Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stream of Consciousness Hockey

Photo taken by Mark, liberally damaged in Photoshop by me.

I realize that nobody who reads this blog ever bothers to read my hockey posts. Unfortunately, they're also the most fun to write. Just another Blogger's Dilemma, I suppose.

The Kings opened their season in Vancouver while I was in Florida. Being on the east coast meant the game didn't start until 10 PM, I would have to watch the game over a Slingbox through a terrible free WiFi connection on a 12" laptop, and I'd have to leave the sound off to avoid disturbing a sleeping girlfriend.

Please don't sue me for fair use of your photo.

The game was mediocre, but the Kings looked resplendent. Jon Quick was wearing faux-vintage brown pads and a Rogie Vahon tribute mask, the team was wearing purple and gold as they had in the pre-Gretzky years, and Bob Miller was undoubtedly calming a hyperactive Jim Fox on commentary. Anze Kopitar took an inadvertent stick to the mouth and needed 15 stitches halfway through the first, then returned to play the entire second, third, and overtime periods before scoring a goal in the shootout. There's no sport quite like hockey.

With the end of my unemployment rapidly approaching but the promise of a paycheck beckoning me to the ice, I set out in search of new pads to replace that which I had left at Northeastern. Faith in your equipment is one of the pillars of goaltending, so I set out to find reaonably priced upgrades to my old pads.

Craigslist yielded a brand new Reebok Premier Series 2 glove and a freakishly light stick for hundreds below retail, while a visit to the local hockey shop netted some Bauer Reflex RX6 pads and CCM skates. The pads are fairly entry level in the grand scheme of hockey, but 20 years more advanced than the ol' Reactors, offering things like knee padding and five-hole closure.

One of the most inexplicable and frustrating things about living in the city of Boston was a complete lack of in-city hockey shops and rinks. This limited my ice time to my intramural games and my purchases to secondhand vendors. Oddly enough, the greater Los Angeles area offers substantially more value to a hockey player than the metropolitan Boston area, with all three major online hockey retailers calling Southern California their home and two rinks within 7 miles of Venice. This, of course, allowed me to break in my new pads within a day of their purchase at the Toyota Sports Center.

Stepping onto the ice for the first time in months was less difficult than expected. Unfortunately, goaltending after avoiding the gym for months is an intensely painful activity, making conditioning my greatest obstacle. Regardless, I stopped some pucks and made it out to two days of stick time, seeing lots of pucks and doing incalculable damage to my knees and groin.

Making a predictable rookie mistake, I removed the thigh boards from the new pads thinking that they'd be more trouble than they were worth.

This is how it looked yesterday. It now looks like one of those blue potato chips they give you on JetBlue.

Wrong. It's incredible how a puck seeks the least protected areas of your body and finds them within five minutes of stepping into the net. Thighs, collar bones, arms, and necks all make saves you'd rather make with your forehead. Ken Dryden wrote in "The Game" that despite all the protection, goalie was still a fundamentally painful position, and despite decades of equipment improvements, I still manage to block a shot with nothing but bone at least once every game. I find it silly that shooters always apologize for hitting me in the mask. Shots to the mask don't hurt. Shots to the thigh do.

Somehow, after barely managing to drive my heavy-clutched car home, staring at bruises and cuts, and struggling to stand up, something drives me, and presumably all real athletes, to get up and do the same thing the next day. Maybe that's why Northeastern hockey has season ticket holders from the '50s. The team is rarely good, but the game is more important than the results.

On the topic of Northeastern hockey, I am confused by optimism. A team which drastically underperformed last year and has neither gained nor lost anyone truly critical is likely to drastically underperform this year. A loss in an exhibition match to a miserable Canadian team, a loss to miserable Providence, a loss to excellent Boston College, a tie with bad RPI, and a tie with a mediocre UNH squad spells "BAD TEAM" in bold letters. Perhaps not as bad as the 3-24-7 team of my freshman year, but likely worse than last year's 16-16-2. Let's remember that this team has yet to win a game despite having played an exhibition, an out of conference game, a game against Providence, and two home games against Hockey East Opponents. The team that made the NCAA tournament started 5-0-1 against better competition.

Thank goodness for the Kings, because the Huskies are beginning what will amount to one very long season. I do miss them, though. Every day.

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