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. 

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