Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lightning headlines

The Tampa Bay Lightning made two major moves recently, firing their head coach and trading away a popular player to bring in another unproven goalie. Each move, or so the story goes, was designed to right a sinking ship or solve a longstanding issue surrounding the team's goaltending woes.

Though I welcomed both to Tampa Bay and wished them the best of luck, I'll also bit my tongue when I had Jon Cooper, left, who replaced Guy Boucher as the Lightning's head coach, and Ben Bishop, acquired after the Lightning dealt away Cory Conacher, sign these pucks.

Honestly, I wasn't a fan of either move. To me, both show that Stevie Why? is still learning on the job, at the Lightning's expense, until the Detroit Red Wings come calling with their general manager position.

Up next: Missing Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Hockey Life: Happy birthday, bud

Dear Colin:

As much as you wanted to open your birthday presents yesterday, even trying to play the Birthday Eve card on us, you're going to have to wait until today. Though, at 12, you may be too young to realize it, but one of life's lessons is that good things come to those who wait.

Don't believe me? You should. You're living proof.

Rather than rush into parenthood, your Mama and I decided to wait a few years after getting married to start a family. At first, we joked (well, actually, it was more me who joked) about having six children. You know, just enough to field a starting five and goalie.

Life, as it usually does, had different plans. Those few years quickly became eight. Those six kids? Really, all we wanted was you.

It was on a sunny Saturday afternoon -- a relatively warm for a spring day in New England, if memory serves -- when you entered our world. On that day, when we cradled you for the very first time, our lives changed. The transformation was just beginning.

In those early days, over the first two years of your life, it was a continual learning process. For me. For Mama. And for you. Every day, we were all growing together. In a way, we still are.

Now, as you enter your last year as a 'tween, it's time to start on the next segment of your life. Rather than living for the day, you'll have to start casting an eye toward the future. Nothing concrete, mind you, but trying to get a better idea of who you want to become.

It should go without saying that we'll do whatever we can to support your dreams. We'll applaud the highs. We'll accept any lows. That's what parents do. And, honestly, bud, that's the best part of the job. Some day, we hope, you'll get to experience this.

It's no secret, too, that hockey could be a big part of your future. I knew you'd grow up playing hockey, even before you were born. As a father, I was going to provide you with the opportunities I never had. And, as long as you work hard, those opportunities will continue.

That's a fair deal, isn't it?

Being realistic, however, is another part of being a parent. There is no shame in saying that your education, rather than hockey, will very likely take you further in life than this game. That's why I push you just as hard -- maybe even moreso than I do in hockey -- to get good grades.

Doors of opportunity, you'll learn soon enough, don't always open to a rink.

On this day, though, it's time to celebrate who you've become. Not with presents. Not with cupcakes. Not with pizza and games. Though they're all fun, that's not the most important thing.

What is? Let me tell you. I want you to know just how proud I am that you're my son.

Happy birthday, Colin McGonnell Saar. And many, many happy returns.



Saturday, April 27, 2013

Team report: Ottawa Senators II

Throughout the course of the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL hounding campaign, the temptation to resist hounding a team twice hasn't been too hard to overcome. Case in point: the Ottawa Senators, who made their second trip to Hockey Bay earlier this month.

If memory serves, it was the Senators who kicked off our hounding campaign, back in January. In fact, it was Ottawa captain Daniel Alfreddsson who signed our first autograph of the season.

The Senators most recent trip, however, didn't provide as fruitful as the first. All told, I added only 13 autographs, including the puck shown above, signed by Sergei Gonchar, and another from Hall of Famer Denis Potvin, to the collection.

The primary objective that trip, Cory Conacher, who was recently traded to Ottawa by the Tampa Bay Lightning, was nowhere to be seen before the game. I had a few pucks, as well as another item, that will have to wait for next season.

Still, getting any autographs is better than getting no autographs.

Signing the cards, shown above, were, from left,
Craig Anderson, Guillaume Latendresse, Chris Phillips and Kyle Turris

Jared Cowen signed these four cards as well.

I also added a pair of pictures to the collection:

Colin Greening signing a picture of him with Colin; and

Putting another magazine tear sheet, this one
of Ottawa coach Paul MacLean, to good use.

