contrary.

We'll do our part, too, to make sure that keeps happening.
 
What we're learning is that it's more than wins and losses, goals and assists, and who gets to choose the locker room music. It's all about these kids playing a game, getting better every time they touch the ice and becoming a tight-knit group.

It's no secret -- in and outside of the organization -- that this team was put together only after the Pee Wee team, the one that suffered through a pretty tough campaign last season, was hand-picked from the fairly large group of kids who tried out. I don't have a problem with that. If that's what they need, who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to tell them differently. Besides, it makes for a good rivalry within the family.

Honestly, it was easy to see, even before official practices began, that the kids on the White team, especially Colin, had some work to do. And while some may see that as a disadvantage, I think it will ultimately be a strength of this team. To me, the kids will grow tighter -- like a band of brothers, if you will -- with each step of improvement that takes place in the days ahead this season.

For Colin, this is his season to really focus on his skills. He's understands what it means to go hard. He skates just as hard on the last shift of his second game of the day as he did during his first shift of his first game. Earlier today, during a scrimmage with his rec team, he drove hard to the net, crashing into players in a bid to score. Not once, but twice. To me, he took a huge stride.

Sure, Colin and his teammates will have some hard games. In this game of inches, there will be missed opportunities. Teaching moments, rather than mistakes, will happen, too. They'll learn, like most of us do, that nothing good comes easy. To me, that's how a team comes together.

It'll be fun watching it happen.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Among the highlights

So, if getting to serve as a Lightning Dream Kid before the Florida Panthers-Tampa Bay Lightning game wasn't enough Saturday night, Colin and his buddy Max also got to meet Annilie and Jordana, the Fox Sports Florida girls, and quite possibly end up in one of their promos for Lightning games.

We don't know for sure if and when it'll happen, but the two young ladies were kind enough to take a picture with them and post it on their Twitter feed:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Hockey Life: Lightning Dream Kid III



Some day, a long way down the road, Colin will look back on his days playing hockey as a child and smile. From his first time in skates to hundreds of games of travel and rec hockey league play, he will have a mountain of memories to draw from. That alone, folks, will be worth every last penny.

I'm thinking, though, that certain experiences will stand out. Scoring his first-ever goal in a game that counted. Getting a game-winner with less than a minute to play. Making lifelong friends. And, more than likely, his three turns taking part in official National Hockey League games.

Last night, Colin got to serve as a Lightning Dream Kid before the Florida Panthers-Tampa Bay Lightning preseason game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. It was his third time in as many seasons, and twice in about the past 10 months, that he has had that privilege.

Pretty heady stuff, isn't it, skating in front of more than 13,000 people? Not sure I could do that.

Basically, a Lightning Dream Kid gets to perform three tasks at the start of an NHL game. First, as shown above (in a subpar video effort by yours truly), he skates, in time, to a portion of AC/DC's Thunderstruck. After that, he gets to greet Lightning players as they make their way to the ice. The best part, I believe, is then joining Lightning players on the blue line for the national anthem.

Really, how cool is that?

So, yes, some day, God willing, he will be able to tell his kids about it. And, that in and of itself, will make for another wonderful memory. To us, that's what hockey, and our hockey life, is all about.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A dream hat trick

Photo by DIRK SHADD   |   Tampa Bay Times
For the third time in as many seasons, Colin has been chosen to serve as the Lightning Dream Kid before a Tampa Bay Lightning game. Earlier today, he was invited to skate before this Saturday's game against the Florida Panthers.

Here are links to the past two times he served:

Feb. 1, 2013: Winnipeg Jets vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Jan. 17, 2012: Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Now, all I have to do is get the night off. I watched the first two, so I don't want to miss this one.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

It's official


He was told about it last Wednesday and the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars were told as a team before Saturday's game, Colin will serve as captain of the squirt-peewee squad for the 2013-14 season.

The Hockey Life: We have it bad

As many parents know, once you get involved in youth sports or any other organized activity, it's quite easy for your life, or substantial slices of it, to be consumed and even dominated by events within the subject of choice. We all know that going in.

We openly admit that hockey is a major part of our life. Always have. Always will.

