Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In Remembrance: 2008

The end of a year always brings a look back at major milestones.
It also brings to mind those we have loved and lost.
2008 saw the hockey world say good-bye to a number of past and present players.
Some had full and prosperous careers.
Others had barely begun to live.
All leave a mark that we won’t soon forget.

Alexei Cherepanov ~ January 15, 1989 – October 13, 2008

Alexei’s sudden collapse and subsequent death during a game for Avangard in the KHL raised questions about the safety and security of arenas in the Russian league. The defibrillator at the rink had a dead battery. The ambulance assigned to the rink had left early, for some reason. Today, the Associated Press reported that Alexei had been using performance enhancing drugs. None of this can take away the fact that this young man was immensely talented, skilled and headed for a great future with the New York Rangers. Hopefully, his death will serve as a wakeup call for the KHL to right what’s wrong with the league, and make sure players remain healthy.

Luc Bourdon ~ February 16, 1987 – May 29, 2008

The real tragedy about Luc’s death is that it could happen to anyone. A young man buys a toy he’s always wanted: a motorcycle. He takes a ride near his home, slides on a wet road and collides with a truck. In a flash, a promising young life is gone.Luc overcame so much to make his hockey dream come true. He was confined to a wheelchair at age 9 as he battled juvenile arthritis. He went on to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and eventually the Vancouver Canucks. He helped Team Canada win back to back gold medals in 2006 and 2007.By all accounts, Luc’s heart was as big as his talent. When he signed his first pro contract, he anonymously donated $10,000 to his childhood minor hockey association to help buy equipment for kids whose parents who couldn’t afford it. His former bantam hockey coach revealed the donation after Luc died.We’ve seen how the hockey world has paid tribute to this young man and his talent. Fans can visit the Luc Bourdon Wall of Dreams at GM Place in Vancouver.

Mickey Renaud ~ October 5, 1988 – February 18, 2008

Here is another promising young life cut short. Mickey Renaud collapsed at his home and was rushed to the hospital, where he died. He had played a hockey game the night before, as captain of the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. Several months after his death, medical reports showed that Mickey died from a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which causes a thickening of the heart muscle. The Calgary Flames had drafted Mickey in 2007 and by all accounts, his star had been on the rise. There are many tribute sites set up to this talented young man online.

John Ashley ~ March 5, 1930 – January 5, 2008

John began his NHL career as a referee in 1959. Between 1964 and 1972, he officiated every Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1981. He died in Kitchener, Ontario.

Bill Juzda ~ October 29, 1920 – February 17, 2008

Bill went to the Memorial Cup with the Kenora Thistles in 1940. He was playing with the Philadelphia Ramblers in 1941 when he was called up to the New York Rangers. He took a break to fight with the Canadian Armed Forces in World War II but returned to the Rangers in 1946. He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1947. He won two Stanley Cups with the Leafs in 1949 and 1951. Bill was inducted to the Manitoba Sports hall of Fame and Museum in 1992. He reportedly wore his 1949 Stanley Cup ring until he died.

Kenny Reardon ~ April 1, 1921 – March 15, 2008
(Reardon is on the left)
Kenny played for the Montreal Canadiens for two seasons before taking time out in 1942 to fight in World War II with the Canadian Army. He returned to Montreal in 1946 and helped the Habs win the Stanley Cup that year. He continued his hockey career off-ice and became a successful executive, primarily with the Canadiens. During his time in Montreal, the team won 5 Cups. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966.

Ed Chynoweth ~ December 14, 1941 – April 22, 2008

This man was simply put, amazing. He was one of the most influential men in the world of junior ice hockey in Canada. Ed helped form the CHL in 1972, bringing Canada’s three major-junior leagues together. He also became the WHL’s first full-time president that year and held that job until 1995, taking a brief break to serve as GM of the Calgary Wranglers in 1979 and 1980. WHL Commissioner Ron Robison says, “The success the WHL and our Member clubs are experiencing today is a direct result of the vision and leadership Ed Chynoweth provided to this league over the past 37 years.”The WHL renamed the WHL Championship Trophy the Ed Chynoweth Cup. The Ed Chynoweth Trophy is awarded to the top scorer at the Memorial Cup tournament. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year as a builder.Chynoweth also formed the expansion Edmonton Ice, which is now known as the Kootenay Ice. His sons Jeff and Dean are following in his footsteps, serving as GMs of the Kootenay Ice and Swift Current Broncos, respectively.Ed Chynoweth died of kidney cancer in Calgary.

Ray Getliffe ~ April 3, 1914 – June 15, 2008

Ray played ten seasons in the NHL for the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. His name is on the Stanley Cup twice: with the Bruins in 1939 and the Habs in 1944. On February 6, 1943 he scored five goals in one game for the Canadiens. But Ray is best known for giving Maurice Richard his famous nickname: “Rocket”.Before he died at age 94, he was believed to be the second-oldest living NHL player. Ray died of liver cancer in London, Ontario.

Miroslav Dvorak ~ September 11, 1951 – June 11, 2008

Miroslav began his career in Czechoslovakia in 1967. The Philadelphia Flyers drafted him in 1982. He had to wait until his 30’s to play in the NHL because of strict sports rules during the communism era in Czechoslovakia. He played for the Flyers for three seasons before returning to his homeland and finishing his hockey career there. He died following a long battle with throat cancer.

Pat Egan ~ April 26, 1918 – June 3, 2008

Pat began his pro career in 1938 with the Seattle Seahawks of the Pacific Coast Hockey League, where he marked 185 penalty minutes in 44 games. His career expanded to the NHL, where he played for the New York Americans before they folded. The Detroit Red Wings picked him up in 1944, then traded him to the Boston Bruins, where he spent six seasons. He finished his pro career with the New York Rangers, then finished his career in the AHL and WHL. He was suspended from the AHL for life for assaulting a linesman. That suspension was lifted a week later. He went on to coach the Springfield Indians of the AHL to three straight Calder Cups.

Gilles Bilodeau ~ July 31, 1955 – August 12, 2008

Gilles played 9 games in the NHL with the Quebec Nordiques, but played the majority of his career in the WHL, mostly with the Toronto Toros and Birmingham Bulls. He was known as a fierce, and often violent player. Reporter Tom Hawthorn wrote this about Gilles: “A tough and fearless hockey player, Gilles Bilodeau created mayhem whenever he stepped onto the ice. He punched like a heavyweight and he wielded a hockey stick like a woodman’s axe, tripping faster rivals and clubbing tough opponents.” He once broke a goalie’s neck with a cross check from behind and bit a chunk out of another player’s ear during a fight. Gilles died in Birmingham, Alabama, of pancreatic cancer which went undiagnosed.

Ned Harkness ~ September 19, 1919 – September 19, 2008

Ned was a successful hockey and lacrosse coach at Cornell University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. He’s known for recruiting Ken Dryden to Cornell. He also coached the Detroit Red Wings in 1970 and served as the team’s GM from 1970 – 1973. Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, Detroit fans remember that era as “Darkness with Harkness”, one of the worst periods in franchise history. Ned Harkness died on his 89th birthday.

