Friday, September 27, 2013

Chapter 34: D1 or Not D1? That is the Question

D1 or not D1?

D1 or  D1, that was the question.

My son and I both shared this dream. I always knew he was talented.  Better than I ever was. I wasn't bad, but the state of hockey development has come a long way since my day.  Ever since he stepped on the ice and learned to skate at the age of two I wondered how good he could be with such an early start. My own hockey career started quite late.  I was nearly thirteen before I learned to skate. And I did pretty well for myself until the injuries caught up with me. 

So it became a grand experiment.  Given his early start how good might he become?  I never kidded myself about the chances of a pro career.  I was well aware of those odds.  The dream was for him to play D1 hockey, ideally with a scholarship.  

Throughout the first and second year of prep school there were plenty of sniffs from various D1 coaches. Most Wednesday night games had plenty of college coaches. Not many on Saturdays due to the colleges having their own games. I stayed out of it but the Tilton coach always told me who was looking at my son.  

Bruce Marshall at the helm
Uconn was almost always around,  usually one of the assistant coaches.  I knew the head coach, Bruce Marshall, fairly well.  As an alum I'd been gifting the hockey team $500 a year since before my son was born.  I'd also played in a number of alumni games.  As my kid developed Bruce was always available to me for prep school and junior advice. My D1 aspirations for my son exceeded Uconn.  

Uconn Hockey lockerroom
BU Hockey Coach Jack Parker watching
the boys at the summer prep camp
Uconn's hockey program was always the red headed step child to the basketball and football teams. Due to title 9 and an overall lack of commitment from the school the hockey team offered no scholarships.  Title 9 meant that the school had to spend money on women's athletics to offset the funds spent on men's sports.  That has recently changed now that Uconn is moving to Hockey East.  

There would be another summer of showcase camps. It was another expensive summer.  I traveled with him to all of them. There was the College Hockey showcase in LA, the Chowder Cup Predraft in Boston, the BU prep showcase  in Boston and Hockey Night in Boston, and the ever popular cash cow-Bliss Littler's Great Western Showcase in Vegas.  



Fall came around and it was back to Tilton for senior year.  He was named one of the team captains for the season.  He was in the leadership on the scoresheet for most of the season.  The impact of the financial crisis had hit home quite hard so the number of trips was lessened.  I worked hard with the school and through the bureaucracy to finally get Fasthockey.com set up to live stream Tilton's home games.  It took until mid-January before they finally started broadcasting, but I was able to watch all of the home games and many of the road games. I advised the students who ran the broadcast and play by play operation.

We had been very lucky injury wise through all of these years.  Max broke his arm when he was six and missed most of a season of mite hockey.  He re-broke it immediately after he got the cast off and was out for another chunk of time.   He had a hairline fracture of his wrist from falling on his hand during a high school roller hockey game.  I don't recall if this was during his sophomore or junior year at Scripps Ranch High.  He missed about three weeks with that.

Tilton was set to go to Governor's Academy for the annual pre-Christmas tournament.  It was the weekend prior to Christmas of Max's senior year.  These would be the last games before flying home for the winter break.  Unfortunately for me, Governor's did not webcast their games, so I was reliant on text reports from some of the dads who would be attending.  The first game of the weekend tournament was against Governors.  I had gotten a few texts from Rick Rivera,  Jake's dad.  They were generic updates.   I remember, I was driving home and my phone rang.  I thought, "uh oh".

Xavier Nady and Max 
"He's ok, but Max took a hit to the head and he's down".  It was Rick.  I knew as soon as I saw his name on my phone screen there was something wrong.  He proceeded to tell me in as calm a voice as he could that Max had taken a hit and it took a while to get him off of the ice.  He continued to assure me he was ok.  

As it turns out he was significantly downplaying the incident.  He didn't want to scare or upset me.  I started to get calls from other parents, from the coach, from the trainer, from the hospital.

Here is what happened.  Late in the first period Max had passed the puck and attempted to avoid a finishing check from an opponent near the boards just past his team's bench area.  No one was really watching because the puck and the play was now going the other way.  As he tried sidestepping the check apparently he stepped on the players stick blade and lost his footing just as the opponent hit him…He went hard head first into the boards.

He lay there motionless, out cold for some time and then went into a seizure.  As people realized what was going on the appropriate parties acted.  The trainer from Governors and a nurse tended to him first.  I was not there so what I know was related to me by parents and Max's coach, Pat Norton.  Pat told me that what followed was the scariest thing he's witnessed in all his years of hockey.  

So, there was the violent hit and collision with the boards, there was the loss of consciousness and then there was the seizure.  I'll let you read the letter below to get a better of sense of what transpired.  One of Max's teammates was a kid named Chad O'Brien.  Chad's Dad, Toby O'Brien was a scout for the New York Islanders at the time. He's now with the Buffalo Sabres.  I just now found out that Chad Ruhwedal was Toby's guy.  He noticed Chad at Umass-Lowell three years ago.  What a small world.

Toby was watching the game with a friend of his, Chris Hamel.  Chris is a firefighter in Haverill, Mass and an amateur scout for the Minnesota Wild.  

Here is the letter Toby sent to the GM of the Minnesota Wild:

December 21, 2009

Mr. Chuck Fletcher
Minnesota Wild General Manager

Chuck,

I hope this letter finds you well and you and your family preparing for a great Holiday Season!

It is not often that we take the time to follow up on something that needs to be brought to people’s attention.  Often times the good deeds of many go unnoticed while the negative is often pushed to the forefront and dwelled upon.

As a scout with the New York Islanders I, like many road warriors, was making the Holiday traditional New England Prep School swing.  Over the past year, I have become good friends with Chris Hamel (who I met through another first class member of your staff in Brian Hunter).  At this particular game at the Governor’s Academy I was with Chris as both a fellow scout and the father of a player in the game we were covering.

Late in the first period on a solid hit along the boards, a player, Max Balaban of Tilton School and teammate of my son was checked hard into the wall.  He had gone low to avoid the hit and in turn his head was driven hard into the wall.  As Max went down it was clear that he was “out.”  He was motionless on the ice for a short period of time.  Within seconds Max began to go into an obvious seizure on the ice.  The trainer at Governor’s went on the ice, but this was getting bad!  

Chris without hesitation looked around and seeing no other member of the crowd making any motion towards that area, gave me his stuff and ran to the door and “TOOK OVER THE SCENE”!!!  He stayed with Max as he went through the seizure and until he regained consciousness which lasted 3-5 minutes.  When he did, he became violent and had to be controlled.  Again, Chris maintained the player and directed everyone around them.  

