Archive for September, 2011

Yes Virginia, they do play hockey in the South

September 16th, 2011 4 comments

There is only one NCAA D-I men’s hockey team south of the Mason-Dixon line, and it’s the University of Alabama at Huntsville.  That alone should tip you off that Huntsville is no ordinary Southern town when it comes to hockey.

Me at a drop-in game in Huntsville, Alabama. Note the clock on the scoreboard: that's AM, not PM.

I went to an early-morning (5:30 a.m., ugh!) drop-in hockey game at one of Huntsville’s arenas on Friday.  I was pleasantly surprised to find enough players for two full lines and a few subs.  Even better, none of the skaters were total ankle-benders, and a few were quite good.  Apparently, at least two of the guys on the ice play currently play professionally at the minor-league level.  From the moves those rumored pros put on me, I can believe it.

It wasn’t just young hotshots; one of the other goalies (three total in attendance this time) was an elderly guy named Joe.  His pads looked like they were from the early 1980s, and he played with a classic stand-up style instead of the now-dominant butterfly style.

“How long have you been playing goalie?” I asked.

“Since 1955,” Joe replied.

I paused for a moment, debating whether to point out that he’s been stopping pucks as long as my parents have been alive and that his pads were older than me.  Nah, I didn’t want to rub in his age.

“Cool,” I said. “I hope my playing career lasts at least 56 years, too.”

When more than two goalies show up to a drop-in session, we work out a rotation based either on time or goals scored.  For this occasion, we rotated every 15 minutes.

During the times I was on the bench, I chatted with the skaters.  I asked one guy named Jasper about the history of hockey in Huntsville.  Why was Hunstville an oasis of ice in the football territory that is the Deep South?

According to Jasper, the hockey crazy started back in the 1950s when lots of rocket scientists and engineers moved to the area from the North to work on the space program.  One engineer built an ice arena for his daughter, and the other engineers figured that they should use it to teach their sons ice hockey.  The popularity of hockey grew from there, and more arenas were built.  In other words, hockey is big because of the space program.

Me in front of a full-scale Saturn V rocket model at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. I'm 6' tall. The rocket is 363' tall.

“How many people are from the area, and how many are transplants?” I asked, gesturing to the skaters on the ice.

“It’s a good mix,” said Jasper. “Lots of engineers.”

“Ah, neat.  My degrees are in engineering, too.  Are you an engineer?” I said.

“Oh no, I’m a pediatric ear, nose, and throat physician,” was Jasper’s reply.

“Impressive.”  Hockey might have been brought to Huntsville by Northern engineers, but its appeal has clearly expanded.

What does the future hold for hockey in Huntsville?  Hard to say.  The higher populations of nearby Nashville and Atlanta, and thus their deeper pools for talent, leave Huntsville disadvantaged at the youth level.  (Kind of like the “Iron Range versus Twin Cities” dynamic at play in Minnesota prep hockey.)  In addition, the D-I hockey program at UAH is fighting for its life.

The famous Alabama governor George Wallace declared the Rocket City to be the “Hockey Capital of the South” back in 1986.  This goalie is hoping that Huntsville continues to live up to that appellation.

How many goalies are drafted in the first round?

September 15th, 2011 3 comments

I read an article the other day about the consensus first-round NHL draft picks for 2012.  Sadly, there were no goalies on the list.  That led me to wonder: how often are goalies drafted in the first round?  I posed the question on reddit but didn’t get a very satisfying answer.

Fortunately, the NHL offers an easy way to explore all of the draft results going back to 1963.

I looked at the data for the past 30 years (1982-2011) and found that in those three decades, 47 goalies have been taken in the first round.  Two even went as the overall #1 picks: DiPietro in 2000 and Fleury in 2003.

