Friday, November 26, 2010

The Long Haul ...

Now the hard part starts.

The easy part, as with all surgery, is actually going into the hospital, and letting the doctors open you up, dig around, and make whatever repairs they deem necessary.

That was followed by something of a hip honeymoon. I was coddled at home, and pretty much wherever I went. College kids would open doors for me while I was covering hockey games, and everyday folks would routinely give me a wide berth whenever I came staggering along. It was encouraging, to be honest, to see so many people making the extra effort to care for the gimp. And that, essentially, was what surgery had reduced me to.

I was ordered to avoid full weight bearing on my surgically repaired right hip, primarily because the repairs were more extensive than my surgeon – Dr. Richard Wilk – initially anticipated. When I met with him just prior to surgery, Wilk was candid. Blunt, even. Fifty-year-old hips, he said, rarely are candidates for repair. More often than not, the labral tissue is so shredded that the best option is to simply clean things out.

Fortunately, for me, once he got all his arthroscopic probes and instruments into my hip, Wilk found the tissue was in decent condition, or at least better than expected. True to his word, he made the repairs. I vividly remember, coming out of anesthesia, meeting with Wilk. He told me, in his typical straightforward manner, “I’ve got good news and bad news.”

“OK,” I replied. “I’ll take the good news first.”

“Well, we did a lot more repair work than we originally planned. The tissue was is pretty good shape, so we put in a couple of anchors.”

Good news indeed, I thought. “And the bad news?”

“Better repairs means a longer rehab. You’re going to have to be patient.”

No way around that, I thought. The work was done, and I had specifically asked Wilk to do the repair work if he felt it was worthwhile. Now the ball was, proverbially speaking, in my court. The surgery was behind me. Now, it was all about recovery and rehabilitation.

Predictably, I wasn’t the best patient, post-op. My wife, an occupational therapist, went out of her way to make sure our house (fortunately, a ranch) was free of obstacles. It would be six weeks, minimum, on crutches, to avoid any weight bearing on the repaired hip. When I got antsy, I’d take liberties, walking around the house without crutches. And if they caught me parading about, all my girls would read me the riot act.

I’d commiserate with my older brother, Sean, an orthopedic surgeon from New Hampshire. Sean, 18 months my senior, is just as active, if not more so, than I am. He understands the need to keep moving. Like Woody Allen’s terrific shark analogy in Annie Hall, we believe that if we stop moving forward, we’ll die.

“The problem is that we still think like a couple of guys who are 25,” says Sean. “Our brains won’t admit how old we are. But our bodies are 50, and the fact is, we’ve put our bodies through a lot of wear and tear.”

That wear and tear was plenty evident on my X-rays, which revealed fairly advanced osteo-arthritis on both sides. That’s the reality for me, and my hips. Sean, after taking one quick look at my X-rays, basically told me that my hips didn’t owe me a thing. “I can’t believe you’ve been playing hockey on those hips for the past 20 years,” he said.

Which, of course, made the decision to have surgery that much easier. I didn’t have anything to lose, really. Post-op, Dr. Wilk was noncommittal. The cartilage had, as predicted, flaked off the hip socket like rotted ceiling tiles. There were now small areas where the head of my right femur and the hip socket were bone-on-bone.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t in much discomfort in the week after surgery. I tired easily, which was understandable, since my body was busy repairing itself. Still, I took painkillers for only a couple of days post-op, and then put them aside. I’m not a big medication fan, anyway. I’d would rather know if I’m pushing the joint too hard. I’m no hero, but I believe masking aches can be dangerous. But the truth was, there wasn’t much pain. My spirits soared, perhaps a bit too much too soon.

I went out and bought a huge supply of triple-strength Osteo-BiFlex, with the hope it would accelerate the healing process. Though considered suspect by some, the glucosamine/chondroitin formula couldn’t hurt, said Wilk. It wasn’t the miracle supplement (“Clinically shown joint within 7 days!”) that the package promised it was, he said, but there wasn’t any real downside, either. My body would either take to it, or it wouldn’t. Simple as that.

Today, six weeks out from my surgery, I’m finally off the crutches. That mean it’s time to start rehabbing. I’ve got a date with the physical therapist next week, and hope to get a regimen that will ultimately get me back on the ice, and the slopes, and the bike, and the soccer pitch, sometime in early 2011. My surgeon has warned me not to get too optimistic, but I can’t help myself. It’s my nature. I have a history of getting injured, But I’ve also been a pretty quick healer.

Of course, I also have hips that are a candidate for carbon dating. Father Time doesn’t really care about my hopes and dreams and silly, old-man expectations. I want another bite of the apple; I’ll admit that. Wilk, though specifically stating that he doesn’t like making predictions, nonetheless gave me some odds to keep in mind, as parameters. The likelihood that I’d be able to play hockey again was pretty encouraging: 80 percent. The chances of playing goal again? Not so good. Probably 15-20 percent.

But I’ll take those odds. What choice do I have? Plus, it’s time to stop wondering, and time to get to work.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pay up!

Boston, breezy and cool!

For years, I've joked with my stepfather about taking up golf "when I have my hips replaced." It was a running gag that we both got a good laugh from, because Don knows I'm incapable of ever taking golf seriously, and because I never thought I'd need to get my hips replaced. Well, it appears Don's take was a whole lot more accurate. Because the bill has come due.

My hips, to be kind, are a wreck. They show the wear and tear of 50 years of a wonderfully rough-and-tumble life. These hips could be the first piece of evidence in the trademark trial of "Boomeritis," the tongue-in-cheek term coined by the American Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons to describe a raft of injuries that post-40 athletes subject themselves to.

I think if I added up all the days I've spent on this planet, and divided that number in half, I'd have a pretty good count of all the football, soccer, basketball, street hockey, ice hockey, baseball, and softball games I've played. And that wouldn't include the countless days running, pedaling (on and off road), downhill skiing, cross-county skiing, snowboarding, hiking, climbing, swimming, and even the occasional weight-lifting session (never was a big fan!). There's an accumulative effect of all that fun, and for me, it's pretty much concentrated in my lower back, and my hips.

Still, in all honesty, I can't complain. When my brother Sean, an orthopedic surgeon in New Hampshire, took a look at my hip X-rays, he confirmed what two surgeons told me previously. I was lucky to get 50 years out of those ol' hip bones. Seems I have a natural deformity in the "ball" joint -- too much bone -- which didn't make for a great fit with my genetically shallow socket joints. "Essentially, you've been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole all these years," said a straight-talking Dr. Richard Wilk. "You were bound to have problems. I'm a little surprised this didn't happen earlier."

Which, of course, is small consolation when you're hoping to get another four, five, 10 years out of the current model. Surgery became necessary this summer, when a suspected "groin pull" from 11 months earlier failed to heal, and doctors finally ruled out a "sports hernia." An MRI in August revealed the extend of damage to my hips, especially my right, including joint deterioration and a torn labrum. That's when surgery entered the equation, and I immediately set out to find someone good. "This is the new sexy surgery," warned Sean. "There are a lot of guys rushing into this field. You want to find someone who has done a lot of them."

Fortunately for me, I found Dr. Wilk, who came recommended not only by Sean, but by several Division 1 goaltenders who I help coach. Plus, Wilk has been doing these hip arthroscopes for years. I liked his resume, if not his diagnosis.

"Basically, your hips are pretty much beat to shit," Wilk told me during my last pre-op visit. "Is that a medical term?" quipped my bride, who accompanied me for emotional support, and to get a better idea of how heavy an anchor I'd be post-surgery. But I was comfortable with Wilk's no-nonsense approach. He was telling me that he would do what he could once he got inside the hip, but he wasn't making any promises. In short, he could rely on his own skills as a surgeon, but couldn't be nearly as certain about the raw material he'd have to work with. Fifty year hips rarely produce a gem.

So I've got a surgery date, and I'm eager to get it done. Like most everything I've done in life, I'd rather take a course of action. Surgery is never a great option (like BU coach Jack Parker once told me, "The only minor surgery is the one someone else is having."). But the alternative -- doing nothing -- is much worse. Time to pay the bill, and get on with it. Golf can wait.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Luck of the draw ...

Boston, beautiful

Nine years ago this morning, I was hunkered down in my basement office, furiously tapping away at the keyboard, trying to wrap up a story before my scheduled flight the next day. Lauri called me after dropping the girls off at day care, asking if I'd heard the news -- a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York. I hadn't, but my immediate reaction was that it must have been a small, single-prop craft. Maybe a lunatic, maybe just an awful accident. Like the rest of us, my mind wouldn't even consider the reality that eventually came to pass.

I went upstairs, flipped on the tube, and watched the horror unfold. By that time, the second airliner had flown into the South Tower of the WTC, and all hell was breaking loose in Manhattan. I sat there, dumbfounded, unable to comprehend what was happening right before my eyes. Terrorism had taken on an entirely new meaning. When the TV anchors announced that the second jet was United Flight 175, a chill knifed through me like a bony finger of the Grim Reaper. United Flight 175 was my flight the next day. Although I was on assignment for Continental, my trip was organized by the Hawaiian tourism office, and they booked me on United, flying direct to Los Angeles, then to Hawaii.

My mood immediately shifted from disbelief to ashen. I was actually shaking, watching the coverage. My story didn't get done. And my flight, and trip, were canceled. My life, like the lives of countless thousands, was changed forever. So had the world as we knew it. And we're reminded of it every time we fly, every time we wait in a security line. Our daughters, thankfully, were too young to comprehend the depth of the evil on display that day. Lauri, my wife, was understandably distraught. I, for some odd reason, was simply numb.

