Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chapter 22: The Wheels On The Bus...Are Falling Off

As my surgeries mounted, my skills eroded.  There were one or two lumbar surgeries where I was back on the ice after only a week.  It got harder and harder. It was difficult bending over to tie my skates. On the ice it took longer and longer for my body to react.  It was frustrating to be frustrating to my teammates.   

Most of the guys didn't care.  Scotty Miller, the organizer, goalie and beer supplier for the Thursday night pick up group was happy to have me be there.  I was a body. I had my $20 bucks.  I was a good guy.   Others weren't so appreciative.  There was one Guy who would yell at me when I screwed up a play.  The thing was he was terrible.  He was worse than me even though he was healthy.   

There was another fellow who for some reason seemed to want to hurt me.  He would throw an elbow or a hip at me every so often.  Jerk!  And he had a buddy who used to show up.  He was a lush. He played drunk.  One night, literally a week after I'd had surgery he tried to hit me.  This was the only "fight" I'd ever had.  It wasn't a full on bout, but we got tied up in the corner near the boards.  We were tangled and he started throwing punches.  My reach was longer than his. I was able to keep him at a distance with my straight arm while I gave him a face wash.  I got the best of him. He left and has never come back.  This was over 6 or 7 years ago.  I heard he was embarrassed.   I may have converted another alcoholic in the process.  

There was another player, a guy named Mike.  Nice enough guy. He was my benchmark.  I figured as long as he played I could play because he was awful.  If I ever felt like I was worse than him I would hang them up.  Then he died.  Not on the ice, mind you. But he got sick and died.  I played for a while longer, until I took the puck to the face.  Then I started playing with the full cage.  I couldn't stand that.  I probably went out with my son a half a dozen more times after that.  Then I went on to only reffing.  

I have hockey dreams.  I had them during the time after college when I wasn't skating and I get them now.  The dreams almost always involve Uconn, not being able to find the rink and when I do I'm unable to get on the ice due to missing or broken equipment.  Analyze that!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Chapter 21: I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

I wrote this chapter a few days prior to the death of our friend and fellow hockey dad, Steve Parker.  If you haven't read the previous post please do so and help out if you can. Thanks. 

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

One of the best parts of my experience of traveling with my son is the people I've met and friends I've made along the way.  I've met a lot of great people along the way.  I mentioned a number of them previously.  

You remember my  college teammate, Glenn Adamo who went on to run broadcast operations for the NHL and now the NFL.  Here is a fantastic article that does a great job of highlighting his life and career.  

I visited Glenn a number of times while visiting New York City when he was with the NHL.  He was always able to get us tickets for games when we were off traveling for holiday tournaments.  I went to a NY Rangers game at Madison Square Garden to watch them play the Penguins.  I sat in the NHL box, next to the Pens owner.  After the game Glenn took me down to the locker room area.  He stepped into the refs locker room and grabbed me a puck out of the ice bucket to bring back for my kids.   I met Gary Thorne, the broadcaster.  I had no idea he was so short or that he wore khakis and beat up topsiders.  Things you can't see when he's on TV. 

Glenn's son Gregg was a few years ahead of Max.  I followed Gregg as he went off to Choate then to Vermont to play for my other buddy, Brad Holt's Green Mountain Glades junior team.  Gregg ended up attending Amherst in the NESCAC(New England Small College Athletic Conference...also known as "the Little Ivies").  He's now working in private equity at Wellspring Capital Management in New York. 

During my travels I ran into and reconnected with Brad Holt.  I mentioned earlier that Brad's father was the head coach at UNH for many years.  After I graduated from Uconn Brad transferred back to New Hampshire where he had a solid career.  He played some pro hockey in Europe then coached prep school and junior hockey.  He was on involved with ownership of the Green Mountain Glades.  About four years ago he took over as head coach for the University of New England in Maine and has helped them transition from an ACHA club team to to NCAA D3.  The first few years were rough but things are looking up as UNE has a brand new rink and has been successful at recruiting quality players to their beautiful campus.  Brad has always been a phone call away in helping us navigate the junior and college hockey maze.  I've had the great pleasure of returning the favor by being his eyes on the west coast. 

Both Glenn and Brad have been tremendous resources providing invaluable guidance not only to our family, but to numerous friends who are on the same path.  

Another true mensch I've had the genuine pleasure of knowing is Larry Rocha.   Larry is just one of those great people that you may have the privilege of knowing in this life. 

Max would head off to prep school in New Hampshire. Larry was the coach of the NH Monarchs, the AAA 18u midget team Max played for.  In New England the youth teams play a split season. They play the bulk of the season prior to the prep/high school season that begins in late November.  After the school season ends the youth team concludes their season if they've qualified to go on to the national playoffs.  Here is a clip of a highlight reel goal Max scored for the Monarchs in the playoffs.  Coast to coast.  This is a kid, who for most of his life was hesitant to hang on to the puck.  Not this time.

