A Capital Idea Whose Time Has Come…Again

Paul Spreiregen’s ice skates aren’t as sharp as they were 50 years ago. But it’s a good thing he is. Had he got his way fifty years ago, the NHL’s 2015 Winter Classic could have been staged on the National Mall Reflecting Pool.

Lincoln Reflecting pool iced over

Millions of hockey fans the world over would have watched the Capitals and the Blackhawks battle it out in the middle of one of America’s most iconic landscapes; a game played literally at Lincoln’s feet.

But perhaps, his idea still has some life left in it.

An Idea Takes Flight

Back in 1964, Spreiregen was an up-and-coming architect working in Washington DC. He hadn’t yet helped revitalize downtown’s languishing core, designed the striking glass-and-green IntelSat headquarters in Northwest DC (“You’ve got to see it through the trees!” he proclaims), or authored his landmark book “The Architecture of Towns and Cities.”

WaPo Pool cost 3MBut 50 years ago this summer, Spreiregen and his colleague Louis Justement had a genius idea. Noticing that visitors to DC dropped off precipitously during Winter, Spreiregen offered a proposal as radical as it was simple: freeze the Reflecting Pool on the Mall for season-round ice skating and hockey.

The idea caught fire. Secretary of the Interior Steward Udall loved it, as did Senator Frank Church, a close political ally of President Johnson.

The Administration held a sweltering July press conference at the base of the Lincoln Monument, the long pool extending into the background, with Spreiregen holding up a pair of authentic Dutch long distance ice skates…the kind you might imagine Hans Brinker sporting.

Just think, they said, what this could look like in just six months.

For the then relatively low price of $3 to 4 million dollars (about $25-35 million today). refrigerator coils would freeze the entire Reflecting Pool for the duration of the winter season. That’s an 8 1/2 acre ice rink – enough area for ice skating, curling, and upward of 7 hockey rinks – all in the heart of the National Mall.

Skating on the Reflecting Pool, 1922 (Library of Congress)

Skating on the Reflecting Pool, 1922 (Library of Congress)

Everyone was on board it seemed, until the bureaucrats got involved. In the time-honed Washington tactic of  ‘delay until dead’, Spreiregen’s proposal foundered and eventually melted away.

But Spreiregen is still very much around, and so is his idea. And this time around, with Washington preparing to become the largest stage in the NHL calendar hosting the 2015 Winter Classic, it just might be an idea whose time has come…again.

Lessons Learned

Spreiregen drawing

Paul Spreiregen, still at work (Photo: Doug Johnson)

“There’s an old joke,” Spreiregen says, speaking of one of his first DC projects. “Doctors bury their mistakes. Architects plant vines.”

Spreiregen is sharing lessons he’s learned over his 50+ year career, seated in the shade of his outdoor porch high above his Glover Park home. He’s funny and engaging, and the conversation sweeps between urban design, music, the transformative uses of buildings, Boston’s Fenway, and the biology of wolves.

“Why didn’t it happen?” he asks of the Reflecting Pool rink that never was. “That’s just one of those classic Washington stories,” he says, and laughs.

In the early 1960′s, as Washington filled with the boundless New Frontier energy of the Kennedy administration, Spreiregen began to design buildings, champion the re-imagining of urban spaces, and meet like-minded DC movers and shakers. One of them was Louis Justement, “an excellent architect” and designer of, among other things, Sibley Hospital.

“Justement was trying to build a new organization of urban planners, and asked me if I’d submit an article to his new journal,” he says. “I said ‘Sure, what on?’ He said ‘Anything you want.’” So I had this idea, and the rest is history.”

An MIT graduate and lifelong New Englander, Spreiregen grew up playing in winter’s snow and ice. “You ever notice people on a ski slope? Even if the weather’s rotten, everybody’s smiling.”

Lincold old skating BW 4The Washington winter of 1960, his first one since moving from his Boston home, was particularly cold. “Everything froze, including the Reflecting Pool, and people went skating on it. Duh,” he chuckles.

Everyone agreed the idea was as natural as it was obvious. “It just caught fire. It was national news. Garfield Kass (a Washington philanthropist) offered seed money, and the Washington Post endorsed the idea. They were quite complimentary.”

Quickly the idea to turn the Reflecting Pool into a national wintertime attraction rocketed up Washington local and federal bureaucracies. Secretary Udall staged a major news conference in July – the one Spreiregen attended with his wooden Dutch skates.

Committee Named

“I said ‘If we were standing here 100 years ago, we’d be up to our needs in mud, because 100 years ago, this was a swamp. This pool was built by people of vision.’ That’s all this was. Freezing the Reflecting Pool in winter is only a minor engineering and financial problem. This was just an issue of vision.”

