Will there be a season? Who knows. But I’m ready.

So much happening over the summer, but not much posting going on. So it’s time to catch up.

I’m still playing. Quite a bit, actually. After coming back from the iceless hockey hell of Kaua’i (the island itself was great, just not a good place to be if you’re into ice hockey!), I made the most of my time left before the start of the school year. Hockey 3-4 times per week. Classes, scrimmages, drop-ins, you name it…I did it! That’s a good thing, because I’ve gotten much better since I started. I’m still not good at some things (ok, I’m still not good at A LOT of things) but I’m more comfortable in general. More comfortable in my skates, on the ice, with my stick, in my position…all around. I’m also getting faster, which is a very good thing. I can skate backwards now, but nothing fancy or fast. I can do crossovers going counter-clockwise and I’m working on them a bit going the other direction. Slowly but surely, things are coming together.

So my plan B has worked out pretty well for me. I’m having to juggle the schedule a little bit as the rink schedules change to accommodate the start of youth hockey season. I was sad to see the time of my Tuesday night class change to a later time – as much as I really LOVE that class and coach, I simply can’t be coming home at midnight on a school night every week. So I had to find something to replace it. For the time being, I’m doing a combination of ‘planned drop-in’ style games and stick time on Mondays. Friday night has been a small group class, but I don’t know if that will be continuing, so I need to find something as a backup. I’m considering joining a league at the closest rink, in addition to doing the D-league that I’ve been doing since I started. I really want to keep it at 3 times per week if I possibly can.

And my little girl is starting to play, which is great. She just finished her hockey 1 class and is ready to move on to hockey 2. Then she can take initiation and hopefully get hooked up with a team. She’s having fun, which is the most important thing. But she also looks really cute in her hockey gear, so that’s another plus. It turns out she’s not a bad skater at all.

But notice, I haven’t said much about the Coyotes or the NHL. We still don’t have an owner. We still don’t have our captain signed to a new contract. And we may or may not have a season, period. I’m really hoping that ALL of these things get rectified really soon, since too many people have been waiting for answers for too long. But also because I’m going to be playing at the Jobing.com arena on opening day, right before the Coyotes game! I’m very excited to do that, but also a little bit nervous. So c’mon, NHL and NHLPA – get an agreement in place so we can ALL be happy!

So much going on!

It’s been a while since my last post, there’s so much that has happened since then. So, here’s my update.

The Tournament: I had so much fun playing in the tournament, I really look forward to doing another someday. The team was a great bunch of ladies, lots of fun to be around. There was a variety of skill levels – some were more advanced, some less advanced. I skated 3rd line in one game, 1st line in two games, and then 2nd line in one game. I learned a lot about position playing, got to play against a variety of different teams, and also got to spend a little time playing with the same line over and over again – so I can see how much more fun it gets when you have some sort of structure and not just a free for all! Those 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 games with no shift changes on Thursday nights are fun, but they aren’t really close to an actual game.

We didn’t do all that great in the tournament, but I will say this – we didn’t come in last! We lost our first three games (7-0, 3-1, 4-1) and then won our final game 1-0. Even though it’s more fun to win, any time you get to go on the ice and play hockey is a great time.

I had been so worried that I would be the only player out there who was a beginner, but that ended up not being the case. There were faster skaters and slower skaters out there. I definitely wasn’t the slowest on the ice! Going in to it, I really just had the goal of not doing anything horrible. But it turned out that I made a positive difference in several instances – I blocked a shot or two, I was able to get the puck out of our defensive zone, I got in the way of their players from time to time. I even got to make a shot on goal in one of the game.

Here’s a team photo – I’m in the back row, far left.

And outside of the tournament, I can see how much I’ve improved without realizing it. I remember the 2nd or 3rd week of Sunday class, when we did a drill going around the circle backwards, using only one foot to make c-cuts. I absolutely could not do it. No way, no how. I was slow. I was staying in one place. I just couldn’t do it.

On the ice during a public session between our games, I just started idly going backwards. Around the circle. I got going fairly fast. And then it hit me – I was doing EXACTLY what we had been doing in the drill those weeks ago, but now I was doing it without even thinking about it. And I was going fast. Without even thinking about it! What a thrill to realize that the muscle memory is there to the point where it’s not even a conscious thing. I remember when I was about a year into speedskating and it really didn’t matter if I was on ice or land, I was equally comfortable. Stepping onto the ice didn’t require any thought at all, I just did it. This was one of those times for me – no thought, just the blade on the ice.

Since there aren’t any sticks or pucks during public session, I started goofing around a bit. I got into a low speedskater positing, one arm behind my back and the other pumping for momentum. I got going around the oval, and it was FAST. I could feel the air against my face and it was an amazing feeling. You don’t skate quite that fast in hockey, and the helmet blocks some of the feeling. After not doing speedskating for so long, it surprised me how natural and right it felt to get down in to that position.

And now for the new on the other front – the Coyotes!

