It’s time to give Martin St. Louis the movie ending he deserves

I’ve realized that Martin St. Louis is either clairvoyant or is incredible in writing his own script that nobody wanted to read.

When the grumblings that the Tampa Bay Lightning captain wanted out became true, you could feel Tampa Bay shake with heartbreak and anger on both sides of the Sunshine Skyway.

Why now, fans thought? Why can’t you win with the Lightning–the team was rolling, fans also pondered.

St. Louis told reporters he wanted another kick at the Stanley Cup and specifically wanted to go to the New York Rangers. Brad Richards is there–the Conn Smythe winner from 2004 he carried the Cup with. So are familiar faces and former Bolts Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore.

Lightning fans, including myself crowed over Ryan Callahan potting points after the trade while Mighty Marty looked lost in the Big Apple.

Instead, crow is being served during the second course. The Lightning were bounced in four straight by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round with Ryan Callahan struggling to find the net while Marty found his groove in the playoffs. He’s been able to find the empty space at the far face-off circles again and even more important, his teammates now know where to look for him.

During the second round, his other France St. Louis had a heart attack and died. Somehow, the guy was able to focus and on pure heart and emotion he stepped up his game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Then just like 10 years ago, he met Montreal in the playoffs and devoured them with the help of buddy Brad Richards. He’s tied for eighth for playoff goals this year with six, has 15 points and has an OT winner.

Marty also said during his Tampa farewells he wanted his family to be closer to their offseason home in Greenwich, Conn., and allow his sons to play better hockey plus watch them play. Nobody would have thought he would have to put all his family planning into place this quickly–especially for unexpected tragedy–but he was in the right place at the right time.

Sure, Marty could instead be sitting in Tampa instead if he were still with the Bolts when his mother died. The attention from media wouldn’t have been as strong because it’s the offseason he would have probably been at his home in Greenwich anyway, and in a lot of ways it would contributed to a different story–a sad one of playoff heartbreak, a grumpy captain who wanted out and death.

That’s not the script Marty is writing. He’s becoming increasingly inspiring, and I wish some fans here in Tampa Bay would look at the bigger picture.

You are potentially watching a generational story of hockey lure unfold. The guy everybody counted out, even the Calgary Flames, rises to be a dominant player and champion, ages and becomes the villain when he finally his captain and says he’s checked out and will only go to one team. He picks his team, deals with the death of his mother and now is four wins away from a Stanley Cup.

This is what sports documentaries are made of. This is the story you won’t mind watching for the 500th time during the summer NHL Network hiatus.

This movie will end at a maximum of seven games, and Marty has certainly proven he’s the director. Nobody wants to see the alternate ending, either.

Marty: Give us the ending we’ve been waiting for.

Wesley Chapel ice rink hoping for 2016 opening, could have company

Cypress Creek Ice and Sports Complex

The Cypress Creek Ice and Sports Complex is expected to open fall 2015 at S.R. 56 and Interstate 75 in Wesley Chapel. Rendering provided

Update: The Cypress Creek Ice & Sports Complex, 3173 Cypress Creek Blvd., Wesley Chapel, wants to open in August 2016. was supposed to have broken ground in October 2014, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

I checked Pasco County building permits website on Jan. 11 and nothing has been issued for that site but the Tampa Tribune reports that they have been issued and groundbreaking is to take place in January 2015.

Original: Come August, ground is expected to be broken on the largest ice rink complex in Florida, and it’s coming to Tampa Bay.

The Cypress Creek Ice & Sports Complex could open as soon as fall 2015, the Tampa Tribune reported, and will be located on State Road 56 and Interstate 75. The rink will have the capability to run four sheets, including one Olympic, two mini practice rinks and will look to host the USF Bulls, visiting NHL teams and some mega tournaments.

The fourth rink will be multipurpose so it can be converted for indoor soccer/lacrosse, a basketball court, event space or you know, ice.

The guy behind the rink is Gordie Zimmermann, who formed a company called Z Mitch. It happens to be that the Canadian transplant is high school buddies with Lightning vice president and Stanley Cup captain Dave Andreychuck. Sounds like a good deal for the Lightning to try this place out.

The project will cost $16 million to $20 million, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported, and was not originally planned for Pasco County:

Z Mitch originally planned to build its ice facility in South Tampa or the airport area, but a property search, led by Deb Tamargo of R.O.I. Commercial Property Brokerage, didn’t pan out. “We put in a number of offers and finished second a few times, but we did motivate some buyers to exercise first right of refusal,” she quipped.
The change in focus to Pasco allowed the project’s footprint to double in size from its originally planned two rinks and six acres.

Oddly enough, a practice rink called Xtra Ice opened near the airport instead, offering private instruction and four-on-four hockey.

Kudos to Channel 10 for posting all the design slides, allowing me to have a few comments on the design:

  • Not crazy about the purple and green–you’re in Tampa Bay Lightning country not Orlando Solar Bears.
  • The exterior looks like a ’70s or ’80s concrete fortress. It’s like I’m staring at a practice rink version of Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ont. Ice rinks need more windows and glass to show the action and let some natural light in to make it feel authentic.
  • Savvy move to have a neighboring hotel to make it easy on teams looking for hotel rooms near the rink.
  • Good on them to use the Olympic rink for curling and short-track speed skating.
  • It appears that there will be a second floor that will be a viewing area, a restaurant, birthday party rooms and more to look over the main rink.
  • It’s smart to have the fourth rink being able to convert for other uses. Really, this rink probably will have three sheets going at a time. I predict the fourth will be used for a variety of uses that are not hockey more often than not. It would be wise to use that surface for roller hockey in the summer like the incredi-busy Ice Gardens in Laurel, Md.
  • I like that there is a laundry facility on site–good for both the physical therapy (bonus) and a host club.
  • It’s bizarre that there are basketball courts here. More crossover with lacrosse than basketball. Kind of an odd addition.
  • Can’t wait to find out who will be running the pro shop.

What’s kind of funny is that Pat DeLorenzo, a part-time NHL official who lives in Clearwater, has or maybe had at this point, plans for a twin rink plus build a banquet and event space nearby at State Road 54 near The Grove, Suncoast News reported.

DeLorenzo said in that report that he thinks Zimmermann’s rink is too big and that his would be a community rink, and despite DeLorenzo’s claim, there might be room for both. Just not in Wesley Chapel as they two would be five miles apart, according to the Tampa Bay Times:

DeLorenzo expects to finalize the sale on the 13-acre site in July. He doubts four rinks would succeed and noted that his plan for two NHL-sized rinks corresponds to area demographics.
“One of the things I believe is this area does not have anywhere near the ability to have four rinks all working at the same time,” he said.
DeLorenzo said the property’s owner, Anaheim, Calif.,-based Specialty Restaurants Corp., would provide some financing. The rest would come from outside investors and DeLorenzo’s development company, Sportsplex of America LLC.
He’s also considering adding a conference center for $4 million.
“I’m going on the idea that Gordie Zimmermann is not there and I’m doing this as if I’m alone,” DeLorenzo said.

Considering that Cyprees Creek will only have three full sheets of ice, maybe it DeLorenzo’s rink will work out, too, but only if one of his pads can be converted for multi-use. They ought to not try to put each other out of business. But still, five miles away is too close for comfort in Pasco.

I will say that during season when the Canadian snowbirds flock down here, the area ice rinks get incredibly busy and full of players looking for a team. So from November to Easter, they’ll have a good crowd.

Rink management penalty box

I’ve taken a lap around this rink debate before. When I lived in Hagerstown, Md., our ice rink opened with a single sheet (still does) in August 1997. Come December of that same year, the Dorris I. Billow Ice Arena opened in Zullinger, Pa., no more than 11 miles north.

That Pennsylvania rink felt like it was off the beaten path even though it was right off Interstate 81. Today, the corridor is much more grown up. While the second rink came on board, it was late to the game despite being far superior.

The Hagerstown rink had management issues from the start with four people quitting the board weeks after its opening. The guy, who had worked with my sister at First Data later, was found to have falsified his qualifications and wasn’t very respectful toward women. The rink managed to survive all these years.

The Pennsylvania rink was a dream of a woman who bequeathed money at her death to build an ice rink. The community built an Olympic sheet instead of the NHL sheet in Hagerstown. They had ceiling heaters pointed toward the bleachers, had a higher ceiling, better lobby area, and had far better locker rooms. Having showers easily one-upped the Hagerstown rink, which still lacks showers today.

But the ceiling had condensation issues and would often drip water onto the ice causing holes and cones to be put up–even during games. The management wasn’t explosive, but they had issues, mainly financial. Some of it was from the Hagerstown and Zullinger ice rinks raging war against each other. It was too bad because it seemed that yes, there was enough ice to go around during those early days.

The Hagerstown rink attracted people who couldn’t get to Cumberland and couldn’t afford Frederick and drew people from Winchester, Va., and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. The Zullinger rink attracted kids from Adams County and those who would travel to York, Harrisburg and Mechanicsville, plus draw kids from the western edge. Chambersburg was bit of a battleground area and an overlap, but there were always enough people.

Nobody saw that and the Zullinger rink, the better rink, closed two years later and was sold at a bankruptcy sale leaving a competitive team looking for a home. Today the rink is an indoor tennis club. And the Hagerstown rink would like to expand to add a second sheet of ice. Guess two rinks could have survived.

Back to Tampa Bay

Now, I don’t believe that six sheets of ice in a five-mile radius in suburban Tampa will work. It’s a larger metropolitan area, yes, and the Wesley Chapel rink(s) will take some from the existing pool of players that play at the current rinks, but there are players to be had and introduce from Zephyrhills, Brooksville, Spring Hill and Dade City.

It also helps that the Brandon has a good bit of customer service complaints. If anything that should be the rink worried if one or two Wesley Chapel rinks are successful.

Zimmermann told reporters (which I could have been present today) that he wants to bring in large tournaments that area rinks can’t handle. That’s smart because it’s what supports the income to run a successful rink along with camps. He also wants to do a hockey academy and host the USF Bulls and take some business away from the Brandon Ice Sports Forum to have visiting NHL teams practice there. Hell, it would be better if the Lightning could practice there.

When Zimmermann targets tournaments, academies, colleges and the like, he’ll have a full schedule just for hockey right there. That’s before youth leagues, adult leagues, public skating, figure skating and hell, he might as well do curling and speed skating to round it out.