Spreiregen skates

Spreiregen’s skates (Photo: Doug Johnson)

Many in the government agreed, except for an obscure collection of bureaucrats who saw themselves as holding the keys to the Mall.

“Udall instructed the Interior department to do a feasibility study, which I agreed with,” recounts Spreiregen. “I met the park service staff, and happened to point out that I liked that the Mall then had tennis courts so locals and visitors could play.” (From 1940 to 1972 there were ten very popular tennis courts between 3rd and 4th streets, which were ultimately closed to make room for the National Gallery’s East Wing.)

“I said, you want people doing things outside, just having fun, but they sort of sniffed and said ‘We really don’t like that kind of thing.’  They wanted pristine lawns, absent of people. How times have changed,” he said.

When he heard that the study would take a year, Spreiregen knew that the fate of his proposal was sealed. “Here’s the lesson: delay equals death. They didn’t like it, and they killed it with delay.” Sure enough, by 1965 few remembered his idea. The bureaucracy had moved on, leaving his hopes behind.

“I had this drawing for the article, grey skies and landscape, and then all these little colorful dots of people playing on the Mall. It was like a Bruegel painting.”

Ice Skating on Washington DC's Reflecting Pool

In this town, there’s nothing so old as yesterday’s hot story. Both Washington and Spreiregen moved on. He joined the Downtown Progress Association and helped the city’s center again become vital and filled with people.

His idea might have just evaporated as well, were it not for a short letter to the Washington Post, published on May 13, 2011. It concluded: “building a rink nevertheless remains a most compelling idea that awaits a fortuitous moment in our city’s evolution.”

And now, with the Winter Classic just six months away, that moment may be at hand.

Continue reading

Posted in Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Winter Classic 2015 | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The chess game of the Sabres.

A new season is approaching, Harbour Centre nearing its completion, Ville Leino’s buyout almost a certainty.  Those are the only things a Sabre fan knows with any preciseness.  What we don’t know is what our new GM will be doing during the offseason.  Tim Murray, a no nonsense man, has mentioned that he has a penchant for bigger players, power-forwards.  He also has talked about a fast rebuild and moving up in the draft to acquire another first round pick.

What he hasn’t mentioned though is what the Sabres need to become a better team with the players, or certain players, already on the roster.  No player appears safe to remain in Blue and Gold, in the majors or minors.  A notion he decidedly chose.  Even though he (and Ted Nolan) have notified the players that they need to “up their compete level” to have a job, Tim Murray has done nothing yet about how to create an exciting team to watch.  All he has done is a parlour trick of smoke and mirrors to distract us.

His own wish is to create a more stoic ‘tough-guy’ atmosphere in Buffalo with his burly power-forward leanings.  If the Sabres don’t win at least they will have beaten the other team up.  When we win it will be because we beat the other team up, or more politely as analysts will say ‘wore them down’.  Physically dominating performances, finishing checks, stealing pucks on the back-check, having defensemen getting in on the rush while forwards grit their way out of the corners may be what Mr. Murray has in mind for his style of play.  Are those attributes he has telegraphed to the fanbase like Zimmerman?  This one-upsmanship game he’s playing is merely an arms-race with other NHL teams.  The Sabres are far behind.  Could it be that tiny Tim is attempting to prove himself to his family?  They’ve played this game before (still are) so why come in and not change the mindset?

What do the fans think about the posturing of a man with a chip on his shoulder?  With sixteen thousand season ticket holders and a waiting list rumored to be greater than three thousand within a stadium that only holds nineteen thousand for the worst team in the NHL, the fans will come anyways.  Buffalo, Hope’s last bastion.  We put our faith in vagabonds, tramps, and scheysters out for their own selfish pursuits.  At times we find some gems, some electricity beyond the Niagara Falls.

Is Tim attempting to dam up the Sabres in order to light up Buffalo?  What will Tim Murray become?  Will his personal ‘compete’ vendetta bring a team together for enjoyable hockey and a position in the playoffs?  For that answer I’d have to bend the fourth and fifth dimensions in a Mobius strip.  The best I can do is allow this first time GM time and put myself in a three-thousand person queue.  Both of which have already been done.

The chess game of the puppet masters’ Sabres begins tomorrow (Friday) for the NHL draft.  He has talked, wooed fans, but is he able to dance on that eight by eight square board and impress us, fans and owners alike?