The big vote was today. It passed, 4-2. So the desire to keep the team is definitely there. It’s just one in a series of hurdles, but with each hurdle, we get closer to the finish line. The GWI is rattling their sabres and almost certainly they will challenge the vote and/or lease agreement. I hope that Jamison and Bettman and COG have their ducks in a row on this, as they have said in the past. I think some of the biggest steps have been taken towards keeping the team here but there are still things that must get done for it to be a 100% done deal. Still, I will enjoy the weekend knowing that the team is safe at this moment – that might change, but right now, things are moving in the right direction.

Graduation day

It’s graduation day for many of the schools in the Phoenix area. As a teacher, I’ve been to quite a few graduations. I’ve heard dozens of speeches. After a while, they all start to sound the same. As I was trying to stay awake during the speeches and reading of the names today, I had time to think – it’s also a sort of graduation for the Coyotes.

Last night was certainly a disappointing ending to a spectacular season. Everyone was hoping for a fairytale ending, and while it was bad enough to not get that, the way it happened was even worse. Many people are angry about the hit that took out Rozsival, and that being followed by the game-winning goal just seemed to rub it in. Evil triumphed over good. The heroes gave it their all and fell short.

But let’s put that aside for a moment and I will explain why I feel that we should be congratulating the Coyotes on their graduation rather than mourning their exit from the playoffs.

The typical graduation speech goes something like this: “Hi, thanks for being here, I can’t believe how the time has flown. Thanks to my parents, my teachers, my friends for helping me to get here. What a big accomplishment this is, and I couldn’t have done it without you! Oh, and I want to take a minute to remember our friends who aren’t with us for whatever reason (they died in a horrible tragedy, or were denied the chance to participate in graduation because they did a totally stupid and buttheaded senior prank.) But this really isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning of a new chapter in our lives.” This sums up about 99% of the graduation speeches I’ve heard in the 17 years I’ve been a teacher. The other 1% was a rambling screed calling out white people and reclaiming the territory for La Raza, so that one doesn’t count. So let’s just look at the 99%.

How you will view the event and the speeches depends upon your viewpoint. If you’re a parent, it’s a bittersweet day, the reward to years of parenting – and you hold on to it because you’ll always remember the day your little baby became a young adult. If you’re a student, it’s a momentous occasion. It’s probably the biggest thing that’s ever happened to you in life. It’s traumatic – you’re leaving your friends, and now you’re expected to actually make decisions that affect the rest of your life. It’s the day you’ve been waiting for, and now that it’s finally here, you realize that you’re going to have to start acting like an adult because people expect that of you.

And if you’re a teacher, you’re torn. You’re happy to see students who have worked hard be rewarded with a diploma. You’re sad to see students graduate because you know for some of them, this is as far as they will go. High school graduation was a lofty goal for them, and too often it’s not because they couldn’t achieve more – it’s that they didn’t have the drive to. And for some, you are scared – because these are the people who are now going to enter the workforce, and you know that they are totally ill-equipped and unprepared. They don’t have the will to do much of anything, and chances are that’s exactly what they’ll do after graduation.

As a teacher, you hear the speeches and think blah blah blah, big achievement, next chapter in life, blah blah blah. Teachers have been in the post-secondary world, and if you have a college education you realize that high school just isn’t a huge deal any more – it’s a necessity, and it’s more of a bare minimum than a pinnacle of achievement. It’s not that you don’t understand how much the kids worked for it – it’s that you understand just how low the bar is set if you have high school graduation as the ultimate achievement!

So how does this fit in with the Coyotes?

This team has had low expectations set for them. Not by the team or anyone associated with the team – but by the pundits, the fans, the NHL as a whole. They’ve always been the kid brother who can’t quite play with the big boys. It wasn’t a given that the team would make the playoffs – it was seen more as a lucky fluke in the years that they did. Just as high school graduation is seen as a huge accomplishment for some people, making the playoffs was seen as a huge accomplishment for the Coyotes.

But now, they’ve moved past that. They didn’t just make the playoffs – they won the division. And they won the first round. And then they won the second. They made it to the conference finals! Now that they’ve done that, people are taking notice – this isn’t the kid who just got his diploma, this is the kid who has moved on to college and intends to get his degree.

So now the bar has been set higher. The fans, the team, the coaching staff – everyone will expect more from them in the future. This is the situation that many teams with long histories have found themselves in. It’s pretty much a given that they will make the playoffs – anything less is an astounding disappointment to everyone. And for teams that have won the Stanley Cup multiple times, it’s no longer enough to just make the playoffs – they are expected to get past the first couple of rounds.

Our team has left high school behind and is now ready to receive their degree from college. They’ve earned their bachelor’s degree by getting out of their first round, and their master’s by getting out of the second. The only thing left is the PhD – and for that, they will need to take the whole thing. After seeing the way they have played in the end of the season and the playoffs, does anyone doubt that they have the drive to do that?

So without further ado, let’s get down to the graduation speech for the Coyotes class of 2011-2012.

Fans, team members, coaches, and family members:
 
Wow, it’s great to be here today! It seems like we just started the season. Do you remember that day? We lost a game, 6-1, to the Sharks. We had lost our starting goalie and had a new guy in the net – a guy nobody had really ever thought much of. It looked pretty bad for us. We still didn’t have an owner, and it was unsure whether or not this would be our last season.
 
