Monday, August 31, 2009

Puck Boy can't wait to see "Whip It"

Here's the trailer for the movie I can't wait to see: "Whip It," starring Ellen Paige (from "Juno") as a beauty pageant dropout who teaches herself to skate so she can roller derby. "Put some skates on and be your own hero," is the best line from the preview.

The movie also stars Juliette Lewis -- perhaps perfect casting -- and Kristen Wiig from SNL as two members of the roller derby team. Those two alone are good reason to see the film. Here's the link to the movie's official website; it hits theaters Oct. 2.

It's not a hockey movie, but I like the idea of a story about a character finding some degree of salvation and/or something they didn't know existed by putting on skates (here's a link back to my first post explaining the genesis of my interest in skating and hockey). It's also a good reminder that I need to get my ass out to an L.A. Derby Dolls match one of these nights.

--Steve Hymon

Ash on my hockey pants; wrist-shot ruminations

It was certainly a weird weekend in my neck of the woods in Pasadena. We have the huge Station Fire burning in the extremely rugged, steep San Gabriel Mountains just north of my homestead, so it's been four days of smoke and ash.

In fact, just as I was leaving for stick time at the Pasadena rink on Saturday I received a pair of emails from a couple of my hockey buddies from my Wednesday evening hockey class. One of them was evacuating his homestead in La Crescenta (it's a couple suburbs) due to the approaching flames.

He was bummed, of course -- in part because the evacuation would mean he would miss stick time. Spoken like a true hockey player, sir! The good news is that as of this morning his neighborhood is doing fine. It was also strange to walk into the backyard Sunday and find my hockey gear -- I leave it on the patio to dry -- covered with ash (the white dots in the pic).

As for stick-time, I left a little disappointed. The pickup game part was fun (although I'd like to issue a cheery "fuck you" to the older dude who thought slashing was an acceptable form of defense) but I'm working on my wristshot and progress is slow.

In particular, I'm trying to being able to take the puck from behind me and fling it at the target by rolling my wrist and turning the blade of the stick over. But I wasn't really getting the hang of it -- particularly the weight transfer from the back to front leg. The result is there are times I look like a major douchebag and my shot is lacking the velocity it needs to have any credibility.

Of course, there appear to be no less than one googlypillion websites devoted to helping employed people spend their work days using the internet to help them improve their shot. One video I like is from former U.S. women's team member Nicole Uliasz:

Earlier this year three Canadian researchers from McGill University published a paper on the mechanics of a wristshot and the variables that make some shots more accurate. They found that more expert shooters tend to keep the puck closer to the center of the curve of their stick blade and that the puck is usually closer to their skates before taking a shots. Novice players keep the puck further from their sticks.

My first observation, of course, is that you have to admire the priorities of Canadian researchers! I suggest next they study the optimal time to drink a beer during a pro game -- so that you have to pee exactly as the bathrooms clear during intermission. Ha ha ha. That said, it's something to think about -- I know the closer the puck is to my skates, the more trouble I have getting some oomph behind it.

Here's another website that suggests 50 to 100 pushups, pullups and situps each day is the key to building the variety of muscles needed for a good wristshot. The site also recommends taking shots until you can't hold your stick any longer. Sounds like a plan!

--Steve Hymon

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Puck Boy turns a profit!

I just noticed that Puck Boy Chronicles has made exactly one penny since the blog went live on Thursday. I'm not looking at this blog as a moneymaking venture -- it's mostly to force me to write about my hockey obsession -- but a little extra cash never hurts.

In any event, thank you to the reader who helped me earn a penny. I promise to spend it irresponsibly!

--Steve Hymon

Sweet Stanley Cup photo

I stumbled on this at Flickr. It was taken by Greg Johnson, who was hired to take some photographs of the Penguins' Chris Kunitz in his hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan. Kunitz is holding his son, who was born on the first day of last season's playoffs. The photo was taken earlier this month. Kunitz is on a roll -- this was his second Cup in three seasons. He was a member of the Ducks '07 championship squad.

Friday, August 28, 2009

There's always time for stick time!

I was supposed to have an afternoon-long meeting in Pacoima today, but it got canceled at the last minute. Since I had put in a hard 20 minutes of work Twittering and Facebooking this morning and my Thomas Guide was open to the northeast Valley page anyway, I decided to reward myself by attending stick time at the Valley Ice Center in the quaint outpost known as Panorama City.

Besides, I reasoned, stick time would be good for me. It's stinking hot here in Pasadena and there are a slew of wildfires raging in the area, including one up the road in La Canada. As a result, we have the kind of air quality you might find in a West Virgina coal mine circa 1889. The only healthy thing to do was stay inside in a sealed environment. Such as an ice rink! 

I had never been to the Valley Ice Center. But I like their priorities. The facility has two sheets of ice, so it offers stick time each and every day -- including four hours on most weekdays. By contrast, the Pasadena rink has one measly hour of stick time each week, which is not helpful for those of us still trying to teach our brains to skate and do something interesting with the puck at the same time.

Needless to say, a few minutes after I stepped on the ice, seven guys started a pickup game which I joined. After about 15 seconds of play, I ranked myself as the eighth best player on the ice -- very exciting! -- and settled into a comfortable role of trying not to get killed and sitting outside the crease, waiting for a loose puck I could shove into the goal.

It proved a winning strategy. I managed to score three times (with no goalie, mind you) and remain intact. One guy got the puck airborne enough to shatter a light hanging over the rink -- the sound of breaking glass falling on the ice pleased my juvenile self greatly. After the game, another guy -- a stuntman doubling for Seth Rogen in the Green Hornet movie -- stuck around and worked with me on my shot.

Then he had to split to get fitted for a wig to look more like Rogen. Seriously. How can one not love living in L.A.?

At the very end, I had the ice to myself for a few minutes and spent some time working on rolling my wrist when taking shots. My shot actually has a little oomph to it, the problem is that where-it-goes-no- one-knows, including yours truly. Using the Green Hornet's advice, my final shot achieved some air and made a perfect sounding "ping" when it beaned the goal post that I actually was trying to hit.

And with that, I headed home and decided it was too late in the afternoon to mentally cope with doing any more work.

ADDENDUM TO POST: I don't mean to sound like a slacker. In addition to my 20 minutes of Twittering and Facebooking this morning, I also had a 30-minute phone conversation with my hockey buddy Scott in which we discussed his over-40 league, the Korean girl he wants to date and the Kings prospects this year. I don't want readers thinking I spent the morning doing nothing.

--Steve Hymon

"Don't Pass in the Ass!"

For most of the summer, I've been taking a Wednesday night learn-to-play hockey class for adults at the Pasadena rink. The thing most surprising to me is how many dudes there are in their 30s and 40s trying to learn this obscenely difficult sport. Speed + dexterity + balancing on two thin metal blades = really f-----g difficult.

In most weeks, we do drills for about 30 or 45 minutes and then scrimmage the rest of the time. I love the scrimmage and have learned to despise any drills involving pylons. Pylon drills, of course, require somewhat precise skating and stickhandling abilities, skills that I only seem to have when I'm asleep and dreaming.

One of the drills the other night involved two groups of guys lining up on both sides of center ice. A guy on one side would pass to the other side, then chase his pass, scoot around a pylon and receive the pass back from the other dude and then take a shot on goal. Sounds simple, right?

Not really. First of all, the whole alternating sides thing ignited one giant Brain Fart within yours truly. The drill itself wasn't that hard -- it was keeping track of it and figuring out who to pass to and when. The coach -- the same dude I hired to teach me to skate -- was beside himself. He learned to play on an outdoor rink in Siberia. It must have looked like half of us were on peyote.

What drove Coach crazy was the passing. Logic would dictate that if you're dispatching a pass to a guy skating toward goal, the pass should probably be in front of the guy. Our passes were all over the place, leading Coach to gather us in a circle and offer up this tidy piece of advice:

"Don't Pass in the Ass. Never Pass in the Ass."

Coach went on to explain that a pass in back of the player is going to result in two bad things a player on the other team likely grabbing the puck and being off to the races against a mostly undefended goal.

On the other hand, even if a pass is way out in front of the player breaking on goal, at least that player has the chance to divert and chase the puck down in his own offensive zone. Coach also reminded us to always put your stick blade down on the ice as a target for those passing to you.

Yeah, I know. It's basic stuff. But I put it here as a good reminder. Do Not Pass in the Ass.

BTW, the hockey class I take in Pasadena on Wednesday nights is called Hockey 1 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. A new 10-week session begins Sept. 9, I'm told, and the class is geared toward adults. The rink's website is a mess, so I'll double-check that. It's usually $15 a week.