That night, I played hockey down at the local prep school. I hadn't planned to, but needed to do something to shake myself out of my stupor. So I grabbed my gear, drove down to the rink, and got into the first fist fight I could recall since high school. It was stupid, a reflection, I'm sure, of the tension that everyone was feeling that night. Not even hockey, a game that was my great escape for most of my life, could provide any refuge.

A month later, I flew to Denver, Colorado, to meet my brothers Matt and Mike. We were headed to the High Lonesome Lodge on the western slopes of the Rockies, and along the way the United States unleashed its military fury on Bagdad. When we arrived at the High Lonesome Lodge, the place looked like a ghost town. Buzz Cox, the manager, explained that the lodge had been booked solid by Cantor-Fitzgerald, the finance firm devastated by the 9/11 attacks.

Americans, to this day, are justifiably outraged at the murderous acts of Sept. 11, 2001. Like most, I will never forget. But I also try to remember how fortunate I was, of the difference that 24 hours can make. Did God "spare" me? I don't think so, because that would insinuate He didn't spare the 2,977 people who tragically lost their lives that day (and the 19 hijackers He allowed to live long enough to perpetrate such a heinous act). Sometimes I think the Almighty simply sets things in motion, and then lets the chips fall. Why wasn't I on that flight, along with Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis of the Los Angeles Kings and 63 others? It was just fate; the luck of the draw. It's a cruel reminder that none of us are guaranteed anything. Ever.

Which is why we should celebrate everything we do have, and never once take the things we hold dear for granted. I get to enjoy this stunning Saturday morning, and plan to go for a bike ride the minute I get this essay posted. Today, I'll hug my bride and our girls a little more tightly. I'd like to say I do that every day, but I don't. Life, with all its challenges, tends to dull the immediacy of these moments. But every now and then I'm reminded. I need that.


Monday, September 6, 2010

The Sketch King rides again!

Boston, a splendid Labor Day

I admit it ... I'd almost forgotten. The sweet, cool breezes of early autumn and splintered sunlight filtering through the trees. That distinct loamy smell of the earth, and the absence of bugs. The sublime thrill of fat tires on skinny trails winding like a roller coaster through the woods. I'd almost forgotten how quickly your breathing becomes labored the moment those trails tilt uphill. The nuisance roots and rocks that litter New England's rugged landscape. And I'd almost forgotten the spontaneous laughter that erupts when it all comes together.

Yes, the memories had faded. In the four years since I trashed my right shoulder after augering my bike's front wheel in a washed-out section of trail, and gone flying over the handlebars, I'd taken a self-imposed sabbatical from the singletrack. I had dabbled here and there, but I'd lost my nerve, frankly. I was scared. Scared of every slick, off-camber root or tire-grabbing chunk of granite that might send me to the ground or into a tree, and eventually the Emergency Room, again. Between hockey and mountain biking, I'd suffered a litany of injuries that had me feeling my age. The shoulder was the worst of the recent vintage, though, and I began contemplating more genteel pursuits.

I turned to the road bike, not so much because I enjoyed it more, but because I felt like I had more control. The irony, of course, is that, among my cycling friends, road accidents typically have proven to be much more devastating. My thinking was (and this is probably as good an indication as I can offer of how far my confidence had sunk), if I tumbled on the road, someone would eventually find me, and help me get back home. In the woods, I could lie there for days. Ridiculous? Of course. But that's the mindset of a rider who has lost his bravado.

Fortunately, my friends wouldn't let me fade away. They kept prodding me to join them, luring me with tales of new trails being carved in nearby parks, Bradley Palmer and Willowdale. Eventually, they wore me down, and I relented. I suited up Sunday with a fair amount of trepidation, but the morning was so damned beautiful it was hard to feel too negative about anything. I asked my buddies -- Billy E. and Mark O. -- to go easy on me. Not only was I venturing back into the woods after a long hiatus, but I was also riding on a bum right hip, compliments of a recently diagnosed torn labrum. It didn't hurt while I was riding, unless the incline got real steep, or unless I had to get off the bike. Which I did. Often.

It was a strange sensation. I spied old, familiar obstacles that I'd cleared easily in years gone by, but I was unable to stop myself from stopping. I realized this was going to be a slow process. I told myself to be patient, even as I publicly admonished myself for being such a wuss. I was the ride's anchor, but Billy and Mark never once made me feel like I as holding them up. Every time I apologized, they would just look around, and comment on what a gorgeous day it was. The support was a huge boost. So were the trails, which had been cut with an artist's flare.

I started to link some sections together, started to look where I wanted to go (instead of focusing on the trail's not-so-hidden dangers), started to reconnect with my Fat Beat's supple Ti feel. I started, even so subtly, to feel that flow train. I was back. Not all the way, but back nonetheless. I was still riding like the Sketch King, but I was riding. Off-road. And smiling just about the entire time.


Monday, June 14, 2010

The dream season ...

Boston, overcast ...

I've played organized sports for pretty much my entire life, a good 45 of my 52 years. There have been plenty of ups and downs, and even the occasional title. I think there was a baseball and basketball championship during grade school, though I'm not sure, to be honest. There was the city championship for my Manchester Central High soccer team my junior year, in the fall of 1974, and the glorious intramural hockey championship at UNH in the winter of 1982 (in which I gladly traded in a night of studying for a statistics mid-term for a night of revelry with my teammates after the narrow but well-deserved 4-3 win)

But, in all those years, I've never been part of an undefeated team, until now.

This past week, the venerable Ipswich Sea Dogs of the Over the Hill Soccer League completed a nice run of the table, finishing their regular season with a sparkling 10-0-0 mark. It wasn't a "perfect" season per se -- only someone truly deluded would think anything that starts with "Over 50" could be perfect -- but our record was. Ten straight wins. It was fun to be a part of. I came to the team late, a last-minute signing. For the past five years or so, I'd played in the Over-40 division, with a great group of guys who called themselves Ipswich United (and more recently, Wen-Ham United), among other various nicknames. But my litany of injuries (hamstring pull, back spasms, tennis elbow, dislocated finger, groin pull) made my participation, and performance, somewhat unpredictable, and I encouraged Captain Dan Bates to find another keeper.

Plus, I'm now 52, and my body was telling me that it was time to "move up" the the Over-50 division (no, that's not actually me in the accompanying photo ... just a reasonable facsimile!). I started feeling like a calcified Chris Chelios of NHL fame, chasing after a young and spry Sidney Crosby, with much less success, I might add. After missing Wen-Ham United's entire fall season, I made a few phone calls, and landed a back-up role with the Ipswich Sea Dogs. Truth is, the Sea Dogs resident goalie, Doug Plante, was also the team manager, and quickly 'fessed up that he'd rather play in the field. So, in short order, I became the starting 'keeper for this orange-clad squad that resembled the United Nations of old-guy soccer.

We have guys from England, Vietnam, Chile, France, Trinidad, Greece, Syria, and God only knows where else. We have architects, laborers, biologists, craftsmen, salesmen, computer geeks, business owners, you name it. I'm the token Irishman and writer (and resident tech idiot). But the beauty of sport is nationalities, and professions, don't matter. Personalities are what make a team mesh, and we've got a wonderful group of guys who are still passionate about this great game. Not "perfect," but close enough. The play was a shade slower than my Over-40 campaigns, but feisty nonetheless. We're a group that plays hard, but plays fair. And that proved a winning formula, as we ran the table on the regular season. And, truth be told, this team probably would have gone undefeated with a bunch of Munchkins alternating in goal. I had a few saves over the course of my seven games, including a few solid stops, but I was never besieged. Not that I'm complaining.

Our first playoff game pitted the Sea Dogs against the appropriately named North Read Gray Cobras. I made two decent saves early on, and we managed to squeeze out a 2-0 win, despite my misplaying a long shot that caromed off the crossbar, forcing my stalwart sweeper Sergio to clear the ball off the line. Next week, we play in the finals, but I'll be far, far away, boating in the British Virgin Islands. It's one of those dream assignments, especially since I get to take Lauri with me. But I'll have bittersweet feelings just the same, knowing that I won't be there in goal for my boys, the Sea Dogs. My only perfect team!


Friday, June 11, 2010

Let the games begin!

Boston, overcast

OK, I promise to be a little more positive today, and why not? The best sporting event anywhere gets under way today, as the World Cup kicks off in South Africa. I did a web advance for Four Seasons magazine on the Top Ten reasons to check out the action. The one thing I neglected to mention was the much-maligned Jabulani ball by Adidas (at right), which all the goalkeepers are complaining about. Of course, goalies need something to whine about, since they spend all game just standing around! Here's my unabridged version ...

Ten best reasons to watch the World Cup

The FIFA World Cup, the quadrennial celebration of the sport known worldwide as football (and soccer in North America), is heading south of the equator this summer. For the first time ever, the world's most popular sporting event will be held on the continent of Africa, in the Republic of South Africa. The tournament began in 1930, and except for World War II (1942 and 1946), has been held every four years since. Brazil, which will host the 2014 World Cup, has won five of the 18 tournaments. Italy, the defending champions, has won four times, and Germany three. Impressive numbers. Want more? Here are 10 reasons to watch.

One. It is, simply, the biggest stage in all of sports. Period. The tournament boasts 32 teams from around the world (pared down from 210 nations during two years of qualifying play) – a truly international field representing an unequaled collection of soccer talent – converging on a single country. The month-long World Cup features a total of 64 games, with 48 "group" matches followed by 16 knockout games. The finals are set for July 11, at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg.

Two. Star power. With a few notable exceptions, the best players in the world will be on display, not wearing their club uniforms but their national team colors. Expect to see players such as England's Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) and Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Brazil's Kaka (Real Madrid) and Dani Alves (Barcelona), Spain's Fernando Torres (Liverpool) and Xavi (Barcelona), Argentina's Lionel Messi (Barcelona) and Carlos Teves (Manchester City), France's Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), the Netherland's Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan) and Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Italy's Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) and Andrea Pirlo (Inter Milan), the Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba (Chelsea) and Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o (Inter Milan).

Three. The power of emotion, driven by national pride. These stars aren't only the most skilled in the world; they're among the wealthiest athletes on the planet. But they're not playing for a payday. They're playing for honor, for country, and, in many instances, immortality, both home and abroad.

Four. The World Cup can be a dazzling rite of passage, with fresh talent – brilliantly gifted but too young to know any fear – showcasing their wares before the world. Such was the case for 17-year-old Edison Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele, when he won his first World Cup with Brazil in 1958 against Sweden. Who are the new stars? Watch for Javier "El Chicharito" Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos of Mexico, Jozy Altidore of the United States, Eljero Elia of Netherlands, and Angel Di Maria of Argentina.

Five. The opportunity to see something truly breathtaking. Some moments are famous, such as the logic-defying save by England's Gordon Banks of a header by Brazil's incomparable Pele during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico City, Brazil's Carlos Alberto's laser strike against Italy in the finals that same year, or France's legendary Zinadine Zidane imposing his will on Brazil in 1998 during a 3-0 victory that secured the only World Cup won by Les Bleus. Some are infamous, such as the "Hand of God" goal scored by Diego Maradona of Argentina (with his hand) against England in 1986, or Zidane's bizarre meltdown when he head-butted an Italian defender in the 2006 final, possibly costing France a second title.

Six. Intriguing match-ups. The opening contest on June 11 – between Mexico and host South Africa – may reveal whether either team is a contender or pretender. The Group C match between England and the United States marks the 60th anniversary of one of the World Cup's most memorable upsets (a 1-0 US victory in 1950). Group G, with Brazil, Portugal, Cameroon and North Korea has been dubbed the "Group of Death," since at least one very good team will not advance. Plus, every team from every World Cup final since 1966 is in the field, a harbinger of epic battles between long-time adversaries during the knockout rounds.

Seven. The ever-present possibility of an upset. Rarely do all the draws go according to plan, and trying to find the sleepers in the field of 32 is an odds-maker's nightmare For proof, consider the 2009 Federations Cup, a dress rehearsal for this year's World Cup. Spain came in riding a 35-game unbeaten streak, and the No. 1 ranking in the world. The Spaniards were poised to make it 36 straight against a United States squad that was playing like second-tier competition. The result? A dramatic 2-0 victory for the Americans. In 2002, the Republic of Korea made a gallant-but-improbable run to the semifinals (with wins over Italy, Portugal and Spain) on home soil. Could South Africa's Bafana Bafana, led by the sublime Steven Pienaar (Everton), make a similar run to silence their detractors?

Eight. Who has home-field advantage? The World Cup has traditionally gone to countries that reside at least close to the host nation, notably Italy in 2006 (Germany), France in 1998 (France), Germany in 1982 (Spain), England in 1966 (England), and Argentina in 1986 (Mexico) and 1978 (Argentina). But there have been notable exceptions as well, such as Brazil in 2002 (Japan/South Korea), in 1994 (United States) and in 1958 (Sweden). South Africa, meanwhile, is a wild card. The smart money may be on Brazil's Samba Kings, as they've proven themselves to be historically road worthy. But don't count out traditional heavyweights Argentina, Italy, and Germany, all of which can win ugly, and the resurgent squads from Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands.

Nine. The host nation, long known as a symbol of divisiveness and apartheid, is now poised to show the world it can take on the role as a great unifier. Persistent questions lingered prior to the event whether the organizing committee, and the 10 stadiums, would be ready. Time will tell.

Ten: You won't be alone. Millions and millions of fans, from the passionate to the casual, are expected to tune in to the games. So many, in fact, that it's impossible to calculate, or even estimate with any accuracy, how many viewers will be watching.

I know I'll be watching! ;-)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Tool

Boston, with a side of rain

I'm not sure what I enjoyed more last night; the Chicago Blackhawks hoisting their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, or Philadelphia fans roundly boo'ing one of the most despised commissioners in sports -- Gary "The Tool" Bettman. Now, Philly fans are notoriously tough on anyone from out-of-town, but Bettman gets hammered everywhere he goes. And with good reason. Hockey fans can't stand him, because they know he's not one of them. He's a tin-voiced little weasel who pretends to care about the game he oversees (OK, the "league" he oversees) because he's all about appearances. But, in truth, any real fan of this glorious game can see right through The Tool's insincere charade. The emperor, in this case, not only has no clothes ... He has no credibility.

Let me be absolutely clear about this. Bettman doesn't give a rat's ass about the sport. He has no passion for hockey, and remarkably limited knowledge of its nuances, the skill involved, the rules, its history, or its cultural significance. He's an expensive suit, with an over-inflated ego, and nothing more. Bettman's arrogance probably blinds him to the fact that he's almost universally despised. He works for the owners, and his only job (for which he is paid quite handsomely) is apparently to save them from themselves. We lost an entire season of the best sports league on the planet because the owners couldn't agree, and Bettman somehow tried to flip responsibility for the lock-out on the players. Again, it was so transparent that it was laughable (except for the reality that we lost that aforementioned season). The best thing to come out of the lock-out was an enterprising attempt to have a Stanley Cup playoffs among non-NHL teams. But Bettman and the NHL owners, brandishing their financial clout and legal brass-knuckles, squashed the idea like a misguided chipmunk on the Mass Turnpike.

And why did we lose that season in 2004-05? So selfish owners like the Bruins' Jeremy "Greed is Good" Jacobs could guarantee themselves "cost certainty." You want cost certainty? Put a great product on the ice, and try capping the cost of a ticket to $45, and a 10-ounce Bud Light to, say, $5. That may not guarantee you billions, but you'll make a profit.

Bettman likes to think he's the master of marketing, bringing the lessons that he learned at the feet of his mentor -- David "I'd rather be a tall black man" Stern of the NBA -- to the National Hockey League. Only two problems with that. First, have you seen an NBA regular-season game recently? Just brutal. This is a league that has managed to suck the life out of a potentially great game. Compare it to college hoops sometime. No contest. Second, the NBA isn't the NHL. While the NBA glorifies the individual ("How's that ring looking, Lebron ... Oh, sorry."), hockey and the NHL are about team, first, second, and always. There are great players, to be sure, but even the greatest -- from Howe to Orr to Gretzky -- understood the team was always the primary focus. And the secondary focus was a distant second.

But Bettman doesn't get that. He thinks, "Worked for the NBA, should work for us." And that's why Pittsburgh is playing in the Winter Classic again, to match superstars Sid the Kid vs. Ovie. Funny, but neither of those two guys (great players both) made the semifinals this season. Karma? I like to think so.

So keep boo'ing, Philly fans. I cringe every time I think of how your Flyers turned the tables on my Bruins this spring, but you made up for it last night. Bettman had the post-game microphone, but he certainly didn't have the gumption or the backbone to work the crowd. He knew he'd get torn apart. He'd get the same reception in Boston, Montreal, Chicago, Toronto ... anyplace where hockey is part of the social fabric. The NHL commissioner is nothing but a tool, and he's got to go! The sooner, the better.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Soccer is for hard men, Part 3

A splitter day in Beantown!

With all the buzz surrounding the upcoming World Cup, it's inevitable that the soccer-haters are coming out of their narrow-minded closets to make fun of a sport they either (A) don't understand, or (B) secretly fear, 'cause they know they wouldn't be any good at it (or, more likely, would have a heart attack trying to play, given the typical circumference of their waists). I have no problem shrugging off their lame-brain comments ... A quick, "Oh, you think it's easy? Come on out and play with us sometime" is an easy way to short-circuit their short-sighted arguments.

Others complain about the lack of scoring, which always makes me think "If it were easy, everyone would be doing it." I've pretty much given up trying to convey that the very fact that goals are so rare, so difficult to come by, is what creates the exquisite tension that puts true fans on the edge of their seats. There are usually dozens, if not hundreds, of great plays in every game that don't result in the ball crossing the goal line, but they're great plays nonetheless.

Still, what annoys me most is when these sports "expects" insinuate that soccer players aren't tough. The theatrics of most South American (excluding the great Lionel Messi) and Inter Milan players aside, futbol players often take a pounding. I'll admit the occasional flop, and I don't like seeing them (in fact, I love it when an opponent gets in a flopper's face, embarrassing them for embarrassing the game). But most replays reveal fouls, and often hard fouls. Which, of course, got me thinking of this essay I did a little while back for the wonderfully titled GeezerJock magazine (later renamed Masters Athlete). Just another piece of evidence that soccer is, indeed, a contact sport.

It only hurts when it hurts

“How the heck do you hurt your hand playing soccer,” asks my older brother, the orthopedic surgeon, obviously amused. “Aren’t you supposed to use your feet?”

Very funny. I’ve become accustomed to these little digs, given my penchant for injuries and my refusal to stop playing the sports that put me in harm’s way. The worst moments are the Emergency Room visits. I'll never forget the day, 10 years ago, when my poor wife, eight months pregnant with our first child, drove me to the ER after a mountain bike mishap. I won't bore you with the details, except to say that it took eight stitches to close the gash on my right cheek, just below the eye (I still have no idea where that tree branch came from!). The doctor that day took one look at my swollen puss, glanced at my chart, and quipped condescendingly: “Mountain bike accident, huh? Shouldn’t you know better at your age?”