But we worked hard, we formed a team, and we were able to overcome that bad night. With the coaching of Dave Tippett, we were able to learn how to work together, how to be the sum of more than our parts. We learned how to cover for one another when necessary, and everyone took turns stepping up their game when the team needed it. So I’d like to thank the coaching staff for helping us to grow as individual players, and as a team.
 
Let’s take a minute to remember our friend and teammate Raffi Torres, who can’t be with us tonight. He’s a great guy and we love to have him on our side – but not everybody felt that way about him, and so he’s not here with us. But we know he’s here in spirit and we look forward to seeing him again soon. Raffi, we miss you buddy!
 
There were a lot of other memories, both good and bad, along the way. We won some games we should have lost, and we lost some games we should have won. There were times when it looked like we would never make the playoffs. And there were some really amazing times, too.
 
Everyone has their own favorite memories of the season, so let me share some that I will always cherish. The first one is the night when Shane Doan finally got his first hat trick. It was in the final .1 second of the game, and everyone was nervous that it wouldn’t be allowed. But when the refs made that call, it was a magical moment. The fans were joyful, the team was joyful – and Shane now has a great collection of hats! It took a long time to come, but that only made the moment sweeter.
 
Another night I remember is the night when we were playing against the Ducks and Patrick Lauder’s microphone was out of power. For a few seconds, it was quiet in the arena. And then, as if there were a director with a baton calling them to join in, the entire crowd started singing. I got chills that night, and I still get chills when I think about it. From that night has come a new tradition for our fans, and I think it’s a great one.
 
And who can forget the epic month of February?  No losses all month – and not just 28 days, but 29!  Need I say more?
 
I’ll always remember the night we won the Pacific Division title. Nobody expected us to end the season with a string of wins. And nobody expected us to be greeted by so many fans at the airport, at midnight, on a holiday!
 
And then once we got to the playoffs – the White-Out was amazing! The crowd was so full of life, and to see everyone in white, shaking their pompoms and towels – it was really something to see. So many people said that there weren’t any Phoenix fans, or there weren’t enough fans to sell out a game unless we were playing Detroit, Chicago, or New York. The series against the Predators sure showed that to be wrong.
 
We’ve had such great things happen to us this year, but being eliminated from the playoffs isn’t the end. It’s always sad to end something, but next year will be a new beginning. The ownership situation is looking up. Ticket sales are up. We’ve got more fans than ever before, and they are loyal and willing to defend this team ferociously.
 
So while it’s OK to shed a tear or two tonight, tomorrow is a new day. We’ll be back again next year and the team of 2012-2013 will be even better. No matter what happens, we’re all members of one pack – and the pack sticks together.
 
See you next fall,
Let’s go COY-OTES!

Plan B > Plan A? And a pet peeve of mine – you suck!

Back in March, when the ownership situation was still unsettled, I realized that I didn’t really want to go back to my pre-hockey life. I couldn’t imagine not having a team to root for, games to watch, etc. I considered perhaps watching a different team as “my” team, but that didn’t feel quite right. The idea of watching on tv from afar just didn’t appeal to me all that much, I wanted to have the smell of the ice, the sound of the crowd, the chance to be there live when amazing things happened. So I opted for my own “Plan B” – learning to play hockey.

I’m not great at it, but I’m enjoying it. I look forward to the two days a week when I play. Whether it’s a game or stick time or a class, it’s still fun. Much more fun than watching on TV. And…dare I say it…maybe more fun than watching live? As I was sitting in the stands the past couple of games, it hit me – I’d rather be playing than watching someone else play! This is pretty weird for me, I never expected that to happen.

Of course the best of both worlds is to be able to watch the Coyotes play AND play on a team myself. So that’s really the plan A for me now. It’s just odd that my second-best, fallback, in the worst situation scenario has now become something that I would hate to not have in my life. Already I’m thinking about how much I’ll miss the ice when I’m on vacation this year – 100 miles and an island away from the nearest rink.

And now, a pet peeve of mine. When I was at the game on Tuesday night, I heard quite a few people say two words that I hate hearing ________ SUCK! The LA fans said it about the Coyotes. Coyotes fans said it about LA. Phoenix fans said it about Phoenix. Everyone said it about the refs.

This is the western conference finals. NOBODY in this round sucks. These are the last two teams standing in the west. To get here, they had to beat a lot of other people on their way up. There are only four teams in the NHL still playing – and NONE of them suck. I’m sure that any and every one of the 26 teams who aren’t still playing would love to ‘suck’ if it meant they were still playing. There is no shame in making it to the finals, no matter whether you win or lose. The four teams left standing are the elite teams. If any one of them ‘sucks,’ what does that say about the quality of the NHL?

And if you’re a fan, unless you can do better – you have no room to talk. There are 600 or so players in the NHL. Every one of them, even the 4th line grinders who may rarely see ice time, plays better than 99.999999999% of the people playing hockey. And if you don’t play hockey, there’s no contest. Take the worst player in the NHL on his worst day and he will be able to utterly destroy you on the ice. These are professionals, and this is what they do. Sometimes they will play well, sometimes not. But they never, ever SUCK. You can be disappointed in the way a team plays, but it’s utterly incorrect to relegate them to the league of suckiness unless you can do better.