Colin plays for one, sometimes two teams nearly year-round. We attend NHL games, often when the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres or Western Conference teams are visiting Hockey Bay. From late September to mid June, the NHL Network is my go-to channel, dropping History Channel, Discovery Channel and NatGeo down a rung on the ladder. Every so often, too, a special event, so to speak, makes the calendar.

A 24-hour span, from Friday to Saturday, provides a perfect example. From a Bauer Hockey Day in Brandon, where the company put its latest models of $429 skates and $200 sticks on the Christmas lists of about 100 hockey players, to three games in five hours, as two of his 2013-14 hockey seasons opened, Colin was on the ice for more than six hours.

 Want to know something? He had no complaints. Nor did we. It's our hockey life:

Getting some free ice time, while trying out Bauer Vapor X100 skates and an APX2 stick.
The first of his two games with his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Pee Wee A squad.
He joined his Pinellas P.A.L. Stars teammates for his second game of the day about 20 minutes after his first TBJL game.
He's in there -- somewhere -- after the TBJL White won its first game of the season. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Hockey Life: Hounding, maybe?

Let's be honest here, shall we? It's hard to live a hockey life if you can't get in a little hounding. It can't be all practices, games and skate-and-shoots, right? There has to be some time, even if it's only occasionally, to add to the collection.

So, with the dawn of the 2013-14 NHL season a little more than a month away, I'm finally turning my attention, or at least a little bit of it, to the Tampa Bay Lightning's home schedule. So far, I'm seeing what I like. Months between visits by the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. More Detroit Red Wings. Less Florida Panthers. And the return of Western Conference teams.

The biggest question, however, is just how much time we'll be able to put in.

Work -- for me -- and school -- for Colin -- always take top priority. Because we do this as a hobby, rather than an income, we have to tend to those matters first. Again, we find ourselves in a travel hockey season. Colin's will also be playing, as his schedule allows, for the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars rec team. All told, Colin has the potential to be on the ice three to four days a week.

For those reasons alone, our opportunities will be focus primarily on teams we don't see all that often.

Thankfully, my primary freelance schedule, which pays for Colin's hockey and then some, is very flexible. I can work when I want, making up hours on other days as the need arises. Still, that'll take precedence most days, unless, of course, a Western Conference team travels to Hockey Bay.

What this means, I guess, is that the 2013-14 hounding campaign might be the most scaled back it has ever been. Quality, once again, will trump quantity. That's the way we like to build the collection.

At first glance, we'll likely head out at least 20 times, about half of the Lightning's home schedule. Of those, it looks like Saturday morning skates, at least the ones when Colin doesn't have a game, will be our go-to day:

October:  Los Angles Kings, Minnesota Wild and the Bruins, all within five days;
November: St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers and  the Anaheim Ducks;
December: Winnipeg Jets, Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes and the Montreal Canadiens;
January: Ottawa Senators and the Colorado Avalanche;
February: Red Wings, if necessary (Really? Who am I kidding?);
March: Sabres, Bruins New Jersey Devils and the Vancouver Canucks; and
April: Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

You know, looking back, it may not be that bad after all. Time will only tell.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Hockey Life: It's way too early

Early mornings, within the world of youth hockey, are a fact of life. Doesn't matter if you're in the states, Canada, Russia or Europe. At some point in your hockey life, the alarm rings way too early at least one time. Well, really, more than once.

Today, for me at least, it's one of those instances. I had to work at the paper until 1 a.m. today. It seems more than 350,000 people in the Hockey Bay area insist on having a Sunday paper to read while enjoying their breakfast. Actually, I'm very thankful for those of you who do, as you help pay for Colin's hockey.

What I'm not thankful for, though, was the alarm going off at 6:30 a.m., especially after getting to sleep sometime after 2 a.m. Colin's team, the Tampa Bay Jr. Lighting Pee Wee A White squad, had a game at 8 a.m. today and that meant we had to be at the rink by, say, 7:15 a.m.

Do the math, if you can, and you'll see I didn't get much more than a nap. So, if I seem a tad grumpier than normal today, that's the reason why. Not using it as an excuse, but more of a caution that any greetings, especially those before the clock strikes noon, may be nothing more than a grumble.

