Saturday, July 11, 2009

Guilt by association ...

Boston. Gorgeous.

Damn! I tweaked my left knee during my BBHC skate on Friday morning. Sadly, these days, that's not an unusual occurrence (I'm buried somewhere underneath that pile-up in the accompanying photo!). Goaltending is tough on anyone's joints, and even more so on a pair of 51-year-old knees. And a 51-year-old goalie trying to play a butterfly style automatically doubles the odds of knee trouble.

I started playing more of a butterfly style (employing a wider, inverted-V stance, and dropping quickly to my knees to take away the lower part of the net) over the past decade primarily because it was more effective. As Father Time started to mess around with my eyesight and my reflexes, the butterfly allowed me to take advantage of my 6-foot-2 frame. The butterfly is commonly referred to as a "blocking" style as opposed to a "reacting" style, and my bulk provided a pretty good blocking surface. Plus, recent advances in goalie gear gave me a new-found courage (Translation? I don't think I'd ever use the "blocking" style with the thin, leather-and-felt body "armor" of my high school and college days!).

The downside to the butterfly - as I'm always telling my students at goalie camp - is that it really requires a fair amount of athleticism. Dropping to make a save is fine, but recovering, and being able to move quickly along the ice, is essential for a butterfly goalie. That requires hard work, and it's hard on the joints, particularly the knees and hips. I find more and more, as I get on, that I'm still making the first save, but trying to react to rebounds is becoming my own private hell. I've had more than one "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up" moment, and in truth they're happening with more and more frequency. Which is why I know that, if I want to keep playing goalie, and playing with a butterfly style, I need to hit the weight room to build up the muscles that support my joints, and I need to make a commitment to a stretching and yoga regimen. Have I started? Of course not.

All of which brings me to my recent Friday morning skate. I stretched just a wee bit too far while making a left pad save, and knew immediately the moment I got up that I had strained my medial collateral ligament in my left knee. So, after I got home, I drop a note to my friend Matt Cann, who was holding onto my GameReady rapid-recovery machine. Matt had knee surgery not long ago, and I had lent him this amazing machine to help speed his rehab (essentially, the GameReady takes the RICE concept - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation - to the next level, using ice water and compression cuffs). I apologized to Matt for having to grab the machine back, and that I would return it once my knee felt better.

"This whole 'getting old' thing is way over-rated," I wrote.

"We're not old," Matt replied. "Our knees are."

Now, I know what Matt's getting at. We're still young at heart, and in our minds we can still do most anything we want. Until our body betrays us. Then I thought of another great line, told to me by Larry Abbott, a former Boston University hockey player and owner of the HockeyTown rink where I got hurt on Friday. Larry once said, succinctly, "We don't come with any spare parts." And, with the possible exception of new hips, Larry's right.

So I replied to Matt, saying simply, "Guilt by association." For good or ill, I'm stuck with this old body. And I better start treating it with a little more respect if I plan to extend my hockey career. ;-)


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What a racket ...

Boston, and the return of the rain!

Yesterday, during the one sunny day we've enjoyed here this summer, my daughters asked me if I'd take them down to Patton Park to knock around a few tennis balls. This is one of the great joys of working from home ... Admittedly, I could probably be making a few dollars more by putting on a suit and heading into to city every morning, but you can't put a price on being able to walk away from the computer for an hour to play some tennis with two of the cutest girls in Hamilton. So I said "Sure!" But when Maddi came upstairs with the tennis racket that my Mom had given her two years ago, she absolutely stopped me in my tracks.

Grammy's racket is much more than a collection of composite materials and cat-gut (not that cat-gut is even used anymore). It is a symbol of all the things Mom represented for me - her skill and tenacity as an athlete, and her skill and tenacity as a parent. She loved playing tennis, and she played it with a passion. I'm sure the sport provided her a welcomed escape many, many times during those trying years when Mom was singlehandedly raising her six kids (including five teenagers!). But she also played to win. She was a competitor, and had little patience for partners who didn't share her fire.

I felt the heat of that fire on more than a few occasions. Though I was a decent player when I was young, I was rarely a match for Mom. We played often, but I don't remember winning more than a few games. I couldn't match Mom's intensity or steely resolve. I played a power game, which played right into Mom's hands. She calmly, coolly, returned just about everything I could serve up. And while I would rant and rave, my game unraveled. Just like Mom knew it would. She wasn't imparting tennis lessons; she was providing life lessons.

Two years ago, Maddi was telling her Grammy how she had started playing tennis, and how much she enjoyed it. That's when Grammy did something special. At the time, Mom was 76, and had resumed a long-running battle with breast cancer. One of the more devastating fall-outs of that battle was that Mom had given up tennis. Her body simply wasn't going to allow her to play at the level she demanded of herself. So on this day, much to my surprise, Mom gave Maddi her racket. Knowing my daughter, she was tickled with the gift (it is, after all, a very nice racket). But there's no way that Maddi could fully comprehend what was happening. Mom was passing the torch, acknowledging that she wouldn't ever play the game again. I was dumbstruck. Mom didn't make frivolous gestures. This was something she had obviously given considerable thought to. Part of me (and I'm sure part of Mom) didn't want to accept that her playing days were done. Clearly, Mom knew better.

Driving home that day, I put a pin in Maddi's balloon. I told her that, even though Grammy had given her the racket, she wouldn't be using it any time soon. Instead, she had to earn the right to play with it. Maddi is a happy-go-lucky kid, which I love about her, but sometime she fails to grasp the Big Picture. I wanted her to understand that the racket would stay in its cover until the day when it was as special to her as it was to me.

Last year, in late June, we lost Mom. It was just weeks before her favorite tournament, Wimbledon. But cancer doesn't care about such things. For my siblings and me, there was some sense of relief, that Mom's suffering was put to an end. But we miss her dearly, sometimes more than we realize. One of those moments snuck up on me when Maddi brought Mom's racket up from the basement. Just holding it in my hands unleashed a flood of memories, and I felt the tears swelling up in my eyes. Maddi looked at me, and asked if I was OK. I told her yes, and tried to convey how much that racket meant to me. Maddi will be playing with it soon enough. But not just yet.