Archive for the ‘hockey’ Category


February 20th, 2012 4 comments

Two months.  Hard to believe.

It’s been exactly two months today since I finished my little adventure.  The game in Minnesota at the Xcel Center was, as I’ve mentioned before, fantastic.  So what’s happened since then? Well…

1. The Minnesota Wild video was released

The multimedia production guys did a fantastic job putting together a video about the trip and my final game.  I’m not sure how, but they managed to make me look kind of cool!

Frame grab from the video the Minnesota Wild put together about my trip (click to watch)

As an added bonus, I got to watch a Wild game when I came back to do the interview portion of the segment.  It was my first time being in the press box at the Xcel Center, and the view of the ice was fantastic.

2. The KSTP-TV segment aired

A couple of weeks ago, I got a bunch of phone calls from excited friends telling me that they’d seen me on the evening news.  They weren’t people I’d told about the pending broadcast; rather, they’d simply been watching on the right channel at the right time.  That gave me a big smile.

News segment about my trip from KSTP-TV. Great job telling the story! (click to watch)

Apparently, at least two and possibly three versions of the segment existed: one that aired in the evening on Channel 5, one that aired later that night on Channel 45, and one that was posted on the web site, which appeared to be similar if not identical to the one that aired on Channel 5 (all channels in the Twin Cities market).

3. I’ve been working on the book

As you know, I’m working on a book about the trip.  The total length will be about twice that of this blog, which will allow me to cover topic that I did not previously address as well as give better treatment to those I did mention.

That’s easier said than done.  I’ve already told many of the stories in the manner that I wished to tell them, and going back to them again for revision and expansion is no easy task.  I need to convince myself that what I once found satisfactory is no longer satisfactory in the new context.

In other words, writing a book is hard work.  It’ll probably take at least a year for me to crank it out.  This isn’t going to be an “On the Road”-style bender.

4. I got to say “Let’s play hockey!”

Long ago, back in the days when Minnesota’s NHL team was the North Stars instead of the Wild, there was an announcer named Bob Utecht.  Before every North Stars home game, Bob would fire up the crowd with a call of “Let’s play hockey!”  Today, that tradition continues.

Before every Wild game, a special guest leads the crowd at the Xcel Center with a chant of “Let’s play hockey!”  Sometimes the guest is a star from one of Minnesota’s other teams.  Sometimes it’s a prominent politician.  Still other times, it’s just somebody who has done something interesting.  Last Thursday, I was that guy.

Immediately following the singing of the National Anthem, I stepped up to the edge of the balcony, decked out in a new customized Wild jersey, courtesy of the team.  I took the microphone, and I led the crowd of over 19,000 people:

“All right Wild fans; it’s time to drop the puck. So everybody, say it with me: Let’s! Play! Hockey!”

Me leading the crowd at the Xcel Center in the chant of Let's Play Hockey! (click to watch)

What made it even cooler — as if that were possible — was that NBC filmed me leading the chant.  I got my three seconds of fame when NBC aired the clip during last Sunday’s “Hockey Day in America” national broadcast.  Thus, as a result of the trip, I have now been on national television in both Canada and America. Score!

5. My old skates went to the Hockey Hall of Fame archives in Toronto

I’m not sure if they’ll ever be put on display, but at least I know the goalie skates I used on every stop along the way will have a permanent home.

The package I sent to the HHoF: the goalie skates I used to play hockey in every state and every province

How did that come to pass? Well, back when I visited the Hall in October, the manager of the archives, Craig, told me that my trip to play hockey in every state and every province had likely never been done before. He invited me to donate something from the trip to document the event.

I thought about sending my favorite stick, but when I realized that I’d need to replace my skates anyway due to a lack of steel, I knew they were the better option.

6. I’ve been playing hockey

After so much travel and so much hockey, you’d think I’d settle down for a bit. You’d be wrong.

Granted, I’ve gone from playing three or more times per week to just once or twice a week, but I’m still playing.  I recognize that I won’t be able to play this most wonderful of sports forever, so I want to make the most of every opportunity I can get.  I have to use my new skates for something, right?

My new goalie skates: Bauer One100s

The future

So where does that leave us?  Am I living the dream in Colorado, pounding out a few pages of my book in the morning, hitting the slopes during mid-day, and writing code for my consulting client in the afternoon?

Me at Breckenridge

No. Don’t be crazy.  The best snow is first thing in the morning.



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December 24th, 2011 7 comments

“How does it feel to be done?” the KSTP photojournalist, John, asked.

I was sitting up on the boards at the home team bench in the Xcel Center. It was December 20, 2011. I had just finished playing my final game of the trip, and the reality was still sinking in.

“Elated. Euphoric. Exhilarated!” I said. “What a fantastic way to end a trip like this: my game in the State of Hockey, held in the grand venue of the Xcel Center.”

