Monthly Archives: October 2007

Bottom Of The Band

I have always wanted to play the bass guitar. Gene Simmons from Kiss, Geddy Lee from Rush, John Camp of Renaissance, and of course Chris Squire of Yes (the latter two with their Rickenbacker axes; the former with his axe posing as bass) were my musical heroes. Twenty-seven years ago, I first attempted to learn to play, buying a very low-end Fender jazz bass look-alike with horrible action, uneven frets, and a warped neck (or at least those were my excuses for my lack of ability coupled with fret buzz). It was the week after midterms, the somewhat misplaced “fall break” during my freshman year at Princeton — this exact upcoming week on the calendar. It wasn’t the first time I’d come back to campus with more junk in tow than when I’d left.

My excuse for an amplifier was a “portable” cassette deck with the bass run into the line in, and an 1/8″ plug to RCA plug cable going from line out into my stereo amplifier. Unintentional distortion, a little pre-amp control and a touch of Mr. Microphone all at the same time. A year later, partial differential equations and DeMorgan’s theorem conspired to consume my practice hours, and I sold the bass to another unsuspecting (and unsuccessful) friend from the radio station. During my entire 4-string career, I learned the bass line to “I’m Free” by the Who and some of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll.”

Last year, when I was making up my list of projects in progress for the incoming CTOs of software, I put “learn to play bass” in near the end, just to see if they’d read that far. Brewin asked me a few weeks ago if I ever learned to play, and I couldn’t think of a good reason why I hadn’t. I can find the time to practice; I have a place to practice and access to reasonable sound reinforcement. So after a few weeks of trolling around on eBay I managed to win one Steinberger-style, Hohner headless bass guitar, suitable for travel, practice in tight quarters, and aging heavy metal wannabes with fat fingers.

It arrived today, and I’m itching to get on the redeye so I can get down and get funky in NJ. Next stop: YYZ.

Mystery, Alaska

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Mystery, Alaska on tonight’s plane ride west. Not only was it hockey-focused and appropriately funny but it had a viable enough plot to prevent me from checking the time remaining counter (unlike some of the other Netflix-supplied DVDs I’ve watched lately, including Babel and Children of Men). It’s a hockey movie and a small-town movie and a little bit of sports fantasy rolled into two hours. What’s not to like?

It’s as good as Bill Gaston’s “Midnight Hockey;” not quite as funny or personal, but as an adult player, it stuck with me. And that, perhaps, is the theme wrapped in the Mystery: What makes hockey stick with us, and what happens when it gets unstuck? For the past seven years, I’ve been playing somewhat regularly with guys whose company I truly enjoy, at a competitive level that is comfortable, having survived a groin tear, a broken ankle and a slap shot to the back of the calf. I fear what my wife’s grandfather used to call the “take-away club:” the point at which the things you enjoy, like driving, sports, and TV with a normal volume setting, get taken away from you by failures in your own body. I’ve never considered what will happen when I decide to hang up the skates for good. It’s clearly not as hockey world-moving as a professional player choosing retirement or coaching, but there are far more adult players than professionals making this choice each season.

Sunday night, the Ice Dragons start another season; another year of left wing, a few shifts at right wing where I can practice stopping without the boards; beer, the boys, and midnight trips down the Garden State Parkway, and at some point, my requisite goal of the year. Whatever comes next, it’s not coming this season.

Newest Snowman

According to Tom Guilitti over at Fire & Ice, Sheldon Brookbank gets to be the latest Devils snowman. I certainly hope that he fares better than previous players who wore #8 for the Devils:

Vadim Sharifijanov, who was actually drafted in 1994 ahead of some guy named Elias, scored one lonely goal during the 99-00 season. Unfortunately, Bubba and I were in the bathroom at the time the fog horn went off, and a few weeks later “the Sherriff” was shipped off to Vancouver as partial payment for Mogilny.

Igor Larionov, the Professor, who brought his twin wheels (stacked) from Detroit. He was about as effective as Mr. Magoo in a Devils sweater. Bonus points if you can name of the players who were traded for Larionov in years prior to 2004.

