An Update For A Lack Of Updates

I don’t know how much of an audience I really have, if not just to entertain myself.

The posts have dropped off considerably, in part, because there hasn’t been enough to share.

It’s been a weird year, friends. It’s been a trying year.

Hockey is not something you can simply put down or walk away from. Whether it’s as a fan, a player at any level or someone who wants to build a rink.

I had to re-examine a few things, and I’m not sure if I have the answers. Enough of the cryptic, flowery language. Here’s what happened:

• My back wasn’t feeling the greatest and I knew I should have gone to the chiropractor but I couldn’t make time. I was overextending myself.

This season I was placed with a team I never played with and was asked to be a skater because there weren’t any slots left for goaltenders. I was asked to fill in goal with our goalie out, and I literally overextended myself. I really threw my back out for a number and it didn’t get better for two months. We won but it wasn’t worth it. Between work and the injury, I missed at least six straight games in the adult league I played in.

I tried to come back early, not feeling 100 percent, back to my spot playing sparingly on the wing. I hadn’t skated out for a league game in at least eight years. I was rusty and I knew it. I wasn’t awful, but with my back not cooperating it wasn’t pretty.

Our asshole-in-chief decided to call me out after a shutout loss, blaming it on me being fat, awful and that I should never play in the league again. Here’s the thing: I have gained weight from injuries and have been working to get back to form and it hasn’t happened. I would love to just drop the weight, but it doesn’t happen like that overnight. There was no respect, let alone no one rushing to my defense. Should I have clocked the guy, who ran the rink’s hockey programs? Sure, but it wouldn’t have helped my employment.

It was the most immature display I’ve ever been a part of in hockey. It was embarrassing. I knew I wasn’t at my best either.

I withdrew as much as I could from the thought of playing hockey. I was done with the team. I was done with the league, and it hurt that I felt I was done from ever stepping foot in the rink where I learned how to play.

After my Ottawa vacation where my back was still bad, I switched chiropractors and it was fixed for the most part on the first visit. It still feels great for now. Still, I couldn’t stomach playing. I didn’t touch the ice for over four months. I’ve still only hit the ice twice, in part because I work a part-time job.

I can’t exactly visit rinks if I’m not playing. I will say that for those two visits, I was pleased to see the boards and kickplate replaced at Galactic Ice in Altoona, Pa. Also, it was cool to go back to the Rockville Ice Arena in Maryland to see how much it’s grown and improved since I played a couple road games there as a teenager.

I’d love to play more but I don’t see that happening with working two jobs right now. It’ll probably be another year before I can play twice a week again, let alone more than twice in four months. My goal is to pay off all my bills before I can quit the part-time job. That could have happened this year but I needed a break from the grind by using the job for a couple of trips I’ve been waiting to take.

So that’s the first reason: injury, humiliation and depression.

The second is my efforts trying to bring any kind of ice rink to Frostburg hit a snag.

It was clear that the student group I was working with couldn’t make this an exclusively student or FSU venture. Too many barriers exist to bring one to campus and there is only so much students with a full course load can do. It was also disheartening to see so many people sign up in support and of interest working on it, but only three students committed to show up to every meeting. Even though the 40 or so people said they were interested didn’t show, those people do represent opportunity. Those are people who would come to the rink for activities and would bring a friend.

I received messages over the summer from a couple of people wondering what’s happening. I wanted to give up on it, but I decided to give it one more go by focusing on other entities that could host the rink. I have a person in the community that seems committed to helping make this happen somewhere in the area. Let’s see what we can accomplish.

I needed the mental break from working on it even though I wish I would have continued doing research on my own because even August can be too late to get things going for this year.

Those are the two big reasons you’ve seen little here, along with working two jobs. Thanks on indulging me on this pity party.

I’ll be crossing off two NHL arena visits off my list in the coming months, too. Montreal and Vegas, here I come!

 

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Have You Received the Six (and 1/2) Reasons Hockey is Unwatchable PowerPoint in the Mail? I did.

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As you can tell from this blog, I like hockey.

I play when my body cooperates, tweet some hot takes every now and again and haven’t blogged in awhile because life got busy.

This has to be the year that I’ve written or tweeted the least about hockey, but people notice when I do, I guess. It’s fun interacting with people online when they’re civil because there’s always context, even when it’s someone you don’t follow thanks to Twitter’s element of discovery.

I don’t get paid to write about hockey. Or about my thoughts about hockey either. I left journalism for the time being in 2014 and work as a communications specialist for Frostburg State University in Maryland.

When the opportunity arises, I’ll talk about hockey and write. This past week I received a very different conversation starter in the mail about hockey.

When I visited my parents in Clear Spring, they said I had mail and it was about hockey. My dad opened it thinking it’s for him (he has the same first name). The envelope is plain white, fitting 8 1/2 x 11 paper inside. The address label to me is just as generic, looking like it was made on a typewriter.

Probably the only distinguishable characteristic from this letter is a 2016 Global USA Forever Stamp.

Inside, a crudely laid-out six-page PowerPoint is stapled together with the title “Six (and 1/2) reasons why hockey is becoming the most unwatchable of the major sports.” You can peruse the whole PDF here: hockey-pot.

There are cited sources, pull quotes, some locker room language (I don’t mind but it lacks context) and a plea to bring back 1970s hockey.

The presentation doesn’t come with an introduction. No letter explaining why this was sent to me or from whom. Just the PowerPoint.

That one is addressed from a Mark Whicker in Long Beach, California.

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When I arrived back to my apartment in Frostburg, I received the same presentation.

Same style envelope, everything.

But this was addressed from a Mark Willard in Los Angeles.

