22 September 2017

Hockey Road Trip: Sunshine State Safari


Florida. The Final Frontier. Or as some might even call it, The Sunshine State. So often in my life, everything comes back to Florida.

Just like so many Navy brats before and after me, Florida was my home for a brief period. More than once, in fact. Not long after I was born in the suburbs of Chicago, my father would get transferred to the Jacksonville area for a short stint in the late 1970’s. At the dawn of the following decade, we were shipped off to Maine for nine months, returning back to Jacksonville as I began kindergarten in 1981. My memories of Florida aren't too vivid, though I do distinctly recall my mother working for a local aquarium. Midway through my first year of grade school, the family would return to Illinois, but it wouldn't be the last time I'd set foot in The Sunshine State.

As I was finishing up my studies in film school, a couple of my classmates made a deal with a would-be producer to make a short film in Florida, which we would shoot after we graduated in the summer of 2001. We had a crew of 10 and we spent a week on Sanibel Island, just off the gulf coast near Fort Myers. I remember how it rained for about 20 minutes every day, and how we were terrorized by the local insects (namely, the no-see-ums) on a daily basis. But it was a fun life experience that made everyone feel like working members of the film industry.

Once Chad and I detailed the plan to visit every NHL arena, we immediately focused our attention to arenas that were due to be replaced or teams who had legendary players that were set to retire soon. This led us to New Jersey in the first year of our voyages, to see Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr (who is STILL playing professional hockey, as of this writing), so I then suggested that we go to Tampa to see Martin St. Louis, who was approaching 40 at the time. I was also a fan of the University of Florida football team and had always wanted to see a game there, so the plan was set: we'd visit Florida in the fall of 2014. But then something unexpected happened…

30 August 2017

Squire Report, Vol 1: Prelude


As I mentioned in my “Regeneration” post, I’ve decided to adopt the Vegas Golden Knights as my new favorite team. I’m fascinated with the idea of constructing a hockey team in the salary cap era, and it’s fun to cheer them on from Day One. My hope is to publish this report every month, and possibly even more often, as I’m sure I’ll feel the need to add an occasional “special report” from time to time. So without any further adieu, let’s get to it…

AN ACTUAL NHL ROSTER

When the NHL first announced that they were expanding to Las Vegas, the idea of a roster full of players seemed like such a distant memory - but with the completion of the Expansion Draft in late June, that was finally the case. GM George McPhee had the privilege of choosing one player from each of the 30 existing franchises, which led to massive speculation and increased interest from both fans and media for the preceding months. Even though the NHL had set up the expansion rules to allow Vegas to be as competitive as possible during their inaugural season (which likely would have hindered their long-term success), McPhee smartly opted to build this team for the future, making a series of shrewd transactions to maximize the potential of his “free” assets as follows:

- Acquiring draft picks and young expansion-exempt prospects in exchange for choosing high-salary players, some of whom may never play again due to injury;
- Selecting certain players specifically to trade them immediately afterward, through pre-arranged deals with the other GM’s across the league;
- Choosing older players with expiring contracts to move at the trade deadline for additional picks, rather than taking questionable unproven players that would have been susceptible to waivers had they not made the team.

This method of roster construction left naysayers to insist that McPhee had mishandled his draft selections in lieu of icing the best team possible. But when you look closer, there was a valid reason for most of his selections, starting with the fact that you can only have 23 players on the opening night roster. This limitation meant that McPhee had to find a way to get immediate value out of several of his selections, knowing that at least seven of the chosen players could be lost to waivers if he didn’t make the right decision. So he started wheeling and dealing…

25 August 2017

Regeneration

We all go through changes - it’s a part of life.

But how you face the inevitability of change should help to define you as a person. I’ve always felt that change, in general, should improve me in a way that I hadn’t yet realized, thereby allowing me the chance to see things with increased optimism. Why not learn from your surroundings, especially if it leads to personal satisfaction?

A lot has happened to me since I started this blog four years ago. I’ve made new friends, connected with fellow writers, and discovered the power of Twitter (for better or worse). My love of hockey has grown stronger as a result, and I’ve found that I can be actively engaged in my favorite sport while living and working in a town dominated by the entertainment industry. I also turned 40 years old - my mother became a grandmother at that age, but I wasn’t even close to finding love myself. But that all changed too...