Yet, I’ve noticed that if the area rinks were better schedule makers and better local marketers maybe we wouldn’t need more rinks.

It’s easier to get out-of-state business when you’re an ice rink in Florida. Pitch goes like this: beer, hockey, beach, beer, warm, hockey, beer.

It’s more difficult to get your local clubs, organizations all working together to create programming and marketing to pull in new people or people who play or figure skate who might not know you exist.

The scheduling is more than quirky here. In Ellenton, there seems to be an aversion to go past 11 p.m., or even 10 p.m., and instead favor crack-of-dawn ice times. Other rinks are like that, too. Pick-ups are scheduled at odd times or bad times at other rinks, or sometimes not at all while leagues are active.

All of the rinks save for Brandon need some TLC on aesthetics and maintenance. In Clearwater, the new owner has added a better entrance, expanded lobby, secured weight room and better showers. However, the ice can be suspect more often than not with rumble strips in the middle, chipped or low ice in two corners. Getting to the locker rooms are awkward as two players with bags have no room to pass by each other. The benches are laid out weird, too, with one being very slanted and crooked. And the venting needs to be better, still. This place once had carbon monoxide poisoning. I’ve smelled Zam fumes too many times there, even this past month. Oh, and the ceilings are ultra low.

Ellenton needs a new paint job inside and out, new flooring, fixed showers and locker room toilet. Two club team locker rooms were improved but that’s about it.

In Oldsmar, the refrigeration system needs repaired on the south rink. It gets insanely low on that sheet and some nights I don’t know how we were allowed to play. The place just looks old and beat up all the way around. Most nights you pray the Zamboni makes it around the rink. I’ve witnessed a Zam breakdown at least three times there with one delaying the game for hours, damaging the ice.

Near the airport, there’s a mini-sheet called Xtra Ice that has room for four-on-four, and they probably have the best ice next to Brandon. The quality of the facility, yet small, is top-notch. They need to get their word out more that they are there to book more ice time. Xtra has been open for more than a year and there are so many people I run into who don’t know they are open.

I just can’t wait for this new rink complex to open if I still live in Florida. I really would find a way to move closer to it, too. There’s a long road ahead to success, but Cypress Creek has the goods. Now it’s up to them to manage the goods.

Lightning Links: Bolts’ Gudlevskis beats U.S.; Dan Boyle to be free agent

I sure chose a poor time to get sick. After posting my highest viewed article over the weekend about a Sarasota guy’s massive hockey collection, I caught a nasty cold that put me out of commission.

Despite the Lightning’s season being over, a good bit of team-related news is popping up.

Posts during the next week will be infrequent, too, as I’ll be heading to Las Vegas for an assignment. I hope I can score a trip back to Vegas one year for the NHL Awards, and heck, maybe a NHL exhibition game. A franchise there? I’m not buying it.

Here’s what we’ve got in current and former Lightning news:

So where’s Damian Cristodero? He’s going into Caps territory:

Sarasota man talks about his massive hockey collection

Ron Chawkins explains the story behind him acquiring Nikolai Khabibulan's Phoenix Coyotes practice mask inside his Sarasota office. Chawkins is selling his goalie masks to try to reduce his massive memorabilia collection.

Ron Chawkins explains the story behind him acquiring Nikolai Khabibulan’s Phoenix Coyotes practice mask inside his Sarasota office. Chawkins is selling his goalie masks to try to reduce his massive memorabilia collection.

SARASOTA, Fla.— Every collection has a beginning and an end.

For Ron Chawkins of Sarasota, Fla., his began with seeing Wayne Gretzky amaze Californians at the Great Western Forum and ends with a wife and two young girls that need attending to more than his hockey treasure.

Chawkins’s warehouse and office is a working man’s Hockey Hall of Fame, with artifacts and commemorations of hockey history and pop art celebrating greats like Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull and Dave Taylor. He operates Symphony Salvage, which buys clothes and goods from organizations like Goodwill Manasota in bulk that can’t be sold in stores locally and then sends them overseas to non-profit organizations.

His office would easily qualify as an eBay store. In one corner, stacks of jerseys—many autographed—are neatly folded looking for a home. A team-signed jersey is framed on the wall celebrating the inaugural Mighty Ducks of Anaheim while a cut-out Rangers-era Wayne Gretzky flashes a friendly smile.

That charming grin isn’t enough to keep his memorabilia thrill alive.

“At this stage of my life, the money—I know it’s there, but the time to go through all of this,” Chawkins said, trailing off. Maybe an appraiser is needed, he offered, just to process it all and get it out there.

Chawkins, 54, needs to start somewhere and just by looking up from his desk, the answer sits atop his filing cabinets where an array of goalie helmets are on display.

[PICS: View more of Ron Chawkins’ hockey collection here.]

None exactly considered iconic, but several an example of when goalies started to get creative and personal in the 1990s and early 2000s, and making a name for artists.

The masks are predominately branded by Eddy on the interior shell and feature artists like Rod ‘N  Van, Tony Jarrett, Brad Dinwoodie and others.

Don Beaupre's Ottawa Senators helmet.

Don Beaupre’s Ottawa Senators helmet.