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I have no clue who actually sent these.

A quick Google search shows that Mark Whicker is an Orange County Register and Los Angeles Daily News columnist who has written about the Anaheim Ducks in the last few days.

The Mark Willard in Los Angeles shows a Fox Sports San Diego reporter and radio host, who used to work for ESPN in Los Angeles. I don’t see hockey in his tweets or coverage of late. And I doubt someone working at a San Diego TV and radio station is commuting from Los Angeles.

Only the Long Beach envelope has a time-stamp on it, mailed Dec. 19 from Los Angeles.

It’s possible it could be neither of these men and be someone else. Maybe I should send them to the police for finger printing.

You probably want to know what the PowerPoint says, right?

  1. Challenging experience trying to stream games
  2. The LED board advertisements near the benches
  3. The CGI ads placed on the glass behind the goal on TV broadcasts
  4. Center ice ads make it difficult to track the puck
  5. Obstructive netting behind the goals
  6. Hiring Ice Girls to scrape the ice during TV timeouts
    1. Reason 6.5: Ads on practice sweaters will soon give way to the European league ads on sweaters
  7. (This, the writer says, applies to all sports so I guess isn’t part of the 6.5?) Fans taking photos and videos with their smartphones are obstructing other fans’ views.

The final page praises 1970s hockey, which in addition to a lack of ads and protective nets, the writer cites lower protective glass, minimal helmets, organ music over a DJ, ticket prices, etc., etc.

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I’m not going to go over and debate the points the writer, who by the looks of the PowerPoint, is older, remembers going to or watching hockey in the 1970s and is not much for the electronic age.

Some of the points raised are in line with fan complaints from over the years, others are inaccurate or irrelevant and the argument for bringing back ’70s hockey seems like someone was taking a dose of ‘member berries. (While there was not a work stoppage, there was a labor strife in the way of the competing WHA that diluted some of the NHL game quality.)

The argument against the protective nettings, calling them “Brittanie Cecil” nets comes across insensitive for the young girl who lost her life from an errant puck striking her in Columbus. I can see through the netting fine, just like the people behind home plate at baseball games. I remember an uproar about the nettings initially, but I think we’ve adapted and come to our senses that it was the best thing to do by doing what you can to prevent another fan death like Brittanie’s.

I just don’t think whoever sent this twice to me wants a friendly exchange on Twitter or wherever.

I mean, if the writer could find my apartment address (which takes more effort) and my parent’s address (easy mistake but it happens), you could find me on Twitter and just talk there.

If they found any of my prior addresses in Florida, just know that everyone in Sarasota who received it will just toss it in the trash.

I’d like to know if anyone else received these or similar mailings. Let me know by either contacting me through the blog or in the comments.

 

 

Responsibility in Blogging

This is sort of a PSA to any hockey blogger who cares to read. It’s some inside journalism stuff, so feel free to move along if this minutiae isn’t your lede.

Blogging is often a place to provide added analysis, arguments, pleas and an aggregated potpourri of the internets so you’re kept in the loop. Sometimes that requires actually talking to someone to enhance the story.

Sports blogging has found a way to find 10,000 niches in an individual sport or league, whether it’s the jerseys and logoswhat refs are officiating the game  or strictly how the farm system is faring.

Several of those blogs mix quantitative, qualitative and opinionated analysis. Some on a higher level than other.

Most sports blogs hone in on their favorite team, though.

There can only be so many fan blogs that aggregate what the mainstream media or team embedded media reports only to be “enhanced” with their own roasting hot takes. Some focus on the mix of People magazine meet TMZ aspect of the team but at least use its credentials to gather original reporting  to enhance the blog (and sometimes photos/videos) on their slice of hockey life reporting.

Blogs often critique player performances, propose trade scenarios and even have the open letter—a definite no-no on editorial pages because it’s basically a column. Don’t try to cheat.

Most of that can exist in somewhat of a vacuum, but certain blogs may need a question answered to give a fair analysis. You know, acknowledge that someone from the organization you are writing about is affected in all of this. Or that we can’t pontificate from the keyboard and may the internet kingdom hear all. (This entry is one of those pontificating blogs.)

I ran into that issue recently about the Washington Capitals decision to move its equipment sale and Fan Fest from a Saturday to a weekday.

The basis of the blog was going to be that popularity comes at a price and it’s difficult to make everyone happy. The solutions are few to make it better for everyone, including those working the event.

I needed to ask the organization why the move was made. The reason could be very different from what I thought the reasons would be and I’d have to start from scratch. You cannot assume what the answer is. That’s how you get sued.

However, I was asked not to contact the Capitals media relations department on behalf of the credentialed blog because they wanted to keep a positive relationship with the team. If you fairly offer critiques about player performance and front office decisions on players, coaches and prospects, then the marketing and fan experience items are fair game. Every event is a money-making opportunity for the team, even if admission is free.

Some aspects managed crowds better by allowing season-ticket members priority access to certain activations and the equipment sale.

I could have contacted the organization myself, but while my track record and reputation is good in several journalism circles, the Capitals media relations department has no clue who I am. Most Caps fans don’t know who I am either on here, or that they come here for news. This site is a hobby. Other sites were opportunities, even though as a professional journalist I should not be working for free, for anyone.

I asked the Caps PR twitter account about the change but I didn’t receive a response. It was a long shot but contacting them that way would get things in the open. Anything beyond that, phone calls, emails, I’d leave for something I’d be getting paid for.

