Archive for October, 2011

Lodging in Ottawa

October 22nd, 2011 2 comments

People often ask me, “Where do you sleep at night? Do you sleep in your car?”  Really — those questions are almost always paired.  Is the rest of the world obsessed with the notion of sleeping in cars?

Anyhow, the answer is that I spread my nights among motels, tent camping, couch surfing, and yes, that one time I tried sleeping in a car.  But that doesn’t really tell you much.  The real challenge is finding places to stay.  So it was with Ottawa.

“Do you have a place to stay in Ottawa?” Steve asked as he opened the car door.

“Not yet,” I said.

I was giving Steve a ride back to his house in Toronto.  It was the night before my Canada AM interview, and we had just got done celebrating a win with Steve’s hockey team at one of his teammate’s restaurants.  Steve was the normal goalie for the Pylons, but he skated out to give me the net.

We pulled up to his house.  Steve hopped out and grabbed his bag from Sam’s back seat.  He paused and said, “I might have a spot for you in Ottawa.  Give me 30 minutes.  Watch for an email.”

I thanked him and said goodbye.  Even though Steve had come through with the Hockey Hall of Fame Resource Centre tour and the hockey game, I was somewhat skeptical that he could find me a place to stay in Ottawa on such short notice.  I would be there the next day.

Any doubts were quickly put to rest.

The next evening, 250 miles to the northeast of Toronto, I showed up in Ottawa at Steve’s aunt Carol’s house.  I had never met Carol before. Mind you, I had met Steve in person only a day earlier.  I knew nothing about Carol and had absolutely no idea what to expect.  Likewise, Carol knew almost nothing about me.

A maple-butter beavertail, minus a bite. Beavertails are often associated with Ottawa, ON. They are delicious and have nothing to do with finding lodging.

There was a great deal of uncertainty on both sides, so Carol heated up the kettle and we chatted over tea.

Carol was in her 60s, but had she not revealed that, I would have thought her not a day over 50.  She was fit, upbeat, and not in any way pretentious.  After talking with her for an hour, I felt as at ease with her as with one of my own aunts.

Her day job was as a profiler for a bank, which I understood to mean that she was involved with vetting deals that the bank might make.  Somehow, that also involved her in diplomatic circles, but that might have simply been a function of her location in Ottawa, Canada’s capital.

As we drank tea — full leaf, prepared in a proper teapot — I asked her how it was that she agreed to host me for the night.  She laughed and smiled, going into the story.

“Steve has always been one of my favorite nephews.  He sent me a text last night asking if one of our family members was in town, since that person often stays at my house when he’s visiting.  I replied back that no, he wasn’t going to behere for a few days.  Steve quickly responded, ‘Great,’ and then immediately called me.”  She took another sip of tea before continuing.

“On the phone, Steve told me that you needed a place to stay for the night in Ottawa, and he asked if I might be able to host you.  I could hear Steve’s girlfriend in the background protesting that he didn’t know you well enough to be making that kind of request.  Something about how the two of you had met for the first time only earlier that day, and how you could be a serial killer or crazy or something.  Nevertheless, Steve ignored her protestations and insisted that you were a good guy and that I would like you.”

I laughed.  “I had similar reservations, since I had no idea who you were or what you were like,” I said. “I just decided to trust Steve.  After all, we’d played hockey together that night, and besides, he’s also a goalie.”

We talked for a while longer, but eventually I had to retire to bed.  I had to be at the CTV Ottawa studios early the next morning.  Carol showed me to the guest bedroom in her house and bade me goodnight.

My head hit the pillow, and seemingly immediately my alarm clock announced the arrival of morning.  I departed before Carol woke.

Toronto hockey

October 19th, 2011 Comments off

Whenever I have ever been invited to play with a hockey team on this trip, I have been warned by the team representative that “they aren’t very good.”  Not once have I heard from a team, “We’re doing great this season, don’t screw it up!” It’s almost like modesty is an unwritten part of the hockey code.

I ran into a similar problem, in reverse, when I was at Stanford.  I had a wood chessboard in my apartment, and occasionally when people would come over I’d ask them if they were interested in a game.

