Thursday, November 21, 2013

Chapter 41: Road Trip

Road Trip

San Diego Jr. Gulls Squirts
The first road trips were from our house in the North Park area of San Diego, up the 15 to Mira Mesa or Escondido for mite house league games The early days of travel hockey required driving through rush hour traffic to the Iceoplex in Escondido.  What should have taken 30 minutes often took an hour.  We found sneaky ways to get off the freeway and drive through side streets of Poway and Rancho Bernardo to cut a few minutes off of the commute.…then came away games in Riverside or at the Glacial Gardens in Long Beach.  Next were drives and flights to Phoenix, Vegas, Dallas, and San Jose.  Nearly every other weekend or so involved drives up highway 5 to Anaheim or LA.  Depending on traffic those trips took either an hour or three.  

About the time we were in the midst of these biweekly trips for practice the California highway department started an expansion project which was finishing up about the time we sent my son away to prep school.  We ended up with all of the frustration of the construction and none of the benefit of the completed expansion. Missed it by THAT much!

Gulls skiing in Utah
Gulls Midgets getting a tour of NAHL locker room in Dallas
As we moved up through the youth system the road trips stretched to Salt Lake City, Boise, Toronto, Vancouver, Quebec and even Europe.  These became our family vacations. I feel like I owe my wife a trip to Spain or Hawaii. She would agree.

Hockey Hall of Fame-Toronto
Once my son moved off to prep school and then stayed in New Hampshire to play junior hockey, I became a frequent flyer and a frequent watcher on when I couldn’t get there.  I earned many miles flying JetBlue from San Diego to Boston.  Occasionally I would take the red-eye.

That’s where I find myself right now.  I’m taking the red-eye from San Diego to JFK, renting a car and heading up to Elmira.  I don’t think the human body is built for these late night flights.  It’s impossible for me to get a real night’s sleep and then the next day is a grind as my body fights the time difference.  

Hockey dads on the road-phoning home before texting was a thing
Elmira.  When I played at Uconn back in the 70s, we heard about the Elmiras, the Plattsburghs and the Oswegos.  They were always competing for the D2 championships.  We, Uconn, never made the playoffs.  We were thrilled if we ended up with better than a .500 season.  The only New York teams we played during my time at Uconn were Army and Hamilton.  Both beat us regularly.  There were teams we beat up on, teams that beat up on us and teams that we competed with year after year.  Nothing really changed much.  We dominated Trinity, Wesleyan, University of New Haven, Bryant.  We never had a chance against Army, Bowdoin, Colby, AIC.  We competed with Amherst, Lowell, Babson, Umass(Amherst), North Adams State, Salem State, New England College.  We were never good enough to play against Elmira, Plattsburgh and Oswego because the only way we could have met up was in the playoffs.  A few years after I left Uconn played them from time to time.  I doubt they did very well though.  As I’ve said before, Uconn, until this year has never committed to their hockey program.  It was always the red-headed step-child to hoops and football and a casualty of Title IX.

Coach Bruce Miller at the bar with Dale Obinger(RIP)

Ran into this guy at the airport-Brian Leetch
One night in the late 90s, I was skating in my Thursday night pickup group at the San Diego Ice Arena in Mira Mesa.  It was late summer/early fall.  San Diego was home to the minor league San Diego Gulls during those years.  San Diego had been out of pro hockey for most of the 80s. In the early 90s, the Gulls returned as an International Hockey League(IHL) team.  Ray Whitney played for that team.  Charlie Simmer and Ron Duguay played a bit. It was an interesting array of talent.  A few of the guys had had decent to outstanding NHL Careers.  Others would go on to have the same.  Most had never made it nor would they, but they were talented and entertaining to watch none-the-less.  Don Waddell and Rick Dudley coached here before going on to coach in the NHL.  Walt Kyle also spent time coaching the Gulls.

Another player, turned for coach for the Gulls was a fellow named Steve Martinson.  Steve was an enforcer.  Look up his name and type in the word fights on youtube.  You will be entertained. He played at St. Cloud State before starting out on a minor league career.  He spent a few years in the IHL and AHL before being called up to the NHL.  He played 49 games, mostly with Montreal. A few with Detroit and one game with Minnesota(North Stars).

I also skated with Steve in those days during the summer pick-up sessions.  At one point near the end of his playing career and before he started coaching, he was selling furniture for the Comries at Arnolds.  The Comries owned the Gulls.  They owned “The Brick” in Canada, another furniture chain.  I asked Steve to help me with a community fund raising event I was doing.  He was very generous with his time.  After that I suggested he come work with me at Smith Barney.  He was my assistant for a short period of time before striking out on his own.  He was not cut out for the investment business.  He kept sneaking of to play hockey.  In the brokerage business, you need permission to take on any outside jobs.  Steve snuck off a few times to play for the Houston Aeros of the IHL.  Soon he was hired by the Gulls to take over as their head coach.  He won a few championships before being edged out of the job by the son in law of the owner of the arena.  He’s gone on to continue having a successful coaching career.  I just realized he coached the ECHL Elmira Jackals for three years before moving on to the Chicago Express and now the Allen Americans of the CHL.  He’s won 7 championships in his 15 years of coaching.  

Please do yourself a favor and take about 10 minutes to enjoy this raunchy clip.  Steve is the coach on the bench.  This is hilarious, but NSFW.  

