Wednesday, September 24, 2008

hey, are we playing hockey here? (a treatise)

It isn't 70+ degrees at night anymore up here in the coyote-infested wilds of the New York state (a new, coy way of authors telling the world they are hip enough to inhabit the same legal borders as the New York City, but grounded and rustic enough to live amongst the dogs and pigs and be-hatted gents sprouting Palin-induced boners and chaw stains), and we are finally feeling hockey, blowing two-months' worth of dust off of the Slap Shot DVD case, downloading Leo Sayer songs, buying the children 9" CCM gloves because they are finally big enough in the hands to justify the purchase, and, in general, feeling a little bit alive, centered, and hockey-ready after a long year that saw The Rev. Zamboni successfully (so far) deal with a troublesome problem-drinking issue, general malaise (boo hoo), and a move further into the snow belt of Upstate New York, which is the proper damn name and punctuation for the region, copy-editing pontifications on capitalization be damned.

The Zamboni Family caravan recently emptied its contents in Tully, New York, bringing The Reverend closer to the ball hockey paradise that is his community college of employ, closer to the War Memorial in Syracuse (Slap Shot fans will recognize the importance), and closer to the kind of oppressive winters that bring a smile to The Reverend's face and draw sneers from co-workers and acquaintances when their warnings about "that awful tunnel of snow on I-81" are met with a grin and "I'm looking forward to it. I hate this 70-in-September shit."

I hope to not be eating these words in a snowbank on the highway this winter, watching one of those G.O.D. tractor-trailers bearing down on the black commuter Zamboni model, but it's a cosmic chance I am willing to risk if the payoff is snow and ice and clean air.

Song break
I am determined to make the Beastie Boys' "Intergalactic" the goal song of choice at some hockey rink this winter, if only at the Coliseum's NHL 09 doppelganger. I am playing it now for some energy, and the Zamboni brothers, all four years of them combined (and one of them having recently dropped a bomb in his diaper), are break dancing ("great dancing" they call it) on the cheap Asian rug. And the soon-to-be two-year-old just served two minutes in the box for putting hands in poopy diaper. Bad penalty.

The Islanders
I see a Rangers' fan Facebook update, "excited to relax, settle in, and watch some hockey tonight. Pre-season hockey, but it works." Or something to that effect. It breaks my heart a little, because I still have not solved my "how to watch hockey" problem. We are stuck with channels 2-23, which is plenty good for sating my thirst for football this year (goes in cycles), but all but useless for hockey. Even the Time Warner Sports channel that seems like it might show Crunch games is beyond my purview. (it's make me feel dumb even typing "Crunch." Someone should be stripped naked and thrown on the ice for that one.)

I like the reports from camp, all of the "overspeed" stuff, Oh!poso on camera, and the surprising and wonderful commitment from Newsday to continue and even expand coverage. And Scott Gordon canceling scrimmages, which I don't understand, but I like, for some reason. Good to hear the usual nonsense about a first-round draft pick playing well (good for the OHL, I guess), and good to see a few new hats in the bin for the Isles. Otherwise, I am guessing this might be the year of hockey as it lives in the corners of my life, and you will need to rely on the other of the Palm Isles' denizens for your seeing-eye updates.

The Issue of Youth Hockey
The oldest will be old enough to begin playing next year. He'll need some learn-to-skate sessions, and then some "which handed are you?" clarifications, but otherwise he seems excited about the whole prospect of being on skates and getting to wear a helmet (the best part). I don't have the "kids make up for your athletic shortcomings" gene, although I do believe in getting them involved in a wide range of activities, even against their budding wills. There will be some sports, some music, and some other things mom will organize. There will be time in the distant future for deciding upon genuine interests and talents. In the meantime, we sample.

I did not play hockey as a child. Growing up in what is now called the Greater Binghamton Area, and was then called Binghamton, hockey was a popular spectator sport, but limited in its youth offerings. To get involved in true ice hockey in Binghamton you needed money, a parent who was interested in searching around and finding hockey, and then, more money. Despite the number of hockey fans in the area, most of them had become hockey fans with either the Broome Dusters in the 70s or the Whalers in the 80s, which meant very few of the parents of my parents generation had played hockey as children. Thus, we played basketball, and street hockey (driveway hockey) in the neighbourhoods.

I learned to skate (let's use the term loosely) my freshman year of college. I learned on roller blades, and although I can make it around a rink a few times without serious injury, never really translated that skill to the ice. It is a shame, and one I hope to rectify in the next few years. In hockey I found not only the sport I love beyond all others, but also a sport in which my temperament (lousy), athletic ability, and sensibility fit perfectly. I will be visited by friends this weekend whom I have known since I was 17 years old. Friends I met in some ways through hockey, or friends with whom hockey is a common, binding thread. Friends who were in my wedding. Friends who have watched me pout and moan and whine like a child and have forgiven me, friends who have seen me do worse and forgiven me, friends who have seen me in my best moments, and have forgiven me yet again. And I think three of them can skate on ice.

Hockey is no replacement for the most important bonds, but it is an undercurrent and a base.

And I want my kids to have the opportunity to experience that kind of feeling, but also to experience the feeling of flying down the ice (real ice, real skates, etc.), pulling the puck to the forehand and driving the net, whatever the result. But I also don't want to drive to Detroit every weekend for tournaments against six-year-olds.

Youth hockey has lost its mind in this country, partly thanks to the pressure of competing with the Canadian system, partly because adults are insane. Imagine a schedule as concocted by seven-year-olds, "first, we play at the tennis court in Rec Park. Call Jimmy and make sure his mom knows we'll be there, she'll make hot chocolate. Next, we play in Tim's attic with the Nerf balls and mini-sticks. Then, we finish in my driveway because the plow will have come by and we'll have that awesome snow bank again ... ."

I'll leave you on that high note.

Late addition: I am reading, "Searching for Bobby Orr." Pretty weak title, but it seems very good thus far. I'll keep you posted.

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