Here’s the distribution by year:

Number of goalies in first round of NHL draft by year

Keep in mind that the total number of first-round draft picks has increased over the years.  Thus, it might be more informative to see what percentage of first-round picks were goalies:

Percentage of first-round NHL draftees who were goalies, by year

One thing to notice is that some years were really good for goalies, but other years were really bad for goalies.  In fact, 9 out of those 30 years saw no goalies get selected in the first round.

What “should” the number of goalies be?  If we observe that the NHL maximum roster size is 23 men with 2 being goalies, and we assume that the same ratio should hold in the first-round draft picks, we’d expect to see 8.6% of the first-round picks used for goalies.  Instead, we see an average of 5.8% of picks used for goalies. (Yes, in case you’re wondering, that’s a statistically significant difference; p<0.001)

The question becomes, why aren’t more goalies selected in the first round?  Maybe they’re considered higher risk, and so not worth the “expense” of an early pick.  Maybe the fall-off in goalie quality through the rounds is less extreme than for the other positions, so it is easier to get a quality goalie in a later round than, say, getting a quality forward in an early round.  Not sure.

Idea for future study: where do goalie picks tend to fall in fantasy hockey drafts?

Tags: ,

Brewery tour

September 14th, 2011 4 comments

While in St. Louis, I decided to take the tour of the Budweiser brewery.  After all, it had been highly recommended by several people, and it often appears on lists of the best brewery tours in America.

I had high hopes, but I was disappointed.

The tour docents weren’t particularly knowledgeable about the process of brewing beer.  The tour route made only the most cursory of dips into the workings of the factory.  And my fellow tourists?  They all seemed more concerned with the free beer samples than with the tour proper.

Free beer at the end of the free tour, so it wasn't all bad

I should qualify this by saying that I’ve been on only one other brewery tour, that of the Harpoon Brewery in Boston.  The Harpoon tour was excellent.  It probably helped that the tour was given by one of the brewers, so he had intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the brewery.

One of the brewers/tour guides at the Harpoon Brewery in Boston last year. Pulling something from one of the fermentation tanks, I think?

There was one bright spot on the Budweiser tour (besides the free beer at the end).  They offered an optional “beer school” for the nominal charge of $10.  The class consisted of tasting a flight of Anheuser-Busch beers, along with a discussion of the ingredients and tips on pouring the different styles.  That last bit I found particularly informative.  I had no idea about the correct way to pour unfiltered beer.

A funny moment during the beer school came when we were smelling and tasting one of the samples of beer.  The class “professor” asked what we all smelled.  I swirled the beer in my glass, lifted it to my nose, and inhaled.

My first thought was that it smelled like my hockey gear.  I kid you not.  My second thought was, “That can’t be right,” then, “Wait… maybe my gear smells like beer instead of the other way around?”

I revisited the issue at hockey that night, and I noticed there was a definite smell of fermentation emanating from my hockey bag.  I’d like to hope that the smell was from the alcohol in Febreze, but I think I really just need to get my gear cleaned.

Tags: ,

Best roads (so far)

September 12th, 2011 Comments off

I’ve driven on some amazing roads on this trip.  The vast majority of those asphalt (and gravel) ribbons were completely functional, but only a few stand out as being truly exceptional.

#3: Beartooth Highway US-212 (Wyoming and Montana)

This is a famous road that starts in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, goes up a 10,000+ ft mountain pass, and descends into the friendly town of Red Lodge, Montana.  A good chunk of it is above the treeline, and snow is a possibility year-round.

The amazing vistas, the fun twisty curves on the many switchbacks, and the picturesque surroundings combine to make an excellent driving experience.  Better yet, there are numerous spots to pull off the road and soak it all in.  Charles Kuralt called the Beartooth “the most beautiful drive in America.”

#2: Sea-to-Sky Highway BC-99 north of Whistler (British Columbia)

I stumbled upon Highway 99 without knowing its many qualities; I had simply wanted to go to Whistler from Prince George.  I had been on the part of Highway 99 south of Whistler when I went there skiing, but the road to the south has a completely different personality than the one to the north.  Whereas the southern stretch is a 4-lane divided highway for most of its run, the northern part is a 2-lane, sometimes 1-lane, line of tarmac twisting through, up, and down giant mountains.