     I have spent months analyzing the roster for strengths, weaknesses, glaring holes, and trying to peer into the fourth and fifth dimensions as best I can.  Skill followed by the C and RW positions are concerns going forward for those donning the Blue and Gold.  Sam Reinhart is the best player to fill all but the RW position.  He also could play in the NHL immediately.  He will surely benefit from being thrown into the fire.  Murray then has three picks in the second round.  Though he’ll likely trade two of them for a first rd pick (looking at the Penguins at 22nd).  Perhaps Mr. Frosty Tips will come over in the trade and Stewart will march across the PA line.  Murray should pick up skill and depth in the forward positions.  With all the picks in the 2014 and 2015 draft he needs to pick well.  Beyond picking well he needs to develop the players better than he picks them.  Their own development, maturity or lack thereof, can be a major reason determining the success of both the Sabres and their new GM.

     Pick Sam Reinhart.  He has the hockey sense about him to not just be an intelligent player but a mature person.  Pick fellow intelligent and mature players who will play with skill, despite your zeal for power-forwards.  While I am not one for putting nor drafting power-forwards, I ought to give Tim Murray some time.  If puffing up his chest fails – and it most certainly could- Buffalo is in for a long winter.  A new GM (5 years from now) will need to come in and go against the grain of both the thinking and practices of NHL brass; a task no good soldier does especially the great soldiers that become GM’s (tourniquet).

I forsee no gambit in Tim Murray’s opening game.  No strong defense, no strong opening, just a posturing of pawns with the flashiness of dancing bishops.  Well do-si-do and around Buffalo goes like toy soldiers, knights of the chess board.  A positional play Murray has done thus far.  He is setting himself up for a long game.  May a Steinitz-like opening actually be the man and not a tumbleweed* of a man passing through trying to come out from the shadow of his family.

*not to be confused with the unorthodox chess opening of the same name this writer has been known to employ.

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Trotzskyite

Tuesday was the big coming out party for the new Caps front office team. New bench boss, Barry Trotz, and newish GM Brian MacLellan, met the media at a noon presser at Verizon.

Trotz-MacLellan-11-of-13

We wanted to contribute to the discussion beyond the initial Monday evening twitter bursts of “Trotz is a good move” and “WTF, GMGMJr?” We couldn’t make it to the Tuesday cattle call, so we did the next best thing, we got a sharpie in Nashville to weigh in on the new coach. If you don’t know J.R. Lind, you’re doing hockey, twitter and life wrong. He was good enough to take the time to do a Q&A with us..

PB: How long have you covered the Preds? You cover other sports – what is it about hockey writing that you value most? What else do we (and Caps fans) need to know about you?

JRL: Professionally, I’ve covered the Predators either on the business or on-ice side since 2010. I enjoy hockey writing — particularly as someone writing in Nashville — because there are fewer rules or preconceived notions about what a hockey story should look like.

JR LindI can compare line-up decisions to 19th century theories of the nation-state, for example, in a way that would be dismissed pretty quickly if I was writing about college football. The rise of analytics has been interesting, too.

For the NashvillePost, I’m writing to an audience that is primarily business leaders and, even if they don’t know much about hockey generally or Corsi or Fenwick or PDO specifically, that kind of information is something they value. Caps fans should know that, for a few years before the Predators came to town, I was a Caps fan (I loved Calle Johansson).

PB: What did you think the GMGM / Boudreau-Hunter-Oates shortcomings were?

JRL: There was a pretty serious win-now sort of mentality in Washington, which isn’t terrible, but can become scattershot if it gets too desperate. Certainly, trading Filip Forsberg for Marty Erat and Michael Latta smacks of a front-office that was making changes for the sake of making a change.

Oates and McPhee Manuel Balce Ceneta AP

Not that Nashville minds, of course. On the coaching side, I never got the impression the staff — Oates and Hunter particularly — had a great feel for what kind of team they were dealing with and did far too much hoping the Caps would fit into a mold they were ill-suited for.

PBs: How would you characterize Trotz’ relationship with the media? How did he and Preds media relations approach bloggers? Does he go beyond the canned soundbyte with the press and how did he handle criticism?

JRL: It’d be hard to find a mainstream media person or a blogger who would complain about how Barry Trotz dealt with us day-in and day-out. There would be days were I’d find myself talking hockey with him 30 or 45 minutes after his official availability was over.

Trotz Nashville presser Sanford Myers The TennesseanHaving been here since the beginning, he took his job of educating Nashville about hockey very seriously. And he almost never short-changed you on answers. I talked to him at length for a piece I did for the Nashville Scene on Seth Jones and a question about what it was like to have a 19-year-old in the locker room (which almost never happens in Nashville) turned into a 20 minute answer about the philosophy of the Predators, going back to 1998. It was so good, so insightful, I regret that I didn’t get to use much of it. His general response to criticism reflected his tendency to want to educate. He wouldn’t argue with criticism so much as try to explain why he was doing things he was doing.

He never treated bloggers any differently than he did mainstreamers and in part that’s because there aren’t many MSM guys who are exclusively on the Preds beat. Really, just Josh Cooper at The Tennessean is the only guy who does nothing but the Preds in this town, so there’s very little distinction drawn by the team between beaties and bloggers.

