Posts Tagged ‘hockey’


November 29th, 2011 3 comments

When I was in high school, my perception of college social fraternities was that they were hives of drinking during school and vehicles to run the world after school.  While the former perception turned out to be a corruption of the truth, and it’s too soon to tell if the latter perception will hold, I can say that my fraternal connections helped me find hockey in the Green Mountain State, Vermont.

I completely forgot that the Ben and Jerry's factory was in Vermont until I stumbled upon it.

Finding the game had been a mixture of luck and timing.  I had been searching without success for places to play in the state when the University of Vermont popped into mind.  I knew that the Catamounts had a D-I hockey team, so I figured they’d also have a rink.

Sure enough, they did.  What’s more, the rink web site had an exceptionally detailed schedule, which was unusual.  Most rink web sites show calendars for public events, if anything.  The University of Vermont rink’s web site had both public and private events listed, including the names of the groups and contact information for the group leaders.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a detailed rink schedule, before or since.

I began combing through the hourly schedule for the days I would be in town to see if there were any possibilities.  Many were considered and rejected until, by chance, one late-night block caught my eye.  It was reserved for Pi Kappa Alpha, my college fraternity.  I decided to work that connection.

I emailed Frank, the person listed as the contact for that ice time. Within hours, he responded.  Sure, he said, they’d be happy to have me on the ice.  Success!

Curled up with a warm computer in front of a low-tech fire. Ah, Vermont.

A couple days later, I showed up at the rink on the University of Vermont campus.  I was pretty early, so I milled about and watched the group that was already on the ice.  After a  little while, the rink attendant walked over to me.

“Are you with Kappa Delta Gamma?” he asked.

“Um… Pi Kappa Alpha?” I said.

“Yeah, whatever.  Room Four is unlocked for you guys.”


And so I went to the dressing room and started getting changed.

I went at a leisurely pace, and soon I was sitting in the room with the lower half of my gear on.  Alone.

I looked at the clock and saw only 10 minutes remained before the ice time.  It isn’t too unusual to see guys take a just-in-time approach to rink arrivals, but I was starting to get a bit nervous that I was either at the wrong place (unlikely), had the time wrong (possible), or that simply nobody else was going to show (plausible).  My contingency plans for how to play net against myself started running through my mind.

Concurrently, I couldn’t help but notice the odd smell of the dressing rooms.  There was the usual scent of hockey, yes, but there were strong overtones of reefer, too.  I figured that somebody had been hot boxing the room earlier in the day.  It was Vermont, after all.

Finally, with just a few minutes to go, five guys showed up for a bit of shinny.  I hadn’t really been sure what to expect in terms of numbers, but I was cool with that.  It helped that the five were so enthusiastic.

Vermont Pikes play hockey. Frank is the guy with the beard.

We did a sort of rotating 3v2 half-ice game.  It was laid back, even leisurely.  I felt like a kid on a pond.

We were just a bunch of guys messing around with sticks and a puck, hockey in its purest form.  There were no spectators, there were no refs, and there weren’t many rules other than to keep the puck low.  I had my pads on, of course, but everybody else went out with just skates, gloves, and helmets.

It was supremely enjoyable, and the time passed quickly.

Back in the dressing room after the game, we talked for a while about our individual hockey histories, our respective Pike chapters, and things I’d seen on my trip.  Soon, though, it was time for the students to retire to address homework.  Ah, school.

I’m still not sure if fraternities are involved in world domination, but if world domination involves hockey, I’m all for it.




November 21st, 2011 1 comment

The ferry had just docked in Newfoundland when I got the call.  It was Bob from DU Ice Hockey Development, and he wanted to let me know that he had found a game for me in Maine run by a man named Dave.


The catch: the game would be in Lewiston, Maine, and I’d be starting the day in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It would be another day of driving over eight hours for the love of hockey.  Would I be able to make it, Bob wondered?  I reassured him I’d make it happen, even if it meant hitting the road far earlier than normal.  If I’ve learned one thing from the late-night men’s league games back in Minnesota, it’s that hockey always trumps sleep.

The week after the phone call went quickly as I meandered through Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  When the day of the drive back to the States came, not even a gloomy sky and torrential rain could dampen my resolve.  I made it to Lewiston in splendid time.