It turns out Larry played hockey at St. Anselms at the same time I was at Uconn.  He was a freshman during my junior year, so we played against each other during my last two years.  In addition to coaching the midget AAA Monarchs, Larry previously coached at the Berkshire school and is the USA Hockey Coach-In-Chief for New England.  He's a surfer and a black belt in karate.  I spent part of a week a few summers back with the Rochas at their home near the beach in Rye, NH.  Larry put us up while Max played in the Hockey Night in Boston tournament.  Larry has a couple of great kids.  The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree in this family.  His son Cheyne just finished up his college hockey career at Army by winning the Senior Class Award.  He's a great kid and an incredible leader.

Larry told me a story about his high school days in New Jersey.  He played for Brick High School.  They had just won the state title.  Larry was the captain.  His team had the opportunity to play in a charity game vs. the Philadelphia Flyers...I'm talking Broad Street Bullies.  What a thrill that had to be.  Larry told me how the puck was dropped at the opening face-off.  One of Larry's teammates chased the puck down in the corner, only to be crushed into the boards by none other than Dave Schultz.  The poor child was knocked out cold.  Today this would have been a lawsuit.  Not then though.  

Larry skated up to Schultz and said something like, "Mr. Schultz, take it easy OK, this is just a charity game".  To which Schultz replied, "F**k you kid, this is hockey."  I'm not sure what happened next, but Larry didn't bother Mr. Schultz after that.  

I made plenty of friends in my travels over the years.  This aspect of the game is one of the most rewarding and lasting benefits that I've enjoyed over the years.   Glenn, Brad and Larry stand out because they were always there to guide and advise my son along the way.  I'm grateful.   There are other friends who have been in the trenches with me all along the way.  We've all worked very hard to give our kids the best opportunity to develop and advance in their careers and in their lives.   They know who they are and I will have some more to say about them as we proceed.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Another Sad Day

Another sad day. 

Well, we knew this was coming, but our friend and fellow hockey dad, Steve Parker passed away yesterday.   

Steve is Jon Parker's dad.  Jon and Max played together on the Jaguars Peewee "miracle" team.  They also played one bantam season together before Jon headed off to play in LA and then on to major juniors in the Western Hockey League.  He's now in his 3rd season with the Rochester Amerks of the AHL.  

Steve was one of a kind.  He held nothing back, had an opinion about everything and sugar coated nothing.  His proudest achievement is his kids. Steve loved to play roller hockey and golf. 

Charlene and Jon, especially Charlene, have put their lives on hold to take care of their dad through his illness.   The hockey community is amazing in times of need. This is such a time for these two.  If you can, I ask you to please go to this link, 
 read the story and chip in what you can.  It will make a huge difference. 

With the exception of his children and medical staff, Steve elected to go through his illness alone.  I, and many of his friends, wish we could have been there for him during this difficult time.  Let's be there for him and his kids now. 

I'm sure many of Steve's friends have stories to tell.  Please share any of your Steve Parker stories in the comments section.  

The memorial service hasn't been finalized yet, but it will be held on August 24th or 25th. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chapter 20: Movin' On Up

All through this journey I felt something was missing for my kid.  My own experience of growing up in a hockey rich culture was rewarding.  People knew who I was.  I was a hockey player.  My name was in the papers after every game.  Sometimes it was  just in the box score but more often in the articles describing the previous games highlights. Occasionally there were feature articles.  It was a kick. 

Hockey in San Diego and Southern California was so much different.  While the skill and ability of the top kids coming out of SoCal was on par with anywhere, the status of hockey in the culture was quite absent.  We had recently lost our minor league Gulls team. Of course the hockey community is passionate, small and tight knit.  But outside of the rink and our circle of hockey friends it wasn't even a thing. 

What I wanted for my son was to play in games where the fans were more than just the families of the players. 
I wanted him to walk down the halls of his school and for people to see a hockey player.  I wanted him to read his name in the papers.  I'm pretty sure this is me living vicariously, but I won't judge. 

There were only two ways for this to happen. Either hockey would need to be a bigger deal here or he/we were going to need to go where it was. 
These next couple of years set the stage for him going there.  

Things got better in the meantime. It seemed like my kid  was stuck at 5 feet tall and 100lbs forever.   Finally he started to grow.  The pounds and inches would sliwly show themselves.  My little boy was finally growing up enough to be called "a midget".  To make it worse he had to spend two years as a midget minor, the ages of  16 and 17.  He wasn't even a full grown midget.  I remind you of my co-worker who upon hearing "midget hockey" was surprised that this even existed and he had no idea my son was a little person.  

Roller hockey was a huge part of his development.  He gained puck skills and confidence,  mostly as a member of his high school team.  There were also the tournaments, usually in the spring and summer.  His reluctance to hold on the puck abated.   He was becoming a more balanced player. He was named as an assistant captain and earned recognition as MVP during the season of his junior year.  The captain that season was NHLer-to-be Chad Ruhwedel. 

The increase in his skills carried over to the ice nicely.  Joe Noris was right. We didn't have to move.  Roller hockey was a great complement to ice hockey. 

