Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Penalty Time-Keeper

Ya, the days are gone by where bench clearing brawls were the norm. The game of hockey has been revised considerably from the time where the sticks were up and elbows were flying. Hell, you can’t even tap a guy with your stick anymore without getting two minutes – I think that they’re calling that “hooking”.

Hell, I’ll show you “hooking” any day of the week and twice on Tuesdays.

Hockey has always been a rough sport. Lots of bruises, stitches, knocked out teeth, an occasional broken bone or dislocated joint is standard fare from a season on the ice. I’ve certainly had my fair share of injuries from playing the greatest game in the world. Lets see, this has included stitches from pucks and sticks to the face (had my lower lip completely split in half and took a stick blade to my right eyeball to name a few), broken wrist, broken humerus (that’s the upper arm bone ya noggin heads) from a cross check, torn knee cartilage, separated shoulder, and complete right hip joint replacement (my demise).

And I have played some dirty hockey too. The sin bin has been my refuge upon occasion. It is the bane of many a determined player too. You play your ass off and you still get beat in your own end; so you trip the guy to stop him from going in one on your goalie.

Was it worth it?

Ohhhhh ….. you’re damn tootin it was Olie!

So you’re doomed to the box for two minutes again. Your teammates give ya shit later for letting the guy beat ya. Yeah ya hear them say “Wheats, ya get beat on the right side every time. Ya gotta move em to your left before they cross the blue line you dumb-ass!”

What’s worse the box and maybe a missed shift or the razzing?

Fuck the razzing. It’s that missed time on the ice, baby.

Oh yeah and how about the intensity of getting a little rowdy and taking coincidentals only to jump back onto the ice and take up where the two of ya left off a couple of minutes ago? The fans love that shit, ehh?

I coach a bit ya know. I teach the kids to go in high, keeping their elbows up. Sure don’t want them skating like a damn Texas armadillo with their noses down to the ground now do ya? Keep your head up, go in hard and come out with the puck.

The worst of all penalties, though is too many men on the ice. Man, that is just a mistake to get that kinda shit-ass call. Whoever is running the bench should have to eat two donuts or something to serve that fool penalty.

Another one of my gripes is that goalies don’t serve penalties. Now to me, that is a real crock of shit. I think it would really open the game up. Ehh?

Have ya ever wondered about the guy that’s taking care of the box? In the NHL, he’s an official and has to keep track of the time and other sorts of pricy shit (that’s why ticket prices are so high – it ain’t the players’ salaries). In youth hockey this person is usually one of the parents that volunteers or is coerced into the position by the domineering team mother. In the infinite number of beer leagues out there it’s usually just an interested fan that just wants to help out – maybe loves the game but can’t play anymore – maybe never played but is the biggest wanna-be in the world. Kudos to these folks cuz they walk with wood too.

I’ve got a story to tell about the penalty box official at the tournament I played in last week. Got to play in the Snoopy games out in Santa Rosa, California. Wild Bill knew some guys down in Marshall, Minnesota that needed a couple of players to fill the roster for the over 45 team they were putting in the tournament. We decided that it’d make a fun little vacation, so we coughed up the bucks each and told the guys that we’d hook up with them out west. Wild Bill was coming down from the northwest with his wife and daughter and I’d be heading out of the back woods with my honey. All to play a minimum of three games with the Marshall Meat-Packers.

The honey and I flew into Sacramento, rented a car and drove over to Santa Rosa via Napa and Sonoma Valleys so that she could do some mighty fine (and awfully damned expensive) wine tasting. You guys know that I don’t drink the stuff (brewskies brothers – pour me another!) but if it makes her happy it makes me happy.

The Meat-Packers had made arrangements for all of us to stay at the same hotel which gave us a fair discount over normal rates – and I’ll tell you that’s awfully danged important when your staying in a hotel for over a week. Good group of folks, those Meat-Packers, though they were a little disturbed that Grain Belt wasn’t on tap at the hotel pub and that they couldn’t find it in the liquor stores either. We had a team meeting the first night to get introduced to all and lay down some strategies and shit. As I figured most didn’t play on the same team but had gathered for the tournament from a beer league in southern Minnesota. I brought a couple of cases of Moosehead to the meeting to appease their Grain Belt withdrawal. I had found it at a Bevmo liquor store that we had driven past and turned back to as we had driven over from Sacramento (sheeeet – I was looking-out for myself cuz the honey – I just knew – was gonna be really wined up). The meeting went well and it seemed like the dude, Mike, that was running the team, was afraid that we all would spend too much time in the penalty box. Warned us to play “nice” and kept referring to all of us as “ya bunch of brawlers”. The first time he used the phrase I glanced over at Wild Bill and gave him the thumbs up. Our kinda guys. Could be this whole team was composed of close relatives of the Hanson brothers, ehh?

Wild Bill and I told them that we’d prefer to play defense mainly. Bill had been a forward from my days of playing with him back a generation or so ago but had now maybe slowed down to my pace or something. I really think that he wanted to skate as my partner – which was really cool. Our first game was going to be Sunday evening and Mike said that we’d be wearing numbers 2 and 3, he’d bring the jerseys and socks.

I don’t know, but we really didn’t click in that first game. It’s about ten or twelve minutes left in the third and were down 6 to 2. Wild Bill’s playing left and I’ve got right de. The opposing team’s center whipped the puck back into my corner from the opposite side outside the blueline as their left week jammed in skating like a Junior A allstar. I turned and skated like hell to try to cut it off behind the net. Wild Bill was tracking their rightwing as he came in hard too. I realized that I couldn’t make the cutoff and turned to the slot as their center started to pick a perch high. Wild Bill must have had the same thoughts as me as we both punched to the high slot to pick this guy – both of us clobbering him full blast in an ass sandwich like the old days (got to do something to rile the old team – cuz right then we sure for shit hadn’t been skatin with wood). Oh and don’t you know it - the fuckin whistle blows.

