Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Memories earliest

I cannot say my best memory of hockey was my earliest.  My dad and mom took my brother and me to a North Stars game and someone on the ice smashed his head and it bled.   And when it bled, the flu I had got all that much worse.

So yes, I vomited at the sight of blood.  But I was 4 and a half years old.   And it was predestined that I would get more sick, having had a 102 temp all day.

My dad wasn't the kind to turn down free anything, let alone tickets for a game.  They sell beer at events, don't you know.


Please don't hold this against me.   I've seen Clint Malarchuk's artery blast and don't even blink, but back then, at 4 and half, I might have hurled.  Oh hell yes I would.  Not even might have.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How a skinny kid from the south found Hockey Part 2

The second occasion that was a catalyst for my love of hockey was a severe car accident I got into at the end of my junior year.  This story has a few trails so I apologize now.  I had a quirky English teacher my junior year that really had a profound impact on me because he taught me how to really think and problem solve…yes by using books, poetry, short stories but also by playing games.  About once or twice a week he would finish things up early and allow us to start or continue ongoing games of Chess, Pente, Stratego, and few others I forget. At the time we all thought it was just fun but when I look back at it with adult eyes and remember his small commentary, advice, prodding questions, etc. I know there was more to it.  Anyway, on the day of my wreck I was playing Pente and lost so an acquaintance/pseudo-friend (we were friends in middle school when he was a prep but in high school he stonered out and started wearing Pantera, Testament, Ministry, and Anthrax shirts all the time) of mine named Zack said I could have his turn if I gave him a ride home.  Of course I wanted my chance at revenge and having a lost to a girl which was a crime at 16 (boys shouldn’t lose these types of “serious” board games to girls…Connect Four…sure…even Checkers) and I wanted revenge against that smug Jennifer Eastman (okay…she probably wasn’t smug but my memory is making her out to be so that I can be the hero) that laughed sardonically the first time she beat me.



Anyway, we re-matched and I did prevail that time but we did not have enough time in class to play a tie-breaker so off to the car Zack and I went.  Not appreciating my musical taste…I think I had tapes of Jane’s Addiction, Tom Petty, Blind Melon, Pearl Jam, U2, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, and there may or may not have been a Cranberries tape in there…Zack finally found something I had that he could tolerate…Faith No More. So off we went.  The drive home to Zack’s was pretty uneventful except that as we got about five minutes from his house the rain drops that had sporadically hitting my windshield turned into a full on steady rain.  I thought we might drive through it because it seemed to be right over us but we never did and it got worse.  I pulled up as close as I could to his house and as I stopped the car the rain stopped all of sudden.  It had been just a random isolated little rain cloud but the water this rain cloud would pour changed my life. As I backed out of Zack’s driveway and with Mike Patton blaring “You want it all but you can have it!” I gently shifted from reverse to drive and hit the gas and spun out a little…at the moment I heard my old Driver’s Ed. Teacher Mr. Lunt lecturing us about what happens to oil on roads when it rains so I thought I should be extra careful and wear my seat belt (shamefully will admit I hardly wore it then but cut me some slack…I was sixteen, fearless, and suffering from the “that stuff happens to other people and not mes”).  As I was continuing to accelerate I kept jabbing the end of the seat belt anxiously waiting for the click but I kept missing. Finally as Mike Patton is screaming “What is it?” and I am wondering if that goldfish at the end of the video died I looked down to find that darn clicker...and I did.  I slammed down the seat belt and heard that reassuring click and as I looked up I felt a halting ffffffffff sound followed by some water kicking up on my windshield and then the loss of control of my car.  My car went from a 12:00 straight line to a 2:00 angle all why proceeding straight forward…to put in the proper driver’s ed term…I was hydroplaning with the passenger side nose of my car hanging off the road until it met its fate with a beautiful brick mailbox.