PBs: How do you explain his longevity as Preds bench boss?

JRL: In large part, it’s because Nashville as a sports town is still very much informed by the experience of college sports. In college — and particularly here in the South — coaches are gods and coaches are the ones who stay forever, because player turnover in college is part of the deal.

barry-trotz NSH Frederick Breedon Getty

And in part, it’s because a large cross-section of the media in Nashville are hockey neophytes who felt uncomfortable, perhaps, questioning a guy who knew miles more about hockey than we ever will. The Southern tendency towards deference probably had a lot to do with it, as well. He got a pass for a long time — rightly so, it should be noted — for having to coach an expansion team and then a team that was perpetually in danger of moving.

That he was able to have any success at all was miraculous. Nashville was pretty content to go to the playoffs every year, even if there was no success in the post-season. He was able to get two playoff wins and that was seen as a step in the right direction, though in hindsight, it was the peak of the mountain.

PBs: How would you characterize his relationship with Poile?

JRL: A lot of people automatically think they were always simpatico, because they’d been together so long, but there were signs that they weren’t always on the same page, particularly in the last few years.

Poile_Trotz_Faith_Hope_Love

David Poile kept picking up pugilists (Brian McGrattan, for example) who Trotz would play for 10 or 15 games early in the year and then primarily stash in the press box. The shine really came off this last summer when Poile decided to fire Trotz’s long-time assistant Peter Horachek was fired (by phone!). Phil Housley did well as an assistant (the Predators power play spent much of the year in the Top 10, bizarre as that seems), but the decision to fire Horachek was the first real public sign that the Trotz-Poile relationship wasn’t as rosy as we’d been led to believe.

PBs: Caps fans have been highly critical of the past few coaches. Maybe Ovi isn’t the “coach killer,” but we are. What was the rank and file fans’ opinion of Trotz?

LRL: By and large, people in Nashville are grateful for what Trotz did here.

Trotz 2010+NHL+Awards+Portraits Harry How GettyHe was all we knew and there’s no good way to express what that meant to the city as a hockey town. That said, two disappointing seasons that were emblematic of the oft-leveled criticism that his teams couldn’t score harmed his standing. The reaction to his firing, however, has been positive in that people recognize both that a change was needed and that Trotz did miles of good here. If he gets the chance to be involved in the community and with the fans — and certainly that’s harder in a bigger market like Washington than it is in Nashville — people will fall hard for him.

PBs: Much has been written about how Trotz may be able to fortify the Caps D, given the nature of the Preds squad and system. Do you put much weight in that?

JRL: Certainly, I think he can tighten things up. He has a system — it was “the Predator Way” here, so I’m sure it’ll be the “Capital Way” there and he’ll say it so much you’ll get sick of it and lampoon it and eventually it will simply mean “something the team does that I don’t like” even if that thing is the opposite thing of what it meant the year before — and it relies on every player doing very specific things. It’s not, despite what you’ll hear, a trap. It relies on forechecking and has very little room for floating. So the question becomes whether he can get players to buy in to that.

After the jump, how Trotz and Ovi will mesh – Continue reading

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Meet The New G.M.

Yup. We're helpless.

Yup. We’re helpless.

We admit to having a little sad by all the bad happening in the world right now. Can we really be witnessing the start of a new Cold War? Is Europe again the stage for a clash of civilizations?  And did we really keep Adam Oates as coach for an entire year (plus a little) or was that just a nightmare we couldn’t wake from? (Much like the 80s.)

Although we don’t pretend to have all the answers – who would believe us – we just may have hit on a genius idea that can cure two ills with one shot: defuse the Ukraine crisis and find a true leader and hockey genius both strong and smart enough to replace George McPhee.

Caps fans, we give you next General Manager: Vladimir Vladimirovitch “Pootie” Putin.SadBear

Despite Team Russia foundering in Sochi, this guy knows hockey, amirite? Yeah sure, to the suits at Monumental this idea could go over worse than a bearded Austrian transvestite at a European talent contest. Oh, wait.

Regardless, we’re intrigued, and just can’t help from imagining how that job interview might go. In fact, we think it might sound a little something (cue Vaseline on camera lens) like this…

Scene: Office interior. Nighttime. Rain on windows. Figure with his back to camera sitting behind desk empty of clutter except for a phone. Slow push in.

Close up of phone, which starts to ring. Leonsis’ hand picks up receiver. Cut to seated figure, back still to camera.

Ted: This is Ted.

WHAAA?

WHAAA?

