Why do chicks dig hockey players?

I have been on this earth for 43 years now, and I like to think I am an astute observer of the human condition. Well, as attentive an observer as any male can be. Ooo! Look! Shiny objects!

Where was I?

Right. I am an astute observer of the foibles and paradoxes of this strange mammalian beast we call man. What I have learned of this creature could fill volumes of scientific essays. However, what I have learned about his partner on this earth, this strange creature called “woo-man” would only fill half a page. If not for this great mystery I would have lost interest in life a long, long time ago. So rare are these insights that when I do uncover a truth about the behavior of the female of the species, I hold it up like a prospector finding a pure nugget of gold, and shout EUREKA! Then I feel a sudden urge to share my great discovery with mankind.

Thankfully I have a blog to share these pearls of wisdom. So today I would like to contribute this one great truth for the betterment of mankind.

Are you ready?

Are you sitting down?

OK, here goes.

Chicks dig hockey players.

Shocking, I know. But trust me on this one. Hockey players are second only to rock musicians on the scale of womanly desire. Please, don’t ask me to explain it. I leave that to greater minds than mine.

It was the Junior year of High School when I first discovered this. As hockey season rolled around, I noticed that half of the girls in class would talk about the previous night’s Sabres game with the same sort of interest usually reserved for Rainbows, and Unicorns. Wondering what this was all about, I asked The Girl Next Door why she followed hockey, and she made it abundantly clear. Hockey players were H-O-T.

This revelation came as a bitter blow. Not only had I dropped out of guitar lessons in the 6th grade, but the Ice Arena in Batavia hadn’t even opened until I was 12, and our school did not have a hockey program. Somehow I had missed out on the two best ways of picking up girls before I had even known what was at stake. Fate is a cruel mistress.

So I decided I would make the best of a bad situation, and become a hockey fan so that I would have something to talk to girls about, other than helping them with their Trigonometry homework.

As that winter progressed beneath the gray permaclouds of Western New York, I began to watch as many hockey games as I could so that I could get in on the conversation with the gaggle of hockey mad girls in school. Before long, The Girl Next Door and I were calling each other between periods to breakdown the game like Don Cherry and Ron MacLean. Who knew talking to girls could be so easy?

But my discussions about hockey weren’t just limited to my puppy dog infatuation with The Girl Next Door. I soon struck up hockey friendships with half of the girls in my class. And to make things even more remarkable, NONE of these relationships involved either beer, or make out sessions in clandestine locations. What was happening to me? How could I suddenly relate to women so easily, and frequently that I could choose to be selective about which girls to lust after?

Amazing days indeed.

As much as our mutual love of hockey brought me closer to The Girl Next Door, I had no illusions. The root of her interest was the inexplicable, carnal desire that cute hockey players created in the loins of teenage girls. Yes, I may be able to talk for hours about a Sabres game with her, but I could never turn her on the way that Phil Housley, or Tom Barrasso could.

As for my platonic hockey relationships, I actually learned more about the game of hockey from Maria and Dina than I did from any guy I knew. When I went to a game during Senior Year it was with them, and not any of my supposed “guy” friends. These girls not only lusted after players, they also were walking encyclopedias of hockey knowledge.

When the game was over, we walked down the dank, smelly caverns of the Aud, to stand outside the Sabres locker room so Dina could introduce us to Mike Foligno, as she babysat his kids. In retrospect, going to a hockey game with 2 girls has to count among of the highlights of my teenage years. When Maria almost killed us by driving under a Semi in a snow squall, the epic nature of the night was cemented in my memory. Not many men come close to having their obituary mention you died while on a date with two girls.

Sigh… if only I had been a hockey player.

Canada – Russia ’72

The World Junior Hockey Tournament is currently underway in Alberta unbeknownst to anyone outside of Canada, and a small handful of Hockey Cultists in the States. The World Juniors are a hockey version of March Madness for Canadians. Junior Hockey is the highest level of amateur hockey in the world today, played by boys between 16 & 20 years old. This is as close as Canada comes to big time college sports, and they take this sh!t really seriously.

