Offseason

This is not supposed to be a post about hockey. So to start, let me introduce how I became a hockey fan and ultimately lead to how it currently affects my day-to-day life. If you’re not a hockey fan, skip to the middle!

My earliest hockey memory is the Buffalo Sabres sweep of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1998 Stanley Cup semi-finals. I barely remember the conference finals against Washington, not being old enough to stay up and watch. It’s tough being an 8 year old fan.

I’m still angry about this.

I remember the Sabres beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1999 to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 24 years. It was the day of my 10th birthday celebration and our neighbor cut through our cable line with a tiller or something. Oops. We still had the game on the radio though, and it was a 5-2 slaughter by Buffalo. (NOTE: My memory fails: that was only Game 4. But that conference clinching game came just two days later and I watched that as well)

I remember Jason Woolley blowing away the Dallas Stars in Game 1, but I have no memory of the injustice featured here. A boy’s dreams are shattered. In 2000 I watched as John Leclaire of the Philadelphia Flyers scored a goal through the side of the net, a goal which inexplicably stood. A few seasons of mediocrity and a lockout later and I had forgotten about my beloved Sabres.

There’s too much red and black in the NHL, but I do miss that logo.

Hockey returned in 2005 with new rules allowing for less obstruction and promoting more speed and scoring. The Sabres somehow were perfectly tailored for this new system and tore the Eastern Conference up, ultimately finishing 3rd overall, but in the 4th seed because Ottawa was just a little better. (Warning for Sabres fans: chill inducing clips ahead) They slaughtered Philadelphia in 6 in the first round, annihilated the Ottawa Senators in 5 in the second, and took the Carolina Hurricanes to seven games despite having a new injured defenseman every night. Nobody gave them a chance, yet they were 20 minutes from a Stanley Cup berth.

In 2006, the Sabres were no longer underestimated, winning their first President’s Trophy. In the playoffs, the New York Islanders fell in 5; the New York Rangers fell in 6, despite almost taking a 3-2 series lead in Game 5. The Sabres and Senators reversed their previous year’s roles in the third round, with the Senators making quick work of the Sabres in 5 and scoring the clinching goal in OT no less. A boy’s dreams once again dashed. However, at this time the hockey love was firmly cemented in my heart (aside: cement in the heart is not a good idea), and in the next few years my love of the game expanded beyond just a love of the Buffalo Sabres.

First, the Phoenix Coyotes drew my eye for some reason. They sucked so badly. In college, my uber New Jersey Devils friend and his family invited me and some of our friends to a Devils’ game in Newark. It was against Phoenix and naturally I was the only person in the arena wearing a ‘Yotes jersey. Phoenix won (their 3rd straight win with me in attendance) but that season was another failure in a long string of failures.

Somehow, the best of my teams of late.

Jump ahead to 2012 and the Phoenix Coyotes have made the playoffs for three straight years. This year they won the Pacific Division and advanced all the way to the Conference Finals, both for the first time, before falling to the (inevitable champion) Los Angeles Kings. What a ride that was. Now I just have to watch as the team gets moved somewhere else, but that’s a story for another time.

Love it.

I also enjoy watching the Vancouver Canucks. One day I might just move to the Pacific Northwest, so I’m prepared should that happen. I started following them in early 2010, just in time to see an incredible run to the Cup Final the next year. Despite my brief time on the Canucks bandwagon, the way they beat the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and sank the San Jose Sharks to advance to the Final will forever give me chills.

So at this point, I find myself enjoying the game as a whole, regardless of who’s playing, My traditional hate for teams like Philadelphia and Ottawa started to fade into something else. I started liking teams based on who they are and how they battle, not where they play or what their history is (except Toronto, because it’s the Leafs and the Leafs suck). This year I somehow found myself rooting for both Philadelphia and Ottawa. It could be that I love a good underdog story (see: Los Angeles Kings, who have my support despite dispatching two of my teams). I could also blame HBO’s 24/7 for humanizing the players and coaches. Or maybe I’ve just grown up.

Anyway, I love hockey. In fact, I love it so much that, come April, there is little else I do. I load up my internet feeds and watch as many games as I can (often simultaneously) of the glory that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I take it all in and savor every moment of it, trying not to miss anything. Tonight, I will come home from work and for the next 150+ minutes, indulge in a potential Stanley Cup winning game. I will be focused completely on the game, breaking only for dinner and my regular workout. However, as I just said, this is a potential cup winning game. Should the Los Angeles Kings complete their Cinderella run with a sweep of the New Jersey Devils, there will be no more hockey until October. So now, with the offseason potentially at hand (and no more good weekday TV shows on the air to queue up [aside: I love that word, queue]) I have free time.

