Friday, September 2, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Howdy, Snakes fans!  Smoke here, coming to you with a special edition of my blog.  I just got back to Columbus after spending 4 weeks working at the Graeme Townshend Hockey Camp in Byfield, Massachusetts (about 30 minutes from Boston).  I’m sure many of you remember that name from his days coaching in Macon, but I can assure you that he’s really a good guy.  He currently works as a skating/skills coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs and spends his summers running hockey camps.  I’ve known him for years and he decided to add an Equipment Manager to his camp to help give his kids the “Pro Experience”.  Each camper gets a locker stall with his name on a nameplate and we show him (or her) how to hang up the gear just like the pros do.  All we’re missing are the 10-hour bus rides (well, I wouldn’t say we’re “missing” them).

The camp was held on the campus of the Governor Dummer Academy.  The place is amazing.  It’s a college prep school (dating back to colonial times, 1763), but I’ve seen college campuses that weren’t as nice as this.  And their arena is awesome!  Built just 4 years ago it’s one of the best I’ve seen for a high school program.  There are also Lacrosse fields everywhere (Lacrosse is very big up there) and there were several Lacrosse camps going on during our stay there.  There was even a movie shot there during our stay.  I never caught the name but it’s an indie film so I’ll probably never get the chance to see it anyway.

I had never worked a hockey camp before, so this was a new experience for me.  They kept me very busy (I had days where I sharpened 25-30 pairs of skates, which is a good week for me normally), but I had a blast.  The kids were great and it was a lot of fun to watch them work through their drills on and off the ice.  I think the cafeteria food got to me though.  I’m convinced they made enough food for the week on Monday, then just kept reheating and serving it to us for the whole week.  Monday’s grilled chicken became Wednesday’s barbecue chicken…which then became Friday’s chicken salad.  Day after day we saw some sort of pasta with the same meat sauce (which was almost certainly made up from the previous week’s dried out hamburgers).

On the positive side, the scenery was beautiful up there.  Most of the students are gone, so it was very peaceful (except for our kids and the lacrosse kids running around screaming).  The weather was a mixed bag.  It was nice the first couple of days, then it turned hot…sweltering hot (but then I guess I don’t have to tell you guys about that).  The dorms have no a/c so it was miserable over there.  Luckily, I spent much of my time at the rink.  It’s a popular place this time of year.  The lacrosse kids hung out there every break they got.  After that weeklong heat wave, things cooled off a bit and the weather was pretty nice for the most part, except for a couple of rain showers which had a nice cooling effect.  All in all, I can’t complain about the weather.

On the second weekend I was able to get away for the off day and went with Graeme and his wife to their home in Maine.  It was nice up there, and only about an hour away from the camp.  On the way up we stopped for lobster dinner in Kennebunkbort at a place called Federal Jack’s, which is kind of THE place up there (I’m told former President George H.W. Bush eats there when he’s in town).  On Saturday they took me to Becky’s Diner in Portland (another local legend) for breakfast and I saw a rare blue lobster in their tank.  They are so rare, in fact, that when caught they usually end up in an aquarium where they can be studied.  I’m told that this little guy was headed there, and therefore not on the menu (not that I would have had lobster for breakfast anyway).

The next day we were back at Governor’s to prepare for week 3.  I was very impressed by this camp.  The instructors all have played some level of pro or college hockey (including Huntsville defenseman Kevin Kessler) and they know what they’re talking about.  The teaching program is very innovative, with a heavy emphasis on skating.  They do a lot of drills that I’ve never seen before, each of them targeting a specific element of skating.  Former NHL Coach (and former goaltender) Cap Raeder was on hand to work with the goalies, and he’s great with them…especially the kids.  All of the instructors have been very knowledgeable and good with the kids.  It really is a good program.

At the end of week 3 I got a chance to do something I’d always wanted…to see a game at Fenway Park.  I’m a big baseball fan and a history buff, so to be able to combine the two interests and see the most historic ballpark in all of baseball was quite an experience.  Not only that, but the Red Sox were playing the Yankees, renewing one of the oldest and fiercest rivalries in all of sports.  And there was only one game separating the teams atop the AL East standings, so this game was for 1st place in the division.  I managed to find a seat in the right-field bleachers for a mere $172.33 (including fees, via StubHub).  This was probably more than I had spent on baseball tickets in the past 10 years combined, but it was worth it.  This could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me, so I had to take it.  I hitched a ride to Boston for a day of baseball.

The ballpark was everything I imagined.  The atmosphere was electric.  Everywhere I looked I could see the history…Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk, Dwight Evans, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez.  The place was like a museum.  And I loved the odd dimensions and the way there’s no wasted space.  The place was jammed into a very tight city block, so they had to make use of every inch of available area.  They have a whole row of concession stands tucked in under the bleachers, and the space under the bleachers acts as the lower concourse of the stadium.  Everything about the place was very cool.  My boy, Dustin Pedroia (a fellow ASU Sun Devil), blasted a double off the Monster to key a 5-run inning and put the Sox ahead for good on their way to a 10-4 victory over the Yankees and CC Sabathia.  It was a great way to spend the day.

All in all, I had a great time at the camp.  It was a very interesting experience and a great way to earn some money in the offseason.  Now it’s time to get back to work at my real job, Cottonmouths’ Equipment Manager.

I’ve been working on orders for the team throughout the summer, but now we’re getting close to the time where it all starts coming together.  Orders will start coming in soon and then players will start arriving shortly after that (those that aren’t already here).  New gear coming in means we’ll need to make space in the equipment room.  Look for another locker room sale coming up in the next few weeks.  We’ll be offering some really good deals to move some merchandise.  I’m pretty excited about a couple of changes coming up.  The new uniforms are going to look awesome!  If we play half as good as we’re going to look, we should do just fine.

Around the league, we saw a few changes.  The big news was the President’s Cup-winning Mississippi Surge replacing Head Coach Steffon Walby.  This news came as a shock to everybody, including Walby.  I’m sure that a guy with his experience and his record will have no trouble finding another coaching job.  In other league news, the Mississippi Riverkings (Memphis) left the Central Hockey League and became the 9th team in the SPHL.  That’s a pretty solid addition to our league.  They have a new coach, former star defenseman Derek Landmesser.  The Fayetteville Fireantz also have a new coach, Sean Gillam.  It will be interesting to see what kind of teams they bring to the league.

I can’t wait to see our team this season.  We were really starting to come together towards the end of the season last year and I expect us to build on that momentum coming into camp this year with an unprecedented number of returning players.  We just need to fill a couple of holes with the new players and some of the guys we’ve been looking at show a lot of promise.  It will be interesting to see how they fit in with the rest of our team.  I can’t wait for October 9th.  Go Snakes!

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