Wednesday Dec 28, 2005

Hale and Hearty

Devils win their first game in what seems like a fortnight. They get three power play goals (30%) after going 4 for 100 (yes, 4%) over the past ugly stretch.

Patrik Elias is practicing with the team again. We sincerely hope to see him wearing the captain's "C" on his sweater very soon. In addition to the horns and tail, our big Devils could use some heart.

And today, David Hale was recalled from Albany. Welcome back to Jersey.

I can only believe these are good tidings for a good new year (and not just because I'm sitting on a small hoarde of David Hale rookie swag).

Monday Dec 19, 2005

What's Wrong With The Devils?

The past 48 hours have been busy here in Devils land. Everyone is asking "What's wrong with the Devils?" Don't know if there's one answer, but the press wires and scoresheets have been busy.

Working backwards:

Larry Robinson resigns as the Devils' coach. Whether or not the team's woes are due to his action or inaction, coaching was putting him under so much stress that he's been sick. Sick enough to bench Gomer and Mogs over the weekend. I expect the next red & black coach to have all the bedside manner of Herb Brooks.

Vlad Malakhov has announced his "retirement," which I read as his ability to leave the team with grace. Dan McGillis, who was waived, was un-waived, and Tommy Albelin may rejoin the team. Where-oh-where is David Hale now that we need him? Albany is for politicians, not blue liners.

Saint Patrik was on the ice today. Sick no more, ready for mo'sick hockey. We missed you, Mr. Elias. Patty should find out where Marty Brodeur has been eating lately, because he could use a few extra pounds too.

Our little Devils ended a league points drought that went back to mid-November. They did so in fashion, tying the third-place team in an away game, coming back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to earn the league point. It was youth hockey the way it is meant to be played - hard but clean hits, lots of shots, great goaltending, solid defense, crisp passing, and glove taps after each shift.

I rounded out my weekend-as-Frosty by skating at the public sessions on Saturday and joining the DareDevils, our special needs hockey program, for some fun hockey and pictures. If I was looking for a moment to capture the spirit of the holiday season, it happened on Saturday morning when I discovered that one of our DareDevils has been selected for a mainstream youth hockey team. There's no better evidence that good things happen if you believe in yourself and work hard.

I think that's what's wrong with the big Devils.

What's Wrong With The Devils?

The past 48 hours have been busy here in Devils land. Everyone is asking "What's wrong with the Devils?" Don't know if there's one answer, but the press wires and scoresheets have been busy.

Working backwards:

Larry Robinson resigns as the Devils' coach. Whether or not the team's woes are due to his action or inaction, coaching was putting him under so much stress that he's been sick. Sick enough to bench Gomer and Mogs over the weekend. I expect the next red & black coach to have all the bedside manner of Herb Brooks.

Vlad Malakhov has announced his "retirement," which I read as his ability to leave the team with grace. Dan McGillis, who was waived, was un-waived, and Tommy Albelin may rejoin the team. Where-oh-where is David Hale now that we need him? Albany is for politicians, not blue liners.

Saint Patrik was on the ice today. Sick no more, ready for mo'sick hockey. We missed you, Mr. Elias. Patty should find out where Marty Brodeur has been eating lately, because he could use a few extra pounds too.

Our little Devils ended a league points drought that went back to mid-November. They did so in fashion, tying the third-place team in an away game, coming back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to earn the league point. It was youth hockey the way it is meant to be played - hard but clean hits, lots of shots, great goaltending, solid defense, crisp passing, and glove taps after each shift.

I rounded out my weekend-as-Frosty by skating at the public sessions on Saturday and joining the DareDevils, our special needs hockey program, for some fun hockey and pictures. If I was looking for a moment to capture the spirit of the holiday season, it happened on Saturday morning when I discovered that one of our DareDevils has been selected for a mainstream youth hockey team. There's no better evidence that good things happen if you believe in yourself and work hard.

I think that's what's wrong with the big Devils.

What's Wrong With The Devils?

The past 48 hours have been busy here in Devils land. Everyone is asking "What's wrong with the Devils?" Don't know if there's one answer, but the press wires and scoresheets have been busy.

Working backwards:

Larry Robinson resigns as the Devils' coach. Whether or not the team's woes are due to his action or inaction, coaching was putting him under so much stress that he's been sick. Sick enough to bench Gomer and Mogs over the weekend. I expect the next red & black coach to have all the bedside manner of Herb Brooks.

Vlad Malakhov has announced his "retirement," which I read as his ability to leave the team with grace. Dan McGillis, who was waived, was un-waived, and Tommy Albelin may rejoin the team. Where-oh-where is David Hale now that we need him? Albany is for politicians, not blue liners.

Saint Patrik was on the ice today. Sick no more, ready for mo'sick hockey. We missed you, Mr. Elias. Patty should find out where Marty Brodeur has been eating lately, because he could use a few extra pounds too.