I met Charlene in April 2016. Less than a year later, I asked her to marry me. She is a consistent inspiration in my daily life, and makes me want to be the best man that I can be. She is also a blogger, and we even had a lengthy discussion about our respective websites - and writing in general - during our first date. I’ve learned so much by following her example, and in turn she has used her experience to help me get the most out of my blog. She took it upon herself to design a logo for Hockey Transplant, helping to motivate me to get back on track and write with a purpose. She created business cards for me to hand out, got me to create an Instagram account, and - as one of the greatest birthday presents ever - had a t-shirt made with the HT logo.

She also introduced me to her favorite TV show...Doctor Who.

While the dictionary describes regeneration as “spiritual renewal or revival”, fans of the hit BBC series know that the word carries so much more meaning. In addition to the spiritual aspects of change, the element of physical transformation is also required when one Doctor transitions into the next - the difference is startling but welcome. The show prides itself of evolution and re-growth (two words: Female Doctor!), which is something sports fans should be used to by now. Whether it’s something as simple a rule change, or as drastic as a beloved player (or even team) changing locations, we’ve become accustomed to progress whether we like it or not. But what about changing the internal thought process that goes into being a sports fan itself? Could there be physical changes which might be induced at the same time?

18 November 2016

Hockey Road Trip: The Great Southern Sports Adventure


My family moved to Kentucky halfway through my junior year in high school, staying there until my graduation, which was quickly followed by my father's retirement from the Navy.  Outside of this 18-month stretch of my life, I hadn't really spent a lot of time in the South.  Technically, my father was briefly stationed in Florida when I was very young, and my mother's family is mostly from Arkansas, but I've got the virtues of a tried-and-true Yankee.  As a result, I've always found the South to be quite mystifying: it's not so much a place as it is a "state of mind", personified by a relaxed way of life with hospitable inhabitants.  I had every intention of visiting after we left, but I just never got around to finding the time.

Enter Dave.

Dave is one of my oldest friends - we met while working together at an ACE Hardware store in Illinois, but he was originally from Kentucky (and wound up moving there after he finished high school).  After I had moved to Los Angeles, Dave followed suit and settled into Orange County, about an hour away.  He was also a longtime hockey fan, so we would often watch games together on television or make the occasional trip to a game itself.  After a few years, Dave moved to Mississippi to help run one of his family's grocery stores - he seized the opportunity for several reasons, most notably being his yearning for the Southern lifestyle.

From the moment he arrived, Dave suggested that I come visit so that he could show me this region that he loved so much.  His grocery store had a connection to get free tickets for New Orleans Saints games, and Dave also had family members who were season ticket holders for LSU's football team, so we naturally tried to find a weekend in which we could see both teams play.  When I began my Hockey Road Trip "quest", Dave suggested we expand our Louisiana football plan one step further, and work in a trip to see the nearest NHL team: the Dallas Stars.

Once the NHL announced their 2014-15 schedule, I found one particular weekend in October which allowed us the chance to see all three teams: we would watch LSU on Saturday, the Saints on Sunday, then drive to Dallas to see the Stars on Tuesday.  But what to do on Monday?  As luck would have it, the Dallas Cowboys were scheduled to play on Monday Night Football that exact night - it was too perfect!  I talked it over with my traveling buddy Chad, and he decided to opt out of the first part of the trip: he'd been to New Orleans and had seen the Superdome six months earlier (for Wrestlemania), so he would instead fly directly to Dallas and meet us there.

Hotels in New Orleans are rather expensive, and I couldn't find any Airbnb options to my liking, so we opted for a hotel 15 miles west of downtown.  Dave booked the Dallas hotel, which was one where he'd stayed in the past.  The plans were set, and off we went...

17 June 2015

The Greatest Goal I've Ever Seen


4. NEW JERSEY, Scott Niedermayer 4 (Jim Dowd) 9:47

June 20, 1995.  That's how it looked in the box score.  Pity the poor hockey fan who didn't see it happen, and only saw this in print the next day.

The question is often asked: what's the greatest play you've ever seen?  For sports fans, it usually involves a superstar like Michael Jordan or Joe Montana, presumably executing a clutch play during an important playoff game.  If you narrow it down to just hockey, the greatest moment would also lean toward some sort of overtime heroics from the Stanley Cup playoffs.  But for this hockey fan, it wasn't an overtime goal that will always resonate - but it was a pivotal play at an incredibly crucial time, and as we approach the 20th anniversary of that moment, it's hard not to look back and revel in the same sense of awe that I had while watching on television that fateful evening.

