Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello, Readers. I promised in my last blog (which, admittedly, was posted a couple days later than I had planned) to try and get caught up. Now that we're through the holiday week, I might actually be able to do just that.

In the holiday tradition of expressing thanks, I would like to thank all of those who have been reading my blog, and especially those who have given me feedback. If it weren't for you people reading it and enjoying it, there wouldn't be much point in writing it...and I've enjoyed writing it.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to once again thank all the guys that help me out at the rink. Flip, Barney, Shooter, Ryno, Tyler and Bubba make it possible for me to do the best job I can to take care of our guys. All of them have gone above and beyond the call of duty at some point, sometimes spending the night at the rink to meet an incoming team or help set up for a morning game (as Bubba did before the Kids' Day game this season). I consider myself very fortunate to have them here to help. Words can't possibly express how much I appreciate their efforts. Thanks, guys!

I'd also like to thank the Cottonmouths organization as a whole. I've worked for a lot of hockey organizations, but none has been to me as this one. Everybody gets along very well and is always willing to go out of their way to help each other out. I know it sounds cliche' to throw the word "family" around to describe people with whom you're not related, but it really does apply here. From the top to the bottom, everyone really is as close as family. And for those of us who are far from our native homes and our nuclear families, that really means a lot. Thanks to all of you.

Now that that's taken care of, we can dive right into the games from the Thanksgiving weekend. We kicked the weekend off by kicking the hell out of the Augusta Riverhawks. We owed them one after the way they treated us last week when we went there. Not only did they win the game, but they took a few liberties with our guys. They are a very yappy team. I'm surprised any of them can keep their mouthguards in when their lips are always flapping. They have several of the softest guys who talk the most crap I've ever heard. I hate guys like that. They chirp and chirp, but won't back it up. You try to fight them, but they just turtle. It's very frustrating.

But tonight was our night. Kyle Lundale opened the scoring with a couple of minutes left in a very evenly played first period, and the Snakes closed the frame with a 1-0 lead. For the second game in a row we came alive in the second, with Sammy scoring at about the midway point and Daryl Moore adding two late goals to give the Snakes a 4-0 lead. Greg Holt broke up the shutout in the last 2 minutes, but the game was already decided. It was one of the few total effort games we've had this season where everything seemed to be working as it should. We outplayed, outworked, outhit, outshot and (most importantly) outscored the Hawks. It was nice to get a win like that at home. And, to quote "Major League" Indians Manager Lou Brown, "We win one tomorrow...that's called a winning streak. It HAS happened before."

The next day we were back on the bus, heading for Knoxville. We've had bad luck in this barn in recent years (I think we've only won 2 games in Knoxville since I came to Columbus), but we won the last time we were here. We rolled into Knoxvegas feeling pretty good about ourselves. We were in for a tough game, though. The Ice Bears certainly weren't going to make it easy on us. But then, they never do. David Segal and Matt Kinnunen started things off with a bang, dropping the mitts and mixing it up off the opening faceoff. Kinner didn't do as well this time as he did the first time he fought Segal, but he did all right. Segal is a tough customer and Kinner held his own. After that, it was down to business. The Snakes got on the board just a couple of minutes into the game on a goal by Brent Clarke. Emery Olauson countered for the Bears a couple of minutes later. Each team had several good scoring opportunities, but the goalies were equal to the task and the score remained tied at one apiece after one.

The second period saw more of the same. After a few rushes back and forth, Bears Captain Mike Bulawka was awarded a penalty shot at 3:43 of the second. We were almost relieved that it was awarded to him. Not to take anything away from Bulawka, but there are a few guys on that team that we would be more afraid of in that situation. Vigier stood his ground and made the save, keeping the tie intact. Once again, the Snakes seized the momentum in the second and outshot and outchanced the Bears but again it was Olauson that found the back of the net late in the second. Ice Bears goalie Bryan Hince earned his paycheck, turning away 13 shots to preserve the Bears' lead going into the third.

Though Knoxville had the better of the chances in the third, Vigier held the fort so that Matt Kinnunen could tie the game for the Snakes. The teams continued to battle down to the wire when something unprecedented happened. Ice Bear Mike Bulawka was awarded another penalty shot with 7 seconds remaining in the third. I'm not sure I've ever seen a game in which 2 penalty shots were awarded...and I'm quite certain I've never seen 2 penalty shots awarded to the same player in the same game. I don't believe this has ever happened before. With the game on the line, Vigier once again closed the door and forced overtime.

Columbus registered the only 3 shots of the overtime period, but couldn't get one past Hince. Sam Bowles and Orrin Hergott scored in the shootout to outweigh Chris Bratina with the Bears' lone shootout goal, securing the victory for the Snakes. Hergott gets credited with the game-winning goal because his shootout goal was the deciding factor, but he couldn't have done it without Bowles...or Vigier, for that matter.

Three in a row! Another big win for the Snakes. That sure makes the bus ride home seem a lot shorter. We get back to the Snakepit and drop off the gear and the guys head home to get some rest before yet another big game...this one against the Mississippi Surge.

We've had trouble with the Surge all season (and most of last season). They're a good team, to be sure, but I don't think they're as good as we've made them look at times. They started quickly, scoring just a minute into the game. The Snakes came alive and played the Surge pretty even for the rest of the period, with the teams exchanging goals midway through the frame.

There was a bizarre incident early in the second period. Orrin Hergott was given a fighting major, even though he never dropped his gloves. He collided with Surge forward Jason Beeman as they were both going after a loose puck. Beeman gave Orrin an elbow, and Orrin responded with a gloved punch. Beeman took exception and jumped Orrin, who was caught completely by surprise. Beeman had the gloves off, pummeling Orrin as he covered up. Somehow, the referee saw this as a fair fight and gave Orrin and Beeman coincidental fighting majors. That's odd, considering Orrin never dropped his gloves or stick and never threw a punch except for the one he threw with his gloves still on. This "fight" seemed to ignite the Snakes. Sam Bowles tied the game at 2 on a power play just a couple of minutes later. But the momentum didn't last. Jeff Grant scored on a power play a few minutes later to regain the lead for good. Beeman added a goal late in the third and Matt Zultek added an empty-net goal to close out the scoring with a final score of 5-2. The streak was over. But it was fun while it lasted.

That closed out our holiday week. The winning streak was fun, but as the saying goes you're only as good as your last game. And we ended the weekend with a loss. So we had to carry that with us into the next weekend.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Snakes wreak Havoc

I know, I know. I'm a couple of weeks behind. Well, I'm going to try and play a little catch up. Here goes.

After splitting the home-and-home series with Mississippi, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Although Mississippi isn't quite as good as they were last year, they're still one of the better teams in the league. To be able to notch a win against them is a sign that things are looking up...or so we thought.

After another short practice week (to accomodate the Jason Aldean concert), we boarded the bus Friday afternoon for our first trip to Augusta. I was looking forward to it, having never been there before. I had heard very little about the James Brown Arena, and none of it was flattering. Upon our arrival, I thought that I might have been misinformed. It didn't look much different from any other aging hockey arena. It could use a face-lift, but didn't look terrible. We made our way inside and found our way to the visiting locker room. I began looking for the rest of it. It's a tiny, tiny room. It's basically a walk-in closet. There is another, even smaller room adjoining that was set up as a training room, with a little entryway that became the Coach's office. My equipment room was the hallway outside (not an uncommon setup in the minor leagues). We made do the best we could and set about the task of getting ready to play the game. I put out gum, stick wax and pledge (to clean the visors) for the guys, then set up the sharpener and got to work. Ordinarily, I like to have all my sharpening done beforehand on a trip like this, but a couple of guys neglected to put their numbers on the board so they had to ask me to sharpen them here.

As I was doing the skates, a couple of the linesmen (whose room is right next to ours) asked me to sharpen their skates as well. So my day just got a little busier. It's generally considered the home team's responsibility to take care of the officials, but since I was right there and the home team was on the other side of the arena, they asked me instead. It's only a minor inconvenience, and I don't mind helping them out. One of the guys asked for a 1/2" hollow (pretty standard), and I said that wasn't a problem because the wheel was already set up to do that. The other guy asked for a 9/16" hollow (which is kind of a pain, because the marks on the diamond quill only register 8ths of an inch, so to do 16ths of an inch you have to estimate halfway between two lines). I was a little put off that he asked for that hollow when I just mentioned that it was easier to do 1/2" (that extra 1/16" is fairly negligible). As soon as he disappeared down the hall, I went ahead and did both pairs of skates at the same 1/2" hollow. They both thanked me for the great sharpening.

We came out flat and never seemed to really get going, only managing 11 shots on goal in the first two periods. Somehow we managed to hang onto a 1-1 tie heading into the third. The Riverhawks came alive in the third, unleashing a 3-goal barrage to take control of the game. A late goal by Jesse Cole was offset by an empty-net goal for a final score of 5-2.