About this time my previous sins as a child abuser were so forgotten that I earned my way back to the coaching ranks. 

Head coach Bruce Miller and I headed up to Reno to attend the USA Hockey level 4 coaching clinic put on by Ron White. There we got to hear from Mark Ostapina, head coach of the Milwaukee School of Engineering.  He shared his infinite wisdom and told us all about himself.  I would go on to hear about him from him for the next five years at just about every showcase I found myself attending.  Very nice guy and I'm sure he can coach. But the man could use some new material. 

At that same coaches clinic we heard from another speaker.  This time it was goalie coach, Ed Walsh.  Ed was a funny, friendly and slightly rotund guru of goalkeepers.  He knew his stuff.  I mention Ed because he's a bit of a legend in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In addition to running his own goalie school from the basement of his home he's the goalie instructor for Umass Lowell.  My son would end up meeting him and having the opportunity to go to his home and shoot on goalies at his basement during his junior hockey years in NH. 

Earlier I mentioned one more run in with a ref.   Here it is.  It was our second year of midget minor hockey. The Gulls were playing our SoCal rival, the West Valley Wolves in Las Vegas at the Silver Stick regional tournament.  I was coming off of another back surgery.  I recall that I had taken a pain killer and my ability to communicate was slightly askew. 

We were up by a goal. It was around the midpoint in the game. We recognized that the referee was the head ref in the semi-pro Las Vegas Wranglers(ECHL) game we'd watched the night before at the Orleans Hotel.  They have a profession arena there. 

The guy had a bit of an ego.  He skated around and appeared to want us to know he was doing us a favor by just being there. 

We were breaking the puck out of our zone.  Our defenseman passed the puck ahead.  One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand....bam!   The forechecker finished his check.   It seemed to be quite a late hit.  Our defenseman was caught off guard and a little shaken but not hurt. 

"How long after he passes the puck can you hit a guy before its a penalty?", I proclaimed. My voice may have been slightly raised. I wasn't yelling at the ref.  He did catch it though and immediately blew his whistle pointed at me and gave us a bench minor. WTF?  Are you kidding me?   

I should mention that Vegas has a notorious reputation for their refs being homers.  Anyway, we had to kill the penalty, ended up getting another penalty and blew our lead.  We went on to lose and I felt awful.  I've tried to avoid pain killers ever since.  They mess with my head and ability to think and function.  Lesson learned. A painful lesson. Again. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Chapter 19: We Interrupt This Broadcast

We interrupt this broadcast.  I haven't had the drive to write this past week.  First there was the passing of Whitey Bensen which really affected me on a deep level.  Then my kid's hockey career ran into a roadblock.  For a few painful days I thought the jig was up. I thought my run as a hockey dad had ended..i.e, all roads lead to the beer leagues.  I won't go into detail at this point so as to build suspense and save it for the appropriate historical time in my account.  Suffice it to say that it looks like things got worked out and the journey and dream continues.  

Every hockey career must end.  Mine ended unexpectedly one late night soon after I graduated from college.  I've always dreaded the end of my son's career.  While I never had realistic hopes that he would go "pro", as he developed I began see him potentially having somewhat of a minor pro or European pro stint, ya never know.   That is unless he gets on track with a meaningful career in the meantime, which is the ultimate goal.  At any rate, I'll fill you in on this phase at a better time.

My so called hockey career, in the meantime was heading toward its ultimate demise. My second career, after coming back from my career ending back surgery peaked in the late 90s. It was pretty much all downhill from there. At the pinnacle, I was playing in two leagues, skating in multiple pick up sessions per week and I exercised like a maniac.   I lived three miles up the hill from my office at Merrill Lynch in downtown San Diego.  I would carpool or roller blade down the hill in the morning and then roller blade or run back up the hill to go home after work.  On non-game days I would meet a client in Balboa park after the stock market closed (1pm my time) and go for a five mile run. 

I had my next surgery in 2001 and there would be another four by the time I finally got the message and hung them up. 

I loved playing but it was frustrating for me, not to mention for my team mates. As my skills deteriorated my son's soared.  He played pick up hockey with me on Thursday nights.  Before long everyone wanted him on their team and not me.  I was so proud of him but heartbroken that I could no longer go. 

I played in lower level leagues. I reffed more.   It got harder and harder to put on my skates.  It got more and more frustrating to not be able to move the way I thought I should be able to move.  I watched my son play with my friends.  More and more of my friends were slowing down too.  Many of them continue to play and embarrass themselves.  I would if only I could!

There was a night in the early summer of 2006 where I was playing in an intermediate level senior league game.  It ended up being the last official game I would ever play.  It was pretty late on a Wednesday night.  I was playing defense.  I was tied up in front of the net with an opposing forward.  The defenseman took a shot from the blue line.  I saw the puck coming.  It was up on end, not flat.  Oh crap!