The impact, I claim, is a miracle of physics today.  It’s hard to describe but imagine a toddler taking a hot wheels car turning it upside down wheels up, spinning it like a top, then sliding it forward.  That is basically what my car did for about fifty yards.  Oh and did I mention the whole time I was belted in and “Epic” was coming to it’s beautiful piano close.  The car grinded to a hault and the spinning was almost to a close when the next song came on.  It was loud and fierce and made my head hurt. I was still belted and fumbling upside down for the radio dial to turn it down but being upside down made me do the opposite and head throbbed more.  I shot the tape out with the eject button and the radio was even louder.  In my disorientation I couldn’t make the music stop so I decided to unbuckle myself.  I held my hands out to break my fall and I landed on all fours.  Finally at the proper orientation I reached for the radio turned the dial to off and then noticed blood on my hands….hmmm.  It was at that moment I realized that the human brain is a tricky thing.  For a good ten seconds all those glass shards and bits had been in my hand but it wasn’t until I looked at it with my eyes that all my synapses and receptors started doing their thing and telling me I hurt.  A quick inspection of my other hand and the fact that I landed on all fours told me I was going to be picking glass out of my body for years.  After getting the music off I felt a great relief until I realized that I had replaced one terrible disorientating noise for one of fear and panic.  My ears picked up on a sound that, thanks to Hollywood, I knew only as the sound a car makes before it blows up…shout out to Mel, Arnold, Sly, and Kurt and their stunt men.  It was this loud piercing steam releasing hiss.  I immediately broke through what glass was left impeding my escape from the nearest window and crawled out as fast I could, got to my feet, and started running as fast I could sure that I was just seconds away from the car being converted to a beautiful mushroom cloud.

Well the mushroom cloud never happened but this is where the story gets weird for me. Still to this day I can transport myself back to this feeling and moment and relive it as if it just happened.  When the hiss stopped I slowed and I began to access the personal damage. There was blood all over my shirt, my jeans, my arms, and I couldn’t tell what was just a smear and what was a wound.  My brain started getting fuzzy and it seemed to be jutting and stalling like a sixteen year old girl learning to drive stick for the first time.  Later I would learn that that was the shock kicking in.  I identified one of the nastiest wounds I would have just above my elbow and rolled the bottom of my shirt around it making it a burrito-like wrap.  I was on a semi-remote stretch of road that had about four houses on it so I knew I had to walk back to Zack’s house and get help. That’s when I heard a female voice yell my name.  Shaaaaa-nnnnn!  Sean, you okay?  Most people upon hearing that would think, “Yes. I am rescued.” Not me.  I thought I was dying.  I sincerely thought the voice I heard was an angel because I was in a remote area and no females knew my name in high school so why would there be one out in the middle of nowhere that would?  Nevertheless, I walked toward the voice.  My vision was starting to do that graying stars thing that happens to you when you stand up too fast and lock your knees after giving blood.  I could still hear the sounds around me and even though my vision and my strength were coming to an end I still remember the last two senses before I lost consciousness…the sound of footsteps loudly running toward me and the feel of someone reaching out and softening my fainting to the ground.  It was Zack’s sister who had been looking out her window while talking on her phone (teen line no doubt though I know that dates me) and saw the whole thing happen.  She had called 911 on her way out to the road to see if I was dead.

I awoke to smelling salts and a police officer asking me my name, who was president and what road I was on.  I got the first two right but my brain was fuzzy on the last. I was concussed and had lost a lot of blood in my defense. After two different trips to the hospital for stitches that night I made it home.   In the coming days my sleeping patterns started to get all jacked up and I found myself sleeping through a lot of the day and up late at night.  Back then ESPN replayed hockey games late at night between midnight and 3:00 A.M. and I am ever grateful they did.  I began consuming every detail about every game that came on.  I began to learn about power plays, short-handed goals, two line passes, what the crease was, why fighting in hockey was not necessarily a bad thing, goalie positioning, why the Nordiques were leaving, who the original 6 were and why I should care, and so much more. Night after night I could not wait until I could get the TV to myself to learn about this new game.


