For rent: A fanI can honestly say that I am not a fan of any specific NHL (or other hockey) team. Now, that doesn't mean that I don't care who wins, because I do. I just want the best team to win. And before you say that the best team always win -- because they win -- let me add something. I want the team that I think plays the best hockey to win.
Or, that's what I like to think.
I've had dozens of favorite teams over the years, and I've always wished the best for them, but I've never been the rabid fan that you see in the stands. I've never wrapped myself in aluminium foil and pretended to be the Stanley Cup. Or, even the Canada Cup the Finnish champion gets.
(I, have, however, painted my face blue and white, once, in Germany, but that's another story).
Picking an NHL team to root for was hard. Now, believe it or not, when I was a kid, there were no NHL games broadcast in Finland so I didn't know anything about the teams or players. Geez, when I was a kid, there were no European players in the NHL. Well, OK, some, I'm not Borje Salming old. But back in the day, going to the NHL still meant "going pro" and getting rid of the helmet. And there were only six teams in the league. Toronto sounded good, and according to the people in the know, they played some seriously good hockey.
Then I got my hands on an old hockey media guide, don't even remember which team, or if it maybe was the International Ice Hockey Federation's yearbook, but in that media guide, there was a story about "The Kid". We're talking 1980.
I read the story, and then I read it again. And again. And then I dug up my Mom's typewriter (uh, that would be a machine that prints the letters you press on the keyboard onto a piece of paper in real time) and translated the story into Finnish.
That was the first -- and to date, the only -- story I ever typed about Wayne Gretzky. Anyway, needless to say, I became an Oiler fan. And then a Kings fan. And man, we went to the Finals! After that, I was, um, an avid follower of the St. Louis Blues. And the finally, a Ranger fan.
Which was weird because I had not been a Ranger fan in 1994 when they won the Stanley Cup. In fact, I was cheering for the Vancouver Canucks that early morning in Finland, because I had met their goaltender Kirk MacLean a few years earlier and thought he was such a classy guy that he deserved to win.
Plus, I thought the Canucks played better hockey.
Well, Gretzky retired, leaving me with no team so I went with Sami Kapanen and the Flyers. But I bet he's going to retire soon, too, so I need to be prepared.
A friend of mine sent me a nice present today: Tuomo Ruutu's game-ready (the collectors know) World Cup sweater. Awesome sweater, awesome guy, awesome player.
I just wish the Blackhawks were playing some really good hockey.
Halfway thereIt's a long, long season, isn't it? I know the players and coaches always talk about how January is murder, but I must admit that I am suffering from a pretty bad case of midseason fatigue as well.
I feel like I am just going through the motions: reading the papers, scanning the Web sites and blogs, making fake line combinations for Turin, memorizing key stats, and yes, staying up to see some games. So, from the outside it may seem like I am still that dedicated hockey fan that I was in October.
Only, deep down, I know that I'm a fake. For one, checking the NHL scores is not the first thing I do each morning. Making a triple espresso is.
It's not like I have turned my back on hockey or the NHL (by the way, they're not synonyms) or anything, it's just that I'm not 100 percent committed. I skim the newspapers, I mark all the hockey feeds "read" immediately, I fall asleep on the couch (and check the nhl.com highlights in the morning), and just check the top three of each category in the stats.
The problem -- if you can call it a problem -- is that I still can't just walk away, make a clean break and go on a vacation on an island somewhere. I have to know what's going on in the hockey world. I want to see the coolest moves -- and yeah Jussi Jokinen, what a penalty shot! -- and I want to know how the Finns are doing. And I definitely don't want to get caught with my pants down when a friend of mine asks me about a trade or how some player is doing. I need to know. Can't help it.
Maybe I'm a perfectionist, maybe just a besserwisser and a jerk.
So, yesterday somebody asked me what I thought about Meszaros, and I said that I didn't drink tequila. How did I miss Andrej Meszaros's climb to the number one spot in plus/minus?
That's when I knew I was in a serious slump.
I blame it on a hockey overdose and the fact that the sun sets at 3.30 pm over here. I also blame the new NHL schedule a little bit. To me, the NHL is a Groundhog league in January: it feels like you see the same games and read the same stories every day. (And yes, my cable operator is still showing only games from the East coast).
And every morning, I wake up to that same day: Jagr scored, Chicago lost, somebody crashed the Canadiens' practice. I wake up on the same, red couch to the same nagging feeling that I forgot something.
I get a triple espresso. And I check the scores and stats. Go Andrej.
Nothing ventured, nothing gainedI noticed that Macintosh evangelist, venture capitalist, author Guy Kawasaki has started his own blog. I am a sucker for great stories, so I surfed to Kawasaki's site immediately to see what he was up to now when I saw this sentence in his blog: "If only I could get paid for answering the question, 'How can I get people to evangelize my product?' I would be able to stop working and play hockey every day."
Guy, you were born in Hawaii, you've lived in California, how did you find hockey?
I started hockey three years ago to play in a kids versus parents game. At the time, I was 48 years old, and I had never skated in my life. The first time I went on the ice, it was a religious experience--similar to when I met my wife, saw a Macintosh for the first time, and became a Christian.
Since then, I've been obsessed with becoming the best hockey player a fifty-something year old Hawaiian can be.
I love hockey for four reasons: first, it is extremely cerebral: you have to keep track of four teammates, five opponents, two goalies, the puck, your stick, and the various lines plus the fact that the puck seldom goes out of bounds so there's a lot of math/physics going on, too.
Second, the way we play in California anyway, it's a lot less destructive to your body. I used to play basketball, and I was always getting a sore back, aching knees, gouged eyes, dislocated fingers, you name it. Hockey is a much safer sport.