In Canada, the teenage kids that show the most promise of making it to the pro’s sign contracts during their high school years, move away from home to live with host families in the cities where they play, and play a full professional hockey schedule, traveling across the country in buses, playing in front of small town crowds, and busting each other in the jaw as they chase their dreams. It’s what minor league baseball was a century ago, before money turned it into a professional sport.

Each year at the holidays the best Under 20 players in the world represent their country in a two week long international tournament. The winners are crowned World Champions, given a gold medal, and then sent back to po-dunk-ville to play out the remainder of the season, and hopefully move into the pro’s someday. As I said at the beginning, aside from Canadians and a handful of hockey nuts in the U.S., no one in the world pays any attention to this.

Which is kind of sad really, because now that the Olympics & World Championships are open to professionals, and College Sports have become de-facto professional sports, the World Juniors is as close to a true amateur championship as is left in the stick & ball sports. It wasn’t always this way.

Once upon a time the Olympics represented the pinnacle of amateur sports where athletes with day jobs competed for glory, and little else in return. That began to change a long time ago. After World War Two when the Soviet Union decided to make amateur sports a marketing tool for the Soviet system, and started 24/7 year round training of “amateur” athletes, it was only a matter of time.

Until the 1940’s, no one in the Soviet Union even played ice hockey. What they played was a version of field hockey on skates called “Bandy”. Played on a soccer sized ice rink without boards, using a ball, and curved wooden stick, it had little in common with the sport of ice hockey, besides ice.

There is probably no greater testament to the effectiveness of focused, centralized planning than the Soviet athletic system. Given total control, and ample resources, within a span of 10 years they managed to turn a handful of bandy players into the best international ice hockey players in the world. In 1954 they announced their arrival on the world stage by beating Canada for the Gold Medal at the world championships.

Canadians are a funny lot. They are as unassuming, and self deprecating a bunch of folks as you will ever find, except when it comes to hockey. Where hockey is concerned they rival the U.S. in jingoistic nationalism. So losing to the Soviets was a blow to their pride. And when the Soviets continued to dominate international ice hockey for the next 16 years, the only way that the Canadians could reconcile it in their mind was to assure themselves that the Soviets were using what amounted to professional hockey players, to play against a handful of true amateur junior teams from Canada. Surely if Canada were to put their best professional players out on the ice there would be no contest. (An argument that Americans would seize upon after losing the gold medal in basketball to the Soviets in the 1972 summer Olympics)

But deep within the Canadian psyche there was a shadow of doubt.

So when it was announced that the Soviet Union would play a team of Canadian NHL All Stars in a series of 8 exhibition games in September of 1972, the entire nation felt at last they would be vindicated, and the Soviets would be set in their place. What followed was a month that came to define for a generation what it meant to be a Canadian.

Growing up in Western New York I was vaguely aware of the 72’ Summit Series from references that were made to it in later years as the Canada Cup became a quadrennial event, and Soviet teams would periodically come to North America to play exhibitions against the NHL. But I never truly understood what the Summit Series meant to Canadians. It is their “Miracle on Ice” times 10.

So I was excited, and curious when I picked up a DVD copy of “Canada Russia ‘72” a Canadian, documentary style mini-series filmed in 2006. Over the course of a couple of evenings this month I watched and was blown away.

Only Canadians could make a film about 1972, and portray the Soviets as protagonists, and themselves as the bad guys. Seriously, if Americans would have filmed this they would have turned it into Rocky 3. To their eternal credit, Canadians are nothing if not honest about their warts, and this miniseries displayed them in all their excruciatingly painful detail. To say that the NHL all stars that were picked to play the Soviets took the games lightly would be an understatement. They couldn’t have been cockier, or more impertinent had they tried. This film doesn’t pull any punches, it shows what a bunch of assh0les the NHL all stars were to each other, and the Soviets.

