Wednesday, October 24, 2007

CAN/AM Hockey, Part II: Highs and Lows

Missed Part I? Click here.

Standing with the AMHL Photographer near the top of the Olympic Jumping Complex, the wind howling through the Champlain Valley, I’m—as the Carpenters’ song goes—on “Top of the World.” To our right, the bobsled track winds down Mt. Van Hoevenberg. To the left, Whiteface Mountain is shrouded in a benevolent cloud. Further left, the Saturday sunlight flashes off the Olympic Center’s white roof. And all around Lake Placid, foliage—patches of bright oranges and vibrant reds—flares

About an hour, I’ll listen to the big-time guest speaker the CAN/AM crowd has landed. Life is good, especially since I made the decision to skate with the nagging lower ankle sprain.

“Pain is temporary. Pride is forever. Never give up.” My wife pointed to these words gracing the colored paper signs greeting me at orientation on Thursday afternoon. That evening, I learned I’d have a professional trainer to tape my ankle before each skating session, a spacious locker room to house fifteen skaters and three coaches—and nutritious foodstuffs (no donuts here) to feed us. How could I not skate?

In the locker room before our first session on the USA Rink (not the one where Team USA upset the mighty CCCP), Coach Tom Broderick informed Team Blue, those of us who have ample hockey experience but little talent, told us power skating would be his “own special torture” for us.

“You’re gonna fall,” the short man with the sharp wit said. Brody’s goal was to push us beyond our comfort zone and to make us laugh.

From the basic hockey position to skating forward with more personal strides, I began to grasp how Mike Moore skates so fast with what seems so little effort. (For those unfamiliar with the AMHL, Mike is the teammate I cover for when the long and lean defenseman rushes up ice with the puck).

Of course, skating isn’t all we practiced. In the four two-hour sessions from Thursday night through Saturday morning, Brody and our other coaches, Grant “Goagy” Goegan and Randy Uens covered the finer points of passing, shooting, and stickhandling as well as positioning as we drilled or scrimmaged.

Everyone improved. “Cement Block Bob,” whose pals had bestowed the nickname upon the fifty-five-year-old plodding defenseman, scored in a three-on-three-drill. Jan “the Man” Slow (no foolin’, that’s his real name) scored on a breakaway.

“It may say SLOW on your back, but them was some fast hands,” I told the mental health professional/country & western singer with the crazy hair.

I don’t have enough time or space to tell you about all the characters, but we had plenty of them: Danny (a goalie) and “Doc;” a guy who wore the Snoopy T-shirt beneath his jersey; and what I call the "Canadian Peaches"—three Canadians who live in Georgia.

Two of these Canadian clowns sprouted fake mullets before that famous guest speaker I mentioned, sitting with deadpan faces.

Barry Melrose spotted them. “I guess the rest of you guys didn’t get the memo,” he joked and then spent the next hour telling stories and answering questions.

Barry Melrose twenty feet in front of me, my dad on my left, my wife on my right: I was soaring, sharing these moments with my family and my new hockey friends.

This on-top-of–the-world feeling lasted through the afternoon session, even after botching a breakaway that could have iced a victory for us in the Saturday scrimmage, and into Sunday.

Continue to Part III.

Update
10/31/07

The reference to the Canadian Peaches was erroneous. Sorry for that. Although one player wore a shirt advertising a collection of Canadians in Atlanta, none of the three campers from Georgia is Canadian (but one's wife is). See comments below for details.
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