“Huh” was the expression on Coach Mike’s face.
What were you doing out there on the ice?
LaFontaine, Alex sheepishly repeated. It’s called LaFontaine.
In hockey vernacular, it’s known as stick handling. We called it LaFontaine. It never occurred to me that all these years later, Alex would still refer to it as that.
When Alexander was almost two, he loved to toddle around the living room, smashing at a foam rubber XM hockey puck with his plastic mini stick.
We had a Canadiens’ stick, a St. Louis Blues one, a couple of mini sticks from Hockey Night in Canada (thanks Tina), one from the Toronto Marlies, and a large black-and-red goalie blade bought at an Oshawa Generals game.
I would set up a couple of shoes as the goal posts, and lay on the carpet, daring Alex to raise the puck over my legs.
One afternoon, he wanted to play nets, so I made the kid giggle by stick handling around him, all the time doing a mock play-by-play. “LaFontaine looking for Mogilny…LalalaLaFontaine scores!!!”.
LaFontaine became our buzz word for stick handling. And Alex would do it in a choppy manner, banging the plastic stick violently on either side of the foam puck.
Apparently no-one ever set the poor kid straight.
On the ice during Select practise a couple of Monday night’s ago, the team was working on their puck handling skills. Alex naturally did the LaFontaine, much to the bewildered chagrin of Coach Mike.
On the way out after practise, I asked Coach if there were specific things Alex could work on.
Stick handling was the answer. Which led to Coach Mike asking Alex what he called that strange thing he was doing. (No longer to be referred to as LaFontaine).
But you should have seen him, Alex that is, in his prime.
Waddling around the living room, doing a running play-by-play, as he deftly worked his way around the furniture, all of it ending in a joyful shout of “LalalaLaFontaine!!!”.
We’d have him do it for visitors, and family members. Should have put a hat out.
But out with the old as we hit the road next to our house. Using an orange hockey ball, the two of us worked on his stick handling skills For half an hour, we focused on hand placement, and blade movement, trying to purge the boy of the chop chop motion he learned as a two-year old.
After scoring a hat trick last game with the house league Red Wings, Alex was pumped to hit the ice Saturday morning.
But first Friday evening.
The 48th edition of the Vanier Cup was being played at the Rogers Centre here in Toronto. The Vanier Cup is the Super Bowl/Grey Cup of Canadian University football. This year, it was the McMaster Marauders vs. the powerhouse Laval Rouge et Or. A rematch of last year’s overtime thriller.
Was thoroughly enjoying the game (did I mention I caught the football after the final Laval field goal – got to keep it, too) when I decided to check my cell phone. I had one text message.
“You Bastard” is all it said.
Best to let the wife pick up the narrative thread from this point…
The wind cut through me as I raced from car to house preparing for the hand off. Husband going to Vanier Cup. Boy tired enough that we might get an early bedtime. Me? Ready to cuddle under a comforter and watch some bad TV. The last thing Mick said to me as he ran out the door was “If Mike Ross calls, tell him I’m on my way”. So when I answered the phone 10 minutes later it didn’t occur to me that it would be anyone but Mike Ross. The voice on the other end answered quickly “Hi, It’s Mike Devine.” My first thought, why was Mike Ross calling himself Mike Devine? Second thought – “Damn you, Mick”. It wasn’t Mike Ross it was Coach Mike. Someone was sick on the Select team and he wanted to know if Alex could play. Quick, think of something. Too late. I was already saying good-bye to my cozy couch and writing down the address to the less than cozy arena.
We had just enough time to get there but we needed money. Five bucks for me to watch and five bucks for Alex to play. Coach Mike told me there was a Metro just north of the arena. Great, I can pop into Metro, grab some money and be on our way. After being robbed of a parking spot for the third time I thought to myself. “We’re going to miss the game, not because I was late, not because Alex was slow but because we couldn’t compete in the parking lot at Metro. I was formulating a plan on how to park in the handicap spot without getting caught when a spot miraculously opened up. We got our money and headed for the arena. Turns out it the arena really is just south of Metro. We could have walked. Looking back I probably didn’t need to honk so many times at the senior in the Civic.
With Alex all set up I left the dressing room and found my seat with the rest of the parents. The previous game was still in progress and it gave me time to look around. There was a Lord of the Flies scenario unfolding in one corner of the arena where I had a close encounter with a roll of flying hockey tape. I’m convinced some parents just drop off their kids, go to a movie and pick them up later. Who’s going to notice a couple more? My near miss with the hockey tape inspired me to send Mick a quick text to catch him up. “You Bastard” was all she wrote.
Game time and they’re all on the ice. Damn it. I should have paid more attention to what number Alex was wearing. They all look the same out there. Wait, tall lanky boy, orbiting around the team while they’re all listening to Coach Mike. Yep that’s Alex – #12. Here we go.