I also absolutely despise the attitude shown by some fans towards the opposing team and their fans. Most people are fine, but every fan base has its share of people who want to ridicule, mock, chirp and tear down the other team and its fans. I don’t care how much you want your team to win, always keep in mind that without your opponent, there is no game. Without an opponent, you have a very expensive version of stick and puck with matching uniforms.

Your opponent is there for the same reason you are – to win the match, but also to play to the best of their abilities. At the end of each round, there is a handshake between the players of both teams. This doesn’t just happen in the NHL playoffs. It’s happened in every single game I’ve played in my D-league. It’s happened in the women’s league drop-in games. It’s a sign of respect, from one player to another. Even in games where one team annihilates the other (I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of that annihilation), the players STILL respect one another in the arena and on the ice. There is a certain dignity in being able to face your opponent after a hard-fought match and say “good game.” Maybe it was a good game for you, or maybe you got destroyed out there. But you showed up, you gave it your all, and now you recognize the fact that your opponent did the same.

The hockey world is a small one. There aren’t that many people who are able to play it at that level. There are trades all the time, and someone you played against last year – or even last month! – may now be your teammate. Without a certain amount of respect between players, you could never have a functioning team. During the game, it’s a player’s job to grab the puck, check the opponent, win the game. But after the game, that all must be set aside. You can’t win games by holding personal grudges and tearing down other players and teams – you can only win by playing better yourself. The guy you might have checked hard into the boards last week might be your new winger next season. That goalie you sprayed might end up being your new goalie. And even if they aren’t, they are your opponent in a game where both sides are expected to give everything they have.

So please, give the ‘sucks’ word a time out. Before you freely throw it around, consider what you really mean by it. Do you truly mean that your team sucks – or is it just that you are disappointed in the way they are playing? Do you really feel that the other team sucks – or do you just want to rile up their fans by saying that?

No matter who wins or loses this round, the hockey season is almost over. So enjoy the last few games of the 2011-2012 season, and have fun watching the best hockey being played at the highest level. With the rumblings of a player lockout in the background, appreciate every game you have the chance to watch, no matter who is playing.

In every game, someone has to win and someone has to lose. In the end, there will be only one team hoisting the Stanley Cup. The other three will certainly be disappointed – but they should never be ashamed or embarrassed. They should never be accused of ‘sucking.’ They deserve credit for their hard work and ability to get this far, both from their own fans AND fans of the other teams.

Why hockey belongs in the desert

I’ve heard this many times – hockey doesn’t belong in the desert. It’s usually followed by a statement that if you don’t have snow/ice naturally, hockey shouldn’t be played.

While it may seem sensible, there are some very good reasons why the desert is a good – no, make that a great place for hockey to be played. In ‘the old days’ perhaps it did make sense – after all, if you don’t have naturally occurring ice, it’s impossible to play. But we’re beyond that, we’ve had means of making artificial ice surfaces for quite some time now. So without further ado, here are my two HUGE reasons why hockey belongs in the desert.

Reason #1: It’s 106° outside.

It seems pretty easy to understand, but people outside of the desert never quite get it. Yes, we know it’s hot outside. Really hot. Anyone who has lived through an Arizona summer knows the heat like an intimate friend. You can’t escape it completely, but you can surely try. Experienced Arizonans learn that the best time to do anything outdoors is before 8am in the summer. That’s why our zoo opens at 5am in the summer months. It’s why you don’t see anyone outside in the middle of the day. The early morning is for errands and things that require going outside. The middle of the day is for staying inside.

The thing about ice is, it’s cold. As in 32°. So the ice rinks are chilly places. When it’s over 100° outside, and your house is probably around 80° (unless you’re willing to pay hundreds each month in electrical bills), the ice rink is going to be colder. A lot colder. And it’s not particularly expensive to hang out at the ice rink. Many rinks have public sessions 2-3 hours long every afternoon during the summer. Some have them in the morning as well. For less than $10, you can get on the ice and pretend that it is not hot outside. Sure, it’s going to be hot when you leave the rink. But it all balances out: 106° outside + 32° inside divided by two hours = average temperature of around 60° (made-up math formula WIN!). If you don’t skate, it’s free to sit in the rink and enjoy the coolness. (I suggest that you take children of your own with you if you want to do that, rinks tend to frown on random people just sitting there watching other people’s kids for hours at a time. It’s a little bit creepy.)

Phoenix isn’t a hockey town IN SPITE OF the heat, it’s a hockey town BECAUSE OF the heat. We’re always looking for ways to escape the burning oven feeling, and the ice is exactly the place to be during the summer months. I’m not sure why this isn’t more easily understood. If you lived in a cold place, wouldn’t it make sense to look for a nice, warm place to spend the coldest part of the day? That’s exactly what we’re doing, only in reverse. And yet we are told we’re not a hockey town because it’s too hot. Would it make any more sense to say that Montana is not a warm fireplace state because it’s too cold?