(Non-hockey fans, start reading here!)

For the first time in a few months I have to figure out just what I want to do with all of this sudden free time, so here are my thoughts and the reason why I wrote this non-hockey related blog post to begin with:

My current obsession.

Books: I’m halfway through the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, currently 850 pages into Book 3, “A Storm of Swords.” I am taking my sweet time reading it so I can start “A Dance With Dragons” when it comes out in paperback in August. Plus, and this is only what I’ve heard, it might be a good idea to take a break after “A Storm of Swords” because the fourth book “A Feast For Crows” is much more tedious and bleak. I plan to do that as well. (Fans of the series should understand to what my blog title and header are referring. If you’re still reading one of the first two and a half books, DO NOT GOOGLE THEM) I’ve also got a few other books on my list. I’m sure I’ll get to them after I re-read ASoIaF for the 3rd time. And hey, if my writing gets any better, you might just see another long-winded blog post as I break down the characters and themes as they relate to modern life despite being based in a medieval fantasy world replete with magic and dragons.

I can’t wait… bitch.

TV: LESS THAN SIX WEEKS UNTIL BREAKING BAD!!! Seriously though, July 15th. It’s marked on my calendar. In sharpie. But for now, after Mad Men ends this coming weekend, there will be no shows I am interested in watching currently on the air. One of my coworkers has suggested I watch “True Blood.” That, or I could re-watch “The Wire.” Maybe I should marathon “Game of Thrones” again! So many possibilities!

Music: I own 5 musical instruments. I consider myself decent at all of them, but not particularly skilled at any of them. I think it might be beneficial if I actually work at learning them properly. I suppose I should have said this first, but I’m self-taught in guitar and drums and haven’t taken piano lessons in 10 years. My skills come from nowhere in particular, and in fact most of what I play now I learn by ear. I think it’s time I burned that house down and rebuilt from the ground up. After all, you can’t spell fundamentals without foundation. I also used to write some music. I haven’t done that since 2008, during the best summer ever. I’ll probably write a separate post about my music eventually, the writing process, my inspirations, etc.

My finest works to date

Art: My collection of photographs is somewhat extensive. Every year since I got my first digital camera in 2004 I’d taken more and more photographs… until 2012. It’s already June and I have very little to show for it. Maybe it’s just that now I’m settled into a work routine and have no free time (hey, what about after hockey ends!?). Perhaps it’s that I’m lame and don’t go anywhere exciting on my days off. Who knows. Maybe my photographic muse has left me. Time to grab the camera and start shooting again.

I also have a rather odd collection of paintings I’ve done over the years, from cartoon avatars to hockey logos to re-imagined photographs. I have an easel and all of my paints from home and one blank canvas yet to be transmogrified. It’s also the only canvas I have left that fits my last homemade custom frame. Actually, that’s probably the reason why I haven’t painted yet. Someday I’ll overcome that roadblock. (But it is not this day!)

Exercise: In February I started running a lot. Almost every day. I did that all the way through March. In early April, I had a bad day at work and when I went to run that day, what was supposed to be a short 2 to 3 mile run to blow off steam turned into my first half-marathon. Hard work finally paid off! And then a week later, the playoffs started. In the later rounds there was less hockey, but being May it was too hot outside to bear running.  I suppose this one isn’t really hockey related, so much. In fact, I often do my regular weight training during hockey games. There’s nothing like watching a goal go for video review while in the middle of a set of bench press. Problem solved!

Learning: I’m always learning and there’s so much I can do just at home! I have all of the work I did in college to reexamine, professional licensing exams to study, textbooks from my job that I could peruse, foreign languages to learn, skills to acquire, and whatever other random crap I can shove into this brain of mine. Oh yeah, and freakin’ Wikipedia. At this rate, how the hell do I have any free time at all? Look at all this STUFF I could beknowing!

I guess my point is this: I spend too much time watching hockey when there’s a world of excitement to discover! No, that’s not it really, but I am going to find a way to make all of these things coexist. If I haven’t done any of the above in the next week (or the week after hockey ends, whichever comes second), you are free to fly through the internet and slap me. I’m serious, I could use the encouragement.

