Five Guys You Meet Playing Pickup Roller Hockey

Empire Roller Rink in Columbia, Mo., where pickup hockey on Tuesday was a highlight of my week in college.

Pickup roller hockey is always a blast. It doesn’t even matter if you play well that particular night. It’s about the cast of characters that takes time out of their otherwise unathletic lives to play the game they love. Here are a few guys you’re sure to run into at Open Hockey.

That Flashy Douche

There’s no denying this guy can play. He’s probably the most skilled guy out there, but my gosh, doesn’t he know it. Mr. FancyPants can usually found dogging it until the puck is on his tape. At that point, everybody else out there is transformed into a traffic cone. While helpless defenders swing their sticks at the guy’s legs, he unleashes toe drags, through-the-leg dekes, one-handed maneuvers and, if he’s feeling particularly obnoxious, the attempted “Michigan.”

Play some solid defense against this guy, and he’ll become frustrated quite quickly. I played against one of these guys just last week, and when one of my teammates stepped in front of him, he responded “Play the body on me again and I’ll break your f*&%ing jaw.” Spoken like a true roller hockey player.

Gramps

gramps

Most of the guys at the drop-in session are in their 20s or 30s, but that hasn’t deterred this Vietnam vet from lacing up every week for the past 40 years. Gramps might or might not have upgraded to inline blades from classic four-wheelers, but if he has, his blades are still the ones with the plastic chassis. You’d make fun of his old-school Jofa bucket, but as long as Teemu is still in the NHL, it’s not really out of style. His gloves were undoubtedly manufactured by Cooper and his stick is wooden because, well, duh.

Don’t let his age fool you though: this guy is tough as nails and knows every trick in the book. Try to take the puck around him and Gramps will get three slashes in on your wrists before you’ve taken two strides. Hear somebody yelling for a pass? It’s probably everyone’s favorite AARP member looking for a cheap steal. By the time you’re done with one pickup game, you’ll always want Gramps on your team. Just don’t get him started on Eddie Shore and ’39 Bruins.

Captain Serious

Although it’s endearing reference to Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews in NHL circles, there’s nothing to like about this guy. You might just be looking to get a weeknight workout in with some friends, but for CS, it’s Game 7 of the Cup Finals. While you were drinking Keystones in the parking lot with Gramps, CS had already been at the rink for an hour doing pushups while listening to Master of Puppets on loop.

When this guy scores a goal, you know he’s breaking out a celly that most would reserve for, you know, a game that actually counts. On the bench, he’s the one yelling at guys to hustle, demanding “short shifts” and dishing out the occasional “‘atta boy” or pat on the ass.

Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into when you head into the corner with CS. Yes, it’s a Tuesday night drop-in game, but that won’t stop him from taking you into the wall, moving the puck up the boards and holding you to the ground until the play is halfway down the rink. And, oh boy, don’t tell him to calm down. “This is hockey, not ballet”, after all.

Woody Woodpecker

CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK. CLACK. Oh, do you want the puck or something? If Woody is open, he won’t be for long. This guy ALWAYS wants the puck and he makes it known to both his teammates and defenders alike. If Woody’s playing defense, chances are your pass to the point is getting intercepted and going the other way. Occasionally Woody might throw in a “Yo”, “I’m Open”, or “Over here”, but the effect is the same.

The Goalie Whose Fault That  Certainly Wasn’t

There’s nothing better than walking into the rink and finding out there are two goalies and you don’t have to shoot on the dreaded board or play posts. So, with that in mind, it’s important to be patient with goalies because it’s better than not having them. That said, this guy will drive you up a wall when he makes an excuse for every goal he lets up. It’s not the fact that his five-hole is the size of a pornstar’s and it’s not his fault he gets beat short side every time. Nope, it’s your fault or his equipment’s fault or a fluke.