All around me were reminders of the Xcel Center’s role as the home ice of Minnesota’s NHL team, the Wild.  The logos.  The fantastic ice.  The immaculate benches.

The goal of the trip was to save the best for last, and boy, did it ever turn out that way.

It had been exactly six months to the day since I began the journey by leaving my apartment in Fridley.  Back then, nobody had heard about the trip.  My mettle was unproven.  I was just some guy with a dream.

Time fixed that. Tens of thousands of miles. Hundreds of people. Dozens of rinks. Stories lived, destined to be told and retold. Interest and credibility emerged.

Earlier in the day, I drove Sam to downtown St. Paul. I parked next to the outdoor skating rink at Rice Park, tossed my bag and sticks to the sidewalk, and started walking towards the X.

I strolled through the brisk air, bag in tow.  It was unusually warm for Minnesota in December, but I had been so softened by autumn in the South that I found even 30 degrees to be chlly.  The setting sun colored the world orange and projected long shadows all around me.  It was 4:00 when I arrived at the Xcel Center.

Mike and Jon from the Minnesota Wild’s multimedia staff were out in front to greet me with still and video cameras.  John from KSTP showed up a few minutes later with his camera in tow. For a moment, I felt a teensy bit like a celebrity.

The last rink of the trip: a humble little place called the Xcel Center. (Photo: Mike Doyle/MN Wild)

They recorded me walking into the building — a couple of times, from different angles — and then we stopped briefly in the lobby, where I met Brad Bombardir. Absent the crowds, the Xcel Center was eerily quiet. We pressed on.

In most arenas, the dressing rooms are afterthoughts: dreadfully cramped, dim, dank places, better suited to being spaces for seedy dive bars rather than preparatory dens for feats (and fetes) of athletic prowess.  Not so in the Xcel Center.

Mike and Jon directed me through some twists, turns, and hallways, and suddenly we were standing in a luxury hotel lobby. I figured we had taken a wrong turn and ended up in the nearby upscale St. Paul Hotel,  so I dropped my gear bag and plopped down in one of the leather couches while the Wild guys sorted things out. However, Mike, Jon, and John just stood there talking with me.

I looked around. It was a bit odd for a hotel to have such an expansive bathroom in the lobby, particularly without a door. The presence of some very nice wooden benches around the perimeter was also puzzling.  And, if I’m honest, it was strange even in Minnesota to see people changing into hockey gear in hotel lobbies, as two other guys were.

When in the State of Hockey, do as the hockey players do. I zipped open my gear bag and started strapping on my pads.

Nordy must have gotten lost, too, because about the time I was donning my C/A, he waltzed into the room and started doing some sort of weird inverted back stretches on the couches.

I pulled on my sweater, got mic’ed up by John and Jon, and headed towards the ice. I walked down the same hallway/tunnel that the Wild players used and emerged at the home bench. As I approached the ice, with two video cameras rolling, all I could think was “don’t fall, don’t fall.”

I’m happy to report that I didn’t fall! Not then, anyway. A very slow, deliberate entry to the ice ensured success.  No, the fall came a bit later when I was moving around the crease and got off-balance. I just know they’re going to use that in the video segment. I just hope they don’t add sound effects.

Nordy, the Wild mascot, took some shots on me at the Xcel Center. (Photo: Chris Steller/Fridley Patch)

Nordy took some shots on me, and then the game began.

The Wild players were on the road in Winnipeg, so the game I was in was the Wild front office staff’s pick-up hockey session. Every so often, the staff would get together and have some ice at the Xcel center for a bit of hockey.  That Tuesday, I was fortunate to be invited to join them.

Some of the last minutes of ice time in the entire trip. I'm looking a bit asymmetrical and off my angle, but at least I seem to be moving into the shot; note the puck in the center of the frame. (Photo: Mike Doyle/MN Wild)

It was my first time playing at the Xcel Center. The stands were mostly empty save for the journalists documenting my trip, but I still felt like something of a star. I was glad that I had found my crested goal-cut Wild jersey back in the mid-aughts.  It really helped make me look the part.

Sure, it would have been fun to do something with the team at a practice or stop some shots during an intermission, but upon further consideration, that wouldn’t have fit as well with the theme of the trip. A pick-up game in a fantastic venue was perfect, and the Wild staffers were a fun group to play with.

As the game progressed, I oscillated between awe and routine.  I was in the Xcel Center! It was pick-up hockey. I was playing at the pleasure of the Wild! There were saves to make, shots to stop. Journalists were photographing and recording me! If I didn’t focus on the game, I’d make a fool of myself.

How was it that I ended up there? I’m not sure exactly what the turning point was, but I do know that I had several people advocating on my behalf: my sister Andrea, who took it upon herself to relentlessly call the Wild office; and the Fox Sports North journalist Anthony, who started working his connections well before informing me he was doing so. Ultimately, the Wild’s web managing editor, Glen, bought into the idea, and from there flowed everything else.  I’m indebted to everybody who made it possible.

