It’s been a long time since my last blog, but here are a few of the highlights (lowlights?) over the last month or so:
Our road trip started with 2 game in Columbus, GA to play the Cottonmouths. The week prior, the Cottonmouth’s bus rolled over on the highway, injuring many of the players (concussions, broken bones, a hip dislocation). Luckily, everyone survived. However, Columbus was left with half of a viable hockey team. To fill their roster, Columbus literally signed guys off of the street, including a few retired guys to come back and fill in for a few games.
We lost the first game of the series, despite playing against Columbus’ depleted roster. The next night we came back and won in front of a big crowd for Military night. A couple thousand troops attended the game in uniform, and it kicked off with a couple of guys rappelling down from the ceiling. Coincidentally, the game was a war on the ice. Our captain was jumped on three separate occasions, and numerous players on both teams were ejected. Our coach was also tossed. At one point in the third period, I looked down the bench, and there were five guys left, including me, with no coach. Five. The rest were already kicked out of the game or in the penalty box. We finished them off in a lopsided win.
We wrapped up the weekend the next day with a matinée in Pensacola. It was my first time back since my release in late December, and it was great to see some familiar faces around the rink. Unfortunately we lost to my former team. After the game, I was informed that a few friends from Pensacola had waited to see me after the game. One even brought me an extravagant care package for the bus (Thank you!). I visited with them and caught up before hopping back on the bus. Little things like reconnecting little relationships like these are part of what makes pro hockey so great.
Our schedule worked out so that we played Pensacola again in Pensacola the following weekend. So instead of heading all the way back to Virginia and then turning around and driving back a day or two later, our coach/management decided to take us on a little tour of the Gulf Coast. After our Sunday game in Pensacola we drove over to New Orleans for a 2 night stay.
The Big Easy
Exploring New Orleans with the team was a great time. We took the streetcars downtown, walked around the French Quarter with daiquiris in hand, sang karaoke (I may or may not have done a rendition of Puddle of Mudd’s She Hates Me), and went out together on Bourbon street. I’m going to go ahead and redact most of our activities that night, but let’s just say we made the rounds and had a good time.
After our stay in New Orleans, we drove down the coast to the Vegas of the south, Biloxi, Mississippi. We stayed at the Beau Rivage hotel/casino. We hung out in at the pool during the day and then hit the casino in the evening. Guys played blackjack, craps, and slots. I went down $75 in about an hour playing blackjack, then I sat down at a table with my goalie partner and proceeded to turn my last $25 into about $400 in ten minutes. I left up $200 on the day, which was much needed after an expensive night in New Orleans.
We made our way back to Pensacola for the weekend on the day before our first game. That afternoon one of my former teammates picked me up to go hang out with some of the guys on the beach. It was a no ordinary beach day, however. John McLean, a fellow Minnesotan goalie and good friend of mine, hired professional shark fishing guides to help him land a big one. When I arrived at the beach, the rigs were all set up. The guides had paddled out several tuna heads about a thousand yards off the beach. I caught up with a bunch of my old teammates and shot the shit with the fishing guides for a while, when suddenly we heard a sharp zzzzzz! One of the baits had been taken, and the line shot out from the reel against the drag. About a half hour later, Big John landed a 6’3″ sandbar shark. It was awesome! He would catch another one that night after I left to get dinner with a couple of my other former teammates. I think he was pleased with his investment.
I didn’t play that weekend against my former team, but my goalie partner put together a hell of a weekend as we swept both games. In the second game, DeMelo stopped 61 of 63 shots to get the win. Obviously I would’ve liked to play that weekend, but as DeMelo likes to say, “when you’re hot, you’re hot!”
When I’m not starting, I run the bench door for the players as they change. With players changing on the fly, I have to be aware of where people are on the ice, when they might be changing, and when to open and close the door in order to efficiently get guys on and off the ice and avoid too many men on the ice penalties. In Pensacola, I was running the door when the handle got stuck shut. I have players sprinting to the bench expecting the door to open and I’m yelling, “The door won’t open! It’s f*cked! Hop it, hop it!” Guys are flailing over the bench. Meanwhile, I’m frantically cranking on this steel handle to unlatch it and I rip the entire handle off of the door, rendering any future attempts to open it futile. I sat down on the bench, defeated, informing the guys they’d be hopping the boards for the rest of the period. Luckily the ice crew fixed the situation during the intermission.
In Fayetteville, running the door again for the boys, I’m looking back at our defensemen to see if they are coming for a change. one of them is, I open the door, let him in, and then look up ice just in time to see a puck coming straight at me. It hits me right in the neck/collarbone area, and it was coming in hot. I was about 6 inches from losing a few teeth and/or breaking my face. I learned my lesson, as the next weekend an eerily similar play launched a puck at my head, but I was ready with my catching glove.
The following weekend our team invited the dads to Roanoke for a few games. The parents even got to hit the road with us for a game in Fayetteville and experience what our road trips are like. My dad was able to make the trip, and it was cool to be able to show him what life has been like down here. The team put up the family members in the team hotel and even gave the dads Rail Yard Dawgs pullovers to wear on the weekend. Classy move from our ownership!
