Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Puck Boy Poll: hockey pants hygiene

I purchased my first pair of hockey pants on the first Monday of April in 2009. I keenly remember the date: it was exactly eight days after I got shitcanned from the local newspaper and although I did not yet have my first severance check, I was intent on spending it by buying my first set of hockey equipment.

That was almost 15 months ago and I figure I've worn the hockey pants on at least 120 occasions since between clinics, stick time, games and public skates (yes, I have no shame).

But here's the thing: I haven't quite gotten around to putting them in the laundry machine yet. I've washed some of my other hockey equipment, but for some reason the hockey shorts never seem to get a good scrubbing. I figure I've got something on underneath them, so my hockey shorts are no different than my ski jacket, which I also never wash.

Besides, there's something symbolic about washing all that sweat away -- like it would be getting rid of all the work it took to get where I am, although that's admittedly not very far. 

I have, however, left my hockey pants sitting outside in the driveway in the rain. 

I'm doing the poll to prove to my Domestic Partner that I'm not a Complete Pig -- that within the sphere of hockey, I'm guessing that I'm well within the bell curve. Go ahead and answer. Your answers are anonymous. And you have nothing to be ashamed of.

--Steve Hymon

Monday, June 28, 2010

It takes a village...or does it take a few bottles of Jagermeister?

My team concluded its first regular season hockey league yesterday by playing a spirited game against the best team in our league. We didn't win, but it was 1 to 0 for the other guys late in the contest until they put it away.

I don't believe a blog is the proper place to talk about team issues, the reason why I mostly write about my own play (by which I mean immense number of shortcomings). That said, I did want to write a little today about the stages of development for the team.

As I've mentioned in the past, what makes my beer league team a little different than most is that for eight of 13 us this is our first ever hockey league -- and a few of the others haven't played in years. In addition, eight of our guys are north of 40 and only two are under 30, meaning our team skews older than the others in the house league.

To put it another way, we were basically starting from scratch, with most of us only having played in clinic scrimmages. Those scrimmages are a lot of fun, but they're casual, there's no ref, no one really plays position and there's almost always no goalie.

So when the whistle blew on our first game, most of us were in a whole new world of shit, to borrow a phrase from the military. To say a lot of us had a major case of the yips is a vast understatement. Maybe, just maybe if we put Jagermeister in our water bottles, those yips would go away -- plus my college experience is that Jagermeister turns most people into violent, chair-throwing idiots, a temperment that can be useful in the exciting game of ice hockey.

It has been interesting to see the stages of development for the team. We're still clearly not a finished product yet -- and I'm not even going to discuss our win-loss record, brothers and sisters --  but I think it's easy to see the stages of development we've gone though. To wit:

STAGE ONE: In this stage of our development, we basically learned to show up at the rink on time for the game and remembered to bring our red jerseys. We formed some basic defensive and offensive lines while some members learned how to hop over the boards on shift changes.

STAGE TWO: We started to learn to play defense. Our defensive guys -- and a bunch of us got the chance to try -- learned what happens when you pinch against speedy players. And we started not to chase the puck wherever it went -- instead focusing on trying to play some semblance of our positions. (Why not just chase the puck?, you ask. Because there's only one puck and three or four guys from teh same team crowded into one section of the ice almost guarantees the other team will exploit all the open ice).

STAGE THREE: As we got better at pushing the puck to the sides on defense, we also started to work on the basic breakout pass from a defenseman to a wing and/or center. It's not easy under pressure, but we started to complete some of these passes and take the puck all the way through the neutral zone.

STAGE FOUR: This is where we're struggling -- getting the puck through traffic and creating the space for a quality shot from in front of the net. Some of this involves teamwork, especially getting the centers and wings on the same page; no individual is at fault, we just have to get used to working together at game speed. The best players in our league are on defense and while my team has some quick guys with good hands, we don't have a lot of guys who can consistently skate the puck through traffic.

STAGE FIVE: The ability to consistently pass back to our D-men to set up plays and shots. We're clearly not there. Not yet.

All in all, after 10 games I thought we'd be farther along -- but that's before I realized that ice hockey is an insanely difficult game. It's not touch football on Sunday afternoons when one decent quarterback and receiver can march the ball up and down the field no matter what the other players are doing. At some point, you need everyone to contribute.

So we'll see. Despite our regular season record, every team in my league qualifies for the playoffs. On July 11, we have a chance to see how far we've come.

--Steve Hymon

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hockey Crimes and Misdemeanors, part 1,028,357

Well, my lovely red hockey jersey remains unwashed for the ninth consecutive week. I vowed I wouldn't wash it until my team won and we still haven't pulled off that feat -- we're 0-8-1 after blowing a 3 to 1 lead on Sunday and losing 5 to 3.