I wasn't really impressed by the Riverhawks. I know it sounds weird to say that after they beat us so handily, but they really don't bring much to the table except that they work hard. On this night we were less impressive, so their hard work was enough to beat us.

We rode the bus back home for a game the next night against Huntsville. Saturday's game was the middle game in a triple-header. The Civic Center was hosting a weekend of hockey, featuring the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Alabama hockey teams in what was billed as a "College Hockey Clash". Our game was sandwiched between the Alabama/Clemson game at 2pm (I must admit I was rooting for Alabama because of their uniforms, which are almost exactly like my hometown Phoenix Coyotes' jerseys) and the 8pm Georgia/Georgia Tech game. Our 5pm start time was earlier than our usual 7:30pm start, which meant a short turnaround after our arrival from Augusta.

To complicate matters further, we had to set up the locker rooms for the "College Hockey Clash". Instead of our usual one visiting team, we now had 5 visiting teams to set up for. Since there are not enough rooms to accomodate this many teams, we had to do a bit of juggling to take care of everybody. We started off with Alabama in the old NBDL locker room and Clemson in locker room 2 (which is normally used by the visiting team, but for this game they were limited to locker room 1). Then, after their game, both teams moved their gear into adjacent storage rooms to free up the dressing rooms for Georgia and Georgia Tech. Then, after our game, we moved Alabama into locker room 4 (which is normally half of our dressing room) and Clemson into locker room 1 for their games on Sunday. In addition to our regular setup, we had to make sure that each team had water and Gatorade in their rooms for their games and water on their benches. This meant a lot of extra work for Hannah (who usually takes care of that for us and for the visitors) and for Barney, Tyler and Bubba (who put in a ton of extra effort to make things go smoothly for everybody involved).

Thanks in large part to their efforts, the weekend went off smoothly and by all accounts the event was a rousing success. Tyler even got to make his debut as Mike Vee's color commentator for the radio broadcast of Sunday's second game of the day, which matched up Alabama and Georgia. Tyler got a chance to combine his knowledge of hockey and his gift for gab into a possible career path. Who knows? Maybe one day he'll be broadcasting Atlanta Thrashers games. Then I'll be able to say I heard him broadcast his first game back in the day. We'll see.

The marquee matchup of the weekend was the Cottonmouths' game against the Huntsville Havoc. Everything else aside, this game was huge for us. The Havoc are the defending champs and early front-runners in the league again this season, and we've been struggling to get on some kind of a roll. We haven't won consecutive games all season, but we've shown signs of brilliance at times. Our biggest problem is that we've been inconsistent all season. It's the one thing that we've done consistently. We knew we would need our best effort to beat the Havoc.

Fortunately, that's exactly what we gave them. We played a good, hard, physical game. We outshot the Havoc (a seeming rarity for us) and matched them stride for stride the entire game. Do I sound like the Herb Brooks speech from Miracle? Tonight, we skate with them...we stay with them...and we shut them down, because we CAN! That's pretty much how it went. And no, I'm not comparing our victory to the Miracle on ice of 1980. This win was huge, but not that huge.

We came out hard and dominated the game early...every aspect of it. We outhit them. We outskated them. We outshot them (to the tune of a 14-7 margin). We outworked them. Matt Kinnunen's hard work paid off when he scored 5:25 into the game with an extra attacker on a delayed penalty. This gave us something we've rarely seen this season...an early lead. We maintained the dominant play throughout the period and headed into the second with a 1-0 lead.

The second period, which has been our Achilles' heel all season, saw our strong play continue. We got outshot 11-8, but limited their good scoring chances (and when they did get chances, Vigier was there to shut the door). Jesse Cole scored a power play goal 13:33 into the frame to add to our lead, but Huntsville forward Stephen Margeson offset that with a goal of his own at 17:44, pulling the Havoc back to within one goal.

The teams parried and thrusted their way through the third, managing several quality scoring chances for each side despite a 9-8 shot count in favor of the Snakes. Both goalies stood strong and kept the period scoreless until Cole added an empty-netter with 2 seconds remaining for a 3-1 final score. It was an atypically low-scoring affair, but an exciting game nonetheless. Were it not for the goalies, this game could easily have ended 6-5 for either team.

It's always nice to end your week with a win. It's even better when you end the week with a win at home. And few things are better than ending the week with a hard-earned win at home against the best team in the league. Let's hope this is a sign of things to come.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fallen Comrades

The Cottonmouths family suffered two losses over the past couple of weeks. After receiving word that former Cottonmouth Connor MacDonald was killed by a car over Halloween weekend, it was learned yesterday that another former Cottonmouth, Paul Lynch, was found dead at his home yesterday morning. Details of Lynch's death were not known, but we do know he was a young man in good health. Both men were taken from us far too soon.

Connor left the Cottonmouths before I came to Columbus, so I never worked with him. I remember him as the feisty, young scrapper from the Jacksonville Barracudas who dropped the gloves with Dan Leslie every time we played the 'Cudas that year. He was the kind of guy who played the game the way it's supposed to be played. He gave his all every shift of every game. He was a tough competitor who would do whatever it took to win. From all accounts, that was the way he lived his life. He was as kind and generous off the ice as he was tenacious on it. I don't think anybody had an unkind word to say about him.

Paul was with the Cottonmouths only briefly during my first season here. He was here for training camp and played a couple of games at the start of the 2007-08 season before being waived. He got picked up by the Knoxville IceBears and was a regular on their Championship-winning team that season. I didn't know much about him except that he had been out of hockey for a couple of years before coming to the SPHL to resume his career. But he always treated me with respect as he did everyone else around him. He was a good guy.

There's an expression in hockey-"Once a teammate, always a teammate". Hockey is a small world. Your best friend one season might be your sworn mortal enemy the next...on the ice. Once the final buzzer sounds, he's your best friend once again. Because of this maxim, the hockey community is extraordinarily close. Even though I didn't know Connor or Paul very well, I still feel a sense of loss at their passing. But more than that, I feel empathy for their friends and family who now must try to fill the void in their lives. My condolences to all of you.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Well, it's been a busy week but I finally have a chance to post my new blog. Last weekend we had a home-and-home series against the Mississippi Surge, starting with an early travel/practice day on Friday. The Cheerleading championships took over the Civic Center, so we had to seek ice time elsewhere. We left at 8am Friday and arrived at the Coast Coliseum in Biloxi right around noon. We unloaded the bus and practiced, then moved our gear into the green room to dry out for the next day. We couldn't get into the visitors' locker room because the Fayetteville Fireantz were in town for a game against the Surge Friday night.

(Special thanks to Matt Broyles, Eric Hufnagel and the Surge staff for accomodating us and setting up for our practice when they were already busy enough setting up for their own game)

After practice, we got back on the bus and headed to the hotel. We made arrangements for those who wanted to watch the game to meet up and take the bus over after dinner, then went off to our rooms. We went to dinner at Salute', the Italian restaurant next to the hotel (there aren't many options within walking distance of the hotel), then headed to the game. I usually like to watch a Hockey game when I'm not working it, but this was one of the most boring games I've ever watched. There was very little excitement, unless you're a Surge fan who likes watching the red light go on behind the opposing goalie. We left before the game was over and headed back to the hotel.

We got up on Saturday morning and headed down to the breakfast area in the hotel. They have a really good breakfast here with an omelet bar. It's nice to get a good meal to start the day right...especially on a game day. We went down to the rink and moved into the visitors' room to set up for the morning skate. After a light skate, we headed back to the hotel for a team lunch. They put out a pretty good spread here for the pre-game meal also. After lunch, most of the guys headed to their rooms for a pre-game nap. I went upstairs and packed my bag to head back down to the rink. I like to get there early to set up the room and take care of a few details to get ready for the game. On this particular day, I had to sew a couple of namebars onto jerseys for the new guys, Peter MacDougall and Jeff MacPhee. Then, once the room is game-ready, it's time to sharpen. On a typical day I might sharpen as many as 8 or 10 pairs of skates, but most game days it's fewer than that. Down here in the South, the ice isn't as hard as it is in colder climates so guys don't need their edges quite as sharp.

We got off to a good start, scoring the first goal of the game just 2 1/2 minutes into the game. The lead didn't last, however, as our old friend Ryan McCarthy tied the score just 10 seconds later with a hard-working, jamming-the-net type of goal that we're used to seeing from Macker. There were some fireworks after the goals. Snakes forward/defenseman Peter MacDougall fought Surge forward Jason Beeman, and on the ensuing faceoff Snakes defenseman Kyle Lundale fought Surge forward Chris Chambers (not to be confused with River Phoenix's character in "Stand By Me"). This was a measure of payback for Chambers, as he was the guy that Lundy obliterated with a body-check in a previous game in Mississippi. Chambers has been on the IR since that hit and made no secret of his desire for retribution. It wasn't much of a fight, basically amounting to a slap-fight followed by a wrestling takedown. The Surge added a goal to make it 2-1 for the bad guys, but the highlight of the first period came in the last minute. Following a rush into the Snakes zone, Surge forward Michael Richard came in late with an extra whack. Lundy took exception and gave Richard a shove, which sent him flying as if he'd been shot out of a cannon. Surge forward Matt Zultek jumped on Lundy and started pummeling him. I'm not sure Lundy even had a chance to get his gloves off.

