Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Why I Love Hockey - Part 10

Why I Love Hockey #10 - Street Hockey
When I first moved to Buffalo I was fascinated by the number of kids who played hockey in the street and in their driveways. I know that sounds ridiculous to people who grew up in hockey areas but I didn't hold a hockey stick in my hands until I was 19-years-old and I was a pretty athletic, sports-obssessed kid. It's safe to say that when I was a child, kids in Alabama did not play hockey. I would sit out in the yard of the apartment we were renting at the time with a book and just watch for hours. I loved it. I loved that a whole group of kids would congregate every day and play a game and if for some reason the whole gang couldn't come, a couple of kids would just shoot around. I loved that they all had jerseys or t-shirts of their favorite players and I loved that they were all Sabres players. I loved that if they were short-handed they'd prop a couple of planks up in one of the goals. I loved the way they would, with a total lack of embarrassment or self-conciousness, call their own highlights, pretending to be playing with the pros. I loved hearing their little tiny voices doing their best Rick Jeanneret impressions - "He shoots, he scooooooooooooores, top shelf where mama hides the cookies!"

My husband has a big family - six siblings and fifteen nieces and nephews - and where one or more Bermingham is gathered, a hockey game is likely to break-out. I love watching him and his brothers playing around like they're 10 again (and moaning and groaning while limping and holding their backs a few hours later). I love watching my nephew, in the throes of a goalie phase, waddling out to net with full padding and a baseball glove. I love watching the kids laugh and celebrate with each other when they make one of the dads look like a fool with a deke or a great steal. I love watching the grown-ups pretend to be put out while patting the kid on the head as he runs by, little smiles and lots of pride on their faces

And I love playing. I go to gym with my class every day and the hockey unit is by far my favorite. Ed, the gym teacher, Kevin, the aide for the class who takes gym with us, and I all run around like we're one of the kids and I think we have as much fun - if not more - than them. We hack away at each others ankles, taunt each other good-naturedly, turn the kids against the other adults ("Okay, guys, under no circumstances does Heather score!"), and compare ourselves to our favorite Sabres and do our best impressions of Rick and Jim ("Dylan Francis robs him blind!"). You've should've seen me the day I shot from pratically beside the net and lifted the puck over the goalie's shoulder and into the top corner of the net. I ran around that gym screaming and yelling in a celebration that would've made Maxim Afinogenov proud while Kevin and Ed rolled their eyes and shook their heads and the kids giggled and high-fived me.

I think I love it because I know, in my heart, THAT'S hockey. It's not salary caps and free agents and players moving on to new teams and bigger contracts every three years. It's not fans calling sports radio and griping about what management has or hasn't done. It's not newspaper story after newspaper story about a deal that went bad and who's to blame for it going that way. It's not even really about finishing at the top of the conference and lifting the Cup at the end because let's face it, only one team gets to do that. Hockey is Max Afinogenov belly-flopping on the ice because he can't think of any other way to celebrate scoring the biggest goal of his life. It's the guys on the bench dropping their jaws and hooting and hollering at the amazing move Tim Connolly just pulled off. It's teammates passing puck after puck to Jochen Hecht because they want so badly for him to get that 20th goal. It's that little tiny smile sneaking across Ryan Miller's face after he just shut down the opponent during a shoot-out even though you know he doesn't want to look too excited. It's Derek Roy, Brian Campbell, and Paul Gaustad hanging around after practice and playing one-on-one keep away, shoving each other and giggling, just like my kids in gym class. I love that stuff. I love it so much.

The Sabres put together a little video to play before every playoff game this season. I don't have any idea if people outside of Buffalo find it touching at all, but I find myself choking up at the same point every time. It starts with the kids running around playing hockey and it culminates with the cut from the row of kids in their little helmets to the Sabres getting ready for a game. I think it gets me because the pros are the most fun to watch when they're still that little boy that ran around in the street or skated around the rink. In those moments, hockey is practically perfect.


Gambler said...

I have to admit, I've never played street or floor hockey even though I grew up in WNY, but I knew plenty of people who did. But even when I was playing one-on-one soccer (my sport of choice--I have horrible hand-eye coordination) with my brother in my backyard, it was not uncommon for us to call our own highlights in Rick Jeanneret fashion. We also assigned ourselves names of hockey players sometimes. I was usually Stu Barnes.

