Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Chapter 28: Back So Soon?

According to reports I got back from my son, tryouts seemed to be going well. The first day they whittled the pack down to sixty and then to thirty.  The remaining thirty would be fighting for a spot on the Varsity A team.  Even if you ended up on the A or B squad, there was no guarantee you would stay there.  A hard worker could earn his way up just as an A player could be sent down for any reason.  

By the end of the week the coach divided the players into two teams for the Black and Gold intra-squad game, each consisting of four lines.  The top two lines were the kids expected to make the A team. 

Max was on the first line of one of the teams. That was a good sign and I was breathing easier. 

I got a call from my son after the game telling me how it went.  He made the A team. I was proud and relieved but not surprised at this point. I forget the details of how the game went but I believe it was close.  

I already had my flight reserved and I flew in for Thanksgiving.  I retrieved Max from school and headed up to Meredith about a half hour away to stay at Doug Hentz's house.  Doug and his family were down in West Haven, Connecticut for the weekend.  So it was just me and Max and the animals.
Navio and Shamu 
Max's roommate at Tilton was the starting goalie.   I was a little surprised his family didn't invite Max over for Thanksgiving.   Looks like it was going to be just me and him.  

I'd come in on Wednesday evening. We slept in on Thanksgiving morning.  No hockey that day.  The showcase started the next day.  

There's a famous turkey farm and restaurant in Meredith named Hart's. I figured we go there for a holiday meal. We were hanging out watching football. It was around 1pm.  I suggested we go eat.   But nooo, Max wanted to watch more football. Ok. Whayevs. A little later I ask again.  No, not yet.  It was now going on 3:00 then 4:00 now nearly 5:00pm.  Finally I got the kid off the couch and off to Hart's, which happened to stop serving at three o'clock.  Nothing was open.  We drove around.  Of course I found a Chinese place but my picky eater would have none of that.  We finally found an open tavern on Lake Winnipesaukee.  So that's where we enjoyed chicken wings and a burger for our Thanksgiving dinner.  

The Northeast Showcase started the next day. It was a collaboration between Pat Norton, the Tilton coach and Mike Addesa, who ran the Boston Advantage AAA program.   The teams participating were a mixed bag of prep schools, junior teams, Midget AAA teams and Canadian "colleges" which is how they refer to their high schools.  

I had played against Addesa when he coached Holy Cross back in my Uconn.  He went on from Holy Cross to coach RPI to an NCAA national championship defeating Brett Hull's UMD Bulldogs in a 6-5 triple overtime thriller in 1985 in the semi final game and Providence College 2-1 in the championship. His coaching career ended in controversy as he was accused of using a racial slur against Graeme Townsend.  Addesa went on to be a leader in youth and junior hockey in the Boston area. Here is a link to this incident.

Here are my notes of the showcase from the SoCal-hockey website:

Here was the line up for the Northeast Showcase Tilton Hosted this weekend. 
The Varsity A team was Tilton Black. They went 4-0 in the round robin, beat Bridgeton Academy(all Post Grad School/team) in quarter finals 4-1 and Boston Advantage 3-2 in overtime. 
Here's the overtime goal.  Every player touches the puck in the space of about five seconds. 

Lost 1-0 to Gilmour in the Final. Not a bad outing. This was the first weekend of live games. (2 15 minute periods was the showcase game format) A number of these teams have been playing since Labor Day. Nice mix of Prep, Canadian Prep and Tier and Junior teams in this showcase.