Up next: Tampa Bay Lightning's big moves

Thursday, April 25, 2013

No confusion here

If you mention the name Denis Potvin to most hockey fans, they'll remember him as an integral part of the New York Islanders' Cup-winning dynasty. Or, if they're New York Rangers fans, they just might break out in an infamous chant that involves his last name.

When it comes to hounding, though, he's a must-have Hall of Famer worthy of adding to as many different pucks as you can get. That's why I had him sign this Ottawa Senators puck during the team's recent visit to Hockey Bay. These days, Potvin provides color commentary for Senators telecasts.

Besides, after adding him to Islanders, Panthers and Team Canada pucks, this was the only team left.

Up next: Senators team report II

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Thanks, Dirk

One of the perks of working at one of the better newspapers in the United States is interacting with top-shelf colleagues. Those contacts paid off when Colin, representing his Pinellas P.A.L. Stars team, was selected for the second time in as many seasons to open an NHL game.

On Feb. 1, Colin served as the Lightning Dream Kid before a game between the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. On hand that night was Dirk Shadd, a talented photographer who routinely photographs Lightning games.

We'd told Dirk that Colin would be skating and he willingly offered to help us out. Just the other day, he handed me a thumb drive with photos from that night. Of those, I put together a gallery at my Facebook page. There's not too many, mind you, just enough to capture the moment.

Another friend caught Colin's skate on video, too. Thanks again, Eliza.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Team report: Florida Panthers

This was a day when hockey cards dominated the hounding haul. Of the 35 autographs that members of the Florida Panthers added to the collection, all but one -- a Saint John Sea Dogs pucks signed by Jonathan Huberdeau -- were hockey cards. And, honestly, that's not a complaint.

Like I've always said, the Florida Panthers are among the most approachable teams to hound in the NHL. While some may say that's because they haven't enjoyed much success, I prefer to look at it as they understand their obligation to hounds and fans.

Signing the cards, shown above, were:

Top row: Brian Campbell, Scott Clemmensen and Erik Gudbrandson;
Middle row: Quinton Howden, Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Kopecky; and 
Bottom row: Jakob Markstrom, George Parros and Tyler Strachan.

All told, five Florida players signed four cards each during their visit to Hockey Bay earlier this month:

Marcel Goc,

Tomas Fleischmann

Dmitry Kulikov,

Filip Kuba; and 

Peter Mueller.

The Panthers trip capped a four-team (Buffalo, New Jersey and Tampa Bay as well), eight-day run that saw us add 50 

Up next: Hall of Famer Denis Potvin

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Hockey Life: Remembering Boston

Though Colin was born nearly 12 years ago in nearby Weymouth, Mass., we've always considered Boston as his hometown and one of the special places we've lived near. To us, it's not the Hub of the Universe, as some people like to call it. Instead, it's the Hub of Hockey, the home of his favorite NHL player, Boston's Patrice Bergeron, and his favorite NHL team, the Bruins.

That's why we all had profound sadness last Monday upon hearing of the terrorist attacks during the Boston Marathon. To think that people -- cowards, actually -- killed innocent people, including a child, for reasons we've yet to hear, is beyond comprehension. And, to do it in a city already scarred by the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, is maddening.

I was not surprised, though, by the outpouring of support for Boston shown across the nation. It's one of the things that makes me very proud to be an American. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. And payback, we learned later in the week, is a you-know-what, too.

After hearing what happened Monday, Colin wanted to show his support for his hometown, wearing his Boston Bruins Winter Classic jersey at Monday's practice with his Pinellas P.A.L. Stars squad. It was cool, too, seeing a teammate wearing a Bruins jersey.

Two days later, at an invite-only clinic (top photo) in Tampa with former NHL defenseman and Stanely Cup winner Stan Neckar, he wore his Bruins Bergeron third jersey.

Later today, as he wraps up his rec league's regular season with an eye on maintaining the league's No. 1 seed, Colin will follow Phoenix Coyotes player and Boston native Keith Yandle's lead and share messages of support (shown above) for Boston on his skates.

Just goes to show that you can take the boy out of Boston, but you can't take the Boston out of the boy. Yes, Colin is Boston Proud.