Come on out -- you can't be worse than me. If you're an adult beginner and have questions, feel free to email me or leave a comment.

--Steve Hymon

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What the hell is this blog about?

On a sunny spring Sunday earlier this year, at roughly 5 p.m., I received a phone call at my Pasadena homestead. It was my boss. That is, my soon-to-be former boss.

"I'm afraid I have some bad news," he said, before telling me that I need not bother to return from my ski vacation. I was laid off. The Newspaper Whose Name I Shall Not Speak no longer needed my services as their transportation reporter. 

The rest of the call with The Editor/Android went as expected. He didn't know the details of my severance package, he actually took a long pause to consider whether I could use him as a reference and he failed to even say "good luck." He did mention that I could make an appointment to come into the office and grab my personal belongings.

Wow, thanks dude! I guess that's what 13 years and a Pulitzer gets you these days: execution by telephone and a nice blog post.

Up to then it had been a pretty good Sunday. I had returned the night before from Tahoe -- scrumptiously good skiing, by the way (that's me at right showing bad form on the Nastar course at Squaw Valley) -- and earlier Sunday I had run a 5K with a friend and then ably survived my weekly ice skating lesson with my Siberian instructor.

Upon hanging up the telephone, a thought did occur to me: I wasn't going to let this ruin my Sunday AND now I had the time to get serious about this hockey thing.

Allow me to backtrack.

The previous November I was sitting in my pie slice-shaped cubicle/cell waiting for my mid-afternoon feeding when an email flashed on my screen: a colleague was selling two tickets for cheap to that evening's Los Angeles Kings-Dallas Stars tilt. This sounded like a good excuse to go out on a school night, so I called my friend Scott.

Two things you must know about Scott: he's a helluva hockey player and he once listed "napping" as a hobby on his job resume, thus earning my everlasting respect. Upon hearing the tickets were only $18 each, Scott agreed to roust himself and attend the game.

In my 14-plus years in L.A. I had only been to one Kings previously and I couldn't remember any of it. But that night's game was a revelation.

First, there were the Ice Crew. I couldn't get over the fact that a marketing dude had successfully lobbied his bosses that it would be smart to put buxom chicks on ice skates and allow them to skate around bent over shovels during timeouts. All, of course, in the name of providing clean ice for the hockey players and their fans.

It got better. Later in the game, Kings captain Dustin Brown got a bead on Dallas' Stephane Robidas, knocking him into the Kings' bench. Man-gasm time! The Kings won 3 to 2 in a shootout.

Many more Kings' games with Scott followed as getting Kings tickets proved to be beyond easy. And then, in January, while debating the skating techniques of various Ice Crew members, Scott casually mentioned that I should play hockey. I countered with the fact that I was 42 years old and hadn't ice skated since the early 1990s. My only real skating experience came when I was four years old and my mother signed me up for figure skating lessons in the first of her many attempts to turn me gay (not that there's anything wrong with it, but it didn't take).

Nonetheless, I listened to Scott and willed myself to grow a pair. In short order, I discovered there was an ice rink in Pasadena, about a mile from where I had lived. I signed up for private lessons from a guy who grew up in Siberia. After being shitcanned, I was liberated to skate each and every weekday afternoon -- meaning it was just me and a few six-year-old girl figure skaters sharing the ice.

Well, sharing the ice to the extent that a look-at-me-I'm-a-six-year-old-girl-figure-skater is willing to share the ice. But it worked. I got a little better. And I managed not to attract the attention of anyone who might wonder why a 42-year-old man was showing up each day at an ice rink filled with tutu-wearing girls.

In June, I worked up the courage -- or the stupidity -- to play in a Wednesday night pickup game with guys (and one girl) who actually had hockey skills. I kid you not when I say that jumping off the boards and into the game was as nerve-wracking as my second skydiving experience.

But it was awesome. And why didn't someone bother to tell me for 42 years that playing hockey was just a ridiculous amount of fun? Even if you really suck. To borrow a phrase from Bruce Springsteen, when asked to describe what it was like to play the Super Bowl, "I feel like I've just taken a syringe of adrenalin straight to the heart."

And that's about as articulate as I can be, at least at this point, about this little hockey obsession of mine. But sometimes that happens in life: you stumble on something you didn't know existed and it wakes your ass up.

More on this and many other hockey-related things soon...

--Steve Hymon