Califonia players were sprinkled throughout the rosters. Tilton has 3 skaters on the Varsity A and 3 on the Varsity B teams. They all did well. 
Check out youtube for posting of clips from some of the highlights:  Here's a nice shorty by Cody Marquis

Bridgton Academy
Webster Academy
Banff Academy 
South Jersey Raptors

Gilmour Academy
Mass Maple Leafs 
Mass Mariners 
Academy St. Foy
Tilton 'Gold'

Tilton 'Black'
Mass Maple Leafs (Red) 
Northwood Midget 
Kuper Academy

Boston Advantage
Stanstead College
Wyoming Seminary
Academie St. Louis
Maine Moose

Youtube link:

I got stuck in holiday travel traffic and had to delay my flight home until Monday.  I was trying to figure a way to extend my stay until the season opener on Wednesday against Exeter at Exeter. But I couldn't get a flight until Thursday and I couldn't justify being away from the office for so long.  So I got home on Monday and anxiously awaited reports from the first game of the season.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chap 27: Frequent Flyer

I would take a total of six trips back to watch my son play that first year of prep school. This was just at the beginning of the financial crisis so I could still afford it.  Also, this was pre fasthockey.com days.  

Fasthockey.com was in its early stages.   The Western State Hockey League, the tier 3 junior league I was involved with adopted their technology for that current season. It was a pretty good deal but the quality of the webcasts were inconsistent. It ranged from acceptable to just god awful.  If you aren't familiar Fasthockey.com is a tech company based in the Boston area run by Marc Ruskin.  They provide the equipment, basically a pc, and the technology to allow any rink, team or league to live stream the games to anyone with an account and about $7 bucks.  The team or rink needs a decent Internet connection, a camera and a shooter. That was me.  The first year or so we just shot video. Later the audio broadcast was added.  I learned to shoot video, record highlights and call the play by play after memorizing the rosters of both the home and visiting teams for each weekend series.  The Gulls typically played three games, Fri and Saturday nights and Sunday late morning.  

The visiting teams came in from Phoenix, Fresno and Boise among other cities.  The games were physical, nasty and included plenty of fights in the earlier years.  They've toned it down in recent seasons.  

By Sunday morning both teams were usually so sick of each other and beat up that they just wanted it to end.   Then the visiting team would hop on their team bus for the five or eighteen hour bus ride back to where they live.  

At any rate, there was no fasthockey.com at Tilton that first year.  Some schools used it or had other streaming services such as Ustream or B2networks, so I got to catch a few away games. But there was nothing like being there and be there I did for quite a few games that season. 

My next trip was about a month after my first.  The prep season still had yet to begin. The Monarchs 91s AAA midget team was playing in the New Hampshire state playoffs.  They tied their big brothers, the 1990 birth year team in the standings, but seeded second due to the tie breaker. The 91s did well earning their way to the finals where they met the Monarch's 90s team. They lost in the finals but still qualified to go the the New England regional playoffs the next weekend.  I showed this earlier, but it was such a sweet goal and it happened during this weekend so I'm forced by my fatherly pride to post it again. http://youtu.be/deu5EeOkTXQ

I don't recall how they did in the regionals. I'm certain that Mid-Fairfield won and went on to nationals after the prep season was over. Mid-Fairfield is always stacked with top prep school players, mostly from Connecticut schools like Avon Old Farms, Kent and South Kent among others. 

The Monarchs had a few solid prep players but mostly public school kids.  
Max didn't attend a single practice for the Monarchs.  I don't think this was unusual for the prep school kids. It was hard to get away mid-week.  However at Tilton the boys had ice four mornings a week for an hour an fifteen minutes for "captain's practices". 

I watched a couple of the games with the Tilton coach.  He was not impressed with the speed or physicality at which these games were played.  I was like, "really dude". Looks pretty fast to me."  He was right. 

Tryouts for the school started right after the regionals ended. They would have a week of tryouts.  Then a week to practice before hosting The Northeast Hockey Showcase. 

Tryouts were nerve wracking for me.  I had no idea what to expect.  Tilton is a co-ed school with 260 students. 120 boys would show up for tryouts.  They field an Varsity A team and a B team. Max wasn't the only player Coach Norton had recruited.  There were at least three or four kids from California alone.   I held my breath. 

I'll let you know how it went in the next chapter. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chapter 26: Look Out Below!

It was the weekend before Columbus Day, 2008.  My business partner, Scott got married.  I was the best man.  If I ever become a stand up comedian it will be because of the euphoria I experienced telling shitty jokes I found on YouTube.  