Reason #2: Ice is hard to get, therefore more appreciated.
How many times do we hear that Phoenix doesn’t ‘deserve’ a team, because we’re not a hockey town? What exactly does one have to do to ‘deserve’ a team? From what I can tell, if you’re born in a certain area, you deserve it by default. That doesn’t seem to take much effort at all.
We may not have as many hockey fans as other places – but we do have a lot of hockey PLAYERS. Every time I go to the rink, there are people playing hockey. All ages. Women and men. Beginners, advanced, and everything in between. Looking at the schedule for ice times, there are hours and hours of time blocked out for hockey league games, hockey team practice, hockey lessons, stick time, etc. People are using the ice to play hockey, and with the number of teams wanting to use the ice, sometimes that means time is at a premium. There are hockey leagues that play at 1am. On a weeknight. There are people who show up at 5:30am to get in stick time before school/work. These are not convenient times, but people are willing to show up at the rink for them because they really, really want to play hockey.

Hockey is not an easy sport to fall into, nor is it easy to get good at. There is a lot of equipment required, and it’s not cheap. The ice time isn’t cheap either. Lessons, leagues, practice time – it all adds up. And although we have quite a few ice sheets here in Phoenix, they aren’t spread out around the valley at all. If you live on the west side, there is only one rink. If you live on the east side, you have more options. Most people can’t just grab their stuff and walk over to the ice to play a bit. Instead, they have to check the schedule, plan the trip, gas up the car, and then drive. For me to get to the closest ice rink (the one I use for stick time and women’s league) it is a 25 minute drive. My adult D-league rink is about an hour drive. My Sunday afternoon is filled with hockey – leave the house at 2:30 to arrive by 3:30 and be ready to go on the ice at 4. Practice until 5:20, a game until 6:40, and get back home around 8. That is five and a half hours each week, just so I can have a little fun and get in some time on the ice.

I don’t get paid to play, I’ll never be paid to play, it’s just a fun diversion for me and a way to get some exercise. I’ve easily spent $1000 in the two months since I started playing, on equipment, skates, ice time, and league fees. For a recreational activity, that’s a lot. That’s more than it would cost for a year’s worth of gym membership. But I don’t mind it, because I love to play. I love to practice, and I love to see myself making progress.

If I had grown up in a place where playing hockey means grabbing a stick and skates and running down to the local pond, I probably wouldn’t appreciate it as much. I wouldn’t be as dedicated. It wouldn’t require nearly as much effort on my part as it does in the desert. I would probably play a bit and then move on to the next thing. Any time something is easy to get, it’s not appreciated as much as something you have to work for.

Hockey requires tons of work. If you want to get good, you have to put in the hours and the sweat. Here in Phoenix, you also have to add in the money and the time involved in getting to the ice in the first place. For someone in Phoenix to get really good at hockey, they are going to spend more time and money than it might take to become really good at hockey in a traditional ‘hockey town.’ How could it be said that people who are willing to work this hard at something when it is an uphill battle don’t ‘deserve’ to have a team playing the sport that they love?

Hockey is growing in Phoenix. There are more kids learning to play than ever before. There are many adults learning to play. It takes time and commitment, but it will pay off. As more young people get involved in the sport, the talent level can only rise. There may not have been many top-tier players from Phoenix yet, but it is only a matter of time. With the dedication I see when I go to the rink and see the same faces over and over again, I know that we have something to look forward to here in the desert.

GOOOAAAAALLLLL!

Ever since I’ve started playing, I’ve wondered what it would be like to score a goal. I figured it would either take a really long time to get to that point, or I’d have to get really, really lucky. It turns out it happened sooner than I expected.

At our D-league game a couple of weeks ago, one of my teammates let loose with a great shot – WHAM! right at the net. I was standing there, in front of the goalie, just in case there would be a chance for a rebound. After the puck went in, my teammate pointed at me and said “that was yours!” I was a bit confused, but then found out that it had hit my stick on the way into the net, and would officially be counted as my goal. I felt a bit guilty about it, because it was really all him. Still, a goal is a goal.

Then at the women’s league on Thursday night, I got a real, honest-to-God goal of my own. The puck came down by the net, it went around back and came out in front, where I was waiting for a chance. I pushed it in and there it was! I was on a line with a couple of other women who were newish (or at least not as accomplished as our first line, which was full of hot-shots who can skate and shoot and all of that fancy stuff), so we were pretty happy to have done something for our team.

Right now, any goals I get are likely to be one of two things: lucky shots on a goalie who isn’t that great (or is having an off night), or garbage goals that are grabbed from opportunities. None of that fancy sniper stuff for me, I’m way too slow and predictable for that.

Or am I??????

At stick time yesterday we were taking shots on a goalie and I got a couple to go in. Everyone else is doing huge shots from the center line, but I knew that would never come close to the net for me. So I skated on it, went a little to the left, came back to center and let ‘er rip. I’m pretty sure the goalie thought I was too slow and weak to ever make it in, but it went through the five-hole. I tried again, this time a bit of a deke to the left, then to the right – and it went in the side.

I don’t know if it was a matter of being kind to a n00b, or sheer dumb luck on my part – but it is nice to think that I might be able to help my team rather than hinder them. I know that at the women’s league game, I actually caught a few passes, blocked a few shots, and kept the puck from going back towards our net. Nothing fancy or skillful – but I was at the right place at the right time. That’s a pretty nice feeling after knowing that the first few games I played involved trying to stay away from the puck so I didn’t mess it up!

Three weeks until the tournament

It’s been so busy the past couple of weeks with the end of the school year, the playoffs, and as much hockey as I can fit in for myself! So what has been happening?

1. I played a women-only game for the first time. It’s a drop-in game, Thursday evenings. There were only 6 of us plus two goalies, so we ended up 3 on 3 for the entire time. No shifts. Just 15 minutes of skating, a couple of minutes of downtime, and then back on the ice for more. LOTS of fun but exhausting. I had a great time, it’s nice to play with people I know. Even though we lost 3-0, I was able to get to the puck a few times. The ref chirped me a bit (are they supposed to do that?) when I missed a pass, but I told him I’d only been playing for 6 weeks, so lay off. I look forward to going again, hopefully there will be a few more players so it’s not such a trial by fire! I do see that the best way to get better at the actual game is to PLAY the game, although stick time is good to work on the basic skating and shooting skills.

2. I got a new stick! I couldn’t get any flex on my old stick at all. It’s a 95, cut down a couple of inches, so very very stiff. My friend suggested trying a lower flex stick, perhaps an intermediate. After doing a bit of research, it seems that a 95 is pretty much an impossibility for me to use and get flex – it’s more for men, with upper body strength and a bit more height. So I stopped by BTM yesterday and picked up an Easton intermediate with 65 flex. I was able to bend it a bit, so we’ll see if that makes any difference in the power I get in my shot. Right now, my shots look suspiciously like passes, just aimed at the net.

3. I got to watch the Coyotes come up to a 3-1 lead in the series against the Predators. Seriously, I didn’t think they were going to make it that far. But then again, I didn’t care a lot. Someone else said it better than me – “I feel like I’m playing with house money.” The team has done so much this year to exceed expectations that now we’re to the point where every single game feels like a ‘freebie.’ For a while, I really feared that April 4 would be the last home Coyotes game – maybe ever. Then they made the playoffs, and I knew I’d get to see at least 2 more. Then they won that round and that guaranteed at least 2 more. Now we’re on game five of the series and I’m guaranteed to see at least two more home games, more if they move on to play against the Kings. It’s all a bonus, and I’m enjoying everything I can watch.

Now I’m counting down the time I have left before the tournament. Three weeks. Actually, less. Two and a half weeks of school left, then the tournament, then I’m off to Hawaii. No ice there, so I’m hoping to take a stick and a couple of pucks for some shooting practice. I’m still a bit scared to do the tournament, but I won’t be the only beginner there so as long as my teammates are cool with that, I’ll just do my best. Some of my students said they were going to show up with signs for me at the games. It would be funny, but I think it would make me more nervous to have people watching me play!

Show your Support

The City of Glendale recently updated their website to include a page congratulating the Coyotes on their first round victory over the Blackhawks, and asking fans to show their support for the team. They mention several ways to do that, including e-mailing the city about the team and attending city council meetings. I’ve e-mailed the mayor and council members separately, but perhaps I will send another one now that they’ve asked for them. Perhaps it will go like this…

What the Coyotes Mean to Me

The Coyotes have meant so much to me, and I would be very disappointed if they were to leave. Here are some of the ways they have made my life better:

1. The Coyotes make me proud to be from Arizona. It seems that every time we make the national news, it’s because someone has done something ridiculously stupid (again). Our legislators are passing laws that make other people boycott our state. Our sheriff is getting sued and costing us millions. Our former attorney general is getting disbarred. We have the reputation of being the wild west, only without the cool parts. I’m tired of being the laughingstock of the nation. The Coyotes have people talking about us, but in a good way. I’d hate to see that disappear.

2. The Coyotes give my family something to bond over. Everyone has different interests in my family – video games, reading, bike riding, girly things. The one thing we ALL enjoy doing is talking about and watching the Coyotes play. Even my 7-year old daughter knows the players’ numbers and names. We talk about the last game, the upcoming game, what we think of the latest trade. We joke about “Angry Tippet” and Taylor Pyatt’s blue eyes. With so many families not being able to spend lots of quality time together these days, it’s much appreciated that the team provides family-friendly entertainment.

3. The Coyotes teach a valuable lesson about hard work. Hockey is not an easy sport. It’s the hardest sport I’ve ever tried. There’s so much to be good at that it takes years and years to get good at it all. It looks so easy when you watch the games, but then when you try it yourself – that’s when you realize how many things the players have had to master over the years to get to the point they are at. And it’s a sport where raw talent can’t take you very far at all – you still have to put in the hours of work to get to the NHL level. There isn’t a player on the team that hasn’t spent years at the ice rink mastering skating – and then stick-handling – and then shooting – and then learning how to play as a team. People today are always looking for the easy way out, but hockey is anything but easy. It’s been called a blue-collar sport, where willingness to work and stick to it are absolute requirements. Isn’t this a great lesson for our children to learn?