The scene was something I had only seen once at a game in person in my 43 years.  He directed the coaches to have the kids leave the ice / benches and maintained control until EMT’s in this rural town arrived.  

As the game began, 45 minutes later, Chris who has I am sure seen a lot in his years as a Massachusetts Fire Fighter, was so shaken he just had to go home.  But he called me and we kept in touch to follow up on Max’s condition throughout the night.

Yesterday in the final games of the tournament, Chris took the time to call and speak to Max’s Dad who lives in San Diego, to fill him in on everything that went on during that 30-40 minute period so as proper follow up could be done.

Max was transported to the Hospital where he was kept until Sunday afternoon.  They felt it was okay for him to fly last night and he traveled home.  He is seeing a Neurological Specialist in California now.

I got this message from his Dad this morning, “Max got home safe last night.  Thanks for everything and please thank your buddy for us again.  It now sounds like he probably saved Max’s life.”

There are a lot of people making millions of dollars in this game and in sports and others who work hard and try and make a small difference in our organizations.

I am a very good friend of your old Pittsburgh neighbor Lou Longo. Lou always told me you were a first class guy and with people like Chris working for you, it is obvious that you are building your organization with similar people.

Chuck, this weekend Chris made a HUGE difference as a human being!

Thanks and have a Merry Christmas!

Toby O’Brien
New York Islanders
Parent of Chad O’Brien (Max’s Teammate)

CC: Brent Flahr
Tom Thompson


So that was what happened.  A few other things I found out.  In the midst of it all, Chris had one of Max's team mates who was not dressed for the game, Morgan Weiterer, come down on the ice and be there to console Max.  Morgan was a calming influence and lent familiarity to the situation for Max. Morgan was another California kid. It wasn't until Max was in the ambulance on the way to the ER that he actually came to and knew what was happening.  It took about 45 minutes for the ambulance to arrive with the emt's. Soon after the hit, both teams were sent to their locker rooms.  They didn't want the boys watching what was happening on the ice.  They waited nervously and when they could they restarted the game.  Fired up, Tilton went out and won the game...for Max.

We were on the phone with another dad, Rick McMenimem for much of the night. Rick made sure that things went smoothly at the hospital.  His wife is an RN.  The hospital was running tests, but concluded that it would be ok to send Max home that night.  Rick and his wife were adamant and helped me convince the hospital to keep him overnight for observation.

Fortunately, the violence of the hit and the event surrounding the immediate situation was much worse than the actual damage to his head.  The tests all came back negative.  By the next morning Max felt "fine".  He had none of the typical symptoms associated with concussions.  No headaches, no blurred vision or nausea.  He was able to fly home that Sunday night and he spent the entire winter break taking it easy.  He was not allowed to skate.  No reading or exercise.  So he hung out, slept as late as he felt like it.  No pressure to do anything.  A perfect vacation.  Of course, he would have rather been going out, hanging out with his buddies, skating and working out.  He never once complained of any effects from the concussion.  He, we...were all extremely lucky.

This was just about the time that the world really started taking concussions seriously, so he got the best care, the best treatment and the right amount of precaution.  In my day I suffered more hits to my head than I can count.  It was not a big deal.  You played if you could.

When Max was a peewee, we watched as one of our friends, Dan Comrie, was forced to retire from hockey at the ripe old age of 17 or 18 due to too many concussions.  Dan had a promising future in hockey. As a junior in high school he'd already been offered a full ride and had committed to Denver.  He was a force in the USHL.  And then it was over.  Just like that.  So we know how serious this can be.  

The day he got home I was out talking to my neighbor.  We lived across the street from Xavier Nady.  Xavier started his professional baseball career with the San Diego Padres and bounced around the major leagues for many years.  Here is his biography.
Xavier came over and met Max and shared his own concussion experiences.  He'd been beaned pretty badly at one point in his career.  I'm not sure if he's playing this year.  Last year he was with the Washington Nationals and finished with the San Francisco Giants.

Max and His Buddy Schmiddy hanging out in
the man cave
Max was out of the woods injury-wise.  We got him, and made him wear one of those Mark Messier M11 helmets for the rest of the season at Tilton.  He had a number of appointments with the neurologist to evaluate and test him.  Tilton, like many other schools and sports teams, has their student/athletes take a "concussion" test before the season to set a baseline.  Then, if and when an injury occurs the player then retakes the test to compare to the baseline.  What I learned from all this is that the players often "throw" the initial test to set an artificially low baseline.  Kids today!  

So after a two week break at home for Christmas, Max headed back to New Hampshire.  Tilton was playing in a New Years week tournament at Tabor in Massachusetts.  Max would have to sit out that weekend until he had the chance to retest with the Tilton trainer and have another appointment with their preferred neurologist in New Hampshire.  Once done he was cleared to participate again.

Crisis averted.  Damage done, but not nearly as bad as it seemed or as it could have been.  My biggest fear, besides his general well being, was that his career would be over, or at least his season would end in the middle.  This was a critical time for being productive and having a good senior season.  He picked up the reins and continued his season the following weekend.  He barely missed a beat.  A few games into his comeback and he took another head shot that broke his M11 helmet...He was fine.  I was out another buck thirty or so.  At least New Hampshire doesn't have sales tax.  Live free or die!  Or as they say in the land of anything goes, such as no motorcycle helmet laws....live free AND die!

This is how practiced ended this day
at Tilton
I, on the other hand, had my next surgery a few days after Max went back to school.  This would be my sixth spinal surgery due to all the pounding I took over the years.  A few weeks later I would come back to New Hampshire to recuperate and watch him while I could.  I spent the next three weeks with my friend, Doug Hentz, on Lake Winnepesaukee.  I made it to all the games during that period.  I hung out with Coach Norton's dad, Bob Norton for a good deal of the time.  Bob is well known to many in the New Hampshire and New England area.  He was the voice of Hockey East for the New England Sports Network.  He also coached with Charlie Holt at UNH.  Charlie Holt is the father of my friend and former Uconn teammate, Brad Holt, who I've mentioned previously.  Not many degrees of separation there.

We continued to keep the D1 dream alive.  There would always be more summer showcases and then junior hockey...and then another year of junior hockey.  #21yearoldfreshmanproblems

I'll relate some of the highlights of my stay next chapter.




Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chapter 33: That's What Friends Are For

I started my hockey life with a group of local kids.  We all hailed from the same town.  We all played at the same rink and we spent many a winter day on the same frozen lake in my back yard.  From where I stood, I was surrounded by the older kids, the varsity high school players and my peers, my teammates and opponents in the town league.  There were the town fathers, the hockey elders who ran things and there were the families of my friends. 