Invariably, they’d look at the board, look at me, look back at the board, get a little smile on their lips, and shake their heads no. I insisted that I wasn’t any good, but they didn’t buy it.  Eventually, I started to get the feeling that my owning a nice chessboard signaled that I was a good chess player, or at least better than them.

What did they think, that I was trying to hustle some chess?  I mean, maybe Stanford was the sort of place where that would be done, but seriously, I was not a good chess player.

So it goes with hockey, too.  The teams tell me that they aren’t very good, and I tell them that I’m not a very good goalie.  We go through a dance to set low expectations:

Team: “Glad to have you here!  But we have to warn you, we aren’t very good.”

Me: “That’s okay, I’m not a very good goalie.  I play just for the fun of it.”

Team: “Haha, us too, but seriously, we aren’t very successful on the ice.  Hope you like a lot of shots!”

Me: “Wish I were a good goalie so that I’d be able to stop a few of them!”

We then head out to the ice, lose, and come back to the dressing room, where this conversation ensues:

 Me: “Wow, sorry about that one guys.  I was a total sieve.”

Team: “No, no.  You did fine.  We just left you hanging.”

Me: “Um, no, I really should have had most of those.”

Team: “Bah.  You can’t be expected to stop 2-on-0 rushes.”

Me: “Well, maybe, but…”

Team: “You were fine.”

Are they trying not to hurt my feelings?  It’s not like I can’t tell when a goal was a result of netminder error versus defensive-zone breakdown.  Must simply be good manners.

Or maybe it has nothing at all to do with me or manners.  Perhaps it is simply the self-effacing nature of beer-league teams.

That brings us to my second game in Ontario, in which I tended goal for the Pylons.  I had been playing only once in every state and province, but there was so much hockey energy in Ontario that I couldn’t resist spending a bit more time on the ice there.

Steve, in addition to getting me a great tour of the Hockey Hall of Fame Resource Centre, hooked me up with the game.  Steve was the usual goalie for the Pylons, and like Matt did in Waterloo, he skated out so that I could have the net.

The Pylons were in the over-30 division. Most of the players had no problem qualifying, but I was technically six months shy of being eligible.  Fortunately, that rule didn’t seem to be enforced, especially not for goalies.  Steve had been playing with the team since his mid-20s.

I knew very little about Steve before the day of the game and the Resource Centre.  Based on our email and phone conversations, I pictured him as being in his early 40s and built with a solid frame, perhaps with a bit of the “extra insulation” that becomes so common as people age.  Boy, was I off.

When I walked into the Resource Centre, I was surprised to find that Steve had a runner’s build and was about my age.  He spoke and wrote with the conviction and skill of a mind beyond his years.  It was a complete surprise.

I came to find out that he had played at fairly high levels of hockey as a goalie when younger before burning out around the time he went to university.  He spent several years away from the game before gradually returning to it as an adult.  Nowadays, he’s on the ice four or more times per week, both tending goal and skating out.  The Pylons are just one of his teams.

What makes his return to hockey even more remarkable is that he’s living in Toronto without a car, so he schleps his hockey gear to and from the rink using public transportation.  I find it a hassle to bring my gear in from the car; I can’t imagine the hassle faces.  Still, assuming that the gear bag fits on the bus in the first place, it’s probably a good way to get some extra space.  Eau de hockey is not exactly an attractive scent.

The Pylons dressing room was crowded.  I knew it was going to be a fun game.  When a team can get most of its roster to show up to games consistently, it means they know how to have fun.  They might win a lot, they might lose a lot, but regardless, they keep people coming back for more.

My initial assessment was reinforced by the laughter, teasing, and up-beat attitude warming up the cold air.  They even had guys who could no longer play due to injuries showing up just to be a part of the fun.

One guy whipped out the screwdriver on his multitool and took apart a cover over an AC outlet; the sounds of rock and roll soon reverberated in the room from the small stereo.

We took to the ice.  Our bench was packed, while our opposition had only one sub.  Things looked promising. I took some warmup shots, and the game began.