Alex Brooks, briefly appearing on the blue line last season as part of the shuttle service between Lowell and East Rutherford. He broke his foot (blocking a shot), was returned to Lowell, and upon gaining free agency split for the St. Louis Blues. He’s now minus-1 (as in wearing number 7, not plus/minus) in a Peoria Rivermen jersey.

All trends need to reverse at some point. At a solid 6-2, I’m betting Brookbank can bring some permanence to a #8 Devils sweater, and fear into wingers that see the approach snowman along the boards. In addition to loving the number 8, as my mother frequently points out, I also like words that end in the letter “k”. Good sign.

Seeing the world in black & white (cookies)

Long before Jerry Seinfeld made the black & white cookie central to a plot, I’ve been a mass consumer of these uniquely New York desserts. The perfect black and white cookie is about the diameter of your open hand, has a sponge cake like base that is soft (never crunchy, unless the cookie has been in the damaged goods bin for a month), and has a layer of vanilla fondant icing that covers the entire cookie, with the chocolate half iced on top of the vanilla icing base. There’s probably some haute cuisine reason for this, other than the chocolate icing having more opacity than the vanilla, but the experience of two icings at the same time defines the B&W cookie thrill.

Searching for wireless access and a caffeine boost before a customer event tonight, I popped into a Starbucks in TriBeCa, treating myself to iced coffee and the literal check-out lane candy: Starbucks branded black & white cookies. They’re undersized (if they were summer flounder, the state of NJ would require them to be thrown back until they reached maturity), but sold in packages of two I can get the daily engineering recommended intake of sugar in one serving. But here’s the horrifying part: the chocolate and vanilla icing do not overlap. They are carefully, precisely, almost mechanically lined up, a perfect demarcation line down the center of the cookie. While it’s nice to see black & whites gaining traction on the west coast (of the Hudson river and parts further west, like Ohio) thanks to Starbucks, I feel like the entire experience is somehow lessened. If I want machine-layered icing, I’ll eat a Ring Ding (or two). Black and white cookies are home-made, they reside in big glass display cases, peering out like neatly stacked waxing (or waning) moons. Some things are not meant to be mass produced, even if they are mass consumed.

Good Luck, Laura Halldorson

As widely reported about five weeks ago, Laura Halldorson resigned as head women’s hockey coach at the University of Minnesota. She was their first coach and had a decade-long tenure which included three national championships and five consecutive Frozen Four bids (the only coach to ever do so). Her bid for the hat trick in titles was spoiled by the University of Wisconsin (head coach Mark Johnson of 1980 Olympic fame). The problem with creating excellence in women’s hockey is that Laura’s work created competition, and as the women’s sport grew so did demand for players and the demand on coaches. I’ve suggested here and to The Hockey News that a career like Laura’s deserves respect as one of “power and influence.” Sadly, I think that window of recognition has closed. She leaves some big skates to fill. Laura coached five Olympians and 2005 Patty Kazmaier award winner Krissy Wendell. I can’t imagine a greater thrill than to have one of your own players win an award named in honor of a former teammate (Patty and Laura played together at Princeton).

If this entry sounds as if it’s written with first-hand knowledge of Laura Halldorson as a coach, it is.

I’m probably one of the only men she ever coached, and “coach” is used with great literary liberties. Laura and I were members of Princeton’s Colonial Club, and while I hacked away on our intramural hockey team, she offered insights, instruction, and basic clues about life on skates. She introduced me to her teammates that she brought over for lunch; she gave a stick wave during the few games I managed to catch at Hobey Baker Rink. If you can imagine a Heismann Trophy winner sitting down to talk about short pass routes with some nerdy guy who played tag football to get out of Phys Ed, you’ll appreciate the dichotomy in skills and perspective. But never once did Laura bring it up; she only offered her fun laugh, some gentle encouragement, and an occasional hint that my lack of stopping ability might not be due to a skate sharpening but rather to the lack of pressure on those sharp edges. Some things never change.

