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.