Tag Archives: hockey

30 Days of Giving 3: American Special Hockey

While football is the typical Thanksgiving sports association, once the Bubba started playing travel hockey we took our post-meal show on the road in ice rinks around the Northeast. Hockey tournaments are a unique bonding experience – you can feel just about every emotion from joy to fatigue to friendship to frustration to amazement. I believe that the players I’ve coached and managed benefitted from hockey tournaments by learning how to represent our club, our team and themselves in public, in charged situations, and with grace in both victory and defeat. Each calendar demarcation carries some hockey tournament association – our annual Mites Shamrock St Patrick’s Day weekend, the Thanksgiving “shoot outs”, President’s Weekend, and the last weekend in March, which we historically spent in Lake Placid.

Along the way, we got to know some of the players and coaches with American Special Hockey, a program that provides hockey experiences for players with a variety of disabilities. Our New Jersey Devils Youth club has created the Dare Devils Program that matches junior mentor coaches with players and hosts an annual Halloween weekend hockey tournament for other special needs teams, so that players of all abilities get to enjoy this unique experience, forever tied to a holiday weekend. Get a personal look at the impact of the program in this (now 10 year old) clip from Linda Ellerbee’s Nick News and yes, you may recognize one of those junior coaches in his much younger days.
If you want to cut to the special hockey segment, it starts at 19:11

Day Three: I’m giving to American Special Hockey (you can choose a specific local club to support; I’m putting my donation to work for our NJ Dare Devils).

Big Rocks and Small Melons

Everybody has heard the story of putting in the big rocks first – set priorities so that you take care of the most important things with urgency, and then fill in the small interstitial spaces with the lower priority or importance tasks or items. Stephen Covey has popularized the story so it must leap out of the pages of apocrypha.

The biggest rock for a youth hockey player is actually the smallest of melons: protect your kid’s head first. I’m regularly surprised by the number of young hockey players who have expensive carbon fiber sticks but helmets that don’t fit well or aren’t top of the line. Here are my big rocks, most to least important, for youth hockey equipment:

Helmet. You get exactly one head and one set of adult teeth. Protect them. Spend the most on a helmet that is well padded, comfortable, and most important, well within the timeline set on the safety sticker on the back. Yes, helmets “wear out”, the protective cushions lose their spongy benefits, and they need to be replaced. Don’t buy one used or take a hand me down unless it fits all of the above criteria. For kids with awesome flow, curly hair, or both, invest in a lightweight under-helmet cap. Keeps the hair from being pulled and out of the kids’ eyes.

Skates. They make everything else happen. If they’re too loose, too tight, or not sharpened, then your skater will struggle. Definitely buy them used, and as your kids’ feet grow, keep an eye on the skate fit and feel.

Wheeled hockey bag. I am going to incur the wrath of hockey purists everywhere for this, but I am a big believer in smaller players wheeling their own bags. If they can skate on the ice with all of the gear on, they can take it to the car in a wheeled bag. Weighs the same, and you get some leverage from the bag with wheels. It is the first step in hockey player responsibility – from there you go to making sure everything is in the bag, to the kids dressing themselves. For parents who don’t want to take the extra three minutes for their own kids to wheel their gear out (vs having it carried by an adult), you miss the best time of hockey practice: When you get to ask (not tell, not correct, not coach) what was the favorite part of practice, and what your little Jagr liked the best. Use that extra three minutes to form your kids’ best early hockey memories.

Protective gear. Individual fit and preferences vary, and like skates, they outgrow it quickly. If their gloves are too big they’ll be dropping their sticks (or gloves, but not in a five-for-fighting way).

Stick. Yes, it’s last. No beginning player is taking a slap shot (they don’t do that for a few years), and most are learning the basics of a wrist or snap shot. Wooden sticks work wonderfully well (even seemingly alliterative models like the Jagr Junior). If you have $400 to spend on hockey gear, $100 of that goes to the helmet, $120 to skates, $140 for protective gear and a bag, and $40 for two sticks. Don’t cut them both; leave one full length until you see how much your mite grows. Tape up the blade, and put a nice knob of tape on the butt end of the stick (little hands with gloves have trouble picking up anything laying flat on the ice; the tape knob lifts the stick up enough so little fingers can grab it when we ask them to put their sticks along the boards, or when they inevitably drop them mid-drill). Use pink tape or camo tape or skull tape or any other flavor of hockey tape that you like – this is supposed to be fun.

A Point on the Number Line

With apologies to Trey Anastasio and Phish, today was a trip up and down the number line.

It was the last day of Mites hockey, completing my first year as coach. It’s been deeply satisfying watching these young players progress through the year as players and teammates. I got to work with other coaches who donated their time and patience in copious quantities. We had an amazing group of parents who got their kids all over NJ, frequently before 8:00 am on a Sunday morning, and who cheered, supported and encouraged good sportsmanship in all the right quantities. As I thanked my team last week, after our last tournament game, it was a pleasure to borrow a few hours a week of their lives — as the saying goes, the days are long but the years are very short, and each hour shared with a sports program is a gift to be valued.