Still, that's a part of the hockey drill. Players, coaches and parents have been getting up early for years, be it for a skate and shoot, practice or a game. Thankfully, this tournament we find ourselves in this weekend, as the kids play four games in three rinks within 25 hours, is all a part of the preseason. Outcomes and statistics don't count, mind you, but the games help you prepare for the season ahead.

As it stands, today's 8 a.m. start was the earliest of the 2013-14 campaign. During the regular season, the earliest a puck drops is 10 a.m. Even better, we have to travel outside of the Hockey Bay area only once in nine game weekends. And the first game of that twinbill starts at 3:45 p.m. Some teams, I've learned, will have to make as many as four trips more than 30 miles away.

So, really, I shouldn't complain, should I? One morning out of 166 days, and it's the first one at that? I think I should deal with it. Honestly, it should be a piece of cake.

Bonus content: This is a special shout-out for the handful who told Colin to blog about the Jr. Bulls-Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning game yesterday. Nice game, boys, especially that new kid from Canada. He shows a patience with the puck that's far beyond his years.

And, as always, kiddos, thanks for reading as well as providing yet another opportunity to share with others what some of you are all about. Some things, I guess, will never change.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

American Hockey Gothic 2013


Just for the record, and because I like this photo, we're proud to announce that Goalie Dude, our arts and crafts project for the Hockey Laboratory of Hockey Bay, was completed earlier this week and has been put into service.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Hockey Life: Arts and crafts


Earlier this year, about the time the grass in the front yard needed mowing, I went out and bought a lawn mower. The one we'd brought down from New Hampshire seven years ago had conked out. This purchase of necessity, though, came with an added benefit -- a big cardboard box.

After assembling the lawn mower, my attention turned to the box. I didn't want to throw it away. It didn't take long, thankfully, for a fitting use to dawn on me. Why not, I reasoned, use it as an obstacle in front of the regulation-size net out back in our Hockey Laboratory of Hockey Bay.

For a couple of months, the box, its front covered in cheap duct tape as a form of protection against pucks and the elements, worked just fine. Goalie Box, as we called it, taught Colin, to some extent, to shoot around, rather than hit, an obstacle. Learning to pick corners, like all good scorers can do, was the primary purpose. And, to some degree, it fulfilled that obligation.

Anyone who lives in Florida, or has visited during the Sunshine State's brutally hot and wickedly humid summers, is familiar with the afternoon ritual of watching towering clouds blossom into full-blown thunderstorms and then release their fury with buckets and buckets of rain. Honestly, it's how we pass time down here in Hockey Bay. If we hear thunder, see lightning and reach for an umbrella, it's usually between 4 and 5 p.m.

Unfortunately, Goalie Box got caught in one too many storms. Its top and sides sagged. That cheap duct tape, living up to its reputation, bubbled and curled. It leaned to the east, the direction from which most storms arrive, rather than standing tall and resolute. Yes, it had seen far better days.

It was a sad day in the Hockey Laboratory's history when the Goalie Box had to be retired.

For the next few weeks, an open net yawned at Colin. Sure, he'd work on his shots, but I saw him return to shooting more at the middle of the net. His work of weeks spent aiming for the corners was quickly eroding. I knew something had to be done. Quickly, too, as the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning travel season approached us.

It didn't take long to come up with an idea. Rather than buy a plastic or canvas goalie screen -- one that doesn't seem like it would last more than a week -- the process of making one, using a more durable material, held far greater appeal. A plan, so to speak, was hatched.

A quick conversation with our next-door neighbor, who is systematically building a rental property empire, secured a scrap, but large enough for our purposes, quarter-inch sheet of commercial-grade plywood. Our neighbor, being as helpful as he could, even offered to let me borrow his jigsaw. A trip to a home improvement store, after picking up Colin from school one afternoon, soon followed. After that, it didn't take long to get started.

Since Wednesday, we've been working, in bits and pieces, on Goalie Dude. This wasn't going to be some hurried project, knocked out in a hurried fashion within the confines of a single afternoon. No, we would take our time and, once again, let hockey reinforce a bond between father and son. The purpose of our project, you see, was far from singular.