Our little Devils ended a league points drought that went back to mid-November. They did so in fashion, tying the third-place team in an away game, coming back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to earn the league point. It was youth hockey the way it is meant to be played - hard but clean hits, lots of shots, great goaltending, solid defense, crisp passing, and glove taps after each shift.

I rounded out my weekend-as-Frosty by skating at the public sessions on Saturday and joining the DareDevils, our special needs hockey program, for some fun hockey and pictures. If I was looking for a moment to capture the spirit of the holiday season, it happened on Saturday morning when I discovered that one of our DareDevils has been selected for a mainstream youth hockey team. There's no better evidence that good things happen if you believe in yourself and work hard.

I think that's what's wrong with the big Devils.

Sunday Dec 11, 2005

Misery and Passion

I'm a miserable hockey fan and player right now. Our little Devils went 0-2 this weekend, including a 6-0 drubbing this morning that required a 90 minute drive (each way) through fog at 6:30am. Our big Devils went 0-2 this weekend, losing in a shootout at home on Friday and losing in Columbus in overtime today. Tonight my HNA team lost its fifth straight. Three of those losses were one-goal games, as were both of the NHL Devils losses, but they still show up under "L".

After this morning's game deep in Jersey Devil country, my son's coach suggested we come and watch the NJ Devils Youth Hockey Under-16 AAA team (His son happens to be the goalie, and he's a spectator, not a coach during their games). They're undefeated this season, they're nationally ranked as a top U16 team, and, well, they're pretty passionate about their hockey. A 1-0 lead in the first stretched to a 6-0 lead at the second intermission, including power plays that lasted all of 13 and 6 seconds. Two guys were always on the puck, supporting each other. We sat with my son's coach, and he offered a great comment: Good offense creates time and space. Good defense takes away time and space. It was the best hockey I've seen in over a year.

Whatever practice plan the NHL Devils had in place on Saturday didn't work. Maybe they should come watch a dozen 16 year olds who play this game with unequalled abandon. Misery only loves company if you give it time and space. Passion squeezes it out.

Saturday Dec 10, 2005

Sign My Scoresheet

Life imitated art again today: Our little Devils took the ice after the big Devils finished their practice session. After losing in a shootout last night against Colorado, the Devils ran through a few shootout drills, and more than a few cycling from behind the net to the low slot drills (Colorado had two goals with that play Friday night).

I went back out to my car to get the well-traveled and chronicled Alexander Mogilny Russian Army jersey, hoping I might finally get the sublime sharpshooter to put the subtle Sharpie strokes on my sublimated sharp Lutch sweater. Alliteration and my feets failed me now; I missed Mogs by about 10 steps. He left the ice just as I re-entered the rink.

As the players left the ice, I couldn't help but join in with some of the visiting youth players looking for autographs. I provided player names and pens. Zach Parise signed my semi-official scorer's book. I have to remember to pull that page out before I use it to count shots on goal in our next home game.

Before heading into the locker room to change and then catch a plane to Columbus, Parise wished the little guys good luck in their game. Parise will probably get passed over for the Calder and Byng trophies, given how the Devils are playing this year, but he gets major props from me for being a model to young players.

Sunday Dec 04, 2005

Snowman IPO

Sun Legal has no reason to worry. It's not an offer to buy or sell securities.

It is (and was) a snowstorm. But for those of us in the Frosty club, it's a public offering. First one of the season that delivered fluffy stuff that lasted until daybreak. Got some serious winter driving in going to today's youth hockey game down in Hamilton, NJ.

I don't know whether it was the rink with the unheated bathrooms, or the parking lot with a hectare of slush that seemed to splash onto everything, or the feel of hockey weather, but our boys came up big today: a 4-3 come from behind (twice) win.

Friday Nov 11, 2005

Check, Czech Mate

Here's the genesis of my fifteen minutes of reflected fame from Veronica Varekova. I flew home from Spain via the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport imitation last night. When I plopped my backpack down and bemoaned the lack of in-seat power on the plane, the woman next to me noticed the collection of bendable hockey figures that adorn the zipper pulls on my bag.

"You like hockey?" she asked.

"Yes, very much."

"You must like the Devils," she correctly concluded upon discovering that home was in New Jersey. I avoided making Rangers commentary or derisive comments about the Flyers; you never know where allegiances lie, especially when you run into a fellow (observant) hockey fan in the (non-Minnesota) wild. And when your team is in the cellar, you don't have much cred in picking an anyone else.

"I married a hockey player." You know, my wife says that same thing, except it comes out "I married a nerd who plays hockey" (and those are all words of respect).

Our conversation passed friendly on the way to intriguing.