I was warming up before the pick up session and there were a number of the Gulls players who’d come back to town for their training camp.  A lot of our regulars had played various levels of pro hockey and were friends with the Gulls.  This was the best pick-up group in town.  I was stretching and skating, getting the feel of the puck on my stick. One of the new Gulls was skating next to me.  We started chatting.  I found out his name.  It was Jason.  Jason Courtemanche
Pretty quickly we realized we were both from Connecticut.  I mentioned I’d played at Uconn, graduating in 1977.  He told me he was 7 when I graduated.  I think this may have been the first time I realized I was old.  I was 40. 

I got to know Jason pretty well.  I watched him play for the Gulls.  They’d become a West Coast Hockey League(WCHL) team by then.  They later merged with what is now the East Coast Hockey League(ECHL).  The ECHL is still going strong as a Tier 3 Minor league.  The Gulls folded in 2006.  Jason was an exciting player to watch.  He was physical and he could score.  He wore #96.  My son met him and Jason immediately became my Max’s favorite player.  Max started wearing #96 on his junior Gulls team.  We used to go down to the glass during the Gulls warm ups before games and Jason would always toss Max a puck.

So Jason was from Connecticut, as was I.  He went to prep school at New Hampton in New Hampshire, just up the road from Tilton where Max attended.  He played his college hockey at Elmira before having a ten to twelve year minor pro hockey career.  He stayed in San Diego for a few years after retiring from hockey and became a sales manager for a radio broadcasting company.  I used to ref senior league games where Jason played.  He was pretty intense.  As you know, all roads lead to the beer leagues.  The last game I reffed in which Jason played I had to eject him for fighting.  He had two fights on the same play.  

Now Max is playing at Jason’s alma mater.  I don’ know if he needed it, but I do know that Jason put in a good word for Max with the Elmira coach.  

I got to see my first game last night.  Elmira has struggled early in the season.  Not much was expected of them this year by those who think about these things.  Coming off of their worst season in years, plagued by injuries and relying on a very young team they struggled.  So, when they beat a ranked team, Neumann, in their season opener, I think folks were saying, “Hey wait a minute, what have we here?”  A young squad with a difficult season under their belt.  Maybe they will contend.  

A loss, then another loss against, 4-3 against Utica, the third ranked team in the country left the team still thinking they had something to show the world. This would be followed a win and two more losses.  So last nights game was important.  The team needed to get back on a winning track.  I chatted briefly with the radio announcer before the game.  His name is Bob Michaels.  I told him I always bring good luck. So I expected a win tonight. He laughed because I was pretty bundled up in a down coat I bought at the truck stop on my drive from JFK airport to Elmira.   I didn’t expect it to be so cold.  After the first period, my buddy, Dave Corbin called me from San Diego.  He was laughing and held up his phone to the computer so I could listen.  Bob was interviewing Max on the radio.  Bob was making fun of my new coat during the on-air interview.  

I was impressed with the speed of the game.  Max’s line mate, Jesper Strale scored 1:46 into the first period.  Max got an assist on the goal. It turned out to be the game winner as they went on to win by a convincing score of 5-0 for freshman goalie, Sal Magliocco’s first career shutout.  Nick Owen, a freshman defenseman in his first game scored on a slap shot to make it 2-0.  Notice #19 Captain, Josh Burnell recovering the puck to give to Nick.

My wife and daughter are flying in and we will catch two more games this weekend. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chapter 40: Game Day!

Hockey Guy Part 4

It's a great day for hockey.  It's game day.  I'm excited, can hardly wait.  Today will be filled with silly superstitions.  There will be things I always do on gameday and things I never do.  My buddy Dave, is coming over.  I'll have the laptop with the hdmi cable set up so we can watch on the big screen.  Hopefully the internet connection will be good and the broadcast will be at least acceptable.  All I ask is that I be able to tell what's going on.  It doesn't have to be high def quality. I just want to be able to follow the game.

Last weekend, the kickoff weekend for the season, I was unable to get a video feed for the first period.  I had the radio broadcast.  My son's team, which had an uncharacteristic losing season last year, has some pretty low expectations for this season.  Two and a half minutes into the game they scored a powerplay goal against the favored visiting team.  I had yet to hear my son's name on the broadcast.  I wasn't sure what line he was on.  Seventeen seconds later I hear the announcer proclaiming another goal and he's shouting my son's name.  Well, I missed seeing it, but I was so happy to have that first one out of the way.  I think this season may turnout to be much better than last for both his team and for my boy.

I started this blog, this story of my life as a hockey player, coach, ref, dad and fan in the middle of this past
This was not the Jaguars team mentioned above.  This
is the miracle Jaguars State Champions from the next season
summer.  It was the height of the off-season.  It was also in the midst of an identity crisis for both my son and myself.  I started writing, pretty much as therapy for myself to deal with the prospect that the dream may have ended.  After many amazing and successful years of supporting, watching and encouraging my son through youth, prep school and junior hockey he ran into a brickwall last year, his first year of college.  It was the first negative experience he'd had since a miserable year as a first year squirt with the La Jolla Jaguars when he was 10 years old.  That team had JT Osborn(Western Michigan) Jon Parker(WHL and Rochester Amerks/AHL),  Garrett Taylor(WHL and USHL), Brandon Calrson(USHL and Univ of Alabama, Huntsville) and others who went on to play junior and ACHA club hockey.  I coached….for part of the season.  I told this story earlier, but there were a number of problems that year.  