If we're lucky and the weather holds, we might complete our project this afternoon. Colin has to paint the details and designs on Goalie Dude's gear. After that, all that remains is adding some paddle targets, but, really, that can wait. Once the paint is dry, there will be two kids, including one at the ripe old age of 51, who will be eager to try it out.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Hockey Life: Dawn of a new season


For the past three years, mid to late August is a time of renewal. For one, it's back-to-school time, which means the end of summer vacation, staying up late and looking for the best milkshake here in Hockey Bay. As a hockey family, though, this time of the year means something else. It's time to ramp up for another hockey season.

Beginning this week, Colin's 2012-13 campaign begins with two practices: the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars on Monday and the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning on Tuesday. Next week, he'll add another TBJL practice on Thursday and, most likely, a power-skating session of Wednesday. It'll be that way, too, until next February or March.

After another summer of workouts -- a hockey camp, clinics, skating sessions and many hours out back in the Hockey Laboratory -- the months ahead are an the opportunity to see his efforts pay off. The first tournament of the season is less than two weeks away. His first TBJL games are in less than a month.

Really, he wishes he had games today. It's pretty easy to see that he has something to prove.

With the Jr. Lightning, it's to show that he can play and have fun. Given the unfortunate nonsense that came with the Brandon Jr. Bulls last season, he's looking forward to playing in an organization that values teamwork and camaraderie. Even better, he'll be a part of a new team that has plenty of room to grow.

Win or lose, having fun is our biggest goal this travel-hockey season. It's looking forward to practices. It's wanting to hang out with all of your teammates. It's waking up excited on game days. For him, that's what it's all about. I'll remember, too, that a relaxed state of mind can go a long, long way.

Beyond that, the opportunity with the P.A.L. Stars means he can continue working on his leadership skills. To me, development goes beyond skating and hockey abilities. It's leading by example. It's playing smart. And, like he experienced when he started playing, it's taking a younger player under his wing to show how the game is played.

Here we go.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Grades are in


Last week, Colin participated in his first Pro Ambitions hockey camp. Earlier today, we received Colin's evaluation from the camp, which is based on his performance during the week:

Skating: 4.2 out of 5 (38 out of 45 possible points)
Puck control: 3.6 (29/40)
Body contact: 4.3 (13/15)
Mental skills: 4.7 (28/30)
Individual and team game skills: 4.8 (19/20)

Overall: 4.3 out of 5 (127 out of 150 possible points)

While some might take these evaluations with a grain of salt, as I thought some scores were a tad generous, I like how they show the areas where he needs to improve.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Hockey Life: Seeking sponsors


For the first time in Colin's hockey journey, we're placing a greater emphasis on fundraising. In the past, his teams have sold candles or have done nothing at all to offset the fees associated with travel hockey. This year, though, it's different. His team, part of the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning organization, is offering opportunities for businesses and families to sponsor players.

The program, called Lightning Strikes!, will ultimately produce a yearbook that highlights the nine teams, with players from 8 to 18, playing under the Jr. Lightning umbrella. In Colin's case, it'll be Jr. Lightning Peewee A White squad. With every level of sponsorship, beginning at only $25, the contributor receives a mention or an advertisement within the yearbook.

Beyond having an advertisement in the yearbook, there are two main benefits of participating in the Lightning Strikes! program:

~ The players, all from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties here in the Tampa Bay area, will have 80 percent of all sponsorship money they collect applied to their $2,200 season fees, which cover ice time for practices and 18 Central Florida Hockey League games, as well as payments for referees, plus any extra entry fees for extra tournaments.

~ The sponsorships are viewed as tax-deductible donations, as the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity.

This fundraising program, which concludes Aug. 19, offers many sponsorship levels within the yearbook. The yearbook, which the organization is hoping to print 1,000 of this season, is a finished size of 8.5 inches by 11 inches, with full-color positions available:

~ $25 - Name of the sponsor on the "Fans of the Jr. Lightning" page within the yearbook
~ $50 - Business-card size ad in black and white inside the magazine
~ $125 - Quarter-page ad in black in white inside the magazine
~ $250 - Half-page ad in black and white inside the magazine
~ $500 - Full-page ad in black and white inside the magazine
~ $750 - Full-page ad in full color inside the magazine
~ $1,000 - Inside front or back cover full-page ad inside the magazine (Only two are available)
~ $1,500 - Back cover color full-page ad (Only one is available)

A hyperlink from the organization's website to the sponsor's website is included at the $250 sponsorship level and above. Sponsors at these levels also receive recognition on the Jr. Lightning website.