Putin: Ted! Is I, great czar leader of glorious Russian empire Vladimir Putin! We talking now to make the new job of conqueror of Capitalist American hockey, yes? Ha! Get joke? Is funny, da? I am funny.

Ted: Capitalist…right. Uh, the position of general manager, yes, that’s the one.

Putin: Yes. I accept.

Ted: Uh, well we need to discuss a number of issues first.

Putin: Haha, yes, I get. We do for propaganda. I am wink at you through phone now.

Ted: Mmm…ok. Vladimir, the most important thing right off is for you to understand what this team means to this town. I may own the Caps, but really, I’m just the caretaker for a true Washington treasure, safe-guarding this organization for future generations.

You cray, Pootie!

You cray, Pootie!

Putin: Like I am guard the many Russians around the world! Is job for manly men, yes? Do not worry, corporatist dog friend. I protect good your little Caps.

Ted: That’s fine, with the…protecting, and all. Um, how about we talk hockey for a few minutes. Describe for me the style of play you would bring that would best serve a Capitals run for the Cup.

Putin: I get down on ice and play! That best! Is no joke, you see me other day? We play Russian stars, and I still score first goal! Everything better with Vladimir! But I guess that not fair for dainty NHL for me to play, so I manage. Haha.

Ted: (pause) Yes…manage. How would you manage?

Putin: Manage like manage people’s paradise of Russia! How argue with success? Cheering masses in streets now require almost no beating to make praise to Vladimir! I telling you now my secret: prison. Friends who don’t argue with Vladimir, they get dacha and mistress and maybe toilet paper. Those who argue, into jail. Coach who not play Ovi, Zenya and Dima every game? Jail!  Slapshot puppet not get fans to Rocking Red? Jail! Hot dog stand run out of mustard? More jail!

"How hots is? Me hots!"

“How hots is? Me hots!”

Ted: Alright, alright. Now Vlad – may I call you Vlad?

Putin: Sure! Just not call me what Snowden call your president.

Ted: So Vlad, other than the playoffs, there’s no other team more important for us to beat than the Pittsburgh Penguins. Lately they’ve been getting the better of us. How would you fix that?

Putin: I tell team to win. I yell first in Russian, then I tell very quiet in English. Don’t worry, my English very. I tell them quiet and slow and squint eyes like this, just like I do with your Bush when he see my soul. Ha. Work every time. Like hypnotist. Maybe I am new Rasputin, no? I squinting now at you…is working?

Ted: Not really.

Putin: Squint not work, I squirt, like King Henrik. Crosby little, little crying man. Then next best thing. I hire thugs to…well, in fact, I hire thugs anyway. If all that not work, I annex Beaver Falls.

Ted: Okey-dokey. So Vlad, the Washington Capitals are very much like a family. That means players, management, employees and fans alike. One of our core principles is respect for others; even those we may disagree with…

Don't tell me you didn't think this was the thing.

Don’t tell me you didn’t think this was the thing.

Putin: Yes. We fix that.

Ted: Uh, no actually we don’t want to fix it. If anything we want to improve it. I’m curious: do you have any thoughts about making the NHL more inclusive? Maybe you’ve heard about the You Can Play project?

Putin: Yes. In Russia, we call it “You Will Quiet.” If not that, we like “Cossack Thrash” program, where we go beat young women with the homosexualism. Is good. Never fail.

Ted: Yeah. Uh, Vlad, I’m sensing a pretty big gulf between what we need and what you want to..

Putin: Quiet, decadent leech! Vladimir say and you obey! I take job now and you step down! Prepare great celebration for my taking of the manager. Tell Swedes on team they better step up and choose sides! Is done!

Ted: (…)

Scene: Leonsis swivels in chair to camera. Cut to hard rain falling. Sound of Putin on phone cuts off. 

Close up: hand puts phone on receiver as audio cuts off. Quiet. Figure in chair rotates back to window, away from camera. Rain continues to fall. 

Fun Fact! We don’t like Vladimir Putin, and he hates us! Just check it out:

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Just A Game

There’s nothing quite like Sunday afternoon during a weekend hockey tournament.

Adam KYour thighs burn every time you take a step, and your hands feel a little tender as you grab that ice cold (and most welcome) beer. Muscles in your neck that you didn’t realize you had hurt for reasons you can’t quite explain. You hope the swelling and bruising go down soon, and you wish you spent a little more time washing the smell of hockey gloves off of your fingers. The water in the shower took too long to warm up, didn’t it?

The final horn sounds, and champions are crowned in their respective divisions. Some friends and family brought blankets and gloves and shared in the fun. Even the losers are smiling; no one wants to go to work tomorrow.

