Posts Tagged ‘hockey’

Hawaii, part 1: The logistics

November 17th, 2011 Comments off

(Part 1 of a multi-part look at the Hawaii leg of the trip.  Broken into bite-sized chunks because, let’s face it, you’d probably just skim a 2000-word monolith.)

Hello, Hawaii.  Land of sandy beaches, verdant forests, and ice hockey.  Yes, hockey.

Hawaii has always been a pivotal role in the Pacific [sic]. It is in the Pacific.  It is a part of the United States that is an island that is right here.

— Dan Quayle, former US Vice President

I hadn’t always planned to include Hawaii on this trip.  Up until September or so, my route included every Canadian province and every American state, except Hawaii.

Fortunately, I came to my senses. It would have been a tragedy for the story of the trip to be marred by an “except Hawaii” qualifier.  That, and Hawaii is a great place to visit even without hockey.  What had I been thinking?

Hawaii! Beautiful even without hockey. A hill on the windward shore of Oahu.

The Logistics

Well, the logistics and cost were two big problems.  The single ice arena in Hawaii was in Honolulu, and for some reason it hosted no hockey in the month of December.  Since I wanted to complete the trip by Christmas, and since most of October would be spent in Canada, that meant that Hawaii would have to happen in November — but not over Thanksgiving weekend, when, again, there was no hockey.

Lake Superior coast in northern Minnesota in November. (Edit: This is a joke, people! Minnesota is actually much more beautiful.)

In order to keep costs reasonable, the flight needed to originate at an airline hub, and given that I’d be on the East Coast, that effectively limited my choices to Dulles (a United hub) or Atlanta (a Delta hub).  Fortunately, my planned arrival in Washington, D.C. coincided with a flight to Hawaii that was 20% cheaper than on neighboring dates. (Thank you, Hipmunk!)  I booked the ticket and only then realized that my savings would be short-lived: United Airlines hates hockey goalies.

The Fact that United Airlines Hates Hockey Goalies

Why does United hate goalies?  Quite simply, the luggage restrictions are incompatible with hockey goalie gear.  While it might (might!) be possible to fit a skater’s gear within the 50 pound and 62 linear inch restrictions, there’s no way that a goalie could pull that off with a single bag.  The leg pads packed alone would be about at the size limit, to say nothing of the rest of the pads.

There’s a simple solution, you say?  Wear my gear onto the plane?  Well, that would be hilarious and solve my checked-luggage issues.

Assume that I could somehow get through security with 12-inch steel blades on my feet.  Let’s also say that high-density foam wouldn’t look like explosives on those new-fangled body scanners.  Furthermore, accept that the TSA wouldn’t go ballistic over my sticks, since though they might appear club-like, using them in that manner is something that I’ve never been caught doing in a game.

Sadly, I can't really draw, not least of a goalie going through security, so here's one of my old comics of a penguin trying to fly. Ha-ha, ha-ha.

Once on the plane, my woes would be multiple.  For starters, I wouldn’t fit in a seat: the width of each leg pad is 11 inches, and the width of an economy seat on a United 767 is only 18 inches — 4 inches shy, at the least, and that’s completely ignoring the extra bulk of the goalie pants.  And if you thought that leg room was bad to begin with, just image how it would be with huge pillows on your legs.  My seat neighbors would be thrilled, too: it would be like sitting next to that really, really, really obese guy, but much worse.

Also, can you imagine the smell?  By the end of the many hours in the air, it would be good that I’d have so much padding on, because everybody around me would be looking to beat the hockey out of me.

On the plus side, I don’t think I’d need the extra flotation provided by a life vest in the event of a water landing.

Clearly, checking the gear was the way to go.  I just wish I didn’t get docked an extra $100 each way for being a goalie.

Here are a few airlines that would have let me flown with my goalie gear without charging me oversize or overweight fees:

  • Delta
  • US Airways
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Air Canada (duh)

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

(to be continued)

Nova Scotia

November 10th, 2011 3 comments

Six weeks in Canada over the course of four months came to a close with my final province: Nova Scotia.  It was fitting that the trip should spend its final days north of the border in such a hockey-mad place.

It’s relatively common knowledge that hockey was born somewhere in Canada, but did you know that it was Nova Scotia where students first moved the field game of hurly onto a frozen pond?  In the 200 years since, hockey has flourished there, and indeed one of the modern day stars of the game, Sidney Crosby, hails from that same land.

