Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wait, What Just Happened?

So I was wondering how I could top last week's 3 games in 4 nights insanity (not really) when the Hockey Gods decided to share their generous bounty with me. My games for Tuesday and Wednesday nights were both late starts - 10:20 and 10:50 respectively - and deadlines on some editing/writing side work were going to necessitate me getting up at my usual 5am wake up time. But where's the challenge in that, asked one of the Hockey Gods - I dunno, let's call her Netula, Lady of the Toe Drag - and so she smote my Scurvy Dogs goalie with too many other demands to allow him to make our game.

So. Back-to-back nights in goal. Well played, Netula. Well played.

My Tuesday game was with the Mustangs, who seemed inordinately pleased with me giving up an average of 8 goals a game. We were playing a team that was also 0-2 and I desperately wanted to put in a strong showing and lead the team to victory. Well, I spit that bit. Ye gods, I spit it over the boards and out of the arena. Of the three goals I coughed up in the 1st period two were just awful. This didn't help with the impostor syndrome I'm suffering from every time I put on the pads (not to be confused with the impostor syndrome I get while writing or the different impostor syndrome I get while editing or the impostor syndrome I get while GMing or . . . well, there's lots of them. Also, 'impostor' and 'imposter' are interchangeable, although my spellchecker prefers the former). In the 2nd period I got into a better rhythm and started making some saves I had no right to, while a new player wearing a dirty white jersey that looked like your disgusting pillow (don't deny it) started skating circles around the other team. 3-1. 3-2. 3-3 at the end of the 2nd. Dare I hope?

I dared. And, lo and behold, we took the lead with ten minutes left, at which point the clock began to run backwards. Okay, it didn't really, but that's what it felt like as the next five minutes crawled by. I made a few more saves but eventually their ringer came in on a breakaway and scored as I got some but not enough of his shot with my glove. DAMMIT. The next few minutes were fraught with tension any time the puck came into my zone, but we made it to the end of regulation tied at 4 and I was rewarded with . . . a shootout. For those who don't know, at rec levels hockey games that end in a tie are settled by a shootout, which consists of each team sending in an unimpeded skater alone against the goalie. This lasts for three rounds and the winner is the team who scores the most (or gives up the fewest, to keep you pedants happy). My team suggested to the other guys that they both leave the ringers out of this, which they agreed to and promptly disregarded. He came in second, after I had miraculously stopped the first guy, cruising in until he was about 15 feet from the net. I'd been drifting back, as I've been taught to do, and maybe I should have been more aggressive because the SOB cranked up from there and let loose a slapshot. At least he was skilled enough to hit the net instead of me. My team missed all three of their chances and thus we lost, but my captain was absolutely exuberant because we'd only lost by one. This team had a rough season in the summer, methinks. Anyway, thank goodness for low expectations.

In the locker room a guy I didn't know (and, if I'm correct about who he was, played with all the speed and skill of a three-legged sofa) said to me, "Yeah, during the 1st period I was watching you and rolling my eyes, thinking 'what the eff is up with him?' But then you buckled down over the rest of the game and man, you really showed me something." Uhm, thanks? So glad to be blessed with your approval. Maybe if you backchecked occasionally I'd be even more impressive. MAYBE.

Wednesday morning at 5am found me tired and cranky. When I was done editing it looked like I'd slit someone's throat next to the monitor. BLOOD FOR MY EXHAUSTION. I hit the ice at 10:50pm against the unknown quantity of the House team. When I was on the House team, we went 0-17. Last summer, they went 5-3 and made the playoffs. No idea what you're going to face. I just wanted to avoid letting up the early goal and putting us in a hole. Of course that meant a minute in one of their guys came in on a partial breakway and ripped a shot destined for the far corner. It should have gone in, but Netula took pity and allowed me to kick my right foot out and deflect the puck away. And so we were off.

Much like last week, we dominated. And also like last week, we couldn't score. Their goalie made some great saves, but we missed a slew of open nets. This made me even more nervous but I just kept turning shots away. We broke through late in the 1st and I knew I had to try to keep them off the board for 30 more minutes.

It almost worked. We absolutely peppered their goalie with shots but he made save after save. Our best player was stymied on numerous breakaways. On my end, Lady Netula continued to smile at me as they missed at least three nice cross-ice passes that should have been goals. I saved a bunch as well, but finally they broke in 3 on 1 and a shot tipped off my glove and went under the crossbar, almost exactly the same as the tying goal from the night before. This happened with 11 seconds left in the 2nd. 11 seconds. Grrr.