Adam bagYou curse the heavens as you swing your heavy, wet hockey bag onto your back, wincing as the weight of drenched pads strains your aching muscles. It felt a lot lighter on Friday, and the scale at the airport check-in counter will later confirm your suspicions. Your sticks clank in the bag as you tear it from its comfortable recline against the cold wall, and you reassure everyone you’ll be back next year. You wouldn’t miss it for the world, you say, and you mean it. You hug friends both new and old.

Adam sticksYou leave the rink and creatively stuff your bags and sticks in the back of the rental car, suddenly grateful for the hours spent playing Tetris on your graphing calculator. How do people with sedans play this game, you wonder. You climb behind the wheel and map your route back to the airport. Hopefully you’ll pass a gas station on the way. You put your sunglasses on and smile, knowing you could die right then and there and somehow be alright with it. You’re filled with an inexplicable mix of happiness, gratitude, and sorrow, wondering how it’s possible.

It’s just a game.

Hockey and I go way back to when I was a kid, but I didn’t actually get to play until 2008 at the Chelsea Challenge in New York. It’s crazy to think how much of my life can be traced back to what, in the end, is really just a game. Like all relationships, the one I’ve got with hockey has transformed and matured and endured its rough patches, and I’d like to think we’re both better off for it. No matter how I envision my life going forward, hockey always figures in somewhere. It might not have quite the starring role it did in my earlier days, but it’s always there, however indirectly, donning what I imagine is a knowing smile once I put 2 and 2 together in my occasionally scattered brain.

Adam faceIn some ways, this past year has been one of my most varied when it comes to this beloved game. Pittsburgh Gay and Lesbian Hockey, which (mainly) Mike and I founded when we moved here in 2011, has continued to grow and now fosters a true community environment. The people that I’ve met on the team have become friends, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to see how happy playing on the team makes us. Sure, my work travels make me miss more games than I’d like for this and my ‘straight’ teams. Yes, we’ve got a wide gap in talent levels, and most games see victory in the form of keeping the opponents’ goal totals in the single digits. But that doesn’t bother me the way it would have when I was 25 because I’ve learned that the gold is found in the experience itself and not the result. It’s a terribly basic lesson, and I’m somewhat ashamed that it took me this long to fully understand and accept it. But when I look up and down the bench, full of players eager for the next shift or with a single soul gasping for breath, I know I’m home. All thanks to a game.

On the other hand, I’ve found myself less at home as a hockey fan. Rather, I think my lease is up and I need to find a new place in hockey fandom that better suits my needs and current situation. Social media can be a wonderful thing, but in the past 12 months or so, I’ve learned that it can also chip away at the joy you once took in being a spectator around 140 characters at a time. Granted, I shoulder a lot of the blame here, and I recognize this. No one’s forcing me to tune into what other folks are saying about this team or that, their analysis (or lack thereof, most often), or their “hot takes,” as the cool kids call ‘em.

What I will say is that social media really has an uncanny ability to bring out the ugliest in us, and it’s taken a toll on my ability to enjoy hockey as a fan. I’ve been a participant in the mess, and the more I see it happening, the more I feel like a complete and utter idiot for getting sucked into it as much as I did. Hell, there are times when I still slip right on up, but I recognize it and make a conscious effort not to do it. At the very least, I aim to grow the time between slip-ups, and I think that’s a fair goal on my end.

I’ve taken breaks from Twitter because of hockey, and the temptation comes back every now and again, especially come spring. Sometimes it’s hard not to take things personally when so much of your energy over the span of years has been channeled into a single pursuit. Then again, why take it personally in the first place at all? Why on earth would it even cross your mind to feel a little sting and lash out in response out of weakness and poor judgment? Why do I even entertain the debates in my head about whether or not I’m being a fan in the ‘right’ way, if such a thing even exists?

It’s just a game.

I took the time to write this guest post on PuckBuddys because playing this past weekend in the Madison Gay Hockey Association’s MGHA Classic brought a lot of these feelings to the forefront. I wanted to wonder and think out loud.

Adam Madison 2

At the MGHA classic, everything I just wrote about came together. My boyfriend that I met through hockey played on my team, as did a close friend from New York and another who now lives in Madison. We were able to reconnect through the game that brought us together in the first place, and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of the past several years.

Adam 1

Adam MadisonI also got to meet Tony (@jovenitti), the nice fellow who stepped up to take over covering the Pittsburgh Penguins when I scaled back due to work and the general fandom malaise mentioned above. If this tournament was any indication, I see hockey bringing him the same elation and comfort that it brought me when I started playing.

There’s something beautiful about that.

I’m still walking a little funny, and I entertained the idea of not going to the rink tonight due to my physical condition*. But the more my head told me that I’d be justified in skipping, the more my heart tugged and reminded me I’d regret it if I did. For once, I think I’ll give the heart what it wants without much of a fight. Even if it’s just a game.