During the melee, Surge goalie Mike Brown apparently felt left out when Vigier tried to pull Zultek off Lundy's back. Brown skated to the blue line (crossing the blue line during a fight is a big no-no) and motioned to Vig, pointing his stick at the blue line as if to say "You better not step across this line". Vigier looked at him, looked at the bench and kind of smiled. He turned away as if he was declining the invitation, but he subtly began undoing the strap on his catch glove. Once it was loosened, he flung it to the ice, followed by his blocker, and took off down the ice. I was pumped! I love a good goalie fight! Unfortunately, this wasn't one.

Vig skated all the way down to the far blue line to meet Brown. It did not go his way. Brown was clearly the more experienced fighter. He tied up Vigier and began throwing bombs. He didn't land them all, but he did land at least a couple. He knocked Vigier off balance and got him down on the ice. Brown continued to throw punches, with no linesmen available to break them up. Vigier got back up somehow and tried to continue the fight, with both goalies tugging on each other's jerseys. Brown pulled the old schoolyard trick and let go of Vigier's jersey, causing Vigier to fall tail-over-teakettle onto the ice. It was not pretty...but it was pretty funny. Vigier got up, dusted himself off, and skated to the bench...laughing the whole way. I guess at that point there's nothing else you can do. There was a long delay while the ref sorted out the penalties (which resulted in Zultek, Brown and Vigier being tossed from the game). When the dust settled, we came out on the positive side of the ledger-their best offensive player and the league's #1 goalie were out for the rest of the game. This seemed to be just the break we needed. We felt pretty confident heading into the second period. Unfortunately, we couldn't take advantage, only managing 14 shots on goal over the last two periods and none into the back of the net. The final result was a 3-1 loss (with an empty-netter).

We boarded the bus and headed home, knowing we would have to meet the same team the next day in Columbus at 4pm. We would have to bring a lot more to the table if we were going to change our fortune. We got in at around 3:30am and the guys headed home to get some rest. I stayed at the rink to do the laundry and get ready for the game. I managed to get a couple of hours' sleep on the locker room couch in between loads of laundry, then got up and continued my game prep. I rotated skates and gloves on and off the dryer to get them ready for the game (most guys don't mind damp gear because they wear clothing underneath it, but they HATE wet skates and gloves). Between the game set-up, laundry and drying gear I kept pretty busy for most of the day. Barney had made the trip with us and stayed to help set things up for the day's games, getting the visitors dressing room and the referees room set up before settling in for a nap on the training table. We were pretty tired, but it's worth it to get everything done and ready for the game.

The effort paid off with a better effort from the players (not that I'm taking credit for it). We came out hitting and controlled the play for most of the game. We dominated every aspect of the first period except the shots on goal. We only managed 8 in the period, but somehow Matt Kinnunen, Jesse Cole and Orrin Hergott slipped 3 of those past Brown and we left the first with a 3-0 lead. The second period, which his been our kryptonite this season, reared its ugly head once again. Mississippi scored twice in the frame to cut the lead to 3-2 entering the third period.

The Surge scored again five minutes into the third to tie the game, and it looked like it was happening to us again. Once you establish a history of late collapses, it's almost impossible to avoid being consumed by it. Each time it happens it becomes harder to break the cycle. It gets into your head and you see it coming and get so knotted up you end up making a mistake. It almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You imagine it happening and you end up making it happen. But, again, it's hard to break that pattern.

This was our night. I don't know how we did it, but we broke the hex. Peter MacDougall connected on a power play midway through the third period to restore the lead to the Snakes, then Bret Tyler added an insurance goal three minutes later to secure the victory.

This was a big night for one of my favorite parts of the game. It's a tradition in hockey that whenever somebody reaches a milestone you save the puck to remember the feat. First goal, first win, hat trick, 100th goal...any important milestone results in a souvenir puck. This game was a rarity...there were three significant milestones celebrated. Peter MacDougall's power play tally, in addition to being the game-winner, also happened to be his first professional goal. An alert teammate retrieved the puck and tossed it to me. At the end of the game Ian Vigier skated the length of the ice to retrieve the game puck to commemorate Andrew Loewen's first professional win. There was another, less obvious accomplishment that was worthy of recognition. With his goal in the first period, a fight in the second period and an assist on MacDougall's game-winner Matt Kinnunen accomplished what is known as a "Gordie Howe Hat Trick". With three souvenir pucks I had my work cut out for me. Over my whole career I have had the honor of presenting these pucks to their recipients after the games, and it's one of my favorite parts of the job. I put a strip of tape around the edges of the puck and write the player's number, the date, the opponent and the milestone. I love to see the look on a player's face when I present him with his souvenir (see photo above).

This was a big win for us. Mississippi is one of the better teams in the league, and if we're going to accomplish anything we have to be able to win games against them. This game helped show us that we can do that. Now we just have to come up with this type of effort consistently. In any case, it's a great way to end the week.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"It's Not As Bad As It Looks"

The old adage has seldom held truer..."It's not as bad as it looks". We lost 2 of our 3 games this weekend, but we could have-no, strike that-SHOULD have won 2 out of 3.

Our first game of the week was the dreaded school day game. It's not dreaded because of the kids (4,000 or so screaming kids make for a great atmosphere for the players), but rather because of the 10am start time. Hockey players are creatures of habit (most athletes are, really), so a 10am game plays havoc with their game-day routine. At 10am on a game-day hockey players are usually taking the ice for their morning skate, a light skate just to get the legs moving and get the lactic acid out. This is followed by a mid-day meal, and usually an afternoon nap or just some quiet relaxation to get physically and mentally ready for the game. To simulate this timetable for a 10am start, players would have to have a skate at about 1am, followed by a pre-game meal at about 3am (maybe at Waffle House?). Instead, guys are waking up at 6am, having a light breakfast, then heading off to the rink to arrive at 8am. It throws the whole day off kilter (although it IS nice to be off in the mid-afternoon).

Many of you will remember our school-day slugfest from last season (I'm sure the kids haven't forgotten). Historically, those day games tend to end up in bloodbaths. Hockey players tend to be grumpy when you disturb their routine. Well, this year was the exception. Aside from a first period fight between Snakes defenseman Brody Malek and Fireantz defenseman Dan McNeill there wasn't much in the way of fisticuffs. The game wasn't even really that physical. The Snakes outskated, outshot and generally outplayed the Fireantz in the first, putting 20 shots on goal to the Antz' 4, but left the first period with a 2-2 tie thanks to a pair of goals from Orrin Hergott and Sam Bowles. Hergott and Bowles scored in the second period also, sandwiched around a goal by the Fireantz' Rob Sich, and entered the 3rd period with a 4-3 lead. The Snakes spent the 3rd period trying to sit on their one-goal lead and almost managed to do so...until the last 1:01 of regulation. Sich found the back of the net in the 58th minute to tie the game and send it into overtime. He then set up Chris Leveille for the Game Winner with 1.2 seconds left on the clock (in truth, I looked up after the puck went in and there was 2 seconds and change left on the clock...not that that matters).

This game hurt because it was one that we should have won. They didn't throw anything at us that we didn't prepare for. All the damage they did came from the usual suspects...their top line of Sich, Leveille and Mark Versteeg-Lytwyn. When one of your keys to the game is to concentrate on stopping the top line, letting them score 5 goals is not acceptable. The bottom line is we had them down, then let them up off the mat. We didn't have the killer instinct. We played the whole 3rd period to protect a one-goal lead. You can't do that. You have to keep playing the way you did when you built up the lead. As soon as you back off to try and protect a lead, you give the other team time and space to keep coming at you, which is exactly what they did. It's frustrating when that happens.

After the morning game, we prepared for a game Friday night in Huntsville. We skated at home in the morning, then boarded the bus to head Northwest. In the past we've left earlier, then stopped for lunch in Pelham on the way. We usually arrived very early and had a couple of hours to sit around and twiddle our thumbs before the game. This trip we timed it out better and arrived right around 5:30 for a 7:30 game, which basically gave us time to set up and play the game. I usually prefer it that way, but this time with us skating before we left I didn't have time to sharpen skates before we left so I had to scramble to get them done after we arrived. It did keep me busy though, so I can't complain.

We didn't play a particularly bad game in Huntsville...we just didn't play a particularly good game. We only gave up two goals, one by Mike Carter in the first and one by Ray Ortiz in the third. The Carter goal was just a spectacular end-to-end rush. He picked up the puck in his own zone and proceeded to walk around our whole team. I actually think he beat at least one guy twice. The Ortiz goal was the definition of a garbage goal...he tried to make a pass to the front of our net and I think it hit the defender in the shoulder and deflected past Vigier. But, even though it's entirely possible to win games in this league giving up only two goals, it's not possible to win games in any league if you don't score any goals. We didn't have many scoring chances, and didn't even have many shots. We were outshot 15-8 in the first period, 10-3 in the second (3 shots? 3 shots?!?), and 11-9 in the third. True, we were playing the best team in the league, but you can't score goals if you're generating that few offensive opportunities.