It winds through forests.  It echoes rivers.  It offers views of trees, rocks, snow, farmland, trains, tunnels, and more.

It’s a playground for sports cars and motorcycles.

It’s a thrill, and it seems to have been completely repaved within the past year or two, so it’s in excellent condition.

I couldn’t erase the smile from my face as I shot Sam through the curves.  It was the one time on the trip that I wished Sam were a WRX instead of an Outback.

#1: Pacific Coast Highway US-101 and CA-1 (Washington, Oregon, and California)

The most beautiful road in the world is actually several roads: start with US-101 in Washington, follow that down until around Eureka, California, then turn off onto CA-1.  Do that, and you will be greatly rewarded.

The magnitude of this road is what sets it apart from the others.  It’s 2000 miles of amazing scenery, scenery that makes everything seem right with the world.

Cruising down the coast with the windows down, the sun shining, and the surf of the Pacific pounding the beaches below the mammoth bluffs?  That’s the recipe for bliss.

It’s an engineering marvel, too.  There are hundreds of bridges.  There are enormous cuts in the cliffs.  Rockfalls, mudslides, floods, and other natural forces all attempt to cover or remove the road on a frequent basis.  On top of all that, many stretches of the road are extremely remote, which further complicates maintenance and non-functional cell phones.

If you ever have to go from Seattle to San Diego, do yourself a favor and drive the entire coast.

Honorable mention: the Alaska Highway (British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and Alaska), the Glenn Highway (Alaska), the Icefields Parkway (Alberta), and Highway 37A (British Columbia)

Tags: , ,

Amazing corporate campus

September 10th, 2011 4 comments

My friend Masaru saw that I was in Madison, Wisconsin on Friday, so he casually asked if I was interested in doing something.

“Lunch,” I replied, adding, “Name the place, and I’ll be there.”

I was expecting somewhere in downtown Madison, perhaps on the famous State Street.  Instead, Masaru invited me to the corporate campus for his employer, Epic Systems.  I’m glad we went with that option, because I was blown away by what I saw.

I drove Sam a few miles west of Madison to where the development of the city began to give way to the rolling farmland of the country.  There, perched on a hill, was the enormous complex of buildings that served as the Epic Systems corporate campus.

A small part of one of the many buildings at the Epic Systems corporate campus. (Photo CC by sarahbest via Flickr)

It was remarkable.  The landscaping was intricate, full of trees, rocks, waterways, and flowers.  The buildings, though large, did not clash with the environment as much as complement it.  The facades were warm-toned brick and wood, with tasteful black metal roofs.  And windows? They abounded.  A masterpiece of architecture.

It wasn’t just a beautiful exterior.  The interior was filled with high-quality fixtures, wood, and art.

The people were all friendly, and the environment was relaxed.

I was concerned that I would be severely under-dressed, as I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  As it turned out, I fit right in: the most-dressed up people were the ones wearing long pants instead of shorts, but even they were wearing sandals.

And security?  None to speak of.  Nobody had badges, and I didn’t even need to sign in as a visitor.  Remarkable.

The whole experience was in stark contrast to the corporate environments I’ve seen in the past.  It felt like something that belonged in California, not the midwest.

As I was walking around the building, mouth agape, I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted to work there.  I had no idea what Epic Systems did, but the work environment alone was compelling enough to trigger lust.  That’s the power of a beautiful campus and a friendly corporate culture.

It turned out that Epic Systems built health care software.  Really good, really expensive, really popular health care software.  That has led to meteoric growth, something like 30% per year.

Will Epic be able to maintain its culture as it continues to grow?  Hard to say.  But right now things are looking pretty good.