Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ooh La La

I'd been meaning to get out to see an Eastern Professional Hockey League game ever since the team set up a booth at a Cyclones game I attended last year. Hockey in Brooklyn? Sure, I'll check that out. Then I looked online and saw where exactly the Aviator Sports and Recreation Complex (the home ice of the Brooklyn Aces) was and, as a 32-year-old man without a driver's license, thought, "Well, maybe not." The Aviator Complex is in a part of Brooklyn best described as "Where Exactly Am I?" Or at least it seems that way when you don't have a car and are reliant on the subway and bus routes of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Similarly, if I wanted to see the Aces' rivals, our own Jersey Rockhoppers (apparently, a rockhopper is a penguin, because when you think Jersey, you think penguins), I would have to travel to West Orange, which is not a trip I want to make with NJ Transit.

Then, the Aces announced that they had signed "Hockey Night Live" sexpot Ron Duguay to a one-day contract, and he would be suiting up for a game against the Jersey Rockhoppers. Now, there's a reason to venture out into unknown territory. Then, to sweeten the pot, the Aces announced that the Howard Stern crew (well, those who could skate, and, based on the actual skating that took place, that was flexible) would be squaring off between the first and second intermission. It was go time.

When I asked the Q35 bus driver to let me know when we got to the Aviator Complex, all he said was "Oh, you'll know." And so, I did, as we came to an airport hangar-size building (the complex is part of Floyd Bennett Field, a decommissioned airport) that features two rinks, a basketball court, a rock-climbing wall, a bunch more stuff I didn't see, and surprisingly good pizza at the snack bar. There is no assigned seating for Aces games, save for the "skybox" seats above the ice, which, at $35, were out of my price range. So I plunked down $16 for a bleacher seat (those cold, uncomfortable steel benches that kids love to pound on, which becomes less charming with each passing second) and settled in for the game.

When the (naturally) helmetless Duguay initially took the ice, there was a pretty fair-sized pop. I was pleased to hear a well-fed Islanders fan begin to heckle Duguay during the ceremonial puck drop, urging him to come out to Nassau and see the banners and, of course, giving him a hearty "Ooh la la." The kids in his section seemed unimpressed and, perhaps, a bit confused. One can only hope that some parent's Saturday night was spent explaining that the older Ace without the helmet was once part of an ad campaign for designer jeans. And one can similarly hope that that child went to YouTube, found this


and is now ashamed to be a Rangers fan.

Duguay primarily took short shifts throughout, with a a few longer ones when whistles broke up the play. To his credit (and I don't enjoy giving Rangers credit), he didn't look out of place (except for, you know, the feathered hair and the earring) among the younger guys, and he even got a little dirty in the corner late in the third, getting a hearty roar from the crowd in the process. He was also strong on faceoffs, though perhaps his hair served as a distraction for the opposing player. Fortunately, further distraction was avoided when Duguay decided not to cut his jersey to show his chest hair.

It was a decent-sized crowd at the game, likely augmented by Duguay's appearance and not affected in the least, judging by the aggressive apathy that greeted the introduction of the Stern staffers at the first intermission, by the promise of seeing "Wrap-Up Show" host and "Jump The Shark" creator Jon Hein (whose physical appearance can best be described by the adjective "Keilloresque") and "The Intern Show" host Steve Brandano lace up the skates. I think I might have been one of three people clapping when they were introduced. And the cheers didn't exactly grow as they played (to be fair, though, I was on the less-populated side of the arena...a caller to the Monday-morning wrap-up show seemed to indicate that the other side of the arena was more into it).

The battle (never has a term been used more loosely), which also featured a guy wearing a Dell'Abate jersey who wasn't noted Islander fan Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate, Howard TV producer Doug Goodstein, and Private Parts coauthor and Village Irregular Larry "Ratso" Sloman (author of the best hockey book I've ever read, Thin Ice, about the Sasson-era Rangers, and the best Dylan book I've ever read, On the Road with Bob Dylan), ended 3-1, and all the goals were scored in the final two minutes when both goalies were pulled. It was ugly.

Luckily, Duguay was around to pretty everything up. And when he picked up a power-play assist on the game-tying goal in the final minute, the crowd ate it up. Alas, the Rockhoppers would not be denied their playoff-berth-clinching win, with Matt Puntureri putting in his second goal of the game with 30.7 seconds left in overtime. I'm not entirely clear about just how prestigious clinching a playoff berth in a four-team league is, especially when one of the four teams (the Hudson Valley Bears) has won three games out of 48 and let in 360 goals in that span. But it does mean that the Aces and Rockhoppers will meet in the best-of-three championship starting on Thursday. Go Rockhoppers! Make Jersey proud.

Duguay finished with an assist and a -1 and was scheduled to play for the Rockhoppers in today's season finale against the Danbury Mad Hatters, which I can't find stats for at the moment (I'll update later). In between, he joined his fellow Aces for a postgame autograph session. The line for said session eventually split into kids who don't care who Ron Duguay is and adults who at least kind of do (the latter included me, as I had him sign my NHL 75th anniversary book). As I was waiting in line, the guy in front of me noted the jersey in my hand and asked me which one I got. I told him that, though I bid on (and won...35 bucks) Jon Hein's "game-worn" jersey, the guys had apparently taken their jerseys with them, so I was told I could either wait for the team to get the jersey back and have them mail it to me or take one of the unused ones they had. Deciding that I didn't really want Jon Hein's jersey anyway (it was for charity, and there were no bidders), I jumped at an unused one. The guy on line seemed to think this was an awful decision.

"Game-worn. That's what they're all about these days. Game-worn," he said.

"Yeah, well, it's barely game-worn," I replied.

"Well, I guess that's true."

I got the sense that he still thought I was a fool. And when the Jon Hein game-worn memorabilia market skyrockets, I guess I'll think I was a fool, too.

On the bus back to the subway station (to the PATH station to home), I noticed two young kids with, I assume, their dad. Both of them were still clearly on a hockey high, but the older one was staring at his photo signed by the Aces as if it were the Golden Ticket, moving it around in his hands to look at every last signature. I'm almost certain he didn't care about Ron Duguay. He was just happy to have met and got autographs from the guys in uniforms he just saw play.

It was a nice image to take on the long journey home.

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