The tension continued to build until about 5 minutes into the 3rd period, when we scored on a power play  to take the lead. That increased my anxiety because I didn't want to blow the lead again, but we (like how I use 'we'? Like I'm the one out there scoring) chipped in another to give me some breathing room and then tacked on two more to finish it off. The final was 5-1. By virtue of having the one truly awesome scorekeeper/board operator (he not only blasts a computerized foghorn on goals, he also plays music during breaks in the action. I may or may not have been dancing to One Direction out there. Results are inconclusive at this point) I see that I made 20 of 21 saves on the night for a Lundqvistesque-like save percentage of .952 (I will take this with a grain of salt as he has the other goalie only facing 19 shots, which is probably around 40 short of the actual total). I finished a game having given up one goal. Unthinkable, and largely due to my teammates who did just about everything right all night. Maybe we're getting better or maybe the House team was just terrible. Either way, I'll take the win. My first. Hopefully not my last.

Despite my sparking goals-against-average of 2.50 for the pair of games the position of goalie for the Scurvy Dogs was and remains Chaz's, who is so much better at it than I am that it's almost discouraging. Still, my knees aren't bitching too much today and I've accomplished something I always wanted to do, even if the scoresheet says Chaz did it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

4, 3, Part 3, Whatever

So, third game in four nights. The evening off had helped to lessen some of the creaking from my old bones, and I figured I'd be set anyway as my team has a roster with 17 skaters on it. Hell, just to be safe I told one of the subs to come as well. Now if all 18 showed up that would have made for a crowded bench and there would have been kvetching about playing time.  There's never really enough of it, is there?

Well . . .

I use a service called Teamsnap to keep things semi-organized for the Scurvy Dogs. It lets me send out group emails, tracks our schedule and sends out reminders, and, perhaps most importantly, lets everyone mark their availability (or lack thereof) in one place so we have an idea what kind of numbers we're going to have. I didn't think we'd have a full squad - we almost never do - but my hope was that they're be enough players so that if I needed to skip a shift, it wouldn't be a problem. Because, again, who wouldn't want more playing time?

Well . . .

Little green checkmarks that meant people were coming kept changing to red no-shows. At the drop of the puck we had nine players. Nine. How'd we get there?

out - in Texas
out - unknown
out - in Scotland
out - sick
out - wife had to give lecture, had to watch kids
out - unknown
out - seeing Anthrax (or some other metal band)
out - unknown
out - showed up to play but forgot his pants. I cannot make these things up. He forgot his hockey pants. Of course he was a defenseman. Why does that matter? Read on, my friend. Read on.

So, what does a reduced roster mean? Well, leaving the goalie out of the whole equation, nine skaters breaks up best as two sets of  forward lines (three players each) and the three defensemen sharing the two spots, which means someone is always going to be doubleshifting. To exacerbate the quandary one of my fellow defensemen, a little bit older but the best of us anyway, admitted he was feeling 'a little under the weather' and would appreciate it if we could give him breaks if he needed them. Right. So, our games are 45 minutes long and since you have two defensemen on the ice at all times that means there's 90 total minutes of playing time to be accounted for. Between three players. Including one who wasn't feeling well. Ye gods.

I have no idea how much time I actually played. Kind of a blur, really. I know I started the 3rd period and didn't come off until over six minutes had elapsed, which is regoddamndiculous. Bad things happened during that time as our opponents scored twice - the first two goals of one of the most enjoyable games I've ever played in. It was evenly matched for the most part, but it's with stunned recollection that I say we absolutely dominated the first ten minutes of the game. Crushed it. Made them feel like, well, like we usually do in the first ten minutes of the game, scrambling around as the other team keeps the puck in for what seems like an eternity. We did everything right, everything -  except score. I made the best pass of my life to a wide-open teammate but the ensuing shot hit the post. The goalie made saves on shots he never saw. Chaz was terrific too, and it was 0-0 until the 3rd. We finally bashed one in with 2 minutes left and pulled the goalie, but they tacked on an empty netter and I had the only loss out of the three this week that bothered me (I'm choosing to ignore that my teams were outscored 16-1. Irrelevant. It would be boorish of you to mention it again. Boorish). It was a game we could have won, maybe should have. I'm willing to shoulder a good chunk of the blame. I had a great first periods, methinks, but as the game wore on I started to miss passes, overskate pucks, make lousy passes of my own, and torpedoed a power play chance in the 2nd. Fatigue? Maybe. Getting accidentally slewfooted by a teammate didn't help either, but in the end I still had the familiar joy that always grips me when I take the ice. A win would have been cool, though. Maybe next time.