Recap (WARNING: extremely long and incredibly verbose)

Oh, hi! I didn’t see you there. How serendipitous of you to stumble upon this veritable vichyssoise of verbiage! It’s been 3 years (and 1 day!) since I last wrote a formal blog post so pardon the unoriginality as I rediscover my muse. Before I delve into the clutter shaking around inside my brain, I figured I should take this time to review the major moments of my life from June 2009 up to now. …and go!

“Holy crap, that’s Raine Maida and he’s 20 feet in front of me.”

On July 3rd 2009 I saw Our Lady Peace in Lockport, New York. It was a free show and I showed up 5 hours early. Seems a bit early doesn’t it? It was, but my hyper-punctuality was rewarded with a soundcheck performance to a crowd of maybe twenty. Afteward, Jeremy Taggart and Duncan Coutts wandered over to the side of the stage to chat with fans. I was lucky enough to be among them and I got a charming photo with Duncan.

Duncan Coutts and a guy who looks kinda like me if I had long hair.

Lovely! Being an easily starstruck guy, I was shaking with excitement from then until the end of the show; I was so brimming with adrenaline (or whatever) that the next two hours of standing on the edge of the stage waiting for the show to start seemed to take forever. There were two opening acts; the first was utterly unremarkable, but the second took me completely by surprise. It was a band called Inward Eye and they’re a trio of brothers from Winnipeg.

Inward Eye

They put on a hell of a live show, and if you’re into rock in the style of (The) Ramones or The Clash, I highly recommend checking them out. Another short break and finally, Our Lady Peace came on and it was incredible. Unfortunately my head was already ringing with tinnitus but the sheer thrill of seeing one of my favorite bands perform mere 10 minutes in front of my face quickly abated my physical ills. By that point, and I took a picture of it, there were probably 1000 people behind me. I never noticed when they came, being transfixed on the stage, but it was packed out there in that…parking lot. The best parts of the concert happened at the end though:

Through the distortion on my cell phone camera, you can vaguely see Raine Maida demonstrating “off-stage presence”

1) Raine Maida jumped off the stage in front of me, ran over to a van from 103.3 THE EDGE and proceeded to climb on top, serenading the crowd the whole time (Starseed, I think). He then ran back across in front of me and climbed up against the crowd barrier just to my right.

After a few seconds, the grunts at event security pulled him off and assisted in getting him back up on stage. At this point my camera battery was long dead, but I grabbed some crappy pics on my cell phone. And of course,

Our Lady Peace

2) Steve Mazur threw me a guitar pick. Yeah, he looked straight in my eyes and tossed it over to me. As luck would have it, it didn’t make it to me. But, and there’s a happy ending, the security guy picked it up off the ground and shoved it into my outstretched hand narrowly beating out the less enticing hand of dude to my left. Sucker.

And then the show was over, I escaped into the crowd to get back to my car, and drove out before wild traffic appeared. And then I went to Mighty Taco and spent the dollar I had in my pocket on a taco. Sweet success.

On October 20th, 2009, my intramural hockey team won the league championship.

Hey, it’s me!

I don’t think I’ve had a greater sports victory in my life and the memory of (most of) that night remains as fresh in my head as a fish packed within the last 48 hours at Pike Place Market in Seattle. We were the team to beat, and they were the underdogs. Like any good underdog story, they scored first. And did they ever: 11 seconds in and I was made to look like an idiot.

Now, I had a history of trying to over-perform in these situations; the last two seasons saw my team making it to the championship game only to lose both times to, stat-wise, clearly inferior teams. Both of those games I scored my team’s only goals (not completely sure, but definitely the only 2 of the first loss). That’s good.

I also tried to do everything when it seemed like my teammates weren’t able to contribute. That’s bad. So flash-forward to Fall 2009 and we’re down early in our third straight championship game. I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking “hey, why not go for three straight losses and be like the St. Louis Blues!” Okay, you weren’t thinking that, and neither was I actually, but I digress. It looked like our third straight championship loss was at hand and we hadn’t even played a full minute yet!