As the series begins the Canadians are stunned as the Soviets win 2 out of 4 games on Canadian soil, and tie one. The Canadian players are frustrated, and begin to throw tantrums like spoiled children. They cuss, and swear, and fight like hoodlums. By game 4 in Vancouver the country turns against them, and starts booing.

In a post game TV interview Phil Esposito rallies the team, and the country, by looking straight into the camera and delivering one of the most honest and heartfelt appeals I’ve ever seen a professional athlete make. When Game 5 starts in Moscow a week later and the Canadians jump out to a 4-1 lead you get the sense that momentum has shifted, and now they are playing for real.

Then just like that the Soviets score 4 unanswered goals and win 5-4. Down 3 games to 1, with only 3 left to play in Moscow, it looks like the Canadians are toast, but despite their attitudes, and cockiness, you still can’t help but root for them. That my friends is good film making.

They rally and win the next two games by 1 goal, to tie the series at 3-3-1. Then, trailing by 2 goals going into the 3rd period of the eighth and final game, Phil Esposito puts the entire country on his back and scores one of the greatest clutch goals of all time, then sets up Yves Cournoyer to tie the game at 5.

With time ticking down, and 34 seconds left to play Paul Henderson scores the goal heard round the world to put Canada ahead 6-5. Watching the movie, and listening to the actual play by play call of Foster Hewitt I got goose bumps, and wanted to high five somebody. That goal, and the play by play call of “Henderson has scored for Canada” is to Canadians, everything that Al Michaels “Do you believe in miracles?” is for Americans and more.

The movie left me wanting to stand up and sing “O’ Canada” at the end. If you are even remotely a fan of the sport of Hockey, or lived during the cold war years of the 1970’s, I cannot recommend this DVD enough. Not only do they capture the excitement of the games, but they illustrate the look and feel of the time in a way that few documentaries can.

Judging by the obscene prices on Amazon and eBay, the movie appears to be out of print. If you can pick up a used copy for less than $20 like I did, jump on it. You will not be disappointed. Also? Cover the kid’s ears when watching it. The language is foul enough to peel paint off of the walls.

Mystery, Minnesota

It seems as if winter is never going to arrive. 40+ degrees in Mid-December isn’t anybody’s idea of Christmas time. I want drifts of snow like whipped cream topping over everything. I want jingle bells, and ho, ho, ho and mistletoe and pretty girls…

So what did we do to escape this brown Christmas over the weekend? We went north. Not quite Alaska, or Canada even, but far enough that the ground was white, and the wind was cold. 20 Prospect Jr. had a Hockey Tournament in Duluth. Our first real out of town hockey tournament experience. It did not disappoint.

Duluth is one of my favorite places on Earth. It’s like a life size HO Train Set. A huge lake, big ships, railroads, ore docks, bridges, everything is on a giant scale. Its the kind of place where the Y-chromosome takes over, and you feel a sudden urge to operate heavy machinery, and hum Gordon Lightfoot songs. Unfortunately, other than a trip down to Bayfront Park to see the holiday lights on Friday night, we didn’t really have much time to enjoy scenic, romantic, Duluth. Instead our days and nights were spent at the hockey rink, or at the hotel, with a bunch of 11 year old boys bouncing off of each other.

I never had the experience of staying in a hotel with friends, and teammates at that age when travel to places like Duluth was an exotic adventure, but I imagine I would have loved it as much as they did. When they weren’t skating at the rink, they were swimming in the pool, or playing knee hockey in the hotel rooms. Luckily, our room was not one of the designated knee hockey arenas.