That paragraph about hockey being about the joy of the game and belly-flops and keep away is beautiful. And so true. I want to frame it.

The Goo-Goo dolls video is just... I cry every time I watch it. Every. Time. When they showed it before the first playoff game this season I was watching it in Minnesota, and I felt so close to Buffalo right then. My boyfriend was like "Are you seriously crying about hockey?" He didn't understand. I'm from East Aurora, and working at Vidler's was my summer job in high school, so seeing Ed in the video just killed me. I live down the street from him. Quite simply the sweetest man you'll ever meet.

Kate said...

Aww, Heather, you have been on a real winning streak with these posts lately. Another fine, fine entry.

And Sabres ladies, I think we are driving some people crazy over at IPB with our Sabre talk. Now, obviously we are going to need to continue discussing the Sabres IN GREAT detail, and with extreme emotional commitment. That we must continue our Sabre wailing is BEYOND discussion. But maybe we should try a little of it over here, and see if we like it. Would you be willing to host some of the spill over IPB Sabre talk Heather? Also, we're NOT stopping our Sabre blabbing all together at IPB. That would be another impossiblity. We'll just give them a little break to forgive us for Drury-Gate: THE MOST TRAMATIC DAY IN ALL OF HOCKEY HISTORY.

I don't know why they don't understand. Honestly. :)

Heather B. said...

Kate, I did feel a little bad earlier when everyone darted out of the room over at IBP (although most of us there were Sabres fans and let's face it, there's been a lot to talk about!). But yes, by all means come over here and yap any time! I certainly don't mind and I don't care if it has anything to do with what I've posted about.

Gambler, I have a nephew who just graduated from high school who is still called "Stewey" by all the uncles because he was a HUGE Stu Barnes fan. I was there when he met Stu at the Sabres carnival one year and it was totally adorable. I think it was the best day of his life.

And thank you both for the kind words about the post. I needed to write something that didn't have anything to do with you-know-who and you-know-who.

Which reminds me, Kate, you should absolutely go to an open practice during pre-season. It's very relaxed and I think you get a pretty good glimpse of the guys' personalities. That's how I decided Soupy was my Sabres Best Friend. It could be a great time to research your future Sabres boyfriend!

Kate said...

OPEN PRACTICE?! Whoa. You just blew my mind, Heather. Observing the players in a relaxed atmosphere sounds absurdly fun. Is there any chance the practices start in the next couple of days? I'm ready!

Gambler said...

Yes, a new forum for Sabre-blabbing is most definitely in order. Thank you, Heather, for opening your lovely comment-thread to us.

There really is just so much to talk about, even though we're staying sane(ish) and not going into "The world is ending!" mode. Which is a very very good sign. If this really were the end of the world, we would just be able to say"Our captains are gone. We're finished." Instead we get to discuss Crunchy and his Cranky Pants, and secret captaincy. And all those other young'uns who will start the season with everything to prove and nothing to lose.

Can the season start tomorrow? Pretty please?

Heather B. said...

Can I just say that I really don't understand how the "end of the world" people can just overlook the fact that we have one of the best young goalies in the league? Hello? I mean, we have loads of other talent too but how do you just ignore Ryan Miller? They're not even saying "Yeah, we have Ryan but that's it." They're just not mentioning him AT ALL! If this doesn't change, he's going to be REALLY cranky by the time training camp rolls around.

Gambler said...

Heather, you're right. Also, I don't know how people can completely overlook the fact that Drury and Briere weren't even part of our best line. Once we re-sign Roy and Vanek (which will happen) our best line, and arguably one of the best in the NHL, is still together. Now, Lindy might decide to spread the wealth by breaking them up, but havoc hasn't been wreaked on our line combinations. I mean, Drury didn't even have a set line for most of the season.

Kate said...

Now, a cranky Crunchy could certainly be to our benefit next season, but we don't want him to get too cranky. I don't like all of this "Sabres don't take care of their players" talk ONE BIT. We'll have to pick up the slack and give Crunchy some extra love so he doesn't turn out to be a RANGER somewhere down the line.

brian s. said...

This post just brought a huge smile to my face as I remembered the times we played street hockey at my friends house and broke all of their garage windows. The only thing I've ever experienced that is more touching/enjoyable to watch than what you described was seeing all the little kids in Africa set up full fields in the dirt roads and play with a flat ball, with me right there with them on a good portion of the days.