First, the club made us take on too many kids.  So even with a core of great talent, we were only competitive on days where some of the lower level players were no-shows.  Next, we had a devil child on the team.  He disrupted everything.  Finally there was me.  I’d just gone through a hockey camp as a participant with my son with a guy who taught old school hard core, no-nonsense discipline.  Still glowing from the effect he had on me, I ended up smacking one of those little shits in the helmet after he pulled a bone head move on the ice.  That pretty much ended my youth coaching career for a few years until that blew over.  9/11 had just happened.  I ended up having neck surgery a short while after that.  The team was terrible..we tried to get a release and transfer Max back to his previous team, the San Diego Gulls, but there was a bureaucratic hangup and that didn’t happen.  Speaking of the Gulls, you have to see this. The team may have won four games all year.  It was a difficult year for sure.  

That was followed by ten solid, fun, successful seasons.  There isn’t one that I don’t look back on and feel anything but pride and satisfaction.  The last year of juniors was one of the best.  The team was successful. Max was a team leader and near the top of the league in scoring.  He was getting plenty of notice from colleges.  The D1 opportunities never really happened.  I kept hoping.  He took recruiting trips to a number of top rated D3 schools.  There was plenty of interest from many of the coaches in the Boston and surrounding areas as well.  

I'm torn on how to proceed with the rest of this story.  Up until now I think you would say this has been a fun, hopefully interesting and light hearted tale of our journey.  As we start to bump up against the present day I'm not really sure how to relay what has been happening lately.  I do not wish to come of as petty.  I don't want to bad mouth anyone and yet I'm baffled with some of what has gone on in the past year.

I'm a big boy.  I think I know about as much about hockey as anyone who has played at a decent level, coached, reffed, broadcast and videoed many games, has attended tryouts, games, showcase camps and festivals as all of the above.  Yet, last year left me dazed, frustrated and helpless to do anything about it.  All I could do was listen and advise when asked.  

I also don't want to call any unwanted or unnecessary attention to my son as he fights to find his way through what has been a struggle and a tough period in his life and hockey career.  I've thought about, written and rewritten the following account a number of times trying to decided to include or exclude names and specifics.  I've decided to leave out personalities and just go with the story.  You can obviously tell from some of the pictures I'm including who the involved parties are, but I've decided to keep it fairly general.  

This is a story of D3 college hockey and the recruiting/over-recruiting situation my son found himself in.

The most persistent, most aggressive and most promising of these opportunities came from one school in particular.  It was arguably one of the most successful D3 programs in the country.  The coach called Max a lot.  He was constantly pressing for him to commit.  He had a reputation as a real hard ass/hard core coach.  That appealed to Max.  He responded well to that kind of leadership.  Pat Norton at Tilton was fairly demanding.  Bill Flanagan of the Cyclones was “off the charts” intense.  He’d heard from people about this coach's reputation and he found it appealing.  He thought it brought out the best in him.

The coach also called me.  We had a nice conversation.  He was very friendly and open.  I was invited to call him anytime with any questions I may have.  I never spoke to him again.  Not even when we bumped into each other a few times the following season.  He looked right past me on those few occasions.  

It was a very tough decision, but in the end he committed, with great enthusiasm to this school and this coach.  He and nine other freshman forwards.  Max felt confident that he would have the chance to contribute and be an impact player and he was excited for what was next.  He spent the summer working out and skating.  He showed up and skated with the team in the captains practices.  He seemed to do well in the preseason conditioning reaching personal bests in bench pressing.  He passed the strength and fitness testing with flying colors.  Some didn't and they sat until they did, including their incredibly talented starting goalie.
The preseason came and he did well in the exhibition season.The first game of the season was upon us and he was a healthy scratch.  Well, there were a lot of freshman to test and he got to play in the next game.  He took two penalties in that game, not something that will impress this coach.  They were aggressive plays and not bad penalties. While these penalties didn’t sit well with the coach, he sat well as a healthy scratch for the next few games.

Proud Hockey Mom
Friday mornings became painful.  I would wait for his text after 9:00 am pacific time, noon on the east coast, when the coach would post the roster for that night’s game.  More often than not he wasn’t on the list.  I flew out the week before Thanksgiving to watch a few games.  My daughter was with me.  We went to a couple of road games.  He played in both.  On his first shift he came down with the puck, made a great play and hit the post.  So close.  His team ended up losing 3-2.  The coach wasn’t happy.  The next night they won.  We headed to New York and met up with my wife and went to my brother’s in Manhattan for Thanksgiving dinner.  On Friday we drove up to Vermont to watch a tournament.  We sat in the stands, with my son, and watched his team get beat.  The next day we watched his team win in the consolation game, again with Max in the stands.  

He didn’t play much after that either.  He came home for Christmas, then flew back Christmas night to join the team to prepare for their tournament over New Years.  He didn’t play in that either.  Nor for the next few games.  They faced a top NESCAC team a few weeks later, the team who’d beaten them 3-2 at the earlier tournament.  Max got to play in that game.  He had two goals and and assist and nearly had a hat trick. They won easily.   The team spent a month on campus with no school.  I think he nearly went stir crazy.  I think that was the last game he played for the season.  

All those seasons of my feeling badly as I watched other dads suffering as their sons sat came flooding back to my memory.  All those dads protesting that their kids weren't playing had more to do with politics than their kids skills levels.  Now I was the one silently suffering. Wondering what was going on that the coach didn't see my kids potential.  I can only imagine how hard it was for my son.  