One of their games was outdoors under the lights, old-tyme-hockey style. Ever since the schedule came out the Dads and boys have been looking forward to that, and the Mom’s have been dreading it. It was a relatively mild 20 degrees, with just a light wind, though. Not bad at all for a winter night in Duluth. We bundled up and stood along the dasher boards as the boys played in the dim shadows, and glare of the outdoor lights. Being down at ice level gave the parents a whole new appreciation for the speed at which the game is played. It’s quite a bit different than sitting up in the bleachers looking out over the whole ice and watching plays develop. You understand the chaotic ballet of the sport when you get up close.

The way that God intended it to be played

The boys won 3 games, and lost 1, and brought home a trophy for 3rd place, which they carried around the ice with the reverance of Lord Stanley’s Cup. And shortly afterwards most of them fell asleep in the backseat on the 2-1/2 hour ride home. Long days, fresh air, and exercise are exactly what puppies and growing boys need. Without it they start chewing on the furniture.

Beware of Flying Pucks

Now we are home again, with photos and memories of our time up north to tide us over until Winter finally arrives in the Twin Cities. Any day now…

Cold toes

Momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be hockey players…

I’ve been reading John Branch’s excellent, and sobering 3 part series in the NY Times, about the life and death of former NHL player Derek Boogaard.

Go Here to Check it Out.

As a parent with a kid playing youth hockey this hits pretty close to home. I can completely understand how the insular little cult of youth hockey in places like Saskatchewan, and Minnesota, can lead a person down a path like the one Boogaard followed. The system leads a player on, until they reach a point in their teen years when they realize that they don’t possess the skills needed to make it at the highest level. Most will quit the sport, and move on. But for a big guy like Boogaard, there is a back door into the big time.

Boogard was an “enforcer”, meaning, he was paid to be the goon. A towering 6′-7″ tall, and 260 lbs., his job was to be the designated fighter. In his 12 years of Junior, and Professional hockey, he was involved in upwards of 400 fights. Assume that in each fight he took an average of 3 punches to the head, and it adds up to a hell of a lot of head shots. Lord knows how many concussions he suffered, as the hockey code doesn’t allow enforcers to take time off for head injuries.

The 28-year-old Boogaard died in May of an accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone. Autopsy results performed on his brain, indicated that Derek Boogaard suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. In the past few years, four former NHL players Bob Probert, Reggie Fleming and Rick Martin previously were found to have CTE after dying at relatively young ages. CTE has also been diagnosed in 20 former pro athletes who suffered blows to the head, including football players and boxers.

Having taken my share of head shots in 1o years of football, and had a handful of concussions, I can’t begin to imagine what that must do to a person. Pain killer addiction would be a normal response. As a Dad now, I have to admit I’m happy that 20 Prospect Jr. didn’t have an interest in playing football the way that I did. Hockey, and Baseball provide enough chances for a head injury.

Hockey is a beautiful game, but fighting is an ugly reality. It’s endemic in Canadian Junior hockey, and the pro’s. With the exception of the thugs in the Russian KHL league, almost all other hockey countries and levels have banned it. Listening to the apologists for fighting like Don Cherry, and Gary Bettman, and hundreds of others is enough to make you sick. Especially when you realize that as a fan, you have cheered it on yourself, or laughed as it was glorified in the movies.

No more.

As the great Chief Joseph said, “From this day I will fight no more, forever.” Well, from this day, 20 Prospect will no longer support or condone hockey fights. It’s time to put the dark ages behind us. I’m in. Who’s with me?



The Youth Hockey Cult

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… well, not really. Unlike last year’s Snowmageddon, we have yet to have a winter storm. Heck, it was over 50 degrees on Thanksgiving. Wearing short sleeves around the house in late November just ain’t right, so we took matters into our own hands and spent the weekend inside of the ice rink. It was 20 Prospect Jr.’s thanksgiving hockey tournament, so we spent 3 days on retreat with the hockey cult.

