Friday, January 31, 2014

Hockey snapshot No. 3

Granted, the photo is a little fuzzy, but it is one of my favorites pictures, if not the favorite photo, of Colin from any of his hockey games. Taken by The Missus, it came at the end of the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Pee Wee A White squad tournament-opening loss at the Hemby Cup tournament in the Greater Charlotte area.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hounding report: Los Angeles Kings

All along, from the first in-person hounding adventure more than nearly 20 years ago, the prospect of bad news, in terms of numbers, is part of the drill. That concept, or maybe it's an adage, was never more true in my second hounding trip of the season for the Los Angeles Kings.

For one, the team was staying at a hotel where I'd never hounded before. Second, the team, from what I heard, was lights out, in terms of signing, the day before. And, finally, and perhaps more importantly, with it being only the second team of the season I was still getting into the proper mindset.

Combined, those are my reasons for having the least productive day of hounding that I can remember in a long, long time on that mid November day. All told, and I'm not joking here, I walked away from a morning with four -- yes, just four -- autographs.

Talk about a rough start, eh?

Beyond pucks from assistant coaches Rob Blake, left, and Bill Ranford, the only other player who signed for me that day was Keaton Ellerby, who signed the two cards below:

Looking back, maybe that's why I waited so long to start posting about this season's hounding adventures. Really, after that start, there's only one direction to go, right? I'll take some comfort , though, from the quality of the pucks.

Time to ramp up

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've said in the past that it was time to start producing some posts about our hockey-hounding adventures this season. Well, with some newfound time, it's about time to fulfill that promise.

Gimme a few hours to scan some images and produce some hounding reports, and we'll get back to what we've been doing so far this season.

Of course, we'll continue with posts related to hockey, but unrelated to hounding, but you can expect to see some autographs in the very near future, maybe even this afternoon, beginning with the Los Angeles Kings.

As always, thanks for your patience. It'll be rewarded.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Worth a try

I seldom thinking about monetizing this blog, simply because this is such a niche hobby that I don't draw the numbers, in terms of visitors, that would truly command the time to solicit advertising. But when an opportunity comes along, as it did earlier today, I'm willing to give it a try.

Though details are far from worked out, I'll be doing what I can to help friends at 2nd Time Sports, down here in Palm Harbor, spread the word that they have plenty of sports equipment, including hockey gear, available.

Please, check out their website or, if you're in the Denver or Winchester, Va., area, stop by their stores.

From what I hear, hockey hounds might want to check out 2nd Time Sports. The Palm Harbor store was autographed memorabilia from such former NHL players as Stan Mikita, Nikolai Khabibulin and Norm Beaudin.

To find out more, call 727-784-0007. Tell 'em Puckhound at The Hockey Life sent you.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Hockey Life: Tournament souvenir

Coming down with a cold at least once during a youth hockey season is a given, much like weak rink coffee and that one old referee with a personal agenda. Why? Let me tell you. Any time you bring together a bunch of children, especially those who play hockey, as well as their parents and siblings, millions, if not billions, of nasty cold-causing germs are soon lurking about.

So, as we made our way north about 10 days ago, taking three days to reach the Charlotte, N.C., area, I could feel my first cold of the season coming on. A slight cough. Scratchy throat. Increasing thirst. The tell-tale drip of a runny nose. Singularly, no cause for concern. Combined, though? Houston, we have a problem.

The big difference this time, however, was that I'd go into the tournament with a cold, rather than taking one home as a souvenir. You know what? I didn't feel the least bit guilty, too.

Far too many times, especially when Colin first started playing organized hockey, I'd pick up the sniffles at some rink. Over time, I learned to avoid touching door handles, snack bar counters and pretty much any surface below my shoulders. If this tournament meant, even despite my best efforts to stem the passing of my germs, that someone else caught a cold, so be it.

Trust me, there was far more serious nonsense that went on in Charlotte than the potential for a random passing of a head cold, but you'll have to wait for the book -- a humorous fictional account that may (or may not) draw from facts -- that's kicking around in my mind.

