Monday, March 30, 2009

Hockey memories: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

We lost a tough game tonight. One of those ones you know you should have won. The final score was 12-10. We blew a 7-2 lead after two (of four) periods. The goalies do switch half way through and the second half; we had the goalie who gave up 19 of the 22 total goals. So you could take that into account, but we still could have won it. I played the best 24 minutes of the season so far in the first two periods but ran out of steam in the third and fourth.

In the final period I did check one of their best players, a good clean open court hit. He would have had a breakaway if he beat me, and as he is much faster and bigger than me, I stepped up to him and put him on his butt. Of course a penalty was called. In this league, the result of a penalty is a penalty shot. So he put it in the net anyway on the penalty shot. It did get quite a rise out of the other team and I understand it is a non-check league, but I wasn’t impressed with how they complained about my “constant checks” as one player put it, when they do plenty of hooking on their own. They’re probably concerned about safety which I understand, but I know whining when I see it.

After the game, we all have a beer and its all water under the bridge but I did feel a bit bad about hitting the guy. He was all good with it; it was more that one of his teammates was angry. I guess I will just try to not use the body so much in the next game. Or just watch my back.

It kind of got me thinking about my most memorable penalties growing up. Let’s take a trip down memory lane….

1. When I was a Squirt (name of the level of play I was in at the time, around 11 or 12 years old) I stepped up one level and played on the Pee Wee team instead so my brother and I could commute to games together. We were playing against a team called Neshoba…no idea where this was. I think it was a game in the Tom Hill League. The game was getting pretty out of control and with about two minutes left, their smallest player, poor guy, was about to go on a breakaway. I took about a dozen steps and creamed that kid. That had to be one of the first misconducts I remember receiving. I think Mr. Massuco and Mr. Leclair liked the hit though.

2. This is a two part one. KHS vs. Central at JFK arena in Manchester, and KHS vs. Berlin High in Berlin. During another chippy game which I think we won 3-1 in Manchester, late in the game, the KHS penalty box had myself, my brother, Ken Linn, Steve Symonds and Tim Miles. It was crowded. What was so memorable is that all four of our defenseman was in there! And the one in Berlin is the first time I remember sharing a penalty timeout with my brother Jon. I hated that Berlin crowd. Still do. Those damn cow bells and the smell of Berlin make me cringe. But those teams were good.
3. My mom remembers this next one. In Concord, maybe as a Bantam, after a whistle, I exchanged some words with a Concord player and head butted him. The purpose of a head butt while wearing facemasks is still a mystery to this day. Mom told me that all the other hockey moms looked at her as if to say “That’s your kid….” And I think my dad’s words were “Well we can put that one in the books. I was ejected for the head butt, but already had spent 10 minutes in the box for a hitting from behind. The games were only 36 minutes.

4. Montreal Canada was the next venue for my most memorable penalties. I went up to Canada for a weekend tournament with an All-Star team coached by Berlin’s coach Ryan. Ironically, our uniforms were Berlin King’s jerseys. I felt a bit like a traitor. Well we were a bit over our heads, facing three Canadian teams and one from Minnesota. I believe in three of the games we gave up at least eight goals, and managed to tie one. Well in one of the NH vs. Canada games, I was hit into next week by their biggest player on one shift two, if not three times. I mean he me down. So when he came by me again, I “Marty McSorley’d” him near the head with my stick. Kind of a meltdown I’d say. Not proud of it. Not at all. The guy was so tough he merely laughed at me as they sent me to the box for a generous four minutes.

5. Number five took place at the Ice Palace which is also known as Cheshire Ice Arena. Again, the details are fading, but this is what I remember. It was the final game of our Cinderella 1996-1997 season. We were playing Bishop Guertin, one of the state’s best teams. They had a very good player. I think his name was Nick Nugent. He just like the guy in #4 put me on my butt in a great open ice hit. There was probably a minute left. Just enough time to get a retaliation penalty. Well I couldn’t find Nugent, so the next available Guertin player sufficed. I hit that kid from behind pretty darn good. Open ice, don’t worry; I wouldn’t do that on the boards intentionally. Off to the box for another misconduct. Luckily the ref was a g. housen employee so he told me a couple years later that that was the difference in not getting thrown out of the game completely.

So the moral of the story is here, don’t hit me.

I guess the rest of this blog will only be entertaining if you actually witnessed some of my childhood hockey games or were a teammate of mine. It will probably be just those of you related to me. But enjoy.

My grandparents were my brother and my biggest fans. Gramp Watterson traveled to as many games as my parents did. Gram was often there too. On the Gemmell side, Grandpa G and Gram, they’d watch, I’m pretty sure not always understanding the game, but supporting their grandkids. Gram G did not attend for a couple seasons due to the violence of the sport, but I remember something about her giving it another shot and enjoying it as we grew older.