According to dictionary.com, a cult is: “a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better description of youth hockey than that one. Hockey parents tithe up to 10% of their annual salary to the church of youth hockey. Our weekend revival was held at the Basilica of St. Herbie, and attended by teams from all over Minnesota, and as far afield as Thunder Bay, Ontario. Yes, we have so damn much hockey that even the Canadians feel compelled to come down for ecumenical services.

St. Herbie

For folks from the Southern parts of the country, it can be hard to understand just what cultural similarities exist between your stereotypical Bubba sipping moonshine from a mason jar, and the average youth hockey parent. Trust me, they have more in common than you think.

Oh sure, there are plenty of articulate, professional parents in tony suburbs like Edina & Wayzata that sign their kids up for youth hockey. I’m sure that most of them even have a full set of teeth. But don’t let their socio-economic status fool you for a second. That only means they can afford nicer SUV’s to lug their children’s foul smelling hockey gear from rink to rink. It also means they can afford a better class of liquor in their basement bar. The one room in the house that is usually adorned with a framed & signed game worn jersey, and a Terrence Fogarty print.

Painting by Terrence Fogarty

For the average hockey parent an old pickup truck with a gun rack, and an association sticker in the back window will suffice. Sure, Jr. may need to thaw the pads out before he can put them on in the morning, but that just builds character. Why back in their day they practiced outdoors in -40F windchills at 4 in the morning, and they never complained once.

Youth Hockey in Minnesota is a community based affair. The state is carved up into Dioceses by the Hockey Sanhedrin, each one running its own season, and annual tournaments. Teams are based on geography that usually coincides with school district boundaries. So if you want your little Wayne Gretzky to play hockey for the Edina Hornets you need to either live in the Edina School District, or send them to school there. So from age 5 until they graduate from High School kids will be raised to play beneath the same set of colors as their neighbors and classmates. The local chapels rinks are adorned with photos and jerseys of the pantheon of saints that have gone before; NHL & Olympic stars that grew up on these very same sheets of ice, and played in these very same colors as our boys and girls. It’s a quaint Norman Rockwell-esque tradition that is also effective at turning youth sports into a religious class war, and really, what’s not to love about that?

As I detailed last year with the story of the drunk referee, us folks in the North Metro fall a little farther from Edina on the political and economic spectrum. This is where Jesse Ventura won 60% of the vote during his surprise election, but even among the rednecks of Anoka County, hockey parents are a breed apart. Yeah, we’ve got our share of McMansion enclaves, but they are usually outnumbered by the trailer parks. The coffee cups that the coaches on the bench are holding are not filled with lattes from Starbucks, but brown tobacco spit. Hell, on Saturday I even saw a woman walk up to a trashcan at the rink, and hork a lugee into it. We are high class folk up here.

Of course, that will all change once Jr. signs that Pro-Contract. Once our kids are playing in the NHL, us redneck hockey parents will be awash in cash. We’ll run right out and buy a new pair of snowmobiles, and a pickup truck. Then we’ll build a 5 bedroom log cabin on a lake up North with the signing bonus. It’ll be like the Beverly Hillbillies moving to Alaska.

Until then, we’ll just bide our time in the congregation, standing along the glass in our parka’s and pack boots, stealing sips from the little flask of “hot cocoa” we keep in our chest pocket. Just another winter weekend in Minnesota.

Beer + Hockey = WIN!!!!!

Disclaimer: This is NOT a paid product endorsement. However, should the good folks at Labatt’s USA decide they’d like to donate a few cases of product for me to test, I’m sure I could have my Big Bruddah swing by and pick them up later today.

It’s hard to think of a more Buffalonian product than Labatt’s Blue. Yes, I know Labatt’s is from Canada, but I’d bet that people in WNY drink more Labatt’s Blue per capita than anywhere in the world. This is for 2 reasons:

1.) It’s good

2.) It’s cheaper than Budweiser

Yeah, you read that right. Something that always puzzled me about WNY is that the Canadian beer is cheaper than the Bud-Miller-Coors swill. It’s one of the few benefits of living in WNY.

