Why Can’t Hockey Be America’s Game?

Every time I go to Toronto I find myself drawn to the Hockey Hall of Fame and its marvelous displays of greatness.  Not that I make it to the Great White North all that much but it seems like since I’ve gotten older I’ve made it more than when I was younger.  I’ve been to the HHoF at least three times and to Toronto at least five but every single visit to the museum I’m always struck by the wonder of it all.

I know that Canada invented the game (although some may argue that it’s roots are in the Middle Ages – the game as we know now is Canadian in origin) and is celebrated as a religion country-wide.  In fact before it was replaced in 2013, the Canadian five dollar note featured children playing winter sports, including hockey, and wearing a number 9 sweater to honor  Montreal Canadiens great Maurice “The Rocket” Richard.  Included with the picture was a quotation from Canadian novelist Roch Carrier’s short story “The Hockey Sweater”:

The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons.  We lived in three places-the school, the church and the skating rink-but our real life was on the skating rink.

Yeah I get you Roch, the rink is where I’d be too if I lived in Canada.  Cold, brutal winters where you are forced inside, you might as well find something to do right?  Time for some hockey and after your legs are burnt out from skating turn on the television and watch some Hockey Night in Canada?  I mean come on, we don’t have anything like that here in America.  Sure we have Monday Night Football, but Hockey Night in Canada, there’s no chance.  The tradition and the history, plus Canadians have Don Cherry and his outfits.  No contest.

But here’s the thing.  Most places in America don’t have access to a rink.  In the South you are lucky to find a rink.  It’s getting better but when I was growing up I could only tell you where one was.  Even living in New York, where you think there’d be a bunch – it’s cold!, I have to drive an hour and a half on a good day to find a rink to play hockey.  True, I’ve read Derek Boogaard’s biography where it talks about his father driving him all over.  If my daughter is going to play she’s going to have to go at least three hours in multiple directions to play.  All over the Eastern Seaboard.  I can’t imagine doing that as a kid to play a sport.

But what’s funny about hockey, is that for as much as it costs-and trust me it costs, at some point you start to find this itch.  You can’t get enough ice time.  You can’t get even time on your skates.  You want to feel that stick in your hands every chance you get.  Even getting back into it at my age, I’m proud to say that I skated for an hour without falling-finally!  I’m getting better but I’m still pretty terrible.  Watch me skate backwards if you need a laugh.

However I’m bothered though, for all that hockey means to Canada there will probably not be one Canadian NHL team in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Yes the teams are loaded with Canadian players, but I want to see Toronto or Calgary or Ottawa or Edmonton or Winnipeg or Vancouver go deep in the playoffs.  It just doesn’t seem right not to see a Canadian team.  I don’t like it at all.  I realize some of it has to do with the direction of the club, some has to do with the value of the dollar and some has to do with the quality of the team but no matter I don’t like it.  I’ll trade a potential Florida team or two for a Canadian team any day.

I know these teams are all because of the Gretzky effect – the same Gretzky who perfected the so-called Gretzky buttonhook.  A move that Pittsburgh Penguins forward Tom Kuhnhackl perfected in a game on March 20, 2016 when he assisted on Bryan Rust’s goal.  The Pens took out the league leading Washington Capitals 6-2 that night behind Kuhnhackl and his spin moving self.  I’m not sure Gretzky could have made a better pass, this was text book.  Maybe Chris Becker taught him that at the Revolution Ice Rink in Pittston at skills night while he was playing for the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Pens?  It’s a possibility.  You never know where he may have picked that one up.  Then he sold him some Ribcore skates?  Just kidding Chris.

Because of Gretzky’s influence on the league we’ve seen more and more Americans jump into hockey.  I was probably exposed to more hockey because of him and I have to thank him for that.  It is one of those sports that gets in your blood.  No matter what other sport you think you love, until you actually get on the ice and strap on the pads, skates and grab a stick, you don’t know what you are missing.  I can understand why it’s Canada’s sport and you know what?  I don’t think we’ll ever be good enough at it to best them.  We’ll never have the access or the commitment to hockey.  Our focus is on baseball, basketball and most importantly football.  There’s no way we’ll take up hockey as our number one sport.  I think Canada should take hockey, mold it and each year make it better and better.  Each visit to Toronto make the HHoF a place that I never want to leave at the end of the day, a place where those that gave everything they had to the game have a chance to pay tribute to their teammates and those they respected.  Hockey deserves a place where it can be worshipped and I think that place will be and should always be Canada…O Canada.

Can you score in 10 seconds like Johnny Gaudreau?

The Calgary Flames beat the Nashville Predators 3-2 in Overtime on the back of forward Johnny Gaudreau’s 3-point-night, including 2 goals and the assist on the winning goal. Gaudreau scored twice in the first period, both goals came within 10 seconds of each other, only 4 seconds slower than Lanny McDonald’s record of six seconds on March 22, 1984 against the Detroit Red Wings.

