So it's about 2 in the morning, I'm suffering from severe insomnia, and what am I to do? Well, I've decided to start a series on the 13 or so (fairly well-spent) years I've had in the game of hockey. Please to enjoy.
I was about 6, 7 years old, living with my family in San Antonio, Texas (where my father had relocated after Southwestern Bell, his then-employer, shifted headquarters from my birthplace of St Louis to after by all accounts the head of SBC didn't get into a country club) when I saw my first NHL game on TV. It was a cracker; New York versus the Devils, Game 6, 1994 East Final. I was sport-obsessed (mostly with football) as just about all the kids who had moved to this barren wasteland were, and having watched SportsCenter that morning I had seen the back page of the New York Post (you know the one, where Mess said "WE'LL WIN TONIGHT" ) about a hundred times, which only piqued my interest. Watching that game, I became enthralled with all the speed, action, the moves these people did on tiny little skate blades. When Messier scored the empty-netter, there was no other word: I was hooked.
We moved back to St Louis the next year, where my father took a job with another firm and there was a fairly established hockey culture. I went skating with my kindergarten class on a field trip, and was surprised to see that there were a few hockey players there. I asked around the right places and learned about the new rink opening up right by my house, and the Falcons, the team formed to play at it. I begged and pleaded with my parents to please, let me be a Falcon, let me play with these kids in the game I loved. After lots of hemming and even some hawing, they finally relented, letting me sign up first for Learn-to-Skate, then Learn-to-Play programs.
I eventually got old enough to play for a team, albeit a House team, who only played other Falcon House teams and didn't cut a single player. I still remember it: the Orange Crush (because our sweaters looked like Flyers shirts), with Coach Tim and Coach Dennis; 3rd Place Chesterfield League, Winners of the Missouri Mite House Cup. I think that trophy is still in the case at the Summit Center, with my name engraved on it. And my old jersey is still somewhere in my closet.
I played House for the majority of my hockey career, until 7th grade, when House ended and I decided to make the Travel jump--Bantam B's. Yes, it was barely a step up (we at least got nice jerseys, and matching helmets and in most cases gloves), but still--we were representing Chesterfield! We weren't half bad, either: we finished 3rd in a 11-team league, and won 3rd place at a tournament in Oklahoma City. But I'll never forget our Playoff game: up 5-0 against St Peters, our bitter rivals, they came back to tie it in the last minute. It went to a shootout, made all the more interesting in that their best player was ineligible due to a check-from-behind penalty. Our goalie, Branden, stood on his head, and a forward named Cody had a shot stopped by the snow the goalie piled on the line pre-shootout, but they ran out winners. The dream was over for me at Chesterfield--I had bigger, high-school sized fish to fry.
All this while I went to about 6 Blues games a year, always in just about the same places (upper level, section 321, seats varied) except when my father could wangle his company's season tickets (lower levels, in one of the corners--a horrible place, but hey, you could see the players' faces!). I got my old Blues jersey (with the red Mighty Ducks-striping) autographed by none other than Bobby Hull. A neighbor whose father was the team doctor got me into the locker room on, by a stroke of luck, a day that Alyssa Milano made an apperance trying to proposition Brendan Shanahan (this was in my pre-pubescent era, mind, when I knew nothing of Shanny stealing Craig Janney's missus, nor how Milano had been banned from other NHL locker rooms, nor about her career pre-Charmed, for which if you want a good example I suggest you seek out a B-movie called Embrace of the Vampire). My pee-wee team even played against Joel Quenneville's son's team in a practice game. Q came to our dressing room post-match and said that I was good at taking faceoffs--a compliment that I still remember, and a part of me treasures, to this day.
Next up: my stories from high-school hockey.