Hubert “Pit” Martin ~ December 9, 1943 – November 30, 2008

The nickname “Pit” came from a comic strip character in a French Newspaper. His NHL career spanned 17 seasons, with a number of teams, including the Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks. He, Gille Marotte and Jack Norris were traded from Boston to Chicago for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield. Martin was named to the NHL All Star Game for four straight seasons as a Black Hawk and was part of the team that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 1972-73 season.Pit Martin was reported missing following a snowmobile accident near Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec. His snowmobile broke through ice on Lake Kanasuta and plunged into the water. Police recovered his body two days later.

Bob Blake ~ August 16, 1914 – November 26, 2008
Bob played with the Boston Bruins for in 1935, then spent the rest of his career shuffling between the AHL, CHL and IHL. He took a break to fight in World War II with the US Air Force. After he retired from hockey, Bob coached high school hockey and coached a team in Fort Erie, Ontario. He was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985 and continued to teach youngsters hockey until he died.

Armand “Bep” Guidolin ~ December 9, 1925 – November 24, 2008

Bep became the youngest player to play in an NHL game in 1942. He was 16 years, 11 months old when he took to the ice with the Boston Bruins against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He took a break to fight in World War II in 1944 before returning to the ice. Bep also played for the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Black Hawks. His support for the formation of a players’ union help end his career in 1952. He went on to coach several junior teams, including the Oshawa Generals, which featured a 17 year old by the name of Bobby Orr.

George Morrison ~ December 24, 1948 – November 12, 2008

George played in the NHL for the St Louis Blues, but made his mark with the WHL. He may be best known for setting a WHL record for the fastest hat trick: 43 seconds. Here’s a funny story about George Morrison, as reported by sportswriter Tom Hawthorn: “While playing with the Blues in his rookie season, Mr. Morrison found himself riding the bench as the clock ticked down in a game against the Los Angeles Kings. Figuring his work was done for the night, he sent an usher in search of a hot dog, surreptitiously swapping one of his sticks for the snack. He snuck a bite whenever the play took the coach's attention away from his direction. He was still chewing when Coach Scotty Bowman unexpectedly ordered him onto the ice. Not wishing to be discovered violating an unwritten rule of hockey etiquette by eating on the bench, he shoved the remnants of the sausage down the cuff of one of his hockey gloves. He wasn't on the ice for long before being body-checked by an opposing player. The collision sent bits of bun, splashes of condiment and a half-eaten hot dog flying across the ice. “

Hank Goldup ~ October 29, 1918 – December 14, 2008

Hank played in the NHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers. He helped the Leafs win the Stanley Cup in 1942. This was the team that came back from three games down to win the Cup. He finished his NHL season with the Rangers, after taking a break to fight with the Canadian Army in World War II.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Notes and Updates

This is just an update about some blogs that are posted at my station's website.

Since they are work I'm doing for the station, I cannot repost them here, so I'm including links instead:

First, here's a link to an interview I conducted with Team Canada and Seattle Thunderbirds Captain Thomas Hickey.

Thomas Hickey 1

Not only is he a heck of a player, he's quite a thoughtful guy, too.

Former Everett Silvertip and current Houston Aeros defense man Mitch Love has started blogging for us. Here's a link to his first three offerings:

Mitch Love 2

Blog #1: http://blogs.king5.com/sports/2008/12/ahlwhl-love-notes-a-blog-by-mi.html
Blog #2: http://blogs.king5.com/sports/2008/12/whlahl-mitch-love-blog-decembe.html
Blog #3: http://blogs.king5.com/sports/2008/12/ahlwhl-mitch-love-blog-3.html

Mitch provides some great insight into the life of an AHL player. I know you will enjoy reading his blog as much as I do.

I'm working on a couple of blogs for this site. Watch for them soon.

Take care and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The "Mitch Love" Affair

Last weekend, I was treated to an unusual phenomenon at Comcast Arena in Everett. I had been asked to sing the national anthem before the Silvertips took on Kootenay. As I warmed up in the women's dressing room, Rob Ramsburgh, the team's Director of Game Operations, popped in. After telling me the schedule of events, he offered up an unusual warning.

It seems the crowd yells the word "Love" during the line "True patriot love" of the Canadian anthem, and the word "Fight" during the line "Through the perilous fight" of the American anthem. He didn't tell me why. He just said it's something the crowd has done for years.


I thought I was prepared. I stepped out onto the ice to sing. I got to the line "True patriot love", expecting the crowd to shout the word "Love" as I sang it.

They didn't. They waited until a beat after I sang, and as I took a breath to sing the next line, the arena erupted into one big roar.


That shout startled me into silence. For a split second, I could not remember the next line. I glanced down at my left hand and silently thanked my lucky stars that I always write the words on a scrap of paper before I sing. I glanced at it, remembered the line and started singing again. The crowd roared its approval. I was ready for them during the American anthem. I held the words up in front of my eyes, just in case, but I plowed through the "perilous fight" and kept going. The crowd roared even more loudly and I knew I had passed some unspoken test. My sister and I took our seats and I tried to focus on the game. But I couldn't stop wondering why the fans shout "Love" during the Canadian anthem.

I didn't have to go far for the answer. In fact, the answer came to me. During the first intermission, a nice man sitting at the end of our row made his way over. He said he thought we should understand what fuels this tradition and told me about a former Silvertips player named Mitch Love, who had been a fan favorite. They began shouting in tribute to him and have kept it up, even though he no longer plays for Everett. I asked why they shout "Fight" and he shrugged. "Maybe it's because they want to see a fight." He made his way back to his seat and we settled in to enjoy the rest of the game.
His explanation should have appeased me. It didn't. I spent the rest of the weekend obsessing over the fact that I had stopped singing. My sister Kimberly tried to make things better. "You only stopped for a second or two. And you sounded great!" I appreciated her support but it didn't make me feel better.
See, I have been singing national anthems for 16 years. Canadian and American (even the German anthem, once). 16 years of singing and I've never stopped in the middle of a performance.
I didn't stop when I realized I was singing the wrong words in the middle of the Canadian anthem at a college hockey game (our team's goalie had made them up because he was too ashamed to tell me he didn't know his own national anthem. This is also the reason I write the words on a scrap of paper every time I sing).

I didn't stop when a boy stood behind me at a Tacoma Rainiers game and meowed like a cat through the entire anthem.
I didn't stop when the audio delay at a Huntsville Stars baseball game was so bad, my voice echoed back to me a full 6 seconds after I'd sung a line.
I didn't stop when I was 7 and a half months pregnant and singing, by request, before a game between the Stars and Birmingham Barons, featuring Michael Jordan in the lineup (I scored an autographed baseball for my then-unborn son- Michael says he was afraid I'd go into labor when I hit the high note on that hot July day).
Okay, so ego plays into this story. A 16 year streak had been broken by one word: LOVE. I had to learn more about the player who inspired such dedication, even years after his departure from the team.
I went to Google and found Mitch Love within seconds. He's now playing for the Houston Aeros of the AHL. I contacted the team's communications manager and requested an interview. Within ten minutes, he emailed me Mitch's phone number and a time to call. I dialed the number at the appointed time. He answered on the fourth ring.