Yeah, that one was a real ball-tugger, especially because as usual I feel like it's all my fault. Which brings us to this week's edition of Hockey Crimes and Misdmeanors, in which I recount various shortcomings and the often disastrous outcome that resulted from my (choose one) inept/uninspired/mindless play of the otherwise exciting game of ice hockey.

The above pic is from the game preceding mine on Sunday. I was doodling around with my expensive new digital camera and, on further reflection, should have stuck with shooting pics rather than pucks. To wit:

The crime: I'm at left wing. The puck is in our defensive zone and I'm guarding the point, or at least trying to. Someone on my team gets a stick on the puck and it scoots all the way across the neutral zone and starts to slow just across the blue line. In a rare instance of heads-up play, I skate-skate-skate and manage to reach the puck first while someone chases me. Under pressure -- the guy behind me gets his stick on my stick -- I get a shot off square at the goalie.

The result: The puck never leaves the ice and the goalie, who has skated 10 feet in front of his net, makes a relatively easy stop. The whistle blows and I leave the ice greatly shamed for not scoring or getting off a better shot. If I was a Samurai, I'd probably have to request a beheading or sword-to-the-stomach on the bench.

Monday, June 14, 2010

This week's Hockey Crimes and Misdemeanors

Did you know that it’s possible to buy cattle prods online? And that cattle prods can be purchased for as little as $61.50, batteries included?

This is what city living does: you get so obsessed with urban technology such as cell phones, you forget there’s a whole wide world of rural technology that may be useful for a beer league hockey player.

Sadly, my team lost again yesterday. We’re eight games into our first season now – and for most of us it literally is our first season – and we’re 0-7-1. That’s rough. Sundays can’t come soon enough.

So why the cattle prod?

I want to be shocked. I want to be punished. I want to tie the cattle prod to one of our defenseman and have said defenseman ram that thing up my ass every time I do something stupid.

Which brings me to this weeks’ version of Hockey Crimes and Misdemeanors – all the reasons that I deserve a few volts of unwanted electricity:

The Crime: I’m playing right wing. The puck is in our zone, I’m guarding the other team’s left defenseman – a pretty big dude. He’s about five feet inside the blue line. He gets a pass from down low. I lunge to my right to try to take the puck from him. He moves to his right, away from me and cranks a slapshot.

The Result: With moderate traffic in front of our goal, the puck finds the net -- no one touches it -- to give the other team a 1 to 0 lead. I am quickly filled with a blimp-ful of shame and if I was a Samurai, I’d be writing this while headless.

The Lesson: If I had stayed in front of the guy I was guarding I would have had the opportunity to block the shot or get a stick on his stick and disrupt him. Instead I gambled and my team paid the price. Cattle prod, stat!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Screwed by a bridesmaid!

My lower division beer league team is 0-6-1. It can reasonably be said that we could use a little more practice, particularly when it comes to the offensive part of the game.

But that's not going to happen tonight. The Pasadena rink is hosting a film shoot of something called "Bridesmaid" on Wednesday and tonight's two stick-time sessions -- the only two scheduled this week -- and pickup game have been canceled to accomodate setup by the film crew. The glass around part of the rink has to come down before tomorrow.

I hope "Bridesmaid" is good. I fear it will not be. I suspect it is about the drama chicks go through when they have to be a bridesmaid -- drama that no man will ever, ever, ever, ever give one poop-log about. In the meantime, I'm gonna sub yoga for hockey, meaning it's doggy down over slapshots for me tonight.

--Steve Hymon

Put the Winter Classic in the Yosemite Valley, so says me

Not that anyone asked me -- they never do -- but I'm weary of reading about how the Winter Classic is going to be in the Pittsburgh Steeler's stadium this coming New Year's Day and how it's going to be in various other baseball and football stadiums in the future.


As I wrote last year, if the NHL had some cajones, they'd put the game in a mountain or ski town in some kind of temporary stadium built of bleachers. I still think a Kings-Ducks game in Mammoth Lakes would be a monster hit here in California, but I also think the world is ripe with other opportunities.

So please allow me to throw one longshot out there: a Winter Classic in Yosemite Valley.

Yes, that Yosemite Valley. The one that's a national park.

If Ken Burns or John Muir's ghost is reading this and just died (or re-died) of a heart attack, I suggest chilling out. It's only a blog post.

Yes, the above photo makes the Yosemite Valley look pristine, but it's not. In fact, it's often a big traffic filled mess.

The far end of the Valley, for example, boasts a couple of parking lots worthy of a Walmart, an upper crust hotel that charges more than $400 per night, a second hotel for the Little People like you and me, as well as a tourist village, several campgrounds to serve the monster RV crowd and a couple of large tent-cabin villages that bring to mind the phrase "sub-Saharan refugee camp."