4. The Coyotes remind me of the importance of moms and dads. That seems like a silly statement (of course moms and dads are important – who would dispute that?) but it really isn’t. When I go to the ice rink, I see the same thing every time – lots of kids carrying big, heavy bags and a hockey stick. Invariably, they are accompanied by a mom or a dad who is just along for the ride. I often see the parents dressing the smallest players, and once that’s done they sit around while their child skates. Sure, it’s no big deal to sit around once in a while as your child takes a lesson or attends an event. But these parents are there every single time. Several times a week. Stick time is often at very early or otherwise inconvenient times – my rink has it at 5:30 am every day. To get really good at hockey, these kids will have to attend many practices, many stick times, many lessons. Every time they do, there is a mom or a dad driving them to the rink, helping them gear up, then waiting for the practice to be over. Every. Single. Time. When I look at the Coyotes on the ice, I can’t help picturing what it take to get each of them to this point. I picture a 5 year old Shane Doan being driven to the rink while his tired parent tries to wake up with a little coffee, only to do it all over again the next day. I picture a 10 year old Ray Whitney, scoring a game-winning goal while his parents sit in the stands, beaming. I picture a 16-year old Keith Yandle, driving himself to the rink for the first time and his parents thinking “FINALLY! Now I can sleep in.” I picture every one of the players as they sign their first NHL contract, their parents happy to see the dream finally coming to fruition. And I picture the parents, sitting in the stands with huge smiles on their faces, watching their son debut in his first NHL game. Parenting is always a sacrifice, but parenting a future NHL hockey player goes way beyond mere sacrifice.

5. The Coyotes give me something to aspire to. After having another child 7 years ago, I have gotten really out of shape. I’m sure there are lots of people in my situation – too little time, too easy to sit in front of a screen and munch mindlessly on junk food. I tried the gym, Zumba, etc. It was OK, but after a while I just didn’t feel like going. Not enough results for the amount of work I put into it. Once I started watching the Coyotes, the wheels started turning in my mind – what would it be like to play? Would I be good at it? Would it be fun? I mulled it over for a few months and then looked into it. It turns out, I’m not the only person learning to play later in life. I found a class and a league, got some equipment, and started going to stick time. I’m on the ice a couple of times a week. I love it. It’s a crazy workout – crazy because it’s fun, crazy because I sweat like nobody’s business and yet somehow don’t even notice that I’m working! I get off the ice exhausted, but can’t wait to go back and do it all again. I look forward to the days when I get to play. And I’ve already seen some changes in my body, after only 6 weeks. I’m still a horrible player – but every time I watch the Coyotes, it makes me want to play and skate so that I can get better. I’ll never be in the NHL, but I don’t care about that. Ray Whitney will be 40 next month – so if he can play a great game at that age, why can’t I have some fun too? With the obesity problem growing each day, it can’t be a bad thing to have a team promoting a sport that is such an intense work-out.

6. The Coyotes are bringing the people of Arizona together. There are so many things we can disagree about – SB1070? Obama? Health Care? Iraq? All of the craziness in the AZ legislature? But one thing everyone is agreeing upon right now is the Coyotes. They are the talk of the town. Total strangers have come up to me when I’m wearing Coyotes gear, just to talk about the game. After the games, people in the parking lot are friendly and willing to let others into the exit lines. People are honking the clapping part of the Let’s Go Coyotes cheer. Even if you’re not a hockey fan, you’ve noticed the team. It’s good to have a safe topic that everyone can talk about without getting peoples’ hackles up.

7. The Coyotes teach the value of teamwork. It’s almost a cliche by now – scoring by committee. But in the Coyotes’ case, it’s absolutely true. Most teams have 1 or 2 star players that everyone just KNOWS are going to score or make a huge play that wins the game for their team. The Coyotes are built differently. When you’re operating on a limited budget, you have to be very careful. Don Maloney doesn’t spend tons of money on the one “Big” contract for the star player that will change the season for the team. He instead gets players with potential, players who can fit into the team and add to it without taking over. The downside of the star player is that when that player is injured or has a bad game, the team can’t really cover for them. But with a true TEAM effort, other players step up to pick up the slack. And they do. The Coyotes have had a ton of injuries this year, yet the team as a whole still manages to win by working together. Who is the star of the team? There are just too many players who have contributed in big ways to name one player. This team works together, and they win or lose together. This team is greater than the sum of its parts – MUCH greater.

8. The Coyotes help build traditions. My son and I go to the games together. We have our traditions – we take a sign to the warm-ups, and we always stand in the same place. We always have a box of red vines at the game – and when we open them (always after the Coyotes have scored their first goal), I have to rub my fuzzy mitten on the licorice. It’s a silly tradition, totally pointless to anyone else – but we enjoy it. We sit in the same seats, say hello to the same people at every game. We listen for certain songs during the game, and we will guess who should score next. That tradition got it’s start on the night of Doan’s hat trick. I said to my son “You know who I haven’t seen score in a while? Shane Doan.” And he scored about 11 seconds later. So now, one of us will say that we haven’t seen Whitney/Vrbata/Pyatt etc. score in a while and oddly enough, sometimes it happens!

The Coyotes contribute quite a bit to my life, and I believe that with this play-off run and the support of the City of Glendale, a new owner could really turn this around. I’m tired of hearing that we don’t “deserve” a team or a cup. The Stanley Cup belongs to the team that earns it, period. Whether there is one fan in the stands or 18,000, it’s the team’s work that will win the cup. But we should certainly ask ourselves – with all of the work the Coyotes do to make us proud, wouldn’t it be nice to return the favor and show them that we acknowledge their work and loyalty to the city?