Scholarship winner

In my latest Bragging Daddy Alert moment, I'm pleased as punch to share that Colin was awarded a scholarship to attend a Summer Science Splash Camp at Eckerd College this summer. He was one of four students in Bay Point Middle's magnet school program to win the $250 award to spend six days and five nights studying electrons at the overnight camp at the college in St. Petersburg.

For his application, he had to write an essay about how he would benefit from attending the camp and how it would help him with school and later in life. His essay spoke of how studying electrons would help his design of a naval ship that would use waste-to-energy, solar and wind power as well as designing a skate blade that was lighter, stronger and would maximize the energy of each skater's stride.

Pretty heady stuff for an 11-year-old, if you ask me.

We know that his education will take him further in life than hockey, but we're doing all we can as parents to fuel each dream. What's rewarding, though, is that it was his own hard work that led to his first-ever scholarship. We hope, too, that it won't be his last.

And, finally ...

We received an email late last week, likely part of a mass marketing campaign, inviting Colin to travel to Georgia and try out for a team that would represent the Southeast at a Hockey Night in Boston tournament this summer in Haverhill, Mass.

Though we declined, as he is a year too young and, quite honestly, would be the longest of all long shots, we're using it to show him the potential opportunities that may present themselves if he continues to work hard and improve his game.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Put to good use

When I bought this Saint John Sea Dogs puck back in 2006, I thought it would serve as a nice keepsake for the team's first season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. But when I saw that alum Jonathan Huberdeau was playing for the Florida Panthers this season, I found a much better use for it.

Huberdeau, drafted third overall in 2011, signed it during the Panthers' trip to Hockey Bay earlier this month.

Up next: Panthers team report

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Team report: New Jersey Devils

When Colin had his spring break last month, we did what any good hockey hounds would do -- we spent not one, but two days pursuing our favorite pastime. Our first adventure involved the Buffalo Sabres. The second, just three days later, saw us hounding the New Jersey Devils.

One of the hallmarks of the day's events was the diversity of items we received. Between pucks, a 17-signature team sheet (shown above), another magazine tear sheet and cards, including these two from Adam Henrique, left, and Adam Larsson, we added another 42 autographs to the collection.

Also signing during our day of hounding were sure-fire Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur and Scott Stevens, already in hockey's hallowed hall in Toronto. Besides a puck, Brodeur was among those signing Colin's team sheet.

And thanks to our good friend Scott, a Colorado Rockies puck that we have had for some time was put to use by former Devils goalie Glenn "Chico" Resch.

Rounding out the pucks were:

David Clarkson, from left, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac.

All told, 19 cards were signed. Quite a few players signed four cards each for us:

Andy Greene,

Johan Hedberg,

Henrik Tallinder; and 

Anton Volchenkov.

 Here's another one of those magazine tearsheets that we used 
as a signing platform. Henrique signed this for Colin.

Up next: Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Two Hall of Famers

It's always a good day any time you can add a Hall of Famer to your autograph collection. What do you call it, though, when you add a pair to the collection? Great? Awesome? Spectacular? How about all three?

It doesn't matter what I call it. It happened recently when the New Jersey Devils traveled to Hockey Bay and we added Martin Brodeur, left, and Scott Stevens to the autographed pucks collection.

Yeah, I know. Brodeur isn't in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Yet. But, we all know that he will be in his first year of eligibility. And even if I got his road-trip "M-t. No. B. dot" autograph, it's still another Brodeur autograph.

For Stevens, however, it was a first. As in the first autographed puck, and likely first-ever autograph, from the rugged defenseman.

Up next: Devils team report

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Hockey Life: Back to playing

To Colin, it was the longest month ever. After having a collarbone broken in late February, he had been forced to the sidelines. At first, he missed the state tournament in early March. Then, he missed a few weeks of the Tampa Bay Metro League season.

The waiting, thankfully, has ended. Sure, he skated for a bit, about three weeks after the injury. He even took part in a Lightning Made Clinic. But, it wasn't until last Sunday, that Colin returned to the ice for a pair of games with his Pinellas P.A.L. Stars squad.

It was easy to tell, too, just how much he missed playing. He hustled on every shift, getting involved and returning to his old form of trying to be the biggest pest on the ice. He even scored a goal, digging away at a rebound, as the Stars ended the day 1-0-1.

To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive about his return. I wondered whether he'd shy away from contact or try not to be the first on the puck. Two shifts into the first game of the day, any worries I had evaporated.