My business partner and I had taken a recruiting trip to New York a few months earlier.  By recruiting, I mean in the financial servcies business, nothing to to with hockey recruiting.  We had been sought after by competitors for years.  We were ready to make a move.  It's fairly common practice in my industry for firms to offer enormous incentives to successful advisors, or teams in my case, to jump ship and come work for them.  We had accepted an offer and were a few weeks away from making the  move when I saw this puck coming straight for my face.

Then, Bam!  Right upside the head.  I wore a helmet and half shield.  The puck was on edge when it slammed into the side of my bucket where the shield covers the ear piece.  It must have been slightly more than half way down the edge of the shield because it kept going underneath the plastic and made contact with my face.

It felt like someone took a full swing with a baseball bat and smashed me in the face. I felt the impact and everything went immediately black.  I fell like a sack of grain to the ice.  I couldn't see anything.  I didn't feel anything.  Not just that I didn't feel pain.  I felt nothing.  My face was numb.  I couldn't feel my teeth.   My initial thought was that this is what it's like to die.  My second thought was, there goes my bonus from the deal I'd just made to change firms.  My next fear was that I'd lost all my teeth.

Within seconds an EMT who happened to be at the rink was on the ice tending to me.  I was regaining my awareness and collecting my thoughts, self-assessing the damage.  I was bleeding.  I tasted the warm blood in my mouth. The impact from the puck's initial contact with my helmet cut my eyebrow area.  The continued trajectory of the puck as it went under the shield crushed my cheek bone and eye socket.   I lost no teeth.  I couldn't feel them because the puck had damaged a nerve in my face that provides signals to the teeth and gums.  This is the same nerve that is blocked when your dentist gives you Novocaine.   To this day, seven years later I still notice a loss of feeling in my cheek, lip and gums on the upper left side.

A friend was working the time clock.  She called my wife and had the conversation.  You know, the one that starts with:
"Steve is OK But......."   I forget how I  got to the emergency room but Kyle met me there.  Fortunately, and I suggest this to everyone, we had a good friend who is an ER doctor.  We called him and he cleared the way for me to get tended to right away.  Otherwise I would have sat in the emergency room for hours.  I can't tell you how many times we've benefited from this connection.  Highly recommended.

Kyle took the following picture and texted it to my business partner with the caption, "I'm Not Dead!".

It turns out I suffered a broken cheek bone and fractures in the orbital socket.  And this was just from a shot in a mid-level men's league game.  When I watch some of these plays in the NHL where Ian LaPerriere or some other player takes a slap shot to the face I cringe.  Given my experience, I'm surprised more people aren't killed from blocking shots with their face.  God Bless 'em.  I'll never understand why anyone would play without at least a half shield.

I went on to play pick up hockey for another year or so.  I wore a full cage.  I hated it.  I never got used to it.  But I never played another official hockey game.  I reffed for a few more years, but as the surgeries and back pain piled up, I eventually stopped reffing as well.  I continue to stay certified in the hope that one of these days I am able to get back to it, but it looks less and less likely.

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss the thrill of skating, playing the game I love so much.  The most joy I get now is from watching my son play.  Thank goodness I still have that.  Of course his competitive career will end as well.  Grandkids!!!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sad Day

I'm so sad to say I just got word that my good friend and hockey mentor, Whitie Bensen passed away today.  I wrote of Whitie's help and what he meant to me as a young beginning hockey player growing up in West Haven, Connecticut.  As I mentioned earlier, Whitie sold hockey equipment out of the trunk of his car in the mid and late 60's before opening his store in the center of West Haven.

I can't imagine there is a hockey player in Connecticut that didn't have some contact with Whitie.  He supplied all of the kids, schools and many teams in the area with their equipment.  He coached.  He encouraged.  He cheered.  He was an icon.  He will be missed.

When I was in high school and had a chance to go to Europe to go to hockey school, Whitie loaned me the money and let me work it off by raking leaves in his yard.

After leaving Connecticut for California in the late 70s I had little contact with Whitie, or even with hockey.  When I started playing again in the early 90s the first thing I did was ordered sticks from him by the 1/2 dozen.  He would ship me the Kohos or Montreal fiberglass sticks that I loved so much.  I headed back to West Haven in late 1991 and played in the high school alumni game.  Whitie and his son Kyle, were the first stop I made.

As I continued to play senior league hockey and my son worked his way up the youth ranks we stopped by his store every time were were in town to buy something and to say hello.

Whitie was a wonderful, gentle and kind man.  He never had a lot to say.   I wouldn't necessarily say he was a warm man.  He was friendly and always had a few minutes to say hello and catch up.  He was always behind the counter sharpening skates.  My interactions with him over the past twenty years were short and sweet.

He was a busy man and didn't have a lot to say or a lot of time to say it.  I remember leaving there and talking to my wife wondering why he didn't have much to say.  I had to wonder if he was happy to see me sometimes because he was so "matter of fact".  I had forgotten something and turned around to go back into the store.  Whitie didn't see me.  He was behind the counter talking to one of his employees, a young hockey player.  He was bragging to him about me and my team and how we were some of the best hockey players to ever come out of West Haven.  I was touched.  He wouldn't let me know, but he knew and I loved him for it.