"He used to play in New York, but now he's in Phoenix." A more culturally aware person than me, someone who reads Sports Illustrated perhaps, would have immediately recognized my seatmate, but I live in a travel haze induced by two month old issues of Business 2.0 and Information Week. However, following NHL transactions through the summer left the answer to this puzzle somewhat near the top of the brain stack.

"Petr Nedved?" I half-stated, half-questioned. He shoots, he scores, +1 for the left wing from NJ for identifying the Czech superstar now playing for former Ranger teammate turned coach Wayne Gretzky.

While identifying current homes of various Czech hockey heads, we touched on the the downsides to being traded and free agency. My thoughts raced back to a half-written Devils fan bulliten board entry I've been toying with, chastising those of us who call on Devils management to trade or waive various players.

Imagine this scenario: you drive over to the house of one of your middle-ranking late 20-something employees. You ring the bell, and are greeted by two or three cute kids who want to know if you're the mean man from work. You tell your employee "We've traded you to (insert far-away city now)" and then you wonder how he's going to tell his kids and wife that they're selling the house, moving the kids to new schools, and changing time zones. Like in the next 24 hours. If you have trouble imagining yourself as the organizational ogre, you should have equal trouble calling on someone else to be the same. Trades and free agency are more than a tax on the hockey family; they're life-changing.

Varekova continues to live in the tri-state area while her husband works on a sheet of ice in the desert (how's that for contrast). She flies to Phoenix when she can, or meets her husband on the road. Her modeling career takes her on long hauls as well (including the flight next to yours truly). Move to Phoenix? What if Phoenix isn't the final destination on this hockey tour? What if another Rangers run is back in the cards? New rules have introduced divisional parity, more goals, faster play, success for quick defensemen, and a major dose of familial stress for those who find themselves in new neighborhoods of old friends.

We all, at some time, perform unusual acts under the banner of "work." The most difficult to perform always involve family balance, forcing us to place doing what we love on the scale with who we love. As I've written here before, hockey players are among the most human and approachable of all professional athletes; they have same travails du travail as the rest of us.

But you know I can't resist a chance to recruit: If Nedved ever wants to return to the tri-state area, a certain team on the left side of the Hudson featuring Patrik Elias could use another Czech mate.

Sunday Oct 30, 2005

Early St. Patrik's Day

Our family hero and NJ Devils star Patrik Elias graced the front page of this Sunday's Newark Star Ledger sports section. Word is he's getting better, and word might be that he'll return as the on-ice captain of the Devils. Word is he stopped in at our favorite pizzeria Saturday afternoon, and Elias sightings are a harbinger of good luck in our family.

Word is Saint Patrik can charm those Atlantic Conference snakes (our neighbors across the Hudson) out of first place, too.

Wednesday Oct 26, 2005

The New Season

After snapping my twig in a practice, I decided it was time to upgrade various pieces of hockey equipment. Bought new Mission gloves, in Calgary colors so they match our Flames-based New Jersey Ice Dragons jerseys. Invested in a new blade for the stick, a little less fiberglass and a little more wood. We're supposed to wear black helmets as part of our color-coordinated uniforms, but I have grown too comfortable in my old white bubble. So an hour before game time I was sitting with a roll of black hockey tape, creating the illusion of black plastic. It looks more like a velvet cover for my head, but it works. When you toss in the black shell for the pants (real color = blue), I look like I got dressed at Build-A-Bear Workshop, but significantly less cuddly.

Whether it was the new gloves, new tape, new blade, new white home jerseys, start of a new Hockey North America season, or just good luck, I managed a power-play goal with 38 seconds left in our first game last night. The proper assist went to our defenseman Stu who put a shot on net that I tipped in, but I think it deflected off of the goalie and off of Steve (yes, the Steve who provided the leverage to break my stick in the first place) helmet before I got wood on it. That goal broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Dragons our first win of the new season. It's a far, far cry from having my own namesake bear or doing endorsements for Mission gloves, but it's a start.

Thursday Oct 20, 2005

First Goal

It was a happy night in hockey land. Devils won, Rangers lost, and LA Kings forward (and NJ Devils Youth alum) George Parros notched his first goal.

First goals are great memories; something akin to first steps except you're mentally developed enough to remember the replay later in life. My son's first goal came on a Bobby Orr-style shot, as he was being tripped in front of the net. He has the puck while I have the picture. My first goal came on Princeton's Baker Rink, on a Tuesday night in the dead of November. I was skating through the left face off circle, and Tom Chatt fed me the puck which managed to bounce off of my stick and into the net. Intramural hockey at its finest. I didn't keep the puck, because our club team had only three of them. Given a choice between buying a beer after the game or another puck at the University Store, I went for beer to celebrate. I remember the goal (but not the beer), and wish I had the puck.

Here's hoping that the refs fished George's first goal out of the net and kept the puck for him.