I even caught myself smiling a time or two, just watching him play and skate, out there having fun. Considering all the nonsense with the Brandon Jr. Bulls program over the past eight months, the goal for this recreational season, and going back to his P.A.L. Stars roots, was for hockey to become fun again.

Having fun playing hockey is far more important than anything else.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Chico" and The Man

In a corner of our laundry room, nestled among a pile of boxes, are two small boxes that hold an assortment of pucks. One is devoted to the Tampa Bay Lightning, a collection of logos new and old as well as some for certain members of team management. The other, known as the working box, is rather eclectic, a full range of pucks, from prep school to the NHL.

That box, which can hold up to three dozen pucks at a time, is my go-to receptacle when I prepare for a hounding adventure. Mostly, it'll have two to three pucks for every team coming to Hockey Bay in the next month or so. The bottom layer, mostly holding pucks for defunct teams, hardly has any turnover.

This Colorado Rockies puck, signed by former NHL goalie Glenn "Chico" Resch, has been taking up space for a few years now. I bought it specifically for Resch, knowing that he spent his days proving color commentary for New Jersey Devils telecasts.

Lately, though, I had the misfortune of not having it any time I saw Resch or having it, but not seeing Resch. For two years, that's how it went.

When the Devils visited recently, I dug the puck out of the box. Maybe this time, I hoped, it would finally get put to use. Resch, you see, stays at a different hotel than the team. To get him, I've come to learn, takes more luck than skill. And, after a day of hounding, I felt this most recent adventure would end the same way -- the puck, still unsigned, would go back into the box.

As I get getting ready to head home for the day, Scott, one of my hounding buddies, offered to take it for the rest of the day. If he saw Resch, he'd get it signed. He knew what it felt like to carry an item many, many times before getting it signed. So, I took him up on the offer.

Later that night, when I was at work at the paper, I got a text from Scott. Resch, in fact, signed the puck after the game. To me, it doesn't matter that I didn't get the puck signed myself. What mattered most was that it was signed -- finally.

Thanks, Scott, for doing that.

Up next: Two Hall of Famers

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Catch as catch can

Any time we head over to Tampa for one of our hockey-hounding adventures, I make sure I carry a few Tampa Bay pucks in case we cross paths with Lightning players. Because we often find ourselves near the hotel where Lightning call-ups stay, it makes sense to be prepared.

The same holds true, too, for our Lightning card book. We never know when we'll be able to squeeze in a few minutes of hounding Lightning players after their game-day morning skate.

Those strategies paid off over the past few weeks as we added  handful of autographed items, including the pucks shown above signed by Radko Gudas (left) and Andrej Sustr, to our collection.

One quick trip to the Lightning players' parking lot yielded autographs from:

Matheiu Garon, from left, Victor Hedman, Anders Lindback and Mattias Ohlund.

Up next: Glenn "Chico" Resch

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mailbox surprise

When I saw a yellow padded envelope sticking out of our mailbox recently, I figured Colin had won some prize from an online contest he had entered. The envelope, though, wasn't addressed to him. Instead, it had my name on it.

For the life of me, I had no idea what it was or who it came from. The return address, rubber-stamped in the top-left corner, was unfamiliar. I can only imagine the puzzled look upon my face.

Upon opening it, though, I saw there was a few autographed hockey cards. Again, I didn't remember winning any eBay auctions lately. One look at the accompanying letter ended the mystery.

It seems I'd sent in some redemption cards a while back, so long ago that I'd forgotten about them. According to Upper Deck, the cards I was supposed to get were no longer available. In their place, the card company sent me these:

  • an autographed buyback card from Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille; and
  • a short-print, autographed rookie card for Toronto's Nikolai Kulemin.
It's hard to say whether I should be happy with these cards, as I can't remember what they replaced. Still, that Robitaille card is pretty cool.

Next up: Tampa Bay Lightning

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Hockey Life: Can tabs for Colin

When we started on this little hockey journey of ours a few years ago, we cut a deal with Colin. If he fulfilled certain obligations, we'd make sure he'd be able to play hockey at some level. In this age of entitled children, our goal was to have him understand that every reward requires effort.

Getting good grades is his most important obligation. So far, save for one semester since fourth grade, he has held up his end of the bargain, routinely making honor rolls and principal's lists. He knows that his education will take him further than anything else in life.

His second obligation has been to hustle, treating each and every shift during a game like it's his last. If we're going to work hard to make sure we can afford his hockey expenses, well, then, he better go as hard as he can. Though he has needed to be reminded on occasion about this aspect, we're hoping it's a nonfactor in the years ahead.

Finally, the last obligation we placed before him was that he had to have a community-service project. Even if he never makes it past youth travel and rec hockey leagues, we wanted to stress the importance of helping out in the community. It's good for a person's character and their soul.

In choosing his project, Colin went for one that helps children. He collects can tabs for Shriner's International, which recycles the tiny pieces of aluminum to raise money. In Colin's case, the money is put to use at the Shriner's Hospital in Tampa.

Over the years, thanks to his friends at the Tampa Bay Times and our extended hockey family, he has donated about 20 to 25 pounds (a conservative estimate) of can tabs. Just last week, Colin, representing the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars, dropped up another couple of bags full of tabs (shown above) to Cherie Girard, our friend at Shriner's International's headquarters in Tampa.

Going forward, though, Colin wants to ramp up his efforts. Borrowing an idea from one of his former hockey teammates, who collected dog food and toys for an animal shelter, Colin would like can tabs, rather than presents, for his birthday at the end of this month.

He's always willing to collect and share can tab donations from others. All you have to do is let us know, by sending an email to cms_hockey@yahoo.com. We can make arrangements to pick them up or give you our address, if you aren't in the Tampa Bay area.

Making his day, we hope, will help make some days for other kids.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Team report: Buffalo Sabres II

Given the lockout shortened NHL season, our hounding adventures are limited to Eastern Conference teams. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, we won't be able to hound every team that travels to Hockey Bay. Fortunately, though, there are a couple of teams that we'll be able to hound twice. The first team is my hometown Buffalo Sabres.

While the first trip this season, which netted 24 autographs, was a solo effort by yours truly, our most recent adventure for the Blue and Gold, which took place during Colin's spring break, was a tag-team effort. Our numbers reflect that, as we added 66 autographs -- the most so far this season -- to the collection.

Colin, continuing a recent trend, worked one of his computer wallpaper team sheets (shown above), racking up an impressive 28 autographs, adding every player and coach who made the trip.

Still, it was a solid number of cards that made our day. Besides Ryan Miller and Jason Pominville (since traded away), these Buffalo players also signed cards for us:

Top row: Jonas Enroth, Nathan Gerbe and Cody Hodgson;
Middle row: Tyler Myers, Steve Ott and Robyn Regehr; and
Bottom row: John Scott, Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek.

Four Sabres players also signed four cards each:

Christian Ehrhoff, top, and Tyler Ennis; and

Ville Leino, top, and Jordan Leopold.

Next up: Community project

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Heirarchy within hounding

When it comes to hounding certain NHL players, such as Buffalo's Ryan Miller, there's a specific order to the items I will ask a player to sign.

Pucks are the items of first choice. A player's jersey isn't far behind. A team item, if I'm working one, or a specific project, like our American-born goalies stick, come next. McFarlane bases, memorabilia cards or 8x10s are next. Heck, I'll even make my own card.

Then, and only then, will I ask one of the NHL's top players to sign some cards.

Even then, though, there's a method to my madness. Minor-league team sets, such as these two from Miller's days with the Rochester Americans, as well as any other sets or Heroes & Prospects offerings get top priority. As you can see, I've had these since the mid-2000s.

Once again, it shows the value of patience.

Up next: Sabres team report

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What a card

With Colin off from school on spring break last week, we got out for a couple of hounding adventures. Jason Pominville, captain of my hometown team, the Buffalo Sabres, provided one of the funnier moments, so far, of the 2013 hockey-hounding campaign.

Colin, who was wearing his signed Sabres' Nathan Gerbe jersey, approached Pominville to have him sign his team sheet. Pominville, sizing him up, sensed an opportunity for a joke.

"Gerbe?" he said, referring to his diminutive 5-foot-5 teammate. "You're not Nathan Gerbe. You're taller than him. A lot taller than him."

Colin, who stands at 4-foot-9, immediately got the joke.

Next up: Buffalo's Ryan Miller