I was fortunate to have strong allies for my 48 hours in New Scotland.  David of Hockey Family Advisor put me in touch with Todd and Sandy, who organized skates, as well as the Stardust Motel, which (sketchy name notwithstanding) provided me comfortable accommodations for two nights, gratis.

Todd happened to have connections to multiple hockey games.  Early on, he invited me to tend goal in his main event, a long-running private pickup game near Halifax.  Upon learning that I would be arriving earlier that afternoon, he floated an even more interesting opportunity.

The older of his two sons had a hockey practice that afternoon, and his team had only one goalie.  Todd was an assistant coach, and he thought it could be fun if I were around to fill the other net. Would I be interested, he wondered? Of course!  I mean, I expected the 12-year-olds to skate circles around me, but at least I’d be a more challenging target than a piece of plywood.

And so, after taking the overnight ferry from Newfoundland, I drove directly to Sackville, near Halifax, and met the Harold T. Barrett Junior High hockey team.

At the HTB Jr High hockey team's practice. I'm the taller goalie. (Credit: Todd)

It was indeed fun skating with the kids.  I think they had me beat in the skill department, but the fact that I filled so much more of the net than they were used to gave me something of an advantage.

Later that night, I went over to the Halifax suburb of Bedford and skated with the kids-at-heart.  It was a decidedly upbeat, relaxed group.  Even the added pressure of a TV cameraman gathering B-roll (which I’ll get to later) didn’t put them off their game.

In a nice touch, the group wore the jerseys of the Sackville Flyers, a local minor hockey team, and they gave me one as a souvenir.

It was a fun skate, and I spent a long time talking with a bunch of the guys in the parking lot after the game about life, travel, and hockey.

Skating with Todd's group in the sweaters of the Sackville Flyers. Todd is in between the other goalie and me. (Credit: Rodney)

One of the guys at the game, Pete, was generous enough to put together a logo for the trip. I think it looks really neat. Not only is my mask the right color (red), Nova Scotia is visible, and the right side of the American flag looks vaguely like the East Coast:

One of the guys at Todd's skate, Pete, drew this logo for the trip. I think it's awesome. Notice how my mask is the right color (red) and Nova Scotia is visible. (Credit: Pete)

The next day brought even more hockey-related excitement.  A producer named Leo at a major regional TV station, CTV Atlantic, had been in touch with me about doing a segment for their “Live at 5” news magazine show.  Even though I wasn’t exactly sure what that would entail, it seemed like it would be fun, and so the afternoon of my second day in Halifax, I met Jim the cameraman and Felicia the reporter at the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame.

I expected that Crosby, as the current hometown hero, would be mentioned in the Hall, but I was a bit surprised to find that about a quarter of the total display area was dedicated to him.  Notably, they had the dryer that Sid the Kid used for shooting practice at his parents’ house.

The filming and interview took about an hour, and although I haven’t seen the finished product, I’m told that it turned out well.  Not only did it get aired on TV, it was also played at an intermission for the Halifax Mooseheads, the most popular hockey team in Halifax.

The CTV Atlantic Live at 5 clip about my trip playing at a Mooseheads game (Credit: Todd)

But wait, there was more!  One more hockey game, to be precise.

Sandy (who, as you recall from above, was introduced to me by David) let me join his skate in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, across the bay from Halifax.  The group there had been skating together for about 20 years, and though the faces had changed a bit over the years, it was clear that they were close-knit.  In fact, one of the skaters was an orthopedic surgeon and had done knee replacements for several of the guys.  (Kind of reminds me of when my teammate Marc, an attorney, helped me out with a speeding ticket back when I first started playing.)

The guys in Dartmouth gave me a souvenir, too: a sweater for the Dartmouth Whalers.  Once again, a great group of guys.

The next morning came, and I departed Canada for the final time on the trip, better for the experience.


November 9th, 2011 4 comments

“You’re a hell of a goalie,” the skater told me.

We had just finished playing at the lunchtime drop-in session at The Pond in Newark, Delaware.  His accolade was deserved, at least when judged by my performance during the skate: I had stopped pretty much everything that came my way.  However, he did not have the necessary data to determine if my puck stopping prowess was true talent or merely luck.

It can be hard to separate the two.  Were all of the shots that were hitting me center-of-mass (i.e., in my chest) the result of my good positioning, or were they the result of poor shooting by the skaters?  Did the skaters on the breakaways miss the net because my aggression rushed them into poor aim, or were they just having off days?  Did I really intend to make that glove save, or did my glove just happen to be in the right spot?

