Checking Out the Sharks’ next Opponent

While working on, well, work, I’ve got the Nashville-Winnipeg game on. It’s been a pretty good game. Gritty but not dirty, some good skating, each team making the other pay for mistakes. Hockey.

The winner of this game will play the Sharks, after San Jose despoils Cinderella.

I’m not sure who I’m rooting for. On the one hand, Winnipeg may be the most miserable sports city, and as a former resident of San Diego I have to feel for people whose teams always lose the way San Diego teams do, but who also don’t live in San Diego. That would really suck.

But Nashville fans have a song for everything. Seems like every tape-to-tape pass has the fans singing the “Nashville Tape-to-Tape song.” And the whole damn arena sings. It might be the best fan experience in North American sports. (Don’t tell Las Vegas, because dang they’re building an awesome fan experience in the way only Las Vegas can.) Nashville is the hockey arena I’d most like to visit for a game.

On the other hand, I’m more afraid of Nashville. This might be naive; Winnipeg is really good this year. But Nashville has been a problem for a long time now.

On the other hand…

There are an infinite number of hands. I’m enjoying a good hockey game, and both these teams deserve to be here. Either will be a challenge for the Sharks. Either will make for a fun series.

____

A few thoughts about the Sharks/Knights series currently under way:

One of the great things about being a fan of a team is having rivals. I hate the Ducks and I HATE the Kings. Then there’s fuckin’ Buffalo, a hapless team that somehow keeps beating the Sharks (although now we have their best player). Las Vegas is new; they have no historic slights to fume over. I volunteer my team to be the team the Las Vegas Knights fans learn to hate. Step 1: Knock them out of the playoffs.

I call the Las Vegas Franchise the “Las Vegas Knights”. It is a far better name than the official title: the “Vegas Golden Knights”. “Las Vegas Knights” speaks to the character of the town itself; it echoes the allure of being there. It sounds like the title to a novel — or a memoir — or a song — or… It sounds like Las Vegas. Eventually the Las Vegas franchise will fix their name.

Talk about home ice advantage — whoo boy that city knows how to put on a show. To build the drama before the opening game of this series, they had a really cool lighting effect that made it look like a huge shark was swimming under the ice. Of course in their show the shark was eventually slain, but San Jose should seriously steal that effect.

While I think you would be hard-pressed to find a resident of the Las Vegas metropolitan area who agrees with me, there is supposed to be hardship when a team is first getting started. Without that hardship you can’t have fans who can say “I was with the team back when…” It’s the lean times that scar a true fan. (Scars are cool, right?)

I kind of feel sorry for the Raiders, trying to move football into a rabid hockey town.

3

Going All-Out for the Finals

We’ve applied a lot of science to ritual cannibalism in this house, trust me. It started a few seasons ago when we had roast duck for dinner on the first night of the season when the Sharks hosted the Anaheim Ducks. The duck didn’t turn out as well as it might have, and the Sharks lost. In the ensuing seasons, the duck has been ever-more delicious, and the Sharks have won the season opener against the rival Ducks by ever-more comfortable margins. Last year, after stuffing the duck with orange quarters, we shut them out. Orange county, you see.

The science of ritual cannibalism is, therefore, irrefutable. We eat the duck, we beat the Ducks.

This year, as the home team has progressed through the playoffs, we (and by ‘we’ I mostly mean the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas) have explored the proper dishes required to vanquish ever-more-fearsome foes. For Nashville, whose fans throw catfish onto the ice, we ate catfish.

St. Louis was a little trickier: They are the Blues. How do you eat a musical style? We went with the color, which is slightly less tricky. We started with (yummy) Blueberry Crumble, but of course that didn’t work: we took their crumble, leaving them steadfast. We switched to a (delicious) blue cheese sauce on pork chops and never looked back.

Of course, there’s plenty of other Fan Science at work as well. Official Sweetie’s old-school Sharks t-shirt is banned from the living room at game time. When things aren’t going well, a glass of Canadian Whiskey will reverse our fortunes. The list goes on.

Pittsburgh has proven to be our greatest challenge yet. You don’t just pop down to Costco and grab a family-size tray of frozen penguin. Happily there are gummy penguins, and where there’s a will there’s a sauce.

For game one it was chicken (a flightless bird) with penguin sauce, and while it was most tasty, it was not effective. The Sharks started the game poorly, and though things stabilized after I turned to the whiskey it was too late. A heartbreak goal in the waning minutes sent our boys back to their hotel with heads bowed.