That was our hockey circle.  As I got older my hockey world expanded to include the players from other teams in my state and then on to college where the only connection to my hockey past was my constant friend, room mate and line mate, Frank Longobardi.  I had new team mates at Uconn each year and so my friends and contacts expanded.  I never really knew many of the younger kids from my home town.  I knew my high school coach's, son, Marty Crouse.  I knew Whitey Bensen's son, Kyle…but I didn't really follow much of what happened at West Haven after I graduated.  

I did my time, had my fun and moved on from Uconn, when I had my major back injury that ended my hockey life for over a decade.

Fast forward to the birth of my son, my reintroduction to playing and then when he turned four, signing him up for mini-mites.  That started a new chapter in relationships that I enjoy to this day.

When Max and I stepped on the ice at the iceoplex in Escondido in 1995, he as a brand new player and me as the dad who volunteered to run the mini-mite program, little could I anticipate the rich friendships that I would form in the hockey community.

Jaguars State Champs-Alex Corbin, Max Balaban, Chad Ruhwedal, Jon
Parker, Rory Hansen, Joe Noris, Kory Grahl, AJ Hatch, Garrett Taylor,
Pat Mercer, Greg Park, Tom Plotkin(RIP), Jonny Noris, Emil Kedbrandt,
and Nick Whaley

There were dozens of kids in that first program.  There would be many more as each year passed.  Soon it became evident that the kids born in 1991 would form a core group that would stick together for years to come.  There were also kids a year or two older or younger who would form parts of this group.  As we played for first one, the San Diego Gulls, and then the next, the La Jolla Jaguars and then back to the Gulls, we would forge, strengthen and often separate from kids in that core group.  But they played together, and from time to time against each other for years.  They were either on the Gulls or the Jags.  They nearly all played for their high school roller hockey teams.  They all played together or against each other during the summer house leagues and for NARCH Roller hockey tournament teams.

The kids played, worked out,  and hung out together.  The dad's mostly drank together.  As they got older, they split off.  Other kids joined in.  My own kid branched out to other teams, camps and leagues out of the area where we made even more connections and new friends.

Dave Corbin, Chad Ruhwedal and me
A group of the boys ultimately decided they needed to head up to Los Angeles to play for the Tier 1 teams if they were to have a real chance of "making it", whatever that means.  Most of those kids ended up getting drafted to the Western Hockey League in Canada.  Anyone who took that route forfeited their chance to play NCAA hockey.  Because there are WHL players who had pro contracts, the NCAA says if you play Major Junior hockey in Canada you are not eligible to play college hockey in the states.  

More of those kids ended up heading for the upper US junior leagues, the USHL and the NAHL.  A few of those kids are now playing D1 NCAA Hockey.  JT Osborn is at Western Michigan, Robert Francis started at Western Michigan but just transferred to Umass Lowell, Brandon Carlson is starting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  You may recall Chad Ruhwedal played in the USHL, then Umass-Lowell, before signing with the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL.  He's fighting for a roster spot for this season, but will most likely spend time with another San Diegan, Jon Parker with the Rochester Amerks in the AHL.  

Of the kids we met and played with and against over the years from L.A., Arizona and Nevada, many more have made it to the pros, minors and to D1 college hockey.  The list is long and I've mentioned many of them previously.

And then there were the kids who reached the pinnacle of their hockey careers and have gotten on with their lives.  Many still play.  Lots of our friends are still playing ACHA College club hockey or D3 hockey.  Many ended their competitive careers and have found their were way to where we all end up anyway, the beer leagues.   

Me and Dave Corbin at the Kings vs. Sharks
Stanley Cup Playoffs 2013
One of my best friends, another hockey dad Dave Corbin and I have been connected at the hip for nearly fifteen years now.  I first met Dave when I left Merrill Lynch in 1992.  I took a deal and moved to what was then known as Shearson-Lehman Brothers. By the time I left that firm in 2006 the name had gone through about six changes.  Today it is now Morgan Stanley.  

Dave owns the Plaza Deli on the 3rd floor of the Wells Fargo Plaza on Fourth Avenue in downtown San Diego.  I'm not sure when we figured out that we both played hockey and both had kids about the same age who also played, but at some point our boys ended up on the same team, for about a week.  Dave's son, Alex was a goalie.  Max and Alex wound up both being on the San Diego Dragons, a mite tournament team.  I coached with another dad, Steve Terry.  Alex was going to be the goalie, but before the season started he was lured away from us to play for the La Jollla Jaguars Mite travel team.  The Jags played out of the rink at the mall at the University Towne Center in La Jolla.  You can eat at the food court and watch the kids skate. 

So our boys didn't skate together that season, but Dave and I bonded over the fact that we were both hockey dads.  

Dave is a super friendly guy with a raspy voice and a shaved head.  His deli is the best in town.  They make a mean avocado, turkey with bacon and cheese on sourdough called, the Plaza, #21.  He also cooks the best scrambled eggs with cheese I've ever had.  

My daughter, Bret and Dave's daughter, Cami played soccer and did in fact end up on the same team, Nott's Forest.  They were together for a year or two.  Max and Alex ended up on the Jaguars AA peewee team together a couple of years later.  In fact, Dave was probably instrumental in Max making that team.  I wrote previously about our tryout experience that year with the San Diego Gulls, where things were looking way too political so I talked Dan Hansen into taking his son, Rory and heading over to the Jaguars tryouts.  Rory was a stud and would have been the best player on whatever team he played for.  Max was younger and would have been in the middle of the pack where ever he played.  I'm pretty sure Dave convinced the Jaguars coach, Joe Noris, to take Max.  

Max and Alex were buddies.  They were a birth year apart.  Max was a 91 and Alex was 90.  So that meant that every other year Alex would be moved up to the next level while Max remained.  Our families became close.  When the boys were on the same team, we would spend every weekend together at soccer games or hockey games and tournaments.  Not to mentioned I saw Dave at lunch nearly every day.  Dave also played goalie so we played pick up hockey together from time to time.