Here’s what I would have asked:

  • Why was the Fan Fest and equipment sale moved from a Saturday to a Wednesday?
  • Depending on the answer, then I’d follow up with, Was it because the event tends to be crowded, verging on overcrowding, each year? (It’s held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where reminders are frequent to not stand or sit in the bleacher stairways because of the fire code.)
  • Did the Metro construction on the Blue/Orange lines happening that week affect the decision? (It would have proved troublesome on a weekend to get there for some fans.)
  • Is this a one-time decision or likely be repeated in future years?
  • Do you keep track of the crowd or attendance at Fan Fest? Has it increased or decreased or stayed the same each year?
  • If crowding continued to be an issue, would returning the Capitals Convention help lessen the crowd at Fan Fest?
  • Regardless, are there any plans or talk that the Capitals Convention to return? What would it take for that event to return?

That helps cover a lot of areas, helps build rapport with an organization giving you access and helps form an informed opinion. You don’t want to risk a libel lawsuit or even be forced to write a correction or retraction because you didn’t ask the source for their side of the story.

The organization can chose to not answer any and all requests (keep records), or answer some but not all, but it still helps with building a story. With as many national and international media properties cover NHL teams, a blogger or freelance request could seem like a headache to them that they can brush off. But you never know how many clicks certain posts can produce, so at times you have to at least acknowledge the request.

I blame some of my journalism brethren for a habit by columnists to creep into blogging. I’ve seen too many columnists in daily papers, mainly at smaller circulations, hypothesize and place blame on someone or something without asking the person they’re hurling suggestions (or blame, maybe even praise) to in 550 words. The best practice in columns is to ask that source of the issue what they think, even if it leads to an awkward conversation, to get a complete view of the issue. Your thoughts may change, maybe backing down from what you originally thought, but it makes a better piece.

Your source continues to trust you. Your readers continue to trust you. And that’s not something you can easily reacquire after it’s lost.

Leafs were sick and tired of Steve Simmons

I’m sure everyone would agree that this piece by Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun was, uh, harsh on Phil Kessel. You would have thought that the guy got caught with prescription drugs at the border or something, but instead it’s fat shaming for a guy who’s a hell of lot fitter than any of us and a guy whining why can’t you score 60 goals! But it’s a much enjoyable read when you replace every Phil Kessel reference with Steve Simmons’ name (and a couple minor adjustments for player to writer references). h/t to Japers Rink for the link to the hit piece of the year.

And here we go:

Leafs were sick and tired of Steve Simmons

By Steve Simmons

The hot dog vendor who parks daily at Front and John Sts. just lost his most reliable customer.

Almost every afternoon at 2:30 p.m., often wearing a toque, Steve Simmons would wander from his neighbourhood condominium to consume his daily snack.

And now he’s gone. Just like that. The Maple Leafs could no longer stomach having Simmons around, the first player to be both punished and rewarded for the saddest Leafs season in history. The Leafs held their breath, plugged their noses, and ostensibly gave Simmons to The Onion because they couldn’t stand having him around anymore.

Really, this was as much about illness and insomnia as anything else: The Leafs were sick and tired of Simmons.

Sick of his act. Tired of his lack of responsibility. Unwilling to begin any reset or rebuild with their highest-paid, most talented, least-dedicated player. He didn’t eat right, train right, play right. This had to happen for Brendan Shanahan to begin his rebuilding of the Leafs. Separation between the Leafs and Simmons became necessary when it grew more and more apparent with time that everything Shanahan values was upended by Simmons’ singular, laissez-faire, flippant, mostly uncoachable ways.

It doesn’t matter that the Leafs didn’t get much for Simmons. It doesn’t matter that the writers they received for Simmons are probably named “if” and “but,” and the interns won’t translate into anything before 2019. None of that matters as coach Mike Babcock begins his new era of hope in September.

What matters is that Simmons is gone. That who he is, what he represents, what he isn’t, had to be removed from the ice, from the dressing room, from the road, from the restaurants — from everywhere. They couldn’t have him around anymore and be honest about the direction they intend to pursue. Everything they believe in for the future is almost everything Simmons has proven to be lacking in.

A Leafs front-office voice recently spoke about the two largest influences on any player. One comes from the coach. The other comes from the player who sits beside you on the bench. Those are the voices you hear most often.

For Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, that voice belonged to Simmons.

If the voice is negative, critical, disruptive, condescending of players, critical of coaches, critical of fans, then that impacts more than just the player doing the talking. It poisons the environment. It brings players down. It cuts into their effectiveness. It establishes the kind of mood no team wants.

The right kind of leadership can make a team greater. The wrong kind can destroy it.

The second-half Leafs were the most destroyed team in Toronto history. The flag carrier of despair was Simmons. He wrote like he didn’t care, insulted the jersey, the paying public, the people watching at home, the interim coaching staff. He wasn’t alone.

But he was the only one making $80,000 a year. He was the only one truly entrusted to make an offensive difference. He was the only one who seemed to take people down with him.

When Dave Nonis was fired, when the Leafs scouting staff was fired, when the coaches were fired, it finally turned to the players. Simmons was the first to go. He won’t be the last. But sending him packing first was necessary. The message was necessary. The tone was necessary. This won’t be tolerated any longer.

Even if this is a Vince Carter-type of trade — the kind that may bring next to nothing in return. Carter quit on the Raptors. In a different kind of way, Simmons quit on the Leafs before they quit on him.

Kasperi Kapanen is a Leaf now. His stock has been dropping since Pittsburgh used a first-round pick to select him. Some people consider him a future third-liner, if he has a future in the NHL at all.

Scott Harrington is a Leaf now. He played four years for Mark Hunter’s London Knights. When they couldn’t come away with one of the Penguins’ better defensive prospects, they settled on the competitive Harrington. He is an AHL skater, scouts tell me. Maybe he’ll play in the NHL. Maybe not.