This was another difficult year for sure. It was heartbreaking watching his spirit fade. It was a frustrating and confusing situation.  I understand there are some players better than others.  Everyone reaches their maximum potential at some point.  But something just didn’t make sense.  I knew my son had the skill to play at this level.  He had the work ethic and the character.  He had the drive.  But his value was never realized.  I don’t think I was just some proud pop who was looking with a skewed fatherly perception.  I knew many of the freshmen that came in with his class.  A few of them had outstanding seasons.  Just as many played nearly every game and without much impact on the scoreboard.  I understand there are intangibles.  But I’m a hockey guy.  I get it. But I didn’t get this.  It made no sense.  It still doesn’t.  

There were questions about what to do.  I’d suggested around Thanksgiving that it was pretty obvious his coach didn’t value him and that he might want to think about transferring.  He told me on two separate occasions that he would stick it out, he was in the right place and it would be better next year. I remember being impressed with his maturity and loyalty.  Unfortunately it didn’t seem to go both ways.

The boys were told the team would not be bringing in many if any forward recruits.  The team only lost a couple to graduation and they had this huge freshman group already.  Then, one by one new recruits were committing…I think there were at least four new forwards coming in.  Again, the handwriting was on the wall.  But it took until the end of the year before he really got the message that he was fighting an uphill battle. It turns out this type of over recruiting is not unusual. It happens at this school regularly.  It happens at others as well.  It seems to me to be a flaw in the system that deserves more attention.  

Transferring colleges is an ordeal.  It created a lot of stress and uncertainty and made for pretty much the worst summer ever.  It started with an NCAA form called a “conditional release” that allows the student/athlete to contact the athletic directors at any school.  Once the release is received, the player is then able to confidentially contact the coaches at each school.  A number of the schools and coaches contacted let him know that they were fully committed and there was no room.  His top pick wasn’t looking good.

The coach told Max he’d love to have him, but that he was awaiting word from one final recruit.  If that player committed, then there would be no open positions.  If he didn’t then he could fill that spot with Max. The coach knew Max, had recruited him the previous year, but he had to be loyal to the player he'd been recruiting for over a year.  That showed integrity.

This all took place around the 4th of July.  Two weeks later that kid did indeed commit.  The coach let Max know.  He was crushed.  That was about the time I started writing this story.  For the first time it looked like my son was ready to hang em up.  He said the dream was over.  

This was something I was just not prepared to hear.  I did a little snooping and found out that while the coach had fulfilled his recruiting, Max was welcome to go ahead and transfer, go throughout the tryout process and take his chances.  Best players play.  His interest in this school, this coach and this hockey program were sufficient for him to take that chance.  Since he made that decision things have fallen nicely in place.

Brad Holt #21 back row
Me #12 Standing left end
I said I wasn't going to be specific or name names. But there is one person who was a big part of this decision who I'd like to acknowledge.  Specifically, Brad Holt.  You may recall Brad was my teammate at Uconn and is the head hockey coach at the University of New England in Maine..  His dad was the legendary UNH coach, Charlie Holt.  Brad and I have stayed close, especially in the years since Max headed off to New Hampshire for prep school and Juniors.  Brad was one of Max's biggest supporters. He may have watched him play more than any other college coach over those years.  He was extremely helpful in advising Max on how to sort through the transfer experience and was super supportive of his decision.  He would have loved for Max to play for him, but he was selfless in his support and advice.  Again, I was blown away by his integrity.

It's early in the season.  Things could barely have gone better so far this season.  I couldn't be happier.  We are planning a trip back for Thanksgiving.  It's been really nice to wake up on game days and not have to stress out whether he's going to be in the lineup or not.  It's nice to see him be able to make a contribution.  I will continue to write about this journey and our experience as my son continues his relentless and unwavering march toward the beer leagues. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Chapter 39: Junior Hockey Growing Pains(Mine)

A theme was emerging.  Go where you are wanted.  I’d seen so many players try to make teams above their pay grade.  It rarely ever worked out.  Starting with being recruited by Pat Norton at Tilton and then by Bill Flanagan at the Northern Cyclones there were clear signals that the kid was wanted, went where he was wanted and he made the most of both opportunities.  I think all anyone wants is a fair shot and a chance to prove that you are up to the task.  That happened at Tilton and it would also be the case with the Cyclones. This philosophy broke down when he got to his first year of college.  I will cover that issue when we get there.

The other theme, from my vantage point was that I was no longer in the picture.  Except for to write the checks.  Flanagan made it very clear to everyone he wants nothing to do with parents.  I obliged.  I did befriend his team manager, Brandon Barnard.  Brandon, or B as he is known, was great.  I helped him with some scouting and recruiting.  In return he helped me with Max’s housing, job hunts, etc.  We had a good relationship and we still do.  The team also had an advisor who was going to work with the kids to help them get placed.  His name is Brett Carriere.  Brett had played for the Cyclones and was one of the success stories of players who went on to have a decent D1 college career.  He was a borderline D1 recruit who had plenty of D3 opportunities, but held out and ended attending UMaine and had a decent career there.   Brett was very helpful in the first year, but got involved in his own business career and was not available during the second year.