The menu for game two: Game hen with penguin sauce, with black and white rice. Really, really, tasty. Another close game; the whiskey brought the team back but they gave up a goal in overtime and were down in the series 2-0. Either game could have tilted the other direction, and while the Penguins seemed to be in charge much of the time they weren’t scoring very much. It wouldn’t take much to turn things around.

More research was required.

Thank goodness for the Internet. Sidney Crosby, the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins and a darn good hockey player, is a man of ritual. On game day, he always has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Aha! we had found the chink in his armor.

And speaking of science, pork chops are a proven winner. Forget the symbolism of the flightless birds; go with what works!

For game three tonight, we pulled out all the stops for victory. Pork chops grilled outdoors with a peanut butter and jelly and melted penguin sauce. Do not cringe, my friends, it was absolutely delicious. The char from the barbecue added the perfect bitter note to work with the sweet/salty sauce. Rice and grilled green beans rounded out the meal. I wore the black t-shirt, not the gray one. Canadian Whiskey, as always, stood at the ready.

We found out not long before game time that one of the Sharks’ best young players would not be playing due to injury. Tomaš Hertl had hit the iron frame of the net three times in the game two heartbreak; had any one of those three shouts bounced the other direction the Sharks could well have won. It was going to be up to the pork chops to make up for the critical loss for San Jose.

It was a nail-biter, I have to tell you, but in the end the good guys prevailed, scoring in overtime after steadily looking more confident all game. Joonas Donskoi, or “Donkey” as we call him, slipped a shot past the Pen’s excellent net minder as the home crowd made enough noise to be heard in space.

As we celebrated at home the Official Sweetie said, “I hope we have more pork chops.”

1

It Feels Different this Year

I’m a hockey fan, and if you insist that I be more specific I will tell you that I’m a fan of the local NHL franchise, the San Jose Sharks. Almost every year this team makes it to the playoffs. Almost every year they exit early.

Which is mostly just math. Half the teams in the playoffs are eliminated in the first round. By the end of the second round, only four remain. So MOST of the teams that make the playoffs go home early. But you do that too many years in a row, you get a reputation. Even if you go home because of a bizarre bounce in an overtime that shouldn’t have happened except the ref blew a call with 33 seconds to go in regulation.

Right now San Jose is skating agains St. Louis in a titan battle of saints in which God must be careful not to take sides. Like Joseph, Louis has earned a reputation for early exits. One of the two will reach the finals.

Three games in, it’s pretty easy to see that my team is the better of the two. Nashville took it to San Jose a couple of times in the previous round, but the Sharks answered by playing really good hockey. That good hockey has carried into the semifinal round with the Blues.

The Blues deserve to be here. They are a very good team, and they beat powerhouse Dallas fair and square. They beat the Stars by beating on them, and getting under their skin, and making Dallas do stupid things. They came out against the Sharks with the same strategy — and it failed utterly. A dude friggin’ pulled Joe Thornton’s beard and the Sharks laughed it off and scored on the power play. The Sharks, under the leadership of captain Joe Pavelski, just don’t take the bait.

Last game, Newt Gingrich Ken Hitchcock pulled his bullies and agitators and tried to match the Sharks with speed and skill. For a while, it seemed to be working. But nobody plays Sharks hockey better than the Sharks do.

And there’s the thing. Some time around the start of 2016 Joe Thornton started backchecking with energy and the rest of the team stepped up and Burns stopped making stupidly overoptimistic passes and it feels different this year. This isn’t a team getting by, it’s a team offering both an unstoppable offense and a disciplined defense (3 shutouts in the last 4 playoff games) and exposing no weaknesses to exploit. A team like that can laugh when an agitator on the other side tries to lure them into mistakes. Even people on the East Coast are waking up to what a good team this is.

It feels different this year. The Sharks aren’t looking for answers, they aren’t looking for the weakness of the other team. They’re playing their game, and they’re doing it well. It’s up to their opponents to solve the Sharks, and so far none has. Man, it’s been fun to watch.

It’s sports, and anything can happen. I felt confident two years ago when the Sharks went up 3-0 on the Kings only to choke away the playoffs. But this year the Sharks handled the Kings pretty easily, and while Nashville gave them a run for their money the way the Sharks emerged from that series has carried over.

What’s different this year? Maybe the most important thing is the C on Pavelski’s sweater. But don’t forget Wardo, and Donkey, and Jones. Don’t forget old man Zubrus making the fourth line a disciplined unit and a legitimate threat. Hertl’s lovely slap shot to open the scoring last night is now a rarity; under the new management the Czech kid is expected to be a complete player, not just a sniper but a stout defender and a guy willing to mix it up down near the goal. He has embraced the role and thrives on the chaos around the net. “Now I go to net, get rebound and score. Is better.”

