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.


  1. Very nice Smoke. You are an excellent story teller and blogger. Maybe I could have some lessons.

  2. Thank you, Jill. You're very kind. I'm not sure if I could teach you anything. I just write what I observe. But thanks for reading and for your input.