The venue was the Colisee, which served as a civic center for the area.  It’s always fun to play in places like that.   All of the seats sloping up from the perimeter of the ice gave the game a feeling of added importance. The empty seats also aided in the fantasy that we were actually the Coyotes.

Unlike the real Coyotes, most of the guys were middle-aged, but we had a few outliers on both ends of the age spectrum.  Thick hair to no hair, black hair to gray hair, and all combinations therein were represented.

The game was fun. I know I’ve said that a lot, but really, almost all of the games have been fun, and when they weren’t I usually didn’t write much about them.

Not just lobsters in Maine; hockey, too!

We three goalies rotated every 10 minutes or so, and that made time go by quite quickly.  After the game, we all lounged around the dressing room — the players, the ref (it was a classy pickup game), and even the rink attendant — and drank beer.

You know what’s better than beer?  Medals!  Bob had medals made for the occasion of my visit.  We wore them around after the game feeling like champions.

That's right: we got medals! Also: it seems like I'm wearing that shirt in almost every photo.

I’d never received a medal for anything related to hockey in the past, certainly not one with the state of Maine on the front, so I found it to be a very nice surprise.

Unfortunately, Bob was in China on a business trip, so he wasn’t able to attend the game.  I know you were there in spirit, Bob.  Jet-lagged spirit.

Front of the medal

Did I mention how the medals had custom plaques commemorating the date?  Because they did.

Back of the medal

Tip of the hat to Bob’s friend at the Ramada Conference Center Lewiston for hooking me up with a huge discount, too.

Admittedly, I didn’t get around to having any lobster while in Maine, but I did have good hockey, and that filled my soul if not my stomach.

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Hawaii, part 4: The Game

November 20th, 2011 Comments off

(The thrilling conclusion of a multi-part look at the Hawaii leg of the trip.  Start at the beginning.)

The Game

It was a fun game, and fairly even.  I stopped some shots, I let some goals in, I switched nets with the other goalie halfway through.  In other words, it was remarkably similar to games I’ve played elsewhere around Canada and the States.  Even the ice quality was nothing new; I’ve played on some really horrible swimming pools of rinks in Minnesota, too.

After playing hockey -- ice hockey -- in Hawaii at the Ice Palace

That the whole thing could have easily been taking place in California or Michigan helped to reinforce one of the themes I’ve seen emerge during my travels: hockey is universal.  The players loved the game just as much in Hawaii as they did in Quebec.  The written rules were the same; the unwritten traditions were consistent.

But never mind the similarities.  I couldn’t get one thing out of my head: I was playing HOCKEY!!! In HAWAII!!!

I had a big smile on my face the whole time.  When I stopped a shot, it wasn’t just a save; it was a save IN HAWAII!  When I allowed a goal, it wasn’t just a goal; it was a missed save IN HAWAII!

I felt like I should have been wearing an aloha shirt instead of my jersey.  I’m sure there are shirts made big enough thanks to our obesity epidemic.  Thanks to vanity sizing, I bet a size medium would be about right.

Sure, Hawaii wasn’t as exotic as some of the places Bidini went for Tropic of Hockey, but it was the furthest south I’d ever played hockey.  Heck, it might have been the furthest south I ever play hockey.

After the game, I lingered around the party loft/dressing room talking with the other skaters before packing my bag and heading back to Waikiki.  Thirteen hours later, I was on a plane to Virginia.


If I were to evaluate my Hawaiian junket in objective terms, I could say that I paid about $1500 to play 80 minutes of hockey, which sounds expensive or even selfish.  But that would be missing the point.  The trip to Hawaii, and the trip as a whole, cannot be evaluated based on cost alone.  It was a wonderful experience.

I do not mind spending money on experiences.  You can’t take money with you, as the saying goes, nor can you take any of your accumulated material goods.  But experiences?  Experiences are different.  Sure, they blink out of existence in some way at the end, but in another more important way, they never die.  They live on as stories, as art, as the advancement of culture.

Nobody cares if you leave behind a nice dining room table.  But a good story?  Now that has value.  Even better if it’s somehow related to hockey.