So -- if you are an environmentalist (and I am) don't go screaming at me for proposing a hockey game in a sacred place, given that Yosemite also has a permanent ski resort in the high country and a regular ice rink in the Yosemite Valley during the winter. 

In fact, a game in Yosemite could be greenwashed with a few simple steps, such as arranging bus transportation on the day of the game for the majority of fans. And it's not like a game requires a monster temporary stadium -- the smaller, the better. A lottery can be held for a lucky few fans and the rest of us get to ogle something spectacular via television.

And why would the park consider doing this? A nice big injection of cash into the park's coffers. The maintenance backlog at our national parks has been well-chronicled in the press for years. 

Yes, the chance of this happening hovers around zero. But my put-a-game-in-a-ski-town idea is a good one and it's not like it has to be an NHL game. College or minor league hockey would do just nicely as a way to give the public a taste of hockey in a grand setting. A lottery can also be held to allow some lucky youth teams and beer league teams a chance to play in Yosemite/mountain town -- giving the sport a great publicity boost that could increase participation.

Putting aside Yosemite, there are some other outstanding candidates for an outdoor game. Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, Steamboat, Whitefish (Mont.), Lake Louise and Tahoe all come to mind. South Lake Tahoe, in particular, is basically a shithole of a town in a lovely setting -- and a game of ourdoor hockey is hardly going to make it any uglier.

--Steve Hymon

Why's hockey so white?

There is an interesting post on Puck Daddy today taking issue with a Chicago columnist's observation that nearly all of the fans at Blackhawks games are white. Puck Daddy didn't like "the soft inference of racism" among hockey fans in Richard Roeper's column.

I didn't read it that way. I agree with Puck Daddy that Roeper's column was hardly a work of art or studded with facts. But I think Roeper did touch on an important point that many other hockey writers are glad to ignore: many people never get to play the game and thus don't become fans.

As I've written before, participation in ice hockey among kids and adults is very low. The sport of muzzle-loading is more popular, according to the National Sporting Goods Assn.

You don't need to have played the game to be a fan, of course. But it certainly helps someone more appreciate pro hockey. I've spent the past year learning to skate and play hockey and I still couldn't skate the length of my local rink and stop on a dime at the opposing boards to touch up for icing with someone on my tail. It's a common play at pro games and one I still admire even if it's just routine.

The real problem here isn't race: it's that not enough people of all races are exposed to hockey.

I lay blame for that on the various pro hockey leagues around North America. They should be pushing for more beginner clinics for adults, helping buy ice time for hockey at local rinks, helping construct more rinks and working with local rinks to get more people involved in the sport.

None of this is brain surgery. But it is difficult and goes beyond the usual marketing favored by the types of people who get into sports marketing. It's grunt work, it's unglamorous and doesn't look as pretty as a billboard or chesty Ice Girl.

--Steve Hymon


Originally uploaded by Matthew Kaminawaish
The dude who took this great shot -- in Canada, btw -- titled it "defeated" and I certainly know the feeling as of late.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Yosemite + hockey = almost winning Sunday

 I started the day at Yosemite National Park, then drove five hours back to Pasadena, arriving just in time for my Sunday afternoon beer league game. It was great to play, of course. It's always great to play -- but sadly we lost 3 to 0 and remained winless.


Well, at least I got some good pics. As for the hockey, I've got a lot of thoughts circling the noggin at the moment and I'll try to get them down this week.

In the meantime, kill some time at work by checking out my Yosemite gallery at Flickr.

--Steve Hymon

Thursday, June 3, 2010

We're number 1.5!!

This update is long overview.

And there’s good news, at least good news if you’re me: although my winless beer league hockey team is still winless, we squeaked out a tie in our last game before the Memorial Day weekend.

To put it another way, we didn’t lose. We even scored first, came back early in the third period to tie it 3 to 3 and then – and this was nerve-shattering exciting – killed a penalty in the final two minutes to preserve the tie.

It helped that our opponents twice managed to get whistled for offsides during their power play, taking precious seconds off the clock because the games are on running time, even in the third period. Mental note for beer leaguers: watch the blue line or give your opponents a chance to regroup.

It wasn’t quite winning the Stanley Cup, mind you. In fact, after the buzzer went off I was trying to figure out how to handle overtime when I was informed there is no overtime in Pasadena house league hockey. Which, I believe, kind of sucks. We wanted a chance to win it.

I feel bad having waited 11 days to blog about the game. But in one sense it doesn’t matter. As soon as the games are over, I spend the next couple of days trying to recall what happened, but there’s usually just memory fragments of a play here or there. Asking me what happens during a game is like asking a dude what happened after ingesting five sheets of LSD: it beats the hell out of me.

That said, I recall bits and pieces.