After Friday's game we headed for Knoxville, in desperate need of a win. The Knoxville Civic Coliseum is not a good place to go in search of a win. They're hard to come by if you're the visiting team. In my three plus seasons in Columbus, we've won exactly one game in Knoxville each season. That's right...three previous seasons with Columbus, three wins in Knoxville. But luckily we caught Knoxville at the right time. They had just lost their last 2 games against the Augusta Riverhawks, so either they were ripe for defeat or they would be pissed off about the 2 losses and take their anger out on us. Either way, this one had the potential to get ugly.

It started to look that way immediately. Off the opening faceoff, Knoxville's David Segal squared off against Snakes forward Matt Kinnunen. Young Matt held his own against a tough opponent, and both skaters watched the next 5 minutes from the box. Less than 3 minutes later, Cody Straker took an Ice Bear into the boards. Bears forward Mike Bulawka took exception and squared off against Straker. The pair dropped their gloves, but no punches were thrown. They were each whistled for Roughing, in addition to Straker's Boarding penalty. When the dust settled, the Snakes got down to playing some pretty good hockey. They outshot, outskated and outhit the Bears and controlled the play for the majority of the period. Bears goalie Andrew Gallant managed to keep his finger in the dyke until the final 8 seconds of the first period, when Jesse Cole finally lit the lamp on a Snakes power play.

Mitch Wall scored on another power play 1:37 into the second period for his first professional goal. Bears Captain Mike Bulawka cut the lead in half midway through the period when he banged home a rebound off a faceoff in the Snakes defensive zone. Sam Bowles put the Snakes back ahead by two at 13:47, then assisted on Mitch Wall's second goal 25 seconds later.

Gallant was replaced at the start of the third period by backup Brian Hince. The Bears battled hard to cut the lead but were turned back by the Snakes defense and goalie Ian Vigier. Matt Kinnunen scored the only goal of the period and the Snakes held on for a 5-1 win. It was a huge monkey off our backs to finally put one in the win column on the road, and to do it in that building just made it that much sweeter. It certainly made the bus ride home a lot more fun.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

One in the Win column

Well, we broke through and chalked up a 'W'. It was bound to happen sometime. We played a really good game, one of the best I've seen from the Snakes. It was a very intense, very physical game...almost playoff intensity. The boys played well throughout, despite being held scoreless for the first 25 minutes of the game. We were trailing 2-0 when Scorin' Orrin Hergott dented the twine to close the gap to one goal. We continued to pressure the Ice Bears goal, firing a total of 51 shots on goal when all was said and done. Bears goalie Andrew Gallant looked good except for a 14 second span in the third which saw Jesse Cole and Matt Kinnunen find the back of the net in rapid succession. It was the first professional goal of Kinnunen's career, and would hold up as the game winner. The Snakes weathered a flurry of chances from the Ice Bears in the last half of the third to hang on for the victory, their first of the season. What a relief that was!

After our opening weekend, we needed a game like this one. We struggled offensively in the first two games, so it was nice to see the boys score some timely goals and also play solid defense in front of our goalie. Ian Vigier turned away 27 of 29 shots for the win, his first of the season.

Saturday, we hopped on the bus and headed for Huntsville to play the Havoc for the first time this season. They're the defending champions and look to be a strong contender to repeat. We got into Huntsville and unloaded the bus, then set about the task of preparing to play the game. We got in fairly early, which I don't like. It gives the guys too much time to think about stuff. They start looking at their sticks, their gear, their skates...and sometimes they decide this would be a good time to get their skates shapened. Sometimes sheer boredom can be a springboard to more work for me. I finish my work before we leave, so I don't want to do more busy work once we get there. I like it better when we pull in, unload, get dressed and play the game. It's better that way...just a quick in and out, hopefully two points better off in the standings.

For whatever reason, we started off slow. And that's something you can't afford to do against the Havoc. They work hard and they're very opportunistic. They'll jump on any chance you give them. Before we even shook out the bus legs the Havoc had jumped out to a 2-0 lead. We righted the ship in the second and battled back to close the gap in the third. But it was too little, too late. We lost 3-2, but again had some pretty good chances to tie things up. It was an encouraging effort against arguably the best team in the league.

Monday meant it was time to get back to work, preparing for 3 games in 3 nights (starting with a 10am start on Thursday, the infamous School Day game). We hit the ice light one skater. Brett Beauchamp was cut by the team before Monday's practice. Other than that, it was business as usual.

This is a short practice week to get ready for three pretty big games. Thursday's matinee features the first visit of the Fayetteville Fireantz. After that, we head back to Huntsville Friday night, then on the Knoxville Saturday night. I can't wait to see Fayetteville. Their Equipment Manager, Frank "Rizzo" Jury, is the grumpiest man in the league. I can't wait to see him bright and early for that 10am game. It should be quite a treat.

Go Snakes!

Monday, October 25, 2010

And we're back...

Due to circumstances beyond my control (i.e. computer problems and a crazy couple of weeks at work), I've been unable to blog for a couple of weeks. But now, I'm back and better than ever! Well, maybe I'll let you be the judge of that. In any case, I'm back.
I intended to post brief notes after each day of training camp, but that didn't happen. So, here are my impressions of training camp on the whole. There was some good competition for the last few roster spots, and there was a pretty high intensity level throughout camp. This will definitely be a very different team from what we've had the last few years. Will Barlow looks right at home in his new leadership role, both on and off the ice. I expected no less...he was already showing some signs of leadership at the end of last season. Levi Lind and Jesse Cole are back after their stellar rookie season of last year, and are expected to make a big contribution to the team's offense this year. With the retirement of the team's leading scorer, Tim Green, there are some big shoes to fill offensively...and we weren't very good last season. Lind and Cole will need to set the pace for a new crop of rookies. With Dan Lind and Blake Miller up front, our forwards look a lot bigger this year and we've added some beef on the back end also. Bret Tyler was brought in to add experience to the blue line, and he looks good so far. Aside from Tyler and Barlow the defense will be very young, but pretty big.
The preseason games didn't go as well as we would have liked, but they did give us a good look at the new guys in game action. You can watch guys practice all you want, but until you see how they react in a game you never know how they can help you. There were a couple of guys who played their way off the roster during the exhibition games. They didn't look bad at practice, but when they got into the games they looked a little too timid and tentative...like a deer in the headlights. That's not what we're looking for. Jerome made his cuts on the Sunday following the preseason games and got us down to 16 guys (with a couple of new guys on the way). Most of the roster decisions were expected, but we kept one guy and released one guy that kind of surprised me.

A goaltending issue arose before the exhibition games. Adam Chalifoux came to camp ready to play, but he aggravated a previous injury that may have required surgery had he stayed here. We already had stumbled upon another goalie, Sylvain Michaud, who was supposed to be pretty good. Michaud's presence allowed us to send Chalifoux home, with the hopes of him returning next year in better health. But as soon as we did, Michaud decided he had to leave due to unspecified personal issues. So, in the span of a day, we went from three goalies to one and our old pal Barney was called upon to suit up for the weekend as our EBUG.

After the weekend, we picked up Andrew Loewen to fill the goalie position and added Brett Hammond and Zeanan Ziemer (no, that's not a typo) to bring us up to 19.

I spent much of the week working on last minute details (such as sewing names on new jerseys that came in on Wednesday afternoon) to get ready for opening weekend. We had the same schedule for opening weekend as we did for the preseason...hosting Pensacola on Friday night and then heading to Biloxi to play the Surge on Saturday.

Friday night started off pretty well for us. We jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and held a 3-1 lead at the midway point. That was when the wheels came off. Thirty minutes and six goals later, we were licking our wounds and wondering just what the hell happened. I'm still not really sure. It was like we had the media timeout midway through the second and when nobody was looking our guys left the ice and the high school team replaced them. Suddenly, we couldn't make a pass, we couldn't take a pass, we could barely muster a shot on goal and couldn't get a rebound...everything went wrong. We stopped hitting, we stopped skating, we stopped shooting...we would have been just as well off if we hadn't come back out for the third.

Saturday we headed for Mississippi to play the Surge, who won the regular season title last year and look like early contenders to repeat. They brought back most of their best players, and could be the team to beat this year. We came out with a much better effort than we showed in the last half of Friday's game, but we still couldn't generate much offense. Andrew Loewen looked good in his first professional start, but the high-powered Surge offense was just too much for him. We played the Surge fairly evenly for most of the game, with a couple of let-downs leading to three Surge goals. Overall, it was a better effort than the night before, but still a loss.