Hawaii, part 3: The arena and the players

November 19th, 2011 Comments off

(Part 3 of a multi-part look at the Hawaii leg of the trip.  Start at the beginning.)

The Arena

Walking from the warm, humid night air into the cold of the area instantly transported me thousands of miles back to the mainland.  I had been lounging on the beach earlier in the morning, but inside the rink, I could have easily been back home.  It was a little piece of Minnesota in the tropics.

The ice itself wasn’t all that great.  It looked like it hadn’t been painted in decades, the white having transformed to clear, showing the concrete beneath.  The coolant lines were marked by changes in the ice quality, letting me imagine what it would be like to skate on corduroy: frozen, slush, frozen, slush; and then after some more set-up time: hard, soft, hard, soft.

There were no locker rooms.  Changing meant going up a flight of stairs to a party area overlooking the rink, grabbing a plastic chair, and changing in the open.  I know I’ve been advocating for more spacious changing facilities in rinks, but I didn’t really mean for the rink itself to fill that role.

The benches were literal benches situated outside the perimeter of the rink.  Christmas wreathes and garland punctuated the blue-and-white walls.

Yes, you could say that the Ice Palace wasn’t nearly as nice as the absolutely spectacular rink I used at Plymouth State in New Hampshire.  But you know what?  That didn’t matter.

It was ice, it was in Hawaii, and it attracted a bunch of highly enthusiastic players.

A league game at the Ice Palace in Hawaii.

The Players

I was one of two goalies at the pickup game.  The skaters, enough for 5v5 with a few subs on each side, showed a wide range of abilities.  Some appeared to have just learned how to skate, while others looked as though they had played at least juniors.  A surprising number were from Hawaii, and the remainder were transplants from the mainland.

Chris, a 26 year old from Boise, Idaho, had picked up the game back home rather late in life.  That didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the sport.  Even though he had been playing for only a few years, he brought his gear with him  when he moved to Hawaii for work.  It seems that even sunny warm beaches can’t cure the hockey bug once it infects you.

Martin, another skater, was also a 20-something, but he hailed from even farther away.  I was chatting with him while getting changed before the game, and he asked me where I was from.

“Minnesota,” I told him.

“Do they have much hockey in Minnesota?” he asked.  Clearly, he wasn’t from North America.

I paused for a second, blinked, and responded, “Yeah, we have a bit of hockey up there.  Where are you from?”

“Poland,” came the reply.  Ah, that explained it.

(to be continued)

Hawaii, part 2: The island

November 18th, 2011 Comments off

(Part 2 of a multi-part look at the Hawaii leg of the trip. Start at the beginning.)

Hawaii itself was as beautiful as the photos have always shown it to be.

I rented a Toyota Corolla for the five days I was there, and while Lola didn’t have the refinement or power of Sam, she dutifully transported me all around the perimeter of Oahu.

I experienced the surprisingly hectic “relaxation” of Waikiki.  I lounged on deserted beaches on the windward (east) shore.  I watched surfers on the north shore.  I drank 100% Kona coffee, the water from a fresh coconut, and a mai tai with a festive pineapple slice.  I saw the decadent luxury of the rich in the south and the abject squalor of the poor squatters in the west.

Looking out to sea on the north shore of Oahu

I also picked up some Hawaiian during my stay:

  • Aloha — Traditionally, means something like “love,” but more recently has become a salutation or, to a lesser extent, a farewell.
  • Mahalo — “Thank you”
  • APEC — “Traffic jam”

The ramifications of APEC hadn’t been clear when I booked my condo in Waikiki.  It turned out that the conference was a major draw for political leaders and business executives from all around the Pacific rim.  It also brought President Obama to town.  The presence of those VIPs led to security checkpoints and slow going throughout the weekend.  It took me two and a half hours to reach my condo the first time I drove from the airport. Yuck.

I wasn’t sure what the Hawaiian word for “ice” might have been.  I wasn’t even sure if there was a Hawaiian word at all for “hockey,” but I did know that Hawaii’s single ice sheet was located in a strip mall northwest of Honolulu.  And so, I got in Lola and set out for the rink.

(to be continued)