Although our opposition, in particular their goalie, put up a noble fight, in the end the realities of fatigue took their toll.  We won handily, 7-3.

After the game, there was more laughter and celebration in the dressing room, and then we continued to the after-party at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant owned by one of the Pylons, Al.  There was good food, good drink, and good fun.  The teammates teased each other about their hockey skills, their jobs, their receding hairlines, and various other flaws, real or imagined.  Al captained the restaurant from his chair at the table, effortlessly transitioning from just one of the guys to business manager and back again.  I felt fortunate to be part of the camaraderie.

The Pylons at Blueberry Hill. Steve is on the left. Al is third from the right.

Were the Pylons a skilled team?  Was I a good goalie?  We won, yes, but I suspect the evening would have turned out much the same even if the score had been reversed.  We celebrated the win, but more importantly, we celebrated the friendship that the hockey enabled.

I bid the others farewell, dropped Steve off at his house, and retired to my hotel to get some sleep before my Canada AM interview in the morning.





Hockey Hall of Fame

October 15th, 2011 2 comments

The collection of hockey sticks was impressive, there was no denying that.  There must have been thousands of them.  Modern composite sticks from last year, ancient hand-carved tree branches from the dawn of ice hockey, and everything in between.  Almost all of them showed signs of extensive use.

I walked along the racks and stopped in front of a huge number of red-and-white Titans.  I found the repetition appealing.

“Do you know why we have those?” Craig asked.

I thought about it for a moment, but my knowledge about the history of hockey was narrow at best.  I shook my head no. I am not the person you want on your hockey trivia team.

“Take a look at the labels,” said Steve.

I chose one of the sticks at random and leaned in close.  “Gretzky, Wayne” read the tag.  They were Wayne Gretzky’s old sticks.  Scores of them.

Just a few of Gretzky's record-setting sticks

“Every one of these sticks was used by Gretzky to break a record,” Craig explained. “Sometimes he broke records that he himself had previously set.”

I was impressed, much as I had been throughout the previous hour.  Craig and Steve were giving me a rare behind-the-scenes tour of the Hockey Hall of Fame Resource Centre in Toronto.  Tucked away in a rink complex west of downtown Toronto, the Resource Centre housed the Hockey Hall of Fame’s artifacts and archives.

I had been to the main Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto earlier in the day, and while it was neat to see things like the Stanley Cup, the Vezina trophy, and the recreation of the Habs dressing room, I found the tour at the archives to be much more interesting.  For one thing, the relics were right there in front of me rather than behind glass, so they felt far more real. For another, I got to see the passion of the people behind the hall of fame and the archive — they seemed genuinely passionate about their jobs.

I came to be at the Resource Centre via Steve.  Steve had read about my trip on Puck Daddy and, in addition to setting me up with a game in Toronto, he arranged a meeting with Craig, the manager of the Resource Centre.  Steve had that connection because of his role as sports editor at Firefly Books, which does the Hockey Hall of Fame books.  Conveniently, both Steve and Craig were goalies, something evidenced by Steve’s recent book, the Hockey Hall of Fame Book of Goalies, in which you can see his passion for the history and development of the position.

Those big movable shelves are full of hockey history. Steve is on the left, and Craig is on the right.

At the end of the tour, I chatted for a little while with Craig.  He reminded me that the Hockey Hall of Fame Resource Centre aims to document the game as a whole, not just the exploits of NHL stars.  Notability, Craig said, can come in many forms.

Had he ever heard of a trip like mine, I asked?  No, he replied, to the best of his knowledge, an such a journey has never been done before at any level of play.  I would likely be the first.


My 15 minutes, part 2: the spoken word

October 14th, 2011 2 comments

I had never been interviewed on television before, and I was going to dive in to the deep end: a national show on a major network.  Fortunately, the setting was anything but adversarial.

A man … needs to be recognized. To be questioned, and listened to, and quoted just once. This is very important.

— Juror #9 from “Twelve Angry Men”

I’m not sure how Canada AM found out about the trip, but Kristen, a producer of the show, contacted me via email almost a month before the Puck Daddy story.  My best guess, based on an analysis of server logs, is that either reddit or StumbleUpon was the source.  Regardless, Kristen invited me to talk about my trip on Canada’s most-watched national morning show.

