Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Best Game You Can Name


When I was growing up in Sudbury I knew a lot of serious hockey families, they would have a couple of boys, maybe in AA or AAA. Back then hockey began in the fall and ran through to spring and then it was done. Nobody played summer hockey, they played ball or soccer or they just went up to camp and hung out by the lake. A good way to do it. During the winter though, man, they would be at rinks every night of the week, that was just the way it was between practices and games. I coached Select and then A here in Toronto for a few years and we would get on the ice three times a week, for a couple of years I coached both a houseleague and a Select team and so it was five times a week. It was pretty hectic but I loved it.

 We're not a hockey family. I play once, sometimes twice a week, year round and for ten weeks of the winter I play shinny as well once a week. Its my sport of choice and so as you know because you read my hockey blog I follow it, if not as closely as I once did, pretty closely nonetheless. But my wife doesn't play and neither daughter is interested although our oldest is kicking around the idea of ball hockey in the spring and the girls will come out and play a bit of road hockey with us now and then. Even the boy is a bit of a late bloomer. He played his first season last year and he loved it but whereas I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada and spent my winters playing shinny or road hockey he is just coming around to this now.

 This past week though, we were a hockey family.

Saturday September 21 9:30am

Mid morning of my eldest's tenth birthday the phone rang and it was a friend of ours. They are a hockey family. Oldest son is nine and playing AAA, second son is seven and following in the brother's footsteps. We don't see them anymore, I see the Dad at shinny now and then but we are busy and they spend every evening in rinks all over Toronto and so its been probably a year or so and they live ten minutes away. Crazy. Anyhow he is a lawyer and a bank he does work with had ten box seats for the Sunday game with Les Sabres and after them and a neighbour they had three left. I've been to plenty of games but Jenn has never seen a Leafs' game and neither have the kids so I said sure we'll take the three and of course everyone was pretty excited about that.

Saturday September 21, 10-11pm

I hate getting to a game late, even though its just beer league I tend to get nervous before games and having to rush just makes me unhappy. When I left for McCormack Arena, a tiny closet of a rink dropped right in the middle of a Parkdale residential area, I had plenty of time even with the Gardiner shut down. Usually a twenty minute trip took me twice that and so I walked into the room just as the game before us wound up. To add to my agitation we had seven skaters, including me, and our goalie was a guy who had played D for us a couple of years back (great guy, all the tools, ten cent head) but who I had heard was taking up goaltending despite being forty or thereabouts. A guy poked his head in and asked us if we needed more skaters and our captain said 'no' and man I hate that, there's no fun in having seven or eight guys, you end up exhausted and while we've won a few like that usually you hang on for dear life and then get pounded once you run out of gas. We had another guy coming and he figured that was enough but when we stepped out and saw that our opposition had fourteen skaters and they were young to boot he turned around and accepted the offer.

 This is the Exclaim league, we play a half dozen games through the year to prep for the Easter tournament. Its an open division so the opposition ranges from being really good to really bad. The team we were facing is a better team and word is they've brought in some ringers despite the whole idea of the league being as rec as rec gets. The game started as expected, they came on and they got a softie and soon after they got another and while we were hanging in there until reinforcements came it was pretty grim. Early in the second their best player went through everybody and our goalie ... fell over. He flipped it into the empty net. We were down three when we finally reached our full compliment of nine skaters.

 And then ... we took it to them. The rest of the game we outplayed them by a good margin and scored in the second and then again with just over thirty seconds left. And then somehow (well its beer league) we ended up with a three on two and I found our Dman on the far side, hit him with a sweet pass and he waltzed in all alone. I was preparing to ride my stick to centre or leap into the glass and then he, who probably has the best hands on the team or close to it, watched the puck trickle off his stick. I don't even know if he got a shot. Game.

 It was worth it though to see the look on the other team's faces when helmets came off revealing grey and bald and then to add insult to injury our goalie (he didn't play all that bad to be honest) in conversation with their goalie let it be known that this was the third game he had ever played. It was pretty funny, you could see them looking at each other, we barely beat THESE fucking guys.

Sunday September 22 2-3pm

We won our first game the week before against the closest we have to a rival in our league and so we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Early days in beer league are interesting because there are new teams and you don't know what you're going to get. Last year we finished third in a ten team league, a point out of second, three out of first. We were in the mix and the two teams who finished ahead of us last season were 1-1 and 0-1-1 after their first two games so a win would give us an early jump.

 It was a new team that we were playing,  they had tied another new team and so the question was were they both good or both bad. Turns out they're both pretty bad I think. These guys had a couple of solid defencemen and a nice centreman but other than that they weren't all that great. We were missing probably our three best forwards and we took care of business essentially.

 Up 2-0 and I headed out to kill a penalty. Our Dman got control and I broke for open ice but he didn't see or hear me and so he iced it. Out came the goalie to play it. He could have fired it up the boards or dumped it into either corner or fallen on it but instead he froze. Completely. And so I took the puck from him and scored the first wraparound shortie of my long career.

 Went back to centre, pushed the puck to their blueline and went after their Dman. He fumbled it, stumbled and as I picked it off of him he got enough of me that I did the old Bobby Orr as I got the shot off.

 No goal but if I had scored two shorties in ten seconds or whatever it was that might have been that moment where I picked up the puck, waved to the bench and gone straight to the room. Hang em up, you'll never beat that.

 They scored one late on a beerleague backcheck to break the shutout and we answered a minute later, awake again and so it was 4-1, tied for first early days.