Gambler, EA soccer was a thorn in our side as we could never beat them and it's still a sore subject.

Gambler said...

Kate - You're right about Crunchy getting too cranky. It was great to hear that one comment about the rear-view mirror, but now I think everyone needs to leave him alone to golf for the rest of the summer. Otherwise I think he might show up in October with a bag full of broken clubs, demanding a trade. Don't over-crank the Crunchy, people!

Oh, and since I didn't see your comment on IPB about open practice until just now, I think it would be ridiculously fun to go to an open practice together!

Brian - I don't know if you're talking about EA high school soccer, but if so, I didn't play for them. I went to high school in Buffalo. I did used to play for the village travel team during the summer until I hit high school and they cut me. In any case, rest assured that it was never me doing the damage to your team. I have zero soccer skills. I say my hand-eye coordination is bad, but really coordination of any kind eludes me.

Heather B. said...

Brian, part me of we really wishes I'd grown up here just so I could've played hockey. I feel like I totally missed out! Your Africa experience sounds awesome. I had a friend who went with a church group a few years ago and she still talks about it all the time. I can't even imagine how tough but inspiring something like that would be.

Gambler and Kate, I'm so on for open practice. It would be cool to put some faces with names and like Kate said, there'll be fun, adorable hockey players there to keep us occupied :-)

Gambler, for some reason I'm happy to hear that Ed, the Vidler's guy, is really as sweet as he appears.

Gambler said...

Okay, say it with me everyone: I. Hate. Bucky. Gleason.

He took a nice story about Todd Marchant's day with the Cup, and turned it into a whine-fest about how the only way Buffalo gets to see it is when WNYers move away and bring it home. And of course, it's all Darcy Regier's fault. He dumped McKee, Grier, and Dumont (which was such a mistake we went out and won the President's Trophy), didn't do anything at the trade deadline (I guess Zubie's eight postseason assists just scored themselves), and signed Numminen when he should have brought up Sekera or signed Souray (because more youth and another defensively unsound defenseman is exactly what this club needs).

Honestly, if Buffalo ever needs another tourist destination, they should just start advertising as the home of the biggest pile of puke in human form.

Heather B. said...

Gambler, my husband emailed from work to complain about the same story. This morning I actually did what I've always threatened to do but never actually done: I emailed Bucky and told him he's a hack. (Okay, I put it a little more nicely than that. A little.) Seriously! You don't like management, you think they screwed up, you think they're going to screw everything else up... We get it! Give it a rest for one day and let us enjoy the story of a local boy done good.

If I had a subscription to the Buffalo News, I'd cancel it. As it is, I'll just continue to get most of my Sabres news from the internet.

Heather B. said...

Also, I love the implication that Ryan Miller is devastated by next year's team. I'm sure he was hoping to win the Cup this past season and I'm sure he's not going to exactly enjoy watching baby brother frolic around with it all day. But I doubt he's at home pissing and moaning about how next year's team has no chance.

brian s. said...

Wasn't Miller the first one to say it wasn't as big a deal that the two captains were gone? And now he's home crying about having no chance to win the Cup next year? Good reporting.

Kate said...

You guys, I have been reduced to leaving cranky comments on the Buffalo News Sabres Edge Blog! I am so outraged by their smugness. I want to take those bastards DOWN! (one anonymous comment at a time. :P) FYI, it's kind of fun to leave comments on the stories that are a few days old, because now that the outrage has died down, the comments have sort of dried up. The newest comments are at the top, so right now, my crankiness is just sitting there underneath the articles. I know it's a small comfort, but I'll take it!

Shmee said...

That was a great hockey video and sums up everything great about hockey. I am so happy that you see kids playing hockey in the streets. No matter what the talking heads say, hockey is surging in America as evidenced by the many American players in the draft this year.

Heather B. said...

Shmee, I agree. I think it's cool that we're starting to see American kids coming out of markets that are not necessarily considered hockey markets.

Kate and Gambler, Bucky responded to my email. He said that if he didn't point out that Marchant won a Cup while playing for "the right organization that does things the right way", readers would've emailed him saying, "See what Marchant did with the Ducks? Why can't the Sabres do that?" To which I say, :::eyeroll:::

I tried to leave a negative comment in regards to the Drury contract story the day it came out and my comment got flagged as spam! I'm convinced someone read it, decided they didn't like it, and threw it back. (And I'm only kind of joking, sadly.)