My legs put up a mild protest when I got up at 5am, but either I'm in shape or the naproxin is keeping them in check for now. I reckon I'll know the answer to that in a few hours when it wears off.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

4 Games, 3 Nights, Blah Blerg Part 2

A philosophical question for you: what makes one a jerkweed? I'll give you an example to fuel the debate no doubt raging within you right now. You are a skilled hockey player, playing in a division you're too good for but man it feels good to see your name on top of the goal-scoring leader board, amiright? Your team is up by 7 goals - SEVEN - in a game against some hapless schmucks and there's only like 45 seconds left but hey, if you bust your ass and skate as hard as you can RIGHT NOW you can have a breakaway on their obviously inexperienced goalie. So of course you do just that, you kick in your special turbo-skakin' strides and bust in all alone, making dekes and shaking left and right before tucking that puck right between the goalie's pads.  Man, that felt good, right? But it does beg the question - are you a jerkweed?

Well, at least one of my teammates thought so and got up in his face right before the faceoff to my right a few seconds later. Possible jerkweed was completely unrepentant, and there was some shoves before the ref came over and - what? The hockey-minded among you are asking wait, why was the faceoff to your right instead of at center ice? Because I stonewalled that son of a bitch. The sexy explanation would be that I read his moves and gave him nothing, but the truth is I guessed correctly and, after dropping to the ice, slammed my leg pads shut as the puck was going through them, getting enough to have it squirt out to the side and miss the net. This moment of triumph didn't make up for the other seven goals that had previously gotten past me, but it was a nice way to end the night. The first goal I gave up was the first I've been truly embarrassed about, a dribbler I should have already been butterflied for. Most of the goals that were scored were of the weird variety - rebounds the went the wrong way and were jammed back in; a pass I blocked that went directly back to the passer who made a better pass the second time; making a nice glove save I one side of the net but admiring myself a little too long and having the ensuing rebound go all the way to the corner on the other side for a guy to shoot into the open net; and so on. My teammates seem happy as hell with me - evidently we're giving up 4 less goals a game on average, and while I do get frustrated when I give up easy goals (and not easy goals, and really any goal, to be honest) I am having so much damn fun out there that it's impossible not to enjoy. There is zero pressure to be great - zero. It's the perfect learning environment, albeit one with a wicked learning curve.

So, back to our quandry - was our friend #88 a jerkweed? If you ask my teammates, absolutely. I've never been in the position where my team has had an obscene lead and an opportunity to score so I can't say I know the feeling. I can say that as a goalie learning the ropes (boards, whatever) I was happy he came in on the breakaway. I need the reps, need the practice, and I'm not going to improve my people taking (much deserved) pity on me. But I suspect my opinion might be slightly influence by the fact that I stopped him. 7-0 looks much better than 8-0, no?

The legs held up okay, but my knee was barking by the end of the game. Last night was a much appreciated evening of rest (although the sensei at my son's karate school offered to have me jump in on the adult class and I'm going to tell you the temptation was damn near overwhelming but playing on two hockey teams is going to have to suffice for now) before tonight's game against the chippy Hoboken Rockets. The penalties, they shall flow.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Four Nights, Three Games, One Old Man

The scheduling gods, capricious at best, decided it would be ever so fun to have me play three games in four nights this week. They also thought it would be in my best interests to make all of the contests be against top-flight teams as well. Additionally, they realized the experience wouldn't be complete without having me take the kids for a long hike AND have me run around a lot coaching Zack's soccer practice right before game #1.

Okay, those are on me, more of less. But the shore trail along the Hudson was gorgeous, if a little chilly from the arctic wind. Lighten up, Fall. It's mid-October. Save that frigid crap for December. Still, it was a bit less strenuous than the route we'd taken last time, known simply as the 'Long Trail.' That charming little diversion features a mile-and-a-half climb that nets you 560 feet in altitude as you hike up switchbacks. Maybe next time.