The best part of the deal is the lottery-protected first-round pick for next June’s draft. It’s nice to have that kind of pick going forward. But expect a choice between 20 and 30. That’s a long shot. Maybe three years away. Maybe more.

And you have to figure Simmons is good to write 40 inches or more reporting alongside either Bob Errey or Rob Rossi in Pittsburgh. And, still, this is a deal the Leafs had to make. A deal that was necessary.

They had to move Simmons out. They had to have him off the roster by the time Babcock begins training camp in September. You can’t have him half-assing skating drills with a team trying to learn how to work. You can’t have him being first off the ice with a team pushing to reach Babcock’s lofty goals. When you have an illness, you must get rid of the poison.

The Leafs did that on Wednesday. They treated their own infection — the Penguins playing the part of antibiotic. It doesn’t matter what they got for Simmons. What matters is he’s gone.

Tampa Bay Lightning, Laser Spine Institute Are ‘Sticking It to Hunger’

Guest Post by Give & Grub

The Tampa Bay Lightning bring high-energy speed and skill to the arena whenever they play, and their level of motivation on the ice makes them a powerful force to be reckoned with. Outside of the arena, however, they’re applying that force toward a very different motivation—to win the fight against hunger in their community.

In partnership with Laser Spine Institute, the Tampa Bay Lightning – along with Feeding America Tampa Bay and Metropolitan Ministries – are on a mission to reduce food insecurity in the community through the Give & Grub food truck project. The truck travels across the greater Tampa Bay area selling its gourmet food with a mission: for every menu item sold, Laser Spine Institute will donate a meal to a hungry child in the area.

The statistics on hunger in the Tampa Bay community are staggering. Here are some of the facts:

  • Over 16 percent of people in Tampa Bay live below poverty level
  • An estimated 700,000 people in West Central Florida go hungry every day according to Feeding America Tampa Bay, and 250,000 of those people are children
  • 37 percent of West Central Florida residents served by Feeding America Tampa Bay are children under 18 years of age

The collective goal of the Give & Grub food truck project is to give back 150,000 meals to those local children who need it most, and judging by the menu, it won’t be too hard.

Each delicious gourmet item crafted on its state-of-the-art truck is named after Lightning personnel and inspired by their most beloved foods. There’s the Hedman’s Steak Tacos, for example, named after Victor Hedman, and the Bishop Bowl, after goalie ‘Big Ben’ Bishop. The truck makes appearances at local events and during the lunch hour at regional office parks and at Tampa Bay Lightning games when the season kicks up again.

If eating good food for a great cause sounds like something you’d be interested in, join the Tampa Bay Lightning and Laser Spine Institute in their mission to ‘Stick it to Hunger,’ and visit the Give & Grub website to find out where the truck will be next.

Also, by sharing the hashtag #GiveAndGrub on your social media platform of choice, they’ll donate an additional meal to a family in need!

Comcast shuts out Caps, Wizards fans for CSN+ games in Western Maryland

This is what Allegany County Comcast Xfinity viewers saw on their guide Tuesday but were unable to watch the Washington Capitals game because instead of NBCSN carrying the game as shown, it was carried on CSN+. Comcast in Allegany County does not carry CSN+.

This is what Allegany County Comcast Xfinity viewers saw on their guide Monday but were unable to watch the Washington Capitals game because instead of NBCSN carrying the game as shown, it was carried on CSN+. Comcast in Allegany County does not carry CSN+.

Update: A marketing representative from Comcast SportsNet MidAtlantic reached out to me Monday to investigate the issue.

Early indicators show that this is some sort of delivery issue.

The representative explained that CSN+ should be The Comcast Network in my area and ought to be Channel 6 in Frostburg.

After some searching, I found The Comcast Network but it’s on Channel 125 and it gets weirder. The game still didn’t air that night in Frostburg on The Comcast Network. When the Comcast Xfinity agent was trying to resolve the issue, he reactivated my box t make sure I’m getting the right channels.

I saw The Comcast Network flip on but on the channel CSN should be on.  After the system fully adjusted itself, it went back to the way it was. The Comcast Network ended up airing a MMA fight that night.

I haven’t heard back from the representative since I gave her this additional information but it sounds like the wrong feed of The Comcast Network is being sent here. The next opportunity to find out is April 4 when the Washington Wizards’ game is suppose to air.

I’ll post any updates if I receive them.

Original post: Not a lot of people crave to see the Caps play the lowly Buffalo Sabres this year on TV, but with points on the board for Washington’s playoff race, every game matters.

Somewhere in the mess, it didn’t matter to someone at Comcast or its partners for awhile.

Monday’s game between the Caps and the Sabres aired nationally on NBCSN except in the Baltimore/Washington market where the game aired on Comcast Sports Net Mid-Atlantic Plus, or CSN+.

CSN+ was used thanks in part for CSN broadcasting the Washington Wizards and Portland TrailBlazers NBA game.

I realize this is more than the Caps. The Wizards are on CSN+ for 12 games this season. Ted Leonsis, you might want to give Ed Snider a call about this and get it fixed because you’re missing eyeballs you ought to be entitled to.

In Allegany and Garrett counties, here in far Western Maryland, you couldn’t watch that Caps game on TV. The same goes for the other eight games CSN+ aired this year because Comcast in this area does not carry the overflow channel, CSN+. Yes, the normal CSN MidAtlantic is carried.

Why Comcast doesn’t carry an overflow channel within its own company, I just don’t understand. I couldn’t get an answer either. I’ll get more into that later.