Some classics:

  • “I haven’t let up a goal since I switched out of that Jofa helmet. That thing was awful.”
  • After letting up a goal on a floater from Center: “That wasn’t a soft goal. His slapshot is like a curveball.”
  • “Dude, you were screening me.”
  • “Thanks for the screen, man.”
  • “You gotta get that guy out of the front. I was screened.”
  • “What do you mean it hit off my glove? You’re blind.”
  • “It’s physically impossible to keep my stick on the floor protecting my five-hole.”
  • “Great defense, guys.”
  • “How was I supposed to know he’d go backhand?”
  • His pads are way bigger than mine.”
  • “If this were ice hockey, I would’ve stopped that.” (and then the other way around when he’s playing ice hockey)
  • “You wouldn’t have to worry about my play if you scored a few more goals.”

You know what, man. Go home. We’d rather use the shooter tutor.

Every rink or parking lot has its own cast of characters. Tell us about your pickup hockey crew in the comments.

Five More Years in the Desert Thanks to City Council Circus

GlendaleCityCouncil2013

I think my hockey fandom has reached an all-time high (or low, depending on how you look at it.) For almost 2 hours, I watched a live stream of the Glendale City Council meeting and vote, about whether to approve a 15-year lease agreement to keep the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena in Phoenix. (A brief aside: that’s the 2nd worst stupidest arena name in sports. The worst? The football stadium that sits right beside it, University of Phoenix Stadium.) But as I wrote yesterday, at least it’s something hockey-related to pass the time. I even called my Aunt Carolyn, who lives in Glendale, to tell her the eyes of the hockey world were fixed upon her town. She said she got sick of hearing about this story before the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico…that long ago.

The Council voted 4-3 in favour of the deal that will finally give the Coyotes a stable owner, willing to keep the franchise in Phoenix. Unfortunately, that “stability” is only good for the next 5 years, because Royal Sports & Entertainment (RSE), the group that will buy the team, insisted on an out-clause in the agreement. If the team loses $50 million, or after 5 years pass, RSE can break the lease and move the team. Why, exactly, will Coyotes fans want to buy a new Mike Smith jersey if it could be obsolete in 5 years? Why will they plunk down thousands of dollars on season tickets for a team that could break their hearts as soon as 2018? Those questions assume that there are Coyotes fans to begin with. To me, they seem as imaginary as the Lochness Monster.

We could go back on forth on the pros and cons of the deal, and of having an ICE hockey team in THE DESERT. But we’ve been doing so since 2009. The biggest question from tonight is this: how on earth did those city council members get elected? If you caught any of the proceedings, the incompetence probably seeped through your computer screen. If you didn’t, it’s enough to know that one of the members based part of his vote on 6 emails he received…5 in favour of keeping the team, and 1 against. So in a city with a population of more than 4 million, those emails helped sway the decision. Another council member compared the RSE representative to firefighters, noting the dedication and passion he demonstrated. In the wake of this, probably not a good idea. If tonight’s circle jerk is representative—in any way—of how local government works in this country, we’re in trouble.

The ARIZONA Coyotes (the name change appears imminent) have their window to succeed in Glendale: 5 years. If they don’t, they’ll head to Seattle or Quebec City, both of which will have shiny, new arenas. You can probably tell I don’t think they have a snowball’s chance in hell (see what I did there…snow melting in the heat…ice hockey in the desert) of filling that arena on a consistent basis. But now that this mess is finally over, I’m hopping on the Coyotes’ bandwagon. What a story it would be, if they could endure all this bullshit and win a Stanley Cup. Something along these lines.

Please…I’m Begging You…Make the Time Move Faster

Maybe the lockout wasn’t quite as bad as we thought. No doubt, it felt like a back-stabbing in the midst of it; owners and players squabbling over how to divvy up the $30 I pay for my ticket in section 312 in Scottrade Center. The lunacy of taking away the coolest game on earth (trademark NHL, circa 1998) was almost too much to overcome. I took it hard. I swore off the league and promised I wouldn’t come back to the game this season. And I was able to stay away for the most part…until the playoffs. They were spectacular this year, from the Blues’ first round loss to the Kings through Game 6 last Monday night in Boston. I watched at least one hockey game per night for 2 straight months. The bitterness and anger I lobbed toward the game evaporated little by little, with each hip check, poke check, and pad save.