He’s unloading them via Craigslist, initially as a lot for $48,000, but he is willing to negotiate for individual masks. He’s since lowered his price.

“Sixteen masks at two grand a piece, which I didn’t pay less than that for any of them,” Chawkins said. “You can have them for $32,000, and you can buy the whole lot of them. What a great starting thing if somebody can afford that.”

Most are signed by the goalies, a few, like Byron Dafoe’s Bruins mask and Mike Vernon’s Panthers mask lack autographs and if they fit your head, are good to play in. (Though you might want to replace the padding and sweatbands.)

“Those are all original masks, most of them game-worn,” the native Brooklyn resident said.

Some masks have been photo matched by collectors, he said, including the Kevin Weekes’s 1999 Canucks, Mike Vernon (both Red Wings and Panthers), Manny Legace’s Red Wings and Byron Dafoe’s Bruins ones.

One of the nicest in his collection is a Rod ‘N Van Tampa Bay Lightning mask belonging to Nikolai Khabibulin. The white brick wall with Lightning logo is great, but there’s a mistake: the artist painted “Bulan Wall” instead of “Bulan Wall” on the chin and tried to fix it. So, the mask was relegated to practice.

The most underrated mask of his collection is Don Beaupre’s from his time with the Ottawa Senators, after getting traded from the Washington Capitals. The mask features the Ottawa clock tower, center stage that was once embraced as a secondary logo for the franchise. It’s an artistic gem that didn’t receive the attention it deserved thanks to a bad franchise and a goalie limping to the end of his career.

“I like the goalies, but I was buying them for the artwork,” Chawkins said, showing off mask after mask.

Trevor Kidd’s masks and pads were always a statement, but the most widely recognized would have to be the Mike Vernon Red Wing’s masks with the two wings coming out from the wheels and the Stephane Fiset “King Tut” mask from the Kings.

Here’s the overall list—corrected from the original Craigslist collection:

  • Mike Vernon –  Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers
  • Manny Legace – Detroit Red Wings
  • Freddy Brathwaite – Calgary Flames
  • Tyler Moss – Calgary Flames
  • Vesa Toskala – San Jose Sharks
  • Stephane Fiset – L.A. Kings
  • Don Beaupre – Ottawa Senators
  • Kevin Weekes – Vancouver Canucks
  • Byron Dafoe – Boston Bruins
  • Trevor Kidd – Carolina Hurricanes (2)
  • Kevin Hodson – Detroit Red Wings
  • Nikolai Khabibulin – Tampa Bay Lightning, Phoenix Coyotes
Nikolai Khabibulan's Phoenix Coyotes mask completed by Rod 'N Van.

Nikolai Khabibulan’s Phoenix Coyotes mask completed by Rod ‘N Van.

Chawkins knows that compared to other collections, his goalie mask set is small, saying there is a man in the Fort Lauderdale area who has one of the largest around.

He’s more than willing to show off his collection, especially to someone who’d like to buy, and can be reached via his Craigslist ad.

Hockey fan for life

How Chawkins arrived at this collection starts decades ago.

The masks certainly weren’t worn by Chawkins tending goal.

Chawkins skated out when he was younger growing up in Brooklyn as he watched both the New York Islanders and New York Rangers games where he found the love for the game watching Mike Bossey and the boys.

He later moved out to Los Angeles and would watch the Los Angeles Kings play loaded with good players—Luc Robitaille, Bernie Nicholls, Dave Taylor and Steve Duchesne. Then The Trade happened.

“That man drew me to hockey,” Chawkins said, pointing to that Gretzky cutout in his Rangers gear. “Gentleman of gentlemen.”

But Chawkins realized he’d never be a Gretzky. In his mid-30s, Chawkins decided to quit playing in beer leagues after finding some guys at Brandon Ice Sports Forum took the game too seriously for their age. Surprise, right? Now Chawkins straps on some rollerblades and his up to Longboat Key from his St. Armands home for a little street hockey.

Hooked on hockey, he had a treasure waiting for him taking the basketball court in Chicago.

From His Airness to The Great One

Ron Chawkins of Sarsota maintains his goalie mask collection inside his office. Chawkins is selling the entire collection on Craigslist.

Ron Chawkins of Sarsota maintains his goalie mask collection inside his office. Chawkins is selling the entire collection on Craigslist.

Of all things, his hockey collection is in part thanks to Michael Jordan. An avid card collector, Chawkins knew the odds of what cards would be in a box or a case. He decided to invest in Fleer basketball cards during a heyday what would become a valuable period for rookie years—Hakeen Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing.

“The box itself was $24.99, and there was a subset of 10 cards,” Chawkins said. “Of course, the Jordan rookie became very, very expensive and at that time you wanted to put the set together. I think 99 cards was the set. There were 10 stickers that were hard to get.”

After buying a couple more boxes without any luck, Chawkins decided to increase his odds and bought about 10 cases of trading cards through a friend at California Sport Card for a few hundred dollars, opening a couple of the boxes initially to see what he could find. Ideally, he would stumble on a Mint 10 card. These cards today go for thousands of dollars. A 1986 Fleer Mint 10 Jordan rookie card is listed for $17,500 on eBay.