The team knows: this is their chance. The older players, Thornton and Marleau in particular, know that time is running out, and this year they’re playing like their legacies are on the line. The new kids are hungry, and skilled, but they are inheriting discipline from the old-timers. It really is a joy to watch. At this time they are still six wins from their first championship, but no matter what happens I thank the Sharks for making it different this year.

1

John Scott, NHL All-Star

John Scott plays hockey. He’s a lunch-pail, blue-collar player who works hard to stay in the league. He’s been called a dying breed, or an old-schooler, but those are just soft words to disguise what he does so well. He’s an enforcer. He’s a peacekeeper. He keeps the peace by making it absolutely clear that he will destroy anyone who violates the peace. He was on the team I support last year, and it’s funny how many fights didn’t happen when John Scott came on the ice.

But if it’s fisticuffs you want, John Scott is your bloke.

CZ6qWnSXEAAOYnsThere are thugs around the league that everyone hates. Raffi Torres, technically a member of my favorite team, comes to mind. People hate Raffi, and for good reason. But people don’t hate John Scott. He’s a bruiser, a puncher, but not a dirty player. If you don’t violate John Scott’s peace, you need not fear.

Not only do hockey fans not hate John Scott, they like him so much that this year they elected him to the all-star game. Part of it is a joke, of course, the fans punking the league. But they’d never punk the league with Raffi Torres. He’s an asshole. They punked the league with someone they liked. I’m sure many people in San Jose hopped on the John Scott bandwagon, even though he doesn’t play here anymore.

The NHL did not handle the situation gracefully. They tried to bury him, to shuffle him out of the lineup, and to apply personal pressure to get him to step down. Scott readily acknowledges that he is not the most skilled player in the NHL, but when the league began dicking him over to knock him out of the game, he pushed back, in a low-key, John Scott sort of way. Because that’s who he is; that’s always been his game. Play by the rules, there’s no problem. Step over the line, and he will guide you back, gently, at first.

Fans howled. Whether they were his supporters before or not, the NHL brass was trying to nullify their vote. He will be playing in the all-star game.

Then the other all-star players voted, and he has a C on his sweater. Team captain. John Fuckin’ Scott, team captain in the all-star game. The players, at least, remembered who really pays their checks, and they don’t mind punking their employers now and then to boot. You can read a feel-good piece about it (twins any minute now!) over at espn (also the source of the above image).

And now I’ll probably watch at least some of that horrible game, just to hear the arena get loud when Scott steps onto the ice. The game is suddenly interesting, at least for a few minutes. Final victory: NHL.

1

Pulling for the Flames Now

I’ve always enjoyed hockey; it’s a game where something is always happening, scoring is a significant event, and the clock keeps ticking even when you wish it wouldn’t. Growing up in the coccyx of the rocky mountains in northern New Mexico, there wasn’t a lot of media coverage of the sport (this was before Colorado had a team), but it was fun to watch when it presented itself.

A brief aside: When I was growing up there was hockey right there in my town, at the local outdoor ice rink. It never even occurred to me that I could participate. I didn’t know anyone who did. I wonder if the hockey environment there has changed in the intervening years.

The first time I formed a loyalty to a team was on my Homeless Tour, when I was passing through Canmore, Canada. The Calgary Flames were in the finals, one win from the Stanley Cup. I got to the bar section of the Boston Pizza just in time to grab the last seat at the bar, behind the taps, and I proceeded to have a Seminal Sports Experience. It started when the whole place went quiet out of respect for the United States national anthem. Then came ‘O Canada’ and the whole damn bar belted it out. Things just got better from there.

The Flames lost, but the fans I met that day were awesome on every level. I became a Calgary fan, but even more I became a fan of Calgary’s fans.

Cut to late nights in the darkness, lying on the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch in my little flat in Prague, listening to radio calls via the Internet. The Flames’ play-by-play announcer was mesmerizing; in my book only the Blackhawks’ announcer was in the same league. Good times.

In the ensuing years I’ve come to be a Sharks fan. It’s the first time I’ve had a local hockey team to root for. I still harbor some loyalty to the Flames, and especially to the fans up there, but the Sharks are my team. So it goes.

I have also grown a hatred for the Los Angeles Kings. Thugs and morons, and if the league is crooked, they are crooked in the new-biggest-market’s favor. Not sure how many season-ending knee-on-knee ‘accidents’ have to happen before someone looks a little closer.

