Sunday, February 28, 2010

How can anyone ever watch baseball again after that?



The final score of the Winter Olympics' gold medal hockey game on Sunday may be disappointing to those of us who badly wanted to witness Canada get whooped on their home ice.

Yet, it was such a thrilling game hat it's hard to be too bummed that the Frozen People of the North got the medal they needed to validate their when-will-my-balls-thaw existence.

At least you weren't stuck on the subway in Vancouver yesterday; check out the above video to see how that went.

My observations on the game:

1. There should not even be a discussion over whether the NHL should send its players to the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. The past week earned more publicity for the sport than the NHL can ever generate on its own with less-than-brilliant marketing techniques such as ice girls and strobe lights.

2. As my friend Scott pointed out in an extremely caffeinated phone call before the third period, did you happen to notice that the game was really exciting despite there being no fighting? Fighting isn't permitted in the international game and I didn't hear one person say they missed it. As I've written before, fighting may be fun sometimes, but it likely turns off more people than it turns on and gives a beautiful sport (which is plenty violent without fighting) a bad image. As long as fighting is allowed and encouraged by the NHL, the NHL will be treated as a minor league sport on par with tractor pulls, pig races and funnel cake eating contests.

3. Which, of course, is a shame. Can anyone who watched today's game imagine sitting in front of a TV for 2 1/2 hours watching a baseball game? Or golf? I think the only sport that comes close on excitement level is pro football and let's face it, today's game was at least 37.3 more times exciting than the Super Bowl -- which featured about 10 minutes of game action and three hours of nut-scratching (albeit nut-scratching in high def!).

4. I'm not so sure that Team Canada is better than Team USA. After two games plus part of an OT period, the U.S. had scored seven goals to Canada's six. The Canadians seemed to have a little more offensive flash throughout the Olympic tournament, but I don't think anyone can argue they were a dominant team. Yes, they slayed Russia. But Russia's goaltender had a mental meltdown that in the old says would have earned him hard time on the Siberian outpost.

Go USA!

Well, I'm immature enough to admit that I had trouble sleeping last night due to the exciting prospect of watching the U.S.-Canada gold medal game.

Which, by the way, begins in 273 minutes.

--Steve Hymon

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Someone buy this girl some skates



Not knocking any of the other U.S. skiers, but how can you not simply love the way Sarah Schleper throws herself into a run? I told The Domestic Partner it would be completely alright with me if she could scream like this before diving into any of our fave intermediate runs at Mammoth.

As for Schleper, someone needs to get her on hockey skates, stat. There is no doubt she has the proper mental aptitude for the sport.

--Steve Hymon

What's the right -- or left -- way to hold a hockey stick?

Probably the smartest story I've read during the Olympics came, not surprisingly, from the New York Times, which examined this interesting phenomenon: In Canada, more left-handed hockey sticks are sold than right-handed ones. In the U.S., it's the opposite.

But get this: in both countries, more people are right-handed. Excerpt from the story:
A lot of experts would argue, however, that having the dominant hand on top makes for better control and stick-handling. 
The United States Olympic women’s hockey coach, Mark Johnson, is in that camp, but he said: “Whether you’re living in a hotbed hockey community or you live in a na├»ve place where you don’t really know hockey, and you’re a mother or a father taking your daughter to a hockey shop, you’ll ask, ‘Which way do you write?’ If she says right-handed, well, she’s going to be right-handed.

“That’s generally not the way you want to do it. You want your dominant hand on top of your stick. But you look around and there’s a lot of right-handed female players, more so than with men.”
Well, that's certainly interesting and it does seem to makes sense. I picked up an ice hockey stick for the first time last April and it never crossed my mind to anything but righty -- I'm right-handed and it felt natural to shoot on the right-hand side. Puck dribbling didn't feel as natural, but I just chalked that up to the newness of hockey. 

As it happens, I have an old left-handed wooden stick that someone gave me. I've been doodling with it in the driveway and I do like having my dominant right hand on top of the stick. Shooting lefty feels awkward but not as awkward as trying to hit a softball or tennis ball left-handed.

I'm not going to switch as this point. But if I had to start all over again, I might have gone the left route.

--Steve Hymon

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gary Bettman: dumb, a jackass or both?

You may have noticed something curious the past few days: suddenly a lot of people who couldn't give a damn about hockey are very interested. The U.S. defeat of Canada on Sunday night -- which was not even an elimination game -- earned television ratings higher than last year's game seven of the Stanley Cup finals between Detroit and Pittsburgh and was the highest rated sporting event in Canadian history.

