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. 

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