Watching the parents and their kids I was reminded of a weekend exactly a decade ago. Bubba was wrapping his second season of travel hockey, competing in a tournament in Lake Placid. With banners, t-shirts and Olympic ephemera reminding you of the Miracle on Ice and the emergence of a particularly American strain of hockey, it’s easy to wish for big things. We found ourselves competing in the bronze medal game; only the winner would take something home other than a lot of memories.

Bubba’s team lost in double overtime.

About an hour into our 5-hour ride home, with Bubba being quieter than usual, I reminded him that with tryouts coming up for the next season, he’d had a chance to “trade up” for jersey #26, the number-sake of favorite Devil Patrik Elias. I had been late to the game (literally) on the day jersey numbers were chosen, and Ben got a second choice. There are so few points of personal selection when it comes to jerseys – the team crest is something you work for; the name above your digits is given to you by heritage, but you get to pick the most obvious part of the design.

“I’m going to keep #8, Dad” was Bubba’s reply, “it’s my number now too”. As all twenty readers know, #8 has been “my number” since 1972 when I became a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Willie Stargell, and it has graced nearly every jersey for which I’ve had the honor of choosing the number. Of all of the moments of 10 years of club hockey and 4 years of high school hockey, from state tournaments to rivalries to the birth of long-term friendships, that ride home remains my favorite.

To quote Jodi Picoult, sometimes the miracle is the thing that didn’t happen.

The 2011 List

I never published “a list” last year, and probably for good reasons – 2010 was a rough year. Little did I know that 2011 would be even more strange, with higher highs and lower lows, another ten or twenty decibels of emotional dynamic range. In an effort to at least put a stake in the virtual ground with respect to one of my 2012 resolutions, and to tie up 2011, here’s a list:

Family Moment: Not what you might expect, but having my entire family safe and sound in Jerusalem, when the #71 bus we had been riding earlier in the day was destroyed in a bus station bombing. Shock, fear, powerlessness, anger, relief, and lots of love in the space of about 35 minutes. Tie for second place – moving our daughter onto the University of Pennsylvania campus to start her college years, and seeing our son named to the All-Essex Conference Second Team offensive line.

Work Moment: Starting at Juniper Networks, I faced a fairly steep learning curve of networking protocols, industry standards, and internal code names. After a few months of non-recreational reading, I had a conversation with one of our senior engineers who specialized in network modeling, and we covered graph theory, network protocols, and bin packing algorithms in a conversation in which I finally felt that I was able to hold up my end. Thanks, Chris.

Reading: I’m declaring a tie between the ghost-written Clarence Clemons autobiography “Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales” and Michael Kardos’ “One Last Good Time”. Both reflect a bit of Jersey life as seen through the last-summer spray that blows off of the ocean; both are full of fictional amalgams. And I miss Clarence Clemons.

T-Shirt: “Dr. Fluff’s Powerful Pills” shirt that I bought at a Phish show in June. In addition to being an amazing show with great friends, the shirt has enough subtle humor in it to make me laugh repeatedly, and remember the start of another one of ten true summers (bonus points if you get that reference, too).

Email: Seamus Burke asked me to co-write the foreword to Volume 2 of “Oh, Goodie” in print. Incredible awesome.

Nerd Toy: USB oscilloscope. Very useful for debugging guitar pedal problems. Probably the same quality as the old HP scope that I used in the EE part of my undergrad days, with multiple trigger options, plus the ability to save waveforms in image form to view on your laptop.

Thoughts for 2012: (1) Write on self-imposed deadlines. From blogs to emailing friends (more than requests for things I’ve forgotten) to working on one of three book ideas, it’s mental exercise. (2) Exercise doing things I enjoy: golf, swimming, ice hockey, roller blading, power walking. Phish shows make a great sound track for healthier living. (3) Support small-scale artists. I’m going to fund more projects on KickStarter, ranging from the King Tut City Gardens documentary (close to being in the can) to Seamus’ “Oh, Goodie Volume 2” to other things that strike my fancy, I’m going to direct my money where my mouth laughs or smiles. (4) Spend more time with my friends. One of my hockey buddies said, on the occasion of his 50th birthday, that being surrounded by good friends was his mark of a life well lived.

Turning the pages on the 2012 calendar, I can look forward to any number of milestones: second (and last) kid into college, being an empty nester, embarking on the Peoplehood Project, hoping for a good Devils run, a solid close to the Giants’ season, and a fun finish to the high school sports experience. As I tick off the “lasts” that come with children entering adulthood, I’m equally looking forward to the continuous stream of “firsts” that those events enable, coupled with turning 50 and celebrating 25 years of being married.