Initially, the interview was supposed to be live, but at the last minute it got bumped to being taped.  That was fine.  Less pressure.  My only concern was that it would never air if it didn’t turn out to be interesting.

I showed up at the main CTV studios in Toronto at about 8:30 a.m, about 20 minutes earlier than needed.  My interview was scheduled to taped at 9:10 a.m. — just after the conclusion of the live show — and I didn’t want to be late.  A young woman (a production assistant, maybe?) met me in the lobby and let me back to the makeup room.  As the world learned in the Nixon-Kennedy debate, even guys were makeup on TV.  Fine by me.  It’s no secret that I don’t have the best skin in the world, but HD cameras are brutal.

After the ladies in the makeup room cut a few years off my face, I went to the green room where Iron Chef Cat Cora’s entourage was watching her live cooking segment.  Or at least, it was nominally about cooking; most of her groupies were actually there to make sure that she pushed a particular line of cookware.

In time, the cooking was done, and with it, the show.  The green room cleared out, and a different PA came in with a wireless lavaliere mic, the better for me to be heard.  A few minutes after that, the first PA came back in and brought me to the Canada AM set.

“Bring your mug,” she told me, gesturing towards my cup full of water. “It will look better if you have one in front of you.”

“Ok.”  Trust the expert, I guess.

I took a seat, and Seamus O’Regan, one of the Canada AM hosts, sat down across from me.  We made small talk for a bit.  I was a bit surprised when he noticed that my brown sweater was an Icebreaker shirt.  “Great shirts,” he said, going on to mention how he had worn them when he went to Antarctica and was impressed by their ability to stay stink-free.  I nodded my agreement, hoping that it wasn’t a subtle message that my shirt was starting to smell; it had been weeks since it had last been washed, such was its anti-stink power.

On Canada AM (like Good Morning America, but in Canada) being interviewed by Seamus O'Regan in Toronto

A producer said, “Ten seconds,” the set went quiet, and the interview began.  Almost immediately a teleprompter problem caused it to stop, and after a quick reset, we began the second attempt.

The interview was about as low-pressure as interviews get, but I still managed to get off into the weeds a bit.  Oh well. Not too bad for my first time on TV.

After a few minutes, the interview wrapped up.  I thanked Seamus, he wished me best of luck on my travels.

I went back to the makeup room to clean off my face.  The PA gave me a different mug as a souvenir, and I went out the door and onto the road.

Me being interviewed on CTV Ottawa Morning Live by Kurt Stoodley in Ottawa

As luck would have it, I got a second chance with TV the next day in Ottawa.  Erin, a producer with CTV Ottawa Morning Live, tweeted me an invitation to appear on that show.  It turned out that CTV stations in certain markets made their own morning shows instead of playing the national Canada AM feed, and Ottawa was one such place.

They had found out about my journey from the Ottawa Citizen story, which was published before I actually made it to Ottawa.  They were unaware of Canada AM’s segment until I told them.

I was struck by how different the local approach was compared to the national program.  There was no makeup room, the lighting was much simpler, and the entire operation seemed more laid back.  That’s not meant to be pejorative — it was really easy to relax on the Morning Live set.

I parked outside the studio, walked in, found that the couch set for the morning show was right next to the door, and sat down on a nearby different couch to wait.  No green room this time.  There was an extensive spread of donuts, muffins, and coffee set out, and I was told to help myself, but I decided to hold off until after the interview lest I spilled on myself.  Speaking of which, I was wearing the same shirt as for the Canada AM interview.

Why did I go with my brown long-sleeved shirt instead of my black long-sleeved shirt?  I did some research ahead of time, and I learned that black isn’t a good color to wear on television.  Earth tones are best.  Brown is an earth tone.

After about 15 minutes, Kurt Stoodley, one of the morning hosts, came over and started talking to me about the trip.  It was a mock interview of sorts, in that he seemed to be testing lines of questioning and probing for interesting anecdotes.  After a little bit of this, we went up on the set and sat down. Less than a minute after that, the interview began. Live. (Posted on YouTube, too.)