Both of us get called for roughing ………….

Running time: three minutes each. It’s the shit!

The gate keeper at the box opens the door and Bill goes in first; swearing up a storm. I jump in and sit down with my stick out in front of me and start to take my gloves of when the dude shuts the gate and turns to us, (damn if he doesn’t look just like Ernie Rucks from the old days of skating Sunday pickup – in retirement, Ernie was an NHL goal judge down in LA and came from the Canadian north woods) oh yeah lost my train of thought there, ok so he turns to us and says “You boys ought to play nice now”, taps the right side of his nose two times with his index finger and ………….

Holy shit its cold! I look over at Bill and he’s looking back at me. What the fuck????

We aren’t in Santa Rosa anymore. Were outside and it feels like it’s about 50 below. Were standing next to the gate at a crude outdoor rink with some sort of antiquated equipment on. Our uniforms are harsh wool sweaters and socks with about twenty stripes on them. My gloves have got hardly no padding or length to them and on the jersey it says “St. Paul Hockey Club”. And my skates are pretty wobbly feeling – all leather it looks like.

In and instant, I knew it and I know Bill knew it too – that we had been somehow transported back in time. To another era, to another game. Utterly amazing. But we had a game to play and we knew that we both had to jump on the ice.

And off we went, skating our asses off playing with sticks that looked like they had been made from a single piece of wood. The game was seven on seven with a rover. Somehow we knew. It all came together in an instant. Our rover was Francis “Moose” Goheen, probably the second best if not best American hockey player of the time, next to or equal alongside of Hobie Baker. What a deal. This guy’s was from White Bear Lake, Minnesota – Herb Brooks’ hero when he was growing up. Silver medalist from the 1920 Olympics. This dude was good! And he walked with wood from one end of the ice to other. Untouchable.

I figure its got to be somewhere around 1925 based on the way the folks were dressed that were watching and the looks of cars that we could see over at the street.

Wild Bill skates across my lane and yells at me as he passes, “Jasper do you see who’s skating rover for Boston over there?”

Bewildered I look around and astonishingly realize that the visitors’ rover was none other than Bobby Orr. Damn if this ain’t something. He musta been somehow transported here from the late ‘60’s or ‘70’s. And oh, could he skate. He was made for the position of rover!

The scoreboard, being manned by a guy with a handlebar mustache, fur coat and the weirdest hat that I’d ever seen, said that we were tied at 4 to 4.

Game on kids!

The puck skittered up the boards on the rough ice to Wild Bill and he took off on a meandering journey into the opposing end. Shit he was skating damn near as good as young Moose Goheen. He got in about 40 feet out – and I could tell – he tried to take a slap shot. No dice – it couldn’t happen – the slap shot wouldn’t be invented for another forty years or so. Bill fell flat on his chest like he’d been close-lined.

Orr picked up the puck and took it behind his net to apparently regroup and eye the up-ice layout and off he went. Smoothly left, smoothly right … Goheen swooped in to cut him off and Orr just went horizontal in flight mode or something with the puck almost slipping through Moose’s skates. He kicks it forward and heads after it. Orr, still horizontal, spins in midair and takes off superman style after Goheen, sweeps in with outstretched downward angled stick and takes it off Goheen only to come back down to ice behind his own net again smooth as silk.
Orr eyes up ice again and takes off through the center. I pick him up as he cuts to the boards to my right. Again the smart bastard goes airborne to my left and picks up the puck off the boards on the other side of me. WTF! I’m all over myself and Orr’s on net. Oops, did he lose the puck on the rough ice or is it a deke. Wham – bam – thank you mamm– if he didn’t stuff it in the puck from between his own legs and he’s off flying again.

The fans start booing as Orr keeps flying around celebrating his goal but the game is different. No face off after goals – just pull the puck out and take it behind the net while everyone gets on side and take off skating again. Mr. Moose Goheen picks up the puck while Orr is still celebrating. He seems pumped, the crowd’s booing now sounds excited rather than angry. A teammate skates by and yells “Watch him now. His family calls him “Boo” and that really riles his ass!”

He weaves, he dekes, elbows out, he stiff arms one guy like a running back and goes in on net like a bull in a matador’s outfit. He’s putting a little drift to the left and I can tell he’s got it set to pull the goalie with him with quick plans to go upstairs in the right corner.

Its in my mind – I know it …. And poof – Wild Bill and I are back in the box in Santa Rosa. Ghosts of Charles Schulz or what. Damn! I look over to Wild Bill. “You go on first.” He’s white as a ghost and as the penalty box time keeper opens the gate he steps on the ice and falls flat on his face. Not realizing what happened I stumble over him as I hit the ice. Both of us out there like a big pile of shit.

Bill twists his bloodied up face back towards me and asks “Wheats, what the fuck just happened?”

“Sheeeesh! I don’t know, but we better get back in the game, ehh.”

The center that we had crunched getting our penalties stopped in front of us and tapped us each on our helmets with his stick and laughed as he said “You turkeys, ya might as well head back to Marshall and get back to that business of packing meat.”

Ya know you guys – some days ya walk with wood and some days you sure for shit don’t.

Jasper here. Skate hard! Stay out of the sin-bin ….. or not.