Dave's daughter, Cami started to get frustrated with soccer and she began playing hockey instead.  She played in San Diego and then headed up to Anaheim to skate with the Lady Ducks.  After a few years she headed off to play prep school hockey at Gilmour in Ohio.  She amassed over 300 points in her three years at Gilmour.  Dave travelled to see her as much as I travelled to watch my son.  Once he ended up in Wallingford, Connecticut for a tournament with Cami.  he called me and asked me what he should do for the day.  So, I had Dave do my typical day.  He drove down to West Haven, knocked on my parents door and met my Mom.  He got to see my house and Lake Phipps.  Then i directed him to the rink at the high school where he went in and spotted my picture on the wall with the All State team from 1972-73.  Next he headed over to Whitie Bensen's and met Whitie and Kyle.  Finally he went to Jimmy's for a lobster roll and clam strips.  He and I were on the phone throughout the day laughing at every turn as he lived my life for a day.

Alex was always the number 1 goalie.  He wasn't used to sitting.  By the time he got to his first year of midgets a couple of things happened.  First of all, Alex stopped growing.  He matured young but hit his peak around 5'6" or 5'7".  The other thing was that the Gulls midget team he joined already had a goalie.  Brett Greene was at least 6" tall and was solid.  So Alex was going to be his backup.  On top of that Alex had suffered a back injury while snowboarding.  He ended up ending his competitive career.  He played pick up hockey with his dad but he pretty much gave up his dream of playing college hockey.  Alex was good.  Really good.  He was also extremely competitive.  Quick like a cat.  His only weakness was when he went down in a butterfly he left too much net open up high.  It was a shame to see his run come to an end.  Alex was the kind of goalie who could steal a win.  In addition to his heroics when we won the state championship during peewees, I remember a bantam game he played in Phoenix.  We were playing a much better Phoenix Firebirds team.  We were outshot badly but due to Alex's amazing skill came away with a 1-0 win.  That's just the kind of kid and the kind of goalie he was.

A couple of years later I was at the rink in Escondido.  Bruce Miller, had just bought the junior A team and was getting ready for a practice.  It was just before the team was to come back from the Christmas break.  I was reffing the adult league game and Bruce walked by.  He told me he needed a goalie to fill in at practice.  His starting goalie was having migraines and he needed an extra goalie at practice.  I suggested he call Alex.  Alex had only been playing pickup hockey with his dad.  He hadn't played a competitive game in nearly two years.  I gave Bruce Alex's phone number.  Alex came out and practiced with the team.  The next weekend, he was added to the roster and was sitting on the bench for the Gulls game against the Valencia Flyers up in Valencia.  

After the first period, the Gulls were down 3-0 and the starting goalie was having a rough night.  Alex started the second period.  Soon it was 3-1, then 3-2 and then by the end of regulation time the game was tied 3 all.  I was home watching the live stream on my computer.  I could hardly believe what I was watching.  I cheered Alex on.  They played a scoreless ten minute overtime.  Next it was on to the shoot out where Alex stood on his head and outlasted the other goalie to walk away with a 4-3 overtime win.    Needless to say, Alex took over as the starting goalie.  He finished that season and the next.  He was recruited by an NCAA D3 program and was promised the starting job.  Over the summer, he found out that other goalies from his league had also been recruited and promised the same starting position.  He opted to stay in town and play locally for the San Diego State Club team.  Here's one of my favorite clips of Alex from his SDSU days. Alex is the goalie in white at the near end.  

I had gained the reputation among the Corbins as Alex's "agent".  This was a running joke.  I'd helped him get back into competitive hockey with the Gulls,  I was instrumental in his college recruiting process, even though he didn't take my advice and play D3 hockey anyway.    I continued as a family "advisor"/agent for the Corbins with Cami as she was going through her own college recruiting process.  The goal with Cami was to get her placed with a good D1 women's program.  She got plenty of looks. She was a sniper and could score with the best of them.   I was friends with Tim Bothwell. He played at Brown University and then for the St. Louis Blues. Tim was the head coach for the University of Vermont women's program.  Tim is Canadian.   He tended to recruit mostly Canadian girls to his team.  He liked Cami but never bit.  She ended up going to Union and played there for two years but didn't enjoy it.  Cami is still at Union.  She's a junior.  She quit the hockey team and will play for their softball team this year.  

David and I used to spend many a Friday or Saturday afternoon together at my house watching his daughter and my son playing in their respective games on Fasthockey.com  We would often have two computers going at the same time with one game on each.

This is Dave's first season without any of his kids playing hockey.  I hope he will still come by and watch my son with me.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chapter 32: What the Puck?

The remainder of that first prep school hockey season was fun.  There were ups and downs. The team struggled.  They were talented, played well, but had difficulty stringing three good periods together. 

Same age.  Pre-growth spurt.  
They faced #1 ranked Andover in a mid-week clash at Andover.  Andover had current New York Ranger, Chris Kreider as well as BC'er Brooks Dyroff. Brooks's uncles, Richard and Tom, "Duke and Little Duke", were on my team at Uconn. They are in the Uconn team picture below. My son also got to face his old snack bar companion/foe Luke Duprey. 

Overtime Celebration. Tilton shocks Andover
In a shocker the game was tied 2-2 and went to overtime where Tilton somehow managed to score and win the game 3-2.  This was the highlight of an otherwise mediocre season for Tilton. 

My wife, daughter and I planned one more trip back east over the President's Day weekend in February. We went up to Tilton, stayed with our friends, the Hentzes and took the short drive to watch Tilton play and beat Holderness by a 5-2 score.   Holderness plays at a covered, but outdoor rink, similar to the rink we had at Uconn back in the day.  Brrr.   

1975-76 Uconn Huskies sporting a few beards
I'm pretty sure I already mentioned how hard it was for the visiting teams to have to play at Uconn. First of all, it was really, awfully, terribly cold.  A number of our fans went shirtless, warmed internally by the brandy they guzzled. Between periods they found amusement by throwing snowballs at the visiting team as they walked the path from the bench to the warming hut/visitors locker room.  We had the advantage of being used to the cold and many of us sported beards to help stay insulated. 

Downtown Kent, CT
After the Holderness game we headed four hours south to visit my parents in West Haven.  The Tilton hockey team hopped on their buses and headed down to play Kent and South Kent, also in Connecticut.

You may recall Lake Phipps in West Haven, the lake we lived on where I learned to skate.   My parents live in the same house.  The lake had been drained, not completely, but the water level was way down, while they were doing some repairs on a couple of dams. My wife and daughter and I went scavenging along what used to be the shoreline and was now exposed. We found lots of interesting stuff, but the coolest thing was finding some old pucks. We used to lose pucks all the time and we'd dive for them in the summer when the ice was gone. Two of the three pucks I found were just old and a bit worn, but the 3rd was a bit of a science experiment, an archeological find.