That's hardly surprising. The Stanley Cup finals ended in the middle of June last year when days are long and winter is a distant memory for most of North America. Parts of the finals were telecast by a network, Versus, that many people do not get as part of their cable subscription package. Not that they're missing much. Versus normally specializes in fishing and hunting programs featuring some of the biggest rednecks known to man.

This is all a long way of saying it's quite odd that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been so critical of NHL involvement in the Olympics. For one, in the 1990s, he championed suspending the NHL season to accommodate the Olympics. But since then the U.S. team sometimes struggled, hockey didn't get much quality television coverage and short-sighted NHL execs and owners began questioning the decision. Because, you know, no one should have to wait two weeks to see Nashville and Atlanta square off.

As a result, Bettman is saying the NHL may not send its players to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. That's strange. Last time I checked, hockey was a popular sport in Russia and I would expect one of the world's largest countries may enjoy watching some of the world's best hockey players duke it out.

Look. The opening of the Olympics to professional athletes is hardly ideal -- at least not in my view. In many sports, the Olympics are now just another stop on a long tour. In hockey, it's a shame that the national teams hardly have a chance to practice together before the tournament begins.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hey Canada -- Own This!!!!!!!!!

Well, I'm not really sure where to start on this one, so I'll just list a few things along with a few jabs at my favorite country in North America that is north of the United States.

1. On a hockey note, it's worth reading this piece by Jeff Z. Klein in the New York Times who notes that finishing your checks is nice-and-dandy but if often means that you're hitting some dude without the puck and taking yourself out of the play. Are you paying attention, Ryan Getzlaf?

2. My stick-time in Pasadena ended at 4:45 p.m. yesterday, so I was able to drive home and switch straight from playing hockey to watching a sporting event so ridiculously entertaining that I almost twice pulled my groin jumping off the couch.

3. How can anyone watch baseball after watching a game like that? Really--a bunch of guys standing around the grass fondling themselves? Yaaaawn.

4. I couldn't help but notice a six-day lift ticket to Whistler in March is $100 more expensive than a six-day ticket to Mammoth. And that's taking into account the weaker Canadian dollar. Hotel rooms during the Olympics have been insanely priced so as to keep all but the wealthy or the fiscally insane away from the Great White North. To this I say: Fuck You Canada! Enjoy that semifinal game against Team Russia and Mr. Ovechkin -- who knows how to check.

5. On a somewhat related note, Team Canada's women's curling team has a couple of players who are not unattractive.

6. I think my excitement level red-zoned when after watching the hockey game I switched over to see Bode Miller win a gold in the combined event. The media has been trying to define Miller for years now, he's been stubbornly refusing to be defined by a bunch of d-bags who don't know him and now he won a gold skiing like a Real Man.

7. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but if the U.S. squad wins its quarterfinal game against either Switzerland or Belarus, its semifinal will be Friday against the winner of the Czech Republic vs. Finland/Latvia quarerfinal. Here's a link to the Olympic tournament bracket. Sweden seems on-track to play Russia or Canada in the other semifinal.

Which means that a U.S.-Canada final is still possible next Sunday.

Oh, please take time from your busy Monday morning to watch this clip featuring the late, great John Candy.

--Steve Hymon

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pop that puck!



One of the drills we sometimes practice at the Saturday morning Pickwick clinic is something that looks simple enough: popping the puck in the air to another skater who catches it and drops to the ice.

Like everything else in hockey, I find it easier said than done. I never really got the hang of it this past Saturday and then at stick time in Pasadena on Sunday was all over the place. Once I popped the thing straight up over the glass, the next time I tried the puck maybe got a millimeter or two off the ground.

The obvious use of the skill is for passing. But check out the above video to see how Linus Omark once employed popping the puck -- and it worked! That's sweet.

If that doesn't look hard enough for you, try this move by Omark. Again, he fools the goalie.

--Steve Hymon

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hockey continues to promote itself in all the wrong ways

As long as stories such as this one from the Calgary Herald are frequently in print, ice hockey will continue to be the bastard son of major pro sports. The story is about a spearing incident that put a 16-year-old player on the operating table for three-plus hours to repair the damage to his bowels and pancreas. Lovely.

--Steve Hymon

Chew on this, desk jockeys



This one is for all those sitting at their work desks right now fretting about their stickwork instead of that incredibly important spreadsheet in front of them.

The video -- well, there's no point in me describing it. Just watch Mr. Ovechkin work his magic. And for what it's worth, I've had plenty of people pull that first move -- the ol' puck between the legs -- on me. Something to be proud of, eh?