Sunday September 22, 6:30-10:00pm

 I told Jenn to get the kids there early enough to see the warmup and she did. I thought box seats were, you know, a box, but it turns out they were four rows from the ice, directly across from the Sabres' bench. The game was, well lets just say they will probably never see a better game (and probably not from seats like that unless we start saving now). Preseason but the Leafs iced a real lineup. There were eight goals and a line brawl with a goalie fight and when they came home, wide eyed, my son told me about how between periods they stood where the players walk out to the ice and 'Phil Kessel shook my hand'. And so he now has a favourite player (he likes Hemsky and Hossa and Crosby but nothing compares to this experience) and possibly a new favourite team.

Wednesday September 25, 6pm

 I've been roller blading to and from work for most of the summer and the fall, I think its ten miles or so round trip. Have been watching what I eat and cutting back on the beer since Labour Day too, my cardio has been great but have packed on the pounds. Weighed myself Wednesday. Seven pounds down since the first of September. Pretty happy.

 Got home, hot tired sweaty, boy says 'Hey lets play road hockey'

 Some day, soon, he won't. So we, along with our youngest, passed the ball around for forty five minutes until dinner was ready. Best times.

Thursday September 26, 5pm

 My neighbour, also a good friend and Capsule teammate, texted me. The boy's birthday is coming up and we were looking at a net. He was at Costco and found a quality one and did I want it and yes please. The boy will love it and I know another guy who needs to work on his shot. I believe the term is muffin.

Saturday September 28, 8am

 First practice for the boy, once again my good friend is coaching him. Was talking to Mark and he said I don't think we have much of a team and I thought hm, your son scored two goals in the championship game (3-1 win) as a 7 year old in a 7/8 league and the other coach's son was pretty good as a seven year old as well, I think they might do okay.

 Of course I was most interested in my boy. He went to a week of hockey camp and there's been the road hockey and while he loved playing last year I was hoping that his skating might have improved to the point that he might be a bigger part of what's going on. And so after a half hour they scrimmaged and it turns out coach was wrong. The two boys mentioned as well as a third basically did what they wanted. If they were keeping score it would have been something like nine or ten nothing.

 As for the hero of our story ... the other club got their only sniff when one of their guys broke in alone, only to be caught and dispossessed by SOME GUY NAMED MCLEAN. Next shift the puck was behind his net and he swept in, took it off his opponent, carried it to the hashmarks and head manned it.

 Tape to tape. The boy can make and take a pass and he doesn't fuck around, he fires it.

 Moments later he picked up a loose puck and juked around a couple of guys as he raced through the neutral zone.

 After the scrimmage I said 'how was it' and he smiled and said quietly 'I had the puck. A lot.'

 Best.

Saturday September 28th, 6:30-10 pm

Friday night grimly a self absorbed internet gangster messaged me and asked if the boy and I would be up for a Leafs' game Saturday night. I tracked down a sitter and so for the second time in his life and in a week the boy got to see the Leafs. We walked from Union Station with the blue shirted crowd, past a woman playing a fiddle like her life depended it and I told my son about how my father and I went to a few Leafs' games back at the Gardens and how the walk to the arena after a steak dinner and a couple of beers, past the scalpers and hobos and musicians and sausage carts, was one of my favourite parts of the whole experience.

 Both teams iced AHL lineups for the most part but it was a fun game, Reilly looked superb, great vision and hands and like any offensive Dman is wont to do, got caught up ice a couple of times. Reimer looked good. Colton Orr flubbed a perfect pass on a two on one. It was fun, we had great seats and of course Tyler and Amanda are great company. Tyler showed the boy a video of Yak's celebration last season and we talked about our upcoming trip to Europe and their own trips over to watch soccer and we sang along to the hockey song and it was very fine. Jack fell asleep on the subway on the way home and as we walked home in the warm dark night he turned to me and asked when he could get a Leafs' jersey.

 Fack me.

Sunday September 27th, 2-3pm

Capsule again. This is my son's teacher's team and I realized quickly that he's not the diving guy I spent a good part of last season telling to 'GET UP OFF THE FUCKING ICE!'

We played this team three times last season. They have a bunch of French Canadians on the team including two brothers, one of whom is the best player in the league. Buddy can skate, dangle, make plays and he has a heavy accurate shot. We split our first two games last year and then the third time we played them he wasn't there and we murdered them.

 We carried the play early and their goalie was up to the task but we're the better team and so we scored one and then we got another and then a third. I've been on the other side of it, they stuck with us, they're a good team but we were better and so after a while the shots start going in, a good bounce here, a good bounce there. They might beat us but they will need a lot to go right for that to happen.

 For the first third of the game or so my line didn't face their star and I was happy with that but after a while we began picking up a bit of their shifts until suddenly it was us against them and so it was for the rest of the game. It was tough slogging, I spent a good part of the game keeping an eye on him and trying to cut him off before he got going and somehow, somehow we did it. Our goalie saved our bacon a couple of times but at the end of the game we were a plus one, no goals against, outchanced them even and while they scored with about six minutes left they never got a sniff at the end even with a power play.

3-1 Capsule. Tied for first. A good start for the best guys.

Hockey. Best.

3 comments:

LittleFury said...

I was checking my team's schedule this week and sure as shit down there in November is Capsule. That one is circled in ink, you betcha.

Black Dog said...

*starts putting on foil*

Lindsay said...

This was wonderful. Love the hockey stories about the boy.