THE PLAYER

Scott Niedermayer was born and raised in western Canada, and began turning heads during his first season in junior hockey.  Playing defense for the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, Scott would score 69 points (14 goals, 55 assists) in 64 games to help them win the league's championship.  He was only 16 years old.  The next season saw Scott improve upon those statistics, with 82 points (26 goals, 56 assists) in 57 games, making him one of the top prospects heading into the 1991 NHL Entry Draft.  Due in part to a fortuitous series of events, the most notable being a hotly debated trade from two years prior, the New Jersey Devils selected Scott with the 3rd overall pick in the draft.

12 June 2015

Hockey Road Trip: Once More Into the Valley of the Sun


As we head towards the end of the 2014-15 NHL season, I finally have time to recap my final road trip of the 2013-14 season (sorry - I've been VERY busy).  Needless to say, it was a very quick trip to a nearby destination, but it's always fun to escape from the craziness of Los Angeles and spend a weekend in the even-sunnier confines of the greater Phoenix area.

At the end of the last decade (do you call them "the aughts"?), I often found myself visiting Arizona in late February every year.  The purpose?  MLB Spring Training.  Each trip always seemed to coincide with the weekend of the Academy Awards, which was a perfect time to skip town and relax with some baseball.  We would arrive in Arizona soon after the players had first reported to camps, but before they started playing actual games - this meant dealing with smaller crowds of people, which allowed us the opportunity to interact with the players on many occasions.  But the practices only occurred during the day, which left us with little to do in the evenings.  Sports fans that we are, my buddy Dave and I used the nighttime to watch live contests: one year, it was an Arena Football game featuring the very successful Arizona Rattlers, once it was a Phoenix Suns game (in which I got to scratch "see Shaquille O'Neal play in-person" off of my sports bucket list), and on two occasions we saw the Phoenix Coyotes.

Jobing.com Arena (as it was known then) is a terrific place to see a hockey game, without a doubt.  The sight lines are terrific, the staff is very friendly, and the food is superb.  In fact, it was only after visiting this arena, as well as Nationwide Arena in Columbus, that I was finally inspired to start my quest of seeing all the other NHL venues - and as it stands right now, these two are still my favorite places.  So why go back now?  Two reasons: my dear friend, Chad - trusty companion throughout my Hockey Road Trips - had yet to see a game there; and more importantly, I had recently reconnected with Estell, an old friend from high school who lived in Arizona, and this was a great opportunity to finally see him again after more than two decades.

05 June 2015

The Cinematic Virtue of Soviet Hockey

Drama.

It's what we, as an audience, look for when watching movies.  Good writing, strong characters, and great presentation are all required to make us feel wrapped up in a solid story.  Every visit to a movie theater is nothing more than staring at light flickering upon a wall, and every moment spent sitting in front of the television is simply watching electricity being beamed across a paneled screen.  So why do we do it?  In a word...

Drama.

Personally, it's also what I admire the most about sports.  I would argue that no film can match the dramatic quality of a live sporting event - and just like movies, the best moments in sports are due to good story lines.  One common theme in movies is the idea of cheering for the underdog, which we often do in sports as well.  But what if the underdog is someone that we've been told to fear historically?

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union lasted all the way through my childhood, and while I certainly wasn't old enough to experience the most tense moments of the conflict during its formative years (my father has some hilarious stories of the "air raid drills" he endured throughout junior high school), I vividly remember President Ronald Reagan instilling hatred and fear of this potential enemy into our minds during the 1980's.  I also wasn't quite old enough to remember the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York - site of arguably the most dramatic moment in sports history, the "Miracle on Ice" game between the US and Soviet hockey teams.  When Disney announced they would be making a film based on the events surrounding that game, my initial thought was, "How can they possibly make a movie that will be more dramatic than the game itself?"

More than thirty years after the "Miracle on Ice" game, and a decade after Disney's Miracle, three filmmakers told three separate stories to best encapsulate the experience of the men involved with the Soviet hockey team: two American directors (one of whom was born to Soviet immigrants) used the documentary format to give audiences a glimpse behind hockey's version of the "Iron Curtain"; while the third director, a Russian, crafted a narrative biopic to lovingly honor the men who would form the foundation of his country's hockey history.  While each film treads into similar territory, they differentiate themselves from each other via one particular component that the filmmaker pulls to the forefront of the story:

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