Ten seconds? The hell?

Gonna be honest it takes me at least four or five seconds to skate with the puck from the blue line to get into position to shoot on goal. I mean, I’ve got to get up some speed. Then there’s getting control. You know, I’m fidgeting with the puck. It’s bouncing on me. I gotta look up and see where the goalie is.

Is the goalie standing?

Is the goalie down?

Oh hell, what am I going to do?

Now do I have control?

If I do have control, are my hands right? Probably not.

Am I in the right position? Probably not. Here I go again, I’m hunched over. Bend your knees dummy. Don’t lose your balance. OK, bending my knees, gathering the puck and looking at the goalie.

OK, I’m picking a spot and I’m looking for a spot.

So where am I gonna go?

Can I hit the five hole? Or should I go for a side?

I can’t really get lift, I’m not there yet. I’m so screwed.

Am I going to shoot off the right part of the stick? Am I balanced? Last shot went off to the right. Make it count.

All this runs through my mind in a matter of milliseconds. It’s all too fast, I’m thinking about everything. Too much thinking. It’s not natural. I’m not letting it play. I’m thinking about this I’m thinking about that. I’m letting it all bother me.

Flick the wrist!

The goalie moves.

The puck flies faster than I can comprehend.

Right into the goalie.

“Nice save.”

Skate back to line and try it again. Legs ache, lungs burn and head hurts but confidence is relatively unshaken. I’m not Gaudreau, Kane or Gretzky and I never will be.

Hell I’ll be impressed if I can gather in a pass and turn and fire without losing my balance.

Or let me throw a cross ice tape to tape pass that zips without bouncing.

Maybe I can stay on my skates without falling over. Stay on them without falling backwards. Remind me to always wear my helmet when I skate, will you? That soft spot on my head now reminds me of hitting my head on the ice.  I didn’t lose consciousness but I was a bit fuzzy a few days later.  There’s always that fear of a concussion.  I don’t need that.

Then there’s the big elephant in the room. ME. Yeah, me! The big feet that struggle to be fit into skates snugly and properly. One day I feel like I’m getting my skating legs back and the next day I think “nope I’ve got disaster written all over me again.”

I’ve gotta work on that.  Is that a confidence thing too?  Do I have to skate so much to the point I believe in myself?  I always thought it was a muscle thing.  Inline skating for so many years I could feel that feeling, but I think there’s some truth to the belief.

I have to believe that I can stop myself on the ice.  I have to believe that I can quick turn on the ice.  I can half turn without falling now.  I did that once after falling the first three times.  But that’s a win.  I have to believe I can stay balanced.

Take another pass. Crap I’m sloppy. Collect it, look up.

The goalie is standing. The five hole.  I gotta make this one count.  Look up. Look up, don’t look at the puck, feel it on the stick, there it is on the toe…that’s it…yeah it feel it on the toe..can I snap that off?

Have you ever heard the sound of the post?  Glove side just above the blocker but it hit the post.

But then again I have to get my ass back in shape.  I can only go so much before my legs give out.  Unfortunately I’ve let my cardio go and hockey will make you pay.  Watch it on television and you don’t realize it but hockey is tough on the body.  The added weight of equipment and the friction of the skates on the ice. Plus I’m trying to make myself move in a coordinated way which is a huge challenge.  I feel like a puppet on strings that someone is pulling me different ways I can’t keep up with.  I don’t feel natural.  I don’t know when I will feel natural.

I feel natural inline skating.  I haven’t felt natural on ice yet.  It’s too slick, my feet feel like they will give out.  There’s still a small fear of falling.  That has to stop.  Johnny Gaudreau scored one of his goals after one of the Preds fell last night and took out another player.  Guys fall all the time.  It’s ice right?  You are going to fall.  Just because you fall doesn’t mean you are bad, right?  I guess as long as you are doing your best, that’s what I tell my daughter.

My skating is funny.  I should get a video of me for the blog.  It should be video day.  Laugh at the funny hockey guy!  Although it may be good to see what I’m doing wrong.  There’s some good people out there.  They give great tips.  Shoulders up.  Stop leaning over the puck.  Bend your knees.  Yes yes!  I know!  I am trying.  It’s not natural.  I am trying.  Keep skating.  Yeah I’m trying.  I feel like I’m in quicksand half the time and Johnny Gaudreau and everyone else are passing me by like I’m standing still.  Am I?  Am I getting better?

 

Last try before I lose it.  Collect the puck.  Bend your knees dummy!  Here we go.  Don’t hunch over!  There’s the goalie standing again.  This time I’m going to hit that five hole! Feel the puck on the stick.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  Slide to the toe.  I feel that.

Quick before the goalie senses.

Not pretty but there it went.  Wow.  A little confidence.  Maybe I can do this.  Is it time? It took Johnny ten seconds to score his second, trust me, I’m in for a long skate.