Third round of change ups and he’s on the ice though every time his name is called he attempts to leave the ice.
The Don Mills Flyers are really fast. The Scarborough parents are really loud.
Alex’s second time on the ice and he’s got his stick on the puck. Oops time to get off again – Alex tries to go in the out door to the bench.
The Don Mills arena has heaters for the stands. We love the Don Mills arena.
Goalie makes a great save. Who was that loud woman cheering? Oops, it was me.
Number 12 is back on the ice. Almost touched the puck but the Flyers are relentless. The Raiders are getting frustrated. A Flyer fell to the ice but the Raiders quickly saw it as an opportunity to grab the puck. It’s come to that.
Scarborough parents are quieter now.
Alex is on again. He’ll definitely sleep well tonight. The machine that is the Flyers has worn them down.
Number 8 gets a breakaway. Takes a shot but is denied. No chance for a rebound. The parents are excited again as one of their own got a shot on goal. That play alone has given everyone hope.
Alex on again, tries to pass the puck up the ice but it doesn’t work.
Coach Mike is yelling at Alex but I can’t tell why. Damn, should have taken lip reading. Alex doesn’t appear to be upset. Could be Alex’s last time on the ice. Can’t tell if Coach Mike is still yelling at Alex – they all look the same behind the bench.
Wow, Alex is on again chased the puck aaaaaaaaaaaaand he’s off.
The clock and the scoreboard aren’t working but I think the game is over. Alex trips getting off the ice.
I tried to find out what the final result was but Coach Mike is really good about making sure the kids don’t fixate on the score. However, Coach Mike doesn’t live with a walking archive of facts and stats like I do. Oh well, none of this has been technically sound so far – why start now?
The Scarborough Raiders played their hearts out against a team that can only be described as a future generation of Terminators.
- Laura Kern
Alex also laced up the blades for the Select team on Monday night in Whitby, Ontario. Coach Mike set up an exhibition game with the Whitby Wildcats.
Most hockey fans probably associate Whitby with the likes of Joe Nieuwendyk, and Adam Foote. The Iroquois Park Sports Centre is quite the complex; six ice pads, restaurants, a tuck shop, swimming pools, basketball courts, and other sporting venues.
Arena #1, where our game was, is also used for lacrosse. Whitby has a long and proud history in that game. The rink is festooned with an endless array of championship banners, and pennants. Right outside the entrance is an impressive Whitby Sports Hall of Fame display. Keith Primeau. The Whitby Dunlops. Harry Sinden. The Scarborough Selects were deep in enemy territory.
Alex wore number 9 for this game, but so did one of the other boys. Kind of like when the Cincinnati Stingers had Robbie Ftorek, and I think Rich Leduc wear the same number at the same time.
Before the game began, the two teams lined up at centre ice and shook hands. Immediately preceding that, the host team stood in front of their bench, and in tandem, banged their sticks against the boards in front of their bench, to the beat of We Will Rock You. Which is fitting, because that was always a quasi-fascist anthem anyhow, a theme that Freddie Mercury often played around with, 1930’s Berlin decadence and all that jazz.
After that jarring display, the game got underway. It was immediately apparent that both teams were on pretty much equal footing. When the Ice Raiders scored their first goal, all the parents (the wife and I included) cheered wildly. Hey, goals have been at a premium this year for the Select boys.
Not on this night. By the time the buzzer sounded to wrap up the game, Scarborough bested Whitby 9-6.
Number 9, at least the Number 9 that goes by the name Alexander Kern, chipped in with a very nice backhander for the Selects’ fourth goal of the contest. That was a very good shift for our boy, who earlier started the play that led to the Ice Raiders third goal.
Six shifts, 1 goal, 1 assists, and a plus 1 rating, all wrapped up in a win, the first this season for the Novice 8 Scarborough Ice Raiders. Not a bad night of work.
Coach Mike let the boys have their time in the dressing room, before he and the other coaches entered. Eventually the gaggle of parents were let in. Standing out in the spartan hallway, I felt very much like I was back at the Air Canada Centre, covering a Maple Leafs’ game, waiting for Ron Wilson to let the media into the dressing room. Same feeling. Hockey is hockey.
Alex was pumped about the win, and his contribution.
“Did you see my backhand goal? Coach Mike said I sniped it”.
Seven goals in three games for Alex.
Yes, seven goals it is, because two days earlier, Number 4 for the Red Wings (and Number 17, 16, 12 and 9 for the Ice Raiders) racked up another hat trick. His second in a row.
Saturday morning, the suddenly resurgent Red Wings (1 game winning streak) were set to tangle with the Kings. Both teams were languishing in the lower half of the standings, so this one promised to be a close game.
