Hockey story

I posted this as a comment on Chuq von Rospach’s blog, but I enjoyed writing it so much that I figured I’d share it here. I haven’t written enough hockey stuff anyway, so here you go. A discussion of hard shots to the groin started it…

In my goaltending days I was an equipment modder. Taking Jacques Plante’s lead, I did my best to fill in every gap (pucks are very good at finding gaps in armor!) and beef up parts that mattered. The cup was a wonder of Red Green style handiwork. I had a nice air-padded goalie-style strap, with a metal cup. Around the metal I added some closed-cell foam strips, and carefully wrapped the foam and attached it with… Duct Tape! That stuff has amazing impact-absorbing properties. I played with some guys with some pretty damn hard shots, and never even lost a breath over a cup-shot.

Speaking of hard shots: I did scare the hell out of a bunch of guys on a casual-hockey night once though. I played for a while with a group of guys here in Seattle on a couple of weeknights back in the 80s, several ex-pros and college players. One of them was a guy named Jim McTaggart, who played two or so years in the NHL (Caps IIRC… yep Google sees all!)… anyway, great guy, and a ton of fun to play with. Jim had a real hard and heavy slapshot that he rarely fired off… mostly because he didn’t want to hurt anyone in a casual drop-in game. But the game had gotten intense and he broke out of his end and found himself with nothing but ice between him just outside the blueline, and me… way out in front of the net. He cocks the stick *way* back and *boom!* lets one fly.

The problem is… I can’t see it.

(the following sequence of events happened in milliseconds, but in that odd goalie-time, it seemed like minutes to me at the time… I still recall every moment)

Instinct tells me it is going for my head… so I start rising up to take it in my chest. Usually changing the viewing angle, even just a bit, will allow you to pick up the puck in flight again. Basic trigonometry. I raise up, but still can’t pick out the puck(!) I KEEP going higher and higher, hoping to give that puck a nice fat chest protector to bounce off of, but STILL can’t see the damn puck. I have popped up so fast that I’m now off the ice, in mid-air, with that weird shoulders-up, head retracted-to-hide-your-neck posture that we assume when we sense a puck flying high towards the noggin. Like a “Rock’em-Sock’em Robot”… on ice.

Sure enough, I finally make out the puck… in perfect clarity (it had “Made in Chekoslovakia” in raised letters on the side, slightly lower than halfway down the left side)… about a foot from my nose. It was as if it teleported there.

I’m five feet eleven inches tall, with another inch or so in my skates, about four inches off the ice, in mid-air, with a (very) fast moving puck now eight inches off my nose, closing fast.

My brain stops thinking like a goalie, and reverts to pure, animalistic “fight, or flight” and my brain’s not really in a fighting mood. My body has in all likelihood reached the apogee of it’s short-hop vertical takeoff, but my head, with the brain in the lead is beating a hasty retreat. They say your head can move very quickly… faster than any other part of your body, when properly motivated. I swear mine jumped back a foot. Unfortunately the puck was moving faster. At that point I closed my eyes.


The puck hits squarely on the vertical bar that runs down right between my eyes, and ricochets off straight up. My helmet and cage go flying off my head – straight back and into the net. My body, likely thrown more by my high-speed cranium retreat than the impact of the puck, lies out horizontally and I fall straight down to the ice, in what would be called a belly-flop, were I face-down.

Jim swears to me later that he firmly believed that he had shot my head off.

I open my eyes in time to see virtually everyone on the ice, Jim being the first (on his knees and with abject panic on his usually cheerfull face) come to a stop over me in disbelief… both in what they saw, and in the fact that I was perfectly fine, with no injury whatsoever.

“I’ll take a Tony Esposito, a Jacques Plante, and a Ken Dryden please”

Thanks to Chuq von Rospach (who, in a slashdot-like moment has posted this to his blog TWICE) for pointing out this cool site/product:

Vintage Goaltender Masks .

I always wanted a real Jacques Plante/Fibrosport mask when I was playing.