The fact that he made the comment more than a decade ago tells you what I thought of his advice. A few months shy of my personal half-century mark (now that puts things in perspective), I still run, ski, snowboard, cycle (off- and on-road), skate a few nights a week in various hockey leagues, and play goalie for an Over-40 soccer team. We play in Boston’s Over the Hill Soccer League, a name that conveys the same gravity and levity as, well, the name of this publication.

This past summer, our squad was asked to participate in an invitational match – a “friendly” – against a team from Gloucester during the city’s St. Peter’s Festival. Not 10 minutes into the second half, with our guys nursing a 2-1 lead, a Gloucester player made a nice move on the end line, and sent a sharp pass across the penalty box. Admittedly, 20 years ago, I might have gotten to the ball a bit faster. Then again, the attacking striker probably would have been quicker as well. In an instant, my hands, the soccer ball, and the striker's foot came together at the exact same moment. The foot won, as my opponent connected squarely with the ball, mashing the outside three fingers of my right hand in the process. Pain ripped through my arm like an electric current. Worst of all, the guy scored.

I immediately knew I was hurt, but had no idea how bad. A teammate rushed up, asking: "What's wrong?"

"I don't know," I answered. "My hand is messed up."

As I grimaced, face down in the grass, another teammate removed my padded goalie gloves. All I heard was: “Oh, that’s what’s wrong.” When I finally worked up the nerve, I peeked at my right hand, and saw my ring finger bent unnaturally at a right angle, sideways. Someone's wife called 9-1-1, and I found myself the embarrassed center of attention as I slowly trudged off the field. The first responders took one look at my crooked digit, and said, legally, they couldn’t touch me. A paramedic, who didn’t have the same liability headaches, tried to pop the joint back into place, but to no avail (though he succeeded in dropping me to my knees). So I click-clacked in my cleats across the asphalt parking lot and sheepishly took a seat in an awaiting ambulance.

Heading to the hospital, I thought an ambulance ride was justified for shredded knee ligaments or other major injuries, but making such a fuss over a dislocated finger seemed goofy. The attitude of the ER staff didn’t help. Granted, a 40-something guy in a soccer outfit will elicit giggles, but I would have appreciated some self-control, especially since most members of the staff were noticeably overweight (an oddly common occurrence at hospitals).

My ER doctor, however, was completely empathetic. A short, spry women with running shoes and a lilting Irish accent, she checked out the finger, ordered X-rays, and said she'd be back in a jiffy to straighten things out. Self-consciously, I made a comment about feeling silly, playing a kid's game at my age.

"At least you're out there," she replied without hesitation. "That’s the important thing."

She was right. I'll be back on the field, once the hand heals, and if I can avoid any return trips to the ER. After all, the boys rallied to win the Gloucester game, and I don't want them thinking I'm expendable.


Friday, May 14, 2010

The Divot

Boston, allergy season

Not all that long ago, my brother Sean and I were out for a road spin, decked out in full cycling regalia. The thing about cycling gear, to be blunt, is that there's no hiding anything. Ladies, you know what I mean (wink, wink!). Not that I have anything to, ahem, "show off," mind you. It's just the reality of Lycra. Whatever curves you've got will show, good curves as well as bad curves. Which is just a way of setting up this little anecdote about Sean and I pedaling along. He was drafting behind me when he suddenly asks, "What is up with your hip?"

I turned around, and in the most sarcastic tone I could muster, say: "Oh, this hip? You mean this dent right here?" I pointed to the distinct crease in my left flank. "You don't remember Boys Weekend at Chris's house, when I got hurt, and everyone said I was faking it?" And therein lies the story.

The Divot

I'm not a cross-country ski guy. Never have been. Too much work. I like gravity, and I like chairlifts. Cross-country skiing is for those skinny, endorphin-fueled endurance athletes who can push their heart rates into the stratosphere and just motor all day long. I'm not built that way. So it was with some trepidation that I agreed, during a festive Boys Weekend one frosty February at my brother Chris's place in Washington, N.H., to a cross-country ski outing through the woods back behind his house.

Now, we're not talking smooth, tracked cross-country trails here, like you might find at the Jackson Ski Touring Center. Nope, nothing even close. These were rough-cut logging roads (known colloquially in New Hampshire as Class VI highways!), better suited for ATVs and 4X4s. In fact, most World War II tanks would have trouble navigating some of these "roads." They're actually decent hiking trails during the warmer months, but during the thick of a Northeast winter, they're a minefield, loaded with booby traps lurking underneath a fresh cover of snow.

There were at least six of us, including me, my brothers Sean and Chris, Tommy Duval, and two of Chris's college cohorts, Bill Riley and Tom Paul. A really good group of guys. We all knew the evening would be a raucous boozefest, as we had an enormous pot of chili simmering and enough tequila to keep a Mexican border town looped for days. So, we decided we'd do something good for our bodies before pickling our livers. It was a beautiful day, if I recall (it's been a good 10 years now), cold but crisp. We all had our skinny skis and poles, and Chris picked out one of his favorite "highways" for a little exploration.

Admittedly, I had my doubts about our agenda. First, I've never been all that stable on cross-country skis, with my heels flopping all around. I've snowboarded and skied on alpine boards for years, and prefer the control that comes with having my heels locked down (again, requiring gravity's assistance). I understand the necessity to have a free heel during the push-and-glide movements of Nordic skiing, but the corresponding instability makes me a tad uncertain. Add to that the unpredictable terrain that Chris had selected, and I was sweating bullets long before I started red-lining my heart rate.

The first hour was relatively uneventful, though the ruts and troughs in the trail were challenging, as were the dozens of downed trees that crisscrossed our route. Plus, the road wasn't flat. The uphill portions were a slog, and the downhills, combined with those inadequate bindings and my dubious Nordic skills, were much too sketchy for my liking. Still, we made the best of it, laughing at each other and our plodding attempts to master the art of skinny skis. Some, like Sean and Tom Paul, actually looked pretty good, but most of us just flailed about, huffing and puffing and I'm certain making the task more difficult than it needed to be. Finally, the group agreed that the trails weren't going to improve, and we decided that both the chili and the tequila had probably aged to perfection, and any delay in consumption would be a crime against humanity. So we turned around. And, immediately, we faced a downhill that suddenly looked a whole lot more daunting than it had during the previous climb.

Eager to get back to Chris's house and the blender, I volunteered to go first. My enthusiasm proved my undoing. Despite a pizza wedge that would make any ski instructor proud, I kept picking up speed. Toward the bottom of the slope was a huge fallen pine suspended across the trail. For a split second, I envisioned impaling myself on one of its branches. So, I took the only option my oxygen-starved brain offered, which was a head-first dive. And damn if I didn't pull it off, pitching my 200-pound frame underneath the hulking trunk. And that's when a white flash of pain flashed through my body.

Hidden underneath the pristine blanket of snow was a tree stump, and I found it squarely with my left hip. I knew instantly I had done some serious damage. I got light-headed, my stomach started doing cartwheels, and my leg actually began convulsing. But to the guys at the top of the hill, it was a perfectly executed Pete Rose dive, and as I was writhing in pain, they howled and shouted encouragement. For a little while. Finally, Sean, an orthopedic surgeon, came to my aid. At worst, we thought it was a bad bruise (after all, I have plenty of padding in that particular area). Regardless, it was a long, painful trek back to Chris's house. And the guys -- being guys -- kept riding me, unconvinced it was anything serious. I tried convincing them otherwise, but they wouldn't hear of it. And, of course, the last thing any red-blooded male wants to be called is a wimp. Never has being the "butt" of others' jokes been so rife with irony.

That evening, I wasted no time in masking the pain with a few rounds of beer margaritas. I strapped a bag of ice to the hip, gulped down a few heavy-duty painkillers, and then let the tequila works its magic. The gang sat around for hours, sharing laughs, singing songs, telling tall tales, and generally getting shnockered. The overnight, though, was tough. Each time I rolled onto the hip, the stabbing pain woke me up. The next morning, unwilling to give in to the group's sophomoric taunts, I agreed to go on another cross-country outing, and even managed to fall on the same hip again, sending another bolt of agony through my gray matter. So much for discretion being the better part of valor.

The accompanying photo was taken two weeks after the fall. That's how long it took for the bruises to surface (and spread). Sorry if it's a little risque, but there's really no modest way to take that shot. Believe it or not, it looked even worse a few days afterward, but this is the only photographic evidence I kept. After a month, Lauri convinced me to go see my doctor. His diagnosis? I had sheared some of the muscles in my hip (that was the divot), and adjacent bump was the torn fibers curling into a ball. "Well," I thought, "that would explain why it felt like the top of my head was ripped off." Eventually, the colors subsided. But the divot remains.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Escape from Causeway Street ...

Boston, beautiful

When I first heard of the idea of a Bobby Orr statue being erected by the TD Garden, I immediately felt torn. On one hand, I truly believe Orr was the greatest hockey player -- the most revolutionary and most complete player -- to lace on a pair of skates. I grew up in New Jersey, a fan of the New York Rangers, and I still admired Bobby Orr, as painful as it was at times (he almost singlehandedly beat the Blueshirts in the 1972 Stanley Cup finals). He could do anything on the ice -- pass, score, skate, defend, fight -- and he did it with a disciplined fury, with unmatched grace, and with humility. If there was ever a Bruin deserving of the honor of being cast in bronze, it's the pride of Parry Sound.