I, like so many players in the First State of Hockey, am most proud to have called her “coach.” Good luck with whatever comes next, coach.

Size Up The Middle

I got to catch about half of last nights Rangers-Devils pre-season game; even given modern technology I had to put the game on DVR and get to synagogue live. I missed Weekes getting hurt, and the first two Rangers goals, but what I saw after that gave me hope and a bit of a smile. Realizing that pre-season games in the NHL mean even less than they do in the NFL, I try not to read too much into events. But there were bright spots last night (other than the over/under on the rabbi’s annual list-making coming in at 6 and not 8 items)

Vishnevski is a big boy. Bad news: bloggers will have to learn to spell his surname. Good news: it’s because he’ll be dumping smaller centers and wingers on their highly efficient Reebok-reinforced rear ends. My wife’s family’s name was Vishnevski before someone on Ellis Island truncated it, and both #2 on the Devils and #1 in our house come from the same part of the Ukraine. So I’ve taken to calling Vishnevski “cousin”, lending a distinctly Perfect Strangers air to my in-game ranting. Even if we’re not related, I’m going to cheer for him. Loudly.

Zubrus is a bigger boy. Hello, forecheck. Last season I could have counted the number of times the Devils made the extra effort to hold the puck in the attack zone on one plate of Meadowlands chicken fingers; last night they were a forecheck on fire. Zubrus in particular just controlled the flow. It’s not just that Rafalksi and Gomez weren’t making bad, blind passes or failing to keep their sticks down; it was intentional, positional hockey at its best.

Gionta could score from the press box. Yeah, it was against the number three or four goalie, and yeah, it was late in the third period, but what a goal. Valiquette wasn’t faked out of his jock; he didn’t know anything had happened until there was that rocket’s red glare behind him. With some puck control (see above), Gio might break his own goal record this year.

There are still some rough edges, like who plays in the third defensive pairing and where precisely Brylin will end up. My advice (such as it is) is to take Sergei off of the checking line, and replace him with someone with more size (Clarkson), and maybe match up Brylin with Parise and Zajac until Langenbrunner’s leg is glued back on. And of course, everything changes in tone once the Lowell Devils head back to Beantown and the season’s first roster is set. And I can’t wait.

Camalleri, My Peeps

Mike Camalleri, leading the NHL with 8 goals so far. Has a Jewish player ever led in scoring this far into the season (allowing for a few early season leads by former fellow Kings royalty Matthieu Schneider)? It’s one of the few things giving me joy so far this season.

Positional Mess

I’ve attempted to follow some of my youth hockey guidelines and wait close to 24 hours (ok, twelve hours) before saying anything about Saturday’s game. At this rate, the emotional roller-coaster resulting from watching Devils games is going to either result in significant weight loss (I’m so riled up I can’t eat junk food) or significant health defects (high blood pressure, stroke, hoarseness, shortness of breath, and blunt object trauma on the wall where the TV sits). No matter how you slice it, the Devils are a positional mess right now. I can attribute some of this to a “change in system”; when you go from a trapping style to one in which offense and puck movement is more important (and if someone says “western conference offense”, please move there), it’s going to take time to figure out who picks up which assignment. And despite what Brent Sutter says about the long road trip not being a factor, it does eat into extended practices. This isn’t the kind of thing you pick up in a morning skate before a game; it’s one or two hours of repeating the same positional drills (interspersed with sprints) until the defense pairs learn to talk to each other. Fortunately, the Devils have booked a long practice today (sorry if you were expecting to go to public skating at South Mountain, but Brent and his boys have usurped the pond).