At the end of the session, I walked back down the same tunnel used by Backstrom, Harding, and the rest of the Wild. Young kids — squirt age — were streaming the other way, towards the ice.  I towered over them by about three feet as I lumbered along.  Their association had acquired the next block of ice as a special event.

The little kids shouted “Go Wild!” and we tapped gloves. They were in the early stages of their own hockey adventures. Perhaps one of them would someday again walk down that hallway with a spot on the roster, but for now the motivation was not glory but simply a love of the game.

As I drove away from downtown St. Paul, it finally hit me: I would play hockey again in the future, but the era of the trip was over and complete.

10 provinces. 50 states. Done.

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So much hockey!!! (so little writing)

December 16th, 2011 Comments off

The observant among you might have noticed that, with 2 states to go, I have played hockey a total of 68 times on this trip, spread among 65 arenas, summing to almost 85 hours on the ice.  However, I have written separate blog posts about only a small subset of those skates.

While I could claim that some of the ice times were too uneventful to merit full blog treatment, the reality is that I could tell you decent stories about pretty much all of them.  I simply don’t always get around to it.

I always update the comprehensive list with at least a small blurb about the skates, and I have been taking notes about the sessions both in my Moleskine notebook and with Evernote, so those times passed over on the blog might get more complete treatment in the book. (Really sorry about skipping you guys in Massachusetts.  Enthusiastic group at the Philips Academy Andover.)

Here’s another way to think about it.  This blog is already about 60,000 words long, which is about the length of a short novel.  I’ve covered only half or so of the provinces and states in detail. To do every one of them justice would require a considerable amount of additional writing.   No time now, but there will be time in the future.

On a more general note, I’m now in my penultimate state: North Dakota.  Grand Forks, to be exact.

It’s cold outside, the local hockey store has a huge selection of goalie gear, and menus at restaurants call it “pop” instead of “soda.”  Clearly, Minnesota is just a slap shot away.

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Gulf Coast

December 12th, 2011 4 comments

When you think of the Gulf Coast near New Orleans, Louisiana and Biloxi, Mississippi, what do you picture?  For me, it was utter devastation.

1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28, 2005







(part of the remarkably prescient warning about Katrina issued by the NWS before the storm struck the coast)

I felt compelled to drive through those areas hit hardest by the storm.  Yes, there were reminders of the destruction.  In the Lower Ninth Ward, I found empty lots with weeds growing high, old abandoned houses still blazed with the SAR x-code, and roads so rough that I was glad Sam had a high ground clearance.  Biloxi, too, showed shadows of the storm in the form of stately live oaks standing sentinel over empty lots, driveways to nowhere, and numerous concrete slabs.

Happily, signs of life were plentiful.  Old buildings were being actively demolished in the Lower Ninth, and new homes were being constructed in their place.  Biloxi was further ahead, with many shiny new buildings standing proudly along the coast, as if to defy Mother Nature.

You know how most Waffle Houses around the South look kind of shabby, old, and cheap?  Not so in Biloxi.  There, Waffle House restaurants look clean, new, and sturdy.  They have facades of brick instead of sheet metal.

Hockey, too, endured hardship along the coast.  The only ice arena in the area, the Gulf Coast Coliseum between Gulfport and Biloxi, was inundated with 12 ft. of seawater when the storm struck.  Skates, Zambonis, seats, the refrigeration system — all destroyed.  What had once been a thriving example of hockey in a non-traditional area — there were youth leagues, adult leagues, and an ECHL pro team — was wiped off the face of the hockey map.

For two years, there was no ice, but the local hockey enthusiasts did not give up.  They rebuilt, and in 2007, the Earth’s greatest game made its return to southern Mississippi.

Gulf Coast Coliseum, after post-Katrina repairs

There were some changes, it’s true.  The two-year absence and the much smaller post-storm population caused attendance at the pro games to dwindle to a point where they were no longer viable.  Did the locals give up?  No.  Instead, they got a different pro team (the “Surge“) in a league with a lower cost structure (the SPHL).

Adult and youth interest, too, had waned without the ice.  Did the locals give up? No.  They redeveloped an active youth program, with at least a few of the local kids being good enough to play junior hockey.  Adults, too, continued to play, and that’s how I met Roy.

Roy is the guy if you want to play hockey in the Biloxi-Gulfport area. Real hockey: ice hockey.

Roy left a couple of comments on my blog, and emailed me, too, asking if I wanted to play hockey in Biloxi when I came to Mississippi.  I admired his persistence, and there weren’t many other options for hockey in Mississippi, so I happily accepted his offer.

