|Monday, March 31
End of one season, start of another
By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com
Today, I tore down the backyard rink. I took down the boards, unearthed the brackets which held said boards, folded up the 60"x40" rink liner, gathered the 57 pucks strewn like frozen Ring Dings on the lawn and revealed after spring stole the snow, and stashed it all away into the shed that sits in the backyard that was built for the sole purpose of being a backyard rink warehouse.
In New England, this is the muddy season. Too warm to skate and too wet to golf. With the exception of isolated public golf courses that are playing, lift, clean, sometimes shovel, place, splat, and towel off. In fact most of my life this time of year is muddy. The NHL season has few meaningful games left. We yearn; CRAVE for the playoffs to begin. The weekend morning trips to the local rink are over, as America's youth looks to begin sloppy spring training for the Little League season. And musically, I'm as staid as a Darryl Sutter sport coat. I find myself shoving the same CD's into the car CD player, and Lord knows nothing on the radio will move me.
"…It's your birthday. We gon' party like it's your birthday. We gon' Darren McCarty like it's your birthday…"
And the whole depression started with the removal of the backyard rink.
A backyard rink is tons of work. Time consuming to construct, maintain and disassemble. When I construct and disassemble, I vow every year that "this is the last year." When I maintain and use the rink, it is the most satisfying, surreal experience I have other than listening to Barry Melrose butcher the English language. I am never in a bad mood when skating and I always finish satisfied, fulfilled, exhilarated, and relaxed. Like hockey, being a backyard rink owner is an emotional occupation.
This year, Year Three of the Buccigross Garden, was by far the most satisfying. The lone downer was not being able to skate at midnight, New Year's Early Morning because of unfavorable ice conditions. Last winter, was a hideous skating season. I keep a backyard rink diary and last winter saw just six skating days. However, one was at midnight, January 1. A full moon, a Jupiter sighting, and a million stars all around. A Peaceful, Easy ice skating Feeling. That one skate was worth all the sweaty construction and muddy dissembling, even though only five more skating days would follow. The last skate was January 8. I took the rink apart on February 20, 2002.
This year was different. Backyard rink nirvana. Where 2001-2002 saw six skating days. This winter saw five times as many -- 30. The first one was a "before school skate" on December 5. The last was a bumpy outing on February 25.
Here are some diary excerpts:
December 5: Entire rink is frozen. An awesome half-hour of skating. The year is off to a fast start.
December 7: Sunny, 33 degrees on No. 33 Larry Bird's birthday. Brett and Malorie skated from 8 a.m-9 a.m., and again from 10 a.m.-noon. Brett went out again at 3 p.m. Ice holding up well.
December 18: Seventh day of skating, surpassing last winter's total. I skated at 3 a.m. after coming home from anchoring the late SportsCenter.
January 12: Brett had a 6 a.m. hockey practice. After practice we skated for 90 minutes. Brett went back out at 11 a.m. and skated for three more hours. He then went to his 4:30 p.m. game. Surprisingly, HE DIDN'T HAVE HIS LEGS FOR HIS GAME.
January 18: I skated with Carmen Electra, Jennifer Garner and Michel Goulet. I convinced Michel to go into the shed and get me a wrench. I then locked him in the shed. After our skate, Carmen and Jennifer gave me a massage, served me hot cocoa and begged me to tell them all about my Steubenville, Ohio, street hockey days.
January 28: Jackson, my 3-year-old, and I went out around 2 p.m. This was the best Jack has ever skated. He moved all around the ice by himself for a good 15-20 minutes. I tried to act nonchalant as I snapped off wrist shots, so not as to make him self-conscious, but inside I was doing the Ickey Shuffle.
Those are just six of 30 amazing days on ice. Actually, five of 30. One of the installments was embellished just a tad. It was Curt Giles, not Michel Goulet.
Either way, they are now just memories in a skating journal. Gone forever. Every spring is a bereaving season. The death of beautiful times on ice and kids that are never the same age again. I find being a dad as painful as it is joyous. I don't want Jackson to stop being three. I want him to always say, as his face beams a 100-watt smile while handing me a mini-stick in the family room, "I'll be Joe Sakic and you be Patrick Roy. OK, daddy??!!"
Stashing away the rink makes me think of these things.
So, I'm trying to get over my somber emotional state until the playoffs start on April 9. The rink is in the shed, but I can take away the satisfaction of all the hard work and time it took constructing, maintaining and disassembling the ice cube. The first round of 18 is days away. Baseball is back. And while MLB is not the NHL, it's certainly not the NBA, and I just purchased three new CDs at the local Borders to play in the car for the Stanley Cup playoffs: "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," by The Flaming Lips; "Slow Motion Day Dream," by Everclear; and "Break Your Mother's Heart," by Tim Easton.
One more week to go. The rink may be melted, but life is still cool. One more week. The Titleist will be in the air, Nomar will be hitting .448, I'll have Tim Easton's "Poor, Poor L.A." memorized, and the one of the most exciting NHL playoff seasons EVER will begin. I can feel it in my thawed bones. Something special will happen every night. I can feel Joe Thornton's fury, Peter Forsberg's IQ, Steve Yzerman's will and Tony Amonte's exuberance. Feel, observe, participate and enjoy. The greatest tournament of them all is upon us.
Let the games begin.
Somthing to look forward to
1. Nikolai Zherdev, C, Russia
2. Milan Michalek, LW, Czech Republic
3. Eric Staal, C, Peterborough
4. Nathan Horton, C, Oshawa
5. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Cape Breton
6. Braydon Coburn, D, Portland
7. Thomas Vanek, RW, Minnesota
8. Dustin Brown, RW, Guelph
9. Zach Parise, C, North Dakota
10. Robert Nilsson, LW, Sweden
11. Ryan Suter, D, U.S. National Team Development Program
12. Dion Phaneuf, D, Red Deer
13. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Calgary
14. Konstantin Glazachev, LW, Russia
15. Mark Stuart, D, Colorado
"Rolie" was born October 12, 1969, in Simcoe, Ontario.
No. 2: After St. Louis signed you as a free agent in 2000, the assigned you to Worcester. You were a 31-year-old goalie in the AHL. How tough was that? Roloson: Any time you take a step back it's pretty hard. You wonder, "What's up next?" I just took advantage of the ice time in the minors and hoped I'd get back up to the next level.
Dwayne went 32-15-5 in Worcester with an AHL leading 2.17 goals against average. The Wild signed him after that season.
No. 3: Are you surprised the Wild have had so much success this year? Roloson: You see all the articles and you see you are picked last before the season. And we just said, "We'll have to prove them wrong again." And that's how we approach it. We have a lot of third- and fourth-liners from other teams, with a few exceptions, and we have to claw for everything we get.
Dwayne was a not drafted. He began his pro career when Calgary signed him on July 4, 1994.
No. 4: Were the playoffs a preseason goal? Roloson: At the beginning of the year we said we wanted to do better than we did last year (73 points 12th in the West) and shoot for the playoffs and keep it realistic. Also, we wanted to concentrate at the task at hand, and that's winning game by game.
He appeared in 70 games for Calgary, going 20-30-11 (nine no decisions).
No. 5: Why are the Wild playing well this year? Roloson: I just think we play so well together. We don't have superstars to go out and score four goals a night. We have to play smart offensively and defensively. We try not to make too many mistakes and try to capitalize on the other team's mistakes. We've been doing that really well this season. Jacques is one of the best coaches in the league and he really simplifies the game for everybody. It's unbelievable to sit there and listen to what he has to say.
Dwayne won the Baz Bastien Trophy for top AHL goalie in 2001 with the Worcester IceCats. Other Bastien Trophy winners include: Jon Casey (Baltimore Skipjacks), Felix Potvin (St. John's Maple Leafs), and Manny Legace (Springfield Falcons).
No. 6: Many people thought the Wild were doomed when the NHL sought to enforce clutching and grabbing. Why hasn't that been the case? Roloson: Everyone was saying the new rules would hurt us because we like to trap and clog up the neutral zone. Actually, the new rules help us because we're such a fast team; we can forecheck and get on guys before they can do anything. When we're skating well, we're playing well. We have two simple rules: at our blue line, make sure the puck gets out; at their blue line, make sure the puck gets deep. When we do it right, we play well.
Dwayne played four years of college hockey at UMass-Lowell and was named MVP of the 1994 Hockey East Tournament despite losing to Boston University, 3-2, in the final. He was also a First Team All-America selection that season.
No. 7: When your sons are 18 and have the option of playing junior hockey or college hockey, what would you recommend? Roloson: I would like to see them get their schooling. It was one of the things I looked at. Hockey isn't going to last forever. I figured I could use hockey to get an education and that's something no one could take away from me. I always thought it was important to get an education. If you don't have that degree it's tough to get a job after hockey.
Dwayne loves to play golf. He has no holes-in-one. He likes Phil Collins and his favorite Collins song is "In the Air Tonight."
No. 8: What was your first job growing up in Canada? Roloson: I picked tomatoes when I was 14. And then I picked tobacco after that. It was painful. I had bad allergies and hay fever and the tomatoes were always growing with ragweed all around it. It was terrible. I hated it.
I admit I am the driver on the Chris Drury bandwagon and I treat the horse well, I feed him well. Drury is not a superstar. He has probably been miscast in the role by fans and the media and thus when one looks at his stats, they are under whelmed. Drury is a grinder. Unrelenting and tough, yet smart and creative. That's why he's a better playoff scorer than a regular-season scorer and why the Avs will miss him this spring.
I don NOT have a minivan. You know it, I know it, Bob Dole knows it, the American people know it. And Ken and I are more into Stereophonics, Coldplay and Tenacious D these days.
Ray Ferraro said that coming back from ACL surgery is difficult and that he expects Fischer to be a bit under 100 percent. Ken is fine. He just got back from an all-day otter spa in Mingo Junction, Ohio.
Lehtinen is having an outstanding year and would be a deserving. Some of you Lehtinen supporters cite his goals this year. Bob Gainey won four straight Selke's and his goal totals for those four years were 15, 20, 14 and 23. Goals don't matter. It's all about defense. And be careful with plus/minus. That is as much a team stat as an individual stat.
No one appreciates or loves Forsberg more than me. I just thought since the Canucks will likely win the division, despite injuries to Ed Jovanovski and Dan Cloutier, and the fact they have little scoring support, I thought Bertuzzi's value was a hair higher. He is the reason for Vancouver and Naslund's success, not the other way around. He is a great skater, passer, and gives Naslund lots of room to move.
Barry would be a good fit because his teams always play hard and tough and getting young players to play hard and tough is the fastest way to get them to improve. However, I imagine if the Penguins hire a new coach he will be an inexpensive one. Of course, if Mario were player-coach, they could save a salary and have the assistants make the defense and line changes.
Keep in mind while you watch the Stanley Cup playoffs that there are brave and strong men and women in great danger fighting a war. Some are hockey fans. Hope for a quick ending soon, so they can be home with their family and friends, safe, sound and feeling the joy of watching Mike Modano skate or Al MacInnis shoot a puck. Be well, Russ. Peace.
John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.