Scott hopped a plane to Vietnam for his honeymoon.  I went back to the office to deal with the collapse of Bear Stearns.   When I committed to sending Max of to prep school I had no idea that the global economy, as well as my own net-worth, were teetering on the edge of a cliff.  Things, as you are well aware, got ugly fast.

So, Scott was gone for two weeks...I was back in the office for two days.  I didn't tell Scott, but I had plans to travel back to New Hampshire for the Tilton School's parent's weekend and to watch play with the Monarch's AAA U18 midget team in a Columbus Day weekend tournament.  I figured I could easily do my business remotely.  What I didn't count on was the world nearly coming to an end.

Kyle and I hopped our Jetblue flight around noon on Wednesday.  The stock market was down a couple of hundred points.  I was watching CNBC on the flight.  As fascinating as this was, I've seen volatile markets before.  I nodded off before take off and woke up an hour later somewhere over Arizona.  The market had closed down nearly a thousand points.  I was in shock.  I called my assistant from the plane and told her to take messages and I'd call my clients back when I landed in Boston.  I spent the ride from Boston up to my friend, Doug's house in Meredith, NH on my phone returning calls.  

The next morning we saw somewhat of a "relief rally".  The market rebounded just because of how much it had dropped the day before.  I worked from Doug's house on my computer all day on Thursday.  The news was getting worse and I could tell from how the overnight markets were trading that Friday was going to be ugly.

I decided to find the nearest UBS office, which happened to be in Concord, nearly an hour south of Meredith and twenty minutes south of Tilton.  Friday was the day of the Parent's weekend where we were to meet with Max's teachers.  I couldn't go.  Kyle went ahead.   I headed to UBS.  

I normally start my day at 6:30 am.  That's what time the stock market opens on the west coast.  I got into the office this day at that time...only it was three hours before the NYSE opened.  I spent the next 10 hours talking non-stop to clients, one after the other.

My advisory group practiced a diversified asset allocation approach to managing risk.  In this free falling market, nothing, other than cash was safe.  Normally if one asset class is falling, something else is rallying.  There was such a high level of fear that nothing was safe.  We were in the midst of a global economic meltdown.  Babies, bathwater...everything was being thrown out.  My message to my clients was to not panic.  Some listened.  Others didn't.  I had clients who bailed at the worst possible time, locking in their losses and have never recovered.  Most people held steady and came away just fine.  Others snapped up bargains and made a killing.  My job was to manage fear and temper greed.  Fear ruled this day.  I missed my son's parent/teacher's conferences.  

The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying watching Max play with the NH Monarchs.  This was the first time I'd seen him since he left a couple of months earlier.  He looked great.  He'd grown.  

Tilton, like other prep schools requires that students participate in activities each semester, or season if we are speaking athletics.  Some of the hockey players played either football or soccer in the fall.  Most of them participated in a strength and conditioning program.  So my kid got to lift weights every day and it was paying off.  

I forget how they did in the tournament, but the Monarchs played well.  I really missed watching Max play.   Here's a brief clip of a 
goal he set up.  He's 21 in white.  

By the way, I started a new discussion on the socal-hockey.com message board around that time for people interested in California kids playing prep school hockey in New England.  I wrote in detail about the experience.  This was in my pre-blogging days.  If anyone actually finds this stuff interesting you can check it out here.  Actually, I just checked it out and here is the post I made after this trip:

Just back from my first trip of the season to New England. When I say season, prep tryouts don't start until Nov 11th and the season kicks off with a Thanksgiving Tournament. 

However, they get 4- 1 hr 15 min sheets of ice a week= 6 hours for "captains practices"...


my son has been playing with the NH Monarchs 18u Tier 1 91 birthyear team for the fall season. They play out of the same rink as the EJHL Monarchs and the AHL Monarchs practice rink. They play a split season. Just finished a tournament that I had a chance to watch this weekend. They played Eastern Mass Senators and Buffalo Saints(St. Francis Prep school's Fall midget team). They have their state playoff the first weekend in Nov., then regionals the next week. After that off to the prep season. The regional champions get back together after the season to go to nationals. Most players are in prep school with a few from the local public schools.