That’s how I found myself on the ice at the Coliseum playing with a bunch of other hockey enthusiasts.  Many were from the North, but so too were there players from the South.  It was a fun game, and a few of the guys had some real skill.

Yes, the changing rooms left something to be desired (there weren’t any), and the short benches left the skaters a bit more winded than they would have liked (good for us goalies), but it was great fun regardless.  I was playing hockey in southern Mississippi.  Who would have expected that to be possible?

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The District

December 3rd, 2011 Comments off

Although I had wanted to play hockey in Washington, D.C., the fact that there were only two ice arenas there posed a significant logistical problem.  I didn’t have to play there, since it wasn’t a state, but I considered it a “nice to have.”

The sheets of ice were the Verizon Center, where the Washington Capitals played, and the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, where mere mortals played.  Notably, the Capitals practiced at neither arena; instead, they used the Kettler Capitals Iceplex across the river in Arlington, Virginia.

Fort Dupont Ice Arena: The only full-sized, full-time sheet of ice in DC

There were no pickup sessions mentioned on the Fort Dupont arena web site.  Fortunately, a woman named Katie had heard about my trip and left a comment on the map page.  She was the development coordinator at the arena, and she offered to find a way I could spend time on the ice and stop a few pucks.

The day before I flew to Hawaii, I was hanging out in the Washington area.  I had yet to hear from Katie.  As the hours wound down, I wrote off the possibility of playing in D.C.

Then, at 4:00 p.m., I got an email from her.  She was able to get a hold of the coach of a high school team, and he’d agreed to let me participate in their practice. She wrote:

Our DC High School group got back to me just a little bit ago- they’re on ice at 7:30 tonight, and are expecting you if you’d like to join them. Sorry about the last minute notice of it all, gets a little crazy around there sometimes.

I was in Reston, Virginia at the time on my way to a hotel near the Dulles airport.  I debated for a moment whether to make the hour-long trek back to the rink in Washington.  In the balance hung the rest of my evening.  The easy way out would have been to decline the invitation and have a quiet night before my flight to Hawaii.  But I figured, what was the trip about if not hockey?  I sent a reply back to Katie accepting the invitation before I could change my mind:

Great! I’ll be there!

Navigating to the rink, I noticed that the final two streets on the approach were Minnesota Avenue and Ely Place.  How appropriate. (Ely is a city in northern Minnesota.)

Fort Dupont Ice Arena was perched on a small hill, and in the distance, the Capitol and the Washington Monument were visible. Large trees with the last of their red leaves towered around the rink, constant reminders that the park was something of an oasis in an otherwise rough neighborhood.

I met the coaches, changed, and hopped on the ice.

The high school team was a combined program for several of the DC-area high schools.  Although some of the private schools had their own teams, not all did, and there were no programs at any of the public schools save this one. It was the brainchild of a man named Paul who had an infectious love of hockey and a strong sense of justice, as told in a Washington Post story.  After Paul died, a man named Adam took over as head coach with his brother Greg and another man named Clyde as assistants.

There were two goalies on the team, Andrew and Kevin.  While Kevin held a significant height advantage over Andrew, it seemed to me like Andrew had the upper hand in positioning and reaction.  I saw some things they could work on, but I wasn’t confident it was my place to point them out.

In general, I wasn’t quite sure what role to play at the practice.  Pretend to be one of the guys on the team?  Take on the role of a coach and work on drills with Andrew and Kevin? Stand awkwardly to the side after taking a few shots, trying to have it both ways?  Was I a kid, or was I an adult?

I never did find a completely comfortable role, but I did have a good time.  I stopped pucks during some shooting drills, tried to give Andrew and Kevin some pointers and work on some skills with them, and talked with Adam and Greg about the state of the team. Our goalie drill options were a bit limited by the low turnout at the practice.

There were only eight skaters plus the goalies on the ice.  When I asked the kids about it, they blamed the low numbers that day on the expectation that Adam would be angry about a fight that happened at the previous game.  When I asked the coaches about it, they blamed the low numbers on a lack of commitment from the kids.

It wasn’t that the kids didn’t like hockey.  It wasn’t even that they had anything against the team or coaches.  It was simply that many of the kids were on multiple teams simultaneously, and for geopolitical reasons the joint DC High School team wasn’t at the top of the priority list.  At least, that’s how the coaches saw it.  They were a bit frustrated, but they stayed professional and didn’t take it out on the kids who did show up.

At the end of the practice, Greg presented one of the team members with a fun prize: a bag of M&Ms to the person who had the most spectacular fall during practice.  That honor went to Kevin, who had a spectacular fall when he went to shoot a puck at Andrew.  Kevin made an attempt at a slapshot, totally missed the puck, followed through too hard, had his feet fly out in front of him.  He landed flat on his back, much to the amusement of the rest of us on the ice.

I changed back into my street clothes, made small talk with the coaches and players, and hit the road back to my hotel.