Sitting in the largely deserted Continental Presidents Club at McCarran Airport across from Dan Rosen, whose brain and fingers should be far more fatigued than my legs and back considering how much he wrote for NHL.com over the last few days.
Awaiting the red eye back to Newark, our time at the Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp is up. Which is too bad on one hand -- it's a blast being around The Great One and many nearly-as-great ones such as Leetch, Chelios, Hull, Fuhr, et al. -- and a relief on the other -- chasing those renowned folks and the many talented campers around the Las Vegas Ice Center rink the past few days has been exhausting.
Today, for the last round-robin tilt for our Team Keenan, I was moved up to forward. Never having played anything but defense going all the way back to my days of playing roller hockey at the Cheese Box in Astoria, I find myself completely disoriented on the rare occasions when I have to take a shift up front. And today was no different.
Know how the puck always seemed to come to Gretzky without him having to chase it? It always seemed to be going to the place I had just vacated today. Except for the two times I was set up for point-blank one-timers only to instinctively do what comes naturally when playing defense: redirect the puck AWAY from the net. Then there was the one time I figured I'd try to create some traffic in front, only to look up to the terrifying sight of a John MacLean rocket coming right at me.
"You almost hit me with that one," I reported to MacLean when we repaired to the lockerroom.
"I was trying to," he replied in a matter of fact tone that either was vintage MacLean deadpan or simply him telling a chilling truth.
Still, I maintain that anybody can play forward but it takes a true talent and student of the game to play defense.
Which is meant as no disrespect to the three new friends from New York that I came all the way to Las Vegas to meet. Then again, maybe I should be questioning the intelligence of Brooklyn boys Charles Sued, Fred Harari and David Beyda, who formed a high-energy line for Team Keenan today. Not only did they give me high fives and say "Nice shift" after many of my clueless turns, they took a picture with E.J. Hradek and me in the lobby of the Bellagio hotel. Hopefully, they'll just use it as a prop to tell all their friends back home how slow and cement-handed we both were.
Anyway, I finally found a way to get some of the too-generous campers to take back some of the ice time I was eating up: I bailed after the second period. We were down, 7-4, at the time. And when Team Keenan fell into a 10-4 hole early in the third, I was beginning to believe that maybe the Brooklyn boys were right and my shifts hadn't been that bad.
But then the mates I left behind mounted a furious comeback only to fall, 10-9. As MacLean came off the ice he offered this assessment of my decision not to play the third period: "Best move you made the entire camp."
Sad but true.