Lake Phipps Drained
A full Lake Phipps covered with snow
The Wonder Puck


       









The following summer I went with my son to a BCHL camp in Denver. While there I met up with an old high school classmate.   I didn't know him well when we were in school.  We'd recently connected on Facebook.  He owned a restaurant and bar near Denver U and knew all the Pioneers hockey players.  They used to come there to drink after games. 

His name was Andy. I had my decayed hockey puck with me, so I showed it to him.   He must have been somewhat impressed because he went home and told his elderly mother all about the hockey puck Steve Balaban found at the bottom of a drained Lake Phipps on West Haven.  

Now Andy's mom was old, a bit senile and needed care, so he'd recently moved her out to Denver to live with him so he could take care of her.  When he told her about how the lake was drained she asked, "Did they find your father?"

Apparently Andy's dad owned or ran a bar. There was talk of gambling debt. They are Italian.  He went missing decades ago and has never been heard from since.  Hence her apt question. 

So we made the four hour drive down to Connecticut on Thursday.  Friday morning we loaded up our Jeep Cherokee rental and started our two hour drive through the cracked, pot holed and frost heaved back roads up to Kent to watch them host Tilton. My mom, who is now nearing her mid-80s got the ride of her life sitting in the back seat of that SUV. She laughed a lot as she bounced around, up and down with every bump in the road.   We watched the game.  Kent won.  Then we hopped back in the Cherokee for the bumpy ride back to West Haven to take my mom home, only to make the same exact trek back up to South Kent the next day.  Only this time we left mom at home.

Our senior year house on Coventry Lake
We watched Tilton lose again, this time to South Kent.  Max had a nice goal in that game.  Here it is.  When the game was over, we got back on the road and headed over to Uconn, another two hours of back road driving.  We plucked Max from the team bus and took him with us. 

At Uconn we met up with my old high school sweetheart and her husband and with Frank Longobardi.  Frank was my line mate at West Haven High and at Uconn.  We roomed together at Uconn for all four years.  The first two at Belden Hall at the Alumni Quad and he last two on Coventry Lake.  

We all met at the Uconn hockey rink, now an indoor arena, to watch the Huskies play Mercyhurst in an Atlantic Conference game.  No one threw snowballs at the visiting team. Uconn had two California kids on their roster.  Chris Ochoa and Jason Krispel.  Both were impact, score sheet players.  Unfortunately, the next year Ochoa got kicked off the team. He was a senior and I believe he was set to be a team captain.  During the summer he was a counselor at a hockey camp on the Uconn campus.  He was supposed to be watching the kids in their dorm, but the coaches spotted him at Huskies(the local tavern).  It was too bad.  He was  great kid and they could have used his scoring touch. Apparently this wasn't his first infraction.  He played for the Uconn club team his senior year.

After the hockey game, we headed over to Frank's house in Glastonbury where we got to enjoy Pepe's Pizza.  It happened to be my birthday.  Frank's wife, Pat handed me a wrapped gift.   I opened it to find a scrapbook filled with pictures and articles of mine and Frank's playing days. A great and thoughtful gift.

Six days, three prep school games, one college game, great pizza and fried clams, good friends and many hours in the car bonding with the family. A perfect late winter vacation.  

My son's first season of prep school hockey was ending. He had a great year; socially, academically and athletically. We couldn't be happier with the route he'd taken. On to springtime-baseball and the start of the off-season hockey showcases. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Chapter 31: We Find These Truths to be Self Evident

In the small world that makes up our hockey community I never cease to be amazed by the connections, coincidences and potential for the next person you meet to become a fun story in a rambling hockey blog. 

Such was the case with Ebby Gerry.  Max was in his first year at Tilton.  Things were going well.  Lots of ice time.  Proud family.  Lots of promise for the future and the ultimate goal of playing hockey at the highest college level possible and getting a great education. 

I had recently taken a deal and jumped ship to go to UBS in La Jolla. My business partner and I had been at what was then known as Smith Barney in the downtown San Diego office for the past fifteen years.  UBS sent us to Chicago to meet all the research, money management and product folks we'd be dealing with. 

We attended a presentation by a municipal bond portfolio manager named Elbridge "Ebby" Gerry. He ran muni bond portfolios starting at a minimum of a half a million bucks.  Nice presentation.  We'd hope to be able to put some of our clients' monies to work with him.  

Back in San Diego, we had a number of conference calls with Mr. Gerry and clients exploring the possibility of hiring his group. 

If memory serves me, it was I who put two and two together.  I had subscribed to the best source of prep hockey info around, ushr.com.  The acronym stands for U.S Hockey Report.  The website is the best source of both prep hockey and college recruiting news in the New England area that I've found. 

I was perusing rosters on the website one day, looking to see any California players that I might recognize.  When I got to the page for The Proctor team roster I noticed the name of one of their goalies; Ebbie Gerry. 

I called my Ebby Gerry and mentioned this finding.  Yes, in fact his son Ebby was the goalie for Proctor.  Ebby, the dad, attended Bowdoin and I believe he may have played hockey around the same time I was playing at Uconn. Bowdoin always spanked us.  You may recall I had a chance to attend Bowdoin, as well as Colby, but opted for Uconn.  Not my best decision.

Max and Ebby, the younger faced each other a couple of times.  The schools are a half hour from each other and are big rivals.  We dad's would call and talk after each game. We were both watching on fasthockey.com. 

So that was all pretty cool.  But what impressed me more was this. 
The Ebby Gerry I met has one of the most fascinating family histories I've ever come across. His great-great-great, however many greats you need to trace back to 1744, grandfather was also named Elbridge Gerry. He was born into a wealthy Boston merchant family, attended Harvard at the age of 14 and went on to be a founding father of our country. 

Elbridge Gerry was involved with organizing resistance in the early stages of the revolutionary war. He was elected to the second continental congress, signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.  He refused to sign the Constitution because it didn't include a bill of rights.  After ratification he was elected to the inaugural U.S. Congress where he was instrumental in drafting the Bill of Rights.  Later he became Governor of Massachusetts where he is best known for redrawing districts to help win elections, a practice that was named after him and what we now call "gerrymandering".   He became the nations fifth vice-president under James Madison. A number of his descendants became members of congress 

Quite a lineage.  Just some guy I bumped into in my life as a hockey dad.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

Chapter 30: Slip Sliding Away

I was meeting lots of new folks, players and their dads mostly. A few mom's here and there.  I became friendly with the other California dads.  There was one whose kid was a returner. There were two returning SoCal players, Evan Hudson and Ryne Lupert.  The other two Cali kids didn't make the A team.  It was frustrating, painful and heartbreaking to watch them and their families struggle through this time.  It was also tough watching one of the goalies not really get a shot.  I've always heard about "politics" in hockey.  It kind of like its only politics when it's your kid not playing.   Well my kid played.  I was happy about that.  But it pained to watch both the players and their dads suffer.  And from my viewpoint it didn't seem all that fair.   