So, after the first weekend of the regular season, it seems we have our work cut out for us. While it's too early to push the panic button, it does show us we have a ways to go before we're ready to run with the big dogs. We've got a full week of practice ahead and then, thankfully, we play two different opponents this weekend. Unfortunately, one of those teams is the defending champion Huntsville Havoc and the other one is the 3-time champion Knoxville Ice Bears. Neither team promises to be a pushover, but could provide us with a further test of where we stand in the league right now. I certainly think we're a better team than we showed last Friday. Now we just have to prove it. I just hope we start proving it sooner rather than later.

But then...that's just me.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hockey is in the air!

The countdown has begun! Actually, several countdowns have begun. We're 11 days away from the start of training camp, 15 days from our first preseason game, and 22 days from our regular-season home opener. But the important thing to note is that another hockey season is upon us. The ice is down (it still needs a few layers to be game-ready, but it's skate-ready now), there is gear hanging in the locker room and soon the air in the Civic Center will echo with the familiar sounds of blades slashing through ice, sticks slapping against pucks and pucks clanking off posts or swishing into the net (or crashing off boards and glass). I can feel it already, an electricity in the air and a chill on my skin. With just over a week before training camp starts I'm finishing up preparations for the season. Our equipment has been coming in and I've been checking it in and putting it away to get it organized and ready to issue to the players.

I haven't been doing it all by myself, though, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of my game-day helpers for all they do for the team (on Game and non-Game days). On Game Day, there are a thousand little details that need to be attended to in order to make sure that everything runs smoothly. This runs the gamut from setting up the benches, referees room, and visitors room before the game to putting everything away after the game...and everything in between.

Starting at the top, there's Philip "Flip" Weaver. Flip's been here since Day One of the Cottonmouths franchise, and his help has been invaluable, especially in familiarizing myself with everybody when I first came here. On Game Day, I know I can count on him to make sure all the little tasks get done while I'm on the ice. He rides herd over the rest of the staff and keeps them sharp. If I need something done and don't have time to do it myself, I tell Flip and it gets done. End of Story.

After Flip, Matt DePuydt has been another regular on the staff, and his work ethic and attention to detail are unrivaled. He has been a great help to me in keeping the equipment room organized. One thing about me...I love having things organized, but hate organizing them. Shooter loves organizing things. I have to reel him in sometimes when he wants to throw some things out, but he does a great job back there.

Barney Slayton...how do I describe him? Barney is whatever we need him to be on any given day. He has been a game-day helper, a youth hockey coach, a (championship-winning) mens-league goalie, occasional comic relief and, most famously, an EBUG (Emergency Back-Up Goalie) for the Snakes. I really think he'd drive the Zamboni at night if we let him. At one time or another, he's had his hand in just about every aspect of the operation of the team. His positive attitude and even-keel demeanor are infectious. He never lets anything get him down, and always has a way of shining a light on any situation. He's like a miniature Buddha, covered with hair (inside joke).

Tyler McCrea and Bubba Jowers are the Beavis and Butthead of the locker room staff. They work hard, and they'll do whatever we ask of them, but sometimes I just have to shake my head at their antics. They will latch onto the most ridiculous things to amuse themselves, and sometimes I worry about those two. But they do a good job, and they take it well when the boys hack on them, all in good fun. They've been coming down the last couple of weeks to help me sort out some stuff in the equipment room, and they helped us out with our equipment sale at the CHA registration event. We had another good sale and it was due in large part to their help. Thanks, boys.

Last, but not least, we have Ryan Knight. Ryan's kind of quiet, so I don't really know him well. I haven't spoken to him much, and he hasn't spoken to me much. But he shows up every game and does his job, and I really appreciate all his help.

I take pride in how smoothly our locker room and equipment room run on Game Days, but in truth I couldn't do it without the help of all of these guys. Every Game Day I appreciate what they do for the team. Thanks, guys!

On a quick note, there were a couple of notable names in the SPHL news recently. Former Knoxville pest (and blogger) Mike Craigen was named the new Head Coach of the IceBears. In other news, the IceBears signed former Snake Lorne Misita and former Fireantz forward Emery Olausson. These are a couple of good pickups for them. It'll be interesting to see what impact those two have on the Bears this season.

T-Minus 20 days, 20 hours and counting. Go Snakes!

Monday, September 13, 2010


The Columbus Hockey community lost one of its sons over the weekend. William "Will" Robinson was killed in a single-vehicle accident Friday night. While I didn't know him well-and by that I mean I knew him casually from seeing him at the Civic Center-I still feel saddened by the loss. The hockey community is very small and tight-knit...we hockey people stick together and share in the ups and downs of each others lives. His death has had a profound effect on many of my friends. Two of my game-night helpers played on the high school team on which he was a goaltender and a couple of my other helpers had worked with him at one time or another through the youth and high school programs.

Will's death comes on the heels of last weekend's passing of Heath Jackson. Heath was a local DJ, musician, youth minister...and probably about a hundred other things, depending on who you ask. Mainly, he was a friend to all who knew him. He was murdered in his home when he apparently surprised a burglar, capping off a spree of 4 murders in 5 days in Columbus. I didn't know Heath, but I knew of him. As with Will, Heath was well known to many of my friends so I feel sympathy for the pain of their loss.

While both of these deaths occurred under different circumstances, they both illustrate the importance of enjoying each moment with friends and family. Every day is a precious gift from God, and you never know which one will be your last. While some may think it's a cliche, I think it's truer now than ever. I plan to savor every moment spent with family and friends.
But then...that's just me.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Coyotes Training Camp Diary (2003), The Final Chapter

Here's the exciting conclusion of my diary from the Coyotes Training Camp in 2003.

Thursday, September 11, 2003:

Today started later than usual. The players spent the morning taking their physicals and getting pictures taken and filling out paperwork. There wasn't much to do around the locker room this morning because most of the players already had their equipment. So we got set up for an afternoon session (which was once again broken up into 2 groups). The guys came, skated and left. It was a pretty long day for them, so most of them had no desire to hang around afterwards. Besides, they know tomorrow's going to be another long day, and a tough one. It's the first official day of camp, with each of the groups taking a separate session in the morning and then facing each other in an intra-squad scrimmage in the afternoon.

I saw Marty McSorley in camp today. That's right..."The" Marty McSorley. He's the Head Coach of the Coyotes' AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, and he's here to help out the Coyotes staff and familiarize himself with some of the players he's going to end up with. I jokingly asked him if his stick was legal (he was called for an illegal stick in the pivotal second game of the Stanley Cup finals in 1993 against the Montreal Canadiens, and the Kings ended up losing the series). Luckily, he has a very good sense of humor (he's a BIG man). I had met him once before when he was playing for the Kings. He's one of those guys that make you want to pull up a chair and just listen to all his stories. He's awesome! He could go on for days, and I'd gladly listen to every story. Talking to him was the highlight of this experience so far (no offense, Doaner).

Friday, September 12, 2003:

Today was sheer mayhem. I can't believe how many people were at the arena when I arrived. Sportscasters and reporters from every media outlet in the state were here to report on the first day of training camp. It seems odd that there is this much interest in hockey in a place where I can see cacti across the street from the practice arena. Not that it's a bad thing; it just strikes me as odd. I got right to work setting up the benches, then checked in with Stan and see what he needed help with. We passed out the jerseys in the locker room, hanging one in each player's stall. Next, we passed out the laundry in the changing room. Then we retired to the laundry room to fold some towels. Everything else was pretty much done before we left yesterday, so all that was left were little details this morning.

The first group came in, dressed and took the ice. The coaches were out there already and they wasted no time getting started. As soon as the last guy hit the ice, they began the warm-up skate. They only had an hour and a half, so they got right to it. It was a very intense session, with lots of skating and lots of passing and shooting.

While they were on the ice, the second group arrived and started getting ready to take the ice. The first session lasted from 8:30-10am, and the second session was scheduled to run from 10:30am-12pm. Then the scrimmage was scheduled for 4-5pm. It didn't leave a lot of time in between for the players to rest, and even less for the staff to finish with one session and get ready for the next. Days like this are as hard on the staff as they are on the players.

The big talk after the first session was all about the "Silli, Willy, and Nasher" line; Mike Sillinger, Landon Wilson, and Tyson Nash. It makes me wish Nash's first name was Bill. "Silli, Willy, and Billy" has such a nice ring to it. But Nasher is happy with his first name and seems unwilling to change it for the sake of having a catchy name for his line. In any case, those three were grouped together as a line and clicked right away. They're all on the small side (Wilson's the biggest, not as big as the 6'2" and 215 lbs. the program says, but he's pretty slightly built), but very quick. They buzzed around the ice like a swarm of bumblebees and wreaked just as much havoc. They could be a lot of fun to watch this season.

Shane Doan started off the second session with a bang. Even on the first day, Doaner plays the game his way. He absolutely crushed some poor rookie who got caught skating with his head down. He kind of felt bad afterwards, but that's the way the game is played. Better to find it out now than during the regular season when an opponent catches him. A guy wearing a different crest on his jersey may not be so nice. Doan seems to be settling into his leadership role nicely. He's kind of a quiet leader, preferring to set a good example for the younger guys to follow instead of yelling at them. But make no mistake; when Shane Doan speaks, people listen.