STILL not good enough? Would you really expect anything less?

Ah, the post-victory excitement continues. The Coyotes are the talk of the town – literally. On the news channels, the radio, in the paper, by the water cooler. Everyone has Coyotes fever. That’s fine, the bandwagon is plenty big for all of the new fans. And the old fans, they’re enjoying it too. I myself have found out that I’m not the ONLY fan around at work. Several of my colleagues have talked to me about the games and the team, and yesterday I met a student who is a fan. We were giving the ACT test so I had a bunch of kids who didn’t really belong to me. One of them saw my beautiful fan appreciation night poster and started up a conversation, he was pretty darn knowledgeable so definitely not a bandwagon fan!

But does that mean more respect from other hockey fans? Yes and no. I’ve seen a lot of tweets, FB posts, comments on articles, etc. congratulation the team and the fans for overcoming adversity and being able to deal with the “shit sandwich” we’ve had for the past 3 years. Lots of amazement from outsiders that the team with no owner, no star players, and supposedly no fans was able to get out of the first round. But that doesn’t stop the hate. Already I’ve seen:

This series is going to have horrible ratings! Nobody is going to watch the Preds vs. the Yotes.

Maybe. Then again, I think hockey fans just might watch the play-offs simply because it’s the playoffs. I’m sure you were hoping for a Detroit/Chicago match-up because their fans and ratings are “better.” But there’s one big problem with that scenario – their TEAMS weren’t better on the ice. And when it comes right down to it, that’s all that matters. Because it’s the Cup, ya know.

Ha ha, the games aren’t sold out yet. See, nobody wants to watch!
Argument from ignorance. The games aren’t sold out yet for some very simple reasons: first, the second round tickets went on pre-sale to STH and the like. I bought my tickets back in February, all the way through to the final match (or however far they go). But the general public couldn’t buy them right away. So yeah, considering that only now can the GP buy tickets I think they’re selling at a brisk pace. The second factor is that the schedule hasn’t yet been released. Rumor has it that the first game will be Friday – but there are many who need to know if it will truly be Friday – or maybe Saturday? Not everyone has jobs that allow them to take off for a hockey game, and people DO have other commitments. Myself – if the games are Friday/Sunday, I have to rearrange my schedule a bit. Don’t worry, the games WILL sell out once the actual dates are set. And this time you can’t say “well, it’s because of all the PREDS fans in Phoenix.” (but it probably will be said anyway)

Ooh, people showed up at the airport to greet the team. Big deal.
1000 people showed up. That’s a big deal. It was 100 degrees out. The airport isn’t exactly walking distance. There is limited parking. It was the middle of the day on a work day. So 1000 people showing up is pretty good. I would have loved to be there – except I’m a teacher, and as I mentioned – I was giving the ACT test. So I couldn’t take off. I know there are MANY fans who would have loved to be there, but had to work or go to school. If it had been a weekend, I would have been there. But someone has to educate the children.

Coyotes play boring hockey.
Sorry you don’t enjoy watching them play. I hear there are some nice golf courses you can visit instead. I do believe that is what many of the players from the traditional hockey-crazy markets are doing right now, perhaps you could ask them for recommendations?

Well, they did it!

I have to admit, I was starting to get nervous after the Coyotes lost on Saturday night. When you’re playing against a team that has everything to lose if they don’t win the game, it’s hard to out-motivate them. But somehow they did.

Four times. OEL. Brule. Vermette. Chipchurra. I told myself – and those around me – that even if they were up 5-0, I wouldn’t relax until the very last buzzer. And I didn’t. When we were up 3-0, I maybe started to hope. Just a little bit. Then when it was 4-0, I couldn’t keep from having just a little bit of a smile – shall we say a “Tippett smile”? And then when the final buzzer sounded, I couldn’t help it – full-on grins. And a little bit of teary eyes.

It was so worth the wait. The nerves. The blood pressure spikes. I had been imagining how it would feel to lose in game 7, because I didn’t have the heart to dare imagine how it would feel winning. The hockey gods just have been so cruel to this team. It’s hard to watch this interview with Shane Doan after the Coyotes were swept last year:

More than anything, I wanted this win for Shane Doan. He’s been loyal. Classy. A true captain. Through everything, he’s given 100% to Phoenix and to this team. Certainly he could have moved on to a team with more stability and brighter prospects to hoist the cup. But he didn’t. He’s in it for the long haul, and it’s finally paid off. For some reason, I always think of D’Artagnan in the movie the Man in the Iron Mask when I think of Shane Doan. They have many of the same qualities. But the line that makes me think of Doan is when D’Artagnan asks the evil king Louis to spare the life of Philippe – he says “show me what my faith and blood have purchased.” Doan has paid plenty of faith and blood for this team, and finally he’s seeing what they have purchased.

What a difference a year makes. Here’s the captain last night:

Breaking sports news video. MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL highlights and more.

Thank you boys. Congratulations, and I look forward to watching you in the second round.