Very competitive. Fun to watch. The midget season is basically played as a warm up for the prep and high school leagues. Lots of exposure to New England colleges. 

Some interesting differences between socal and new england hockey. Much more puck movement, quicker to headman the puck to open linemate, less dangle, more physical and the refs call nothing. Lot's of slashing, hooking elbows as well as very aggressive use of the body. 

Can hardly wait for the school season to begin. Keeping our fingers crossed for tryouts. 

This discussion has received over 57,000 views since I started it.  I think that is the second most of any discussion on the site.   I will be going back through some of the posts to jog my memory and see if there is anything worth sharing here.

So the journey had begun.  A dream I had when I was a kid had gone unfulfilled.  My son was living the dream.  His dream?  My dream?  That's up for discussion but regardless this was the beginning of the next phase.  Unless there would be something unexpected we knew the plan for the next two years.   

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this, but Max would be repeating his junior year, the year he'd just completed in San Diego.  Some schools suggest new students repeat the grade they just completed in high school.  Others require it and yet others don't allow it.  Tilton suggested it and we felt it was a good idea.  There is another way that some kids opt to attend prep school. They graduate from their high school and do a PG(post graduate) year. 

Our hockey director for the Gulls youth organization was not a fan of prep school hockey.  His critique was based on the length of the season(late Nov-early March/too short) and the limited number of games.  Prep schools are limited to a maximum of 35 games for the season.  

The Youth season starts at Labor Day and goes through February when state, regional and national playoffs begin.  With playoffs the season can last into April.   Many youth teams play anywhere between 50 and 80 games.   They get two or three practices per week. 

The argument for prep schools include the fact that, even though there aren't as many games, teams typically have their own rink on campus and they practice every day.   Add to this the opportunity to play in the midget hockey split season and the number of games turns out to be between 55 and 60.

I would make one more trip back to New Hampshire in November before the midget travel season concluded and Tilton's hockey tryouts would begin.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Chapter 25: Prep Ho-Go East Young Man

Prep Ho!
Leaves starting to turn in New Hampshire

I should say that the rationale for considering and then sending our son off to prep school in New Hampshire involved more consideration than just the hockey opportunity.  Yes that was the main driver. We were not happy with his local public school.  While attending one of the better schools in San Diego, he was still jammed into classrooms with 35+ other students and was falling through the cracks.  We felt the smaller classes and academic environment of a boarding school would benefit our son.  We also weighed the cost of going to Los Angeles to play AAA hockey and determined that even with the hefty tuition for prep school, it wasn't really that much more than what some families were spending for the hockey and all the travel associated with Tier 1 midget hockey.

So we made the calculation between the hockey opportunity plus the social and academic benefits and decided that he would take the prep school route.  The global economy and my net worth were both teetering on the edge of an unforeseen cliff.  Had I known what was about to transpire I would have to seriously rethink having committed to this course.  That's a different story.

I remember when my son was very young hearing about Wayne Gretzky leaving home at the age of 14.  My wife and I couldn't imagine sending our little boy off to live with strangers at such a young age.  Now at the age of 17 I had no qualms.  I was excited for him and the opportunity that waited. 

My wife and Max flew off to New England.  After thinking about it for such a long time my kid was officially a preppy. And I was officially in debt.  My wife, who had been a stay at home mom for much of the past seventeen years decided to find a way to help pay the freight for this new venture.  She looked for a business idea. That little idea has grown now into an amazing business she started in the middle of the Great Recession. 

Doug with Sidney
I don't recall much of the details of his send off in the Fall of 2008. I was in the midst of dealing with the collapse of Bear Sterns that week.  I called Max today to see if he had any memories that stood out about that trip.  At first he said no but then he remembered. I had booked the flight for him and my wife on Priceline.  Apparently I didn't pay very close attention to the details. As it turned out their flight to Boston went by way of Orlando.   What should have taken 5 hours took closer to 12. Oops, my bad.  They were not happy with me over that one.  
Doug's Lake House

I have a close friend from West Haven High School. His name is Doug Hentz.  Doug lives up in Meredith, NH on Lake Winnipesaukee.  Doug and his family would become Max's local surrogate parents. Meredith, NH is about a half hour away from Tilton.  Max would stay with the Hentzes from time to time and I stayed with them during my many visits over the next couple of years.  They were lifesavers. 

