The Journey Continues
A quick note. Again, I'm recounting our (mine, my son's and my families) journey through our love affair with the sport of hockey. I'm again going to jump out of sequence to update you on the most recent development.
The other day we got word that my son made his new team. I will tell the full story when the time comes, but for the moment, let me say that his freshman year at his previous school didn't go as well as hoped so he decided to transfer. The decision came quite late, mid-July. There were lots of hoops to jump through. He needed to get a conditional release, contact athletic directors at all the schools he was interested in and then talk to coaches to find out if they would have an interest.
Last year when he chose his initial school it was a very close decision and a toss up between that program and his new school. The new school was at the top of his list when considering where to transfer. Problem was, the coach had fulfilled his recruiting quota and couldn't guarantee my son a spot. He chose to transfer there anyway, knowing he would need to tryout and earn a roster spot.
As of this year the D3 hockey teams could officially start skating with coaches on Oct 15th. The past month has been filled with the team skating in "captain's practices". At the strike of midnight on Monday, the 14th, as the calendar turned to October 15th, his new school could "officially" skate together. They kicked off the season with a an intrasquad game. I got a call at 2:30 a.m. east coast time from my son telling me he felt good and was optimistic.
The next day they had a 1pm practice and then another scrimmage game at 7:30pm. That would pretty much conclude the tryout period. The coach told them the roster would be posted at noon that day. The scrimmage happened and again Max said he felt good. He played half the game as a forward and the other half on defense. His choice. I think he felt he would get more ice time due to the number of forwards present.
I got word the next morning that he made the cut. I'm not surprised. But I am certainly relieved. I hate tryouts. The season starts in a week with the first game on November 1st. Now I get to wait in anticipation to see how that turns out. I hate waiting to see how things turn out.
Back to Junior hockey.
I was not thrilled with my son committing to play in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League. (AJHL) I figured, if he was to stay in the northeast he would be better off with an Eastern Junior leage team. (EJHL). There were opportunities and calls to go to a number of North American League(NAHL) main camps. We had our eyes on the British Columbia Hockey League(BCHL). Since this time, the AJHL and the EJHL have merged into the Eastern Hockey League(EHL). I haven't followed it very closely, but I suspect it is the best of the best of these two leagues.
I'm not sure why I had this in my head and it was faulty thinking, but I figured he'd be better off on a top rated AJHL team than a lower level EJHL team. Again, If I could do it over again, I would have encouraged him to sign with any EJHL team he could and there were plenty of opportunities.
But in the meantime we had bigger fish to fry. Beer league in San Diego. Working out nearly every day. Signing up for a couple of more showcases. He got invited to skate in Denver at a camp for the Langely Chiefs(now defunct) of the BCHL. He and his buddy Johnny Neal attended. Johnny was one of Max's best buds growing up in San Diego Youth Hockey. He's also one of the funniest characters I've ever met, in addition to being a great skater and a skilled defenseman. Here's Johnny in one of his finer moments playing "Blastoff" on the laptop. And here he is having a chat with some geese.
We all headed for Denver at the invitation of the Langely Chiefs head coach, Barry Wolff....Wolffy. This would be the first time Max would be skating in a competitive situation without a cage protecting his face. He went with the halfie. Here's the result.
In the first game/scrimmage of the camp, near the end of the session, Max had the puck. He stepped around the defender and was cutting hard to the net, without a lot of room. As he neared the crease, the defender crosschecked him from behind. He went head first into the crossbar. Nothing serious but it was good for a laugh and a few stitches.
Both of the boys, Max and Johnny were invited to the main camp in Langely that would be held at the end of August. I flew up with Max to Bellingham, Washington where we stayed with my wife's aunt for a day or so before borrowing her little camper van, Lulu and driving up to Langley.
Holding the main camp at the end of August puts everyone in an awkward situation. If you make the team, you stay and the season starts. You need to be ready to stay and play. If you don't you scramble to find another team at this late date. There is always a filtering down from the upper level leagues to the tier 3 leagues as players are cut from these tryouts. We were banking on his making the Chiefs, but had the comfort of knowing he was expected to show up at the Cyclones camp in New Hampshire the following week if things didn't turn out.
Max was set up with a billet family in Langely. They lived a couple of miles from a very impressive arena where the Chiefs played. I slept in the camper and hung out at Starbucks, Tim Horton's or any place with wi-fi. I'd learned my lesson from using cell phones in Canada on too many occasions.