The season is winding down, and the Sharks are out of the playoffs. It’s the end of the third-longest playoff streak in major sports. That makes me sad. The Kings, the current champions, are on the bubble with two games to go. It will either be them or… the Calgary Flames.

Nobody thought the Flames had a chance this year. They’re rebuilding. A lot of kids with talent, but it takes time and experience to make a contender. But here they are, on the brink of making the playoffs. If they get in, Los Angeles doesn’t. It’s that simple.

The Kings have two games left. Tomorrow they play the Flames. Then on Saturday they play the Sharks. Words cannot describe the joy I will feel if the Sharks kill the Kings and put the lads from Calgary into the playoffs.

And this is sports. You love your guys. You hate the filthy bastards who have personally wronged you. You struggle when one of your guys winds up playing with the filthy bastards. But there’s a little more. There are the great fans you meet, people who love their team but aren’t assholes about it. We call those people ‘Flames fans’.

If I were so freakin’ rich that I solved the world’s fresh water problems and had money left over, I’d make an offer for the Flames, just to be part of that thing they have going on up there.

3

Gonna Miss That Guy

I’m watching Douglas Murray’s first game in a Penguin sweater tonight, and the Pittsburgh announcers are gushing. “Not many guys in the league like him anymore. He hits someone and they just look like a rag doll sometimes.”

He’s still wears his number 3, over there with the Pens, and has already reminded the east-coast fans of the Great Wall of Murray (my sweetie’s phrase). He’s a big hitter, but not a thug. His hits are clean and even the guy who just discovered himself abruptly on the ice rarely has a problem with it. For all the hard hits, there are no cheap shots; he just knocks his opponent down. Both skate away to collide another day. Murray doesn’t get into fights very often.

The Pittsburgh announcers are right, there aren’t many guys like him in hockey anymore. He’s not a great skater, but he gets to where he needs to be (well… usually). A lot of slapshots have bounced off his body over the years, but knowing it’s going to hurt hasn’t stopped him from throwing himself in front of the next hurtling puck.

For Murray, I don’t think hockey is a job. I think he fully appreciates that he’s playing a game he loves for some pretty sweet money. And the ladies love him.

The Sharks produced a video honoring the man they had just traded; fans came up with better ones. The Sharks traded Murray to Pittsburgh for some draft picks, a forward-looking move. Then Pittsburgh picked up a couple more of the best players in the league. No doubt about it, Pittsburgh is making a run for the cup this year.

Next year, the Penguins won’t be able to pay all these guys. Murray will be an unrestricted free agent. He could sign with… the Sharks. That sentimental no-hard-feelings video? Step one in getting Murray back and cackling over the almost-free draft picks.

Whether or not that comes to pass, I wish Douglas Murray well. He is proof that hockey can be tough without being dirty, that you can be a hitter without being a thug. He is what’s right about hockey, and I will be his fan no matter what sweater he’s wearing.

1

Mullets and Hockey

I learned on an NPR quiz show long ago, that according to some book mullets came into fashion in medieval times so peasants working in the field could keep the elements off their necks while not impairing peripheral vision — so they could spot bandits and raiders. It makes sense, I guess, as far as it goes.

Tonight I was watching clips of hockey games before the helmet was required, and it was a mullet-fest. And you know? It makes sense, for exactly the same reason. It’s cold on the ice, but a hockey player without peripheral vision is going to have a hard time of it. In that environment a mullet is… sensible. There, I said it.

1

What I Didn’t Say

I’m at Shark’s Ice right now, enjoying a fine local microbrew (21st Amendment IPA), and watching tykes skate. There’s a family at the table next to mine, watching the action, and they have a kid maybe 6 years old who is wearing a D SEDIN Canucks t-shirt. He wants to play. Right now.

“Gotta like the attitude,” I said to his dad. “Put me in, coach!”

Dad laughed and agreed.

“His beard is better than Daniel Sedin’s, too,” I didn’t say. Barely.

1

It’s Anecdotal, But…

For the last few winters, there’s been less hockey in Canada. Facilities near the arctic circle are installing air conditioning and refrigeration.

Leave it to Canadian climate scientists to put the danger in a context their countrymen could appreciate. Shortened skating season. What if: Gretzky’s pond never freezes over, and the Great One plays soccer instead. The next Gretz might be looking at the not-yet-frozen pond in his little town as I type this, thinking maybe he should go shoot hoops instead. Alarmist? IT COULD HAPPEN!