I REALLY miss playing hockey a LOT. I miss the intensity of concentration and action. It was such a Zen-like activity. 100% focus on that puck and the constantly changing geometry of the ice surface and players in front of me. For X minutes I’d not think about ANYTHING… I was just a reflex… a reaction, …a predictive machine in a game of angles and geometry. Seconds of hyper-action surrounded by minutes of almost passive observation.

A couple of cement-heads tangling in the crease while my attention was on the action in the slot, and seconds… and three knee surgeries later… I was done forever. I tried to keep playing, but it just didn’t work. My doc said I’d have to stop if I wished to still be able to walk as an old man.


USA vs Latvia

Sorry I haven’t written much about hockey this year. I’m on vacation this week, in conjunction with the Winter Olympics so no time like the present to cover the subject. I LOVE tournament hockey.

I had to stay off the skis today because my ski boots had not yet arrived, so I’m at my parents house waiting for DHL and watching Team USA vs Latvia. Team USA came out in the First Period like they were on fire. High-speed, end-to-end hockey, very entertaining to watch. The pace put Latvia on their heels and the inevitable mistakes allowed the US to put 2 fast goals on the board. But then the pace slowed as Lativa rallied around their national hero, diminutive goaltender Artus Irbe. As a (retired) goaltender I love to see a team play defence as a unit.

Latvia had the “7th man” in the form of a rabid and raucous crowd – one of the great things about Olympic hockey indeed.

The Second Period saw the action even out and Latvia catch up very quickly, go ahead, then fall even with USA 3-3. It is great to see John Grahame in net for USA. I watched his Dad play for the Houston Aeros of the old WHL when I was a kid. He made some amazing saves which seemed to inspire Team USA to pick up the pace. The Third Period became a replay of the first, with end-to-end action, minus the scoring. The US started shooting and skating again. But Irbe stood on his head and held the tie to the end.

Great game to watch, even though Team USA couldn’t pull a win.

Update: a few hours later, the media is treating it like a defeat. IIRC the “Miracle on ice” team of 1980 started their gold medal run with a 2-2 tie with Sweden.

The great thing about living in NW Washington is the ability to get CBC TV from Vancouver, which provides an alternate to the exceedingly dull and narrow focus the US media puts on the Olympics. Unfortunately I’m not at home right now so all I have is NBC. Oh well.

One other thing I noted about the game today was the Officiating was excellent. Very few missed calls and what was called was accurate and appropriate. I also noted the Referee had a video camera on his helmet. It is obviously NOT part of the NBC feed, as they never showed any “ref-cam” images. Having been a ref, I think it would be great for hockey fans to see the perspective, as the referee has the best “seat” in the house for any hockey game.

Cool, Hockey’s Back. 10/8/05

Watched “Hockey Night In Canada” tonight (a great benefit of living just south of Latitude 49… getting CBC TV.) Edmonton beat Vancouver 4-3. It was a fair game, but ended regulation time in a 3-3 tie. Overtime produced no winner so they settled it with a shootout. While some of the rule changes are for the better (mostly the strict calling of obstruction penalties, and the elimination of the red line for off-side passes) I loathe the idea and practice of the shootout to end a tie game. I both played and officiated Ice Hockey for a good portion of my life… and I love the game. That said I have a real love/hate thing going with the NHL. Last year was a fiasco, and I’ve felt Commissioner Bettman will sell out the game and turn it into a circus to achieve NBA-like “success” as soon as he can.

The shootout illustrates this well. It is a complete sellout to this idea that there has to be a winner. Some of the best games I have ever watched, played, or officiated ended in ties. I never had a problem with any of them. The only situation when a tie is unacceptable is playoff hockey, and then the only way to do it is sudden death… play until somebody wins.

The penalty shot has a place, but a series of them to decide a winner during a regular season game is silly.

On a completely unrelated note, Christopher & I participated in the Seattle Jaguar Club’s “Fall Colors Tour” today. I put 200 more break-in miles on the rebuilt engine. It was cool and mostly cloudy, but I managed to keep the top down all day. You can see my pictures here.