Well, a bunch of stuff happened and sometime in the middle of the period, this guy on our team “Steve,” which isn’t actually his name decided he was sick of being behind so he took the puck, skated around a bunch of people, and roofed a shot in off the post. Hooray, tie game! My memory fails me now, but the other team came back to score again, blah blah blah skip ahead and it’s 1 minute left in the game. TIME OUT, we said. SCORE A GOAL, we said. So, in true douche-tastic fashion we put our five best skaters out on the ice for the remainder of the game. Being one of them, I took the spot at center. Faceoff in their zone, drawn back to the point. I move to the goalmouth like a center-man does and watch as my point-men blast shot after shot toward the goal. Most end up being cleared back to them. Then one stuck. It sat there in the crease just in front of the goalie’s leg pad. With a swift snap of the blade, I determinedly jammed that stupid disk of rubber into the goal. Holy crap; 22 seconds left, it’s tied. Back to the bench to celebrate.

“Steve” and me, preparing for ooooOOOOOOoooovertime.

This was not over yet though. The five of us stayed out, and there we would stay for the rest of the game. We let the clock run down, but not before blasting their net with a few decent shots. No luck. Overtime had come. This was unfamiliar territory for us; OT occurs only in the playoffs in intramurals and we had never been tied in a playoff game before. 5 minutes of skating, then a shootout if necessary. So much pressure. So it began, and we came out limp. The puck entered our zone and didn’t leave for what seemed like 10 minutes. Then it happened, a puck sliding up the corner boards toward our blue line. And Steve grabbed it. He sails through the pointman like he’s an apparition and I join him on the rush. Once again my memory fails me; I don’t recall if there was a defender there or not, but in any case it was an odd-man rush. Steve was busting down the right wing and I was skating up the middle. In that moment, there was no pressure, no sound, no thoughts. He was going to pass to me, and I would make no mistake. The goaltender frozen to his left post, there was nothing but net to shoot at. The puck was as large as a beach ball. The pass was perfect, the connection was perfect, the shot was…weak, but effective. Immediately, I turn to my left to curl back around to our bench, which is overflowing with red jerseys, spilling over the boards toward me. I leap for joy and they tackle me down to the ice. It’s amazing what breaking a championship drought feels like. Now you might be thinking “but you’re playing intramural hockey, it didn’t mean anything.”

Fall 2009, D-League Ice Hockey Champions

And that’s true, but for a team that was put together with misfits and eager college freshmen, who struggled to break .500 in its first two seasons, this was the best thing that could ever happen to us as a hockey team. And it was glorious.

As I get closer to present day, more than just a few great moments are popping into my head, so I’ll spend less time painting vivid pictures of those in favor of fitting in more stuff that I can think of! (Plus, holy crap I’m already up to 1400 words.)

The long and frozen and then later thawed road.

In January of 2010, my dad and I hiked the Grand Canyon. Six miles one way, from snowy and cold Northern Arizona, to sunny and warm Northern Arizona. I don’t recall the numbers but it had to be something like 3000 ft elevation Chang. I have about a million pictures from that hike (and some of them are shockingly featured next to these paragraphs!) It was a little surreal being bundled up in heavy clothing walking on snow and frozen mud down slowly thawing trail to a warm grove of trees stuck in perpetual autumn.

Colorado River, way down in the hole.

At the end of the trail is a sheer drop down into the Colorado River. Not being one for unsafe heights, I kept my distance from the edge, but the view was outstanding. Surprisingly, the view of the canyon above was not too spectacular; it just seemed like I was in a flat desert with some buttes around me. Maybe my memory’s been distorted, but I thought it was odd. Anyway, being winter we only had a few hours of daylight to get back up to the rim. Of course, uphill is much harder than downhill and we couldn’t walk. My hips wouldn’t work. I might have tried pushing my legs up using my arms… it was rough. Long story short, I couldn’t walk for 4 days. Woohoo!

For the next six months I dated a girl. I was superficially happy; hell I was even genuinely happy at least once or twice, but eventually my insides started to rot. Oh well, live and learn.

That’s right, it’s called “Mid-Hudson River Power Utility Corp!”

Starting in May of 2010, I was an intern for a small electric utility in southern Upstate New York. I forget the name, but it was located in the central Hudson valley, and did I mention it was a gas & electric utility? It is a lovely place to work with a surprisingly young workforce of employees who will seemingly do anything to welcome you and make you feel at home at your job. My bosses were especially awesome: on more than one occasion we went out for lunch during work and we even went on a field trip to the nearby waste-to-energy power plant (which included a stop for ice cream! The field trip, not the garbage plant. Gross.) I spent every workday plotting giant maps of the power distribution system, coloring in the lines based on the number of AC phases, and driving around looking at the lines in person.