Perhaps it wasn’t so much that the skaters were having off days as it was that I was having an on day.  I was feeling really good going into the skate, and once I found some pegs for the net, that feeling continued on the ice.  I was watching the puck all the way in, reacting quickly and decisively, and staying solid on my angles.  I was in the zone.

It’s a magical thing being in the zone as a goalie.  It’s like being on some sort of crazy puck-stopping drug.  The biscuit stands out sharp and crisp, high in contrast against the ice.  Everything else becomes blurred.  The noisy clamor of the game gets muted.  It’s sublime: goaltending flow.

You see the puck, you see the play, you see all of this in the sense that you feel it. You instinctively know what must happen, and it does.  The angle of the shooter’s stick, his legs, his arms, his eyes; everything telegraphs where the puck is going like it’s in neon lights.  The pace slows down until it’s almost comically slow.  The moment of release becomes a foregone conclusion, not a surprise.

It’s concentration on an entirely different level, something that makes you wonder — later, after the moment, when there’s time for reflection — just what might still be possible for humans to accomplish.

Me in net at the University of Waterloo, a night in which I was "near-zone" but not quite fully there (Credit: Sarah)

Like any drug, once you’ve had a taste of the zone in its purest form, you’ll do anything to experience that bliss again.  I’ve experienced it doing only four activities: writing, hacking code, playing hockey, and taking photos. When I leave the zone and look back on what I did while in it, the product is sometimes beyond that which I consider within my skill, an observation which then occasionally leads to a flare-up of impostor syndrome.

Then there are times, dreadful times, when it seems like I have a total inability to stop the puck.  I’m a few degrees off my angle, a few tenths of a second too late on the reaction, a few inches too low on my glove position.  I let in goals like it’s going out of style.  The puck seems practically invisible; I’m not following it into my pads, I have no idea where the play is headed, and I seal up about as well as a door on a 1970s Chevy.  I’m embarrassed and an embarrassment.

That’s what separates me from the professionals (a label I’m applying in a broad sense).  I am either really good or downright terrible.  I am wildly inconsistent.

The mark of a professional is to turn out decent work even when not in the zone: sometimes spectacular, but always at least decent.  Not every session will be the best of the best, but even the mediocre ones are still pretty good. Anybody can be hot one night or a couple of nights, but turning in decent performances day after day, game after game, is very, very difficult.

I can do that in some disciplines, but hockey is not one of them.

Still, I don’t lose hope that I will one day enjoy, if not higher peaks, then at least shallower lows.  Practice, practice.



New York, New York!

November 4th, 2011 4 comments

It’s a question that must be on the minds of goalies everywhere: do goaltending skills translate from sport to sport?  I decided to find out.

Fundamentally, goaltending in all sports is a matter of geometry and timing.  There are obvious differences in the projectiles, net dimensions, and game rules, but the basic idea remains the same: prevent the opposition from scoring by either catching or deflecting the shot.

My friend Tyler (of waterfall and grizzly bear fame) happened to be in New York for the week on business when I arrived in the City.  He had connections to the indoor soccer community from back when he lived there, so he thought that there might be a way to finagle me onto a field for at least a few minutes.

I arrived at Chelsea Piers in the evening.  I had played hockey at the Sky Rink earlier in the day; in my return, I was to experience the field house portion of the expansive complex.

On my walk over from my friend Travis’s apartment in the East 20s, I had stopped by Modell’s on Avenue of the Americas to pick up the only really specialized component in a soccer goalkeeper’s ensemble: gloves.  Fortunately, basic gloves can be had for under $20, so it was nothing like the bank-breaking experience of getting together my current set of hockey goalie kit.

Tyler was subbing for one of the teams playing that hour.  We reached an agreement with the team captain that if the score was decisive in the last few minutes of the game, they’d send me in.  It was not to be; the game was within one goal until an empty-netter was scored in the closing seconds.  I stayed on the sidelines.

Tyler, who actually is a soccer goalkeeper, makes a save on a shot by a celebrity (blue #12). Bonus points if you can identify the celeb.

We were left with a few minutes between the end of that game and the start of the following game.  It wasn’t much time, but it would be better than nothing.  I jogged to the goal and started taking shots.

Since we were on an indoor soccer field, there were immediate similarities to hockey: the field was the size of a rink and was bounded by boards.  There were differences beyond the obvious lack of ice: the goal was set into the back wall instead of being in front of it, the penalty area (where the goalkeeper is privileged) was far larger than the crease, and the net itself was much larger than a hockey net (though smaller than a field soccer goal).