This time Kyle and Max stayed with them for a day or two before Kyle dropped Max off to start school. I'm sure it was an emotional farewell, but I have no details of the event. 

For the next few months I would need to get my hockey fix from our local tier 3 junior team. My friend and Max's previous coach, Bruce Miller made a couple of investments.  He bought both the pro shop at the Escondido Iceoplex as well as the junior team.  Both were purchased from MF Schurman.  In fact, I was part of the investment group that bought the pro shop. 

There were three of us; Bruce, me and Pierre Dufour, that took over the skate shop.  Bruce has a background and a great eye for retail and display.  The next month involved 70 hour weeks remodeling the store. I put in approximately zero of those hours, as I had my full time job at UBS.  

After a month Bruce and Pierre bought me out of my interest.  I got a great return on my investment as well as free skate sharpening and hockey gear at cost. I learned to sharpen skates and I'm sure I saved a ton of money over the next few years.   So I was out of the retail business after barely a month.  By the way, Bruce recently sold the store and my little deal was left out of the equation.  Bummer. 

Back to my hockey fix.  So Max was gone.  Bruce now owned the junior team.  He changed the name from the Surf to the Gulls.  It was a bit of a coup for him to have the rights to that name since it had been controlled by the ECHL minor pro team up until they recently folded.  

AJ Grabowski-Our Billet playing Thursday night pickup
with a borrowed bucket
I stayed involved.  A lot of the kids I'd coached and Max played with were skipping U18 midget and going right to the junior team.  Bruce asked me to handle the video for the team.  So I did that.  And I continued to be a billet house.  We took in two kids.  AJ from Rochester and PJ from Billerica, outside of Boston.  PJ didn't last long. But he owned a car.  AJ lasted all season.  He had to rely on team mates to give him rides to the rink after PJ left. 

Besides doing the Gulls video I was continuing to referee adult league games.  I made plans for the first of six trips this season to visit Max and watch him play. The first trip back was for a Columbus Day tournament.  It would be with the NH Monarchs U18 AAA team during the split travel season prior to the start of the prep season.  

I'll pick up with this trip in the next chapter. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chapter 24: Don't Shoot the Messenger

Like most hockey leagues and communities, Southern California hockey boasts an active Internet message board, SoCal-hockey.com

I was fairly active and it seemed everyone knew of Cosmo, my screen name.  Yeah, I'm a huge Seinfeld fan.

Many, if not most discussions were quite contentious.  There was an awful lot of chirping, criticizing and name calling.  I did my best to avoid those types of battles.  Some the rivalries were epic.  People were happy to be anonymous and hide behind their screen names.  There was one persona who seemed to know everything about everyone. It was uncanny.   Everyone was sure they knew who it was.  They were certain it was Joe Francis.  Joe was a dad and sometimes coach.  I think he may have originated the board to begin with.  This all-knowing, all seeing person went by the screen name of TinMan.  I was friends with Joe. I know it wasn't him.  After a few years I started getting messages from TinMan...we spoke on the phone a couple of times...I never got her name, but she was definitely not Joe.  

I was the recipient of one such classic encounter....someone attacked me, accusing me of viewing my kid through rose-colored glasses.  Ok.  Whatever. I had no idea who would be attacking me nor why. 