Game one was last night, the opening contest of the Fall/Winter season for the Scurvy Dogs. We drew the Eagles, a team that went 8-0 in the summer league and lost in the finals. They feature a guy we refer to as 'Mini-Gretzky' since he goes about five-foot-nothing, even in skates. His height doesn't keep him from being ridiculously good, obscenely so. He can easily skate from end to end with us being no more than traffic cones to be navigated around, something he did numerous times during our game. If you're saying, 'Hey, aren't you guys in the beginner division? Isn't that unfair?' I will ring the bell and hand you a virtual kewpie doll. It's grossly unfair, but he gets away with it because he's smart enough not to score goals. I know that sounds counterintuitive to winning, but he's so good that anytime we brought the puck into their zone he'd take it away, skate through all of us, then pass it off to one of his teammates in  prime shooting position. It's unbalancing and discouraging, and there were more than a few smirks on our bench when Joel gladly took a tripping penalty on him late in the third. I know, I know, I sound like I'm whining. Well, I actually am whining, but it's tough to play a game knowing that even if we somehow kept it close, he could more or less put in a decisive goal whenever he wanted to. In fact, in the locker room after the game I suggested that next time we played them we should all just skate over to the bench the first time he got the puck and shrug.

Despite Mr. Superstar we played a decent game. They scored on the first shift but we recovered and, if not making them worry about our offensive prowess, kept them off the board for the rest of the period. Was our defensive play better? Yes. Did Chaz stand on his head? Double yes. Still, 1-0 at the end of the first was mighty impressive. They scored early in the second - we have a thing about letting up first-shift goals, it seems - but we hung tight until about the mid-way point, when the gates cracked open, a bit. The final was 6-0, not too bad and certainly better than the debacle when I played goal against them in the summer. Those antics are reserved for tonight, as I don hockey's version of the 'tools of ignorance' and defend the net against a team Jeff described as, 'Really good. Also, complete assholes.' Ye gods. When do I get to play goal against an actual bad team? Not tonight, it appears. See you on the other side, gang.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

'I Know - There's a Problem With Your Face' - Life Between the Pipes, Game 1

(Bonus points if you can ID the title quote without Googling it. No cheating. I'm watching you . . .)

To say I'd been looking forward to playing goal for the Mustangs would be an understatement. While I love playing defense for the Scurvy Dogs as well, the few times I've swaddled myself in 40 pounds of protective gear to have talented people shoot hard rubber discs at me have proven strangely addictive. In a weekend that sorely, sorely needed distractions the planned ones got disrupted by the storms, so time seemed to crawl until Tuesday night's 10:50pm start time. Yes, that's late. Not the latest start time this season, though. And I pay hard-earned money to do this. Well, okay, as a goalie I don't. But I pay with DEVOTION. And sweat. Hoo boy, lots of sweat.


I met my new team (plus one defenseman I snagged from the S-dogs) and immediately approved of their decision to take the edge off with a pre-game beer (not for me, alas. Stupid gluten). They seemed like a decent bunch of guys who were thrilled that I'd managed to meet the crucial qualification of showing up. Our foes would be the Goats, with their vaguely Satanic logo. Not at this game, though, because while they already have like 12 jerseys they were sporting new ones that were awesome, done in the style of those crazy-ass Phoenix Coyote jerseys from years ago. Shit, like 3 people are going to get that reference. Hang on a sec, let me be all full service here):
of course, those aren't as cool as this glorious mess:

That is a hell of a jersey right there (Yes I know it's technically called a 'sweater.' Shut up). I would get married in that thing. You see someone standing in front of you in that thing and you know you're getting someone on the cutting edge of taste and style. Where was I? Right, the Goats. Playing for the Goats were my S-dog goalie Chaz and my co-captain/friend/little brother Jeff. I was determined to keep Jeff from scoring, because that's the sort of weird competition thing dudes do sometimes. I would stymie him! Keep him off the scoring sheet! Send him home in tears, demoralized and broken!

He scored one minute and twenty-one seconds into the game. 1:21. Ye gods. What a bastard. My fault, as I let a shot/pass/something from the corner kick through my pads to where he'd set up camp in front of the crease. He was there all game, pretty much. I felt like I was sitting behind him at a horror movie called IT CAME FROM THE FACEOFF CIRCLE or something like that. We fell behind 2-0 pretty quickly on that goal and another I should have stopped as well, but then suddenly we started pressuring them and I managed to get in the way of a few pucks by accident and at the end of the 1st period it was 2-2.