The fact that I'm about to write the following is more than ridiculous but wouldn't a Kings-Caps Stanley Cup matchup be fun?

--Steve Hymon

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stick length and rolling the wrists



I just watched this video while muching on some lunch. Putting aside the fact that the video looks ancient, I have two questions for the faithful readers of Puck Boy -- all of whom I assume know much more about hockey than I do:

1. Is it really true the stick should not come over the chin? I've been told that it shouldn't come over the nose and my stick is cut that way. There are often times, particularly when I'm shooting, that the stick feels a little on the long side.

2. Is the coach in the video correct about the straight elbow being the key to rolling the wrists? I was just out in the driveway earlier -- taking a "break" from work, you know -- slapping the puck around and as usual noticed that my wrists are very stiff. I have long assumed that's a bad thing, but have had difficulty making an ajustment.

Please feel free to comment. Puck Boy's ego is still reeling from his rather poor performance during last night's scrimmage, so it's time to look forward and get better. Like now.

--Steve Hymon

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Screw you, Chex Mix

Got back from my weekly Wednesday hockey clinic earlier and am not happy. For whatever reason, I got far more winded than I usually do during our scrimmage and basically felt like blowing chunks. It didn't help my play.

Hey, look I know I suck. But at least I usually hustle. And it just wasn't there tonight, except in a few spurts here and there. Meanwhile, one of my friends played like a man possessed who wasn't going to be denied the puck. I'm very jealous. 

I suspect there were a couple of things in play. One, perhaps running 17 miles on Sunday wasn't such a good idea, especially since my left knee has a bone bruise. I'm hoping to run the L.A. Marathon in late March although that's starting to look like a silly goal given that I'm limping around half the time on the knee and my sawbones says I'm a fucking idiot to keep running on it.

Second, I worked at home today and ate like a pig all day. There was a meatball sandwich at lunch. There was at least three chocolate chip cookies. And there was the nuclear reactor sized bag of Chex Mix, which The Domestic Partner purchased at Costco. The bag spends most of its day taunting me.

Seriously, this bag is so big that I could stick my head into it. And I certainly tried. And that was before my snarf out session at 4 p.m. in which I tore into the tasty Coscto roasted chicken sitting in the fridge.

Luckily none of this ended up on the ice. But Jesus H. Christ. Come next week, I'm going back to Diet Coke and a Cliff Bar.

--Steve Hymon

Tough guys


In case you missed it, Jeff Z. Klein had a great story in the New York Times on Sunday on ice hockey for disabled folks. Here's the lead:
Joseph Bowser was an Army sergeant serving in Iraq in 2004 when a mortar explosion sent shrapnel through his lower right leg and foot. Doctors gave him a choice between keeping his leg, but with limited use and needing pain medication for the rest of his life, or having it amputated and replaced with a prosthesis.

“The first thing I thought of was, I want to play hockey again,” said Bowser, who had been playing the game since he was 9. “My whole objective was to get back on the ice.”

He chose amputation and a prosthesis.
The story goes on to explain the difficulty that some disabled teams have getting ice time and there's a link to a website called Everybodyskates.com that includes a petition to encourage New Jersey rink owners to set aside one hour a week for disabled hockey. I encourage you to sign the petition. I did.

I have no idea if there are such disabled teams playing here in Southern California. If so, I definitely want to check it out and if there's anything this blog can do to help, hit me with an email by clicking on my name below.

--Steve Hymon

photo credit: New York Times

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A timeout from hockey to talk about honesty

In the 10-plus months since the Los Angeles Times requested that I never return from a ski vacation, I’ve mostly refrained from saying anything public about the newspaper.

I’ve done this mostly because I haven’t had much to say, given that I’ve spent a lot more time fussing over my right skate than I have the future of the L.A. Times.

Besides, I obviously have an axe to grind and I’ve worked for elected officials, agencies and other private entities that are covered by the Times. I’m sure none of them really need me antagonizing the paper.

All that said, I actually found myself laughing out loud this morning when I read Times editor Russ Stanton’s quote at the paper’s Readers Representative website about the debut of a news section today. I'm writing about it here because I think it offers some useful lessons to anyone who has to make public comments.

Stanton's quote: 
“The changes to the paper give us the opportunity to expand and further showcase the terrific enterprise reporting of this newsroom, as well as produce the first new news section in many, many years.”
It’s a technically true statement. As far as I can recall, it is the first ‘new’ news section in quite some time.

But as most people know, it’s not an accurate statement. Stanton neglects to mention that the new section in many ways replaces the California section that he, in part, decided to kill in 2009.