Ron Chawkins has endless hockey sweaters, including this framed Wayne Gretzky one.

Ron Chawkins has endless hockey sweaters, including this framed Wayne Gretzky one.

“I put the boxes away what was left over. Five or six years after that they started to become worth a lot of money,” Chawkins said. “In each box, you were almost guaranteed five to seven Jordan rookies, roughly.”

The packs alone went for $250-$350, so he sold boxes back to California Sport Card at $500 to $600 a box and kept some cases.

“That’s when my $24.99 investment became hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it was just sitting around,” Chawkins said. “I sold one or two boxes back for a crazy amount of money in the mid ’90s, and I put the rest away.”

After card companies changed the formula for how precious cards were distributed in packs, he moved on to buying vintage trading cards to make full sets then went into sports memorabilia.

“After you do that, now what?” Chawkins said. “I go to here.”

He shoots, he scores

Wayne Gretzky's Ninety-Nine All Stars jersey from the 1994 lockout.

Wayne Gretzky’s Ninety-Nine All Stars jersey from the 1994 lockout.

Chawkins’ trading card obsession led to pro authentic jerseys, some game worn, others autographed. The jerseys in turn led to sticks and art and more. A 1994 Vancouver Canucks Wheaties box sets atop a back of collectable Corona beer.

He flashes the great 1990s Starter jerseys made out of then, essentially a gym shorts material. There’s Chris Chelios and his Blackhawks No. 7 and Patrick Roy’s Size 46 Colorado Avalanche jersey on his chair.

“From Gretzky to Lemieux to Roy,” he said.

Out in Los Angeles, he’d get them to sign while at Kings or Ducks games and then here in St. Petersburg and Tampa. He doesn’t consider himself an autograph hound—he actually detests these folks.

Sure, he’ll research to see where the team hotel is and where the post-game hangouts are, but he just wants to have a regular conversation with the boys. Even if one of the boys is The Great One.

Inside Wayne Gretzky’s Toronto restaurant, he saddled up along Gretzky, Darryl Sydor and Marty McSorely following a game.

“I don’t want your jersey, I don’t want your signature, I don’t want your card,” he recalled. He just wanted to know how his burger was.

“After that, they’re just people, and you start to talking to them,” Chawkins continued. “He’s a good human being and good to talk to when you’re not pounding them for their autograph.”

One of the nicest sweaters in his collection is from the 1994-95 Lockout when Wayne Gretzky formed the Ninety-Nine All Stars. It’s a sweater that looks like a mix between a Campbell Soup label and a classic Canadian junior hockey league sweater: it’s a beaut.

Chawkins pulls it from a pile and that clean white is blinding with that classic embroidered Ninety-Nine on the front, and Gretzky’s name, 99 and signature on the back.

As a season ticket holder at the Great Western Forum, Chawkins would gain access to players thanks to charitable donations and being around the team. He’s certainly a super fan, the type that would go to every NHL arena and for a period of time go to each All Star Game with his “Original Six” crew that included his wife Lonnie, his brother Neil, and friends Bob Hart, who owned Monk’s Steamer Bar in Sarasota’s Gulf Gate neighborhood; Johnny Rockwell, who owned PaddyWagon Irish Pub here, and Bob Askew, a dive instructor.

It was trips like the one at the 2004 All Star Game in St. Paul, Minn., where they chat up an attractive blonde in her forties talking hockey along with the likes of Jaromir Jagr. She had to excuse herself to find her husband, Barry Melrose.

Ron Chawkins' hockey collection is endless, including this framed inaugural ticket set from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

Ron Chawkins’ hockey collection is endless, including this framed inaugural ticket set from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

“We were awestruck,” Chawkins said, fortunately before Melrose would coach the Lightning for 16 games in 2008. They maintained in contact and still exchange Christmas cards, he said, despite his poor coaching record. You have to hand it to Melrose, though, he’s an entertaining, engaging hockey personality that seems like the type of guy you want to have a beer with.

“What great people,” he said. “Barry Melrose is a nice person, and so is his wife. They are very, very cool people. They’re like family.”

Tempered in Tampa

In Tampa, home of the Lightning, he has a love-hate relationship with the team and organization. And it starts way before that dreadful 2008 season.

Chawkins moved to Tampa Bay in 1994-95 after he lost his house from a devastating earthquake in California. His hockey life maintained watching the Lightning at the Thunderdome—now Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. After a couple of seasons, it was a struggle to watch, he admitted.

“Because I had all these jerseys, I became the opposition fan,” Chawkins said. The concept isn’t much of a stretch today for snowbird fans who fill the Tampa Bay Times Forum, but the fanbase has matured and grown enough where 18,000 Lightning faithful is more regular occurrence than not.

Flashing back during those infancy years of the Bolts, Chawkins had enough and called into a radio show with Steve “Big Dog” Duemig and then-general manager Phil Esposito (or as I call Espo, Frank Reynolds.)

This autographed mask actually contains a mistake. Nikolai Khabibulin goes by

Nikolai Khabibulin goes by “The Bulin Wall” but instead this mask first read “Bulan Wall” on the chin until the artist fixed it.