In our last few road trips we’ve had a couple different incidents with our bus. In Daphne, Alabama, our bus was trying to climb an uneven slope up to our hotel, but bottomed out and then got stuck on its uneven axels. A few of my teammates decided they were bus experts and attempted to get the bus moving by shoving plywood under the wheels, telling the bus driver to go forward or backward, and even attempting to push the bus out of the rut. What a bunch of donkeys. I sat back at a distance, taking in the circus, shaking my head. Eventually a tow truck came and saved the day.
On the way home from Peoria, we were pulling into a truck stop so our bus driver could use the bathroom. Our bus proceeded to clip a parked 18-wheeler with a loud screeching of steel on steel. I have no explanation for this. I don’t know how you don’t see a gigantic parked semi truck at a truck stop. But hey, at least no one was injured. A large panel fell off the side of our bus, which we initially thought was one of the cargo doors. Luckily, it was just an air conditioning vent cover, so we were able to make it home without any of our gear falling out.
Beamer in the House
Legendary retired Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer dropped the puck at one of our recent home games in front of a crowd of over 6,000 people. Our team wore ceremonial maroon and orange jerseys in honor of VT. People around here love Beamer and their Hokies.
Booed off Stage
After our win on VT night, we auctioned off our jerseys. Basically, players go out on the ice one by one, holding up their jersey, and the crowd bids. As I was announced to auction off my jersey, one fan promptly let out a loud “BOOOOO!” The crowd was quiet enough that I singled out the young woman who booed me, looked her straight in the eye, and gave her my best What the hell? look. She turned bright red as I shrugged and laughed with my hands upturned in bewilderment. Maybe she thinks DeMelo is better looking.
Heard Around the Rink
“What did you expect?” – “Fuck, I don’t know I guess I just expect everybody to be a little bit better than they actually are, that’s all.”
“If that’s not a hit to the head then I don’t know what is”- My hearing impaired teammate, as he skated back to the bench disheveled with no helmet, a black eye, and his hearing aids dangling off of his ears.
“Does anyone know where we’re going?” – Our equipment manager driving a van full of players to our backup practice facility, as he takes a blatantly wrong exit.
- Ref- “Krugs, be careful, you played that puck in the trapezoid. I could’ve given you one there”
- Me- “Yeah. I played it in the trapezoid. I can play it there.” *Stare*
- Ref- *Pause* “Oh, wow. What am I talking about. Brain fart. Ha!”
- Me- “Holy shit, man.”
- These are definitely the dog days of the season. Our team is near the bottom of the standings, fighting for a playoff spot. We’ve suffered a few injuries and guys are getting worn down mentally and physically. Ennui starts to take root as the season feels longer and longer. Going into the last month of the season, we’re going to need to find some energy to make a push for playoffs. The good news is, the end is in sight, and knowing there is just one month left gives me a boost of motivation as we try to make these last few weeks count and stay the playoff picture.
- I learned how to play a card game called Shnarps, which is exclusively played on minor league hockey bus trips. Nothing like some low stakes gambling to make the bus ride seem a little shorter. It’s also a good way to get the guys talking with each other instead of having their heads permanently buried in their electronic devices.
- Speaking of electronic devices, I purchased an iPad with some of my tax refund, and its a perfect road trip companion. It’s vastly slimmer and lighter than my laptop, and I can download movies and TV shows off of Netflix and Amazon Prime for the long trips. I’ve started using it as an E-reader with the Amazon Kindle app, and I have to say I love it. Up next is Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog. Amazon is honestly amazing, by the way. You can get pretty much anything on the cheap with free shipping. I’ve been a loyal Prime member since my freshman year of college, and my entire family has piggybacked off of my account. Check it out if you don’t use it already. Use this code here for $5 towards your first purchase on the Amazon app (you’ll need to make the purchase through the app on a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet to redeem the coupon).
- Part of me hates living paycheck to paycheck knowing I could be making several times my current salary, but another part of me is addicted to having so much freedom and not settling on anything just yet. Perhaps that’s part of why I chose to play hockey, because I didn’t want to grow up just yet (despite being closer to 30 than 20 now). Time seems to be going by too fast, as I try to figure out what I want to do. Hockey buys me a little more time, and keeps my options wide open. Not to mention it’s a pretty fun lifestyle.
- How lucky am I? I get paid to play hockey in front of people. Obviously I wish my career had taken a couple better bounces up to this point, but looking back on this season, I truly am lucky to be doing what I’m doing. I might bitch about it sometimes, but in the big picture I know this was definitely the right decision. Might have to play another year or two!
- DeMelo recently went on the IR, and it’s given me some more playing time as of late. The more I’m playing, the more I’m settling in. I feel like I’m getting a beat on the style of play in this league and no longer feel nervous. Confidence comes from experience. I’m slowly gaining experience, which is giving me more confidence, which is improving my play. It’s a nice little positive feedback loop. Hopefully I can keep it going down the stretch.
Beer of the Week:
Elysian Space Dust IPA – Awesome!
Movie of the Week
John Wick: Chapter 2
There’s something oddly therapeutic and satisfying about watching a moody Keanu Reeves piling up body after body with grandiose, stylized violence. As many of my Dartmouth teammates could tell you, I loved the first entry in the series, and the second is even better. What a treat.