To top it all off my wreck had happened near the end of school…so why does that matter… PLAYOFFS…and did I mention the year was 1993? Well I stumbled into the playoffs not really having a team but based on what little I had seen of the Detroit Red Wings thus far I knew there was something I didn’t like…they were too good, too smooth, and a bit cocksure and I didn’t think I liked that…years later a friend would equate them to the Yankees of hockey and I must admit that felt right.  Anyway, since their uniforms reminded me of something Ivan Drago would wear if he played hockey I already had a reason to jump on the side of the leafs but it was during that series that I would find my Rocky…in Doug Gilmour.  He played gritty and with gusto and the underdog leafs actually took out the Red Wings in seven.  I was glued to my TV as once commentators wondered if the Leafs could beat Brett Hull and the blues given that they had a week and half off after sweeping the Blackhawks…my admiration for Gilmour grew more but I also began a great respect for Wendel Clark, Dave Andreychuk, and Felix Potvin as they each had plenty of star moments and once again a game seven win.

I began to wonder if this was not the greatest game on earth…how come nobody knows this…game sevens right and left, nail bighting finishes, OT’s come on people! And then came the Western Conference finals…Leafs vs. Kings…Gilmour, Clark, Andreychuk vs. Gretzky, Kurri, McSorley, and whole lot more fire power behind them could the leafs pull it off again? I hung on every game…a true pendulum swinging series and when we lost (that’s right I said “we”) in the third period I finally realized that heartache is not just a metaphorical thing…it is real…your heart LITERALLY ACHES!  But in that heartache my maple leafs fandom would be secured and in 1994 I road with them all the way to the conference finals again…and yes last year against Boston having a three goal lead in the third with eleven minutes to go and blowing what would have been an improbable series comeback hurt bad…real bad…really really bad.  But we press on.  But none of the wonders of fandom would have happened without that wonderful terrible wreck on a rainy spring day in the middle of the country.

LEAFS 92-93 Link

STANLEY CUP FINAL Link

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Roots and Earliest memories

Growing up in the heart of Wisconsin in the 1960s and 1970s you didn't hear much about hockey.   I had Minnesota roots, so I heard from there, but I never saw packs of hockey cards in stores, I never saw games on television, until well into the mid-1970s.   No one is to blame for this, the state is lovely, filled with Germans and Poles, cheese, beer, and sausage, and the love of football.    But my father loved a certain football team from Minnesota, and I hated the pressure to choose from the many great teams, or earn my father's approval and follow the Vikings.   I do not say this to complain, my emotional make up is as someone who avoids arguments, dislikes stress, and tries to help others rather than divide people.   (I am an INFJ on this chart.)   So I tended to like the Packers, and NY Jets from that rogue AFL, but didn't watch a lot of football because my father only watched the Vikings, and you couldn't be in the room really, if you didn't support his team.  He was an ardent fan.

So I sought other pursuits.   I played with little plastic men and recreated scenes of war and mayhem.  Lego building was awesome.   And I listened to the radio late at night when I couldn't sleep, which was often.   Sometimes I'd catch games of strange and exciting nature.  That game was called hockey.   But it wasn't until I had my own room in 1978, when we moved to a rural town that was high upon a series of hills, that the radio listening truly was possible.   The signal was amazing, and I listened to games from the baseball Twins who I adored now, and from Montreal, and Quebec, and Winnipeg, and other places I can't really remember.   The games in French from Canada were still quite exciting.   You could follow the action from the sound of the announcer's voice, and you could hear the names as they skated across the ice.   I had begun to follow teams in the sports pages too.   Minnesota North Stars were great, if disappointing.  The Winnipeg Jets were exciting, because they came from that "rogue" hockey league, as some called the WHA.  And I loved the Nordiques, with their French announcers and excitable crowds. 

This led thereafter to my trying to find hockey on television.  Again, where we lived was a high point upon the horizon, so, there were a number of stations that came in somewhat visibly.   Duluth, Minnesota had the only channel that had hockey, and I watched, a number of times, over the weekends, Bulldog hockey.   The visuals weren't as good as the sound, sometimes it was like watching a hockey game with a massive snow storm going on, but, it was, none the less, more than what I had available in my area.    When I chose to go to a real college after my first year at community college I wanted to attend UMD.   It only seemed natural.