The Canadian billet family was very nice. I’ll only reference the mom, Julie and her kids, Connor and Kaylee, because her ass of a husband ended up getting kicked out a couple of years later. They were excited to host Max. They’d never done it before and they were all thrilled. The little ones loved him.
|Langley Event Center, Langley, BC Canada|
There were a number of San Diego kids attending the camp. The San Diego Gulls goalie, Jason Campbell was there, as was Johnny Neal. We knew a few other skaters from around Southern California Including Chris Blessing. Chris was an opponent we played against from Valencia, California. I knew his mother. When the boys were peewees and bantams his mom was an entertaining presence on the Socal-hockey.com website message board. She seemed to have a lot to say about everyone and she took a lot of abuse over those years. She and I actually became friends after a while and we’ve stayed in touch to see how our boys are faring. Her son, Chris was fresh off of a midget national title with one of the Chicago teams and he was expected to make the Chiefs out of this camp. He did make it even though he suffered a shoulder injury during the tryouts. He played in four games before being traded to the Quesnel Millionaires, also in the BCHL. The following year he played for two BCHL teams and then the Fresno Monsters of the NAHL. Last year he attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls where he had a less than positive experience with the coach and is now playing D1 ACHA at the University of Arizona. Before you know it he will be in the beer league with the rest of us.
Jason, the goalie, played well. But there were a shit-ton of goalies all competing for zero openings. On the last day of the camp the coaching staff held evaluation interviews with each player. I spoke to Jason as he was coming out of his meeting. He said the coaches told him he was one of the best goalies at the camp, but that a Major Junior goalie from the QMJHL in Quebec had decided he wanted to play for the Chiefs so there were no openings. Multiply about forty goalies times $250 bucks and the Chiefs took in a cool $10 grand for just the goalies. My math says they raked in another $50,000 from the skaters, less the $250 I never paid. Nice business model. Again, from the looks and feel of things the team was pretty much pre-selected. Here's a little peak at what I call "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Goalies".
Max ended up with 16 points in 4 games. Every time he stepped on the ice good things happened. Here are a few clips of his play, here and here I couldn’t have been happier with his performance and production. The camp was structured such that each team played four games, then players were selected to stay to play in an intra-squad game. One more cut would be made and then the team went right into their exhibition game season vs. the rest of the league. Here's a clip of the quietest hockey fight I've ever seen.
Given Max’s performance I would have been shocked if he didn’t at least make it to the intra-squad scrimmage. I ended up getting shocked. He went in for his evaluation interview and was basically told thank you very much. Perhaps if I’d payed the $250? (In all honesty, I never thought about it at the time and no one ever asked. I figured at some point someone would ask for money. Never happened.)
I will never forget the look on my son’s face as he emerged from that meeting. Heartbreaking. Julie, the billet mom and her kids had come to watch the last game and we were all anxiously waiting for him in the lobby. It was not one of our finer moments. The air was thick with disappointment.
Max’s buddy, Johnny Neal, did make the cut and a stayed. He’s a defenseman. He got to the exhibition games and ended up making the team, but there were paperwork problems with his release from USA Hockey and he sat for a few weeks before finding his way to the NAHL Wenatchee Wild in Washington State. He sat for another few weeks as he was a late addition to the team and they didn’t have room for him there. He ended up playing in the EJHL for the Rochester Stars and in the Ontario Provincial Hockey League(OPJHL) for the Trenton Golden Hawks. He’s entering his freshman year at Hobart College in New York.
|Randy Carlyle and me|
One of Johnny's coaches at Rochester was Craig Carlyle. Craig played hockey at Brockport in the SUNYAC. His dad is Randy Carlyle, the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Johnny introduced Craig to the WSHL Gulls owner, Bruce Miller in San Diego. Craig ended up moving to the San Diego area to take over coaching the Gulls. He's currently in his third season.
|Chuckanut Bay in Bellingham, WA|
So, we left the rink in our camper van, Lulu and headed back to Bellingham to regroup and figure things out. We hung out with Aunt Barbara at Chuckanut Bay. Beautiful country. After that we started with arrangements to get Max to New Hampshire so he could report to the Northern Cyclones. With the anticipation that Max would be staying in Canada, I never made billeting arrangements with the Cyclones. They had a billeting coordinator, but we passed on the chance. In lieu of that, I had made loose arrangements with a client of mine who had moved to New Hampshire and lived not far from Hudson, where the Cyclones played. He had offered to let Max stay with his family. There would be details to work out such as transportation. Max didn’t have a car so would need to rely on teammates in the area for rides to and from the rink.
My client’s name was John. His wife is Lisa. I called them on the drive back to Washington, once we got back into the the U.S. “Hey Mark, It looks like Max will need to stay with you after all. Will that still work?”. Mark decided it would be best if he put Lisa on the phone, so I started discussing the situation with her. This was the first she’d heard of any of this. And she had no idea what “billeting was all about. So I explained.
“So, you mean Max will need his own room?”, was her response to my explanation. Yep, pretty much-he could probably use his own room. Well they didn’t have an extra room. They had two kids, and John had an office with a fold out bed/couch, but that is where he worked. This was not going to work, but they would be able to let him stay there for a week or so while he got acclimated and found another housing situation.
So we scrambled and after a week or so we decided on probably the worst possible option…the “hockey house”. No billet family. Nobody watching. Just a small group of 18-20 year olds learning to live on their own, probably without a mother or other responsible adult in the house for the first time in their lives. It wasn’t pretty and I already know way too much about the lifestyle, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Let your imagination run wild.
Up next, preseason showcase at the University of Vermont, the Woodchuck Classic, and then the start of the season.