*Update: I guess it’s a good thing I decided to play after all. Notched the game-winning goal in the shootout. You’re welcome, straights.

Adam 2

Posted in Gay Hockey Leagues, Pittsburgh Penguins | 3 Comments

A Gay Man’s Experience at the Frozen Four

The 2014 Frozen Four marked the second time I attended college hockey’s premier event. However, this was the first time I went since I came out of the closet.

Luckily, I live in a city that’s widely accepting toward gay men, so when fellow hockey fans in Madison find out I’m gay, they don’t care. In fact, the older couple whose season tickets are behind me started asking me about my dating life after they saw the series of failed dates I brought to games this year.

But when I travel to new cities, I’ve learned I need to tread a little more lightly when discussing my personal life with fellow hockey fans at the bar or at tailgates.

The Frozen Four in Philadelphia proved an interesting experience for me. My friends and I were drinking a lot, so I knew I had to be careful that I didn’t rub any Philly faithful the wrong way. Not only am I gay, but I’m a Penguins fan. To the wrong person, that could trigger a double dose of hatred.

The beautiful part of the Frozen Four is that fans of every hockey team attend, even though their team didn’t make it. My friends and I wore our Badgers gear, and we sat in between Boston University and Dartmouth fans. In fact, we played college hockey bingo and my friend got a cover-all before the puck even dropped.

Naturally, that kind of fan diversity leads to a great bar atmosphere before and after the games. Fans often share stories of how many years they’ve been attending the Frozen Four, their favorite cities that have hosted (Providence seems to be a popular choice, by the way), and the conversation naturally includes personal stories.

And when male hockey fans tell personal stories, they often include references to “my wife” or “my girlfriend.” Which leads to the gay man’s conundrum: Do I share my story about my boyfriend, or do I just smile and nod and hide the fact that I’m gay?

We have to deal with this conundrum all the time, but sports fans know it more than most. And I always have to hesitate to reveal who I really am. I hate it (and it reminds me of this great speech), but we all have to deal with it.

This year’s Frozen Four featured Minnesota, Boston College, Union and North Dakota. All those schools brought a slew of fans to Philadelphia. Especially North Dakota.

Oh, North Dakota fans.

I hate to stereotype, so I’ll just share one story about the UND fan that sat behind us during Thursday night’s semifinal between his team and the Gophers.

We’ll call him Fred. Fred didn’t bother showing up for the first game—which turned out to be a great one as Union knocked off Johnny Gaudreau and BC. Of course, Fred was sitting right in the middle of the row, making everyone get up for his frequent trips to the bathroom and concessions.

Fred was with his girlfriend, and he was proud to announce to everyone near him that this was his girlfriend’s first-ever hockey game.  I honestly do enjoy when people experience live hockey for the first time, and the Frozen Four is a great place to start. I was hoping to hear her thoughts and questions throughout the game, but Fred wouldn’t let her get a word in.

During the first break in the game, the crews started clearing the ice.

“She likes it when they clean the ice, don’t you, babe?” Fred said.

Those were the types of things sexist Fred kept saying all night long. And I’ve encountered several North Dakota fans like him, including a few that shouted pavlovian homophobic insults at any and all Gophers fans that came into view.

Minnesota and North Dakota are big rivals, and both of them are also rivals with Wisconsin. So the Badgers fan in me didn’t really want either team to win. But after interacting with the North Dakota fans, I threw my allegiance behind the Gophers. Which made this even sweeter:

Even though Minnesota and Wisconsin are rivals on the ice, their fans all have a fairly healthy relationship with each other—maybe because citizens of the bordering states are mostly “Midwest nice.”

I’ve never found a Gophers fan with whom I wasn’t able have a good conversation, and many Gophers fans said the same thing about Badgers fans. Sure, we may give each other some crap, but then we’ll buy each other a beer after the game.  (One thing we also agreed on was our mutual dislike of North Dakota fans).

 So I figured I’d test the waters with some Gophers fans.

The first night we were in Philly, we were sitting with some random Gophers fans at the bar. One of them was from Madison and we were talking about hockey in Wisconsin’s capitol. They asked if I played and where. I said that yes, I play at Hartmeyer Ice Arena.

He pointed out that Hartmeyer is right by the Oscar Meyer wiener factory.

“What makes it funnier is that I play in the gay league, and we’re right by the wiener factory,” I blurted.

All of them were taken aback for a second, and then they laughed and said, “I didn’t know gay hockey leagues existed.”

That led us down a great path of hilarious hockey jokes filled with gay innuendo. We wound up playing bubble hockey and getting decently drunk. It turned out to be a great night, and I didn’t have to hide who I was.