Now that the season’s over, I’ve realized the one and only POSITIVE aspect of the lockout:  it shortened the off-season! You know, the offseason…that dreadful, miserable, humid, sweaty stretch of time between the end of the Final and Opening Night. During the lockout, at least there was the possibility the players and the owners would strike a deal, so at any given time, we were—theoretically—only a week away from hockey. But now, as we sit here nearing Independence Day, there is absolutely ZERO chance of an NHL game being played for the next 3+ months. Which hurts. But at least by Independence Day this year, the Cup Final still lingers fresh in our memories. Other years, live hockey has been dead for 3 weeks by July 4th. Sure, free agency and the draft are exciting. But those passing fads don’t fill the time between 7:00 and 10:00 every other night.

If it sounds like I’m BSing, and just trying to find some sliver of a silver lining to this whole lockout, given that we’ll probably have a new one on our hands September 1, 2019, well yeah, you got that right.

We don’t know just yet when the 2013-2014 NHL season will start (in normal years, the schedule comes out in mid-July, but with the Phoenix Coyotes in limbo, who knows when it’ll be released?) but the first Saturday in October is when most of the league typically plays its first game. This year, that’s October 5th. 7:00 is when the Blues would play if they’re in the Central time zone. Here’s something to do to help pass the time. Enjoy. It’s almost as exciting as watching baseball.

Gone are the DiPietro days

The Truth of My Youth

I was a shaggy-haired, just-starting-to-shave 15-year-old Islanders fan in 2006. I had been through the lost year of my youth as an 8th grader in 2004-2005, and I was fresh off of the “Neil Smith firing/Garth Snow hiring” that was zany enough to make the 2003 Laviolette firing seem sensible.

Some childhood, I know.

But what happened that September shook me to my core: ESPN’s Scott Burnside was on the right side of a zinger.

The latest punch line was unveiled Tuesday afternoon, when it was announced that DiPietro, a goalie who has won zero playoff games, had been awarded the longest contract in the history of the game and what is believed to be the second-longest contract in the history of pro sports.

Ha, ha, ha. Ho, ho, ho. Stop it, you’re killing us. Or is it just the franchise that’s being rubber-chickened to death?

Image

Wait, wait, wait, wait wait. You mean I’m gonna be F*%$ing 30 and we’re STILL gonna have this guy under contract. I couldn’t wrap my mind adolescent mind around it: the image of my young children and I standing along with 16,000 orange-and-blue clad fans at Rick DiPietro’s final game at the Nassau Lighthouse MegaColiseum 3000. It just didn’t seem right.

Being an Isles fan had been tough, but I had no idea what I was in for. I can’t imagine Rick did either.

Image

“…what a long strange trip it’s been.

A New Era

When the Islanders’ buyout of DiPietro is official, they will have rid themselves of what is, without a doubt, the worst contract in the history of sports. Yes, the Islanders will still be paying DiPietro 29 years after drafting him, but the Islanders won’t have his $4.5-million cap hit to take up space under the salary cap floor.

But it’s so much more than that to the Islanders’ tortured fanbase. The franchise has turned a corner.

Gone are the days of slotting Bridgeport’s starter into the big club’s lineup months before the season has even started.

Gone are the days of the “braintrust” pretending this is the year that the Glass Man will return to form.

Gone are the days of wondering why our “franchise goaltender” is devolving into a scraggly bearded hobo.

Gone are the days of a 60% Ranger-fan-filled Coliseum chanting “DP Sucks.”

Gone are the days of being the butt of every joke, the “your-team-sucks” trump card for 29 other fan bases.

“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

Brian Burke would’ve been rooting for the Leafs in Game 7, if he was watching

Image

Brian Burke, right, and his son Patrick Burke, spoke to attendees of the Sports Management Worldwide Hockey Career Conference on Saturday in New York.