One of the kids, Jake, really deserved to play.  I don't know what the coach's reasons were for not giving much of an opportunity. He was big and strong.  He got into penalty trouble, not the most disciplined player. Maybe that had something to do with it.   He did play a few games with the varsity the first year. He made the A team the second year and played but again he didn't get as much of a chance as he would have liked.   I know there was tension between the coach and his dad.  It was terribly frustrating.  Jake went on to be an impact player for two years of junior hockey and again as a freshman last year at Potsdam State. Who knows, maybe the tough times at Tilton made him want it more. But it's great to see him thriving now. 

It was especially hard on the goalie, Lenny.  I have no idea how good he may have been because there was always someone ahead of him.  Again, I spent many games with his dad.  I watched my kid having a blast and listened to the dad gripe about politics. 

This was the first time we'd encountered this kind of bias.  At the competitive youth travel levels everyone plays.   Yes, benches get shortened, but development is the name of the game.  At the prep level it was much more competitive and and it really was put up or shut up, even when you may not have the chance you think you deserve.  

None of this applied to Max, thank god. He played on a line comprised of all juniors( the high school junior, not junior hockey juniors). They were the first line for most of the season.  He got power play and penalty kill time. I was happy.  No politics here!

The first game of the season was, as I mentioned away, at Exeter.   I had a couple of dads I'd befriended text me updates.  The game was scheduled for 3:30 est.  that was 12:30 my time in San Diego.  I got my first text at about 1:00.  Tilton up 1-0. Goal scored by #20 Max.  Cool. Leading the team in scoring already.  They ended up losing 5-2 to Exeter.

He went on to  repeat this little exercise for the next four games. They lost 4-3 to Cushing. After a slow start and falling behind 4-0...goal #20.  All four games followed a bit of a pattern as the Rams got of to a rough start. They often outplayed their opponent but suffered penalty troubled and kept coming up on the short end of the stick.  

Against Proctor, Tilton blew a lead.  They were trailing with under a minute to go.  Coach Norton tapped max on the shoulder for the extra attacker and said, "go get me a goal".  So he did. Fourth goal in four games. Tilton tied the score and posted a scoreless overtime.  But they earned their first point of the young season. It would get better. Much better. Although Max's goal scoring pace simmered down. 

The Governors Tournament was up next. It was the weekend before Christmas and the winter break.  I caught the red eye into Logan arriving at 5:30 am. I'd planned to work at my company's office in Boston, but due to the approaching of a monster storm, I decided to head north and go to the UBS office in Peabody, Mass...for the uninitiated, Peabody is pronounced: Pee bu dee....(rhymes with puberty)...don't say Pea Body....people will look at you like you have 2 noses.

So on very little sleep I worked until noon and then checked into my hotel, also in Peebudee. I crashed for about an hour and then awoke to a fierce snowstorm. I had 3 hours before Tilton faced off against Northwood, but I decided to head up early to avoid any problems with the weather...I got to Byfield, Mass(pronounced just like it looks) early enough to stop at Spuds and have some fried clams.

The tournament was structured with 2 brackets of 4 teams. Each plays 3 games in its own bracket then on Sunday there is a crossover and you play your same seeding in the other bracket. Championship game, top two teams, was scheduled for 2:30pm on Sunday. Tilton has been playing well, but has found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in just about every game. I say this because when I booked our flights home for Sunday, I made the bet that Tilton wouldn't end up in the championship game. This was important because the latest Jetblue flight out of Boston left at 5:50pm on Sunday and there wouldn't be time to get from the game back to the airport if they made the championship. My plan b, should they somehow make the final was to pay the $100 fee to change our flights to Monday morning

The first game of the weekend was at 5:30pm on Friday night against the Northwood School from Lake Placid. I was hoping Tilton would do well and my kid would play well against both Northwood and the next morning's game against Governor's academy because he applied to both of those schools, well past the deadlines, and not surprisingly didn't get into either. But I was hoping that Tilton would do well and they would realize what a huge mistake they'd made. 

My son's line is made up of all Juniors. The other 3 lines on his team are mostly PGs and seniors. They have been the most productive line of the young season and they started all three periods of all the games. Northwood had as they always do quite a few D1 college recruits. Tilton went up 1-0 and then 2-1 and were tied 2-2 in the third period. The game went into a 10 minute over time without a goal. It then went to a five man shoot out. Both teams sent four players without a goal. Northwood hit the post on one of their chances. John Hyslip,(just finished a four year stint at St. A's) Tilton's 5th skater came down and shot five hole to score what looked like the game winning goal. It turned out, that officially the game ended in a tie, but the shootout was conducted as a tie breaker in case it was needed for the crossover bracket. So, what looked like Tilton's 1st win of the season turned out to be "officially" a tie.  

The team headed to the home of one of the players family that lives in the area for pizza and pasta. I ended up leaving my son with ten or so of his teammates who stayed over night at this house. I got on the road at about 10:30 for the drive home through the raging blizzard in my rental four wheel drive Subaru. I drove three or four miles through barely plowed side roads until I got to the 95 south to Peabody(remember to say it properly).

I grew up in New England and driving in the snow is not new to me, but this was one of the worst storms I'd ever driven in. I crept onto the highway barely able to see out of my windshield, literally relying on my navigation device to see which way the on ramp was turning. I got on the freeway and you couldn't tell where the lanes were. Nothing had been plowed. Every so often I would find myself driving on the ridged right hand emergency lane and correct back to the left. Earlier I remember telling my son that driving in snow was pretty easy as long as you didn't go too fast. Uh oh..spoke to soon. I was creeping along in the right lane, trying to figure out how to make my defroster melt the ice that was building up on my windshield. The wipers were completely covered with ice and weren't helping at all...next thing I know a semi-truck comes barreling past me on my left...I already could barely see when the snow he blew up in my face completely snowblinded me...Now I can't see a thing and I started sliding sideways down the highway...damned Ice Road Truckers!

I had no idea if there was any traffic around me. I couldn't tell if I was heading toward a light pole, a cliff, a lake...I had no idea where I was going, but I was going...I felt myself go off what seemed to be the left shoulder and I continued until I came to a stop in the bottom of a ditch in the center median. The snow came up almost to my window. Within a few minutes someone in a truck pulled over to help me. He yelled down to see if I was alright. Soon a highway patrol pulled over and then a couple of minutes later, Scotty's towing was there. The highway patrolman made fun of me...he says.."isn't that a Subaru? doesn't it have 4 wheel drive...I've been driving for 8 hours with rear wheel drive and haven't had a problem yet". The tow truck guy winched me out, my Triple A  covered it and I was on my way. I Called my son and told him to forget what I told him about how easy it was to drive in the snow.

The next morning I was recounting my experience to some parents.  one of my son's team mates dads laughed and said "That was you?".  He drove by me laughing and telling his wife, "look, there's another one". He didn't realize it was me at the time...i don't think..…

Anyway, back to hockey. Tilton played Governors and played very well, winning 5-3. I had a smile on my face in both games as my kid shook the opposing coach's hand at the end of the game. 

Our final game later that day would be against Pomfret, the weakest team in our bracket...now it looks like we will actually get to the final, so I called Jetblue to see about changing our flights to Monday morning. Also, there is another major snow storm heading into New England and it is supposed to hit on Sunday afternoon and could be another huge problem as far as getting out of town before the holiday travel crunch starts.

Jetblue only had one seat available on Monday. I put my son on that flight figuring I could catch as much of the final as possible before heading back to the airport in Boston. Soon after I heard that due to the weather, Culver and the Hill School were going to leave and not play in the crossover games on Sunday. OK, so now our 2:30 game was rescheduled for 12:30. I called Jetblue back to see if I could get Max back on my flight to San Diego at 6pm but it was now sold out. So I rebooked us to fly back at the same time but into Long Beach instead of San Diego.

Saturday night, with the snow still coming down, Tilton played and beat Pomfret 5-1. In between the 2nd and 3rd periods the tournament director announced that Sunday's games were all being cancelled. Sheesh...so much for changing my flights. Tilton would have played Culver in the final. Max almost got to see his buddy Jason Torf (now at Air Force) who was the goalie at Culver. Max and Jason roomed together when they were twelve years old at the Quebec Peewee Tournament. All of Culver's games were at the Lawrence Academy campus and rink. By the way, the Governor's rink is beautiful. You can see it in the youtube videoclips.

No games on Sunday, we slept in and then crept through the snow back to the airport following the Chargers/Denver game on our Iphones. The travel miracle of the weekend, possibly of my entire life, is that when I was checking our bags with Jetblue, I asked if there was any way to get back on the San Diego flight and lo and behold we were able to. Not only that, but they waived all of the change fees and they didn't even charge us the $20 bucks for Max's hockey sticks/extra luggage.

So, great weekend. Lot of fun. Great hockey, lot of college scouts at all games... Crappy weather. Max is heading home for the holidays and is excited to see his buddies. Back to dealing with the global economic collapse for me. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Chapter 29: Hey Coach! Get a Clue

Let me interrupt the narrative here for a bit. I've been enjoying recounting my journey through a couple of lifetimes of hockey. Hopefully you've found it entertaining and/or interesting.  It's been a chronological accounting, with a couple of interruptions. Those being the passing of a couple of good friends who I would never have met had it not been for our hockey connection.  

I'm going to jump ahead here to talk about something that happened this week. I will return to the timeline as there are plenty of prep, junior, college recruiting and college hockey experiences yet to cover. 

Rochester Americans Camp
I've spent the past ten days on the east coast.  First, I spent time with my son. Although he's in college he had a chance to get some conditioning in by skating with the Rochester Americans junior team in their camp.  Then we spent a little time on the lake in New Hampshire before heading off to drop him and his stuff off at his new college.  After a less than satisfactory freshman year experience at Plattsburgh, he decided to transfer to Elmira.  Go Purple and Gold!

After getting him settled at school I headed back to West Haven, CT. My mom just had neck surgery and she's convinced my dad can't function without her, so I went home to help them both out.  

Schiavone's Peewees circa 1967/68.
Mike McDermott, John Glynne, Kyle Bensen, et al
I had a great week. I did all the usual things I do when I go home.
 I visited Whitey Bensen's store for the first time since Whitey passed away. I talked to his son, Kyle.  He showed me a huge poster which was an incredible tribute to Whitey on Facebook. It includes the blog post I wrote about him.


Whitey Bensen's Facebook Tribute 
















I went to Stowe's Seafood. Normally I have lobster roll but they had a soft shell crab Sammy special and it's the end of the season so I went with the crab.

My best friend in high school, Dave Depew had dropped out of my life. Not for lack of trying, but I hadn't spoken to Dave in twenty years.  When I was in NH I posted a photo of Doug Hentz and our boys. I got a message from Roland "Rollie the Goalie" Depew, Dave's older brother.
Max, Me, Doug Hentz and Trevor
He saw the picture and told me Dave would be in town for Labor Day Weekend. We made plans to get together. Although I seriously doubted his actual existence.  

I received texts from Dave.  Dave was the center man for me and Frank Longobardi on the 72-73' West Haven high hockey team.  They still talk about our line.  If I ever want to feel important all I have to do is go back to the rink in West Haven.  People will go on and on about how we were the best line ever to play at WHHS.  Go figure. Legends in our own minds.

I made plans to have lunch at the Depew compound on Ivy Street right across from the beach.  It was a bit of a Depew family reunion.   Jackpot!  They had fresh made pizza from Zuppardi's.  Roland happened to have some Birch Beer in his fridge so it was a perfect lunch. 

We called Dave, "Mumbles" in high school.  After the Dick Tracy character.  40 years later and he is quite articulate. 

We had a fantastic time catching up, reminiscing and reliving some of our glory days.  

The next day was Labor Day. I went on the internet and searched for tournaments at the Edward L. Bennett rink.  Yep. There was a youth tourney going on. I decided to head down and catch a little holiday hockey to kick if the 2013/14 season. 

I drove through the high school parking lot.   I could see the football team was holding practice at Ken Strong Stadium.   Nothing to see there. I moved along.  I turned the corner past the metal shop(do they even still teach shop in high school). Coming around the corner I could see the white and blue building where I played my high school hockey. There was not one car in the parking lot.  I pulled up in front.  There would be no youth hockey to watch this day.  

I wandered back to my car then back past the football team.  What the heck.  I played for that team.  I'm sure there would be some dads there who I might know.  At least I could say hi to the coaches. The head coach, Ed McCarty, has been there for 4o years.  I don't know him but I'm sure he was familiar with the legend of Me!
Coach Ed McCarty barking orders at the Westies

I parked and walked down to the field.  I stood on the track in the corner.  No parents there.  No coaches seemed interested in my presence.  I watched. 

The team was divided into maybe five groups, each at a different station or circuit.  The lineman were in one group.  The receivers at another.  The backs were off with another coach or two.  And the defensive backs had their own station.   An injured player kneeled in the end zone texting on his iPhone hoping he wouldn't get busted by a coach. 

Here's the thing that caught my attention.  The amount of yelling, screaming and berating that flowed from the mouths of these coaches sounded exactly the same as when I was breaking my hump/rupturing my spleen for the Blue Devils in the early 70's under coach Thom Hunt, Ed McHugh and that little shit, coach Garibaldi. Coaching by fear and intimidation.  I was surprised it was exactly the same as forty years ago.  

I've been around a lot of coaching, hockey, lacrosse, softball, soccer, crew. I've seen the highest levels.  I've seen tough coaches who are strict and disciplined.  But I haven't witnessed this kind of old school intimidation since I personally experienced it on that very same field. 

So I stood there and I watched.  I was closest to the defensive backs.  They ran a drill. It was an "interception" drill. Very basic. The backs lined up on the sideline. One at a time they would run toward the quarterback who would zip a pass right at them.  All they had to do was catch the ball and toss it back to the QB as they ran by him so he could throw it to the next defender. Pretty simple. 

Except hardly anyone could hold on to the ball. The head coach stands at midfield and watches all of the drills going on at the various stations.  A couple of coaches work with each group running the drill.  They give praise and some instruction depending on each player's technique. 

The head coach watched these boys, one after the other drop, bobble and mishandle the passes they were supposed to catch. 

A great opportunity for someone to step in and actually coach.  Instead, the head coaches yells, screams and swears.  He says he's sickened by what he's watching. . These guys are an embarrassment.  They are disgusting.  The coach running the drill agrees.  Yells some more. Berates them further.  Fires a ball head high through the crowd of players on the sideline.  No teaching moment here.  

I stood there watching.  Even before the coaches melted down I was thinking to myself. I could help these kids.  Give me two minutes and I could have transformed their ability to catch the ball. I've done it before countless times. It's not that hard.  But it doesn't include yelling and screaming what worthless pieces of crap they are. 

I've used this simple coaching technique many times. It's never failed.  I stood there contemplating calling the coach aside, introducing myself and making a bold claim. I would tell him I played here in the 70s. I'd show him the scar from my splenectomy.  I'd tell him how I quit the team my senior year and that was the year we went undefeated and won the state title.  How Frank, Dave and I all had over 60 points in 20 games and lost the hockey championship to Hamden in the finals.  

Then I'd say coach, I can improve their ability to catch the ball by 100% in two minutes.  You interested?  I would have been a hero. Or an idiot.  But we'll never know.  To be honest, this coaching staff seemed perfectly happy to yell and scream.   I had this whole scenario in my head.  I have done this with my own players over the years.  I've watched dad's struggle with their young kids and offered it to them.  It's worked every time. 

What is it?   Glad you asked.  I came across this many years ago. First in the book, the Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. Then later in a self improvement seminar, the Forum.  I've never seen it not work.   Here is a variation that applies to tennis that works as well. 

The premise is that effective coaching shifts the way the game occurs, or shows up for the player, how the player sees the game, the speed of the game.  Let's do something to slow down the way the game occurs for you.  When things aren't going well who, or better, what is present?  You are. I am.  I can't do this.  I stink.  I'm not good enough.  I,  I,  I,  ay, yi, yi!

When things go well, there's no you. There's just the game; the catch, the hit, the swing.  Think about a time you hit a perfect drive.  You scored a goal.  There's no you.  There's effortlessness. There's joy. There's satisfaction. But that whiny, critical inner voice that never has anything good to say, the one you call "I" is nowhere to be found.  

So coach, let's remove everyone's ego and focus on the action for a moment. 

Try this sometime. Find someone you know who considers them self a klutz.  Have them tell you they can't catch.  Or use a young child who is just learning. Then establish that fact by getting some distance away and toss them a ball. Use a tennis ball. 

Make a number of tosses to see if they were honest.  If they were, their actions, their response will be perfectly coordinated with how they see themselves.  Better yet, how they see the ball.  The ball will appear small, fast, unpredictable. Their hands will be like pizza paddles.  Their attempts to catch will be awkward, jerky and uncoordinated. The worse they are the more improvement you will see. 

Now, change the game.  Unless your style is to yell, scream or berate.  Then knock yourself out.  No seriously, do everyone a favor and hit yourself in the head really, really hard.  I guarantee that won't work. 

Change the game.  Up until now the object has been to catch the ball.  Now we have a new objective.  This time, don't worry about catching the ball.  If they catch it, great. If not, no big deal. This time all we want them to do is to tell us in which direction the seams of the ball are spinning.  All they need to do is watch the ball, see the seams and report back to you the direction of the spin.  Miracle ensues.  

What you should observe, and I've never seen this fail, is a completely transformed being.  What I expect you will see is a person whose ego/identity is not there. What is there is a person actually present to what is happening.   Recall Chevy Chase in Caddyshack.  NeNeNeNeNe.......see the ball Danny, be the ball Danny

Your test subject will respond to a slower, larger object and their actions will be in a perfect correlation or dance with how the ball occurs for them.  Expect to see their eyes focused on the ball, their hands cupping and receiving the orb as it comes to rest naturally and gracefully in their hands. Not the herky jerky movement when they struggled and batted the ball in an attempt to catch it before.

Granted, if I'd done this with the high school football players I would have given the same instructions.  But the football will always spin the same way.  I would have instructed the quarterback to change up the speed. And to surprise them by tossing it end over end to mix it up and make sure they were paying attention.  

We'll never know if or how this would have worked with the 2013-14 Blue Devils.  I either chickened out or I decided these coaches already knew everything and didn't need my help.  Either way, I'm sure they will have a successful year.  The old school type of coaching through fear and intimidation works. Go Blue Devils! 

Let me know if you try this and what happens.

Addendum:   I received a comment from a person from West Haven telling me that Coach Ed McCarty must be doing something right.  He's on the verge of becoming the winningest football coach in Connecticut history.  To which I replied: "I did say this this coaching style works.  My broken body remembers everyday how inspired I was to sacrifice for the team." I'm sure it was arrogant of me to pop in and make this judgement based on this brief glimpse.  But I saw what I saw.  Old school coaching at its finest.