Either way, I digress. This is about a cold, my cold to be exact, and the ability to survive the weekend and nearly 1,500 miles of driving. Please know, though, you don't have to feel sorry. In a way, save for one unforgettable 12-hour period, the weekend wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Of course, cold medicine was a constant companion. Pills filled with an orange-colored liquid for the day, and ones filled with a green-colored liquid at night. So were numerous glasses of orange juice, consumed during breakfast hours at the hotel. If memory serves, I even took an afternoon nap. The biggest help, though, was working the team's penalty box through the four games. If I ever had a fever, I certainly didn't feel it, much like some toes and fingers.

As the tournament wore on (let's just say the highlights weren't plentiful, though Colin did put together a three-game point streak, including a nice breakaway wrister from 20 feet out that beat the goalie on the low blocker side), I felt better, even to the point of enjoying our side trip into downtown Charlotte to watch an American Hockey League game.

As always, there's more to a tournament than your team's games.

By the road home, which touched four states in less than nine hours, the cold was becoming, or so I thought, an afterthought. I wasn't taking nearly as much cold medicine. Tall cups of steaming-hot McDonald's coffee replaced the orange juice. Sneezes, thankfully, were minimal.

Since then, however, the cold has lingered. Can't say that it got any worse, but still. Cold medicine, orange juice and chicken soup are, once again, near-constant companions. I've even taken some daytime naps.

Gee, maybe I did bring home a souvenir cold after all.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Hockey Life: Short shifts

Call me a hockey purist or a grumpy old man, but I have some issues with the "fans" who call Section 307 of the Tampa Bay Times Forum their home during Lightning games. They're loud. They're raucous. They're spirited. And, really, that's good to see.

But that's not the problem.

After sitting in that section last Thursday, in the Lightning's 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals, it'll be a long, long time before we buy tickets in that section for one simple reason: their emphasis, to me at least, is on turning the hockey game into a soccer match rather than celebrating the beauty of the game.

Most of the chants and antics (wearing bandannas over their faces) are borrowed heavily from soccer fans, especially ones we've heard on more than one occasion, (minus the f-bombs, thankfully) from the overzealous Ralph's Mob group at Tampa Bay Rowdies games.

Sorry, folks, but if I wanted to listen to that (and I don't), I'd go to Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg. No, when I go to a Lightning game, I'm there to watch the game, share lessons with Colin and enjoy myself. I don't want to listen to sophomoric sayings from people who couldn't tell the difference between icing and offsides.

To their credit, they would engage in traditional "Let's go Lightning!" chant as well as the "Tampa!" and "Bay!" cheers at proper times, but most of their other noise, and that's all it was, came at inopportune moments.

To me, being a hockey fan is more than making lots of noise. Cheering has to fit the game, make perfect sense and, honestly, be funny, pointed and, more importantly, original. In time, I'm sure this group will get that. Until then, though, bring some earplugs because all you'll hear is noise.

A far better example, if you will ...

During Thursday's Capitals-Lightning game, Washington's Alex Ovechkin started complaining to one of the referees about a non-call. Of course, the knowledgeable segment of the pro-Lightning crowd, as if almost on cue, cascaded a chorus of boos upon him.

Once the roar subsided, and well out of his earshot up in Section 307, I shouted this condolence: "Sorry, Ovi, but your last name isn't Crosby!"

Thankfully, it drew more than a few laughs.

An update

It's not that my plans to bring an international youth hockey tournament to the Tampa Bay area have fizzled, it's just that I haven't had much news to share. Over the holidays and between major hockey announcements, I maintained my effort. Late last week, it may have been rewarded.

Though short of getting a green light and confirmation of some much-needed assistance, I heard from the Event Development Institute, an extension of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, that the group would like to continue our conversation of making this dream become a reality.

In the days ahead, I'll be reaching out to an organization that appears to be the final piece of the puzzle.

Given the news that Hockey Bay will host the 2016 Frozen Four and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission is considering a bid to bring the IIHF World Juniors Hockey Championship to the region, it's easy to see this youth hockey tournament serving as a complementary event.

As always, stay tuned.

Here we go ... again

If doesn't seem all that long ago, but it has been about five years, when Colin first suited up, as a 7 year old, with the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars Squirts/Pee Wee squad. Now, more than 100 games later, he's the squad's captain and finds himself, based only on his age, nearing the end of this run.

This morning, he'll take part, as a 12 year old, in his first Bantam-Midget game for the Stars, playing against kids as old as 16. It's a step up, definitely, but one he has to take as he'll make the move, should he make a travel-team roster, later this fall.

Just like his first-ever games, when his jersey fell below his knees, he'll have plenty to learn. Hopefully, his game and confidence will grow each time he steps on the ice.

On a personal note

Between a visit last week from one of my favorite journalist friends, which included taking in a Tampa Bay Lightning game, to this week's road-trip tournament, when we'll see some relatives, it's very satisfying that we get to share our hockey journey with others.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Hockey Life: It's 'freezing' down here

Growing up in Machias, N.Y., especially during the winter, I lived for snow days during the school year. It wasn't so much about getting away from school, as we'd always have to make up those days over spring break or, later, in June. No, to me, snow days meant an opportunity to hit the ice.

Growing up in the sticks, like we did, hitting the ice didn't mean going to a rink. It meant going to a pond, lake or, in most cases, the Cemetery Swamp. The ice was seldom perfect, riddled with ridges and other imperfections, but we hardly complained. Ice was ice, and ice meant hockey.

Though those days have long since passed (we're talking the mid to late 1970s, mind you), I can't remember every really complaining too much about the cold. Sure, toes would get cold, as would fingers and noses. But it never seemed cold enough to complain or, even worse, call it quits.

Once we finished clearing the ice, using shovels or our homemade "Zamboni," a piece of plywood with a pair of 2-by-4s as poles, and started playing, we'd warm up rather quickly. Yes, I imagine it was cold, but we seldom, of ever, really felt it.

Fast forward, if you would, to the winter of 2005. We were living along the New Hampshire-Maine border, in a house on (of all ironies) Summer Street. Like most northern locales, we weren't immune from snowstorms and the occasional blizzard. My experience in growing up in the snow belt of western New York would serve me well.

There was one storm, and my memory is much more clear on this, where a foot of snow was accompanied by lower temperatures than normal. Bitter cold? Not really. Cold enough, though, to remember.

As the snow fell, I adopted the habit of shoveling the driveway about every two to three hours, letting the snow get no more than 2 to 3 inches deep. To me, it made sense to do it that way, rather than deal with the mass of snow once the storm ended. Besides, it was good exercise and, after 20 minutes or so, I'd warm right up.

By the third such shoveling excursion, I'd realized that multiple layers of clothing, even in the sub-freezing temperatures, weren't necessary. All I really needed were boots, a winter coat, mittens, hat and, get this, a long-sleeve T-shirt and shorts. Yes, shorts.I imagine the neighbors got a chuckle out of my wardrobe.

Just a few days ago, down here in Hockey Bay, St. Petersburg felt the need to cancel its First Friday event, a downtown street party held monthly, because of "cold weather." The temperature? Between 40 and 45 degrees?  I went for a walk that night. It was brisk, mind you, but nothing that long pants and a jacket couldn't handle.

Elsewhere that day? How about 9 degrees for a high in Buffalo? To the east, it was a downright balmy 12 degrees in Rochester, N.H. I won't even mention any wind-chill temperatures. Throughout the nation, as well as Canada, I'm sure the good people of St. Petersburg were viewed as winter wimps.

And, now, we're hearing a "polar vortex," whatever the heck that is, will even reach Florida on Monday, sending temperatures around Hockey Bay plummeting into record-low territory. I can only imagine what events will be closed now.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Finally ...

Now, that I'm able to log back into the blog, I'll get back in the habit of filing some posts.

It seems the 12-year-old knucklehead in the house, as opposed to this 52-year-old knucklehead, created a Google+ account, and didn't sign out of it, effectively blocking me from logging in from home. It was only today, too, that I remembered to ask him about it.

So, yes, there will be posts in the days and weeks ahead, including some hounding adventures that have started to collect dust.