NEW YORK — Brian Burke was a shortened-season removed from his tenure as the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs when the club made its first playoff appearance in seven seasons. But that didn’t stop Burke from throwing his support behind the organization that fired him one day after the 2012 lockout was lifted. The further the Leafs went, Burke said Saturday at the Sports Management Worldwide Hockey Career Conference, “the better it would’ve looked on my resume.” After all, it was Burke who assembled the Leafs squad that had the eventual Eastern Conference-champion Boston Bruins on the ropes in Game 7.

Still, Burke wasn’t watching when the Leafs squandered a 4-1 third-period lead before ultimately losing 5-4 in overtime. When asked about his immediate reaction to the collapse, Burke explained he was in Europe at the time for the IIHF World Championship following a visit to the Canadian troops in Afghanistan. At the Mercy of Swedish and Finnish hotel television, he missed most of the first round, including all of the Leafs’ games.

When he finally caught the recording of the last fifteen minutes, Burke said he couldn’t help but feel for his former players.

“That’s going to haunt them forever,” he said.

Visors, Hybrid Icing and the Ringette Line

Burke said it’s about time that visors and hybrid icing made their way into the game, moves he claimed to have been championing for years. During his time as the Leafs’ GM, Burke “begged” his players, especially defensemen, to wear visors

Still Burke isn’t 100 percent satisfied with the NHL’s on-ice product. Although Burke acknowledged removing the red line and eliminating two-line passes was a success, he believes the move has led to a sacrifice of skill in favor of speed.

“When teams in our league are breaking out by hammering the puck to the blue line, we’ve taken too much skill out of the game,” Burke said after comparing the back and forth stretch passes to a game of tennis.

Burke has been a proponent of the ringette line, which would extend across the top of the face-off circles. If implemented, players would have to carry the puck across the ringette line in order to avoid being called for a two-line pass. Burke recalled that when he first suggested the ringette line in 1993, people said “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Then when Scotty Bowman suggested it a few years later, it was ‘We should look at this.'”

Islanders Missed the Boat on Bernier

Image

After spending years stockpiling talent both up front and on the blueline, the Islanders’ biggest need this off-season is an answer to the goalie question. Any arguments?

Moving on, then.

It was a one-man show between the pipes for the Islanders in 2013, as head coach Jack Capuano put the team on Evgeni Nabokov’s 37-year-old shoulders. “Nabby” didn’t disappoint in the regular season; his 23 were one shy of the league lead.

But the Nabokov formula for success over 48-games didn’t carry over to the playoffs, won’t cut it in an 82-game season and certainly isn’t the long-term answer in net. Neither is Kevin Poulin, the 23-year-old who Patrick Roy once called the best goaltender in Canadian Junior Hockey, but has yet to prove his worth in Bridgeport or in limited action with the big club.

Bringing in former Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Bernier, 24, would have at least offered the Islanders a sense of direction and, at best, could have provided the biggest piece of the puzzle since the 2009 selection of John Tavares, a goalie to build around for years to come. Instead, general manager Garth Snow sat idly, while Toronto acquired Bernier at a shockingly reasonable price.

Many hockey enthusiasts, this writer included, have praised Snow for his patience and dedication to the rebuild. But with success to build on and a buyer’s market created by a reduced salary cap, it’s time for Snow to roll the dice in hopes of bringing in players to turn the Islanders’ collection of stockpiled assets into a serious contender. Without giving up much, as Toronto showed, the Islanders could have added a goalie with serious potential to make an impact at the NHL level. The Kings would have had to consider any package built around Nino Niederreiter, who has reportedly asked to be traded, or any of several other top prospects.

As outstanding as Bernier has looked in limited NHL action, there’s certainly no way of knowing whether or not he has what it takes to be the franchise goaltender. That said, he would have had a far better chance of filling that role than anyone the Islanders have under contract. If the Islanders opted to bring back Nabokov, the two could have split time with Nabokov serving as a veteran mentor to his younger half.

Missing out on Bernier isn’t the end of the world by any means, but hopefully isn’t a sign of things to come from Islanders management. For a team that has been lacking a true build-your-team-around goaltender since Rick DiPietro’s body turned to glass, it’s time to stop sitting around and start kicking the tires when top-tier talent becomes available. There’s a solid group of free agent goalies out there for the taking.

Related Reading: