|Monday, September 23
Updated: September 27, 7:44 PM ET
What I did on my summer vacation
By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com
If one hesitates in his path, let me not proceed. Let him respect his doubts, for doubts, too, may have some divinity in them. -- Henry David Thoreau
OK, I'm ready to roll.
Life is best lived somewhere between Jeremiah Kornegay's impetuousness and Hank Thoreau's deliberate, chillness. In my younger days, I was VERY deliberate. My favorite video games were Q*bert (released in 1982) and Frogger (released 1981) because they were more Zen than Led Zeppelin, more baseball than hockey. As the years have crawled by and I've attempted to pokecheck life's traffic and river clutter in order to get to a desired lily pad, I've evolved into more Zeppelin than Zen and more hockey than baseball. But, after a nine-month NHL season, a three-month mental dip in Walden Pond is needed to recharge the Zamboni's battery. That being said, hockey still played a major role in my summer vacation since driving from Detroit to Connecticut following the Wings' Cup victory on June 13th. So here's an initial skate around to say, "What's up?," tell you what's coming up this year in this space, and what happened since we last talked.
My companion for the awards show was my best friend -- my 10-year-old son, Brett. Brett's life is hockey. He conducts complete tournaments using the handful of Todd MacFarlane figurines he has in his room. Whether it's MacFarlane's figurines, mini-sticks hockey in the living room, the sheet of ice in his backyard, or left wing on the South Windsor Squirt A team, it's all hockey all the time. Donned in our rented tuxedos, we attended a preshow VIP "happy hour" with all the nominees. All of Brett's heroes were there -- Patrick Roy (his favorite), Sakic, Lidstrom, Chelios, Theodore, Iginla, Healty, Kovalchuk, Francis and Peca. Hall of Famers, all of them. Pictures, autographs and handshakes. Moments to cement a boy's love affair with hockey.
The show was well paced and drama filled. Afterwards, dinner and more handshakes. Nickelback, whom we chatted with here in "Soundboard" last season, hung around after playing on the show. Soundboard will be back this season -- Rush and Tragically Hip fans, don't worry. Calls have been made and we will have them in the column this year.
June also featured my first participation in the Travis Roy Benefit Golf Tournament.
I love Denver. If it had an ocean, I GUARANTEE you, I would have moved there last Thursday. So, although I don't like to travel in the summer, this was an easy yes. A ballgame at Coors Field (of all the ballparks I've been to, it is my favorite), two rounds of golf, and a chance to hear Sakic say, "Hey! Jim! Love you on NHL 2Night with Melrose!" Sakic's tournament benefits the Food Bank of the Rockies. It is low key and very profitable. This year's tournament enabled the Food Bank to distribute 1.1 million meals. Sakic plays golf left-handed and loves the Seattle Mariners. In observing and chatting with Joe, I'm guessing his ideal day is to wakeup, watch the kids rise and shine, go play golf with his buddies, meet his wife for lunch at the course and then play 18 more with her, go home, hang out in shorts and sandles, play with the kids in the pool, fire up the grill, eat, put the kids to bed, pop open a beer, roll out the TV to the backyard deck, put on the Mariners and enjoy a ballgame under a blanket of Colorado stars.
1. The show is moving from Tuesday-Saturday to Wednesday-Sunday. Still five days a week.
Also in August, was the Hockey in Harlem benefit golf tournament at Winged Foot Country Club, site of the 2006 U.S Open. That day was right there with Travis Roy's tournament -- 18 holes in the morning on the East course, 18 holes in the afternoon on the West course. In the morning, I played with Sandy McCarthy and Manny Malhotra. Both were great guys. Malhotra has a beautiful left-handed golf swing. He has the potential to be a scratch golfer with instruction and practice. McCarthy said he had a hard time fighting last year because he was injured. Memo to the rest of the NHL: He says he feels good now.
After the afternoon round, I sat with ex-Capital head coach Ron Wilson for dinner. THAT was VERY enlightening. Ron would be a GREAT TV analyst and I hope we can get him on NHL 2Night this year. He will be one of the early "What's up with ..." installments. That's the part of the weekly column that discovers what certain people in the hockey world are doing these days. NHL referee Paul Stewart was also at the Hockey in Harlem event. Stewart will referee his 1,000th game sometime this season.
But, understand that hockey and golf are very much intertwined. Not all hockey players golf, but a good number do. Some casually, some intensely. Raymond Bourque takes the game very seriously. I had the incredible opportunity to be paired with No. 77 in the Celebrity Players Tour event that was held in Connecticut. That's the tour that features mostly retired athletes like Dan Quinn, Rick Rhoden, Mike Schmidt, John Elway and so on. This event was a best ball of two format over two days. The weather was, in the words of Joseph Conrad, "a benign immensity of unstained light." The crowds were nice and they all wanted a piece of Ray. Even though we were competing, he NEVER ONCE turned down an autograph request or a picture request. Everybody really loves Raymond. We'll catch up with Ray during an early installment of "What's up with ..." to let you know how he spends his days these days. And in case you didn't know, No. 77's son, Chris, has committed to play hockey at Boston University.
And finally, the last charity golf tournament of the year was held at Hudson National on the banks of the Hudson River. It was put on by the New York City Firefighters Hockey Team. It is an annual event to help the widows and children of fallen firefighters. Since 1974, the FDNY Hockey Team has been playing throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe raising money. The events of last Sept. 11 were America's wake-up call to the bravery and danger that firefighters face their entire careers. There have been firefighters who have died in fires since Sept. 11, and events like these help those families in tragic times.
At this event was a roster of hockey players from Stanley Cups past -- Ulf Samuleson, Bob Nystrom, Clark Gillies, Glenn Anderson, Mike Eruzione (no Stanley Cup silver, but a nice bit of gold), Derek Sanderson and the man he passed the puck to on May 10, 1970 ... Robert Gordon Orr. FDNY has a hockey team that plays in charity and competitive events, so it was only natural that maybe the greatest player ever was part of their event. No. 4 was passing out autographed golf balls with an FDNY logo on the side. I introduced myself and Orr pretended to know who I was, grabbing my left trapezius muscle and right arm in a quick, impromptu sign of greeting and acceptance. I swear to God, at that moment, I was filled with so much energy, I could have backstroked upstream in Alan Eagleson's raging river of delusions. I also could have run into a burning building to save a complete stranger. Let's face it, you and I could run into a burning house to save OUR children, but could we to save the stranger across town? If you've been touched by Bobby Orr you could. And that's when it hit me. Firefighters have been touched by Orr. In fact, THEY ARE ORR. Courageous, unrelenting, heroic, SUPERSTARS. Orr metaphorically, the firefighters, absolutely.
The beauty and purity of firefighters and teachers not making lots of money is that the people who are firefighters and teachers don't do it for the money. If they made too much, there would be some who WOULD be doing it just for the money. As there are hockey players who are playing just for the money. Not many, but some.
Playing golf with these firefighters can do two things. It can render you and the insignificant job you have unimportant. Or, it can fill you with inspiration and energy to play your role hard and with passion.
I'm taking their inspiration and the touch of No. 4 to try to be a little bit better.
A final lap
The column that you were accustomed to seeing last season will begin appearing in three weeks. For the next two weeks, we will break down each of the 30 teams, taking a look at what they did over the summer and how their season will go, starting with the Eastern Conference. My Stanley Cup champion is coming from the West, so we will save that for second, as well as other predictions and views. Last year, we had the Red Wings going from wire to wire. I am assigning a song lyric to each team.
One more note: There were some complaints that the column was difficult to find at times last year. If you haven't noticed, I have a permanent slot on the left-hand side of the the NHL page under "Slants." I will be in other places, but I will always be there.
Thanks for reading, hope you had an awesome summer, and let's drop the puck!
I AM READY!
John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which will air Wednesday-Sunday on ESPN2 beginning with the preview show on Tue., Oct. 8. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.