Taking shots felt similar to hockey.  I had to think about angles, predict whether the shots would be high or low, and so on.

Although I wasn’t very aware of it in the moment, inspection of photos from the event shows that I executed the saves themselves in a hockey-esque manner.

Making a save. It kind of looks like I'm trying to butterfly. Note how my ankles are locked: it isn't possible or desirable to have much lateral flex in one's ankles while wearing skates, so my instinct apparently carried over to the turf. (Photo: Tyler)

When shots were low, I butterflied.  When shots were high, I moved into them as if to block with my chest (though in fact I used my hands).

The most notable carryover from hockey was in my feet.  In hockey skates, it isn’t possible or desirable to have one’s ankles bend laterally.  Shoes don’t have the same restrictions, but I think that instinct got the best of me: my ankles were locked in almost all of the photos I have of me playing that night.  It was as if I was trying to have my non-existent skate blades bite the ice.

Again, my trailing foot is not planted. I'm not sure what motivated me to move like this. If a similar shot were coming at me on the ice, I'd probably be using a butterfly slide, and for that my legs would be in entirely different orientations. (Photo: Tyler)

It was nice to have the object coming at me be so large.  A soccer ball appears as a circle about 8.5 inches in diameter.  Compare that to a puck, which, when properly shot, appears as a rectangle 1 inch by 3 inches.

I’m not sure how fast the balls were coming at me on the shots I faced, but they certainly seemed slower than the hockey shots I face on a regular basis.  I did notice the sound of the ball flying through the air more than I notice the sound of the puck doing the same.

So, how was it?  For the few minutes I was out there, it was fun.  Enough fun that I’d like to try it again — hopefully in an actual game.

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November 1st, 2011 Comments off

NOTE: In this post, we skip ahead to Connecticut, but don’t worry Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island: I’m working on your posts, too.  I’m just going out of order for a bit.

Remember how the rules of the trip were simply that I be on the ice and make at least one save?  Or, more specifically, remember how I never said I needed to play an entire game?  Well, I had to use that loophole in Connecticut.

My plan had been pure genius: I would go into the belly of the Yale Whale and emerge with Connecticut checked off my list.  State number 30 would be glorious, I tell you; glorious!

The smile on my face got a big slap when I walked into the rink.

“No goalies allowed”

Ok, not really.  There was no sign, but there was another goalie.  He told me that the lunchtime skate registered its goalies ahead of time.  Both nets had already been spoken for.  Would he mind rotating, I asked?  No, he replied, and suggested that I come back some other day.

In Calgary, I capitulated, but I wasn’t on such a tight schedule back then.  I couldn’t wait another day in Connecticut, and it wasn’t clear that waiting another day would have gotten me a net anyway.  Thus, I did the only thing I could do: I played the trip card.

“See, I’m on this trip to play hockey as a goalie in every state and every province, and this was supposed to be my Connecticut stop.  I’m leaving for New York tomorrow morning.  Is there any way we could work something out?”


“Please?  As a favor from one goalie to another?”

“So you just need to play a little while?”

“Yeah, I just need to be on ice and make at least one save.”

“What if I give you my net for the first 10 minutes?”

“You’d do that?”

“Yeah, I mean, that trip does sound amazing, and we wouldn’t want Connecticut to be a black spot on the record.”

“Great!  Thanks!”

Bill, for that was the goalie’s name, looked to be pushing 50 and spoke in an assertive manner.  It was no surprise to learn that he owned a metal casting company specializing in lead.

In the dressing room, all of us skaters and goalies shared laughs and told lies of past glory.  It was a decidedly older crowd, but it’s amazing how sport has a way of melting away the years.

On the ice, I took warmups for a while and then guarded the net for real.  I could tell that something was wrong with the middle of my left skate blade, but I played hard regardless.  I was pretty solid.

The only goal came on a rebound.  The shot came from the high slot a bit left of center, near but not quite on the ice.  I flared my right leg out in a half-V near the top of the crease and made the pad save.  I directed the rebound way out to the right, but I had failed to check the destination first.  The puck went right to the stick of an attacker sitting in the face-off circle and he one-timed it.  Because of the mechanics of the half-V and my position in the paint, all I could do was dive across the crease, but the puck was in the net before I got over.

After 10 minutes of play, I slapped my stick on the ice a few times and looked at the bench where Bill was sitting.  He motioned for me to stay a bit longer, and I happily obliged.  Five more minutes went by before Bill hopped over the boards and skated to the net.

I tagged out and headed to the dressing room. It was a short skate, but it was enough to let me bag another state.