We will all miss Whitie Bensen.  Rest in peace my friend.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chapter 18: Burning Down the House

Things were going along. Life was good. We sold our house for a ridiculous price a few years before the market peaked. We moved to the Scripps Ranch area of San Diego, much closer to the rink in Escondido and right down the road  from Mira Mesa. A lot of hockey families lived in this area. My son was doing his thing with hockey, roller hockey and baseball.  My daughter was immersed almost full time with her friends playing travel soccer and softball. We were almost never home on the weekends. 

By now it was a becoming a division of labor. Kyle drove Bret to her tournaments. I got Max where he needed to go. Bruce Miller, Max's coach recognized my background and expertise and had no knowledge of my having previously inflicted brain damage on that poor squirt a few years back so he started letting me contribute to the team. First in terms of video, stats, managing the schedule and ultimately he brought me on as his assistant coach.  I was little more than a glorified puck shagger during practices. Bruce ran the show.  I was on the bench and I had a lot of ideas and insights that Bruce seemed happy to incorporate.  For example, I once said "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger".  Bruce liked that and repeated it in his pre-game talk. I was full of wisdom. (Sarcasm intended)

Tryouts ceased being the stressful head trip they had been in the peewee days. Max had become an integral part of the team and no longer had to sweat out dealing with politics nor a coach's ego. 

A core of the 91 birth year kids opted to go up to L.A. To play AAA hockey with the Kings or L.A. Hockey club. Before they left we played the best AAA Bantam team in L.A. And beat them 1-0.   Then a handful of our top players decided they'd rather spend five to six hours a night driving up and back on school nights three days a week.  So we ended up playing Bantam AA without them. 

The Gulls were the beneficiary of a merger though. MF Schurman ran a youth program in addition to his Surf junior club.  The Surf youth players were absorbed into our team.  We got three or four of their best players plus their goalie. 

We also inherited their parents.  A nice group of folks.  They fit right in. They loved hockey and they tolerated their kids. So it worked out nicely. 

They all knew me since I was with their kids every practice. I got to know them and liked them all.   Because Kyle was busy taking Bret to her games each weekend these new parents had never met my wife. 

That was, until our Christmas Tournament in Toronto.  Kyle and Bret joined Max and me. We made a fun winter vacation of it.  One night all of the parents were out for dinner at a steak house restaurant.  Kyle was sitting to my left.  One of the new families' parents sat to my right and two couples were across from us.  This was their first time actually meeting Kyle. 

I noticed this quizzical look on their faces as I introduced my wife.  They looked at each other and then broke into laughter.  I'd spent the past four months with these people.  When they got the email list of players info they saw Max's dad was Steve and his Mom's name was listed as Kyle. They then assumed that Max had two dads. They explained this to their kids and for the entire time just figured I was gay.  Not that there is anything wrong with that!  I'm glad we got that straightened out.  Ever since then when I mention Kyle's name I add "She's a girl". 

By the way,  soon after we moved to Scripps Ranch we woke up early one Saturday morning to an ominous sky full of thick dark smoke.  We were up early because Bret had a softball game that morning.  We turned on the news to discover we were in the midst of a raging fire.  This became known as the Cedar Fire , the worst fire in California history.

Scripps Ranch was engulfed in smoke and fire. Hundreds of homes were destroyed. Many homes burned due to overgrown brush in the canyons and because they had flammable wooden shake roofs.  We had quite a few friends who lost their homes.  People were evacuated and didn't know for days if they still had a home. 

Fortunately we lived on top of a hill in a newer section of the community. While the flames got fairly close we were never in much danger.   Bret's game was obviously cancelled.  But Max had a game up on Long Beach.  We went.  What self respecting hockey dad wouldn't?

Before leaving we pulled our valuables together and loaded up our SUV.  Kyle stayed behind and made sure the house didn't burn down. She was prepared to evacuate if need be. 

Max, Bret and I made the hour and a half drive north for his game.  All along the highway there were fires breaking out on the hillsides. Homes were burning.  It looked like a war zone.  For days afterword  it looked like the world had come to an end. Unfortunately it had, for some. Sixteen people died. Smoke and soot hung in the air for well over a week.  People wore masks all over the city.  Eeriest thing I've ever seen. 

The team did quite well that year. There was one team we just couldn't beat. We came close every time.   Every game ended in a one goal loss. This was the L.A. Selects Bantam AA team.  Emerson Etem,  Shane Sooth, Matt Nieto.  There were a few others who escape me.

We lost to them by a score of 3-2 in the opening game of the CAHA (California Amateur Hockey Association) state playoffs.  Our second game of the tournament was against another team that we struggled with, the Yorba Linda Blackhawks.  We were slightly better but they had a strong goalie. 