But for the most part, I was now an interested observer.  Junior hockey, more than anything else was a time for my kid to become his own man. I remained his biggest fan, but my role had changed.  I was no longer in the middle of the action.  I was far removed.  I didn't like it.  I experienced growing pains.  It's now his second year in college and I am still missing being a bigger part of things.

Both seasons were very successful seasons for the team.  Max was productive, 44 points in 44 games the first year and 57 points in the same number of games the next, split fairly evenly between goals and assists.  Coach Flanagan was intense.  He hated to lose.  My son responds well to this type of coaching.  He’d never seen anything like this though.  Losing was not tolerated.  It came with trash cans being thrown, sticks broken, people being sat, the team being punished in various ways.   He made it very unpalatable to lose.  The team complied.  They were #1 or #2 all year for both seasons.  

There were a few teams that were competitive and gave the Cyclones a tough time.  They were the Walpole Express, Mike Adessa's Boston Bulldogs and the New York Bobcats.  Any games between these teams could go either way.  Occasionally, one of the other teams would upset the Cyclones, but typically not.  A few top end guys on each team ended up committing to D1 programs.

So from afar I watched and listened.  All the games were available to watch on  There was no play by play, but it was better than nothing.  My daughter, Bret, who was a senior in high school at the time decided she would like to look at colleges in New England.  She had gone through her own evolution as an athlete, starting with travel soccer and softball.  She played both sports avidly until she ran into the fact that she too, like her older brother had inherited their late bloomer genes from her mother.  Max was barely 5 feet tall and a hundred pounds while many of his teammates were 6 to 12 inches taller and 50 to 75 pounds heavier when he was 14-16 years old.  His love and passion for the game sustained him through those difficult days.  

His sister, on the other hand didn't so much love the sports she was playing as she enjoyed the friendships and social bonds she'd formed over her young life.  As her sports got more competitive she started getting cut from teams due to her size.  She was every bit as talented and smart at her chosen sports as her brother was at hockey, but she didn't have the love for the game the way her brother did.  She even got cut from her softball team where her best friend's mom was the coach.  These were difficult days.

She made it through her sophomore year playing varsity soccer before she decided enough was enough.  It broke my heart to see her give up.  I enjoyed watching her compete as much as I enjoyed watching Max skate.   The shame was that within a year she had her growth spurt and she would have been an absolute stud-dette. The next year she ran track to stay in shape. And by her senior year she joined a rowing team.  
Zlac Rowing Club
Rowing was a trip.  A whole new world to discover.  Bret was strong and in great shape.  She enjoyed it even though it was a grueling sport and required a lot of work.  I forget what you call the seat, but she was placed in the most important seat on her 8 person crew.  She seemed to have serious potential at this new (to us) sport.

So her request to visit schools in New England, included contacting a number of rowing coaches at the various schools.  The timing of this trip couldn't have been better.  We visited nine schools between Wednesday and Friday.  Then we headed off to Hudson New Hampshire to catch Max and the Cyclones playing in a Columbus Day weekend showcase.  

Those nine schools included; Northeastern, BU, UMass-Lowell, Holy Cross, UNH, Connecticut College, Trinity, Sacred Heart and Uconn.  We were supposed to head up to UMass Amherst but someone wouldn't wake up that morning!  I had a great time and this trip was a great chance to bond with my daughter.  I got to see her interact with the admissions people and the rowing coaches and I was so proud and impressed at her maturity.  It was very cool to see.  We had a blast.

The Cyclones swept their way through their three games of the showcase.  There were a ton of college coaches in attendance.  The league held five or six showcase weekends per season.  These were set up so that all the teams from the league come to one venue and play three games.  The game format for the showcases were two 25 minute periods rather than the normal three 20 minute period games.  Here are a few highlight clips from the weekend.  Here's a game winner vs. New Jersey.   

Max got plenty of ice time.  He did quite well.  I couldn't have been happier.  Here is a highlight clip from another one of his games that weekend.  A hat trick and at least one assist that rung off of both posts and the crossbar.  I apologize for the music on the video. I can't seem to remove it. 

The entire season went very well.  The Cyclones ended up losing in the championship to the Walpole Express, but both teams qualified for the Tier III National Jr. Championships to be held in Rochester, Minnesota.

Junior A Tier III was changing.  The New Hampshire Monarchs and the New Jersey Hitmen of the ECHL were dominant and seemed to always come away with the national title.  The previous season to Max's first year with the Cyclones, the Monarchs lost in the national championship game to the St. Louis Jr. Blues.  By the way, fellow San Diegan, and past teammate of Max's Stevie Terry played defense for the Blues.  Stevie's dad, Steve Terry, and I coached together when the boys were squirts.  Steve and I had also coincidentally attended the same Koho Hockey School together in Finland and Switzerland when were were teenagers, unbeknownst to both of us until we figured it out over beers one night at a hockey tournament.

I made a few more trips and managed to squeeze in quite a few games on each one.  I arranged with Fasthockey to be a camera man for the Tier III Nationals.  They paid me enough to defray much of the travel costs.  I arranged to shoot games, but get breaks so I could watch when Max and the Cyclones played.  

As this was the very end of the junior season, Max and his roommates had all just moved out of the hockey apartment.  I'd managed to limit my liability for this apartment by keeping my name off of the lease.  But the property manager had my phone number.  On the first day of the tournament, I received a call from the property management lady.  Apparently, the boys left the apartment a disaster and they were pissed and wanted someone to pay for the extra cleanup. She emailed me pictures.  Pretty disturbing. I have no idea how it got resolved, but I never heard from them again.