Kate said...

Wow, Heather! I love that Bucky sits in his office all day responding to email all, "You can't possibly understands the demands this community makes on me! I am MORALLY obligated to write what I write. The people demand it!"

Gambler said...

"See what Marchant did with the Ducks? Why can't the Sabres do that?"

Because the Ducks showed up, and the Sabres didn't. Honestly, I can't get over how much of a bye the players are getting here. Darcy put together a fantastic team for Buffalo last year. I mean they won the President's Trophy! They were proven winners! And then all of the sudden the playoffs come around and they disappear. Whose fault is that? Not Regier's. That was all on the players, and (as much as it pains me to admit it) Lindy. Now, I don't want to sound like I'm being too hard on the boys, because they did still entertain me, and they did make it a long way without playing their best hockey. But has everyone in Buffalo forgotten the piss-poor effort in the ECF and the eye poison that was game 3? You can't pin that on Regier. But from the talk in Buffalo you'd think he was the root of all this team's problems. "If he could just be a smart GM, and put together a good team, then we would win the Cup!" Well, guess what? He was, and he did, and we still didn't. So go blame someone else.

That's why I find the last part of the article about Miller particularly horrible. Bucky, what do you think Miller finds more disappointing when he looks at his brother's Cup: that Darcy has "ruined" the team for October? Or that his teammates (including the "heroes" Drury and Briere, might I add) left him out to dry in May?

On a different note, my brother is good friends with Tom Donahoe's son, and he can't wait to ask him how his dad feels about not being the most hated GM in Buffalo anymore.

Paige said...

I'm probably too old for this- but I totally play street hockey all the time. Usually I'm wearing my Afinogenov jersey, and I meet a few of my friends, and some guys who think we're worthless hockey players (those sexist pigs!)and we play until we get blisters on our feet. Actually, I live in the same town as Vidler's, that red building, and I skate past their a lot...

I totally agree w/ u tho heather, as soon as I moved here from only a few hours away, it really surprised me how much kids luv street hockey. The craze especially hit during the Sabres' '06 playoff run.

Meg said...

signed Numminen when he should have brought up Sekera

I love that he's got his panties in a twist over limiting Sekera's NHL time when, by all accounts, Sekera is definitely not ready for the NHL and needs another season getting a regular shift in the AHL. Particularly given his injuries this year.

Bucky saw that he had a good camp and thinks the guy is just stuck down there. Newsflash: if he's that good, he'll force his way onto the team. But he's not that good yet.

Bucky throws in stuff like that and it just shows how little he actually understands. Ugh.

Heather B. said...

Kate, that's Bucky - only thinking of his readership! Today, I was seriously wishing I had a subscription to the Buffalo News just so I could write an outraged letter to the editor along with a request to cancel.

Gambler, I hadn't even thought of that but you're so right. Let's put *some* of the blame on the guys on the ice. If something broke down in the lockerroom, that's not Darcy's doing.

Paige, you're never too old! If I had friends who would play with me, I would totally be up for it. I thought about joining a league of some sort last year but we didn't have a car. Maybe this year!

Meg, I have similar issues with Bucky harping on Souray and what a great pick-up he would be. Maybe - maybe - he would help our powerplay but he's not going to help our defense and just because he's a big guy, it doesn't mean he's a gritty, phyiscal grinder. Because he's not. And you know what I love most of all? If Darcy does sign Souray and he starts turning over the puck and shooting wide of the net as he's prone to do, who's going to write an article slamming Darcy for making a bad signing? Yep.

Gambler said...

Bucky saw that he had a good camp and thinks the guy is just stuck down there.

Actually, I seriously doubt he put even that much thought into it. Given that he quotes management as saying "We're not going to sacrifice young talent to lock in older players" (which was obviously intended to apply to Drury/Briere vs Vanek/Roy), I'm willing to bet his thought process was simply "Look, Numminen's old! And this guy (whoever the hell he is) is young! Liar, liar pants on fire, Darcy!"

And if we didn't re-sign Teppo, he'd bemoan the loss of all our veteran leadership. Dude needs to be slapped.

Gambler said...

I have similar issues with Bucky harping on Souray and what a great pick-up he would be.

He conveniently forgets what happened the last time we dove into the UFA pool and brought out an offensive defenseman to overpay. Spacho man, anyone?

Gambler said...
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