We were trailing 2-1 near the end of the second period when one of their players dumped the puck in from the other side of the red line.  He turned away from the puck to head for the bench. Had his dump in shot not been on net it would have been icing.  

But it was on net.  Our goalie went down to his knees in a butterfly position and swiped at the puck with his stick intending to steer it harmlessly to the corner.  Instead he missed it and it squirted right through his legs and into the goal.   3-1.  A heart breaker. 

This goal would have crushed most.  In one of the most remarkable pieces of coaching I've ever seen, Bruce challenged the goalie. "I need you!  Can I count on you?"  Many coaches would have jumped all over the poor kid or yanked him. But Bruce gave him the chance to step up.   Then he did the same with the rest of the team. 

The boys came out on fire to start the third period. It happened to be Max's birthday. He scored a great goal right off the bat to close the gap to 3-2 with nearly the entire third period to go. 

We out shot the Blackhawks something like 20-3. Their goalie stood on his head. 

We called timeout with about a minute to go in the game.  Already with one loss we knew we would be out of the tournament if we didn't win this game.  Bruce pulled the goalie for the final minute of play.  There was an offsides call against us with  :30 seconds left.  

We won the face off just outside of the Blackhawks zone, gained control and worked to puck down around the boards, behind their goal and into the near right corner.   One of our players was able to pass it out to the high slot area above the face off circles.  Mikey "Moose" Spunt stood alone as the pass came.  He wound up and was able get off a blast, a one-timer that made its way through a mass of bodies and past the goalie for the tying goal with  :15 seconds on the clock. 

Our bench erupted with joy.  The players on the ice swarmed Mikey.  The Blackhawks were dejected as they skated back to their bench. We tied it up.   We were alive. We had the momentum.  Looks like this one was going to overtime. 

The referee was a girl.  She may have been the same one from the game where I was ejected a few years earlier. She was in perfect position on the goal line when the puck went in.  She signaled "goal" as she pointing to the net.  As the boys celebrated, she made her way to the scorers table to report the goal. 

Uh oh. The older, male linesmen retrieved the puck from inside the net.  What I'm about to tell you should never have happened. It was wrong. There was no excuse. 

The linesman picks up the puck and places the goal back on its moorings. It had come off as the goalie tried to stop the shot.  As often happens he kicked the post while attempting the save, dislodging it.  We've all seen it a hundred times. 

The linesman then makes a beeline to catch up to the ref before she can report the goal.  A discussion ensues which ends with her waving her arms indicating no goal. Say what?

Bruce went nuts.  Bruce is the most courteous, respectful coach I've ever seen when it comes to dealing with officials.  He refers to them as sir, or ma'am in this case.  He never loses his cool.  But he did this time.  He asked for an explanation and was told that the linesman said the net was off.  That would be the proper call had it occurred prior to, or even at the time the puck went in.  But not now. Not after the goal had been awarded. Not when a linesman reports the net is off after the head ref already indicated it was a good goal. 

This was disturbing.  The game continued.  The final  :15 seconds were played. The game was over.  Bruce was making his way through the handshake line.   He was shaking the hand of the linesman and asked him if the net was off why didn't he whistle the play dead at the time.  He said to Bruce that he didn't notice it until he was retrieving the puck. 

Again, Bruce who always shows respect to officials goes nuts once again. And justifiably so.  I think he could have gotten away with justifiable homicide in that moment.  But nope, that was it. The game was over. End of story.  We were done. 

After the game we headed to a restaurant to commiserate. We also celebrated Max's birthday. But there was no joy in Mudville that night. 

Before the food was delivered we got a phone call.  It was the CAHA president.  He and a number of board members and other league officials were at the game.  They saw what happened and they suggested we file a protest.  They asked for a written affidavit and any video tape we could provide. 

Bruce and I left the party.  We hopped on the computer and wrote out the report. We got video tape from another parent. We met with the officials and submitted it.  They said they would let us know. 

The boys were unaware of the protest. We didn't want to get their hopes up.  In hindsight, we probably should have.  They played the next game but they were flat, dejected and had lost heart.  We lost. I forget the score or who we played. 

We played one of the best teams in the state other than L.A. Hockey Club in our final game. We crushed them 5-0. 

We took the long bus ride back from San Jose to San Diego.  This was the same bus trip where we found out Paul, our billet kid, was partying with the girls and ripping us off. 

A few days later I asked Laura, our club president whatever became of our protest.   She checked into it and got back to me. The CAHA board had witnessed the play and considered our protest. They decided that had we won our next game, the one where we came out flat, they would have overturned the call. They would have allowed our tying goal to stand and we would have played overtime hockey until one team scored. 

This would have been good to know prior to that next game.  It turns out the linesman was a senior official and pretty much bullied the referee into disallowing the goal.  

That was a hard one to swallow. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Chapter 17: Show(case) Me the Money!