And I learned why Mitch Love is loved by the Silvertips.

Mitch Love 3

We talked first about his hockey journey since leaving the 'Tips. He's played in four cities with four teams over the last four years: the Lowell Lock Monsters (now the Lowell Devils); Albany River Rats; Lake Erie Monsters and now the Houston Aeros. 

But every off-season, without fail, Mitch returns to Western Washington. He lives here, rehabs here, trains with the Silvertips and conducts camps for kids who want to learn about hockey. During the season, he finds time to make short trips home to catch the 'Tips in action.

Mitch Love 2

He told me he's from BC (Quesnel, a small city between Prince George and Williams Lake, located on the main road to northern British Columbia and the Yukon). He feels a strong sense of community here in the Puget Sound and says this will always be his off-season home, no matter where he plays hockey.

I asked him if he knows exactly how the "Love" affair during the Canadian anthem began. He chuckled and told me the story. In 2003, the first year the Everett Silvertips began playing hockey, they made it to the Western Conference Finals against the Kelowna Rockets. Mitch remembers a group of hardcore 'Tips fans making the trip to Kelowna for games, where they heard the Kelowna crowd shout the word "Guard" during the line, "We stand on guard for Thee." That was in tribute to Kelly Guard, Kelowna's goaltender at the time. (Kelly has retired from the game, after playing in Kelowna, Charlotte, Binghampton and China).

Silvertips fans needed a comeback, and they saw their opportunity to show their own team spirit and pay tribute to Mitch at the same time. They began screaming "Love" during the Canadian anthem to combat Kelowna's rowdy fans. They've been doing it ever since.

Mitch Love 1

Spend time talking with Mitch, and you'll come to know that he loves Silvertips fans as much as they love him. He says since he left in 2005, he has not played in an arena that gives him the chills as much as playing in Comcast Arena does. He says nothing compares to the support that Everett fans shower on their beloved team.

As our conversation wound down, I found I was able to forgive myself for being caught off guard during last weekend's anthem. I, too, had become a fan of Mitch Love. And I have found a unique way to track his career: I've asked Mitch to write a blog about life in the AHL. He has graciously agreed.

So, Silvertips Fans, monitor: www.king5.com/sports/hockey for game wrap-ups, musings and memories as only Mitch Love can provide.

You may find even more reasons to spread the "Love" for this talented guy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Class of 2005

(Note: I know the 2005 draft had some phenomenal players. I'm only focusing on 3.)

A young man stands in front of a bathroom mirror in an Ottawa hotel room. He peers at himself as he smoothes his dark brown hair down, then tries to make the ends curl up. He does this repeatedly, talking to an unseen reporter as he does. He is already dressed; his lime green dress shirt looks freshly pressed; a green silk tie is knotted perfectly. He admits feeling nervous. He stops to pick up a can of hair spray, revealing blond streaks in the dark hair. He sprays about a third of the can on his hair, then tries valiantly to curl the ends up again.
In another room at the same hotel, two young men lounge. They are as relaxed as the first teen is keyed up. Both are dressed in shorts and tee-shirts. One lies on a bed, while the other pokes his head out from the bathroom, wielding a razor. They are arguing, good naturedly, about who makes a tidier roommate. The one with the razor makes a comment that sends his roommate off into a fit of hysterical laughter.
These three are among thousands who have waited their entire young lives for this day, and the moment that will either propel them on to the next phase of their quest for hockey greatness, or send them home to think hard about a future that doesn’t involve pro hockey. All three of the featured boys know they will go in the first round, but only one knows his exact fate.
Sidney Crosby has known for weeks, maybe years, that he will be the Number One pick this year. He’s definitely known for weeks where he’s going. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the lottery to pick first and they’ve made it clear that they fully intend to do what everyone expects, and make Sid the newest Penguin.
Sidney Crosby, Rimouski Oceanic

Crosby’s roommate, Jack Johnson, and Benoit Pouliot, the teen fussing with his hair, aren’t so sure where their futures lie. For them, everything is uncertain, even what order in which they’ll be drafted. The only thing that’s certain is that they have the talent to go in the Top 5.
But how did they get here?
This is where their stories take interesting turns.
Jack Johnson grew up in Detroit, a great place for any American kid wanting to play hockey to live. He already had the hockey genes; his father was a former NHL’er. If adding the legends of Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman or the Red Wings’ amazing history weren’t enough to motivate a young hockey player, then he should hang up his skates. Jack soaked it all in and it showed in the way he played. His education continued at the prestigious Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota, where he met Crosby, who would become his teammate and best friend. As (the team’s only) sophomores, the two helped the team win a national championship.
Jack Johnson, USA Hockey

Jack’s free time was spent taking part in hockey camps and further honing his skills with the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. Also during this time, he helped the U.S. Under-18 team win a silver medal at the 2004 World Championships. The hard charging defenseman compares his style to that of Scott Stevens or Scott Niedermayer. He comes to the draft with quite a reputation. Sports Illustrated calls him “one of the most well-rounded and revered American defensemen to come along in the past decade.” Pretty high praise, but where would this put him in the draft? A few hours would tell.
Benoit Pouliot’s path began at home, in St. Isidore, Ontario. He was introduced to the game by his dad Sylvain, who coached Benoit and his two brothers in hockey during the winters and baseball in the summers. By his own admission, Benoit grew into a tall, skinny kid. But his skill and the promise of talent yet to be revealed intrigued the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves enough to pick him in the 11th round of the OHL draft in 2002. He attended the Wolves’ training camp the first two summers after being drafted, but the team sent him home both times. The second time he came home, he received devastating news. His father’s leukemia, which had been in remission, was back. But Sylvain urged Benoit to keep pursuing his dream. Benoit played most of the 2003-2004 season with his brother’s team, the Hawkesbury Hawks of the CJHL. In February of 2004, the Sudbury Wolves called Benoit to join the team for a couple of games. Benoit remembers his father telling him to take advantage of the opportunity and show the team just what he could do. By this time, Sylvain was very sick and basically living out his last days at home, with family. Benoit played his first game with Sudbury on February 13, 2004. He took his father’s advice and gave it all he had. That night, Benoit scored his first goal in the OHL. He called his mom afterward, and asked her to share the news with his dad. His mother, Diane, shares what happened next.
Benoit Pouliot, Sudbury Wolves

“I told him about the goal and he looked at me and said, ‘I knew it.’ Those were the last words he spoke to me.”

Sylvain Pouliot died the next day.
Benoit channeled his energy into hockey. He gained weight and muscle. He played several more games with Sudbury in the 2004 season. He tore up the OHL the next year, leading the league in rookie scoring, helping the Wolves get to the playoffs and taking home the “Rookie of the Year” trophy. His play had improved so much in such a short time, his style drew comparisons to Vincent Lecavalier, and he entered the 2005 draft ranked Number 2 by the “International Scouting Services”, right behind Sidney Crosby.
Which brings us to July 30, 2005 and the NHL Entry Draft.

Sid went first, to the Pens. No surprise.
Bobby Ryan from the OHL (Owen Sound Attack) went Number 2, to Anaheim.
Sid’s roommate, Jack Johnson, went third, to the Carolina Hurricanes. He would later be traded to the L.A. Kings because he wanted to play college hockey for a couple of years before making the jump to the NHL. The ‘Canes wanted someone who could play immediately.

With the fourth pick, the Minnesota Wild chose Benoit Pouliot. And maybe his lime green shirt and green tie served as an omen. The colors perfectly complemented the red and green of the Wild sweater he pulled over his so carefully-coiffed head.
Talented goaltender Carey Price rounded out the Top 5, going to the Montreal Canadiens.

The requisite photo shoot followed the draft selection. Photographers snapped the players in a variety of poses.

Sidney Crosby and Jack Johnson fulfilled a promise they made to each other in high school- standing side by side dressed in their NHL best.

Benoit beamed, no longer seeming to mind that his carefully styled hair was mussed.

Their roads since that July day in 2005 have also taken different turns.

Sid joined the Penguins right away and has held his own, to say the least.

Jack spent two years playing NCAA hockey with the University of Michigan, before joining the L.A. Kings and making an immediate impact. He’s currently nursing a torn labrum and itching to get back on the ice.

Jack MF Johnson

Benoit spent the first two years after being drafted playing mainly for the Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros, although he made a number of appearances in the Wild lineup. He has been a solid part of the team since last season and faces a solid future with Minnesota.

Somewhere, his father Sylvain is smiling and saying, “I knew it.”

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Puck by Any Other Name

I was watching the Penguins/Islanders game recently when a name caught my attention. “Richard Park” the announcer said, referring to an Islander player. Immediately, my interest was piqued. “Park” is commonly a Korean surname. I am half-Korean and spent my formative years in South Korea with my mother while my dad did his duty for Uncle Sam in Vietnam for 6 years. My mother was keen on making sure I kept up with my Korean heritage. Hence, even now, decades later, I still speak the language and know and respect the culture. And I cook a mean bulgogi.

But I digress.

I became interested in Richard Park because as long as I’ve watched hockey, I don’t remember hearing any Asian names. So, like any self-respecting nosy person, I started digging for more. And I came up with some interesting info. Richard, I learned, was born in South Korea and raised in the US. I also learned he is the second Korean-born player in the NHL. (more on the first Korean-born player just ahead). He was drafted in 1994 by my favorite team- the Pittsburgh Penguins. I did not know this and my only excuse is that I stopped watching NHL hockey for several years (between 1990 and 2000) for reasons I’d rather not go into here. Richard bounced around from team to team , marking a measure of success with each, before landing with the Islanders in 2006. Since then, he seems to have grown, both as a player and a humanitarian. Last season, the Islanders presented him with the Bob Nystrom Award, which is awarded to the Islander who “best exemplifies leadership, hustle and dedication.” This year, Park sports the “A” and from what I can see, is living up to it.
After reading up on Richard, I searched through team rosters to see if I could find any other Asian players. I found two, including one I’ve liked for years but never realized he had Asian blood.

Paul Kariya's mother has Scottish blood. His father is Japanese and sports quite a life history. His grandparents were sent to an internment camp in BC during World War II. His father was born there. The family doesn’t talk much about it and by his own admission, Paul was raised more Canadian than Japanese. He and one of his sisters attended a Japanese school for a while to honor their grandmother but the rest of their lives were spent more or less immersed in sports. I read that Paul nearly gave up hockey to pursue golf and join others in breathing a sigh of relief that he didn’t. I learned that Paul is more revered in Japan than stars like Wayne Gretzky. I also learned he detests labels and does not like to talk about himself. That’s okay. He speaks volumes on the ice. After years with Anaheim, he landed with the Blues. From what I read, the transition was not that pleasant and he is no longer a favorite with many Ducks fans.

Paul Kariya is a favorite player of the next Asian player I found.

Devin Setoguchi is also half-Japanese/half-Canadian. He was born and raised in Alberta. Like Paul Kariya, Devin’s family has been touched by a shameful part of history: his grandparents were also sent to an internment camp during World War II. Unlike Paul, hockey runs through Devin’s blood. His father Dale played junior hockey in Alberta (he was the AJHL’s MVP in 1979), spent a year playing in Japan and still plays in a senior hockey league.

It’s kind of funny. I identify as much with Paul Kariya as I do with Richard Park. I have straddled two cultures all my life, like Paul (and probably Devin, too). Unlike Paul, my mother insisted that I not only know my heritage, but live it too. When you look at me, you won’t automatically think I’m Asian, yet speak to me in Korean and I will respond. I’ve had fun standing in line or shopping in a Korean store here in the Seattle area, eavesdropping on others as they chatter away, not realizing that a “hapa” (half Asian) is standing nearby who can understand almost every word. My mother taught me to be as proud of my Korean heritage as I am of being American, or being German-Irish on my dad’s side. We lived in Germany for 6 years and traced his mother’s family to a town outside Cologne. I know how his grandfather arrived in NYC from Ireland in 1910. But ask me about my background and I will veer more toward the Korean side because it was so pervasive. My older brother and sister are full Korean. They and our mother became American citizens in 1971. I still remember the ceremony. My oma (mom) chose the American name “Lee” to complement her Korean name “Hyon”. My unee (sister) chose the name “Sharon” to go with “Kyong”. My opa (brother) chose the name “Richard” to sit alongside his Korean name “Byong.”

This brings me back to Richard Park. I don’t know his Korean first name, but I do know the given name of the first Korean-born player in the NHL. It’s Chison Paek.

His parents gave him the Anglo name “Jim” when he was three, so he could integrate into Canadian society a little more easily. Call him Jim or call him Chison, one thing is very clear. He picked up hockey like a native! By the time he reached Juniors, his parents were such fans they attended 106 of 108 games he played with the Oshawa Generals. His first NHL team is my favorite: the Pittsburgh Penguins. He joined them in 1992 as the Pens rode a high from winning their first Stanley Cup. He arrived in time for the 92 playoffs. We all know what happened next. (for non-hockey fans: The Penguins won their second Stanley Cup championship)

Jim Paek left the Pens in 1994 and played with the Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa Senators before ending his career in the IHL and joining the coaching ranks. Last year, he returned to Pittsburgh, but this time, he was on the Red Wings bench. He is part of the coaching staff of the team’s Grand Rapids affiliate and spent last year’s Stanley Cup finals working with the Red Wings’ extra players.

What is the meaning of this blog? I really don’t know. I guess when I look back at it, the message I see is that it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you’ve got the talent and desire, you can make it in the NHL. You don’t have to be a Russian powerhouse, a Finnish or Swedish superstar. You can be from a country like South Korea, and make it to the Stanley Cup.

In fact, you can make ANY dream come true, if you believe in yourself.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hockey Fights Cancer

I’ve been reading about how different teams are marking “Hockey Fights Cancer” this month, and my respect has grown by leaps and bounds. It’s heartwarming to see what different teams are doing to raise awareness and money for cancer charities. All 30 teams are taking part by having players wear special emblems on their helmets, and having coaches and broadcast staff wear special purple ties and pins.

But as I delved deeper into my research for an article in another publication, I was struck by how much more some teams do to celebrate “Hockey Fights Cancer.”

Here are just a few:

Detroit Red Wings. This team is simply amazing. The Wings rolled out the red… err… pink carpet on October 24th during the game against the Atlanta Thrashers. Players used pink tape on their sticks during the pre-game skate then autographed those sticks for a silent auction. The ties also were autographed and auctioned off. They also auctioned off: a specially designed goalie mask signed by Ty Conklin, Dominik Hasek, Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood; and Valtteri Filppula’s game-worn jersey from the January 2, 2007 game during which the team retired Steve Yzerman’s #19. This could have been enough, but they went even further. Every fan who wore pink to the game was eligible to win autographed Red Wings memorabilia. The fan with the best pink outfit won an autographed Chris Chelios jersey. Think this is all? Think again. The team set up a booth to sell breast cancer awareness items. The wives and girlfriends sold $20 pucks featuring a player’s autograph. And to cap it off, the team hosted breast cancer patients, survivors and their families in an executive suite.

San Jose Sharks. This team didn’t designate one night for “Hockey Fights Cancer” events. They spread it out over several nights. The Sharks held auctions of autographed memorabilia at games on October 14 and 18. They also hosted “Team in Training” honorees for the October 14th game. Proceeds from that night’s auction benefited Camp Kesem at Stanford University. Camp Kesem is a summer camp for children between the ages of 6 and 13 whose parents are cancer patients and survivors. For the October 18th game, the Sharks hosted the Children’s Cancer Community, which helps families who have a child with cancer by offering up programs like monthly support groups, educational scholarships, cancer survival kits and a library. To cap things off, Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov and forward Jody Shelley hosted a meet and greet at each game with young cancer patients and their families.

Philadelphia Flyers. This team has taken “Hockey Fights Cancer” to a personal level. They’ve teamed up with Rosemary Brahin, a local woman who is battling breast cancer, to get out the message about the importance of breast cancer awareness and the need for early detection. Rosemary is in remission and has launched her own production company to produce stories for the group Breastcancer.org. Rosemary’s story has touched goalie Marty Biron, who lost a cousin following a two and a half year battle with breast cancer. He also counts and aunt and grandmother among cancer survivors. The Flyers set up special booths for their game on October 13th, to sell special items with all proceeds benefiting Breastcancer.org and another charity, “Living Beyond Breast Cancer.” Both groups had representatives on hand to answer questions and hand out information. Fans were encouraged to wear pink or lavender to the game and anyone who bought an item from Breastcancer.org were entered into a drawing to win a jersey autographed by Biron.

New York Islanders. This team’s approach to celebrating “Hockey Fights Cancer” touched me deeply. The team invited cancer survivors or their families to take part in pre-game activities on October 23rd. The man who sang the National Anthem lost his wife to cancer. They invited an 8 year old boy whose leukemia is in remission, to be stick boy for the game. The Executive Director of the cancer charity 1 in 9 Hewlett House dropped the ceremonial puck. Players used pink tape then autographed them for a silent auction. Members of 1 in 9 Hewlett House, Long Island Breast Cancer Action Caltion and Cancer Care of Long Island, set up booths to answer questions and hand out information.

Washington Capitals. The Caps hosted their fundraising night on October 18th. They paid tribute to season ticket holders who have battled, beaten, helped treat or lost loved ones to cancer. They invited these men, women and children to center ice for a special ceremony. Among those who took part, were Caps players Matt Bradley and Shaone Morrison, who both lost their mothers to cancer. The team also auctioned off autographed practice jerseys from ten players, including star Alexander Ovechkin. They also auctioned off limited edition “Hockey Fights Cancer” jerseys autographed by various players. They also invited representatives from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation to sell special items and share information about the charity.

Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks held their "Hockey Fights Cancer" event on Tuesday, October 28th. The team invited three cancer charities: The Canadian Cancer Society, BC Cancer Agency and Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation to set up information booths at GM Place. A group of young cancer patients from the Oncology ward of Children's hospital was invited to watch the Canucks take on the Bruins in comfort, in a luxury suite purchased by goalie and Captain Robert Luongo. The suite is called "Lui's Crease Club" and is located in the 200 level of GM Place.

Dallas Stars. The Stars held their event on October 25th and for one player, the pain is still fresh. Defenseman Phillipe Boucher’s father passed away from pancreatic cancer last year. He still chose to take part in the event because he knows so many people who are dealing with the same battle, feeling the same painful loss. And according to Stars fan and Connector TrueFan, the team donated $10,000 to the Clayton Dabney Foundation for Kids with Cancer. It was founded after 6 year old Clayton lost his battle with cancer.

Pittsburgh Penguins. I saved my favorite team for last. The Penguins went all out for "Hockey Fights Cancer". Sidney Crosby has purchased a luxury suite at Mellon Arena for various charities to use. The first guests were a group of young cancer patients from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Penguins coaching, management and broadcast staff are also sporting the customary purple ties and pins. Wives and girlfriends of Penguins players handed out commemorative ribbon pins to the first 3,000 women entering the arena for the October 18th game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team invited representatives from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the American Cancer Society to set up information booths at the game. The Penguins are also among a number of teams selling a commemorative book: "The NHL Hockey Year in Photographs".

I could go on and on. Time and time again, I’ve seen players show their softer sides, often out of the glare of the spotlight.

I’ve written about tough guys who will go out of their way to help others. Tough guys like Georges Laraque, who drove several hours to visit a dying boy because the boy’s last wish was to meet his hero.

These are guys who, while some may be very well paid for their talents, don’t pull down the sometimes obscene salaries commanded, no, demanded by their counterparts in other sports, especially baseball and football.

These are guys who celebrate Stanley Cup wins by taken the cup back to their hometowns, to share their victory with the humble communities who helped raise them. Who release their inner kids by using the Cup to make a massive and memorable ice cream sundae to be shared by anyone with a spoon.

Reading about all the tremendous things the NHL, its teams and players do under the banner of “Hockey Fights Cancer” proves again that I have picked the right sport to follow, and count myself lucky to call other NHL fans, “friend.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Remembering James

“He had an easy smile.”

I’ve read those words many times, but never have they rung so true as when I use them to describe my friend James. When he smiled, his entire face lit up and you felt your own face light up, even if you were in a dark mood. James did not have a mean bone in his body and nowhere was that more evident than his million-watt smile.

I met James and his brother Eric in Germany. Our fathers were stationed there and somehow, we wound up on the same traveling bowling team. James was 2 years younger than me. Eric was 4 years younger. Where James was languid, laid back and comfortable wherever he happened to be sitting, Eric was bright, bubbly and ready for action. The two brothers complemented each other perfectly and both doted on their mother, one of the most beautiful and vivacious women I had ever seen. I loved being around them because it usually meant that a lot of laughter would ensue. And it did.

I remember watching James, Eric and a few others mooning other cars during a long bus ride between Kaiserslautern and somewhere (maybe Spangdahlem, maybe Hanau) to bowl in a tournament.

I remember long hours spent at the Vogelweh bowling alley, eating fries and playing those blasted video games. (Okay, I did not play that often. I sucked. I mostly watched the guys play)

I remember James deciding that I needed to learn how to drive and that he was going to be the one to teach me. In his friend Chris’ BMW. In the parking lot of the commissary at Vogelweh. In his disarmingly charming way, he talked Chris into actually taking part! Next thing you know, I’m behind the wheel of a Beemer, James planted next to me, Chris in the back seat with this “Oh, sh*t, what have I agreed to?” kind of look on his face. I remember starting the car. I remember hitting the gas. And I remember James yelling, “STOP! STOP!” and mashing the brakes so hard, we all nearly went through the windshield. End of lesson.

I remember, several months later, running into James in another parking lot. He had had a bit too much to drink and could not drive, but did not want to leave his car. Even drunk, he talked me into driving his car. I still did not know how to drive, yet I maneuvered his Beetle to my house. Did I mention it was a stick shift? I helped him up to our apartment, where he, my sister Kim and I watched movies until he sobered up.

I lost touch with James when my family moved back to the States, but several years later, reconnected with Eric. Eric put me back in touch with James, who was in Germany with their mother. We talked on the phone. We wrote letters- yes, actual, handwritten letters. He did not have a computer, nor do I think he wanted one. He wrote long letters talking about everything and nothing. He talked about his job. He talked about his mom. He talked about the child he had not seen because he was in Germany and the child was in Florida. That was the only time I heard sadness, regret. Every other time, it was hard to miss the smile in James’ voice. Every conversation immediately brought his face to mind, split wide with a grin, eyes crinkling and twinkling. We talked about me visiting his mother and him in Germany. We talked about how Eric lives kind of close to me (he’s in Oregon, I’m in Washington). We talked about where we would go to drink. Some of the old stomping grounds.

This morning, I received an email from Eric. Entitled: “Sad News”, it was short and to the point:

“I regret to inform you. My only brother James died unexpectedly in his sleep last night 10/22. He was 42.”

As I read those words, the years sped by in fast-forward through my brain. James bowling. James joking. James laughing as I try to make him stop smoking, even as he lights another cigarette. But most of all, I see James grinning that million-megawatt smile. And I cried. I cried for Eric. I cried for their mom. I cried for their dad. But most selfish of all, I cried for myself because I will never hear that lazy voice. Never see that brilliant grin.

But I will always remember.

Rest easy, my friend. I hope you are at peace.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hockey Heartbreak: A Tale of Two Moms

This is the story of two mothers.
Both have sons who live and breathe hockey and aspire to reach that elite level- the NHL. Both boys enter the NHL draft. One gets picked to be the New York Rangers top prospect. The other learns he has a heart problem that could cause a sudden and fatal heart attack. That boy gives up his NHL dreams, but receives a surprise. The new owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning uses his last draft pick, to select this boy and help fulfill a tiny bit of that dream, even if only in a symbolic way. The boy with the heart problem goes to college and tries to adjust to a life of hockey-- without being able to play.

The mother of the boy diagnosed with the heart problem agonizes for him, but thanks her lucky stars that he is alive. 19 year old David Carle has a full-ride scholarship to the University of Denver. Even though he can never play hockey again, he will help the team on the sidelines. He will live the NHL dream through his older brother Matt, who now plays for the team that drafted David, the Tampa Bay Lightning. However unhappy he may be, however well he may be adjusting to his new life, David is alive, his heart keeping the beat.

The mother of the boy picked by the Rangers probably beamed with pride at the thought that her boy will one day leave Siberia and live the NHL dream in America, with one of the oldest and best teams in the league. In the meantime, he was honing his skills in the Kontinental Hockey League, as a member of the Avangard Omsk. His skill already rivaled countrymen Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Bure, all NHL stars. He was maturing under the tutelage of former NHL great Jaromir Jagr. The Rangers and their fans could not wait until this boy was ready to take the Big Apple by storm. The future looked bright for 19 year old Alexei Cherepanov.

That bright future imploded in crushing heartbreak this week, when Alexei collapsed during a game and died. It turns out, he suffered from a condition that kept blood from reaching his heart and organs. He suffered an apparent heart attack while sitting on the bench next to Jagr, talking about a missed scoring opportunity. He died at the hospital.
Now, there are reports that an ambulance stationed at the arena left before the game was over and had to be called back. It did not return until 25 minutes after Alexei collapsed. There are reports that emergency workers did not have a defibrillator on hand to shock his heart back into action. Some Russian lawmakers are calling for a criminal investigation.

None of this takes away from the fact that a mother has lost her son.
No criminal investigation will bring him back.
No amount of finger pointing will ease the pain in her own heart, as she faces the crushing task of laying her boy and his dreams to rest forever.

My heart goes out to both of these mothers.
I, too, have a son. He has no heart problems. He does not play hockey.
But I worry about his health and safety just the same.

In that way, I am no different from David or Alexei's mothers, or anyone else with a son or daughter.
I don’t have to explain, and neither do they.
We already know.
We are Mothers.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Toughness and Tears Mark Canucks' Home Opener

Hockey is supposed to be a sport for tough guys. Make it to the NHL level and you can expect bone-crunching hits, lightning quick speed and spectacular goals. But Friday night, toughness gave way to tears at GM Place in Vancouver, as the Canucks and their fans remembered a promising career cut tragically short. They paid tribute to Luc Bourdon, a 21 year old defenseman, who died in a motorcycle accident on May 29 near his hometown of Shippegan, New Brunswick.

In the days and weeks that followed the accident, the Canucks honored Luc's memory, by setting up a makeshift memorial outside GM Place, and online at the team's website, to let fans share their grief, and remember a young man who overcame juvenile arthritis to become a skilled junior player, then see his NHL dreams come true in 2005, when Vancouver drafted him 10th overall.

On Friday night, the Canucks took additional steps to make sure Luc's dreams are not forgotten. Before the game, they unveiled a special memorial wall at the entrance to GM Place. Then, they held a pre-game ceremony that included a selfless act from a Canucks fan. The woman who received the last jersey Luc wore as part of a "shirts off their back" promotion, gave that jersey to Luc's mother. The ceremony was capped off by a video tribute to Luc's career, from childhood to the NHL, accompanied by a live acoustic performance of the song, "Big League" by Tom Cochrane and Ken Greer of the Canadian band Red Rider. I barely maintained my composure through that haunting performance, then finally lost it as I saw tough players on the ice fighting back tears, including goalie and newly-minted captain Roberto Luongo.

Anyone who thought such an emotional ceremony would sap the Canucks of their energy and focus, was in for a big surprise. While the Calgary Flames dominated most of the first period, out shooting the Canucks, they could not get past Luongo. Then, Vancouver started making plays. Twin brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin teamed up for the Canucks' first goal before the first period ended.

The second period brought more scoring chances for Vancouver: Steve Bernier notched a goal just 23 seconds into the period, taking a pass from Henrik Sedin. Just over a minute later, Ryan Kesler put the Canucks up 3-0.

Alex Burrows joined the scoring fray in the third period, with a shot from inside the face-off circle. Matthias Ohlund took advantage of a Vancouver power play about halfway through the period, and Rick Rypien sealed things for the Canucks with a short-handed goal in the last five minutes of the game.

Goalie Roberto Luongo made 25 saves and chalked up the 39th shutout of his career as the Canucks blanked the Flames, 6-0.

After the game, several players admitted that they'd had a little trouble regaining their focus following the emotional tribute to Luc Bourdon. But Alex Burrows, Luc's closest friend on the team, told CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" crew that he felt Luc's spirit there that night, helping push the team to victory. Other players said that they will continue to remember Luc's enthusiasm and talent, and proudly wear his number "28" on their helmets all season.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

In five hours, the puck will drop for my team. It’s now 7:00am (Pacific Time) as I sit at my kitchen table and think about where the road has taken me since June, when the Penguins lost the Stanley Cup finals to the Red Wings. I have followed the Pens off season moves (lose Hossa, Malone, Roberts, Ruutu, Laraque, Hall. Gain Satan, Fedotenko, Goddard. Bring up Goligoski). I have agonized at off season and preseason injuries (Whitney, Gonchar). I followed the preseason action online and via podcast. The Penguins looked pretty good, winning 4 out of 5. Seems like whatever the new lines are doing to gel, may just be working. But something else happened this summer that will make me approach this new season with new eyes.

I discovered NHL Connect.

I can’t remember now just how I came about it. I may have gone to NHL.com looking for information. I may have accidentally clicked something on the Penguins website that sent me to NHL.com. A north wind may have swept through my kitchen and onto my laptop, sending me to NHL.com. However I got here, I got here. And fell through the looking glass into an amazing new world.
It started out innocently enough. I created a profile, got a few “friends” requests from members. I uploaded photos. Filled out my “interests”. Got a few more “friends” requests. I wrote my first blog, about reliving the 1980 Miracle on Ice through my father’s eyes. Then, I made the first of what would become one of the best group of friends I’ve ever had. And the most amazing thing? They all like different teams, including teams that hate the Penguins!

There’s K_Bennett, JuiceinLA, jlewings, Mchiconsky. Rabid Red Wings fans. All offered a hand of friendship to a girl still licking wounds from that stinging Stanley Cup loss. Not one gloated, patronized or bullied. Instead, they commiserated, sharing their own past heartbreak during years of Cup drought in Hockeytown. All commented on a blog I wrote celebrating Darren McCarty’s personal victory that put him back on the path to the Cup. A fitting footnote to this was Juice’s blog about how D-Mac spent his day with the Cup, creating a mondo ice cream sundae that he shared with his children and anyone else wandering into that ice cream shop.

There’s TealGirl730, Yodaman, Allintrbl, Sportsfanatic, sjsharksfan. As you can guess, super Sharks fans. Hands of friendship, excellent blogs. I LOVE Teal girl’s “Summer School Term Paper” blog. If you haven’t read it, you need to. Allintrbl has shared his heartbreak over a terrible misalignment of dates (Sharks opening day = day of dog owner training class. Miss the class, pay a $300 fine). He dutifully sold his tickets. The date of the class gets changed. Oh, your blood is boiling in his defense, isn’t it? It has a happy ending. You can read all about it if you go to his page and read his successive blogs. Same with Yodaman, Sportsfanatic, sjsharksfan. Speaking of sjsharksfan, I enjoy getting her mass messages telling all of us to have a wonderful weekend.

There’s NYRFan78, JHRangers. My two very good friends from NYC. Rabid Rangers fans. We should hate each other, right? I mean, the Penguins knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs. No such luck. JHRangers is one of my closest friends. Always cheerful, unless you diss one of his friends. I think we saw evidence of that during an unfortunate time this summer. JH also managed to wrangle a group of us together for a Fantasy Hockey league that promises lots of fun, trash talk, and ice cream.

There’s Macksayev, HockeyFan48. Sabres fans of the highest caliber. Through Macksayev, I am also learning about the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. HockeyFan48 was recently honored as Featured Member, and for good reason. Take a stroll through her profile and you’ll see what I mean.

There’s CCD3M, my Capitals friend. His blogs are always entertaining and he doesn’t just write about Washington. You need a taste of his humor.

There’s Strawman64. He may be, hands down, the wittiest, most acerbic person I’ve ever met. I don’t have enough words to describe the journey you take when you read one of his blogs. Word of Warning. If you are thin-skinned, this Bruin fan’s musings may not be for you. He shows me how silly it is to take myself too seriously. Lesson learned.

There’s TXHockeyCowgirl, Truefan. Two dedicated Stars fans. Two extremely friendly people. TXHockeyCow is today’s Featured Member at Connect. Another fantastic choice. I have learned so much about the Stars, just by reading her blogs. And TrueFan always makes me smile.

There’s HockeyLuver. He’s a Canucks fan living in the South. He’s always got a nice word- and his blogs are definitely worth reading. I’m glad he survived Hurricane Gustav (Mchiconsky, too!!)

There’s SuperDave. A super Leafs fan who is so knowledgeable about so many things related to hockey. Not only that, but he’s a super nice guy to boot. His blogs are entertaining and informative (read his account of his day with the Cup, and the blogs from the Prospects Tourney in Traverse City). And his playoff beard video is must-see.
There’s DashHopes. A Montreal fan who has promised to take good care of Georges Laraque, who I hated to see leave the Penguins.

There’s a group of friends who surprise me with their friendship, because they’re all Flyers fans. Yes. The cross-state rivals. Who should hate me on sight because I sport the black and gold on my profile. They don’t (or well, they’ve said they do, anyway). There’s Fish’nRich, Twentytwo, Dave25, Alice. Okay, they take friendly shots sometimes, but hey, it’s all in fun, right? Right?
Seriously. I have read some of the best blogs at this site from this group of Flyers fans. And they don’t write just about their Philly guys, either. I can’t single out any blog. You have to read them all. You may not agree, but you will understand.

Then, there’s my core group of Pens friends. CheckmatePens, Mel1004, Piggylady87, Pens_in_09. I know we will cheer together, yell together, cry together. And when things get soo serious, Mel will find some funny piece of video or some crazy blog topic to make us laugh and bring the sun back into our lives a little.

The oddest thing about my summer of Connect friendships? I’ve actually written to some of my non-Pens friends that I would cheer for their team, when the team is not playing mine. And you know what?

I mean it!

I wish everyone’s teams a great season. And when our guys meet each other on the ice, I’ll cheer hard for my guys. But if your guys win, I won’t begrudge you. Okay, maybe a little. Okay, maybe a little more than a little.

But I do know this.
You guys make this league more real, more fun, and for that, I thank you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hockey Limericks - Just For Fun!

There once was a goalie named Fleury
Whose ankle sprain caused quite a worry
But he healed good as new
Helped the Pens win a few
And became part of a great success story!