They played the Chicago Hitmen in the first game. After trailing 0-2 the Cyclones came back and Max got the tying goal in the 3rd period.  The game ended in a 2-2 tie.  They then lost a tough one to The El Paso Rhinos in the next game.  Their goalie, Brian Fleming was very good, but he had a rough day.  The Cyclones found themselves down 2-0 early.  Max scored two timely goals to tie it up, but the rest of the game was a tough one for the Cyclones....they scored 5 goals on 61 shots, but it wasn't enough to overcome a poor outing for the Cylcones goalie, giving up 6 goals on 21 shots or an outstanding goaltending effort by the El Paso goalie, Trent Caspar.  The final score was 6-5 El Paso.  Fleming is in his junior year at Manhattanville of the ECAC West.   The final game was against the Granite City Lumberjacks of the NA3HL.  Cyclones won 3-2.   So, 1-1-1 at Nationals.  Not terrible.  Walpole lost to the Helena Bighorns in the semi's and Helena beat El Paso in the championship game.

The second season had it's own stories.  The team, and I believe the
Max, Me and Cassidy April
league, opted not to go to Nationals that year.  Max's childhood teammate, Cassidy April, left the San Diego Gulls and joined the Cyclones for this season.  This was the last season of junior hockey for both of the boys.  Cassidy had a good year and got an offer to attend my buddy, Brad Holt's program at the University of New England where he is now in his sophomore season.

I'll follow up next with some thoughts on the final year of junior hockey and the recruiting and commitment process that developed.

Chapter 5: Uconn-College Hockey

With Bob Blakeslee's support the high school allowed us to throw together a lacrosse team in the spring. It was a gong show.  All the hockey players and the football team got together and formed a mess.  All we cared about was hitting.  It was a big boy version of little kids soccer.  Just a mass of bodies around the ball trying to kill each other.  

I played summer league hockey again.  That summer was kind of cool. It seems like all of the high end players from different schools could be friends.  I hung out with kids who had previously been rivals and bitter foes.  Now we were playing together, hanging out, becoming friends.  It was a great way to transition out of our high school days. 

I went back to Finland that summer. I went alone.  Just as much fun the second time.  We took a ferry across the Baltic and spent a day in Soviet Russia touring Leningrad.  Today it is known as St. Petersburg.  I didn't go into the museums with the rest of the tour.  I hung out in the square, met people and traded away a pair of bell bottom jeans.  I forget what I got in exchange.  FYI they were a spare pair I'd brought for just this purpose, not the ones I was wearing. 

On the ferry ride back to Finland we ate smorgasbord style.  I carelessly got gravy on the table cloth.  The matron in charge of the buffet read me the riot act in some unknown foreign tongue.  While I couldn't tell what she was saying it was obvious she was pissed.   It turns out my ugly American ways were being criticized.  The table cloth I soiled was "the table cloth". My thoughtlessness was not appreciated.  

I made friends with a couple of stoners from Toronto.  When I got back home I took a greyhound bus trip up to visit them.  This was 1973. I was a borderline hippie.  My hair was a little long. I sported what facial hair I could muster.   I traveled with a backpack that had an American flag sewn on it.  Going through customs at Niagara Falls proved to be challenging.  "Purpose of your trip?" 
"Visiting buddies, playing hockey", I replied. They looked me up and down, figured I was a trouble maker and pulled me in a little room for some friendly interrogation.  They were less impressed that I was going to visit Toronto Leafs All Star defenceman Carl Brewer and more interested in the white powder they found in my dock siders.   It was baby powder to fight my foot odor. I was finally on my way.  

I met up with my buddies.  One of them, while living in Canada had dual citizenship with Austria.  He would go  on to be the Austrian goalie in the 1980 Olympics.    He lost multiple games by double digit scores.  No miracle for Austria.  

The first thing we did when I got there was party.  Later that night I played with them in a summer league junior game. Half of the guys played in the OHL, major junior hockey.  At some point in the first period I was forechecking a moose of a defenceman who decided to skate the puck out from behind his own goal.  I layed a crushing body check on this guy.  Only problem was I was the one crushed. He skated over me and through me.  I remember the collision. That's the last thing I remembered.  

The next thing I recall was sitting on the bench. It was the last minute of play.  A French Canadian forward on my team streaked down the right wing and beat the goalie for the game winner.  I looked at the scoreboard.  We led 3-2. 

I turned to my buddy on the bench and asked him if I had been playing.  I had. Although he said I was playing pretty tentatively. Especially in the corners. I didn't remember anything from the moment I got run over by the freight train in the first period.  It wasn't the first and definitely not the last time I got my bell rung. We didn't care about concussions back then. You played if you could. 

I don't know if you've been keeping track, but in my young life I'd ruptured my spleen, cracked my coccyx, broken my collarbone, had a number of concussions and oh yeah I broke my hand.   Later that summer I would pull my groin.  That groin injury was the one that hampered me the most.  Oh yeah, we didn't play with shields or cages, so I had my share of cuts and stitches.  Never lost any teeth though.   Oh, and all through college I had terrible back pain that I ignored. 

Frank and I arrived at Uconn after Labor Day to start our freshmen year. We dormed together at Belden Hall in the brand new Alumni Quad.  