Here is how a year goes  in the life of a youth hockey family.  The season goes from Labor Day until late February or March, later if you get to the regional or national playoffs.  Spring hockey goes from March until tryouts for the next season which usually happen in May or June.  In the meanwhile you attend clinics, play in a summer league, take private lessons from "the coach", go off to summer camps and showcases.   The season itself starts with a Labor Day tournament.  The regular season starts in the next week or so.  You have weekly games punctuated by tournaments at all of the major holidays.  Playoffs start in February.  Again, you go as far as you can go and start the entire process over again.  

Sooner or later any competitive youth hockey player will need to start attending "showcases".  Showcases are events organized to attract top level players to play in a series of games over the course of a three day weekend in front of scouts who are looking to attract talent to their leagues or schools.  These showcase events are held all over the country and Canada.  I imagine they are huge money makers for the organizers.  We've given Bliss Littler more money than any man deserves over the years.  They hold out hope of the holy grail to parents, such as myself, eager to have their kids be scouted.   We spent many a summer weekend traveling hither and yon.  Of course, I always hoped my kid would be scouted and drafted to whatever league or level was next.  But in reality, my true goal was to get him the experience of playing with and against the best competition we could find with the ultimate goal of him playing at the highest level of college hockey possible. 

Some of these showcases are structured as camps where the games are informal scrimmages with refs who rarely call anything.  When a penalty is called it results in a penalty shot for the offended player, who is simultaneously being chased by the entire opposing team as he streaks in on the goalie.

Other events are organized as tournaments where entire teams compete for a title.  We participated in both.  The first showcase we went to was in Vancouver, BC.  It was the Global Showcase.  We attended the Global Showcase in Las Vegas, the Pre-draft and Chowder Cup in Boston, The Pre-Prep showcase in New Hampshire, the U. S. Junior Development program in Colorado, Hockey Night In Boston, The Chicago(Now known as America's) Showcase and Cali Camp in Los Angeles.

The biggest thing I almost learned in Vancouver is to turn your cell phone off.  My typical family cell phone bill for five iPhones and an iPad runs about $300 a month.  Back then we only had two phones.  I had a Palm Treo, one of the early smart phones. After a long weekend in Vancouver I was shocked and surprised to get a $1600 phone bill due to the AT&T international roaming charges. Lesson learned.  You would think.  

The following Christmas we went to Toronto with the Gulls bantam team for the Marlies tournament. I knew about the potential problem with the roaming charges so I contacted AT&T to sign up for an international calling plan.  This time I returned home to find a phone bill for $4000.  I disputed it.   I still ended up having to pay a big chunk of it though.

A running theme I tried to impress on my son was to ways play as if you were being scouted.  You never know who is watching.  I was once again coaching the next season and we went to watch a kid who we were considering.  He played like he didn't care.  We crossed him off our list.  He probably never knew if he even just gave a little effort we would have offered him a spot. 

In the back of my mind I was always curious about how my son would fare playing hockey, not in Southern California, but in my old stomping grounds of New England.   I may have already mentioned this, but I had prep school offers after high school, but my parents would not hear of it.  I thought that if Max ever had the chance to attend prep school I would be all for it.  

I found out about the PrePrep Hockey Showcase at the Icenter just over the Mass state line in Salem New Hampshire. It was a  four day event showcasing the talents of 6th, 7th and 8th graders in front of most, if not all of the prep schools.  These schools included not only the New England schools, but also schools from around the country and Canada  as well.  The players were placed on teams and played four exhibition games in front of coaches from the various schools.  There was a private school admissions fair on Saturday as well as a presentation featuring some of the coaches and  question and answer session.   I still remember one of the kids helping out with he presentation.  He guarded a door, dressed in his pink LaCoste Alligator shirt with the collar popped, his khaki pants and his beat up docksider shoes.  Yep, we were in prep school territory.

At the admissions fair, we met many coaches.  Max talked to the coaches who expressed interest.  He signed up for the mailing lists of schools he found interesting.  We had a friend who was attending the Northwood School in Lake Placid.  My brother-in-law's father had also been headmaster there for a short stint a few years back.  I specifically recall meeting Rob Gagnon who was the coach at Hebron at the time.  Hebron was way up in Maine somewhere.  Rob ended up moving on to Cushing Academy in Mass last I knew.  

I didn't expect anything out of having Max attend this showcase other than as I said, to see how he stacked up against the competition and the northeastern style of hockey.  I was a bit surprised and a little saddened when one of the coaches asked Max if he was interested in attending prep school. He said he was.  I got nostalgiac and realized if this were to come about, we would no longer share our two hour car rides in L.A. traffic up to his travel hockey games anymore.  Of course, other than receiving a steady stream of prep school brochures in the mail for the next four years, nothing happened to make this a reality.  So we continued our weekend commutes up to L.A.