The goaltending could be pretty good for the 'Yotes this season. They have a bunch of guys in camp, some of them pretty young, but all of them talented. Jean-Marc Pelletier is a pretty solid prospect who will probably start the season with the Coyotes AHL affiliate in Springfield. Zac Bierk split time last season between Springfield and Phoenix. Sean Burke is the veteran among them, with Brian Boucher having a fair amount of experience also. I talked to Boucher for a few minutes this morning. Scorps Assistant Coach Travis Van Tighem asked me to say hello for him (Teegs and Bouch played together with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League, winning a Calder Cup championship in 1998). All in all, they have tons of potential.

The intra-squad game was a lot of fun to watch. They knew it would be fairly short so they held nothing back. It was a very quick-paced scrimmage, with lots of action. There were a few good hits, some crisp passing, and some good saves. There were also a few very nice goals. They look pretty sharp for the first day. This could be a good year for them. There's a lot of buzz about the Coyotes this year because of the new arena. It's currently being built out in Glendale, but they'll move into it mid-season. Everybody's excited about it, except for the people in the East Valley. They'll have a loooooong trek to get to the new arena, but I think it's worth the trip. I can't wait to see some games out there.

The stands were packed for the scrimmage, and there were photographers and cameramen all over the place. After the scrimmage, the locker room was crawling with reporters. I cleared off the benches and put the cooler and water bottles away. We started the jerseys in the wash, then waited for the locker room to clear out a bit before we finished cleaning up. It took a long time, but we finally got all the laundry done and the room cleaned up and ready to go for the next day. I went over to the training room and said my goodbyes to Gord and Jukka. I took one last look around the locker room, then said goodbye to Tony and Jason and one final thank you to Stan.

In addition to being an outstanding Equipment Manager, Stan's a great guy. He gladly let me come down and see how the NHL guys do things and gain some very valuable experience. He never once talked down to me or treated me like a lesser Equipment Manager because I work in the CHL. He freely offered to help me in any way he could, and I thank him for that. For that matter, the whole staff and team and everybody that I came in contact with were very cool. The Coyotes rock!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Coyotes Training Camp Diary (2003), Part Tres

Here's the third part of my Coyotes Training Camp Diary. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 9, 2003:

I walked in at 8:15 this morning and was greeted by Gord, saying "You equipment guys just show up whenever you want, after all the work is done." I thought I was there early enough to help fold the towels and pass out the laundry, but they beat me to it. It's okay, though...there'll be another load of laundry before long. I can't believe how much laundry they do around here. With 30 or so players and coaches running around here, there's always some laundry spinning. That's half again as many guys as we have at any one time, and the rookies aren't even here yet. They're expecting a total of about 60 players once the last of the veterans have shown up and the rookies return from camp in L.A. That's about 3 times as many as we're going to have in camp.

Stan's Assistant, Tony Silva, returned this afternoon with all the gear from the rookie camp. There isn't enough room for everybody in the locker room, so a bunch of the rookies have to go over into the visitors' dressing room. In addition, the first cuts have been made so a bunch of guys are being sent back to their junior teams or released. So, basically, there's about 15 or so new guys arriving from the rookie camp, and about 8-10 guys are picking up their gear and leaving. This is all in addition to the 30+ guys that are already here. Even with the 3 Coyotes equipment guys and me to help this was shaping up to be a pretty long day. In the middle of all of this, Shane Doan was just kind of hanging around. He had an appearance to do later in the day and didn't see any point in going home and then turning around and coming back. I can't say I blame him for that. So he's just hanging around and trying to stay out of our way. Apparently, sitting around watching other people work isn't really his thing, so he starts helping out. He's hanging gear, gathering up laundry, and pretty much doing anything else he sees that needs to be done. After a while he heads over to the pizza parlor in the lobby of the practice rink and comes back with a large pizza. He drops it on the table and tells us it's time to take a break. So we spend the next 20 minutes or so eating our pizza, having a soda and listening to Stan and Shane's stories. They've got a million of 'em.

I think this is why Shane Doan is the Captain of the Coyotes, and it's definitely why he's my favorite Coyote. He's the longest-tenured veteran on the Coyotes (he and Stan are the only 2 former Jets remaining since the move from Winnipeg), yet he's the first guy to lend a helping hand or just hang out and talk. He's stopped and chatted with me every day that I've been helping out and made me feel right at home.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003:

I set about my usual task of setting up the bench for practice, and then checked around the shower area and changing room for towels or any other laundry. I was accosted by Coyotes Defenseman Ossi Vaananen. This kid is always smiling. Not a normal, friendly smile...the kind of smile that makes you think he's up to something. I've decided that it's probably because he's always up to something. Every day that he's seen me in my Scorpions hat and/or t-shirt, he has serenaded me with his version of "No One Like You". I keep telling him that the German metal band has nothing to do with the hockey team that I work for, but he doesn't listen. He thinks he's pretty funny (and I'm inclined to agree with him).

Ossi's in Stan's doghouse today. He had to take his jersey to a promotion yesterday and apparently decided to stop off for Chinese food on the way home. I can't imagine what would have possessed him to wear his jersey while he ate, but he came in this morning with Orange Chicken sauce all over the front of his brand new white jersey. He fully expected to feel the full extent of Stan's wrath, but Stan just said "No problem" and took the jersey back to the laundry room. He pre-soaked it (with his special blend of detergent and pre-wash) and the stain lifted right out. No problem.

That's what I like about Stan. Nothing fazes him. This profession requires a person to be good at dealing with the unexpected. The ones who excel make it look routine. I'm reminded of the old adage about the duck on the pond. On the surface, the duck appears to glide along effortlessly. Under the surface, however, those little legs are flailing away like crazy. That's kind of what it's like to be an Equipment Manager. You have to maintain your presence of mind when everything goes wrong at once. Stan is a master at it.

He's also a master at his craft. I watched him make a pair of goalie thigh-boards for Brian Boucher's pads. The NHL passed a new rule requiring all goalie knee protection to fit underneath the pants. This means that the old style thigh-boards (like 90% of goalies wear) are now illegal. The old thigh-boards are commonly referred to as "cheaters" because they help goalies close up the 5-hole when they go down in the butterfly position. It's one of those new rules designed to increase scoring and frustrate goalies (they're also talking about increasing the size of the nets and decreasing the allowable width of goalie pads). So, Stan cut the thigh pads out of a pair of hockey pants, went to his sewing machine and attached elastic straps with Velcro closures and a piece of leather (with holes to lace them into the pads) to each one and "Presto"...a new pair of thigh pads that look like they came from the factory. I stood there and watched him do it all in about 15 minutes. It was really something to see. I guess that's why they pay him the big bucks.

Today's ice time was broken up into 2 sessions because of the number of players. Group A took the ice and went through a pretty thorough workout (considering it's an unofficial practice...training camp doesn't officially start until Friday). Then it was a mad scramble to reset the bench and clean up the room before Group B took the ice. This meant more laundry. On a day like this, the washers and dryers get more of a workout than the players do. They ran from morning to evening; as soon as one load finished, another one took its place. The training staff also did double-duty. One thing they didn't contend with today was boredom. More new players arrived and had to get geared up; and now there are about 50 players running around this place, and leaving a trail of laundry and towels everywhere they go. The staff really has their hands full. They earned their money today.

Monday, August 23, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2003), Part Deux

Here's the second part of my Coyotes Training Camp diary. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 4, 2003:

Today was mass confusion. The new gear came in with the new team colors, and all the guys who had already been suited up were exchanging their black pants and helmets and black, green and red gloves for the new red stuff. It was weird to see the Coyotes in all red gear. To add to the chaos, a few more guys showed up. Luckily, one of Stan's assistants returned from L.A. Jason Rudee had gone to help set up the rookie camp, then came back to help Stan. That left two guys to do the change-over while I set up the bench and helped out with the laundry. To make matters worse, all the players who were involved in the fashion show needed to have their skates sharpened after walking around on the stage in them. It reminded me of the team picture we took last season outside Blades. The picture came out great, but it was a huge pain to resharpen that many pairs of skates right before practice.

I met Tyson Nash today...I knew he was small, but I had no idea just how small. Like a lot of players, he looks bigger on TV with his equipment on. He had just arrived in Phoenix and was adjusting to the heat by walking around shirtless. This kid is built. He looks like a miniature Shaun Peet...that is, if Shaun Peet had Stephen Margeson's hair.

Monday, September 8, 2003:

After a weekend off, it was time to get back to work today. The Players haven't skated since Thursday, but they've kept busy with a slew of promotions all over the valley to promote the new look of the Coyotes.