On the other hand, knowing the marketing types that have infiltrated not only the Boston Bruins, but all of big-time professional sports, this kind of grand, public display smacks of self-serving, self-important self-promotion. Even Orr, the consummate professional, was never one to seek the limelight, and was more than likely a little embarrassed by all the hoopla surrounding the unveiling of the above statue yesterday. That's one of the reasons we loved him.

Orr was always about "team." He lived and died with each win and each loss. The current Bruins owners are about ticket sales, beer and hot dog sales (at ridiculous prices), and profits. They erect a statue that symbolizes all that was once right with the franchise, unaware how it shines a very bright light on their own shortcomings. The statue captures Orr in mid-flight, having been upended after scoring one of the franchise's biggest goal, an overtime winner that beat the St. Louis Blues in 1970 and secured Boston's first Stanley Cup in 29 years. It's now been 38 years since the Cup has returned to Boston (a period highlighted by former Bruin great Ray Bourque visiting with the Cup he won in Colorado, a heartfelt tribute to his fans, and an absolute dagger to the hearts of Harry Sinden and the Jacobs family).

Last year, the Bruins cruised through the regular season with one of the best records in the NHL, but stumbled badly in the playoffs, getting knocked out by Carolina in the second round. This year's squad, beset by injuries and anemic goal-scoring, barely squeezed into the playoffs. But they've proved a resilient bunch, and edged Buffalo in the first round before taking a 3-0 series lead against Philadelphia. They returned home Monday, still holding a commanding 3-1 series lead, when the Jacobs family decided to unveil the Orr statue, 40 years to the day that Bobby converted Derek Sanderson's slick behind-the-net pass.

Inexplicably, the Bruins then proceeded to stink out the joint, getting throttled by Philadelphia in their own building. It was as if the hockey gods decided that no team owned by Jeremy Jacobs would benefit from trying to capitalize on Orr's good name and unblemished character. After last night's embarrassing 4-0 blow-out loss to the Flyers, summarized by Dennis "Man Cave" Wideman getting spun around with a broken stick and then simply watching as Simon Gagne rang up Philly's fourth goal, I thought of the Orr statue. What would he have thought about the Bruins' performance, the way they simply failed to show up? Funny ... as I took a look at the accompanying photo, Orr doesn't seem to be celebrating. He seems to be screaming: "Get me out of here!!!"

Who could blame him?


Monday, April 12, 2010


Boston, with spring in full bloom

"Or are we just holding onto the things we don't have anymore?"
-Jack Johnson

Last week, after a six-week wait, I finally got in to see Dr. Henry Frissora, a local specialist in cardiovascular medicine at Beverly Hospital. Frissora was recommended by my ortho guy to rule out the possibility of a "sports hernia." Seems my groin injury is something of an elusive diagnosis, with no one really sure of exactly where the injury is, or what course of treatment to recommend. I've been battling a chronic groin pull for the better part of seven months now, and nothing I seem to do (rest, stretching, massage) seems to be helping the healing process.

I just wanted an answer, even if it was the one thing I didn't want to hear, which was: "We're going to have to operate." My patience had been stretched thin, and my waistline had been stretched to the limit. Seven months of relative inactivity had pushed my fragile middle-age psyche to the uncharted and inhospitable waters. I don't mind being an Old Jock, but being a cranky, calcifying Old Jock is no fun, and no fun to be around. Just ask my bride.

Anyway, turns out Henry "Hank" Frissora is an old buddy of my brother Sean (they did a residency together at New England Deaconess), so we spent the first 10 minutes or so just chit-chatting about family stuff. Then we started in on the particulars of why I was in his office. I'm an old hockey player, a goalie no less. Assorted aches and pains, typical orthopedic foibles, but no major (that I'm aware of) issues, such as a heart condition, high-blood pressure, diabetes, etc. Not taking any medications, other than the occasional horse pill of Ibuprofen. Hurt the groin in a scramble in front of my net early last September. Felt a definite "pop" on the right side. Gave it eight weeks, and started playing again in November. Re-injured it right after Thanksgiving. Haven't done much of anything since, except coaching my daughter's Squirt hockey team, and running the occasional goalie clinic.

All the while, the good doctor scribbled notes, and reiterated the mantra I've been hearing for years: The human body wasn't designed to tolerate this kind of wear and tear over the course of a half-century. Plus, he tells me that injured areas tend to get re-injured with ever-increasing frequency. Essentially, I think Dr. Frissora, in his own polite way, was setting me up for what was coming next.

After rehashing the injury and my subsequent litany of starts-and-stops, he decided to give the old groin an exam. Pushing his fingers into the soft, sensitive tissue covering my pelvis, he asks me to cough several times. I obediently cough, and wince. Cough, wince. I then jumped up on a cold, plastic-covered table, and let Dr. Frissora poke around for another few minutes.

The good news? Dr. Frissora is pretty sure I don't have a sports hernia. That's a relief, since it a sports hernia would have meant certain surgery. The bad news? I waited a month and a half for a specialist to tell me he has no idea what's going on with my groin injury. In fact, he told me there were "70 to 80" different connections -- between muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissue -- all intersecting at the very spot where my thigh and pelvis join, and it could be any number of those that were out of whack. It could even be a hip problem that's manifesting itself as a groin injury. Not the definitive diagnosis I was hoping for.

So, instead of setting a date for surgery, I get the name of a physical therapist. I'll call him, 'cause I still want answers. I understand what Dr. Frissora is saying. Start thinking about another leisure activity. But I'm not ready to go there. Not just yet. It may be denial, pure and simple, but I've always felt it's easier for doctors to recommend lifestyle changes than it is for the practitioner to give up something he or she truly loves. For now, my love is still blind.


Friday, April 2, 2010

The most solitary position in sports ...

Boston, beautiful!!!

Goalie camp? At 43? Why not? Goes to show you're never too old to take a puck upside the head. This account of one of the longest weeks of my life (albeit eight years ago) appeared in the now-defunct Hockey Magazine. The photo above comes from my once-in-a-lifetime outing last January, playing at Fenway Park in Boston (which you can read about here).

Net gain
A 40-something goaltender tries to recapture his glory days

Lying prone on a cool sheet of ice, gasping for air, I lapse into another Walter Mitty fantasy. I'm no longer at the Mount Vernon Recreation and Ice Center outside Washington, D.C., desperately trying to keep from overheating beneath 35-plus pounds of soaking-wet goaltending gear. No, I'm between the pipes at Madison Square Garden, sporting the home white sweater of my beloved Rangers. The time? Winter, 1974.

Boston Bruins' winger Wayne Cashman is in the corner, mucking it up with Dale Roulfe, my Rock-of-Gibraltar defenseman. The puck squirts to the front of the net. Bruins' center Phil Esposito, on his way to a 68-goal season, pounces on it. He snaps off a lightning quick snap shot, low, stick-side. I instinctively flash my left leg pad. The puck glances off my toe buckle and flips harmlessly into the crowd. In the press box, Marv Albert screams into his microphone, "Kick save, O'Connor, and a beauty!" Color man Bill Chadwick, a Hall of Fame referee, chimes in: "This kid O'Connor came to play tonight ..." A goofy, satisfied grin creases my face.

"O'Connor! Hey, O'Connor! You gonna play sometime today?" barks Gerry "Elroy" Ellison, part-time goalie instructor and full-time drill sergeant. I surface reluctantly from my reverie, blinking the sweat from my eyes, realizing I'm still at the Puckstoppers Goaltending School. Slowly, I pull my bruised body off the ice, and resume my post for the next drill. I want to blame my murky state of mind on taking a puck up side the head, but I can't. I'm hurting because I'm 43. Whatever fitness I brought to camp with me evaporated as quickly as my fantasy. And my instructors aren't cutting me much slack.

At this precise moment, I'm struggling to recall exactly why I signed on for this five-day camp. There are vague recollections - I not only hoped to recapture some of my youth, but I wanted to make sure the guys in the late-night league back home in Boston weren't thinking I'd gotten soft. Several of my goaltending colleagues have been entertaining thoughts about hanging up their pads and skates, which only hardened my resolve to turn back the clock.

Truth is, I never had any formal education in the science of goaltending. My coaches in high school and the early days of college were former position players - forwards and defensemen - who had trouble relating to goalies. As other hockey players will attest, goalies are a singular breed, requiring special tutoring (or, as one derisive teammate once told me, “custom-made strait jackets”).My education was self-imposed - I ceaselessly studied Hall of Famer Jacques Plante's tome, "On Goaltending," until the book’s binder nearly disintegrated, and tried to apply its lessons to my game.

Recently, on the downhill side of my athletic career but still playing a few times each week, my mind shifted into a "now or never" mode. I could soldier on, a half-decent, middle-age goalie, or I could try to pick up my game a notch. What I needed was some top-notch instruction. I found it with Puckstoppers, an Ontario-based outfit that visits Alexandria, Virginia, each summer for a week. You might not think of the District of Columbia and its environs as a hotbed for hockey. Think again.

At the end of every morning session, dozens of pick-up players were lining up for noontime "stick practice." Back home in Massachusetts, many rinks shut down in the summer. Mount Vernon ice director Ernie Harris tells me "This place was originally designed to have two rinks. If I had that second sheet, I could book it solid."

On the first morning of camp, I sat in snarled Beltway traffic, listening with a jaded ear to Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" on the radio, wondering whether I still had the goods, and whether I'd be the only gray-haired keeper in the class. Heck, I'd have settle for anyone who could legally join me for a beer afterward.