Allegany and Garrett counties are in a weird area that has blackout exceptions for the NHL. Comcast carries both CSN and Root here so both Caps and Pittsburgh Penguins games can be aired. I know how much that violates some of you. I do kind of feel dirty watching the Pens when nothing else is on. (Of late, I can watch both of the Caps and Pens on the NHL GameCenter app without blackout restriction either, but I don’t know if that’s because it’s the end of the season, similar to what the NHL did during the first month.)

On the TV guide menu, the game said it was being aired on NBCSN here. I tuned in and it was Barclays Premier League soccer. CSN+ was nowhere to be found and I tried even punching in channel numbers that it could be without any help. The only way I could watch last night’s game was the livestream on NBCSN’s website, which interrupts live action with commercials.

I went online and talked to a Comcast agent just to be sure. The transcript is attached and you’ll see the guy did as much as he could to figure this out, even reactivating my box. After all of this and as much as I could explain to someone about blackouts and such, he determined that Comcast doesn’t carry CSN+ here regardless of package. Visit CSN’s channel finder and you’ll find the same thing. Try typing in 21532, the Frostburg ZIP code and you’ll only see DirecTV—a competitor of Comcast.

I wrote emails to Comcast, CSN Mid-Atlantic and the Washington Capitals last night imploring them to get Comcast to carry CSN+. Frostburg, especially, is a host to at least a few thousands students and professionals from the Baltimore and D.C. area during the hockey season thanks to the chief enrollment figures from my employer, Frostburg State University. Actually, more than 91 percent of students are from the Capitals’ broadcast territory. [Note: This blog is a personal project and is no way endorsed by FSU nor do the opinions reflect employees or students of the university.]

If I knew where in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia other students are from, the figure would be higher. Of note, Comcast subscribers in Franklin County, Pa., have CSN+, and were able to watch Monday’s Capitals games.

The audience is here. Cellular carriers AT&T, Verizon and TMobile have acknowledged how many people with their plans are up this way and have made or are in the middle of upgrading towers to serve its customers in a new area. I hope the same thing can be said for Comcast and CSN+, especially in a territory where Penguins games are also available on TV.

I’d switch TV providers but the rural area here is bound to limited choices. Comcast is the only cable provider. Satellite is available with DirecTV and Dish Network, but if you want high-speed Internet that’s faster than DSL, Comcast is your only option. And Comcast, much like other companies, won’t allow you only to subscribe to Internet service at certain speeds (like 25Mbs) that would make it easy to cut cable completely.

I know this is a small potatoes blog. I don’t update much, but when it comes to hockey and access, I’m all words.

Here’s the transcript: Xfinity-Chat-Transcript-Caps-Sabres

Ice time is always a challenge no matter what

Three things are certain in life: death, taxes and complaints about ice time.

No matter where you’re ice is at, convenient ice time is hard to come by.

Much of that is because the predominant users—adult and youth leagues—crave evening ice slots. Somewhere in that comfortable zone between 6 to 9:30 p.m. During the weekends, the kids get all the Saturday times they can get with an occasional Sunday morning or afternoon game. Adults will take the late afternoon through late night scraps.

Whether that ice rink is in a hockey hotbed or in a remote location, not everyone is going to get great a prime time slot.

A local high school sports reporter for The Washington Post documented the woes finding ice time in the DMV area:

At 6:15 a.m. on a Sunday in mid-January, the St. Mary’s Ryken ice hockey team took the ice at Capital Clubhouse in Waldorf for its weekly practice. The harsh fluorescent light contrasted with the inky pre-dawn of a cold, drab day. In the windowless rink area, parents sat around picnic tables with large coffees and stared at their smartphones, chatted with each other or simply looked out at the Knights’ practice.

Yup, that’s 6:15 a.m. on a Sunday for a practice. It’s not unheard of high school football and basketball players having two-a-days or even pre-school practices, but at least the gym and field is at the school. I know that The Ice Gardens in Laurel, which has one of the largest adult hockey programs on the East Coast, has an early morning adult league through the week, but that’s more of a function of plenty of folks with government or government contractor jobs that need to get their reps in before they stand still on the Beltway.

That rink, which has four sheets plus an outdoor 3-on-3 rink added in 2013, is crazy business regardless of the type of hockey. My friend Doug who I played with in high school said he is on a waiting list for pick-up hockey. That’s not so pick-up and go, huh?

Down here in Ellenton, Fla., well-to-do guys with flexible schedule and retirees routinely fill up mid-afternoon pick-up slots during the week. I’ve documented before a few times how University of South Florida’s hockey team drives down to Ellenton for home games and University of Florida’s club team in Gainesville drives 90 minutes-plus to Orlando and Jacksonville for practice and home games.

I’m sure in certain communities in Massachusetts and Minnesota have ice time issues, too, because of a high demand. But you got to remember that ice is expensive and rinks need great management to make a profit. For players, there’s a balance of cost, time of day, length of time and distance and time of drive that factor in committing to playing. Personally, I drove 90 minutes from Sarasota, Fla., to Oldsmar to play hockey two years ago because the league was free for goalies, the ice times were great on late Sunday afternoon to evening and the 90-minute drive was relatively easy. Plus I’d have at least an hour of ice time. If I see pick-up or games that were only 60 minutes, it wouldn’t be worth my time. Make it 90 to 120 minutes and I’ll make the drive.

Outside of commuting issue, ice rinks can go belly-up in a hurry for a myriad of reasons.

So many things can go wrong for ice rinks

On the management side, it was a tough go 16 years ago or so for ice rinks in Maryland—especially in the Hagerstown area and extending into a nearby Pennsylvania town.