Before the championship game on Saturday, we decided to post up at the Gophers bar near the arena and watch Penguins-Flyers. I didn’t dare sport any Penguins gear, but I did wear my Badgers hat. We were at a bar that featured female bartenders in ass-less chaps and red panties. When we walked outside to get a drink, there was a group of three college guys sitting down with a perfect backside view of one bartender every time she reached down to grab a beer.

The one guy (we’ll call him Steve) saw my hat and made a comment about the Badgers losing in the first round. We started talking a bit, and we explained how we’re from Pittsburgh and we flew in from Wisconsin. Steve and his friends actually drove to Philly from Minneapolis, and we talked a little bit about the Big Ten Tournament that was held in St. Paul.

“Okay, I like you guys,” Steve said. “You’re nice. Even though you’re Badgers fans, I like you.”

About an hour later, we saw those same guys again, and Steve wound up next to me at the bar. We started chatting again, and he actually admitted that he’s from Madison, but moved to Minneapolis to go to college at Minnesota.

“Oh, you’re the opposite of my boyfriend,” I said. “He’s from Minneapolis but moved to Madison for school.”

Steve stopped for a second, then looked around and shouted, “NO WONDER HE’S SO NICE, HE’S GAY!” then gave me a big hug and bought me a drink.

I guess “all gay men are nice” is a stereotype that I can live with—especially if it gets me free drinks from straight men.

So thanks Gophers fans. Because of your acceptance, I was able to be myself at the Frozen Four and not have to worry about hiding who I really am.

It’s a shame, really, that I even have to consider these things, but I think it says a lot about how far we’ve come that a gay Penguins fan was able to talk about his boyfriend while drinking at a bar outside the Flyers’ arena.

Or maybe it just says a lot about the college hockey world. If hockey fans are the hipsters of the sports world, then college hockey fans are Brooklyn.  So I really shouldn’t be surprised that they are, for the most part, very accepting of gay people.

Either way, I had a great time in Philly. And even though Gophers fans were super nice, I still couldn’t find it in me to cheer for them. So I was thrilled to see Union capture the title.

And next year, I probably won’t have to tiptoe around my personal life when talking to other fans, as the 2015 Frozen Four will be in Boston, the home base of marriage equality. If you have the chance, you should most certainly go.

Posted in College Hockey | Tagged | 4 Comments

A Zak Divided Can’t Stand

The Lake Erie Monsters season is wrapping up tonight and the Avalanche are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I feel like Annie Savoy in Bull Durham, but instead of the Bulls not losing, and me not getting laid, its more of the Avs can’t lose and the Monsters can’t win.

Erie Lake Monsters logoThe Monsters have had a really disappointing second half of the season here. Now there were a few games that gave me hope like the one where Sami squared off at center ice against Admirals goalie Scott Darling, and VDG had a hat trick. But the rest of the second half has been a whole bunch of fail. I’m not really sure where the blame lies, weather it be with the coach as some suggest, a lack of defense, poor netminding, all of the above, even none of the above.

Erie Monsters Fight

The Monsters have been consistent in that their problems have been all over the place. They are like my car, fix one thing and another breaks on the drive home from the mechanic.

Eric Monsters PickardIn a season like this, the only place to look is the coach. I have a feeling that Dean Chynoweth’s days at the helm are very limited. At least the Monsters final game of the season wasn’t disappointing. Pickard did a wonderful job in the net, while the officials made quite a few questionable calls at best. I mean the puck touched the line it didn’t cross it no way that’s Grand Rapids goal should have counted.

Varly pregame Gm1On a brighter note, now that my itchy, ginger, playoff beard is making it’s self known. How about them Avs? Wow what a season we have had in Colorado. Between the beginning of the season where the Avalanche couldn’t lose or Semyon Varlamov breaking Roy’s win record and also facing more than 2000 during the regular season, it has been a wild ride.

Patrick Roy AvsPatrick Roy has done some amazing work this season. He took a team that was at the bottom of the list last year and made them one of the best in a single season. I most certainly did not expect the Avs to have ended the season with the record that they have had, and I believe that is mostly due to having a man behind the wheel who knows what he is doing.

The Avs have been amazing during the post season so far. We are only two games in so far and Nathan MacKinnon already has one goal and six assists for a total of seven points. Damn this kid has had an amazing rookie season for an 18 year old. I think we took the better draft pick with MacKinnon.

MacKinnon 2014 Playoffs Round 1

Varly pregame Gm1 (3)I am a little worried though. We have had and still have problems with our blue line. I mean, if I was Roy when looking at the stats that Varly has seen more than 2000 shots on goal this season I would have sat down with my d-men and told them to step up their game, and that they should not be relying on stellar goaltending alone, especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Follow me and my ginger playoff beard on Twitter: @LEMonster88

 

 

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