Fortunately, I met two guys my age - Gerry Oakman, who works with the Justice Department, and Joe O'Connell, a family doctor from Arkansas. Both have Boston-area roots, and share an almost inexplicable love for hockey. We hit it off immediately. In hindsight, that's not surprising.

Goalies are naturally drawn to each other. We’re part of a team, yet stand apart – masked loners, solitary watchmen standing guard by our nets the entire game, an army of one. Other players don’t know what to make of us, but most are convinced that only someone with a few screws loose would actually volunteer to play our position. Buried under layers of unwieldy gear and confined to a limited skating area, goalies stick out like ocean liners surrounded by speedboats. Together, we make up an odd fraternity, a fellowship of proud masochists.

Our task is simple: Stop a vulcanized rubber puck, an inch thick and three inches in diameter, from entering a 4-by-6 foot goal. With composite sticks and curved blades, even recreational players can fire a puck upwards of 100 miles an hour. Adding insult to potential injury, the very nature of the position leads to more criticism than applause. We give up goals, but don't score them. We're often blamed for losses, but only occasionally praised for victories. We are, in short, the team’s lightning rod.

Oakman recalls a Plante quote - "How would you like to have a job, that when you made a mistake, a big red light went on and 18,000 people booed?"

"For me, that's a motivator, to join a very select group of men and women who step up to meet that challenge," says Oakman.

Challenge indeed. I always thrived on goaltending’s unique reality – by the position’s very nature, the goalie is the one player who can single-handedly stop an entire team from winning. After all, if the opponent doesn’t score, you can’t lose. And on those rare games when I’m really focused and feeling invincible, the puck looks the size of a balloon, and moves about as quick. In my mind’s eye, it seems I can see where the puck is going even before the shot is fired. Granted, those moments didn’t come often enough to sustain my dream of a pro career or Division I scholarship. But even now, when they happen, they’re magic.

Unfortunately, I quickly realize there’s nothing “magical” about goalie camp. I understand it’s purpose and promise, but I’m ill prepared for the workload. For the next five days, two hours each morning, two each afternoon, Ellison and his Puckstoppers colleagues run us through a gamut of drills and instruction designed to improve our game. Or kill us.

We work on stance, movement, angles, low shots, high shots, deflections, rebounds, breakaways. Shooting machines fire pucks at us relentlessly - one nicks a crease in my armor, just above my blocker, and my elbow stings for hours. During each session, usually following some tortuous skating or agility drill, Oakman, O'Connell and I exchange futile glances and muted words of encouragement. Sweat pours from old pores as we struggle to keep pace with youngsters a fraction of our age. Each day, we wonder aloud whether we can finish the week. Parents of younger campers look at us as though we've lost our marbles. Incredulous, I reply: "Hey, we're goalies!"

The inference, I trust, is crystal clear - goaltenders, whether young or aging, are by definition a bit off-center. We all survive - barely.

"I'm sure people were giggling behind my back," says O'Connell, who admits hoping to play well into his 60s. "Screw 'em. I always wanted to do this."

Two weeks after I hauled my oversized bag of goalie gear from the Mount Vernon Ice Center for the last time, and the aches have finally subsided, my evaluation from the Puckstoppers gang arrives. I glance at the list of the position's finer points, including everything from dexterity, glove saves and rebounds. Most of my ratings fall in the "fair" category, with some "good" and a few "excellent" marks. Charity points, I figure. Head coach Chris Dyson reminds me, "glove in front, pads a bit apart."

"If you work on those small points, your game will be huge," writes Dyson. "Unfortunately, there were so many 'small things' I can't remember them all!"

Dyson's good-natured jab is followed by a happy-face doodle. I can read between the lines. I'm being told, gently, "Don't quit your day job." Walter Mitty would be crushed. Not me. Come tomorrow night, I'll be down at the rink, facing rubber.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Unfinished business ...

Boston, overcast

I absolutely love this story, as it gets to the core of what This Old Jock is all about. I wrote two quick hits, one for the New York Times (which ran with the accompanying photo), and one for New York Magazine's web site. Here's the unabridged version, which I think captures more of the soul of the event.

Frozen in time
1989 teams reconnect to play canceled championship game

Talk about delayed gratification. When Delbarton's Mike Pendy and St. Joseph's Kenny Blum skate into the face-off circle for the opening drop of the puck on Saturday, April 3, at Mennen Arena in Morristown, N.J., it will be the culmination of a long, long wait. Twenty-one years, to be exact. More than a lifetime, considering that Pendy, Blum and their teammates, now all in their late 30s, were fuzzy-faced teenagers in 1989 when the two teams were first set to meet for the New Jersey high school hockey championships.

That game, however, never happened. In one of the most peculiar episodes in high school sports, the 1989 championship game, scheduled for March 18, was canceled due to a measles outbreak the affected both students and teachers at Delbarton, an all-boys commuting prep school in Morristown.

"It was the most bizarre thing," said James Olsen, a senior Delbarton defenseman in 1989 who now works for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "The school brought us into the auditorium to announce [the cancellation]. I honestly thought it was going to be a last-minute pep rally. It took a little time to register."

Until that decision, it looked like a dream final between the state's two top teams – St. Joseph's of Montvale sported a 24-2-1 mark, while Delbarton was seeded No. 2 with a 24-3-2 record – that had rosters littered with all-state selections. Two players, Kenny Blum of St. Joe's and Derek Maguire of Delbarton, would be selected in the 9th round of the National Hockey League draft later that spring. Then, in an instant, the game was scrapped.

The Delbarton coach, Jim Brady, vividly remembers that Friday, having practiced in the morning before attending business meetings in Princeton. Afterward, he drove to meet his team for a pre-game dinner. In the parking lot, he bumped into Olsen, who relayed that the game was canceled. "I thought he was kidding me," said Brady. "I walked into the restaurant, and there were all the kids, and it was like a morgue."

The finality of the state's decision, say the players, didn't hit home until the following week. A few days later, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's executive committee declared the two teams co-champions, and what might have been the greatest hockey final in New Jersey history was relegated to some dust-covered record book. It remains the only time co-champions have been declared in hockey.

"That was a pretty low moment for everybody," said Olsen. "We weren't going to have another shot it. Not everyone was going to play at college; some weren't going to be continuing their hockey at any competitive level. It was a lost opportunity."

On April 3, though, these players from 1989 will have the rare opportunity of a second chance. The thought of actually playing the game – dubbed the Frozen Flashback – started as a lark last spring. Talk began percolating after an off-hand comment by Pendy, a center on the '89 Delbarton squad, in a Star-Ledger article on the 20th anniversary of the non-game. "Maybe we could get all these guys together 20 years later, lace up the skates somewhere and play that game," the former Green Wave assistant captain told the Star-Ledger. While Pendy's quote prompted a few giggles, no one took it seriously, given the logistics of trying to bring 46 players together two decades after the fact. No one, that is, except Scott Williams.

Williams, a defenseman on the '89 St. Joe's team, saw parallels between the lost final and The Best of Times, a 1986 comedy starring Robin Williams as an aging banker who couldn't forgive himself for dropping the touchdown pass (thrown perfectly by Kurt Russell) that cost his teammates, and town, bragging rights against their arch rival. Soon, Williams hatched a plan to combine that storyline with the quintessential hockey movie – Paul Newman's Slap Shot – and the blueprint for the Frozen Flashback took shape. Buoyed by the support he got from an column by John Buccigross, Williams reached out to Delbarton.

He was steered toward Olsen ("James is always one to think big," said teammate Peter Ramsey), who was initially skeptical. But Williams struck a nerve when he unveiled his idea of the game being a charity for cancer research. Williams's mother Janice has brain cancer, and he thought the game could be a terrific fund-raising vehicle. Olsen, who recently lost his father to cancer, was taken with Williams's sincerity, and agreed to pitch in.

"That was really critical to making this event meaningful," said Olsen. "We're going to do some real tangible good for people who are suffering. Everybody I know has been touched in one way or another by cancer. It's devastating. I like the fact that people are going to use this opportunity to support a good cause."

The players also responded, with a reported 40 of the original 46 signing on. "It's timeless," said Maguire, an all-star defenseman who later played at Harvard and two years with the Montreal Canadiens’ top farm team. "Whether you're 17 or 40, you want to play the game."

"If anybody felt bad about what happened 21 years ago, they can feel good about it now," echoed Blum, who had an 11-year professional career after being drafted by the Minnesota North Stars. "We're not raising millions and millions of dollars, but we're doing something to contribute to a cause that needs as much help as possible."

To make up for roster shortfalls, each team can add five players (they must be alumni and have graduated prior to 1989). The prevailing enthusiasm, say former teammates, is a testament to the strong bond that hockey engenders. "What's been great is getting the whole community back together," said Maguire. "It's been fun to see to see the guys coming out of the woodwork."

Employing myriad connections through hockey, work, and their respective schools, Frozen Flashback organizers secured a number of corporate sponsorships, most notably Gatorade. According to Ramsey, a former Delbarton left wing and current managing director at Barclays Capital, the organizing group is close to covering its costs, and expects to top its fund-raising goal of $100,000 for cancer research. A prime beneficiary will be the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer program, as well as Jam for Janice, the Valerie Fund, and the respective schools. At the insistence of New Jersey Devils co-owner and Delbarton grad Michael Gilfillan, there was some thought given to the Prudential Center hosting the game, but that plan proved unwieldy. Instead, Gilfillan used his NHL contacts to acquire a number of items for the game's online auction including signed jerseys from superstars Wayne Gretzky, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Mario Lemieux—a cancer survivor himself. The MSG Network is on board to broadcast the game, which will be held at the 2,800-seat Mennen Arena, the original site of the championship match.

"The great thing about playing at Mennen, is that the place was packed for our games," said Olsen of Delbarton's home rink. "It was a great experience being on the ice in front of those crowds, and now we have one more opportunity to do it."

Of course, the prospect of a full house has players thinking they've got to put on a good show. Many skate regularly. Others are returning to the rink with a vengeance, touting new gear and a determination to recapture the fitness of their youth. All expect a good, clean game. "Some people are trying to portray this as a grudge match, and nothing could be further from the truth," said Ramsey. Pendy agreed. "There's bound to be some apprehension, but once the puck drops, I think everyone's going to have a good time with it and make it a class event."

The modified rules will mirror an adult recreation league: Full checking is prohibited, though contact is allowed. John Lively, a forward on St. Joe's '89 team and now a lieutenant for the Mount Vernon, NY, fire department, confirmed that Juan DeCarlo, one of the original referees scheduled for the 1989 game, will officiate the April 3 match.

"Hockey players are, by nature, competitive, and once the adrenaline gets pumping, that competitiveness is going to kick in," said Williams. "When we get on the ice, it's going to be us against the them."

Both sides have also decided that the game can't end in a tie; there will be a winner on April 3, even if it means sudden-death overtime. "I don't think anybody would want that," said Blum, chuckling. "Other than the charity part, that would be defeating the purpose."

There are no plans, however, to petition the NJSIAA to name the Frozen Flashback winner as the 1989 champion. "We kidded around about that, but I don't think it would be fair in terms of history," said Williams, laughing. "First, I don't think the state would go for it. And, at the end of the day, you can't have a title based on what happens 21 years later. Plus, the event has taken on such a larger cause."

For details on the April 3 game, and the online auction, visit

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Farewell to a fellow netminder

Boston, more rain

Heard from a good friend today that Chick DeAngelis recently passed away. The news was hardly shocking, but saddened me just the same. Our local rinks lost a true character when they lost Chickie. DeAngelis spent some six decades between the pipes. He was a medical marvel, and an inspiration to many, not just old goalies, but hockey players of every stripe. The following is a profile I wrote about Chick for The Hockey Magazine in 2002. Seems like yesterday. RIP, Chick.

The Golden-age Goalie

So, you think you've had a bad day on the ice? Missed a few open passes, an open net, or a defensive assignment that led to a goal or two? Maybe got a little banged up?

Now compare your bad day to the one Angelo "Chick" DeAngelis had on April 28, 1998. That was the day Chick's heart stopped. Cold. On the ice. Two days after his 68th birthday, playing in a stick practice with Bruins alumni at Hockeytown USA in Saugus, Mass., DeAngelis nearly dropped dead right in his goal crease.

"It was just a pick-up game," says DeAngelis, an East Boston native. "I was out there playing, and next thing I remember, I was in a hospital bed, four days later. I was just looking around, and I asked a nurse, 'what am I doing here?' "

According to retired State Sen. Robert Buell, who was also playing, State Trooper Dave O'Leary saved DeAngelis as stunned players, including Terry O'Reilly and Brad Park, looked on. Seconds after DeAngelis "collapsed on his face," Sgt. O'Leary rushed to his aid, recognizing the signs of a heart attack, started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and directed others to perform chest compressions, says Buell.

Once breathing, DeAngelis was transferred to Melrose Wakefield Hospital. Longtime friend James "Jay" DeMarco recalls that DeAngelis was upset, not because his game ended with an ambulance ride, but because the emergency medical staff had to cut off his favorite jersey to resuscitate him. The thought that his hockey playing days might be over never entered his mind. "He didn't care about the heart attack," says DeMarco. "He just wanted to know when he could get back in the net."

A week and a half later, doctors open up Chick's chest, and Roto-Rootered 60 years of heavy foods from his arteries during quadruple bypass surgery. "I asked them, 'If you're going to do surgery, I want to know if I'll be able to play hockey again. If not, then don't do it.' They told me 'You have to have the surgery. Your arteries are clogged. That's why you had the attack.' "

Within three months, Chick strapped the pads back on, and was back between the pipes at Hockeytown. "The doctor said to me, 'Take your time. Do a little here and there, because this thing takes about a year to heal.' I said 'We'll see.' Two months later, I felt fine, so I figured I'd try it out on the ice."

DeAngelis started slow - "only two or three times a week" - but was soon playing almost every weekday. "People were telling me my life would be over after the heart attack, to sit down and watch television the rest of my life," he says. "But that wasn't going to happen to me. I wasn't going to let the attack stop me. I was going to fight. And I beat it. And I'm still here."

Even today, at 72, DeAngelis still plays three to five times a week (usually after putting in an early morning shift at his family's bakery) in Saugus, Stoneham and Peabody, patrolling the goal line, never backing down, never shying away from the puck or the action. If he's got extra energy at the end of the day, he'll head to a local gym to work out on the treadmill or exercise bike.

"Chick is a legend," says Dave Fessenden, a regular at the noontime stick practice in Peabody, Mass.

"What can you say about a guy who loves the sport so much?" says John Cluett, 55, another Peabody regular. "He plays the game with enthusiasm and a lot of gusto. He doesn't ask for any quarter, and he doesn't give any quarter. I've never seen him duck, never heard him ask anyone to ease up."

A shade over five-feet tall, DeAngelis's head barely reaches above the crossbar. On that head you'll usually find a vintage Jacques Plante fiberglass mask, painted bright gold, tailored with custom padding (Chick's tried the newer, more popular cage/helmet combinations, but "I just can't get comfortable with them."). While the mask reminds some younger players of the homicidal Jason from the "Friday the 13th" horror movies, others, like Cluett, find themselves transported to another place and time.

"The first time I saw the old-style mask, I was thinking, 'Damn, that was one of the first things I recall about hockey,' " says the 55-year-old from Gloucester. "It brought me back to the '60s, and my high school hockey days."

Fessenden admits "I sat on the bench with him one day, and I said to him, just joking around, 'Chick, why don't you show these guys how tough you are and play without a mask.' And he said to me, 'I did that for 22 years.' That right there gives you some idea of the longevity he's had."

DeAngelis began playing in the 1940s, during the war years. "Once I learned to skate, I found that goaltending fascinated me," he says. "It looked like such a challenging position. And I've been playing the position ever since, for more than 55 years."

He's not particularly impressed with the current crop of pro goalies ("It's the equipment, it's a lot bigger. That's why these goalies are playing better."), but admits the game has gotten much quicker, even if players rely too much on the slap shot ("I try to tell kids to learn the wrist shot. The slap shot is much easier, one direct line - boom! But with the wrist shot, you don't know where it's going."). And his eyes still light up as he recalls the exploits of the great Glenn Hall, Turk Broda of the Maple Leafs, Bill Durnam of the Canadiens, and the Bruins' own Sugar Jim Henry and Frankie "Mr. Zero" Brimsek.

"He still refers to Tony Esposito as 'the kid who gets beat upstairs,' " says DeMarco, another East Boston goalie, with a laugh. "Tony O is my hero, but Chick will just say 'He's excellent down low, but you can beat him up top.' "

Which simply proves that DeAngelis not only loves to play, but he's a student of the game. ""He'll come to my games, and give me advice, like 'Jay, you're not cutting your angles down enough.' And I listen to every word he says, because it's backed up by 50 years of experience." That experience also provides a silver lining for the silver-haired set - the belief that they're never too old to play.

"I started skating again 8-9 years ago, and I was feeling a little guilty, playing hockey with a bunch of kids," says Fessenden, now 53. "When Chick showed up, I started thinking, 'Maybe I can just play hockey because I love it.' And that's the inspiration that he's given me - he's out there at his age, playing the toughest position on the ice, the most dangerous one. The biggest joke with my wife is that Chick's extended my career at least 20 years."

Others agree. "Just dragging all that gear through the door is an inspiration." says Cluett, with a smile.

"Chickie is proof that if you stick to your dreams, if you believe in something with a passion, you'll always stay young," says DeMarco. "He inspires me to want to play until my last days. That's what he wants - he wants to die right in the net."

Fortunately for those who've met DeAngelis during the past four years, his time didn't end on that fateful day in April, 1998.

All the best,

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The annual physical

CONSUMER WARNING: The following blog entry contains material of explicit nature, which some readers may find unsettling, or even disturbing!

Boston, waiting for the storm

There are few things in life more revealing, or more, um, invasive, than the annual physical. Not confession, not those heart-to-heart chats with my bride, not those long, soul-searching conversations with the man in the mirror. Nope, the annual physical exam takes the cake, because your body doesn't lie.

This year, I shuffled into Dr. Taylor's office resigned to hear the worst. It hadn't been a good year, physically speaking, and my body was a veritable road map of inactivity. Between a banged up shoulder (the result of a nasty over-the-handlebars mountain bike spill) and a persistent groin injury, my cycling and hockey playing had been severely curtailed over the past 18 months. And the proof was hanging over my belt. I had packed on at least a good 20 pounds of lard, absolutely useless adipose tissue. I knew that wasn't going to go over well with Dr. Taylor, a straight-shooter who I've known for almost a quarter century now.

A nurse in pajamas takes me through the rudimentary, baseline tests. I'm still a shade over 6-foot-2, which means I haven't started to shrink, vertically speaking. Horizontally, I continue to expand. My weight now hovers around 230. I'm tempted to toss off every last stitch of clothing, but I know that's not going to make much of a difference. The fact that the nurse says my weight "isn't bad" for someone my height and age (52 now) tells me all I need to know about the collective health of this country. She says the same for my pulse and blood pressure readings, which, if you charted on a graph for the past 15 years, would look like the front side of the Matterhorn. "OK," I tell myself, "you knew this wasn't going to be pretty."

So the doc comes in and, patiently, listens to my concerns and my confessions (I always feel, somehow, that I've let him down when I've let myself go). Some things are a natural byproduct of age ... the fading eyesight and faulty hearing. Others -- primarily a waistline running amok and the loss of muscle tone and flexibility -- are self-imposed. Dr. Taylor nods and smiles, pokes and prods, and records all the salient points on his laptop. In his matter-of-fact style, he tells me what I already know: I'm woefully out of shape, and need to turn things around if I hope to keep pursing any kind of truly "active" lifestyle. Actually, he didn't say "woefully," but I know better.

No physical, of course, is complete without "the exam." And Dr. Taylor, always the gentleman, always saves this indelicate test for last. I honestly don't mind the notorious digital exam. Not that it's pleasant, mind you, but it sure beats the alternative of not knowing if I might have prostate issues. Rarely can ignorance be more dangerous.

But everything seems to check out OK this time around. I pull up my trousers, and think about pulling myself up by the bootstraps and getting back into a sensible, and serious, exercise routine. I owe it to Lauri and the girls. And I owe it to myself.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Skiing back through the years

Boston, another splitter day! Sweet!

Skiing has such a rich history here in Northeast, and few places capture the lore as well as the New England Lost Ski Area Project, the brainchild of Massachusetts native Jeremy Davis. Just perusing the site, uncovering details of areas I'd been to, or heard about, of live nearby, such as Hamilton Ski Tow, pictured at right (I have no idea who that handsome character is), tugs at This Old Jock's nostalgic heart. This feature was written for the New England Ski Journal.

Lost but Not Forgotten

There’s a distinct paradox at the intersection of Jeremy Davis’ vocation and his cherished pastime. At his “real” job, as a meteorologist for Weather Routing Incorporated in upstate New York, Davis forecasts the future, guiding tankers and cargo ships over the Seven Seas. But in his free time, Davis delves into the past, embracing his avocation — the New England Lost Ski Area Project (NELSAP).

“I’ve always been fascinated by the way things change over time, how things evolve, through history,” says Davis from his home in Wilton, N.Y., outside Saratoga.

Davis, a 32-year-old Massachusetts native who graduated from Lyndon State College in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, admits he’s stuck in a time warp. He launched the NELSAP website ( as a hobby during his junior year in 1998. The idea sprung from a childhood curiosity with defunct ski areas, such as Mount Whittier in New Hampshire or Mount Agamenticus in southern Maine, that his family discovered during summer travels. He started with six and expected to find another 100 or so. At the most, 200. Instead, he uncovered more than 400 in the first few years. What he also learned was that he wasn’t alone in his love of ski lore. The site unleashed a tidal wave of nostalgia among thousands of skiers, young and old alike, and particularly Baby Boomers now taking the time to look in their personal rear view mirror at the winters of their youth.

“People like that lost Americana stuff, like lost diners, lost railroads and lost amusement parks,” says Davis. “This idea fits into that. It’s all fun, all positive memories. We’re representing the good times from the past for a lot of people.”

Narrowly defined, Davis’ site now catalogues more than 600 “lost” ski areas, ranging from tiny backyard slopes to larger resorts. Many were cozy areas with a few lifts, typically rope tows, J-bars and T-bars, maybe a lodge, and about a half-dozen trails. Close to Boston, for example, there’s Boston Hills on Route 114 in North Andover (where you can still barely make out the ragged silhouettes of the trails). Or, in my backyard on Boston’s North Shore, there once was Hamilton Hills. (“I remember the rope tow there,” a friend who grew up here told me. “It used to rip your mittens right off your hands.”)

But relegating NELSAP to narrow definitions is a disservice to Davis’ work. In reality, the NELSAP site is a vibrant, teeming community, a living history of a sport that, to many, is synonymous with New England winters. A decade after its launch, the site still averages 900 visitors a day, and the NELSAP discussion board rivals any on the web unrelated to the Las Vegas line. That’s because, with each ski area, the site captures a place and time capable of setting off a torrent of tales. Those memories are all the more prized because most of these areas no longer exist. NELSAP mends a frayed connection strained by the passing of decades — a cyber world where temperamental lifts run from sunrise to sunset and the snow flies forever.

Glenn Parkinson, president of the New England Ski Museum in North Conway, N.H., understands the deep vein that Davis is mining. Parkinson coined the phrase “lost ski areas” in “First Tracks,” his book on Maine ski history. He added a final chapter on lost ski areas as an afterthought and was stunned by the response.

“It really struck a chord and made ski history local and made it personal,” he says. “Jeremy’s taken it one step further by putting it on the Internet.

“What Jeremy has done with NELSAP is tapped into people who are in their teens, 20s and 30s, as well as their 50s and 60s. It brings people in to see their own personal history, and that sparks an interest in the broader context of ski history.”

Across the six-state region, particularly Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, today’s mega-resorts conjure images of graceful turns on groomed slopes. It’s easy to forget that alpine skiing as we know it, either as a sport or a livelihood, didn’t exist a century ago. But in those hundred short years, the sport has undergone an incredible transformation. Skiing captivated us. With the advent of rope tows and chairlifts, ski areas began popping up like drive-in theaters. Soon, ski trains started hauling well-heeled adventure-seekers from the urban centers of Boston and New York to northern outposts including Stowe, Vermont and North Conway, N.H.

Local areas — true mom and pop operations — sprouted everywhere, creating new generations of skiers, and establishing a relatively inexpensive feeder system for the bigger resorts. I’m a product of those times, growing up in the 1960s just outside of New York City. My siblings and I admired legends including Jean-Claude Killy and Billy Kidd, and tried to imitate their exploits on any incline we could find. Often, those delusions of grandeur were played out on tiny, rough-cut hills near my grandparents’ home in Manchester, N.H.

Most, sadly, have vanished. The 1970s were especially harsh on smaller slopes, when a confluence of high gas prices, a spike in insurance premiums and several severe snow droughts forced many to close. Often, a padlock was slapped on the lodge, and owners simply walked away. At others, equipment was auctioned off. All left behind spectral trails that grow more dim with each passing year.

Still, like any history, evidence of these “lost areas” remains. There are photographs and illustrated trail maps, brochures and patches, newspaper accounts and magazine articles. Much of the proof is as ephemeral, and elusive, as memories, oral tales passed down through generations, recollections of those who braved Old Man Winter, donning leather boots and strapping on spring-loaded bindings and wooden boards.

There also are tangible vestiges of these bygone slopes — base lodge foundations, warming huts, lift shacks and engines, tower stanchions, entire lifts. These remnants, distant cousins of the hand-built stone walls that lace old farms or fishing villages dating back to Revolutionary times, are cables connecting us to the past, a testament to skiing’s New England legacy.

“You can almost see all the people having fun, the way things used to be,” says Davis, acknowledging that the kinship that once defined the sport is fading. “It’s definitely a different experience now, and a lot of these areas are catering to the upper-class vacationer, rather than the neighborhood kid.”

Today, having recorded close to 600 lost areas in New England alone, and almost a hundred more elsewhere in the Northeast, Davis can barely keep pace with the free flow of photographs, memorabilia, written recollections and historical fact. Combined with technological advances, from satellite photography to digitized articles, Davis is awash in material for the site.

“People are giving me more information than ever,” says Davis, who admits that his responsibilities as a full-time forecaster and homeowner have cut into the time once devoted to the website. “The floodgates are open. But the great thing about e-mails is that they never go away. I have all that information, and it’s all great stuff.”

Davis also loves sleuthing lost areas year-round, on skis, on snowshoes or on foot, and often organizes NELSAP outings. What’s the attraction? “Why do you go to a ghost town?” Parkinson replies. “It’s the mystery.”

For Davis, seeing these slopes in person brings them to life, strengthening that bond. “When I visit these areas, I always try to find pictures from newspapers or magazines, to see what they were like 20, 30, 40 years ago,” he says. “Then, when I’m looking up at an overgrown slope, with its broken-down lifts, I try to mentally picture everything that was going on. You can just use your imagination, like a Polaroid camera, to erase the trees, and eventually see the place as it looked back then.”

However, there also is a sense of urgency about Davis’ efforts. Not only are the areas being lost to time’s inexorable march, but so are those who were so connected to the sport’s earlier days. “Time is running out to document a lot of the areas, particularly the more obscure ones,” he says. “They’re either being developed, or they’ve grown in so much that they’re totally indistinguishable.”

At the ripe old age of 32, Davis has a renewed perspective with the realization that several areas he skied at as a youngster, such as King Ridge in New Hampshire, have shut down. There also is the human component. Memories fade, and older skiers, get, well, older. Many are now gone, taking their memories and stories with them.

“We only have so many years before a lot of these older skiers unfortunately pass away,” says Davis. “We’re at an age when there are still people who remember skiing in the ’30s, but in another 10 years we’re not going to have that many people left.”

For those of us who remain, NELSAP offers a welcomed run down Memory Lane, long after our favorite childhood areas have faded from the landscape.

For more information on the New England Lost Ski Area Project, or to purchase Davis’s new book, “Lost Ski Areas of the White Mountains,” visit

All the best,