My hometown rink, the Hagerstown Ice and Sports Complex, had several management changes quickly after it opened in 1997, shady characters, an unfinished rink and so much debt that the city temporarily closed it and wanted to turn it into a flea market. For many, the location isn’t convenient because it’s not off an interstate exit but it’s in a park setting that help push plans forward for the old Hagerstown Fairgrounds to be turned into a multi-sports park. It’s a beautiful park with the ice rink there, but there could always be a better location to get more traffic.

Hagerstown Ice is on its feet today and maybe, finally, will get showers and new locker rooms and if things go well, a new sheet of ice could be built in the next decade. The rink is running in the black, can pay off bills and repairs. The adult league now has grown and split into two—six upper league teams and six lower league teams.

When I returned for a quick visit in December, one of my friends who volunteers at the rink said the management made simple changes to bring in revenue again. They adjusted the public skate time and Zam the ice once or twice during public skate to force people off the ice and head for the concession stand. The rink would do this in the early days but for a time just stopped altogether as a penny-pinching move to save on Zam maintenance and water costs that proved to be a pound foolish.

If you want an example of when everything goes wrong look no further than the Doris I. Billow Ice Arena. Just northeast of Hagerstown near Waynesboro, Pa., a better Olympic ice rink [in appearance only] was built thanks to money left over from an estate but after opening in 1997 months after the Hagerstown rink opened 30 minutes down the road, the $2.5 million rink closed in 2001 because of foreclosure and was sold at auction in 2003 and ended up as an indoor tennis complex. The rink received a fair share of state and local money to support it.

Part of its failure, as the Herald-Mail reported, was its location. Did anyone not hire a good real estate or business manager? Evidently not. One group wanted to build in Greencastle, Pa., off of a heavily traveled Interstate 81 and five miles made all the difference back then. The Zullinger site, near Waynesboro, had no draw to it. It was a small village with a mom-and-pop grocery store, a pizza place and a used car lot on the way to somewhere else yet in the middle of nowhere despite its location. It’s a little more developed today but not by much. But as the newspaper reported, the issue was resolved in court and the wrong side—thinking hyperlocal instead of regional—won. Here’s how it played out back then, according to the former executive director of the non-profit at the time, L. Michael Ross:

“It was intended to be a regional facility that would include Washington County,” Ross said.

When officials in Maryland saw that construction of an ice rink in Franklin County was being delayed by legal wrangling, they decided to build a rink in Hagerstown, Ross said. When that happened, a financial resource dried up for Pennsylvania, he said.

In certain categories both the Hagerstown and Zullinger rinks had great demand and filled up and the youth teams were very competitive. In bantam hockey we could actually travel and go to Waynesboro and play other teams (multiple!) instead of beating up against the one other team at our rink and getting our asses whooped by the Frederick teams. Eventually the Cumberland Valley Flames would form and then instead of being involved in the Capital Beltway Hockey League against Baltimore, Washington and Northern Virginia teams, they opted to play in a league that would take them to Delaware, Philadelphia, New Jersey and even New York.

Remember how this post was about ice time? Once Zullinger shuttered, both the adult and youth teams tried to play in Hagerstown but depending on what you read or who you talk to, either weren’t welcome or didn’t like the ice time options. Granted, at that time the Hagerstown rink management wasn’t great either with running its own rink and had a contentious relationship with the Waynesboro rink. What saved Hagerstown was that the city was willing to bail it out and eventually found the right nonprofit to manage the rink. The Waynesboro rink was owned by a private non-profit and the township didn’t want to buy it.

It was short-sighted at the time in so many ways for both sides. Take the ice time because is the drive to Frederick seriously a better option? For the Adams County players, maybe. But at the time, the Hagerstown adult league only had four to five teams. Once the Zullinger rink closed, that bumped up to six to eight depending on the year until a recent surge in adult novice hockey. Players came anyway, but not as a league. Just individual teams joining a new league. Depending where other Zullinger adult and youth players lived, they either hoofed it to Mechanicsburg and Harrisburg, Pa., or to Frederick.

Stop and go in FredCo

About 40 minutes east of Hagerstown in Frederick—a much larger city and more metropolitan than Hagerstown—the then-Frederick Sports and Ice Arena went into bankruptcy in 1998 with two sheets of ice. From what I recall, there’s a door in the pro shop that leads to an enormous empty area where a third sheet was to be built. Please let me know if I’m wrong, but I was told years ago that the third sheet of ice was intended to have about 2,000 seats or so for a higher tier junior team that never materialized.

Bankruptcy didn’t do much because the mortgage wasn’t being paid so it was nearly sold at a foreclosure auction. Despite the financial woes, the rink never closed its doors and a local businessman and his sister purchased the rink in 1999 and renamed it Skate Frederick. The facility is very busy, but there’s still grumblings of people not liking how either their league is organized or other managerial issues that face most rinks.

More ice

Bright spots do exist for more ice in Maryland. Bowie, Md., is building a new sports complex that includes two ice sheets—one NHL and one Olympic—to be completed in 2018. It looks likely—though not entirely clear in public documents and published reports—that the complex would replace the 1971 Bowie Ice Arena. That’s unfortunate on two fronts. One, closing the rink would get rid of a beautiful wood ceiling that has to be the best ice rink ceiling I’ve ever played under. Two, the rink was heavily renovated in 2004 to add a new entrance, locker and meeting rooms, a pro shop and other amenities.

Sure, that was 10 years ago but the rink still looks young with the renovations. Granted, a new refrigeration system and new dasherboards were needed for $1 million but the city opted to move those funds and put it toward a new ice rink. I hope that an ice rink management company buys the old Bowie rink or a philanthropist commits to renovate the existing ice arena to give the area three rinks and save that wood ceiling.

