Well, so much for that. Jordie Benn, you are our only hope. (Well, along with the other 46 younger defensemen in the system.)
Summer has become the time of year when I read hockey books. It's not that I'm completely starved for things to do during the summer so much as I've found it a useful way to avoid moping and whining until training camp starts. There is something delightful about reveling in the world of hockey while my anticipation for the upcoming season continues its slow but constant build. This year, I'm reading The Game, by Ken Dryden, the Montreal Canadiens goalie of 1970s lore who retired at age 31 to practice law. It's usually praised as the best hockey book out there, and while I'm only about 100 pages in, I'm finding it tough to disagree. I've got a ways to go, though, so I won't bore you with that (yet). Instead, here's some thoughts on one of the books I read to keep myself sane during the 2012 lockout. (Links are at the bottom, so feel free to skip the choppy prose below if that's not what you came here for.)
Home Ice by the late Jack Falla is a wonderful journey through the author's life with hockey. A journalist and professor at Boston University, Falla uses his backyard rink as a focal point for many different essays and observations about where he has found meaning in his existence. It’s a sort of memoir of a hockey-infatuated father and husband who has clearly found himself best able to express his love and point out his flaws in the context of an ice rink. There's so much more in it than I can contain in a few bullet points, but here's my best shot. You have been warned.
- "In life as in hockey, you’ve got to play hurt," Falla says in Home Ice. He’s right. You have to accomplish things without the benefit of comfort or consolation, because those things are a distraction far more frequently than they are a reward for a job well done. And once we find ourselves seeking comfort and consolation as ends in themselves, we wind up working at the same place for thirty years because it’s easy. We increasingly devote ourselves to vices and amusements to satisfy urges that we used to have the strength to temper. We become bodybuilders who only work on the glamour muscles, working all day long to stave off insecurity while the most vital elements of our well-being and self-defense grow flabby and impotent.
- Of course, after reading Home Ice, I would rather skate by myself on a 40-foot backyard rink at 6 a.m. in the morning than do almost anything else, so I'm not in a position to judge anyone. I am a selfish person!
- One of the most potent sections of the book is where Falla reflects on the type of people who shovel snow off the rink on Saturday mornings before the big neighborhood games would start. Falla was usually the one who started shoveling, but he was usually joined by friends or family before getting too far; however, there were always those few people who knew about what time to arrive in order to avoid the shoveling, maybe a teenager with all-new gear who didn't have any interest in working and sweating alongside his neighbors.
- There are a lot of hockey players like that. We often hear stories about which players are out there for the optional practices, those who arrive at the rink hours before anyone else on a game day (like Kari), with the implication being that there are also those players who do the bare minimum, arriving just barely in time for practice, and perhaps even getting benched once in a while for being late or missing curfew. Falla's point, and one I agree with, is that the people who suffer most when those players skip out on the "hard work" are the players themselves. Those teenagers who didn't want to shovel experienced an unconscious separation from their brothers and sisters on the rink, often feeling, I'm sure, like they had to push themselves to score more and prove themselves better than any blue-collar contribution could make them. I've played with players like that, and while their skill is way beyond anything I could offer during a hockey game, there's no doubt that the experience of teamwork and discipline can prepare us for bigger and better things off the ice, those areas where natural ability means a lot less than the level of our dedication and sacrifice.
- However, those same "lazy" players are often the ones whose elite skills meant they never needed to put in those hours, to earn their reputation outside the rink. It's easy for fans to bond with the hard-working 3rd-line players who may not have the amazing hands of Matt Duchene or the instincts of Brett Hull, because most of us normal people know that feeling of being little-recognized, never quite standing out as much as we feel we deserve. But it's also important for us to remember that a lot of the top-tier athletes just aren't very friendly or relatable people, no matter how much we might want them to be. Whether that's a product of spending the majority of their lives being the adored player on mite teams and traveling with year-round hockey clubs or a consequence of being named as the darling prospect in an organization, the fact is that we often get way too much satisfaction out of deriding the Mike Ribeiros when they fall from grace after we've been silent during their years of immense contribution to our experience and joy as fans. Schadenfreude is all well and good when it's the stupid Ducks or those 14,000 Chicago fans that keep buying all the good tickets, but we ought to meet the Ribeiros more than halfway, remembering that they have put in a lot of work as well, even if we can't always see it from where we're standing.
- Last thought: One family on my street growing up had two sons whose dad was a big hockey guy. He had spent a lot of his childhood in Indiana (I could draw from memory the classic Fort Wayne Komets logo on an old sweatshirt of his). One year when I was nine or ten, he asked me if I wanted to join the youth team he coached at the local roller rink. I had nothing but cheap skates and an old stick at the time, but he said I could buy some of his sons' old gear if I wanted to get involved. I did, with my parents' help, and even though I was never anywhere near the best player on the rink, those early years led me to fall in love with the game in a way I never could have otherwise. This same guy was recovering from a minor medical procedure last year, unbeknownst to me, when I mailed him a copy of Home Ice. He finished it that same week. That is a story to show you how good of a read this book is. If you want to be reminded of why people fall in love with this game, I highly recommend it to you, too. (But you'll have to buy it yourself.)
- Last last thought: I'll get back to Stars stuff on Wednesday, I promise.
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Okay, what is this? A Stars hockey site, right. Yes, here are some much more cogent writings about hockey:
Mike Heika answered a question about where Faksa, Morin, etc. might fit in with the glut of Dallas depth forwards. [DMN]
Heika also has a couple more quotes from Lindy Ruff on using advanced stats. [DMN]
Puck Daddy has their Summer Disappointment series up and running. St. Louis's entry is particularly agonizing, except for the parts about Brett Hull being alienated, which was obviously part of a greater plan. [Puck Daddy]
Montreal has signed PK Subban to a long-term deal, as you've no-doubt heard. Habs Eyes on the Prize has the details. Subban was a 2nd-round draft pick in 2007, by the way. [EOTP]
New Jersey has turned an about-face on analytics as well; they hired a former professional poker player to head their new analytics department. Didn't someone recently make a poker comparison to analytics usage? [Pro Hockey Talk]
Here's a cool look back at Rocket Richard's 50 goals in 50 games in the 1944-45 season. Who will be the next Star to score 50? (After Eaves does it this year, I mean) [Greatest Hockey Legends]
Phil Kessel and Roger Federer played in a big game of ridiculous ball hockey. Jason Spezza probably beat them both. It is summer. [CBS Sports]
Speaking of not-hockey hockey games, here's a compendium of awesome field hockey plays. If you have never watched field hockey, make sure you are working a graveyard shift during the next summer Olympic Games, because this sport is actually kind of awesome.