My evening started typically enough. Stuck in unmoving traffic to get over to JFK. My future brother-in-law was coming in for the game tonight...taking off from work as a chef in a very highly respected restaurant in Florida. I look up, half expecting to see bats, but instead the sky is thickly overcast in the gray fog which has enveloped Long Island since hockey came to town here. It seems unnatural. I look to my guide, who is muttering to herself beside me. Something questioning why is she driving.
Being a Doctor of Hockey Journalism has its cost. With a masters in Mixed Martial Arts and a Bachelors in Online Rabble Rousing; these school of hard knocks have made me focused on note taking, meditating, sipping hard liquor, and nary a moment to drive. I once told Matt Serra, current UFC Welterweight champion, after putting him into a Omoplata submission when he failed to lock in an arm bar when sparring in his Dojo, about focusing full-time on dreams...
"You can't just muck around with this crap," I shouted as he writhed in pain on the mat.
"Damn you, you crazy bastard. I think you broke my arm!" cried Matt.
Matt needed some guidance after floating through and out of the UFC.
"You got to live this stuff, Serra. 24/7. You got to breathe, eat and poop it. No more driving. No more washing dishes. No more doing laundry. Just focus. I'll make some calls to Dana White. I hear they are doing a The Ultimate Fighter show for UFC vets for a comeback."
My guide is still cursing at me.
"You don't even exercise, for god's sake!" she cries.
"Never mind that" I respond and point to her brother, who is carrying a duffle bag, as we finally get to the JetBlue terminal.
Lee used to be the trumpet playing kid at Islander games back in the glory years. Now that he has come in from Florida almost 20 years later, he has taken that trumpet out of his closet, behind the poker chips and golf clubs. With Lee and his trumpet, my guide and I head to Nassau Coliseum.
Game 3's antics are now a memory, and game 4 is all about Islander redemption. Leaving it all on the ice, and playing with their heart is all they can do. When we arrive, I head down to the offices as Lee and my guide go find our seats. As I head over to get my press pass, I get pushed aside by a shadowy figure.
"Good christ, man! What's the rush?" I shout.
"Out of the way, you nut. Hockey Radio personality and blogger coming through!" he announces, "I just drove for so long I can't feel my own ass"
The guy is barely visible in the dimly lit passage. I only see a big E on his shirt. I am about to put the fellow in a rear naked choke, but get interrupted by a hiss.
Ted Nolan is trying to get my attention.
"Don't bother with the pre-game meal and the rest of the press," whispers Ted. " Come with me."
I leave the other fellow bloggers and hockey press area and head through a white door. Inside is a narrow hallway with Garth Snow, Mike Milbury and Bryan Trottier.
"Gallof," Mike Milbury says in a somber voice, "We are allowing into our inner circle. We need someone to witness this."
"I'm your man," I say, and sip a flask that Trottier has slipped into my hand.
I taste whiskey and it tears along my throat into the pit of my stomach. My stomach rolled and I could feel the heat climb back up along my esophagus.
“There’s nothing like a good belt of whiskey,” commented Bryan Trottier, “Good for what ails you.”
I could only nod and grunt as it was still firing the cannons of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture in my innards. I could almost feel the ulcer excavating itself with each sip.
"Lets go," says Mike.
They lead me to the locker room. Ted addresses a few things to the team. I stare at some of the players looking to get a gauge of their disposition. Asham looks intense. Blake is bouncing on his feet, full of nervous energy. DiPietro is yapping. Witt is flexing his muscles so they can limberly accept shot pucks careening off his body. Yashin looks tight lipped and slightly sullen. Like heavy thoughts of buyouts and playing outside his comfort zone are on his shoulders. Those are heavy chips to bear.
Ted wraps it up by saying simply...
"Leave it all on the ice."
The meeting is adjourned and the players lace up their skates.
Mike Milbury walks over to me, and motions for me to follow. We enter a dark passage that leads to another office.
Inside some people are in a circle. Candles are lit, making the shadows and flames flicker madly off walls. Curiously, Charles Wang, owner of the NY Islanders, is at the head, wearing full tribal Indian regalia.
"Friends, co-workers, member of the press," starts Charles, "We are having this meeting to get rid of all the evil spirits."
I stand in the circle, next to a tall gaunt figure wearing a cowboy hat. The man is none other than former radio host, Don Imus.
"Jumping Jehovah! What the hell are you doing here?" I whisper to Imus.
"Wang and I buddies back from the Computer Associate days. Sometimes Alexei Yashin, Charles and myself go eat at TGIFriday's to discuss hockey strategy."
"Jesus christ, you are kidding me," I breathe.
"No. Charles really really likes the Loaded Potato Skins," admits Imus with a large 'yuk, yuk yuk' laugh.
Charles looks crossly at Imus, and then continues...
"We have been beset this year by bad vibrations and evil spirits. They need to be expunged. Within this peace pipe, we will smoke the spirits away."
Charles hands me a wooden pipe that is made of Purple Heart wood.
"Nice pipe, Chuck!" I exclaim, admiring the natural purple deep tones.
"It's from my private collection," smiles Charles, "Sometimes I need to break out the pipes to deal with Nassau County officials when doing real estate."
I light it up, and almost choke myself as I taste a heady unidentifiable mixture. I feel the room whirl, as Charles starts shouting at the spirits to leave. I leave him and the group still shouting as I struggle and stumble out to get some air.
Imus takes me aside suddenly.
"You know what that was, don't you?" he asks.
I shake my head, coughing up a lung, which probably now resembles one of Imus's blackened ones.
"Lets just say that Charles is personal friends with Keith Richards"
I continue out the door, with Imus's last words echoing in my head. I just smoked Keith Richards father to ward off evil spirits. Was their no end to what Charles Wang would stretch to win? We all heard rumors of sumo wrestlers for goalies. We watched Neil Smith last 45 days. We saw a committee system put in place. But this...this...this was something truly strange. After all, I had snorted with Keith Richards back a few years ago, and he'd never offered to smoked his father. Would wonders ever cease?
I get upstairs and head to my seat. My guide is consoling her brother, Lee.
She explains that Lee tried to play the trumpet and to lead a cheer, but evidently he had taken the wrong duffel bag off the JFK baggage claim. He was left with size XXL underwear, some jeans and a Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirt instead. Well, actually just the XXL underwear and jeans, as I then took the shirt and put it on. There is nothing better than a silk Hawaiian shirt, no matter what the weather or season.
The crowd for the game still has a good amount of Buffalo fans. The section is less sprinkled with them, but their presence is clear nonetheless. But, the jeering and cheering is a bit less confrontational than the last game. Perhaps Charles Wang smoke session worked? Perhaps that crazy coot actually had the right idea? You could feel the palpable change. The passion was there, but the undercurrents were gone. As the players entered the ice to the crowd applause and boos, the air seemed brighter and lighter.
But, suddenly, I can feel a twist. Something has changed suddenly from the better vibes. There has been a disturbance in the force. Suddenly out from fan passageway, comes a figure that causes a stir. A man comes up into the seats wearing a Rangers jersey. The face of evil leers, as he raises his hands, and the cacophony of boos gets louder. He sits with a grin, and happens to be near some Buffalo fans. Things have taken a turn. An evil spirit has escaped Charles Wang's grasp and the Keith Richard's fatherly tobacco.
To be continued . . .
To read Part II:
To read the infamous Fear and Loathing in Long Island:
To read Reality Dysfunction: