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Pucks Rolling Around in My Head...

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
I play hockey once, if I am lucky, twice a week.

I did not play the game growing up. My parents’ version of encouraging recreation was to point toward the front door. It just wasn’t something they knew.

I began to play the game in my twenties and it has enraptured me ever since.

There is no game like hockey. It is like being put into a video game. I have played most every game, nothing else comes close.

Imagine if hockey didn’t exist and someone had a new idea. Freeze a boarded in pad, surround it with Plexiglas, put knives on the players’ feet and give them clubs to knock a hard-as rock piece of rubber into a net. Try finding insurance for that.

Everything is harder in hockey, moving, calibrating speed, stopping. Everything is better too. Its rhythms are at turns imponderable and absolutely accessible. The skill gap between players is as broad as the prairies.

We start our game with a ritual. We toss our sticks in the middle of the ice and then someone throws them to either end. We recoup our skates, grab our pinnies and go.

It is my favorite part of the game, this absolutely Canadian method of choosing up and I always skate to centre ice first. I can dictate no other part of the game, but when it starts, I am its shaky midwife.

It is not perfect, of course. Players stay on too long. Sometimes the teams are lopsided. Some of the most skilled players forget their superiority comes with the demand that they not show themselves too much better than the rest. The true star is the sportsman who finds in the game equal expressions of skill and human kindness.

 I have never, no matter how fitful and fruitless my pursuit of the puck, felt anything other than a crushing sadness when the kid who cleans the ice buzzes us off. Hockey makes me fee supernatural.  I take a stride and go 10 feet. I wrist a shot and it whizzes away. In a split second I can decide where to put a puck to find a teammate 30 feet away who is going 20km an hour and I can do it before he hits the blue line.

It is impossible to explain hockey to someone who has not played but at its best hockey is better than anything. It elevates the imagination along with the heart rate. You sweat like a pirate because you move and act like one.

The fact that I did not finagle a way for my daughters to play - only one is athletic and she prefers basketball - is one of the many sins I must answer for in the parent’s court.

But they were not subject to hockey politics or the burden of playing with the boys or getting up at 5 a.m. for practice. They will never burn out from two games and two practices a week. It is still, in a funny way, all ahead of them.

They still skate someday, if they are lucky, they will follow my lead and find, as adults, the only game that can set you free.

The  Curse of  Being  Santa...

Saw a feature on CNN about kids petrified of Santa.

The kids were screaming bloody murder as their picture was taken.

This annoys me.

I have spent a little time in something to akin to the jolly man’s red suit and I tell you …the problem is the elves.

The job of the elf is to lead the child to Santa, and then distract the little goomers for the picture. Once a two-year-old sees Santa’s beard it’s game over. The good elf cajoles, entertains, engages and otherwise distracts the kid. Then it’s Santa’s turn.  If the kid looks over his right shoulder, Santa should lean to the left. The kid looks over the other shoulder, Santa goes the other way. Finally, the kid looks forward and BLAMMO, the picture is taken and the kid can go ahead and cry his heart out.

Part of the problem is that some stores have sacked the elves for cost-cutting reasons. These stores should compel their managers to don the suit and deal with the kids without elves. They’d be back before you could say Kris Kringle.

This is all I have to say on this subject as I have been long retired from ‘the life.’ Don’t make me come back.

Forget Resolutions, I've Got Predictions!

I have a few New Year’s predictions.
  • I predict that if Alexei Ponikarovsky will be one-timing shots from all over the ice the next time he gets on the ice when the Leafs are guarding a one-goal lead with the opposing net empty.
  • I predict Andrew Raycroft will next play Thursday, Jan. 3, when the Leafs are in Pittsburgh.
  • I predict that Andy Wozniewski will be with the Marlies in a month after Carlo Colaiacovo returns.
  • I predict that Mark Bell, who has one goal, will finish with 10.
  • I predict that Mats Sundin will sign a two-year contract after finishing with 93 points, his highest total in 10 years.
  • I predict that someone will start calling the Kyle Wellwood-Darcy Tucker-Jason Blake unit the Smurf Line because they are small and blue.
  • I also predict that it had better happen soon because it has a shelf life of five more minutes without a goal.
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