I met one of the Ferraro brothers today...I think it was Peter (or was it Chris?). Oh, well...what's the difference? They're twins. The only apparent way to tell them apart is that Peter has a mole on his face (or was it Chris?). It's funny to watch these two in action. They look, sound, and act virtually alike (as one might expect twins to do). It's like somebody tried to clone the perfect hockey player twice...but 1/8 his size (just kidding). Anytime one of them gets something done with his equipment he shows it to his brother, who immediately has to do the exact same thing. They're ganging up on poor Stan, and I can tell they're driving him crazy. It reminds me of the movie "Multiplicity", in which Michael Keaton clones himself.

I haven't had much contact with Gord...his training room is on the other side of the facility (a pretty good hike in this place) and he's usually pretty busy over there. I have seen enough to know that he's very funny...he's always kidding around. I think he's made me laugh every time I've seen him. He walked into the equipment room with the new Trainer/Equipment Manager Directory, open to the CHL section. He said, "Who the hell are the New Mexico Scorpions?" loud enough for me to hear, knowing full well that I work for them. Later, he walked into the room carrying a couple of boxes he brought over from Receiving. He said, "It's okay, equipment guys, I've got it. Don't worry about anything, I can handle it." There's a sort of friendly, joking rivalry between Trainers and Equipment Managers. Members of each profession like to kid the other about who works harder, etc. I've seen it before, but Gord is a master at it.

I met Pat Conacher today. I should say I met him again today. We were introduced, but I had met him once before when he was playing for the Kings and I was working for the Phoenix Roadrunners, the Kings' IHL Affiliate. He was a great player. He played the game the way it should be played. He worked hard every shift and played smart. He's also a great guy. He's a Coach in the Coyotes' minor-league system now (He's coaching the team's AHL affiliate, the Utah Grizzlies).

Monday, August 16, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2003), Part 1

Hey there, readers! If you're hungry for a hockey fix, here's a little tidbit to hold you over. This is reposted from my MySpace blog:

During the summer of 2003, I spent a few days working with the Phoenix Coyotes at their training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona (It was the one good thing that came out of spending the blazing days of summer back home in Phoenix). I figured I'd take advantage of my team's affiliation with the Coyotes, so I contacted Stan Wilson, the Coyotes' Head Equipment Manager, and asked if he could use any help during training camp. The Coyotes held their rookie camp in Los Angeles, and the team's Assistant Equipment Managers went over there to take care of them, so Stan was basically left all alone to take care of the veterans who were skating in Phoenix. The Coyotes' Head Athletic Trainer, Gord Hart, and their Massage Therapist, Jukka Nieminen, help out around the locker room, but their primary job is taking care of the players' medical needs, while Stan is primarily responsible for everything the players wear. He invited me to come out and help him. I jumped at the opportunity to go and see how the NHL guys do things, and get a little hockey fix in the process. Of course, it also can't hurt to attain name recognition with the Coyotes' brass. In any case, I relished the opportunity to work with my hometown NHL team.

I kept a diary of my experiences there with the intention of getting it published in our game program that season, or maybe in our local newspaper. While that didn't happen, I came across this and thought some of my blog readers might be interested in it. Here's day one. If you like it, let me know and I'll break the rest of it into parts and post them here later on. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2003:

I made my way to the Alltel Ice Den, the practice home of the Phoenix Coyotes at about 8:15am. I found my way around to the player entrance and met up with Stan. I was in awe as soon as I walked through the door into the locker room. They have an unbelievable setup. Right down the hallway from the entrance is Stan's office and work area. It's twice the size of my work area in Stingley. He has a three-head sharpener, with two pneumatic riveters, one hand riveter, and a boot press on an adjacent counter. He has storage cabinets and counter space to work on around half of his room. He has a boot oven and a hydrocollator for breaking in new skates, and a huge storage cage for practice jerseys. All of this is in one room, and it's just a small part of the facility. He gave me the guided tour of the locker room, player's lounge, changing room, training room, coaches' offices, laundry room and storage room. There's even an extra locker room for visiting teams. It's incredible! Every room they have is at least twice as big as ours. Their equipment storage room is three times bigger than the one we had at the hockey pro-shop where I used to work; and it easily has more equipment in it. Their workout room is almost as big as the gym where our players work out, and it's adjacent to the training room. They have every type of workout equipment imaginable, and enough of them so that nobody has to wait to get on it. It's good to be in the NHL.

Stan showed me where everything was and asked me to set up the bench for practice. He was pretty busy taking care of the veterans that were getting ready for the morning's skate. Several new players arrived, and he had to set them up with their equipment. I met several of the players, including Landon Wilson, Shane Doan, and Brian Boucher. I also met Teppo Numminen, who was skating at the Ice Den for the last time (a former Coyote, he signed with Buffalo during the off-season). I found it amusing that he wore his Coyotes practice jersey inside out so he wouldn't be displaying the team logo.

I met Charlie Simmer, one of the Coyotes' broadcasters and a former L.A. King. He asked me who our Coach was, and when I told him it's Bill McDonald, a big grin crossed his face. He said, "Billy McDonald? From Thunder Bay?" Hockey sure is a small world. It turns out Charlie's from the next town over and has known Macker for years. He also told me that his nephew used to play for Macker, and it turns out that his nephew, Jesse Black played for Lubbock the year I worked there. So, I told him to tell Blackie I said "Hi", and he told me to say "Hello" to Macker for him.

I got to have a little "sneak preview" of the Coyotes' new uniforms. They're scheduled to be unveiled tonight at a local mall, and I was in the locker room when the PR people brought down the jerseys that the players were going to wear at the fashion show. It's a very different look...more traditional. The jerseys are brick red with white stripes, and a new coyote-head logo. I think they look pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Greetings from the Equipment Room

***Reposted from the "Venom Views" blog on Cottonmouths.com

Howdy, Snakes fans! Smoke here. I thought I’d break the trend and come on here to Venom Views to announce that I’m not going to retire…not yet, anyway. I’ll be honest…I did give it some thought. Craig Stahl and I talked about retiring together, only half-jokingly. But after taking some time off I knew I wasn’t ready to walk away from the game just yet. I was planning to announce my decision during a prime-time special on ESPN, but it seems that Lebron stole my thunder. So I’ll have to make my announcement here in Venom Views that I’ll be returning for another season at the end of the Cottonmouths’ bench.

I want to thank everybody who came down to the Civic Center for our Locker Room Sale this past weekend. We had a pretty good turnout and sold quite a bit of equipment, which will help me make space in the Equipment Room for the new gear coming in. As many of you already know, the SPHL signed a new equipment sponsorship deal with Sherbrooke Hockey (SBK), and we will be buying sticks, gloves and pants exclusively from them. This means we had lots of Sherwood gear left over and I was trying to clear that out. We do still have some gear left, which we will probably try to sell at the CYHA Youth Hockey registration as we have in the past several years. We also have lots of Sherwood sticks I’d like to sell, so if you know anybody who needs hockey sticks, keep your eyes open for that event next month.

I’ve been keeping pretty busy this summer. I placed the order with SBK for our new pants and gloves back in May. After that, I completed my inventory and began working on my budget for the upcoming season. In mid-June I attended the PHATS/SPHEM conference in Fort Lauderdale. That’s the annual meeting of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers and Athletic Trainers. They have one of the best trade shows in the business, which offers a chance to see the new equipment and hear presentations from some of the equipment manufacturers. It’s also a great networking opportunity and a chance to catch up with old friends. At the Hall of Fame banquet I received an award for my 1,000th professional game worked. All in all, it was a pretty good week.

After the conference, I had a chance to return home to Phoenix for a visit with my family and friends, and a trip to Lubbock, Texas for our family reunion and a visit with my Grandmother. It was a long trip, but a good one. I got to reconnect with some people I hadn’t seen in a lot of years. After returning to Phoenix I spent about a week enjoying the dry desert air, got to take in a few Diamondbacks games (all of which they lost), and just generally tried to refamiliarize myself with the place where I grew up. I’m always amazed at how much it has grown each time I visit. I hardly recognize it sometimes, but I do miss it.

Now I’m back in Columbus for the remainder of the summer and I’m gearing up (so to speak) for another season of Cottonmouths hockey. We’re rapidly approaching my favorite time of year. Now that we’ve started signing players it’s time to start contacting the guys and finding out what sticks and skates they use so I can start putting together my orders. We’ll assign numbers for each of the guys and figure out which size jersey to give them. For the rest of the summer I’ll be placing and following up on orders and getting ready for training camp in October. Hockey season is right around the corner.

Finally, I’d like to take a moment to thank Craig Stahl for his time with the Cottonmouths. I’m going to miss Stahlsey every day at the rink. His love of the game, and of life in general, is infectious…and it will be missed. I worked with Stahlsey in New Mexico and he was a big part of my decision to come here 3 years ago. I had hit a low point in my career and was ready to walk away from hockey. I needed to rediscover the joy of the game, and Craig helped me do that. For that I am truly thankful.

Now, bring on the season! Go Snakes!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Carpe Diem

I'll apologize in advance for the morose tone this blog is going to take, but that's the way it goes sometimes. As many of you know, I'm a native of Phoenix and a proud Coyotes fan. It is with great sadness that I dedicate this blog to the memory of Coyotes Massage Therapist Jukka Nieminen. He passed away in his sleep last Friday at the age of 40...the day before he was to be married. Sometimes life just really isn't fair. I'm hard pressed to think of a less-deserving man of this fate.