I feel like that Hagerstown sheet is a ways away, and Mountain Maryland still has a void thanks to Cumberland’s rink closure a decade ago. That Hagerstown sheet would bring in more people from the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, more folks from Winchester, Va., and south central Pennsylvania. With Cumberland, you have a snowier climate to deal with for players willing to commute and a more rural area. Sure, a couple of players could come from as far as the outskirts of Morgantown, W.Va., and a few from Bedford, Pa., who could be skating in Johnstown or Altoona right now. (And yes, selfishly from Frostburg, too.)

I haven’t followed the woes of ice rinks in metropolitan Baltimore and D.C. enough to figure out how many additional rinks the area would have other than knowing that months after the Reisterstown Sportsplex opened in February 2008 the Northwest Ice Rink in Baltimore closed.

Here’s a lesson to be learned from any of the rinks mentioned: Always have an extra million dollars tucked away before you open and have that as a contingency fund. Which honestly, means get enough private money in advance to not have a mortgage. The Zullinger rink owed $1.8 million in its foreclosure. Bowie rink repairs? $1 million. The Hagerstown rink’s losses, which were around $200,000 to $300,000 a year, were saved by the city each year as the city worked to pay off the loan and help out the rink with utility payments. Not a lot of cities would have done that.

I’ve written enough on this blog whether it was Maryland rinks, Florida rinks (and specifically one in Lakewood Ranch when I wrote for Patch) or in what should be a hockey hotbed of Erie, Pa. Ice rinks can easily run themselves into financial crises if not managed correctly—whether it’s bookkeeping, long-range planning, proper maintenance, marketing or community relations or not protecting itself from a lack of interest because of NHL lockouts.

But even if all these rinks succeeded and more sheets of ice were to be built, you will always run into a player, an organization, and figure skaters, too, complain about ice time.

What legendary Wisconsin goalie coach Bill Howard taught in the ’90s

As I’m readying for my move back to Maryland I found in my files a collection of handouts my midget goalie coach gave me in high school.

Anyway, my coach was a Quebec native named Claude Dube. He moved down to south central Pennsylvania to work for construction equipment maker JLG. Instead of preaching butterfly goaltending and everything that Patrick Roy would do, he instead showed me videos and handouts from Bill Howard, now retired assistant coach and goalie coach at the University of Wisconsin, help leading the team to six NCAA championships. He also developed Jim Carey, Mike Richter, Curtis Joseph and Brian Elliott before stepping down in 2008.


Howard still runs camps and can be found at http://www.greatgoalies.net. My family could never afford a camp because it was taxing enough just to pay for travel hockey let alone everything else with school and this is one camp I wish I would have attended just to learn straight from the source. We did watch a lengthy video detailing all of this and it looks like on the website that Howard has two DVDs for sale that explain this and newer techniques. It’s worth it if you’re a young goaltender.

Howard would update his techniques like any goalie coach but his foundation was much of the same. My first year of midget hockey was in 1999, so these were likely a few years old by the time I got my hands on them.

For the benefit of goalies out there, I’ll retype all the drills here and scan some old charts. I’m doing this in a bit of reverse order with the meat of Howard’s techniques first. Another handout that explains the stances, stick positions, etc., follows the Fundamentals of Goaltending.

Fundamentals of Goaltending: Controlling The Game

By Bill Howard, Assistant Coach Univ. of Wisconsin

I. PHASE ONE OF GOALTENDING: GOALIE STANCES, MOVEMENTS AND PLAYING THE ANGLES

A. The five proper goalie stances, when and how to use them:

  1. Normal. Don’t rest on your inside edges and have the stick always on the ice
  2. Open. For long shots, have legs spread further apart toward the shoulders.
  3. Closed. Play from the side of the net. Glove on the ice, pad closed
  4. V-Stance. Shots in close from 5 feet out and for rebounds.
  5. Scramble. Rebounds in tight.

B. The five proper ways to move in the net, when and how to use them

  1. Glide & Slide: Used the most to move around the crease
  2. X Over: Moving dot to dot
  3. Diagonal-Up: Diagonal passes
  4. Diagonal Slide: Diagonal passe in close
  5. When Caught Off Angle: Move to middle of net and stop.

C. Playing the angles: when and how to use the four segments of the net and the rink

FILE: Playing The Angles

  1. Try and play only 1 segment for any given shot
  2. Always be stopped, set in the proper stance and square to the puck
  3. Take the short side away (thus you’re playing only 1/2 of the net)
  4. Only move 1/2 of your body to make the save

Remember in the course of the game a goalie will move many more times then he will stop the puck. Therefore, moving correctly and being in the right stance and on the angle as close as possible will make stopping and controlling the puck much easier.

II. PHASE TWO OF GOALTENDING: CONTROLLING THE SHOT AND THE PUCK

  • Having the proper balance: proper body control and puck control when making the save
  • Having the proper balance points
  • Having the proper weight transfer: includes upper and lower body weight transfer
  • Having the proper angle of deflection

Remember it is not enough to just stop the puck. A goalie can control the shot, the puck and the game.

III. PHASE THREE OF GOALTENDING: THE FUNDAMENTALS AND TECHNIQUES TO MAKING ALL TYPES OF GOALIE SAVES

A. When and how to use the goalie stick for saves and game situations

  1. Stick saves: limited and full extension
  2. Poke checking: knowing your range and being able to recover. [Put a mark on ice to visualize]
  3. Passing the puck: forehand, backhand and shuffle

B. The five types of pad saves: when and how to use them

  1. Limited: Within stance, tight and in close shots
  2. Full extension: Shot from far distance
  3. Diagonal to the post
  4. Diagonal slide to the post
  5. Pad save from V stance

C. The two types of V saves: when and how to use them

[This was left blank by my coach. This probably explains a lot. But I can tell you that there are pad V stance saves for shots and deflections along the ice and then glove/stick saves from higher shots. Key for this style of play is to keep the glove and blocker up high and not close to the pad like the newer styles teach.]

