Archive for March, 2010

Ice Hockey: The Most Difficult Sport to Fake

March 27, 2010

            I have heard that to hit a baseball at the major league level, one must decide to swing or not swing as the pitch is being released by the pitcher and to hit a dipping, curving, sliding baseball traveling ninety miles an hour is difficult if not impossible for most.  If it were easy, baseball parks would not be filled with 30,000 people, 162 games per year.

            To hit a little golf ball into a little hole takes masterful technique.  To hit a jumper from fifteen feet away with a hand in your face takes skill and rhythm.  To jump up in the air to grab a high pass while a safety or two drills you in the ribs and then have the foresight to drag you toes in bounds takes uncommon talent.  All sports take skill and hard work to become a master.  No sport is better than another sport.  There are sports that interest those that participate in a sport or are spectators.  Any sport that I can think of with the exception of Water polo if you cannot swim can be faked by a participant who is muddling through a first try but ice hockey is not one of them.

            With the Chicago Blackhawks doing as well as they have this past year or so, recreational, drop-in players have been coming out of the woodwork in Chicago.  You can always spot them as they walk in.  They have two composite sticks that cost the equivalent of what it would take Sally Struthers to feed a village in Angola for a week and there is no sign of ripped up tape or slash marks on the shaft.  Their bag is new, their socks are matching and have no holes, their skates are the same size as their street shoes, their gloves have palm, their pants are stiff as a board and they usually wear a Patrick Kane jersey from the Winter Classic.  Their first act as they are tottering like Bambi is to wind up and take a slap shot at the goal while the goalie is down on his knees stretching out or putting in the pins.  To the regulars who wear torn and worn jersey they were lent while filling in at a men’s league game from three years ago, no palm in either their left or right glove, ripped pants, socks with more holes than Swiss Cheese, chopped up holders on the outside of both skates from other skaters running into them in the corners and the smell of cat urine from the younger guys who never take their equipment out of their bags after playing.  The regulars who have played all their lives and continue to play for numerous reason, get annoyed with a brand newbians who probably loves the Cubs and Wrigley Field with all his might and during the cold winter months, have heard that there is now a professional hockey team worth watching again since about 1991 and they too want the glory of playing pick up hockey or low level men’s league.  Problem is this; if you cannot skate, you cannot play.

            For anyone who has ever gone ice skating on a field trip with school or found that Friday nights was where all the other junior high kids hang out, learn to flirt and play tag during public skating, you know that skating is not automatic.  It takes time to learn and time to master.

            For any hockey skater who has ever laughed at a male for being a figure skater and I am included on this, it is not easy to jump up and spin knowing that you have no hip or tail bone protection.  Now try doing all the spinning and jumping with some cute little thing in your arms while her overbearing mother sits with her latte in the stands, complaining how you’re not up to her daughter’s standards.  However you feel about figure skating, it is not easy and for as long as I have skated, I have never wanted to attempt a triple toe loop or whatever it is called, for the mere fact that falling and hurting my ass is inevitable and painful.

            For the football players, basketball players, baseball players and soccer players who look at Ice Hockey as some hybrid of roller derby and WWF on ice, I can assure you that it is a thinking man’s game. 

            In basketball, when a team sets up in the other team’s end, it is much like hockey.  You have five players passing and getting open.  The passing in soccer is much the same.  A Drew Brees quarterback in football is like a Nik Lidstrom in ice hockey.  They must be able to look up and know all their options and choose the right one before the pass is made.  Passes get intercepted in ice hockey and football and that is inevitable.  It is the incredible foresight to lace a pass in where it did not look possible that is a thing of beauty.

            Now lace up a pair of skates along with fifty pounds of protective gear, take a rubber disc while you skate and try to keep an opponent from taking that disc or knocking off the disc while you keep your head up, not thinking about what your hands or your feet are doing because it is imperative that you make a pass very soon before you are knocked into next week.  If you cannot skate, you cannot fake it.  You will look like the Johnny-come-lately fans in any city in North America that just so happens to be doing well.  Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Ottawa, Vancouver, Boston, Miami ( Miami?!) all have adults male and female that come to know the sport and want to play it too.  That is not a negative thing by any means.  My point is that before you can speak Portuguese, you have to learn the language and that will take time.  You cannot fake Portuguese anymore than you can fake hockey.  Until next time…  I’ll see you on the ice.

The Ice Hockey Diary

March 26, 2010

While eating a drumstick at Boston Market, looking out at the drab, windy Chicago day that felt more like winter than spring, I had no choice but to think since I did not have a newspaper to read.  I thought about the fiction stories I post weekly at www.blackhumouristpress.com blog and how all of the stories are mostly fictional accounts of everyday people who have something extraordinary happen in their lives.  I thought about how I could incorporate the sport of ice hockey into my fictional writing and somehow came to this; stories about amateur or recreational ice hockey players and situations that transpire on or around the ice.  My hope is that it will be interesting to some or most of you.  I promise not to write exclusively about myself and what I feel as much as what I observe that I think may be interesting to fellow hockey players both male and female.

            Aside from writing humor/social fiction, I play a genre of music called Ska.  If you’re not familiar with Ska, take a Reggae album and find an old phonograph and set the 331/3 to 45 revolutions per minute.  The Reggae will speed up into what is known as Ska.  

            Ska was born in Jamaica shortly after independence from England.  Local musicians who strained to pick up radio stations from America’s gulf coast, were trying to emulate the Fat’s Domino sound and screwed up the on beat, making it off beat and creating a new sound.  The Ska I play with two bands, Skapone of Chicago and Superdot of Detroit, is a hybrid of Rock, Soul and Blues mixed with Reggae.  None of this has a thing to do with ice hockey but I will say that a perfect day for me is usually getting up early to play a pick up game at a local rink, get something to eat, grab my bass and amplifier and head off to a gig at night.  For me, that makes the fast paced, hectic, Protestant work ethic, life in America, much easier to deal with.

            I began ice hockey after figure skating.  It wasn’t a choice of mine to figure skate.  My paternal grandparents signed me up to learn to skate at a rink that was solely for figure skating.  I had black little skates with toe picks that I could not take to the park with me for fear of being beaten or laughed at.  My CCM Bobby Hull autographed, synthetic leather skates with metal tube holders, were my first pair of hockey skates.  I was given a Northland stick with a right curve even though I shot from the left.  I played every day after school and weekends with two French Canadian/Swiss brothers who everyone called the Rothlesburgers.  The Rothlesburgers made ice in their backyard and their father maintained it for us.  Many days I could remember walking home to dinner after playing for hours and not being able to feel my feet beneath the ankle.  I may have played 30,000 pick up and league games since those days but those early days will always stay in my mind.  Looking at the school clock slowly pass to 3:00pm so that I could run home and get my equipment and head over to the Rothlesburger’s to play.  No matter how much I play, I still never get bored of the sport.  Since the days of playing in the Rothlesburger’s backyard, I went on to coach mites through midgets as well as high school.  I owned three hockey pro shops in municipal rinks in north suburban Chicago and raised two children that played both Division I and minor league ice hockey.  I have many hats that I wear in my life as most people do.  My smelly Bauer 5000 helmet is one that I still wear four to five times a week, when I’m not writing or playing music.

This should be enough of an introduction.  I leave you with this; The Detroit Red Wings defeated The Vancouver Canucks in overtime this past week with .01 left in the game, off of a back handed goal by Henrik Zetterberg.  More astounding was two goals scored within five seconds during that same game by the Detroit Red Wings.  Both are things you don’t see every game.  See you on the ice.

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March 26, 2010

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