Another great Buffalonian/Canadian fusion is the Sabres. I mean what could be more “Canadian” than “The French Connection”?

So the good folks at Labatt U.S.A. (HQ in WNY naturally), decided to take Beer, add Hockey, and voila!

Sabres Themed Cans!

If they sold it in Minnesota, I’d run right out and pick up a case of Rene Robert for tonight’s game.

Source: http://beernews.org/2011/10/labatt-collect-the-connection-12-pack-update/

Life in El Norte

Last night was 20 Prospect Jr.’s first hockey game of the season. As I have mentioned before, this is his first year playing “squirts” for the El Norte “Droogs”. (Up here in the North Metro, we likey the Ultra Violence).

Squirts is the 10-11 year old age group, where the sport becomes truly competitive for the first time. So this was the first “real” hockey game, with “real” uniforms, actual rules, penalties, and a referee.

Well, except for the referee part.

We discovered as we took the ice that our District does not supply referee’s for the Squirt games. This was news to us, and the coaches on the other team. So there we were, two full teams of kids excited to play hockey, a rink, a scoreboard, a timekeeper, and a bleacher full of parents and grandparents all excited to see their little Wayne Gretzky’s play hockey. No referee.

After about five minutes of confusion, and searching for someone with a pair of skates that would be willing to ref the game, one of the dad’s of a kid on our team stepped forward. I was relieved, since if he hadn’t I would most likely have been the guy to do it. The only thing holding me back being that I can’t skate nearly as good as the kids, and I don’t really know all the rules. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from being a coach.

I shouldn’t have worried. As the kids were going through their warmups our volunteer referee stepped out onto the ice, dressed in a purple Minnesota Vikings Jersey, and blue jeans, then promptly fell flat on his ass. Now, I assumed that this was purely nerves, since I have seen this Dad help out at a few of our practices and I know for a fact that he can skate. He’s not even one of the older Dad’s, I’m guessing late 20’s, maybe 30 years old at the most. So he’s also in pretty good shape.

So when the volunteer ref struggled to his feet, we called the boys in and got ready to start. As our ref got within about 10 feet of the bench, I could smell the booze rolling off of him like a cloud. He stopped by the boards to talk to the coaches, and his eyes looked like two piss holes in a snowbank. This guy was beyond drunk. He was blotto. I looked at the other coaches, and they looked at me and shrugged. So we said what the hell, and tossed him a puck. He dropped it, and when he bent over to pick it up, he went down for the second time. And so began the now infamous “Game with the Drunk Referee”.

I suppose we should have been appalled, and outraged. We probably should have intervened, and covered the children’s eyes. At the very least we should have taken his car keys away from him, and called a cab. If we had lived in Edina, or Eden Prairie or some tony rich suburb to the south, we’d have had the police escort him from the building. Instead, we let him skate it off for the next hour.

This is what happens when you live in the North Metro folks. It’s still 1984 up here. Get a mullet, a snowmobile, and a blaze orange hunting jacket and you will fit right in. I preferred to think of it as a teaching moment for the boys. “See? This is why we don’t want you kids drinking before the game! Save the beer, and whiskey until the after the game.”

Drunk Ref Dad fell so many times I lost count. Half of the game he was flat on his back, or pulling himself up on the boards. We should have charged extra for the entertainment. It was like having the San Diego Chicken out there. Minus the Cocaine, and the Chicken Suit.

As a proud Dad, I am happy to report that 20 Prospect Jr. now leads our team in scoring. He scored our one and only goal. Unfortunately, our El Norte Droogs were beaten soundly by the Ex-Urban McMansions. It’s tough for us older, inner ring suburbs to compete with those 5 year old towns full of three car garage, multi level homes on treeless lots. Until we start recruiting our Hispanic and Somali kids into hockey, the demographics are in their favor.

But we still kick their ass at Quarters, and Beer Pong.