This period of time was the peak of my son's size disadvantage versus the bulk of his age group.  So many of his peers had already gone through at least their initial growth spurts.  Kyle and I are both at least average if not slighty above average height wise.  I was shaving by the time I was in the 9th grade. It turns out Kyle was a late bloomer, and it looks like both of my kids were following in her footsteps. The upcoming bantam season would be the worst.   Just to give you an example of what he was up against, here's picture of Max standing in line at the snack bar behind Luke Duprey.  The issue of size would be no more obvious than this moment. They are the same age.  Luke was a New Hampshire kid.  He was a youth hockey legend in those parts who ended up playing hockey and lacrosse at Philips Andover.  He went on to play lacrosse at Duke.  He was hockey team mates with Chris Kreider at Andover.

The Gulls coach ended up getting a job offer and moved back east.  Bruce Miller was offered the job to coach our Bantams.  Bruce was an entrepreneur from Buffalo.  He owned restaurants and music stores.  He'd played hockey and coached at Geneseo State.  He was about 40 years old.  Brian Lang had been the previous coach's assistant.  Brian played at Oswego State in the Sunyac.  He was also a prep school product having attended the Hill School in Pennsylvania.  I'm sure he had some influence on Max ultimately going the prep school route.

Bruce took over the team and had a great way with the boys.  He was serious.  Disciplined but fun.  The kids responded well to him.  He also had one of the most talented group of players around.  The photo at the top of the blog site with Wayne Gretzky in the center is this team.  The team actually ended up missing the playoffs that year.  That was primarily because another team hosted the tournament that year and they got an "auto-bid".  So we qualified but missed out because the last playoff spot went to the host team even though they wouldn't have qualified otherwise.  

The other big thing that was happening for us is that Max was getting much more involved with roller hockey. 

All of his buddies played.  He played for his middle school team and was now moving on to the high school. High School roller hockey is a pretty big deal in San Diego. It's a sanctioned varsity sport. There is no high school ice hockey in San Diego. The best news was that Joe Noris had been right. It contributed significantly to Max's puck skills and confidence.  

The boys all played in a summer roller hockey league. Max wasn't very serious about it.  He played when he could but he was playing pony league baseball and summer league ice hockey as well.  We got him to weekend tournaments when he could make it. 

I'd received a mass email to the team asking who would be available for an upcoming tournament.  It was a qualifying tournament for NARCH.  NARCH is the national organization that runs all of the tournaments culminating in the annual championships.  

I didn't really know or care much about what a qualifying tournament was. Apparently others did. I responded to the email that Max had baseball on Saturday and ice hockey on Sunday morning.  We would try to get there for the later games on Sunday afternoon if possible. 

Sunday morning came and went. We finished up the ice hockey game. I was talking to two other dads, my friends Jaye Park and Dan Hansen. Their sons Gregory and Rory were in the same boat as Max.  So we discussed the situation and somehow I ended up getting nominated to drive all three boys up to Anaheim to join up with the roller team. 

By the time we got going and got up to the rink it was getting dark.  We had to fight some awful traffic.  We ended up being late and missed the start of the game. 

Here I was thinking I was being a hero, delivering our kids who would ride in on their silver horse and save the day. 

In addition to the three boys, I had my daughter, Bret with me.  I was also just recovering from another back surgery. 

The guys hustled into the locker room and suited up. Bret and I parked and made our way inside the arena.  Rory scored a quick goal.  Max took a tripping penalty. 

Suddenly, two dads went crazy yelling and screaming at Max.  I assumed they were dads from the opposing teams and I said something to them. "Really guys, it was just a trip, no need to get so worked up". 

The guys turned around.  They weren't from the other team. They were Dad's from our team.  I didn't understand. Why were they so upset?

Next thing I know they are in my face yelling and screaming about showing up late after the team did not qualify. Who the f**k did we think we were?

I was dumbfounded. I still didn't get what the big deal was.  But these two were so pissed they were ready to fight me. My daughter was in tears, horrified at what was happening. 

It turns out these two had been there all weekend. They'd been drinking all day long. The team didn't win enough games and so hadn't qualified to go to nationals. With our boys there they most likely would have made it. So they were "out of control" pissed. 

I thought I was doing a good deed by driving all the boys up to play and it turns out I was on the receiving end of all this anger and drunken hostility. 

One of the two dads was Dale Obinger.  Dale passed away last year.  He was a bigger than life character with a heart of gold.  But he did love him some beer.  Over the next few days some emails and phone calls were exchanged.  Apologies were made and we went on to become good friends and laugh over this incident for years to come. Out kids went on to play ice hockey together for a number of years and all was good. 

The other dad, Dave apologized as well. But our kids never played together and we never had a chance to become friends and put this behind us. We would bump into each other over the years but we never really had much to say to each other. 

Maybe four years later I was dropping Max off to referee a youth game. Dave was doing the same with his son. He came over to me and asked if he could have a word. 

He went on to tell me how awkward he felt whenever he saw me. He told me that he was so embarrassed over his behavior that he didn't know what to say.  He then told me that he was so ashamed after that initial exchange that he sought out help, joined AA and has not had a drink since.  I nearly cried.  It was so amazing to me that an incident like that could have such an impact and be the catalyst for someone to alter the course of their life.  

Crazy stuff.