There once was a guy named Laraque
Who on the ice was quite a jock
But take the skates off
And his heart was quite soft
Which some people found quite a shock

There once was a goalie named Osgood
Who minded the net here in my ‘hood
Then Ozzy grew Wings
Helped crown Detroit “Kings”
Now he’s living a life that is so good.

You’ve gotta give each team its due
For fighting to make it on through
To the next round of games
And the quest for great fame
With the Stanley Cup firmly in view

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Walking with Mario Lemieux... and my Grandma.

This week, I will undertake one of the most grueling events in my life. I will walk 60 miles to help raise money for and awareness of breast cancer research. I am taking part in the Breast Cancer 3 Day Walk in Seattle. And the reason I signed up for this physically demanding quest?

My Grandma. And Mario Lemieux.

My Grandma, Alma Christine Ring, was a big, loving woman. She raised six boys: Frank, Joe, John, Jimmy, Tommy and Eddie. She was quick with a quip and made the best pot roast I’ve ever eaten, or will ever eat. She swore (always accidentally, like this time: We’re walking to Mass and Grandma steps in a pile of dog poop. Grandma: “Oh, shit!” Me (straight faced): “Yep, that’s exactly what you stepped in, Grandma.” We ended up linking arms and laughing the rest of the way to church). She made farina for breakfast every morning (that’s Cream of Wheat to you and me). She never missed an episode of “As The World Turns.” She believed that after dinner coffee should never be served without a healthy slice of Entenmanns’s coffee cake (the kind with the cream cheese in the middle). She loved John Denver and always asked my sister Karen and me to sing for her. Her favorite song was “Annie’s Song.” She encouraged me to never stop dreaming. She encouraged me to always keep writing. She gave me permission to use her maiden name for my pen name. I used it on my first novel.

I watched Grandma whittle away to nearly nothing over a several year period. She said her doctor told her she had an ulcer and to take Mylanta every day. She had a cabinet stocked with those teal blue bottles. When the pain became too bad, she went to another doctor. It turned out, she had cancer. It was everywhere and there was nothing they could do. They closed her up. She died months later. I sang “Annie’s Song” at her funeral. Then threw myself on top of her coffin.

This was in 1986. In 2006 I found out that Grandma hadn’t died of stomach cancer. That she’d had breast cancer. She’d undergone a double mastectomy in the 70’s. But the cancer came back, and finally claimed her. In 2006, at age 42, I made my first mammogram appointment.

Mario Lemieux became my favorite player when he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 80’s. I was mesmerized by the way he played. Okay, I also thought he was quite handsome. He still makes my knees weak.

I know Mario played most of his career through all kinds of health issues. Chronic pain. Several surgeries. Cancer. Radiation. Through it all, he laced them up (or asked someone else for help lacing them up) and took the ice, again and again. Again and again, he lived up to his nickname Le Magnifique.

I have never had cancer, thank goodness. My mammograms have all come back clear. But I do live with constant back pain. I survived a bad car accident four years ago. My broken ribs healed. My crushed leg muscles regenerated. But my back has never been the same. My doctor has offered to prescribe a strong pain killer to help me through my day. I stick with Aleve, because of my past experiences with stronger “stuff”.

I signed up for the 3 Day Walk in April. I started training in July. I’m not as fast as I used to be and my endurance is not as strong as it used to be than the years before my accident, when I walked 3 miles a day. But I am walking and I know that my endurance will come back. The speed will come back.

Like anything else I’ve ever done, I find I work best when I take things one step at a time.
And so I walk. For Grandma. For Mario. For all the women I know who have battled breast cancer and won. Or lost. For the loved ones they leave behind.

But most of all, I walk for myself. And for the self that is yet to be revealed.

Who do you walk for?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ode to a Gymnastics Queen

One moment during the Summer Olympics catapulted me back in time more than 30 years. There was a question about a gymnast’s score. The cameras cut to a judge striding purposely across the floor. She had short black hair and was wearing a crimson blazer. She looked familiar but I didn’t know why, until the commentator said, “There goes head judge Nellie Kim to confer with the other judges.”

Proverbial bolt of lightning.

My head did the double take shake most often seen on an episode of Scooby Doo.
Did that announcer just say NELLIE KIM?

As in Nellie Kim, famed Russian gymnast who won gold medals in 1976 and 1980? Who was the first woman to score a perfect 10 on Vault and floor exercise (yes, even before Nadia!). I looked again. Yep. There was no mistaking now. This is the one and the same Nellie Kim who made me want to become a gymnast in elementary school.

Why did I like her so much? Was it her grace on floor exercise? Her strength on vault? Her all around poise? Actually, the truth is much simpler.
I liked Nellie Kim because she was half-Korean, like me.

Until that point, I had never met or seen anyone like me.
I lived for nearly 4 years in Korea, being gawked at because I was half-Caucasian and had the round eyes and curly hair of my dad. Forget that my Korean was impeccable. I was still not full-Korean, and therefore, ridiculed by some kids. The most vivid memory that comes to mind is the neighbor girl (I cannot remember her name) who used to pinch me all the way home from school. I would walk in crying, red welts all over my arms. My mom would rub my arms while scolding me, telling me to fight back. I never did. I didn’t start fighting back until years later, for different reasons.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand.

Nellie Kim was Russian. Specifically, she was from Tajikistan. Her father was Korean. Her mother was Tatar. But that didn’t matter to me. The summer of 1976, even as I was captivated by a 14 year old Romanian girl named Nadia, I was fixated on the beautiful and graceful Nellie Kim from the Soviet Union. The girl with the Korean last name and the poise of a ballerina. She didn’t look like an underfed pixie. She had curves. And she made me believe that I could learn gymnastics too.

The year after the 76 games, I started 7th grade. One of the intramural sports offered was gymnastics. I signed up. And you know what? I did pretty darn good on the vault. I had strong legs from running track, playing football and softball. My upper body strength needed help, but all in all, I wasn’t too shabby. The other events posed somewhat of a problem. I couldn’t master a back handspring. I did the back walkover just fine, but no springing. Which meant the floor exercise was out. The balance beam? Forget about it! Every time I got on one, I immediately fell off. Something about my equilibrium. I didn’t even try the uneven bars. My budding gymnastics career ended when I sprained my wrist trying a new vault routine.

Hey, don’t feel sad for me. I don’t feel bad about my brief flirtation with gymnastics. Had it not been for Nellie, I would never have even tried it. And I think I’m way better off having tried gymnastics than wondering what it would have been like. And because of Nellie Kim, I walked a little straighter and told everyone, “She’s half-Korean, just like me!” And I learned that in the US, unlike Korea, people didn’t really care about my ethnic background, or that I wasn’t full Korean or full Caucasian. At least, the people I met didn’t care. Most of them were military brats like me.

So, Nellie Kim. I am happy to see that you are still involved with gymnastics. Still sharing your grace and beauty. Thank you for giving awkward girls like me a glimpse of a glorious dream. It was worth every issue of “International Gymnast” I stole from the school library.

Hopefully, one day, I can influence someone the way you influenced me. Not to just go into gymnastics, but to try something new. Something different. Because you never know where you’ll land.