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.