If you've read this far, I appreciate your time and consideration of sponsoring Colin this season as he continues his hockey journey. He'll be making some visits in the days ahead to businesses we've supported over the past few years to see whether they'll be willing to return the favor.

If you'd like to participate or have any questions, feel free to contact us at cms_hockey@yahoo.com.

We're also checking whether folks can contribute, without participating in the Lightning Strikes! program, in Colin's name through the Jr. Lightning's website.

Thanks, again, for your support.

Editor's note: This is the 300th post of this blog, so I don't feel the least little bit guilty about the purely promotional tone of this entry.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Hockey Life: Trip to the rink

Photo by CMS 37

Just because it's the middle of summer doesn't mean there's no way we can get in a little hockey. With the NHL draft held last Sunday, many NHL teams are staging their rookie and/or development camps. Down here in Hockey Bay, the Lightning are no different.

We stopped by on opening day yesterday, making the ride over to Brandon. To get the most bang for our buck, we even completed a few hockey errands there, getting Colin's skates sharpened, and buying a new pair of gloves and socks for his upcoming travel season.

But rather than tell you what we did, here are a few links that will show you what we did:

~ Taking an old-school approach with some photos;

~ getting a better handle on the panoramic feature on our camera; and

~ snagging a couple of pucks signed by the Lightning's top pick, Jonathan Drouin.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Hockey Life: Thanks, Vinny


Last Thursday, a certain sadness hung in the air over the Tampa Bay hockey community. The Lightning released its captain, Vinny Lecavalier, for purely business reasons. It had nothing to do with his career numbers, a timely fight and the hoisting of the Lightning's sole Stanley Cup. Character issues, thankfully, never entered the picture. And, from what I've heard and read, he was the consummate team guy.

No, it was all about a contract, one that team management, and most knowledgeable hockey fans, knew was simply too costly, namely the Law of Diminishing Returns. If that doesn't drive home that sports, and not just hockey, isn't a business, I'm not sure what would. In life, this is yet another lesson.

Down here in Hockey Bay, it's a common belief that Marty St. Louis is the heart and soul of the Tampa Bay Lightning. But, when it comes to the face of the franchise, as well as the Tampa Bay community, it's Vinny who stands the tallest. Sure, Steven Stamkos is waiting in the wings, but the kid still has a long way to go to even warrant inclusion in the same sentence.

Like Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones wrote Friday, Vinny's impact in the Tampa Bay area went far beyond the ice. He has raised millions for research battling cancer in children. Just down the road from us, at All Children's Hospital, it's his name on a center, as well as his time, energy and money, devoted to a cruel fact of life.

By no way, shape or means could I ever call myself a friend or even an acquaintance of Vinny. Granted, there may have been some facial recognition in seasons past for the many times he has signed items for us. Every time we met, though, I walked away with the feeling that Vinny was a genuine, humble and gracious person.

There's no surprise that Vinny has often been compared to Montreal's Jean Beliveau, a hockey great who personifies class, dignity and elegance.

At this time, all I can do is appreciate what Vinny has meant to the Tampa Bay area. It remains a job well done. We can only hope that he returns, once his playing days are over, to further his good works.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer break

It has been a long year and it's time for a break. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

2013 Top Autos: No. 1


Say what you will about the Florida Panthers and their horrendous 2013 NHL season, but they'll go down as a highlight of our hockey-hounding campaign. To me, this team sheet, made with a wallpaper image, is about the coolest thing we've ever gotten signed.

From a strong, eye-catching image to the gold signatures, this will be front and center in Colin's team sheet binder.

Colin racked up nearly two dozen signatures when the Panthers visited Tampa for their last regular-season game of the season.

So, there you have it, this team sheet is the top autographed item of our 2013 hockey-hounding campaign.