Honestly, I find it excruciatingly painful to watch video of myself doing anything.  I’ve mentioned this before with regard to video of me playing hockey, and the same feeling seems to apply to interviews.  I have a very hard time seeing irrefutable proof that my execution in something is flawed.  Still, as with hockey, I know that my interviewing skills will not get better unless I face my errors head-on.

I think the Morning Live interview went much better than my Canada AM interview, mostly because I had the practice of the Canada AM interview behind me.  About four minutes after it started, the interview came to a close.

I grabbed a muffin and some coffee and got myself caffeinated enough to head upstairs to the studios of The Team 1200, a popular Ottawa sports talk radio station.  There, the “3 Guys on the Radio” J.R., Steve, and Jungle Jim talked with me for almost 10 minutes about my trip.  I know that because they posted the recording; in real life, it felt like only a couple of minutes.  Even though it was recorded for posterity, the broadcast itself happened live.

It was my first radio interview (ignoring a token book report back in grade school), and I think it went well.  I haven’t quite found my radio voice yet, but that’s something I can work on.

That left me wondering when the Canada AM interview would air.  It was taped on a Wednesday.  The interview didn’t air Thursday, and it didn’t air Friday.  Monday was a holiday (Canadian Thanksgiving), so the show was reruns.  I gave up hope and figured that somebody had decided the interview wasn’t worthy of broadcast.  Tuesday afternoon, I wrote a short email to Kristen, the Canada AM producer:

Hi Kristen,

Even though it’s looking like my interview is not going to air, I wanted to thank you for the opportunity. I enjoyed being at the studio and seeing how the show is done. If nothing else, I now have a souvenir mug. 🙂



To my great surprise, she quickly responded (in part):

Your interview actually aired this morning in the 800 half hour – and it looked great!

Wow!  I had slept through it, but fortunately the CTV News site posted my segment.

So, will that be the last of my TV and radio appearances?  No.  I taped another radio interview a few days ago (not sure when it will air), and I’ve received some indications of interest from a TV station that’s still a bit distant on my path.

Eventually, the attention will die down, but that’s okay.  If I’m ever interviewed again on radio or TV for some reason, I’ll be that much more experienced.


Watching junior hockey in Canada

October 13th, 2011 Comments off

I went to a QMJHL game this evening, my first one ever. The “Q” is known for producing good goalies, so I hoped to learn a thing or two, or at least be entertained for a couple of hours.

(For those unfamiliar, the QMJHL is part of the CHL, the highest level of junior hockey in Canada.  The level of competition is roughly equivalent to that in D-I of the NCAA.   It’s a stepping stone for many players on their journeys to the NHL.)

I arrived in North Sydney, Nova Scotia Thursday afternoon in preparation for the ferry ride to Newfoundland on Friday.  The nearby city of Sydney, NS happens to be home to the Cape Breton Eagles, and they were playing a home game against the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

There were only 2,281 fans in attendance, but the production values of the game were high, and the overall feeling was polished.  The Eagles are the biggest team in town, and the town loves them.  Fortunately, popularity did not translate to high prices: I had a great view of the action from my $15.50 on-the-glass seat.

One player in particular caught my eye.  Domenic Graham, the starting goalie for the visiting Volts, put in a spectacular performance leading his team to victory.  He turned aside 32 of 33 shots, and he looked solid doing it.  His positioning and reactions were stellar, but his athleticism really set him apart.

He was quick, sharp, and confident in his movements.  He read the play like an expert.  He played the puck with force and accuracy.

I don’t think he made any bad or marginal saves the entire evening, and there was none of the flopping around that was happening in the other crease.

Domenic Graham: amazing goalie, and only 17 years old. (From my P&S. Wish I had brought my DSLRs to the game.)

Based solely on his play in that game, I got the feeling that I was watching a future NHL star.  It wasn’t just me; others have felt the same way.

The catch is that he’ll have to wait at least a couple of years for The Show: he just turned 17 last month. Amazing.  I wish I had been that good at something when I was 17.