Far from the suburban thermometers that global warming deniers make such a big deal about, it’s been a warm decade way up north, and the trend is accelerating. Ten years is actually a pretty small sample to consider as proof for climate change (you can completely ignore people who say that any one season is proof for or against global warming), and since these indoor facilities weren’t around fifty years ago, there’s no baseline for the sub-arctic indoor ice rink refrigeration metric. But the ponds aren’t freezing as early, either. There’s just not as much ice up there as there used to be.

Will Canadians be as congenial without hockey? Do you want to find out?

Looking for my New Team

Since the KHL seems to be the preeminent hockey league these days, I need to adjust. My dilemma right now: Do I pull for Lev Praha, the team from Prague? It seemed automatic until I saw Slovan Bratislava in the standings. Slovakia’s pretty cool; it wouldn’t be hard to root for them.

The Slovak team has way more history; Lev Praha was founded this year, Slovan dates back to 1921. Not a lot of names I recognize on either roster (Why the hell is Zdeno Chara playing for the Czechs rather than the Slovaks?), and should the NHL start playing before the KHL completely eats its lunch, those names I do know will be back here in North America.

But if I were an enterprising sports network, or a desperate one, I’d consider banging out a contract with the KHL, and bringing more than just a token couple of games over here. It might be too late to really make bank on this labor stoppage, but it seems a safe bet that another will come along soon enough.

I looked in the KHL shop, and you know what you can get with Slovan’s logo on it? Nothing. A big, fat, zip. Which makes me really want a Miroslav Satan sweater. (He’s the only name I recognized at first glance, and he’s also the only player on that team’s injured list.) Anyone in Bratislava who can hook me up?

Edited to add: The league does have a Che Guevara hockey shirt, which appeals to me most because it’s their best effort at capitalist exploitation to date — but we can’t underestimate the impact of Che in a hockey helmet. Viva La Hockey!

Yet one more addition: I might have to root for Kazakhstan! Because it’s Kazakhstan! The only thing that cools my enthusiasm is that less than half the team is actually from there.

2

Pee Wee Hockey Practice!

I’m at Stanley’s right now. It’s a bar that sits high above three of the four rinks at Sharks Ice, where as you might guess the local NHL team would be practicing right now were it not busy not playing.

I came here to get some writing done, but that’s proven difficult. Below me the ice is filled with tykes in hockey gear, skating, falling, getting back up, and moving pucks around. It’s awesome!

Truth be told, those six-year-olds are better hockey players than I am. There’s an odd combination of clumsiness and grace, where a kid will lose the puck, spin, reach and collect the puck, and once on his way again fall over for no reason. Right now the bunch of kids directly below where I sit is running a drill that involves carrying the puck around obstacles, turning back and putting a shot on goal. The coaches provide very light resistance to those ready for it. One kid put a shot on goal, the coach deflected it, and that kid dove after the rebound like it was game seven of the Stanley Cup. Get that kid’s number — he’s going places!

A whistle just blew four times, and all the kids shifted to the next station. There’s a new guy below me who may be the smallest dude on the ice (assuming it’s not a dudette — no telling with all that gear). He is not graceful with the puck. But here’s the thing — Little Guy falls down a lot, but he gets back up. This is probably the best lesson Pee Wee Hockey teaches a kid. (As I typed that he had a harder time than usual getting up, and a coach came over and helped him until he was steady over his skates. His shot went just wide of the goal, which bummed me.)

But back to the falling down/getting up thing. I’m not a parent, but if I were I think this is a lesson I’d want to teach my kids. For my hypothetical daughters soccer would be an option (those kids are tough), but for the boys there’s no alternative at that age. Honestly, I’d prefer that my daughters played hockey as well; it’s safer. And none of the alternatives have ice. You might get knocked down in soccer, but in hockey you will fall, without any help from anyone, over and over. There’s no making excuses, no blaming someone else. Nothing to do but get back up. You’ll fall again, but that’s all right. You’ll get up again. That’s what I’d want my kids to learn.

2

As Long as They’re Skating

As the squabbling between millionaires and billionaires continues to threaten the hockey season, I’d like to share a little hockey anecdote from years gone by. Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was sitting at the bar at Callahan’s, across from Rose, the best bartender in the world. She’s a Pittsburgh girl. The Penguins were skating against… um… I don’t rightly recall. The game went into overtime. Some of the rest is a little fuzzy in my memory.

“Another beer?” Rose asked me as the teams took the ice.