Third, it's great for parents. You don't have to worry about the weather. Games start and end on time. At my rink, we can sit upstairs and drink beer and watch our kids play. And, because all the parents are behind the glass, they can't scream at the players, coaches, and refs.
Fourth, here in Silicon Valley anyway, it's very egalitarian. With a sport like golf, you're hanging around with billionaires because it's a ritzy country club. Where I play, people don't know who I am, and they would care less if they did. I'm not playing with some famous venture capitalist-I'm playing with an electrician, dump truck operator, or college student. No one's asking me for venture capital or to look at their deal.
Where do you play? How often?
I play at Ice Oasis in Redwood City, California. It's about two miles from my house. Not exactly a backyard rink, but it's open all year, and I don't have to shovel snow.
I'm in two adult leagues plus I play pickup hockey at least once a week. I also practice skating (which is my weakness) another two to three times a week. All told, I'm on the ice about five times a week.
Wow. What position do you play?
Anything but defense because I can't skate backwards very well, and my entire outlook on life is to attack and score. I cannot reprogram my mind at this advanced an age.
Shooting left or right?
Right. No one told me you're supposed to shoot left when I started. Heck, no one told me to buy skates that were two sizes smaller than your shoe size. I didn't even realize you had to have your skates sharpened before you use them.
How would you characterize yourself as a hockey player?
Slow and chippy, but I can shoot. I built a backyard rink out of Sport Court, and I have taken thousands of shots back there. I'll put my wrist shot up against most Canadians'.
My buddy, Jamie Baker, the color guy on Sharks radio and former Sharks center describes my game as a "good shot but skates like he's on high heels."
Is that different from how you'd characterize yourself as a person?
I never wear high heels.
After particularly bad games, I hope the guys see me give a keynote speech. I want them to know that although they can kick my ass in hockey, I can kick their ass even worse when I'm in my element.
I am where I am in business--and hockey--because of the sheer volume of practice and hard work I'm willing to put in.
What is your greatest memory about playing hockey?
I was once behind the net with the puck, and my winger was standing right in front of the goal. I chipped at the puck, and on the second attempt I got it to go over the back of the net, over the goalie, and onto the ice where the winger put it in. It was Gretzky-like--at least the way I remember it.
Another time my buddy Bret Hedican of the Hurricanes played pickup hockey with my son and I. Bret is such an amazing passer that I got a hat trick. Literally, he would pass right to my tape, and all I had to do was tap the puck in.
And as a fan?
I saw Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby both score against the Rangers a few months ago. That was cool. Also, I took my whole family to the Heritage Classic in Edmonton. Now that was an experience to remember. The cold even tested my love of hockey. I didn't see many people from Hawaii there.
Who are your idols (or favorite players)?
My favorite player retired this year: Brett Hull. I loved his shot and his attitude. He is definitely a Macintosh kind of guy. I have a picture of his butt up against the glass with my son in front of it when the Red Wings were practicing at Logitech in San Jose.
What's your favorite sensation about hockey? What sound, feel or smell?
My favorite is the sound of the skate blade ripping through the ice on a C cut. My second favorite is the sound of my opponent's shot bouncing off the post and not going in.
I believe that sports can really teach valuable lessons that can be applied to other walks of life. You probably see where I'm going with this ... what would the similarities be between hockey and business?
Let's not get too cerebral. After all, it's just a game--albeit the greatest game. But here are some of the things that I learned:
* Don't prejudge people by what they look like. Old, fat guys who look like they are going to keel over have kicked my ass many times.
* Don't prejudge people by what they wear. Those old, fat guys also have the oldest, crappiest looking equipment. The only time you can get a good look at the equipment, though, is in the locker room because on the ice they are flying past you.
* A puck hog on the ice is an (a-hole) in business.
* A person who takes long shifts is generally clueless about the business environment.
* Only hire a goalie as a last resort.
You were one of the key people creating the (Apple) Macintosh cult, I guess you can call it. Creating super loyalty. How could a hockey team create same kind of loyalty, say, in North Carolina?
Evangelism starts with a great product, so the first thing you need is a winning team. However, everyone loves a Stanley Cup winner, so the real test is the closeness of the relationship between the team and its community in during a losing season.
If I were the CEO of an NHL team, I would create as many community based activities as possible: clinics, visits, player appearances, use of the rink, whatever it takes. Ken King in Calgary does a very good job of this.
If any NHL club wants to learn about evangelism, I will trade for hockey lessons.
How would you make the game even better and more attractive to the fans?
I would take away the blue line and give everyone interested in hockey a high definition TV. Also, I would make goalies serve their own penalties. How's that for out of the box thinking?
What do you think of the new rules?
Fabulous. Clearly someone in the NHL was scared about the after-lockout fan reaction and took some bold steps. And they should have been that scared.
And finally, Guy, who's going to win the Olympic gold? And Stanley Cup?
Honestly, I don't really care. I just love the game, so I don't care if "my team" wins. I just like watching the skillfulness of players. When I go to a game other than our local Sharks team, I cheer for whatever team has the puck.
In a sense, hockey is lot like the venture capital business. A startup has so many challenges to master: product development, marketing, recruiting, funding, and then if you can get through all of this, you still have to beat the goalie (the financial market). For a beginning player like me, you have to learn how to skate, stickhandle, make and receive passes, deke, and after all that, beat the goalie. The odds are low, but the reward is sweet.
I sure hope I am a better venture capitalist than hockey player. If I ever hit it big as a venture capitalist, I'm going to build me a rink. Then I can practice all I want. My kids will be able to play hockey with me all the time instead of the chicken shitake once or twice a year they can play pickup with the adults at Ice Oasis.
And I won't have to deal with figure skaters and their moms during public session. I hope Asian girls adopt Michelle Wie as their new role model and take up golf.