“He and I had it out over the radio, and he hung up on me,” he said, with a gleaming smile. “I came back the next day and all the people—the parking lot attendants, my ticket guy and the ushers were like, ‘Way to go Ron!’ They were too afraid to tell Phil he was a jerk.”

He’d still root for the Lightning when he could and was there, too, for the Stanley Cup Final.

“When the Lightning were in the playoffs playing for the Cup, I wanted them to win,” Chawkins said. “Prior to that, I could care less who won. I just wanted to watch a good hockey game.”

As sports championships do, the demand and quality of the product jumped in price for tickets. It didn’t help that following the championship, a lockout wiped out the 2004 season and many teams continued to increase ticket prices.

Moving on

His marriage to hockey season tickets ended to devote more time to his real marriage and his young family.

And now, it’s time to let go of the collection: The Anaheim Ducks inaugural ticket set, the collection of Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens cards and photos, the endless hockey sweaters folded in the corner and the stacks of Looney Toons-themed art depicting Lemieux and the greats.

“I said I’ve had enough, and I’m starting to weed out and getting rid of some stuff,” Chawkins said, resigning himself to the fate of his tangible memories.

Gulf Coast Hockey Plus closing Estero store

The southernmost hockey shop on the Gulf Coast will be shuttering its doors in favor of its Fort Myers location.

Gulf Coast Hockey Plus owner Scott Schilling announced on Facebook Wednesday that he is closing his Estero shop after 10 years and will move all his inventory to his smaller shop at the Ft. Myers Skatium.

The Estero shop, 9510 Corkscrew Palms Circle, Suite 3, will have a sale in the meantime, according to his Facebook post:

GCHP would like to thank all of our customers for a great 10 years in our Estero location which we will be closing and moving everything remaining to our Skatium location in Fort Myers. Everything in Estero is 30% off till May 13th!
 This is disappointing to hear, but not unexpected. The Florida Everblades’ pro shop22 inside Germain Arena has stepped up its game and has support as part of a network, HockeyEmpire.com. The Everblades pro shop has recognized its advantage of corner the market by offering a wide variety of equipment and service inside an arena serving both hockey players at the two rinks and the fans stopping in from the Everblades games.
GCHP wasn’t too far away down the road from Germain and had an equally impressive selection of equipment, worked well with team orders, but I’d have to give the nod to the Everblades shop for goalie gear. I bought a set of elbow pads at GCHP at a good deal, so it should be worth checking out before they close up. The store is also known for its friendly collie, Carter, roaming the store greeting customers.
The Skatium store, 2250 Broadway, Fort Myers, is a very small shop that takes advantage of the walls to provide inventory. I haven’t been there in a month or so, and hopefully they will be able to expand its space.
The owner, Schilling, is a native of West Allis, Wisc., and played two years of college hockey for Lebanon Valley College, located northeast of Hershey, Pa., outside of Lebanon.
A YouTube video by Justin Kline that gives more insight into the shop and Schilling. Here’s a transcript for the video impaired:
“I’m from Wisconsin and originally ran a couple of hockey stores up there for 10 years for two hockey brothers. My parents actually retired  here in Bonita Springs, and we saw a need for a hockey store in the area as it was being under-serviced. …
“Having the Everblades here in town is a great thing. We have a lot of transplants from the north that have moved down here and love hockey and love the game,. The Everblades help new kids that grown up here in Florida, giving them the chance to play hockey and learn the game. Hockey is getting bigger, bigger and bigger down here.”
Roller hockey brand Tour also has a well, tour, of GCHP on YouTube, talking to Schilling as well.
Looking where to buy hockey gear on the Gulf Coast? Check out my tumblr post, which I will soon convert over to this blog.

Sarasota resident unloading NHL goalie masks for $48,000

Some folks acquire goalie equipment as a necessity to play, like myself, and others are collectors. And there there are some goalies, who consider themselves gear sluts.

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This Nikolai Khabibulan autographed goalie mask is for sale on Craigslist in Sarasota. (Photo courtesy of Craigslist)

It’s among those Goalie Gear Sluts United, which include professional goalies, where I stumbled upon a link to a Craiglist hockey ad.  Someone here in Sarasota has a problem. Well, a few problems: They have too many goalie masks going unused, he only has one head, he had way too much money to acquire these and he also wants way too much money to get rid of them. (How am I for negotiating?) The poster, who goes by Ron, has a glorious set of NHL-used and autographed goalie masks looking for their forever home. He’s listing all 16 of them for $48,000. That’s about $3,000 per mask. That is also about how much one of those costs new with a custom paint job for one today. It’s about $1,000 for the molded mask and then $2,000 for a nice paint job. The mask I play with, a Hackva, has a stock Phoenix (bird not team) paint job, and cost around $350. I barely could afford that one. Goalie gear, no matter how collectible you might think it is, never appreciates in value. You can charge a little more if in great condition, but none of these goalies on the list have a name hot with goalie gear enthusiasts. It’s kind of like trading cards if you’re looking at those commodities. While the paint jobs are the first of the true wave of modern, pro masks in the NHL, these aren’t being sought out by art collectors. One that might be worth is the Nikolai Khabibulan mask from his Tampa days. The Bulin Wall won his and the franchise’s only Stanley Cup here, making the mask a bit more worthwhile to own. The others are former No. 1 goalies from the ’90s and early ’00s whose peaks were short lived, or guys like Mike Vernon, who was taking his retirement tour in Florida and beyond after his Cup win in Detroit. Here is what he’s got:

  • Mike Vernon –  San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers
  • Manny Legace – Detroit Red Wings
  • Freddy Brathwaite – Calgary Flames
  • Vesa Toskala – San Jose Sharks
  • Stephane Fiset – L.A. Kings
  • Don Beaupre – Ottawa Senators
  • Kevin Weekes – Vancouver Canucks (2)
  • Byron Dafoe – Boston Bruins
  • Trevor Kidd – Carolina Hurricanes (2)
  • Kevin Hodson – Detroit Red Wings
  • Nikolai Khabibulin – Tampa Bay Lightning, Phoenix Coyotes (2)

Man, that list brought me back to middle and high school. I don’t know if kids today know half those goalies on that list. That Stephane Fiset mask has to be the sweetest one of them all, though I do appreciate the Beaupre helmet and what he was going for using the clock tower, which is now used as a secondary logo for the Senators 20 years later. Vernon’s Florida Panthers mask also goes for that timeless John Vanbiesbrouck look. The keeper of the masks, who goes by Ron, invited me over to take a look at the collection, so I’ll take him up on the offer. Depending where he lives, I might either post a short interview and photos here or if he’s in my work territory, I’d have to do it for my full-time job…and then link out to it from here. In the meantime, how much would you offer this guy? Which one is a keeper?

Lightning Links: Cooper knows Jack; Bolts sign goalie

Lightning fans and media figured this was coming and rightly so: Jon Cooper is a Jack Adams Award finalist for coach of the year.

He is everything that the Lightning need in a coach right now, save for an experienced coach with a Cup ring. He is equal parts serious and funny, as I gush over him as a media darling.

He had a warm-up with the Lightning during the lockout shortened season to get acclimated and managed to get the Bolts in the playoffs. Let us not speaking of anything that happened after that point for now.

Cooper’s work is wondrous, as the NHL notes:

In his first full season behind the bench, Cooper guided Tampa Bay (46-27-9, 101 points) to a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division after the club placed 28th in the overall League standings in 2012-13. The coach of Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk when it captured the 2012 Calder Cup, Cooper successfully incorporated several young players into the Lightning lineup, as a League-high eight rookies appeared in at least 40 games — five more than any other club. The Lightning were 20-11-9 in one-goal games after ranking last in the NHL with a 5-12-4 mark the season before, and posted 21 road wins, one shy of the franchise record.

His competition is tough in Patrick Roy and Mike Babcock. To me, Roy gets the award. Roy didn’t have the benefit of a warm-up season behind the bench in the NHL and he took the team from picking first-overall to the playoffs. Voting stops before the playoffs, so his three playoff wins as a coach and a series loss won’t hurt him.

Mike Babcock managed to get a team that was playing short-handed all year into the playoffs along, keeping the playoff streak alive. While that’s great, there are greater underdogs to root for, which seems to be the trend.

Dave Andreychuk praised his employee, talking to the Lightning’s team reporter:

“Jon is the type of coach that gets the most out of his players. There’s some learning process that has to happen with him also, but at the same time, he’s done some really good things.”

Yes, Cooper has had a good season, but there’s a great one in there waiting.

Lightning Links:

 

Paging Dr. Roenick: Lecavalier needs to ‘find his fuck you again’

Former Bolts captain Vincent Lecavalier is in the media doghouse after a unsuccessful first season in Philadelphia.

It’s disappointing because he seemed to be on the upswing in his final season in Tampa, and after chasing a chance for playing for coach Peter Laviolette, his coach he wanted to play for was canned.

So was his season.

The Flyers righted its ship with Vinny flailing in the wind, certainly not as one of the ship’s sails.

Randy Miller from NJ.com called up former Flyer Jeremy Roenick to ask what would cure a superstar whose stock has plummeted down to fourth-line minutes. Roenick, as always, was blunt:

“He has to want to protect his image and how he’s going to be remembered as a player,” Roenick said. “He has the ability to do that, but he has to find his fuck you again.”

Roenick continues to say how much he realizes he wasn’t caring as much as he should when he had that terrible season after the 2004-05 lockout with the Los Angeles Kings and once he gave a fuck again, an indeterminable amount, he started playing better finishing up his career in Phoenix and San Jose. I mean, clearly Vinny gives a shit, but he needs to be in a “fuck you” mode, which is the difference between putting in some effort and being a workhorse and letting nobody getting in your way.

I honesty wish there would be a weekly NHL on HBO, allowing Roenick and other hockey analysts to just go off 24/7 style. The 14-year-old in me still smiles when I hear a “fuckin’ a” slip through the game action mics from the players

Anyway,Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal also ponders if Lecavalier could be one of those double buyout victims, too:

 

Can Vincent Lecavalier be a buyout victim in Philadelphia? The Tampa Bay Lightning used a compensatory buyout (which doesn’t count against the salary cap). Now, one year into a five-year, $22.5-million package with the Flyers, he’s reduced to playing eight minutes and 45 seconds (10 shifts, only four minutes and change over the last 40 minutes) in the biggest game of the season for Philadelphia — Game 7 vs. the New York Rangers. A fourth-line centre making $6 million this season and next? The Flyers used their two allowed “get-of-jail cards” on goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Danny Briere last year.