 There was a kid who used to play in the same group with Max.  Apparently he didn't make a couple of the teams that Max made and he held it against him.  I had no idea but his dad was pretty bitter about it.  So I got this public rant from an anonymous poster slamming me.  It was surprising to realize I had that affect on someone.  Over time, the mystery was solved when a mutual friend pointed out to me who it was.  When I called him on it I received an explanatory rebuttal as a post on  the website claiming that it was from the kid and that he admitted to writing the initial post.  The thing was that twelve year old kids don't use terms like "rose-colored glasses" and other similar adult language, and in the rebuttal, there were multiple misspellings which made it pretty obvious the writer was trying to make it look like he was young.  In other words, Dad was the culprit and threw his kid under the bus.  What a beaut.

Oh yeah.  There was a reason I brought up the message board.  That spring after we took the prep school tour I saw a announcement on the socal board from a coach named Ryan Kravetz.  He was advertising tryouts to take a team to Boston for the "pre-draft" tournament and the Chowder Cup.  The team had a pretty embarassing name...it was the California Cool Catz.  The tryouts were held up in North Los Angeles, Panarama City.  The West Valley Wolves played out of this rink.  The Wolves and Gulls were bitter rivals for the past couple of years.   I didn't know at the time what the Chowder Cup was.  As it turns out, there are a series of showcase tournaments in and around the Boston area.  The Chowder Cup is one of those.   It started in 1991 and has hosted thousands of teams and many more players.  They hold tournaments at many levels from youth to adult.   Max would be trying out for the team that would play in the "Pre-Draft" Tournament and then the Chowder Cup in July.   

We learned after driving up to Panarama City at 7am on a Saturday morning that the team he was trying out for would be selected for the pre-draft team.  After that tournament in May some players would be invited to play on the "Junior Elite" team and others on the "College Open" team in the Chowder Cup in July.  The Junior Elite would include the bigger, better and stronger players.  The College open was for the younger kids.

At the tryout, Max looked ok.  I couldn't tell what the coaches were thinking.  I hung out with some rival Wolves dads who I'd met over the years.  The coach, Ryan Kravetz, really didn't say much to Max and nothing to me.  We walked out after the tryout figuring he didn't make the team.

A few days later I got an email from the coach inviting Max to be on the team.  We were both thrilled.  Who knew.  

So that was that.  Max made the team.  We took a couple of trips up to Panarama City for team practices and we headed off for Boston(actually Quincy and Foxboro) in May.  What happened next  probably doesn't seem like much of a big deal, but it was the turning point for Max.  It was a clear line of demarcation where he showed up and became an impact player.  The team did ok.  I forget the outcome of the games.  The "Cool Catz"(I can barely say it with a straight face) played in four, maybe five games in total.  One or two were exhibition games the coach set up.  They did not qualify for the tournament playoffs.  They won a couple of games...one of the games they won was against a stacked prep school team.  I remember because a San Diego kid who moved to Connecticut played for them.  His name was Stefan Demopoulos.  Stefan was a year older than Max.  He played for the Jaguars when he lived in San Diego.  After moving east, he attended and played for Avon Old Farms and is now going into his junior year and playing at Providence College.    We also played against Jimmy and Kevin Hayes.  Jimmy was a second round Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick at the time.  Kevin was in high school but is now at Boston College and was a 1st round pick by the Blackhawks.

Max had a standout showing at the showcase.  Looked really good against the stacked prep team.   Here is the scouting report from the showcase:

Balaban was one of the best 91 born players at Chowder Cup (Pre-Draft) and made ISS top 10 list for 91 born players at this event. Played both PP/PK units and did a very good job. Has a good work ethic and high hockey IQ. Has his head up and showed good puck control. Has good offensive instincts, protects the puck well and has the ability to slow the game down. A bit light on his skates and will need to bulk up in order not to get pushed around. Good skater with deceptive speed and agility. Handles the puck well and has a good transition game. Will need to learn to shoot more, will try to pass when opportunity to shoot is there.
Has potential to reach next level and contribute. He will need to improve his strength and defensive commitment to reach that level.

I was pretty happy with this report. 

Pat Norton, the Tilton coach, got up very early to make the two hour trip down from New Hampshire to watch Max play in an 8am game.  He was not disappointed.   I was impressed he made the trek. Max had already applied and been accepted to Tilton so it was nice to get the re confirmation that the coach saw his potential. 