“As long as they’re skating, I’m drinking,” I replied. During the second overtime period, I decided that out of solidarity I should drink one beer per period. Solidarity, brother! It brought down the commies in Poland, after all. Rose just shook her head and poured the next beer.

Ah, pride. I actually considered going home during the fourth overtime, but I had made a sacred pact with the hockey gods.

The game went into a sixth overtime. At this point, the guys had played nearly three entire hockey games. Things were getting sloppy, but there are no ties, and (thank God) no shootouts in playoff hockey. Puck hit net, we rejoiced with what little we had left, and I walked home.

fuego has his own story about that game, a different experience in a distant time zone. That morning he had arrived on the set of some movie or other in the Czech Republic or thereabouts. One of the other people on the crew said, “They’re still playing!”

2

Doing What It Takes

I’m at the ice rink right now, and it’s getting late. The figure skating lessons are over, the kids have all gone home. Below me, a guy in pads has dragged a net onto the ice, set it on its pegs, and is practicing his moves in front of it, all alone. That’s dedication.

Though before I could post the above, another guy showed up, and is slapping shots on goal. The whack and boom of the shots echoes through the empty arena. At this moment, the shooter is kicking the goalie’s ass. Goalie needs to get settled. Shooter can put it anywhere he wants to. More people taking the ice. I think shooter might be their coach. If he is, at some point he has to consider that what he’s doing isn’t making his netminder better.

“Come on, dude!” I just said from high above and behind glass. This goalie I started out respecting won’t commit now, won’t challenge the other guys, won’t pick out a threat and say “I’m stopping that one.” It’s not that he’s getting beat, it’s that he’s not committing. Even in warmup I expect to see the goalie attitude, that belief that even the most casual toss of a puck toward MY net is a personal affront. So that guy in the first paragraph? Apparently he doesn’t exist. Good job, coach!

A Quick Tip for Would-Be Hockey Goalies

If you follow hockey at all, you’ve heard of the five-hole. It’s the space between a hockey goalkeeper’s legs, and it’s a popular place to shoot at.

All NHL goalies that I know of use the ‘butterfly‘, a ligament-stretching move in which the knees are pushed together and the lower legs are parallel to the ice, forming a solid barrier to any pucks skidding along the surface. Why shoot for the five-hole, then, when it is so easily turned into an impenetrable wall? It’s all about time.

When a player slaps the puck toward the net, the time it takes a goaltender to close the hole is limited by the acceleration of gravity. Even after he recognizes the threat his body must fall into position, and no amount of strength or conditioning can make it happen faster.

I just watched in slow motion as the Rangers goaltender let a puck through his five-hole, and I had to cringe. You see, a lot of five-hole goals are preventable, and pretty easily, too. As the goalie collapsed into position, his stick was off to the side, pointing directly at the shooter, and completely useless. Had he simply kept his stick in front of him as he went into the butterfly, the goal would have bounced harmlessly away. His sloppiness might mean his team will not compete for the Stanley cup this year.

This failing is frightfully common. I often see keepers lift their sticks as they move down, and while that will get their legs into position a couple of milliseconds earlier, they lose their most important interim defense. It is a completely natural reaction to throw your arms up to get your body down faster. Don’t do that!

So, kids who want to be the next great net minder, when you’re practicing dropping into the butterfly long into the night (you are practicing long into the night, right?), always, always have your stick and always keep it in position. Watch video of yourself or have someone watch your stick as you work, and watch your GAA go down. I don’t think there’s any more easily correctable habit in all of hockey that can make such a difference.

Nice Drop

I’m trying to get all the little pieces of my Web application working together, but I’ve adjourned to a venue that also has hockey. I just saw a pretty sweet play that will not show up on the stat sheet anywhere, or even in the highlights, but I have to mention it, even though a bad guy did it.

Picture a guy skating into enemy territory, the puck on his stick. Two defenders close in on him. He skates on. Yet he knows he’s got a teammate behind him, so as he skates into the valley of death he leaves the puck behind. That’s a drop pass. The first guy skates ahead, drawing the defenders, leaving space behind him for his wingman to do some real damage.

Tonight I saw maybe the best drop pass ever. The first guy in didn’t just leave the puck for his buddy, he pulled back and swung as hard as he could — over the puck. Every defender reacted as if he was shooting, crashing toward the net. First Guy’s stick passed harmlessly over the puck and he drove to the net, and his trailer could have set up a picnic in the space left behind.

Happily the bad guys did not score. Still, I give them credit for the best drop pass I’ve ever seen.