8-6 final for the Boys in Red. Break up the Red Wings!
Jacob was his usual prolific self, as was #17 (Matthew).
By the end of the second period, Alex had another hat trick under his belt.
Three goals on five shots, and maybe his best shot (the last one) was stopped by the Kings netminder. For a moment, I thought he had a four goal game.
Granted, two of those goals probably don’t go in against a better goaltender, but the second of the three was a fine snap shot right in the slot.
This time, I threw my baseball cap up over the glass, knowing full well that the netting would prevent it from entering the playing surface. Alex appeared to appreciate the gesture.
Six goals in two games; I am already picking out my retirement home in the San Diego area. Go Padres!
But the star of the game was Liam, #16. It was his turn to man the pipes this game, and despite the goal scoring heroics of Jacob, Alex, and Matthew, the Red Wings walked away with two points due to the stellar goaltending of this young man.
Time and time again, he threw himself at the puck, a kick save here, another one there, looking very much like a young Terry Sawchuk in that Detroit red.
At this age, goaltending is a crap shoot. Every kid gets a shot at it, which is how it should be, and after a rotation through the roster, most teams settle on a permanent netminder. The way Liam performed, I’d expect Coach Calvin to have #16 marked, in indelible ink, in the goaltenders spot on the roster sheet.
After the game, the dressing room atmosphere was festive. Two wins in a row for the Wings. That moved the Wings into 6th spot in the eight team league. The least goals scored, and the second most given up, but dammit, only six points out of top spot…and they tied that team a couple of weeks back.
Regular Season Standings
as of November 24th, 2012
|NOVICE 7 & 8||BRUINS||4||2||0||47||45||8|
As the players and parents packed up for the day, Alex, the fumes of success going to his head, volunteered to play goal the following week against the Bruins.
There goes the hat trick streak. There goes the retirement house at Pacific Beach.
Coach Calvin jumped on the suggestion, one less headache to worry about. Now it was our headache.
Last season in Novice 7, Alex played goal on two occasions. The first time around, he acquitted himself rather well, surrendering only five goals in a 5-4 loss.
The second time around, he pinch hit for a kid who couldn’t make it that particular Saturday. Not so hot this time. Alex wasn’t even looking at the play when the first goal went in. A sign of things to come that game, which ended 9-0 for the other guys.
Suffice to say, the wife and I weren’t all that broken up about the result. The thought of going through the pain of watching your child tend net week after week after week is, frankly, too much to bear. Not to mention the cost of equipment.
I would never discourage my child from following any calling, except maybe goaltending.
So naturally he wants to try it again.
We lugged the extra bag of gear to the car, the look on my wife’s face capturing the mood of dread and anticipation.
The Red Wings practised the next afternoon, and Alex could hardly sleep, counting down the hours until he could suit up in all the goaltending equipment.
I couldn’t make this practise, happily on my way to the 100th Grey Cup at the Rogers Centre. As I made my preparations to leave, Laura asked me to confirm practise time later that afternoon.
“5:00 o’clock, but best to be there around 4:30, so you can properly get him into all that stuff”.
Off to the Grey Cup. Packed house, good vibe, not much of a game, as the Argonauts ran away with it.
Just before halftime, I checked in at home to see how practise went.
They didn’t practise.
Oh, there was a practise, but it was at 4:00 o’clock. Laura and Alex arrived pretty much as the session was winding down.
The kid was inconsolable, and rightfully worried about playing a game without at least an hour of ice time beforehand.
We made up for it the best we could, going outside on Tuesday, and Wednesday evening…Alex in full battle regalia (and a smashing home white Minnesota North Stars sweater), and me in my red Detroit Red Wings jersey.
I thought of taping his skate guards to his blades, and having him balance on them on the road, but visions of twisted ankles danced in my head, so that idea was quickly abandoned.
Alex guarded the full-size net we own until it was so dark, even the nearby streetlight was of little use to us. Each time I said it was time to go in, he’d shake me off, and set himself for another volley. For ninety minutes, I fired shots at him from all angles. Backhands, forehands, snap shots, slap shots, dekes, and rebounds.
At first, I could score at will, which must have just looked wonderful to home bound commuters passing by, a middle aged man beating up on an eight year old Michelin Man.
But as the minutes rolled by, Alex began to get the better of my shots. He learned to close the five-hole, to keep his catching mitt up, to hug the post, to steady himself for rebounds.
I kept impressing upon him that he was the most protected person probably in the entire neighborhood, and on Saturday morning, he would have nothing to fear from the 7 and 8 year olds that would be shooting the puck his way.
Hey, if ya wanna be goalie, ya can’t be afraid of the puck.
And let’s be clear about one thing.
You asked to play net. Good luck son.