We ran into the coach, Ryan Kravetz, at the hotel after the tourney was over.  He pulled us aside and had a word with Us.  He told us that Max was the last player he picked for the team, but he was so impressed with his play that he is the first person he wanted to invite to play on the Junior Elite squad for the Chowder Cup.   

Fast forward to the Chowder Cup in July. We are planning in heading back to Boston.  I get a call from Ryan telling me he's over-recruited a team of WHL and NAHL juniors and he thinks Max should maybe play for the younger college open team.  That was disappointing.  After some discussion Max ended up playing in every game for both teams. 

When it was all said and done Max came away with a huge boost in confidence.  He'd faced NHL prospects, D1 recruits and major junior players and not only held his own, he stood out, had fun and got noticed. And he really hadn't yet begun to grow. My rose colored glasses were working just fine, thank you very much.  

On to prep school at Tilton in the fall. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Chapter 23: Who Loves Ya!

In hockey, it's always about what's next.  Not so much once you reach the elite rarefied beer leagues.  But all along the way, whether it's peewees, junior, college or the pros, there is always the next level.  There is always someone better than you.  You are always in the process of proving yourself. 

Nothing had happened with the notion of my son going to prep school, other than the steady stream of brochures that were still coming in the mail from the pre-prep showcase he did three or four years earlier. 

There was a kid, Tyler Lindley, who was a pretty talented hockey player from San Diego.  He attended the Northwood School in lake Placid. Another San Diegan, Ryan Purdy attended Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire.  Ryan was a goalie who went on to have a solid career at Williams.  

By now I was coaching and Max was playing second year midget U16. Four times a season all the California teams would meet up for a CAHA weekend.  These were important games to determine rankings and playoffs.  We were about to play the junior Ducks in Valencia, CA.  

Just before the game I bumped into a couple of scouts. Well, a scout and his brother. Pat Norton was the head coach at Tilton School in Tilton, NH. His brother, I'm not sure if it was Brendan or Ryan, lived in the area. This one had gone to Uconn but I can't locate him in hockeydb.com. 

Pat had been a role player at UNH and then went in to be the assistant coach when Norwich won a D3 national title.  A few years earlier His brother had bumped into some talented youth players playing summer senior leagues with their dads the same way that Max and I skated together.  He was impressed with their skill level and suggested Pat come check them out. 

Ever since then Pat makes a couple of recruiting trips a year to look for "under the radar" talent.  

Bruce and I had a nice chat with Pat and his brother, then proceeded to go out and beat up on the Ducks. Max played well. Here's a nice sequence of a goal he scored.

After the game Pat came down to the locker room with a list of players he liked.  Those boys were called out into the hallway to hear his spiel.  

Prep school is a foreign notion to most  SoCal hockey players.  At least it was at that time. More and more players are finding their way and choosing that route. 

Max was among the boys Pat noticed.  We spent some time talking to him and  let him know that we were very interested.  

That set off a series of events that ended up with Max shipping off to Tilton the following autumn. 

First was the prep school tour. Max and I took a red-eye to Boston.  I believe it was late February or early March.  We planned on visiting three schools including Tilton.  First stop-Governors Academy in Byfield, Mass.  Governors used to be known as Governor Dummers. They must have taken quite a bit of ribbing over that. But they recently dropped Dummers from the name.  

Governors had a great campus with a brand new rink.   We met the coach, got a tour from a player and left.  I think our only connection with the school was Bruce Marshall, Uconn's head coach. He put me in touch with the hockey coach at Governors and we scheduled the interview and tour.  I could tell the coach wasn't very impressed with Max.  He'd never seen him play and only saw what was there in front of him, a scrawny 16 year old late bloomer who had yet to bloom. 

We left.  Headed up to highway 93 and on to Tilton.  There was snow on the ground and the closer we got to Tilton the deeper it was.  Hockey season was over. Pat Norton was also the school's golf coach.  He was forced to drive with the golf team for a couple of hours south in order to practice.  