I really didn't know Jukka well. I met him during the summer of 2003 when I spent about a week helping Coyotes Equipment Manager Stan Wilson before the Coyotes' training camp that year. Stan's assistants were in L.A. at the team's rookie camp, leaving Stan alone to take care of the veterans who had already begun to arrive in Phoenix and take the ice before camp began. Jukka and Coyotes Trainer Gord Hart were holding down the fort in the training annex (a decent hike on the other side of the locker room from Stan's equipment domain). They would pop over to the equipment side to check in on the guys, to exchange soiled towels for clean towels, or just to chit-chat when they got bored or lonely. In all the times I saw Jukka that week, or the numerous times I've seen him since, I can't recall seeing him without a smile on his face. I'm sure I must've...I mean, who smiles all the time, right? But somehow I can't picture him without one. He was one of those guys that just lit up a room when he entered. He had such a positive energy and attitude that it was infectious. You couldn't help but smile. He was always laughing and joking around. It was like he had made it his mission to make you laugh, and he wouldn't rest until the mission was accomplished.

It just doesn't seem fair. How does a guy like that have everything taken away from him the day before the happiest day of his life? I know God has his plan for everybody, but sometimes it really seems to make no sense. He was a young guy who took good care of himself...to die at 40? I think if there's one thing I can take away from this, it's that life is precious. I'm a young man, but I've had quite a few friends younger than me pass away far too soon. It can happen at any time. The moral, I guess, is to live each day as if it were your last.

So, on that note, I'd like to tell all my friends and family that I love them. I thank God for the blessing of each day I have on this earth and I plan to enjoy every moment of it.

On an unrelated note, I would like to Congratulate the Chicago Blackhawks on winning the Stanley Cup. 49 years is a long time to wait between championships. Just ask the Cubs-they've waited twice that long (and counting) since their last World Series championship. Also, congratulations to the Hershey Bears and Cincinnati Cyclones for winning the Calder Cup (AHL) and Kelly Cup (ECHL) championships, respectively. Now it's official...hockey season is over.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Summertime blues

Well, I haven't been posting much because I basically intended this blog to be about my life as the Cottonmouths' Equipment Manager and our season is over (as evidenced by this picture of the Civic Center ice melting outside the building, at right). But, since hockey season is still going on I'll weigh in with some thoughts on a few things.

First, as I've long said, my favorite season of the year is Hockey season. So logically it would follow that my least favorite season of the year is the off-season. This is not just because I'm now out of work (until September). It's because I really do miss going to the rink every day. Sure, I still have some stuff to work on during the summer in preparation for the upcoming season, but I'm not at the rink every day like I am during the season. It's actually funny...during the season I always look ahead to my next day off, but once the season's over I can only stay away for so long before I find myself drawn back there. I was the same way during summer vacation from school. I couldn't wait for the school year to end, but within a month I was so bored I actually looked forward to September (of course, I grew up in Phoenix and by July it was too hot to do much of anything outside).

So now that our season is over, I have to rely on following the other pro leagues to give me my hockey fix. Of course, now only the ECHL, AHL and NHL are still going. The Rapid City Rush won the CHL championship and the Fort Wayne Komets won their third straight "IHL" title (yawn). In other CHL news, the Amarillo Gorillas and Corpus Christi Ice Rays have both announced that they will be dropping out of the CHL and entering the NAHL (North American Hockey League), a tier II Junior A league. In the ECHL, the Cincinnati Cyclones have a 3-games-to-1 lead over the Idaho Steelheads in the finals. In the AHL Western Conference the Hamilton Bulldogs have a 2-games-to-1 lead over the Texas Stars, and in the Eastern Conference the Hershey Bears hold a 3-games-to-2 lead over the Manchester Monarchs. And, of course, we all know where the NHL playoffs stand (Go Habs go!!!).

For SPHL fans, there hasn't been much news since the Huntsville Havoc closed out their series sweep of the Mississippi Surge in the President's Cup finals. But in the last week there has been some progress. It was announced some time ago that there would be an SPHL team in Augusta, Georgia next season. I myself am looking forward to another geographic/ECHL rival joining the league, and especially the nice, short road-trips. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I love the day-trips, and having Augusta in the league ensures even more of those for us next season. Then it was announced that the new team would be called the Riverhawks, and that former Jacksonville Barracudas Coach Rick Allain would be the team's "Hockey Operations Advisor", but not their Coach. Then preparations began for the expansion draft to fill out the team's roster. Each team had to submit their "Protected List", designating which players would be unavailable to be drafted by the Riverhawks. The players left exposed by each team are as follows:

Columbus: G-Chad Rycroft, D-Andrew Dwyer, D-Blake Miller, D-Joe DeBello, D-Tim Hockley, LW-Jeff Martens, and RW-Craig Stahl*

Fayetteville: G-Bryan Bridges, D-Corey Hessler*, D-Lawne Snyder*, D-Nick Bydal, C-Murray Free, and F-Emery Olauson*

Huntsville: D-Chris Myers, D-Jeff Winchester, D-Vladimir Hartinger*, F-Andrew Schembri, F-Travis Kauffeldt

Knoxville: G-Chad Collins, D-Darcy Rees, D-Grant Farrell, D-John Halverson, D-Rich Zalewski, RW-Mike Kneeland, RW-Taylor Hustead, LW-Tim Vitek*

Louisiana: G-A.J. Bucchino, G-Jimmy Spratt, D-Drew Baker, D-Matt Ruberto, D-Matt Smyth, D-Tobias Karlsson, C-Erik Kent, F-Mike Omicioli*, F-Nick Pernula, F-Scooter Smith*

Mississippi: G-Dan Earles, D-Daryl Moor*, D-Ryan Bartle, F-Andrew Boudreau, F-Tom Boudreau

Pensacola: G-Jamie Gilbert, D-Baylor Dieter, D-Paul Falco*, LW-Anthony Monte, LW-Lorne Misita*, RW-Kevin Galan

* Denotes veteran status

There were some very big names on this list, many of which were surprising initially. But upon closer scrutiny, most of them weren't very surprising. It seemed odd at first to see Huntsville's team captain (Kauffeldt) and their best defenseman (Hartinger) left exposed. But Kauffeldt is retiring and Hartinger will probably go back to Italy (where he played the majority of this season), so they weren't going to return anyway. Hessler, Olausson, and Vitek are all retiring, so there was no need for their teams to protect them. One name that surprised me was Taylor Hustead. He was the league's rookie of the year 3 seasons ago with Twin Cities, and was a pretty solid performer for Knoxville. My guess is that he has a good job waiting for him back home and won't be returning to play pro hockey next year. I can't imagine they let him go because they weren't happy with him, or that they would leave him exposed thinking he wouldn't get picked. He's exactly the kind of player who would get picked. The fact that he didn't leads me to believe that he won't be playing next season...at least not in the SPHL. Also left unprotected were former Cottonmouths Daryl Moor and Lorne Misita. Misita kind of surprised me. He had a good year and was an Alternate Captain in Pensacola. I'm surprised they wouldn't want to bring him back, even as a veteran.

The next obvious step is the expansion draft. Each team could lose no more than 2 of their unprotected players, and Augusta was only allowed to pick 6 players. They chose:

F-Jeff Martens (Columbus), F-Chris Myers (Huntsville), D-Grant Farrell (Knoxville), D-Darcy Rees (Knoxville), D-Ryan Bartle (Mississippi), and F-Kevin Galan (Pensacola)

Two of these players, Martens and Farrell, started the season in the SPHL but were called up to ECHL teams and never returned. I don't think it's very likely that either of them will actually play for Augusta, but you never know.

In other Riverhawks news, the team finally named a Head Coach, former Augusta Lynx (ECHL) Captain Brad Ralph. After serving as a Player/Assistant Coach with the Columbia Inferno (ECHL), Ralph will be making his Head-Coaching debut this season.

The league has also decided to end its relationship with Sherwood Hockey Company. SPHL teams will now be required to use SBK equipment and sticks. SBK is a new company that comprises a group of former Sherwood employees. Their gear is, not surprisingly, very similar to the Sherwood stuff, but should be a little less expensive for us. I'm looking forward to dealing with them this season.

As for me, I haven't got much going on right now. I've been working on finishing up my inventory so that I can start ordering gear for next season. Once that's finished I can start preparations for a big equipment sale (to clear out the leftover Sherwood gear and sticks), which will help me clear out some space in the equipment room. Then next month, I'm planning to attend the PHATS/SPHEM Summer Conference in Fort Lauderdale. After that, I'll make my way back to Phoenix for a visit and travel from there to Lubbock, Texas for my family reunion. In July, I may be headed to Boston for a couple of weeks to work a hockey camp.

After that, it's all about getting ready for the new season. I can't wait for October!