In the second period one of their guys juked me so effectively on a breakaway that I thought my frantic scrambling back might have slipped a disc in my back. But lo, we tied it up again and so it remained until about 5 minutes left in the period, when my face decided to get in the act. The puck was shot around the boards behind me, and as I tried to slide across the crease to follow it I stumbled a bit, which turned my body in that direction. The Goat who received the pass unleashed a wrist shot from on the goal line. From that angle, it couldn't break the laws of physics and go in unless it got some help. A deflection off a teammates' stick, or anyone's skate, or, well, my mask. He lifted the shot and it pinged off my cage, going sideways into the goal as if he'd planned it. MAYBE HE DID. In any case, we were behind AGAIN. It stayed that way until we took a penalty a few minutes into the 3rd period and they scored on the powerplay. That pretty much opened the floodgates as their guy-who-is-too-good-to-be-in-our-division decided he needed to skate through our entire team, do a toe drag (it's a fancy hockey shot), and beat me. He had so much fun he did it again. Then he did it a third time but passed to an open teammate instead as I flailed around. ALL IN THE SAME ONE MINUTE LONG SHIFT (or maybe a little longer, it's all a blur). Oh, my goals-again-average. And this a contract year!

The final was 9-3 and at least half, if not more, were goals I should have stopped. My teammates seemed thrilled with me anyway, which could be warning signs of visual deterioration or mental issues. In any case, I get to do it again in two weeks. What's that? I have games Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday night that week? WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG. 47 year old legs work better when you play 3 games in 4 nights, right? Right?

(title quote answer - Big Trouble in Little China, of course)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Tatt's Where It's At

Joel Greengrass and I have been friends since the 4th grade. Well, to be fair that's just when we first got to know one another, as I was his safety. Since during the New Jersey winters kids couldn't go outside after lunch but teachers still needed their break from their students someone came up with the bright idea of assigning a 'safety' to each class to be in charge. Consider the insanity involved there - I was a 4th grader in charge of 25 other 4th graders locked in a classroom for 45 minutes. It should also be noted that there were 4th graders in charge of classrooms filled with 1st graders - somehow this was approved. It was about the level of chaos you would imagine it to be. Joel, in particular, was the architect of my discontent. It was not fun for me, and I extracted my revenge by becoming best friends the following year when we moved on to middle school. Fool!

We've remained friends since then, through good times and bad times and other times when I probably didn't deserve to have him to put up with me. He was the best man at my ill-fated wedding to the Practice Wife and showed up when Lola and I eloped. In short, I'd be hard-pressed to think of time when he wasn't there for me. That's what friends do, right?

Almost a decade or so ago he was diagnosed with MS. As anyone who knows him might expect, Joel decided against sitting in a corner and bemoaning his fate. Instead he's continued to live life with as much passion and joy as he can. Hell, we even learned how to skate, grabbed hockey sticks, and formed a team together. He's blessed with a deep support system: his wife and kids are some of the most wonderful people I've ever met; his parents and siblings are so amazing that I more or less finagled my way in as the 5th child; his friends love him unconditionally; and pretty much everyone else who comes into contact with him, personally or professionally, gains from the experience. The amount of money raised for MS research in his name has been staggering. Simply put, he's an inspiration.

Lately complications from the MS have been making his life more difficult, and I started wondering what might be a good way to make sure I've got his back until he finally beats this thing. And so:

This is the logo of his support network, emblazoned on countless t-shirts, sweatshirts, frisbees, key chains, and, now, my right arm. The design is by Dave Bamundo and the ink was done by Scott Hill at Scott Hill Tattoo (funny story, that, as there was a mix-up with our new babysitter right before my appointment but hey, kids LOVE tattoo parlors. Actually, it's a well-lit, clean, very nice place on the main street of a ritzy town. Becky was fascinated by the procedure. Father. Of. The. Year). May Joel hang around as long as this tattoo does.

I now have three tattoos, which I believe marks me as either 'unsavory' or 'disreputable.' Perhaps both. That little sliver of poppet on the left is Becky, who wanted her own version - in henna.