Wednesday Oct 05, 2005

Half a Night Down, Whole Season To Go

I'll admit to being a bit giddy tonight. Having 15 opening night games is akin to March Madness - I don't know what to watch first, or which highlights will really be tomorrow's ESPN gems. The remote control got an outstanding workout.

Zach Parise: game-winning goal for the Devils. Sidney Crosby: an assist, but on the losing end of a 5-1 Devils victory. Alexander Ovechkin: 2 goals in the Capitols 3-2 win. Jeff Halpern: assisting on all three Caps goals.

However, there's no data coming out of the Dallas-Los Angeles game, so it's hard to check in on George Parros. Word to the NHL: let the fans blog, at least we'd know what's going on even if there's no official scoresheet posted.

{Game, Dream} On

In exactly one hour, the doors to the Meadowlands (sorry, the Continental Airlines Arena) open for the first NHL game of the Devils' season. It's the first night of "real" hockey after nearly sixteen months of hiatus. Game on. It's about time.

I am celebrating by donning one of my "formal" Devils t-shirts. What makes a t-shirt formal? No, not one of those silly tuxedo t-shirts. This is one I can wear to the rink. I can wear it to Dunkies. It doesn't have holes or stains, and it hasn't shrunk from too many washings to become an unintentional belly shirt. The only thing formal about it is that it sports the tail and horns of our home town hockey heads.

On the left coast, sporting #57 in a purple, black and white LA Kings uniform, will be George Parros, making his NHL debut tonight. Parros is a Jersey boy, having played in the Morris County rec league, with the NJ Devils Youth Hockey Club (where yours truly is the head manager) and four years at Princeton University. He was drafted 222nd overall by the Kings, and wasn't given much of a chance of playing in the bigs. But he works hard -- the same school of hard work (literally) that helped fellow ex-Tiger Jeff Halpern land a spot with the Caps.

For the 17 boys on my team, and the 900 or so who play Morris County rec hockey, it's a chance to be proud as one of their own makes the big time. I'll be watching, because for every Sidney Crosby story, there are hundreds of George Parros stories waiting to be told. Everyone may want to be the next Crosby, but it's more likely you'll be the next George Parros if you want to play in the NHL. Either way, it's nice to dream on.

Monday Sep 26, 2005

Game On

It has started again. The sound of sticks and skates on the ice, pucks hitting leather, sticks, glass, and the boards, the miniature crowd wave that follows a sharp shot from a low angle as it deflects across the goal mouth. Hockey is back.

In their first exhibition game of the year, the Devils won in a shootout against the Islanders, with rookie Zach Parise getting the 2nd goal in regulation and the first in the shootout. You read it here first, puck fans, he's going to be Calder Trophy material.

More happy news for me: The Washington Capitals named Jeff Halpern their captain for the 05-06 season. Take a kid who grew up in Maryland (not a hockey hotbed), always wanted to play hockey, went to Princeton (hot a hockey hotbed), didn't get drafted, showed up to training camp in the summer of 1999 (a dot-com hotbed) and basically won a spot on the team through hard work.

Last year at about this time I started blogging, claiming that regular writing would get me warmed up for writing the Jeff Halpern Story. I wasn't kidding. You read it here first.

Thursday Sep 08, 2005

Open Season For Young Players

Yesterday was the double header of new beginnings: first day of public school and the first day of ice hockey practice. Ice hockey and education match strides in New Jersey, with the Devils and teachers reporting for the new season at the same time, and the Stanley Cup playoffs reaching their conclusion at about the same time schoolwork winds down. For those of us decades removed from a classroom, the regular candence of (sports) seasons gives us something by which to look for a rejuvenation, the sense of anticipation that you used to get from a brand-new notebook and a fresh box of pencils.

Each year I love watching the new Devils youth hockey players come to their first games and practices, realizing they are sharing the facility with their older and better-paid namesakes. Last year our team had to wait while Scott Gomez and Patrik Elias finished a workout; last night some of our players had to look for their gear bags because the Devils' minor league equipment manager mistakenly put them in the locker room where the Devils' prospects have been dressing. I always think of that room as "our" room, for the youth players, but when you have twenty young men working hard for the last roster spots on an NHL team, they are forced to live in the DMZ between youth and pro hockey -- not in the pro dressing area, not completely removed from the smells and sounds of getting dressed in the hallway.

Poking my head into the locker room, I saw the nameplates hastily added above the dressing stalls -- Varana, Voros, Parise -- names that may be important to Devils fans in the next few years. Zach Parise's stall, though, was empty. I asked, and was told it's because he's at Olympic camp, shooting (literally) for a trip to Turin in Feburary. We'll see how America's focus on youth plays out during the Olympics, and by then maybe we'll find the first set of gloves to go missing this season.

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