I don’t see that happening, really. It’s the first year of a five-year contract, his coach was fired, his role was changed and he had a fractured vertebrae, which is not an easy injury to come back from. Think about all the power that you drive from your back while on skates?

Now that Laviolette has a job in Nashville, Elliotte Friedman threw out there in his 30 Thoughts that maybe GM Paul Holmgren can send Vinny to Music City:

11. Pure speculation on my part, absolute guesswork: Paul Holmgren said this week one of the reasons Vincent Lecavalier struggled is because Peter Laviolette, who recruited him, left, and Lecavalier wasn’t a fit in Craig Berube’s system. Is there a trade fit now that Laviolette is in Nashville? Flyers would probably have to eat a good chunk of his salary, but Holmgren and Poile have a history of getting deals done.

Vinny is confident he can bring it next season, according to CSN Philadelphia:

“I believe in myself,” Lecavalier said. “I believe in what I can do. I’ve gotten kind of a freak injury this year with the cracked vertebrae. I’ve got crosschecked there about 500 times in my career if not more, and for some reason it cracks. It’s not because of old age, you know what I mean?

“I believe in what I can do. I missed 13 games. I believe I can bring [better] numbers for sure.”

Don’t dream about a return to Tampa either. The Bolts spent the second most in the league toward the cap, right behind Washington, and Ryan Callahan’s acquisition clearly showed that general manager Steve Yzerman is looking for grit and toughness and not flash-and-dash.

Or as J.R. said, players who’ve found their “fuck you.”

(Updated: May 6, 2014)

Lightning Links: How the Bolts can legally get rid of Ryan Malone

While Ryan Malone seeks treatment in the NHL Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program, his days as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning are probably drawing closer to an end.

Damian Cristodero breaks down what the Lightning’s options are in the Collective Bargaining Agreement and what was once thought to be a murky situation concerning a buyout, Cristodero reports that it is believed that the NHL is OK with buying out a player who is in that program:

That Malone is in the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program run jointly by the league and players association might not matter. Though the collective bargaining agreement does not specifically address the issue, it is believed the NHL’s position is a player in the program can be bought out.

I’m not sure why league officials wouldn’t clarify that or go on the record. You do have to remember that some players can be in the program anonymously and what if a general manager or owner forces a buyout and the league has to say no, but can’t say why they said no. The folks in the front and league offices are all aware of the player’s situation, but what if that were to play out publicly? It’s best the league doesn’t commit on a rule. I’d like to know what the NHLPA thinks about this though. Plus, every player’s substance abuse/mental health situation is different, and Malone’s is mild comparatively.

The report also points out the team could void Malone’s contract under a behavior clause, but if he’s enrolled in the program and the team gives the behavior reason for termination, I’d imagine a grievance would be filed by the NHLPA. The players’ union already filed a grievance this year against the Lightning after Riku Helenius’s contract was terminated, and in that case the reason why was never public, though assumed for failing to report.

I wonder how much of a toll this is taking on his father, Greg Malone, who is a scout with the Lightning, in both professional and personal situations. I don’t blame him if he decides to resign to follow through with Ryan’s situation or just to move somewhere else to leave behind a place where your son’s career diminished, was arrested and potentially, bought out.

And the other light serving of links:

Lightning Links: The Torts-ture of getting fired

At some point, Tampa Bay needs to let go its infatuation and nostalgia with John Tortorella.

Maybe the mainstream media veterans and some bloggers like to dip back in that well again because it’s something to boast about. “Hey, we had him when he was just the right amount of bat-shit crazy to win the Cup!”

Like players, some coaches arrived at the right time for their chance at a championship only to never win it again. Tortorella could be the modern day Mike Keenan. Keenan was known to get in his players’ heads, berate them at times and even question their sexuality.

Torts could be tough, sure, but it’s mainly his media game that’s not winning any fans. Coaching is much of a public relations game as much as it’s one involving wins and losses. Torts’ media landscape was a little less on the 24-hour cycle then and wasn’t focused on the sensational headlines and metadata that would drive pageviews. Now, in a matter of seconds, his rant is the latest GIF.

Having Tampa media and fans continue to almost blindly endorse him is a little much.

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones also gives a bit of a comparison to Keenan, and sure, one championship is one more than many coaches have won. Keenan relented himself to being a poor version of Mike Milbury on NHL on NBC and found himself coaching in the second- or third-best league in the world, nabbing a championship in the KHL. It’s a league much like it was 10-15 years ago, if not 20, being a little more tough and unrelenting to go with the skill.

I don’t think Tortorella would want his career to reach that point. You’d think his time off doing analysis at TSN would have given him time to do adjustments and he swore in front of Vancouver media he was a changed man. That didn’t last long.

When handing over the team to Tortorella, it better be a grinding, veteran team ready to adhere to shotblocking defense or else you’re in for a mini-rebuild. It’s almost as if it would better if Tortorella would be coach and GM so he can get his roster in order, but that would never happen.

Unless Torts can permanently adjust his approach and style with players, the league will tire of him and eventually stop giving him a job.

And onto the links: