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

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

2013 Top Autos: No. 6

When I look back on the abbreviated 2013 hockey-hounding campaign, I'm left with two impressions:  We didn't do all that bad, scoring 538 autographs in 14 trips (an updated accounting from earlier totals), and we added some quality items to the collection.

So, beginning today, we'll take a countdown-style look at the top six autographs:

Colin's team sheet from the Buffalo Sabres, in town March 26 to play the Lightning, sealed the deal, for me, on using NHL team wallpapers as autograph platforms. When you get the right image and a contrasting ink color, the finished product pops. That's exactly what we have here.

Looking ahead,these will serve as our go-to items for his team sheets.

Up next: No. 5

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Hockey Life: Making a commitment

With the click of a button and the resulting $500 commitment fee, Colin joined the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning White Peewee A squad last week. If only his return to the organization had been that easy. But, like I've said many times before, nothing good comes easy.

Though we've yet to receive a roster, we've been told, through multiple sources, that the team will lack any of the issues (and people) that led to his not making the team a year ago. That's exactly what we want to hear. It's our goal, just like it is any season, to have fun and watch Colin grow within the game. So, maybe this year, we'll get back on track.

That's not to say, though, there have been some major changes within the organization over the past year.

The Jr. Lightning, the oldest youth travel hockey program in the Tampa Bay area, will now skate out of one rink, in Oldsmar, rather than at two rinks, the other being in Clearwater. That move alone, we hear, led some families, including an entire team, to leave the group.

Not sure what happened there and, honestly, don't want to know. It only reinforces the politics involved within the youth hockey circles down here. As much as you try to avoid it, it's inevitable. And, yes, I know it's not just limited to hockey.

As a result of rejoining the Jr. Lightning, we passed on having Colin try out for another program yesterday. Though we went into the season expecting to have him attend tryouts for three teams, we felt it was best to sign on with a familiar program.

Only time will tell how this season plays out. Hopefully, Colin and his teammates do well. All we can say is we're looking forward to see what happens.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Team report: Tampa Bay Lightning

Over the course of the past NHL season, I figured we'd have plenty of time to devote a single hounding session to the Tampa Bay Lightning. As the season wore on, though, those opportunities -- from the abbreviated training camp to the two dozen home games -- slipped away.

That's why, as the shortened campaign was down to its final day here in Hockey Bay, we put in the time to pay homage to the hometown hockey players. And, even then, we hounded the Lightning only after finishing our second hounding adventure of the season for the Florida Panthers.

Honestly, that wasn't a slight to the Bolts. It was just how things worked out. Sure, we snagged a handful from Lightning players and coaches during the season. These, though, were random, catching them at signing sessions around the Tampa Bay area or near the rink on game days.

So, in our sole session devoted to the Lightning, we capped our hockey-hounding campaign by adding 20 autographs. Not the greatest, mind you, as far as numbers are concerned, but we're pretty pleased with the quality, though Steven Stamkos didn't stop to sign that late April day.

Who did stop? Well, Vinny Lecavalier for starters, who signed the pair of pucks shown above. Marty St. Louis, shown below at right with Teddy Purcell, also stopped to sign pucks for us.

Beyond former NHL star Steve Thomas and a couple of Bolts knocking out a long-awaited pair of double-signed cards, others signing pucks and cards were:

Chris Dingman, on the old-school Lightning puck, and Benoit Pouliot;

Purcell also signed a four-pack of cards; and 

Victor Hedman, Tom Pyatt and St. Louis signed cards.

Next up: Our top six autogaphs of the 2013 hockey-hounding campaign