Frank knew from even before he got to college he wanted to be a CPA.   I had no clue what I wanted to be or to study.  I'll get to the hockey shortly, but first i have to tell you I ended the first semester with an atrocious GPA.  Should I say?  Ok. I'd never gotten less than a B in my life, except for the D in Algebra that earned me my earlier discussed punishment my freshman year in high school. Ok, so my  GPA was 1.6. 

I freaked out.  I went to my counselor. I realized I never learned to study in high school.  

Two things came out of the meeting with my counselor.   First, I discussed my lack of direction and my envy of Frank and his focus.  His advice: hardly anyone ends up working in their field of study.  Study what interests you.  Frank became an incredibly successful CPA and is now the CEO of a major accounting firm.  I majored in Anthropology.  

The other thing that came out of that meeting was that I became a serious student. I spent many a Friday and Saturday night in the library.   I made the Dean's list every semester for the next three and a half years.  But I majored in Anthropology.   I should have studied accounting.  But it was interesting. 

My girlfriend, Debbie and I lived at opposite ends of campus.  Her dorm was called " the Jungle".  It was the beginning of our end. We went through a typically painful separation and breakup after going together for 4 years.  We are very good friends today. 

The hockey team started training in late September. The training, at least at Uconn was definitely not what it is today.  All we did was run cross country through the woods and we ran the stairs at the football stadium.  

Coach John Chapman, we called him Chipper, was a huge disappointment. He had founded the hockey team about twelve years earlier.  He was also the tennis coach.  He seemed to be content with his job but had no commitment to excellence.  His inspirational pregame speech had the same theme every time: on any given night any team can win(maybe even us if we get lucky).  

Uconn Hockey has always suffered from Title 9 and being the red headed step child to the basketball and football teams.  The school never really committed to the hockey program. Even when they went D1. That tide seems to have turned. Next year they are joining Hockey East and it appears the university is finally getting behind hockey. I just saw that Uconn's new head coach, Mike Cavanaugh just hired Joe Pereira formerly of BU and from West Haven as one of his assistant coaches.  But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Pre-season training came and went. My groin injury continued to hamper me.  I made the varsity. Frank did not.  He played JV that year.  And he honed his accounting skills.  It was a bit awkward rooming with him that year.  I felt badly but I enjoyed my season.  I ended up on the 3rd line. I played a regular shift getting a ton of ice time.  

I was one of two freshman on the varsity.  The other was Tom "Little Duke" Dyroff. His older brother was a senior.  He was "Duke". Even though Tom was bigger. They studied pharmacy.  Little Duke was a monster. A freak.  He had a thick beard, hair down to his shoulders and the hardest slapshot I'd ever seen.   His nephew, Brooks Dyroff, played for Phillips Andover prep and Boston College with Chris Kreider who is now with the Rangers.   My son's Prep school Tilton, beat them and Andover 3-2 in overtime a couple of years ago.   Just sayin.  

By the end of our senior year I had 37 goals, 64 assists for  101 points.  Tom had 71 goals, 52 assists and 123 points.   Both of us were in the top ten all time scorers when we graduated.  36 years later I'm still 24th and he's 13th. My Facebook friends Bryan Quinn and DJ LeBlanc are 6th and 7th. Bryan and Todd Krieger are 1 and 2 with over 200 points each. 

I had a good year as a freshman.  My groin injury was an issue. It definitely slowed me down for the first half of the season but I ended up with 7 goals and 16 assists.  I hated Chipper. He was no Artie Crouse.  It's one thing to hate a coach because he pushes you.  This was not that.  We didn't respect Chipper.  He didn't challenge us. 

We ended the year with a record of 15-10.  I think it was the best record of my four years.  The team never improved. My production never improved.  Frank made the varsity the next year and while I stayed at the same production level of approximately 25 points per season, Frank worked harder than me and outscored me  each of the next three seasons.  Our senior year Frank had 6 goals, 24 assists and 30 points. Me?  12 goals and 13 assists.  Frank was an Assistant Captain that year. Not me.  He worked hard and it paid off. I got complacent.  

Ours was a strange team.  Nearly half of the team, not me of course, would huddle in the back of the bus on long road trips and smoke pot.  I sat up near the front.  The smell was obvious. The coaches never said a thing.  This was a time of open rebellion.  The Viet Nam war was bring protested everywhere.  Colleges across the nation were dealing with protests and sit-ins.
We look like Ken dolls without proper anatomy! :-)
Streaking was in.  Disco and the Allman Brothers were everywhere. It was easier for Chipper to ignore what was going on in the back of the bus. On any given night.…

Anyone who remembers Uconn Hockey from those days will know we played in an "outdoor" rink.  Actually it had a cover, but like many prep school rinks of the day it was open all sides.  It could get damned cold out there too.  Often with the wind whipping through from one end.  This gave us home ice advantage.  Most of us had beards.  We practiced in this nasty cold.  Visiting teams dreaded coming to our barn.  It was miserable for them.  Not only did they have to deal with the wind and the cold, but to add insult to injury, their locker room was in "the warming hut".  At the end of each period they would have to walk a path from the rink to the warming hut while our shirtless, painted brandy soaked fans would hurl snowballs at them.  It was pretty funny.  To this day when I run into people who played for teams that visited us, that's their only memory of playing at Uconn.