D. The four types of glove saves (limited and full extensions): when and how to use them

  1. Low glove: limited within stance for shots 4-5 feet
  2. Full extension: low, middle and high
  3. Limited: low, middle and high
  4. Arm pit save: limited and full upper

IV: OTHER PHASES OF GOALTENDING

A. Handling the puck in different game situations

  1. Stopping the puck behind the net
  2. Leaving the puck properly for the defenseman
  3. Clearing the puck
  4. Making breakout passes

B. The Set of 18: repetition of learned skills and conditioning (see below)

Remember there is more to playing goalie than just stopping the puck. A goalie must be under control, restrict his movement, have the proper balance, weight transfer, angle of deflections and puck control.

THE SET OF 18

A review and summary of every type of save you will have to make in the net. This is to be done in order with the proper technique and you must always return to the basic normal goalie stance. You must also have the proper balance, weight transfer, body control and angle of movement.

The key to being a great goaltender is having the confidence to make any save at any time without having to think about how to make the save.

  1. Rocking your skates while maintaining the basic goalie stance
  2. Limited stick and pad save to the left
  3. Limited stick and pad save to the right
  4. Down in the V stance, shooting the pads out to both sides
  5. Full extension pad save to the left
  6. Full extension pad save to the right
  7. Diagonal slide pad save to the left
  8. Diagonal slide pad save to the right
  9. Moving stick save/pokecheck three times while moving across the net
  10. Full extension low glove save to the left
  11. Full extension low glove save to the right
  12. Full extension middle glove save to the left
  13. Full extension middle glove save to the right
  14. Full extension high glove save to the left
  15. Full extension high glove save to the right
  16. Down in the V save position and back up
  17. Down in the scramble position and freeze the puck
  18. Diving pokecheck from the basic stance and back up

On Ice Techniques: Review of the 11 Basics of Goaltending

A. The Basic Stance

  1. Your skates/feet should be slightly apart
  2. Knees should be slightly bent and weight slightly forward
  3. The gloves should be at your side just off the hip and open
  4. The stick should be placed away from your skates 3 to 4 inches out in front of you with the blade on the ice at all times
  5. You should adjust your stance based on the situation and distance of the puck (use 1 of the 5 stances).

B. Maintaining the Proper Balance

  1. Proper weight distribution over your skates (stay off the inside edges and don’t be back on your heels for any shot)
  2. Have a balance point and the proper weight transfer (always give with the puck)

C. Moving in the Net

  1. Use 1 of the 5 methods to move based on the game situation
  2. Always stay square to the puck and be stopped and set before the shot
  3. You will move many more times in a game than you will make saves. Getting there correctly therefore becomes extremely important

D. Playing the Angles

  1. Play the net and goal as 4 segments. Play one segment at a time for any given shot. Do not try and play the whole net.
  2. Check each rink and find your reference points for your angles
  3. Most of your movements should be in the arc, not straight back in
  4. Line up your angle on the puck not the shooter
  5. Set up early when the play is in neutral ice
  6. Hold your position! Most goalies over-move or commit too early

E. Proper Use of the Stick

  1. Learn your proper range for shots on the ice
  2. DO not get off balance when making stick saves. Maintain the basic stance
  3. Give with the shots directly at you and either deflect or control
  4. Learn to use your stick to pokecheck and break up passes in the scoring area. Always be able to recover properly if you miss the puck in these situations
  5. Be able to pass and clear the puck with the proper velocity. Arm strength is very important

F. Blockage and Control of SHots

  1. Time, distance and your level of quickness determine how much of your body will be able to get in front of the puck
  2. Always give with the puck. Let the puck come to you!
  3. On long shots get your whole body in front of the puck and on closer shots make the save with only 1/2 of your body

G. Kick Skate Save

  1. Timing of the skate with the stick as the puck comes is the key to this save
  2. Use only to kick the puck out from in front of your traffic or to kick pass the puck to a play or out of the zone

H. Pad Saves

  1. Time and distance once again will dictate which type of pad save to use
  2. Control or direct the puck with the proper balance. You must give with every shot and provide a cushion for control
  3. Proper balance points and weight transfer are essential for not allowing a second shot or to be in position if there is a second shot
  4. Do not “stack the pads” to make a save

I. Glove Saves

  1. Your feet/skates dictate the distance and control when making a glove save
  2. The position of your gloves will vary according to the distance the shot is taken from
  3. Always give with the shot, don’t grab at the puck. Make the save at your side or slightly behind your with the proper balance and weight transfer
  4. When a full extension is necessary you must lower the shoulder, transfer the weight and straighten out your arm

J. Controlling Rebound

  1. Always give with the puck and let the puck come to you
  2. Proper angle of deflection so that all shots are places out of the scoring area
  3. Once again, to control the puck you must have proper balance and weight transfer. This also allows you to be ready for a second shot if you do give a rebound
  4. When freezing the puck, always use your stick to bring the puck to you and to protect your glove as you cover the puck.

K. Communication with the Team

  1. Read the situation when the play is in neutral ice and let your players know what the play may be (especially the numeric situation)
  2. Be verbal with your defenseman, but only as needed. Don’t over-talk!

One last key note: A goalie should train himself to restrict his movements and to stay on his feet as much as possible. Many goalies over move or go down too soon and end up creating an opening that didn’t exist.