Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Hockey Life: Spring break

No, no, no. I'm not taking off this Sunday. In a way, I wish I was. It has been a busy week, all capped by a road trip we made this morning to Kissimmee this morning for a benefit hockey tournament.

Today started around 4:30 a.m, when we all woke up, trudged around the house and made it to Largo, where we caught a ride with one of Colin's teammates on the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars squad. From there, around 5:30 a.m., we headed east, watching the sun rise. Haven't done that in a long, long time.

The kids are playing in a round-robin mini tournament, with four 15-minute games, to raise money for the family of a fallen police officer. So, not only does Colin get in some more ice time -- after scoring a goal Saturday in his first game since breaking an ankle six weeks ago -- but it's also for a good cause.

That's one of the many things I love about living the hockey life. This is the type of event where winning games and scoring goals isn't important. Helping out ... that's what's important.

I must say, though, that this was about the earliest I've ever gotten up for a game. We've had alarms go off at 5 a.m. a time or two, but that alarm came pretty darn quick today. Remember, too, my job keeps me up late at night. I seldom get to sleep much before 2:30 a.m.

So, if I seem a tad grumpier than normal or particularly whiny today, that'll be my story. And, yes, I'm sticking to it.

Off to the races

With two NHL teams visiting Hockey Bay last week, it's no surprise that we added another 65 autographs to the collection. We did real well with the Ottawa Senators and the New York Islanders. The biggest thrill of the week, however, didn't come from an NHL player.

Instead, it came from racing legend Mario Andretti, who we saw the the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. As you can see, Colin had his photo taken with him. I'm not sure, though, who was more psyched about it -- Colin or me.

What was funny, however, was after Mario signed Colin's ticket stub (yes, we were under prepared), Mario raised his fist, wanting to give Colin a fist bump. It took Colin a few seconds to recognize the offer and, thankfully, took full advantage of it.

"I can't freaking believe I just fist-bumped Mario Andretti," he told me.

It's memories like that that last a lifetime.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hounding report: Ottawa Senators II

With Colin off this week for spring break and two teams coming into Hockey Bay, it was time for some father-son hockey-hounding bonding, kicking off with the Ottawa Senators earlier this week. Of course, Colin scored the lion's share of our 32 autographs, but that was by design.

After all, the torch was passed a long time ago.

Sure, I still identify the players for him. That's only fair. He has enough other things to keep his active mind busy. In the meantime, I focus my efforts on pucks, like I always have. Cases in point, perhaps, are the three, shown above, signed by Ottawa's Ales Hemsky, who did two, and Bobby Ryan.

Beyond that, the rest of the day's haul were cards:

Top row: Jared Cowen, Erik Karlsson, Clarke MacArthur and Milan Michalek; and
Bottom row: Chris Neil, Chris Phillips, Kyle Turris and Mika Zibinejad.

Two Senators players signed four cards each:

Craig Anderson and

Bobby Ryan.

The haul also included these set cards signed by, shown below from left, Cody Ceci, Hemsky and Jason Spezza:

Hemsky and Spezza also added to the ongoing Threads project:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hounding report: Tampa Bay Lightning II

The Tampa Bay Lightning recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its 2004 Stanley Cup championship season, hosting a few days of events. During one such event, called Sunday with Stanley, members of the Cup-winning team gathered on a Sunday, making themselves available for photos and autographs.

So, of course, we took full advantage of the opportunity. 

What we didn't do, though, was stand in the very long line to get autographs or take a picture with the Cup. Instead, we waited for the players to mill about the plaza in front of  the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Well, really, it was just Colin, who had five members of the squad sign this puck commemorating the event: captain Dave Andreychuk, Jassen Cullimore, Ben Clymer, Brad Lukowich and Freddie Modin. I'm thinking, too, he may have set a personal record for number of autographs on a single puck.

The following Monday, when the Lightning played the Vancouver Canucks, the team gave away replica 2004 Stanley Cup Champions rings to the more than 19,000 people attending the game.

One of the fans, a nice gentleman who owns a waterfront condo managed by The Missus, thought Colin would like a ring. The man was right. Colin loved it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Hockey Life: Working his way back

In case you missed it, there was an update on last week's column that told of Colin having the cast removed from his fractured right ankle during Monday's visit. If everything went OK, we had considered having him skate that night, just to see how it felt. well, one sentence from the orthopaedist changed those plans.

"No hard sports activity for two weeks," he said.

After watching Colin walk, it was very easy to appreciate the doctor's wisdom. After having the muscles around his ankle and foot locked into place for a month, they were pretty stiff. Even with the cast removed, he walked -- for a few days -- like he was still wearing it.During the course of the week, though, after walking around school and taking some shots out back, the limp was a little less pronounced.

A few weeks ago, Colin was invited to take part, serving as a shooter,  in a goalie clinic run by his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning coaches. It would be a low-key return to the ice. No quick starts. No sudden stops. No, it would just be getting back on the ice.

So, less than a week after having the cast removed, Colin was back in his skates and on the ice. Sure, he looked rusty in the first few minutes. Tentative, too. That's understandable. By the end of the hourlong session, however, we could tell that his comfort level was growing.

Even better, he had very little pain and no swelling.

This week, we'll increase his activity level. We'll take some walks. He'll skate for an hour at least once, maybe twice this week. We have plans, too, to attend another goalie clinic on Saturday. Each activity will test the ankle. How it responds will determine the next step he'll take.

Also on Saturday, the Pinellas P.A.L. Stars squirt-peewee team that Colin captains plays its final game of the rec-league season. To his credit, he's hoping his ankle feels good enough to play. Maybe, it's only a shift or two. Maybe it's just a period. After all, it'll be close to the two weeks. Again, we'll see how he and his ankle feels.

From what I've seen over the past five weeks, Colin doesn't have to prove how tough he is to me. I'd rather see him get ready for May tryouts and regain trust in his ankle and restore his wind, rather than risking anything for a few 45-second shifts.

Bottom line, it's his call.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hounding report: New Jersey Devils

Considering that we didn't score autographs from Martin Brodeur or Jaromir Jagr, people might think our tag-team hounding adventure last Saturday for the New Jersey Devils wasn't a complete success. Well, to be honest, those people would be correct. It's disappointing when you don't add autographs from a pair of sure-fire Hall of Famers.

The day, however, was far from a total loss. No, paced by Colin's efforts with the card book, we added another 37 (good number, right?) autographs to the collection, including the trio of pucks, shown above, signed by Stephen Gionta (yes, the paint pen gushed), from left, Cory Schneider and Hall of Famer Scott Stevens.

As always, most of the autographs came on cards:

Top row: Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter, Ryane Clowe and Patrik Elias;
Bottom row: Gionta, Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson and Tuomo Ruuttu; and

Michael Ryder, Schneider and Travis Zajac.

Three New Jersey players also signed four cards each:

Anton Volchenkov

Marek Zidlicky 

and Danius Zubrus.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hounding report: Florida Panthers II

After a couple of low-number outings for the Boston Bruins and Phoenix Coyotes, the Florida Panthers' trip north to Tampa Bay last week was just what I needed. Not that my confidence was shaken, mind you, but it never hurts to have a solid day of hounding.

All told, I added another 21 autographs from a dozen players to the collection, getting more from a single team that we did from the Bruins and Coyotes combined.

Signing cards, shown above were:

Top row: Brian Campbell, Dan Ellis and Tomas Fleischmann;
Middle row: Tom Gilbert, Scott Gomez and Jonathan Huberdeau; and
Bottom row: Ed Jovanovski, Vincent Trocheck and Scott Upshall.

One of the highlights of the day, and likely the biggest reason for making the trip across Tampa Bay, was the recently acquired Roberto Luongo, who signed this McFarlane's SportsPick figurine commemorating Canada's gold medal in men's hockey at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver:

Two Panthers players also signed four cards each for me:

Brad Boyes

Dmitry Kulikov

Jovanovski also added to the Threads collection.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Hockey Life: One more day?

Exactly one month ago today, Colin's travel hockey season got shut down when he fractured a bone in his right ankle. Since then, he has learned how to use crutches, used the school's elevator and, as you can plainly see, added a ton of signatures to the cast.

Well, in about 24 hours from now, we'll learn whether the fracture has healed enough to remove the cast and allow him to avoid using a walking boot. Hopefully, this doesn't jinx anything, but I believe he will be good to go, so to speak, once we leave the orthopaedist's office. To me, all signs point that way.

He has spent the past two Saturday afternoons on the bench at his Pinellas P.A.L. Stars games, making his way from the stands back to the ice. He's taken quite a few shots out back, planting hard on his right foot. We've even taken a few walks. And, yesterday, while hounding the New Jersey Devils, he ran -- without pain -- to chase some of the players.

Should the cast come off, he'll skate for the first time in a month at the Stars' practice tomorrow night. Not in full gear and certainly not at top speed. Instead, it'll be to see how it feels and, more importantly, how it responds Tuesday to the activity. If all goes well, I'll have him skate Wednesday, this time a little harder. Another test, if he progresses, could come Friday night.

The first big test will be deciding whether to play in a game for the Stars on Saturday. I won't expect him to go as hard as he can, but we'll see what he does. If not then, the Stars close out the rec season on March 29.

Between then, he has been invited to help his two Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning coaches at their goalie clinic. No, he's not making the switch, but they need players to take shots on the kids crazy enough to man the pipes. Beyond the ice time -- a low-key way to work his way back -- these sessions will let him work on his shots.

Honestly, we're in no rush to get him back for the final two games of this rec season. If he can play, that's great. If he can't, there's little we can do. More than likely, especially as the doctor bills roll in, he'll skip the spring travel season.

Instead, we'll turn our attention to May, when tryouts, for more than the fall travel season, are expected to take place. By then, the ankle should be fully healed, he will have regained his wind and he believes he has something to prove. Until then, all we can do is wait.

Update, March 17: The cast came off and will stay off. Doctor advised to take it easy for a bit, so we're delaying a return to ice.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hounding report: Phoenix Coyotes

OK, let's be honest here. Going into Monday's hounding adventure for the Phoenix Coyotes, I figured it would be a pretty productive outing. Western Conference team. Weekday morning. Hound- and fan-friendly Shane Doan.

Man, was I ever wrong.

Aside from the Los Angeles Kings, where I scored only four autographs, the session, outside a downtown Tampa hotel before the team's morning skate, produced only nine autographs. Yes, nine autographs. As in single digits.

For one, I didn't have cards for quite a few players and passed, unlike before for other teams, on making some cheapskate cards. Some players, too, didn't stop to sign. And not a single one of us saw Doan leave the hotel.

Really, though, I shouldn't complain. I got four cards signed by Keith Yandle, shown above, as well as cards from signed by:

Martin Erat, from left, Mike Riberio, Mike Smith and Antoine Vermette.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hounding report: Boston Bruins II

Many times in the past, especially when an outing's rewards fail to meet effort, I'll promote the concept of quality over quantity. Honestly, it's pure spin, putting the best face forward on what is often a disappointing day.

The Boston Bruins' last Saturday to Hockey Bay could be classified like that. But, unlike other times, this visit was more about a quality moment, most likely the best one of the season, trumping the 11 autographs we scored in our tag-team effort.

If you stopped by the blog Sunday -- and I hope you did -- you likely read my latest Hockey Life column. If you haven't, well, you can do it now. It touches upon how Colin was able to get Boston's Patrice Bergeron, his best NHL buddy, to come off the team's bus to sign the cast on his broken right ankle.

Even if we hadn't scored another autograph, the day -- and that moment -- was truly top-shelf, a rocket-launcher snipe where Mama not only hides the cookies, but her "secret" stash of chocolate.

Like Colin said, and it was unsolicited, having Patrice do that was the "best autograph of my life."

Thankfully, we did score a few more autographs, including Jarome Iginla, shown above, on a McFarlane's SportsPick figurine commemorating Canada's gold medal in men's hockey at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Other Bruins signing that day were:

Gregory Campbell, from left, Zdeno Chara, Iginla and Daniel Paille.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Hockey Life: 'Best autograph of my life'

Any time a body part ends up in a cast, especially when you're a kid, part of the deal is getting your family and friends to sign your cast. It's a rite of passage.

For the past three weeks, Colin as been collecting autographs on the cast for his broken ankle. Kids from school have signed. So have his hockey teammates and friends. Mama signed it. I have, too.

On Saturday, though, Colin got the person he most wanted to sign his cast to do just that - his best NHL buddy, Boston's Patrice Bergeron. For a few minutes, though, we weren't sure it would happen.

The Bruins, in town to play the Tampa Bay Lightning, were leaving a downtown hotel for the team's morning skate when Patrice walked out. He didn't hear Colin amid the shouts, signed a few autographs for people on the other side of the hotel's entrance and hopped onto the team bus.

I told Colin to walk around to the side of the bus and look for Patrice. Once he found him, I told him to start waving at him. One of Patrice's teammates spotted Colin and alerted Patrice. Patrice looked at Colin, who then pointed to his cast, pointed to Patrice and moved his hand like he was signing something.

To his credit, Patrice nodded "yes," got up from his seat, walked down the bus' aisle and steps to the street, where he found Colin waiting. And, with one simple act, shown in the photo above, Colin got the autograph he wanted.

"This is the best autograph of my life," he said. "The best."

So, not only is that a season highlight, but it's the leading contender for autograph of the year.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Hounding report: Toronto Maple Leafs

So there, folks, this hounding report, from the Toronto Maple Leafs' visit to Tampa late last month, brings me current, so to speak, with the 2013-14 hockey-hounding campaign. Looking back, I took off the month of January, as the holidays, hockey tournaments and freelance work obligations kept me from my appointed rounds.

Now that the deck is much more clear, it's time to make the final push through to the end of regular season. I went out yesterday for my hometown Buffalo Sabres, so I still owe you one. Chances are, too, Colin will join me in hounding his hometown Boston Bruins tomorrow. Next week, with trips planned for the Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils, will be just as busy.

Enough about that, though. This post is about hounding the Leafs and how I added another 23 autographs, including the three pucks shown above, to the collection in one of the shortest outings of the campaign. After getting that many, and doubting that Phil Kessel (flat-out refusal) and James van Riemsdyk (showing concern for us by saying he was sick and didn't to pass it along) would change their minds and sign for us, I headed home after the squad headed out for its morning skate.

Signing pucks were, from left, Jonathan Bernier, Morgan Reilly and Paul Ranger.

Signing cards were:

Top row: Tyler Bozak, Carl Gunnarsson, Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin;
Bottom row: Joffrey Lupul, Jay McClement, Colton Orr and James Reimer; and

David Clarkson, from left, Tim Gleason (who had been recently acquired in a
trade from Carolina
) and the ever-increasingly affable Dion Phaneuf. (Really.)

Plus, Cody Franson signed these four.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hounding report: Carolina Hurricanes

It's not that it has never happened before, but when it does, it's worth mentioning. Many times this season, when my sidekick, Colin, joined me for hounding, he would go out and hand my fanny to me. Really, I don't have a problem with it. I'm more than happy to pass along the baton.

However, he does have a habit, and I wonder where he got it from, of celebrating his hounding victories over his old man. So, that's why I feel little guilt in playing up this simple fact -- I scored more autographs from the Carolina Hurricanes than he did just four days before Christmas.

All told, we snagged 45 autographs that day, with Colin scoring 19 on the team sheet, shown above, complete with signatures from Cam Ward, Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner and Jordan, but not Eric, Staal. Now, do the math.

So, let my bragging begin:

Two pucks from Anton Khudobin and Ward;

Nearly two-dozen cards, including:
Top row: Patrick Dwyer, Justin Faulk and Nathan Gerbe;
Bottom row: Tim Gleason, Jay Harrison and Justin Peters; 

Top row: Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner; and
Bottom row: Jordan Staal and Jiri Tlusty.

Mike Komisarek signed four cards ...

... as did Manny Malhotra, who, like Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, further
lends credibility to my theory of a bell curve in hockey hounding.

Early on, when Malhotra was a top prospect with the New York Rangers, he wouldn't get within 10 feet of a Sharpie and, honestly, wasn't very nice in shooting us down. Since then, Malhotra, who has faced considerable adversity in his career, is one of the nicest and most cordial players in the NHL. 

But, I digress. The day's haul also included these items:

Alexander Semin adding to the Threads collection; and

Brett Bellemore signing one of my cheapskates cards.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hounding report: Tourney time

Just after the Christmas holidays, Colin and his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Pee Wee A White teammates played in a tournament down in Estero. Around the same time, there was a college hockey tournament taking place at the same rink, which is also home to the Florida Everblades, the East Coast Hockey League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Given that Colin's game schedule meshed with the teams' practice schedules, he was able to score 123 autographs from the five teams -- all within a 24-hour window -- on team sheets, making it one of this hockey-hounding campaign's highlights:

Florida Everblades - 17 autographs

University of Cornell - 25 autographs

University of Maine - 25 autographs

Princeton University - 28 autographs

University of New Hampshire (Colin's favorite team) -- 28 autographs

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hounding report: Nashville Predators

Cards dominated the day when the Nashville Predators stopped in Tampa, as 31 out of the 34 autographs I scored came after a blue Sharpie found cardboard before the squad's morning skate that mid-December day. Quite a few, too, signed for the first time for me.

In fact, it was only this puck, signed by David Legwand, the sole remaining member of the Predators inaugural squad, that differentiated from the rest of the haul.

I should also note, too, that Nashville's stay at a downtown hotel, not any of the three closer to the Tampa Bay Times Forum, came during the Father's Trip. Players, including some of the so-called toughies, are usually much more accommodating when a parent is present.

But, really, as you'll soon see, the day was about getting cards signed, including those shown above:

Top row: Rich Clune*, Matt Cullen and Mike Fisher; and
Bottom row: Matt Hendricks, Roman Josi* and Craig Smith*.

Quite a few players signed four cards each, too:

Gabriel Bourque*;

Kevin Klein;

Nick Spaling*;  and

Colin Wilson.

Among the other items:

Shea Weber, adding his scribble to the Threads collection;

Carter Hutton* and Seth Jones*, taken fourth overall
at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, signing my cheapskate cards; and

Hutton, adding to the fledgling All Goalies collection. 
And, no, I'm not trying to get the entire set signed.

* = players who signed for the first time for us.