In case you missed the others, here is a rundown:

No. 2: Glenn "Chico" Resch
No. 3: Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson
No. 4: Bobby Clarke
No. 5: Jarome Iginla
No. 6: Buffalo Sabres team sheet

Thursday, June 13, 2013

2013 Top Autos: No. 2


When creating this list of the top autographs from the 2013 hockey-hounding campaign, the original idea was to show off the top five. In reviewing the season's efforts, though, there was one item -- this puck that was signed by former NHL goalie Glenn "Chico" Resch -- that stuck out.

Yes, it's part of the collection. But, we didn't get it. It was our buddy Scott who got it for us.

I had been carrying the puck most every time the New Jersey Devils, for whom Resch serves as a color analyst, visited Tampa, but never had the opportunity to get it signed. So, after missing once again in late March, Scott offered to see what he could do.

And, as you can see, he delivered.

To me, the puck deserves this ranking for two reasons -- it was finally added to the collection and, more importantly, it was a friend who got it for us.

Up next: No. 1

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

2013 Top Autos: No. 3


It's easy to imagine that Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson has signed more than a few of these 2012 NHL All Star Game pucks. The game was played in Ottawa. He served as the captain of Team Alfredsson. And he earned a standing ovation for a pretty nifty goal.

What makes this puck so special, though, was that it was our first autograph of the 2013 hockey-hounding campaign. Alfie signed it in late January when the Senators visited Tampa to play the Lightning.

Up next: No. 2

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Hockey Life: Best time of the year


When you live in Florida, summer may not be your favorite time of the year. It's hot, with daily highs in the 90s from May to November. It's muggy, making air conditioning a necessity, not a luxury. And afternoons, especially where we live, mean thunderstorms.

To me, though, summer means something else. It's a time for Colin's break from school. That means we get to spend more time together.

During the school year, our schedules leave little time to hang out, mostly my midweek days off and weekend mornings. So, when summer vacation rolls around, it's our time to catch up, hang out and create memories.

This summer, we hope, will be no different. Even though we aren't planning a major road trip, like we did last summer, we still have a pretty full agenda.

Our main goal this summer is to become beach bums. We've been down here seven years now and really haven't taken advantage of our coastal location. So, we're hoping to visit at least one beach a week, either doing a little fishing, flying some kites or looking for shells. And, yes, we'll use plenty of SPF 50 sunscreen.

Once again, baseball will be on our to-do list. And, like past summers, we'll focus more on minor-league baseball, trying to watch games at four Florida State League ballparks within an hour's drive. Tickets are much cheaper, as are the food and concessions. Watching kids still chasing their dreams helps reinforce a lesson, too.

Unlike summers past, we'll embark on a milkshake tour. Not so much for me, but for Colin. We've found our three favorite places for pizza, so it was time to move on and try something new. So far, he has tried Steak 'n Shake. Cold Stone Creamery and Sonic are next on the list. If you have any suggestions, please, don't hesitate to share.

Of course, and at his request, there will be some hockey in his future. Beyond his "hockey lab" out back, he'll also take part in skating sessions, clinics and a big-name camp. Really, did you expect anything else? It's all a part of, as it always is, spending quality time together.

That's why I like summer.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

2013 Top Autos: No. 4


To say that Bobby Clarke was a chippy player would be an understatement. No, he was more of a demon, buzzing around and letting opponents know that they could expect a few bumps, bruises and, on occasion, broken bones by game's end.

That point was driven home recently by watching a documentary on the 1972 Summit Series, in which Canda and the Soviet Union engaged each other for hockey supremacy. While Paul Henderson remains a Canadian legend for his series-clinching goal, Clarke's two-hander on Valeri Kharlamov is remembered just as well.

Lacking a specific puck that commemorates that series, this Team Canada puck, which Clarke signed in late January when the Philadelphia Flyers came to Tampa, serves as a capable substitute.

Up next: No. 3

Thursday, June 6, 2013

2013 Top Autos: No 5


With a lineup already deep with such names as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, it was a trade deadline coup for the Pittsburgh Penguins to snag a player of Jarome Iginla's talents. As luck would have it, too, the Penguins would be in Tampa shortly after Iginla joined the team in early April.

I chose to have Iginla sign this puck, the team's third logo and the one he wore in his Pittsburgh debut. Sure, it would have been just as cool to have him sign a regular Penguins or Calgary Flames puck, but I'll go with scarcity every time.

Up next: No. 4