We pulled into the small town of Tilton.  It was a quaint little New England hamlet.  Old buildings, churches and a diner.   One street light.   A Pizza place and a Veterans Home.  We turned up the hill on School Street and pulled in front of the admissions building and visitors center.  

The Church at the Tilton School
Pat Norton met us in his office, spoke enthusiastically about the school and expressed sincere interest in Max.  The same scrawny kid who was barely given the time of day a few hours earlier by the Dummer coach.  

A girl from the women's hockey team gave us the campus tour.  Max and I were both excited and impressed by the experience.  We let the coach know about the other schools we were visiting and that Max would be submitting his application to Tilton. 

Boston Univeristy vs. Umass-Amherst 2008
On the road again, we headed south to Boston where we caught a game between BU and Umass-Amherst.  BU won.

The next morning we headed to Uconn where we met with Coach Marshall.  We got a campus tour from an injured defenseman from Minnesota.  Uconn had no Connecticut residents on their roster.   After walking all over campus for the tour I had to get back to the rink to play in the Alumni game.  
Uconn Men's Hockey Locker Room
My legs were exhausted from the walk.  I was late. I had to run out to the parking lot and find my car. Then I rifled through all the stuff in the trunk to pull out my skates and hockey gear.  I was traveling light so I didn't bring everything.  Bruce Marshall was loaning me pants, socks and a few other items.   I stole the blue jersey I'm wearing in the picture. I'm on the left. I was having trouble getting everything together. I was at the rink at Uconn. My legs were wobbling. I was sweating. This was my damned nightmare happening while I was awake. 
Except I did manage to get on the ice, unlike in my dream. 
Center, In Dark...feeling the pain
Me on the left with Steve "Swanny" Swanson and Scott Inman, Class of 1977
It didn't get much better when the game started.   The thing I clearly recall was how many times younger alumni would catch me breaking out of my zone from behind.  I had my pocket picked like that nearly every time I got ahold of the puck. 

I remember looking up on the stands to see Max watching me struggle.  I wanted to say, "but, but..I used to be better than this. Really!"   He knew. 

Pepe's Pizza-New Haven, CT

After the visit to Uconn I headed back to my childhood home in West Haven to visit my parents.  I did my standard tour: visited Whitey Bensen's, stopped by the Bennett Rink at the High School, went to Savin Rock for fried whole belly clams and lobster rolls at Jimmy's or Phyllis's.  By the way, Phylis, of Phyllis's was my high school and hockey team mate, Frank Longobardi's mother.  She died when he was a young boy.   We may have also hit up Pepe's or Zuppardi's for some great New Haven pizza. 

The next morning we took the long drive up to Lake Placid to visit Northwood.  Again, our connection there was our friend Tyler Lindley. Tyler  was a five year student there.  He was just finishing up his final semester and headed to Skidmore the following fall. 

Tyler set up the introduction to the Northwood coach.  Max was getting the same lack of interest here that he received at Governors.   Again, he was a pretty scrawny kid at the time.  Neither of these coaches had seen him skate or play so you can't really blame them.  

This would set off a theme that would determine his path for the next few years.  That would be to go where you are wanted.  This principle seemed to work pretty well until this past year, when it didn't.  I'll explain that one later. 

Max at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid
We both really liked Northwood. It was a great environment, right there in Lake Placid, home of the 1980 Miracle Olympics.  It's about a hour drive through winding mountain roads just to get to the highway.  Road trips would be a drag.  Also, my friends with New England prep school ties poo-pooed Northwood since they were independent and therefore did not play in any league so there was nothing to play for.  Or so they said.  Northwood was more known as a hockey factory similar to Shattuck St. Mary's in Minnesota or Culver Academy.  

No matter.  They weren't interested in Max.  He would go where he was wanted.  I got great pleasure in watching Max be an important part of Tilton beating both Dummy's and Northwood the next season. 

I found out a few days after we left  that my sister's father in law had been the head master at Northwood a few years earlier. 

Next up-breaking out at the Pre-draft/Chowder Cup in Boston.