Three-phase Optimus Prime!

I spent probably 50% of my summer on the road in a stupid periwinkle Chevy Lumina with the other intern in my department either driving or looking up at the power lines. We had air conditioning and WRRV plays some decent, albeit repetitive, music so life was pretty swell. I did however live in a dorm condo at a nearby college. This slice of real estate featured four bedrooms, a kitchen, a “living area,” two bathrooms, and EIGHT people. Yeah, if you know me, you must know that I went crazy living there. I spent every weekend away somewhere else. Some of the people I lived with were pretty shitty people too. Drama queens and people with severe insecurities. Half of the time it was hell; the other half was spent playing Kan-Jam. Luckily, my brain filtered out all of the crap and I can look back on my time there with fond memories, but I fear my experience was tainted.

Did I mention I dated a girl during that time? Long-distance? Yeah, that went so well. Being in California now, a two-hour drive doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

Barefooth Truth (and Harry, the guy in the middle)

Skipping back, in April of 2010 I met one of my favorite bands ever, Barefoot Truth. They were doing a charity show at RPI (how the hell that came about, I still don’t know) but, being a relatively unknown band, they didn’t exactly draw. I am a fan of small shows though, so win for me! They did an interview at WRPI, the campus radio station, on the morning of their show. When I heard they were doing that, I marked it on my Google Calendar in sharpie. I sat in the studio watching these five guys play their stuff live on the radio. It was awesome.

Funny thing, this CD features only two of the current band members.

I brought one of my CDs down for them to sign and I chatted with each for a little bit. They’re all chill guys from New England, and wicked talented at their chosen instruments. The show that night was fun, and they played a certain song that I politely requested at our earlier meeting, so I was quite a happy camper. Jump ahead to January 2011 and they’re back in town! I go to see them in Albany and they put on another hell of a show. Afterward I go back to chat with a couple of the guys again and to my surprise they actually remembered me. That’s cool. Maybe they were just being nice, I don’t know, but the keyboardist referenced some stuff we talked about earlier. Hooray basic social interaction skills! So…what was I talking about?

Playing around at WRPI.

Oh yeah, Barefoot Truth. I’ve seen them twice, met them twice, I own two signed CDs and a signed setlist… and they’re kind of awesome people. If you’re into indie-folk-rock-jam-roots (Dispatch, Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews to a lesser extent), definitely check them out.

On May 28th 2011, I graduated from college. On my 22nd birthday. Not that I keep track or anything, but it’s in my top 2 for best days ever. It’s probably actually #1 but my nostalgia-coloured lenses are obfuscating and possibly overvaluing my probable #2 (July 4, 2008 if you’re wondering. Maybe I’ll write why later [I know what you’re thinking, sicko. No, that day was genuinely wholesomely awesome]).

What is this, a graduation for ants!?

I spent the day with the most awesome people in my life and for most of them, that was the last time through to this very moment that I’ve seen them. Leaving college the next day was the hardest thing I’ve had to do, emotionally. I moved across the country and that was not even close to as hard. That weekend was completely sweetbitter. Yes, sweetbitter. Bittersweet is backwards and doesn’t make any sense in this context. Thank the seven gods for modern technology though. Without Facebook and Twitter, I would never have gotten through the next week. It’s nice to know that even when I’m hundreds (or later, thousands) of miles away, I can still talk to anyone as if they’re right there next to me.

Nice segue. In August of 2011, I moved to California from New York. I received a job offer in July and spent the next four weeks planning how it would all happen.

My life, as it was, in a nutshell.

I soaked up my fill of Western New York, packed up all of my crap into a tiny trailer, got into a car and drove. Okay, it’s a little less dramatic than that. I went with my mom and she drove the whole first day. I’m such a good son. We did however split the driving fairly equally over the span of the journey so it’s all good. In fact, I think there’s a lot to talk about here so I’ll expand on this in another post later.

So I currently live in California. I spend my days working and my nights being tired from work. I’m happy with where I am at the moment and you can see some of the highlights of the journey that brought me from where I was in my sophomore year of college to here. No doubt I’ll have more to say on any number of these things as well as some random crap.

If you’re down here you’ve suffered through 2800 words of probably utter schlock and inane babble. If you’re still here, dear reader, you’re a trooper and I salute you. Thanks for reading! 🙂

You’re doin’ great, kid.

Semper ubi sub ubi

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