The ever-fun folks at 2 Man Advantage point to Oduya as the root of many of our defensive worries. They’re mostly right. Take Guerin’s last goal as an example. Normally, defensive positioning is for the strong (puck) side defenseman to play the puck carrier in the triangle formed by goalpost, edge of the trapezoid, and some spot in the face off circle (depends on how big/fast the defenseman is, and how good the wingers are at coverage down low). His (or her) partner should be on the weak side (where the net is left partially uncovered by the goalie, who has shifted to square to the puck carrier). Watch Guerin’s goal – granted it’s on a power play, but with two D out there, Martin and Oduya, somebody wasn’t in position. Martin has the winger camped on the strong side, and Oduya is chasing behind the net. Guerin had just gone to Subway and was enjoying a toasted sandwich on the weak side, probably contemplating which of the desserts he’d have once the puck came to him. Either Martin and Oduya weren’t talking, or Oduya botched by chasing behind the net. With under 10 clicks left on the clock, you worry about the puck getting in front of the net. As coaches from Mites to Midgets say to the kids, “Nobody can score from behind the net, let’em go there.” Who cares if the clock winds down with the puck behind Weekes, but not surrounded by twine?

Defensive positioning, part two: Of the four Devils penalties, three were on the defense. If you have position, you won’t be tempted to hold, hook, grapple, or land a boarding party on the opposing wing. Strength helps, too (Let’s all send Paul Martin barbells for the holiday season, so that Satan doesn’t barrel over him again).

The positioning problems show up on offense, too. 18 blocked shots? 3 of them from Elias (who at least had 4 that went on net)? Either that’s too much point-bombing or one pass too few (yeah, yeah, yesterday I complained about one pass too many, but that was different).

I dunno. I’ll wait another game and see what happens with the Rangers. At least I can yell at Gomez and the Devils D without switching channels (increasing the likelihood that the remote control goes airborne).

Gomez and Goose Eggs

Rangers lose three in a row, and lose to Boston for the first time in over two seasons. Gomez plays patty-cake on the power play with Jagr, in a wonderful impersonation of Dean Smith’s four corners offense (wrong sport, Scott). It’s somewhat depressing that the Rangers earned a point for today’s 1-0 shootout loss to the Bruins, but it’s also indicative of what’s (not) happening in Ranger-land: goose eggs in more scoresheet boxes than you’d see in a baseball pitchers’ duel.

Let’s face it — if the Rangers were a Broadway show, they’d be shuffled off to Buffalo. Too bad Buffalo arrived on Broadway along with the Mystery, Alaskan and neither one can find the net, the scoresheet or even a way to beat Atlanta.

Maniacal laugh goes here.

WTF? LFG(oals)

World of Warcraft for the uninitiated. An online, multiplayer game in which some people actually play. As opposed to my general reaction to tonight’s blowout on I-95, which can be summed up as: Huh? The Devils offense disappeared tonight, possibly suffocated by Martin Biron but more likely just not executing as crisply as it did in generating 11 goals in the last two games. Biron is good, but not that good; tonight featured a lot of 06-07 rewind moves like shots going directly into shins, rebounds that escaped Paul Martin at the point, and a dogged determination to get in one last pass. Shoot the puck. I hate to quote Gretzky, but if you don’t shoot it, it doesn’t go in.

Power play was ugly, mostly due to bad passing, too much passing, and a persistent Philly checking presence.

But let me ask the question that all members of the Church of Red and Black are asking tonight: Why didn’t Weekes start tonight? Marty looked miserable. Granted, once again the defense didn’t help out (on the second goal, I noticed Vishnevski stopped skating at the top of the slot. Cousin – the guy with the puck was ahead of you. Not good). But weird bounces, shots from beyond the 3-point arc (and the Spectrum is next door to the Wack-HOV-ia center), and a general lack of sideways motion converged. Maybe it’s me, but Brodeur doesn’t seem to have the lateral motion he did last year. He’s coming out a lot more, and challenging shooters, which he wouldn’t do if he were comfortable stacking the pads and sliding cross-crease. I’m merely an overly loud fan who now has a wall full of dents due to pens, pencils, cable remote control, SecurID token card, cell phone, calculator, and a small carving of the god Ganesh being thrown in the general direction of Devils broadcasts, but something’s not quite right here.

At least the Rangers lost. Someone had to sacrifice their pride for Atlanta, and I can’t think of a better team for the honor.