One of my most appreciated benefits from my days at Uconn have been the handful of lifelong friendships. First and foremost has been my friendship with Frank Longobardi.  We've stayed in touch and he's been a great help on numerous occasions.  I've visited Frank and his wife, Pat many times. Frank is still the best looking man in Connecticut.   I love Longo.  Even if he is a Yankees fan. Did I mention Frank is a verrrrryyyy successful CPA.  

One of my fondest friends is Glenn Adamo.  I graduated and lost contact with Glenn for years. When we reconnected Glenn was VP in charge of Broadcasting Operations for the NHL.  He worked his way up the latter starting as a receptionist. He's such a great guy that people couldn't help supporting and promoting him. He's since moved on and is VP for Media Operations for the NFL.  He had a brief stint as head of marketing for the Jersey Devils the last time they won the Stanley Cup, 2003 I think. 

My favorite Glenn Adamo story was from a visit I had with him right after Gretzky retired.  My wife and I were sitting in his office at the NHL headquarters in New York. I asked Glenn if he was at Gretsky's last game at Madison Square Garden. 

He proceeded to tell me how he choreographed the Great One's final curtain call following the end of his last game.  Yeah, he told Gretzky exactly what to do after the end of the game.   Take a bow, exit into a locker room where Glenn instructed him, back and forth a few times.  At one point Gretzky was alone with Glenn in the locker room.  He grabbed both of Glenn's hands and staring deeply into his eyes saying ; "Glenny, thank you so much…I couldn't do this without you!"  

And I'd asked if he was at the game.   Yep. He was there.   

I continue to stay in close contact with my team mate, Paul McCormick. Paul lives in Brooklyn. He's in advertising for a company that's makes great commercials.  His son Charlie is tearing it up on a lacrosse scholarship at Georgetown. 

I was playing senior league hockey at Mira Mesa in San Diego on the mid -90s.  There was a scuffle in front of the net.  Everyone paired off. I found myself clutching my opponent who turned out to be Tim Bensey. Tim was an outstanding freshman defenseman during my senior year.  He was also on the football team.  He ended up transferring to San Diego State where he played quarterback.  We've played Thursday night pickup together for years.  Now that I no longer play, he skates with my son when he's in town. By the way. This Thursday night skate is legendary.  It's been going on for nearly 40 years.  Chris Chelios skated in it when he was a teenager.  My good friend and fellow hockey player, dad, coach and referee, Jaye Park was a little older than Chelios.  They were strict about keeping it at ten players a side.  Chelios was a punk rink rat. and they never let him play.  He was younger than most of the guys.  Jaye took Chelios under his wing and let him dress and shared shifts with him.  They are best friends to this day.  He used to come out and skate with us every now and then.  

During my senior year at Uconn, we had another talented freshman defenseman show up. His name was Brad Holt.  Brad's father was the legendary hockey coach at the University of New Hampshire, Charlie Holt.  Charlie Holt played on the U.S. National Team with my high school coach, Art Crouse in 1948.  Also on that team were Army coach Jack Riley and BU Coach Jack Kelley.  Brad played one year at Uconn then transferred to UNH for his final three. Brad has been an invaluable friend and guide in helping me navigate junior and college hockey with my son.  I've helped Brad out by scouting for him in the Western States Junior Hockey league.  Brad is the head coach at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. One of my son's teammates from youth hockey, Cassidy April,  just finished his freshman year at UNE.

Again, a fun part of my college playing experience was the press.  Nearly every game resulted me getting my name and often picture in the paper.  We had the Uconn Daily Campus that followed us closely as well as the Hartford Courant and the New Haven Register.

A couple of years ago I was rummaging through an old box of all the articles and pictures and I came across a game program from a WHA Hartford Whalers game.  On the front cover was a couple of autographs.  One was a Scandinavian looking name that I did not recognize.  The other signature was Bobby Hull's.  Wow, that was cool.  But I had no idea where or when I got it.  I had no recollection of ever seeing Bobby Hull much less getting his autograph.

A little deeper in pile of articles and pictures I found a newspaper article from the New Haven Register.  It was about Lyman Hall.  Lyman Hall was a mid-level high school team in the greater New Haven area.  I was wondering why in the world I would have saved this article.  I turned it over and it turned out it was a feature article on me.  Local boy makes good kind of piece. It focused on my upcoming junior year at Uconn and my experience of coming out of West Haven High and playing college hockey.  Again, I vaguely recall being interviewed.

So I proceeded to read the article.  It was very cool.  At one point in the article the reporter asked me what NHL teams I followed.  My response was that I was too busy with my hockey and school to follow pro hockey and besides, Storrs, Connecticut is out in the boonies.  We only got 3 channels and it was hard to get any hockey on tv even if I had the time to watch.

I proceeded to tell him that I did however, have a chance to go to Hartford to catch a Whaler's game.  They were playing the Winnipeg Jets.  I told him that during the warm-ups I recognized one of the Jets players as one of the Finnish National players I'd met at hockey school in Finland.  I got his attention and was able to talk to him during warm ups.  He invited me back to the locker room after the game where he introduced me to Bobby Hull and I got both of their autographs on my program.  Mystery solved.  Don't forget it was the 70s.  A lot was forgotten from that decade.  

I'll always cherish my college hockey days.  I graduated from Uconn in May of 1977. I was qualified to do. anthropology.  But none of the big anthro firms came knocking.  So I had to figure out a new plan.

I'll get to that next.  Something would happen within the next year that would change everything.