The Bud Light All-Stars playing against the retired Boston Bruins.
Was there any better team in the state than Manchester 1? Manchester back then was probably not quite 100,000 strong, but it had to be up there. The best players from that city were put on Manchester 1. And there were so many players, they had a Manchester 2. Those games, I honestly can’t use the word “fun” to describe. But they were what made us better players. I can’t count how many times we lost by six or seven or eight to them, but there were a few times where almost beat them or on one occasion that I remember – actually beat them.

I’m trying to think of the worst arenas in the state to play in. Unbeknownst to us from Keene, I think the Ice Palace probably ranked #1 to the rest of the state. But I mean for me, what was the worst arena to play in? I would say there were a few. The first has to be Berlin. Berlin was like the Thunder dome from the movie Mad Max. It was dilapidated, dark, and smelly (as I mentioned before), cold, and the fans were so involved. It was the most intimidating settings to play a game. I wish I knew how many times we beat them and they beat us, but I know they got the better of us. Remember Chad Lauze, Ryan Nolan, the Poulins, And THE GOULETS! I played against Wade, Jon played against Grant….Wade was a sniper. We had some very heated battles with him. They also had a guy named Justin Rancourt, Craig Bartoli….the list goes on and on…oh and their goalie Dustin Ryan. We played them for so many years, that’s’ how well I know their team. Their goals were made in some factory that didn’t have enough piping apparently. I hated that when they scored, the puck would dash right out of the net. Other things about Berlin, their colors were Black and white, scary. They played the song Enter Sandman by Metallica when they came on the ice. Everything about them was tough. They had to be some of my favorite games.
Playing Berlin in Keene.
Playing against Salem or the Gate City Wings meant we had to travel to Tingsboro, Massachusetts. I hated this stadium. The locker rooms had to be full of asbestos. It had to be. It was the dirtiest, smelliest locker room I can remember (besides Berlin!). They had two rinks. One had a balcony where all our parents stood and watched. How terrifying is that? Having your parents loom over you while you try to succeed. I didn’t like that. The other rink, had enough stands to hold a rock concert, but there were always only about 40 people there. It was quiet, dark, and we usually played Guertin there and LOST! So yeah, that place is not too cool to me. And Salem usually had a bunch of punks on their team. I remember one guy’s name was Chizm….sounds like dirty player to me. They did add another rink later on, but I only played that under the direction of Coach Paul…and we didn’t win many games. Moving on.

Even though they weren’t in our league, Brattleboro, VT had to be the most miserable experience to play or watch a game….ever. Berlin stunk because of the atmosphere. Bratt was horrible because everyone was frozen. It was one of those rinks that didn’t have walls, just tarps for walls. The fact that we had exhibition games there and that they didn’t mean anything made it much worse. Who knows if we won or lost there, who cares? One funny memory is of Nick Cote as probably a Mite: He wore a winter cap under his helmet to keep his head warm. At one point, the hat went over his eyes and he was skating around blind calling for his dad. Good stuff.

Other notables: Rochester just was the worst place to drive to. Dover had amazing teams like Sea Coast that would beat up on us. Although some of my greatest open ice checks came from Dover. Oh and Fitchburg, Mass….I can’t believe I forgot about it. Fitchburg had two rinks. I didn’t care for either. We played there so many times, I can hardly remember the games. We played teams like Chelmsford and Leominster and other strange teams from the Tom Hill hockey league.
How about the best places to play in? Hanover was always my favorite. I think I played some of my best hockey there. Good thing Hanover has money, they kept that place at a nice temp. Nice locker rooms. Everything about it was nice, even their fans. I don’t remember them being too rowdy. I scored my first ever empty net goal in Hanover. It was from the opposite red line! Wait a minute. Hanover had Hartford Whalers colors growing up. I knew there was a connection there.

Concord: Concord you might think is a place I wouldn’t like because we lost a lot of games there. But that was mostly later in the hockey career. Keene won a lot of Concord Christmas Invitational Tournaments there. Also I played in four or five or more summer leagues there. I remember high school my freshman year when we lost in our opening game to Concord by a score of 10-1. And later on to Bishop Brady 13-1. Ingrid, how can you say you went to that school? Were you rooting against me? (Ingrid is my cousin who attended Brady and I’m sure that game) In that game against Concord I cut my leg open with my own skate. (Either I’m having de ja vu or I’ve already told readers about this) My adrenaline was pumping so it wasn’t bleeding or hurting. After I showed Coach Jimaki my cut which required five stitches, I tried to jump back on the ice, but he pulled a nice little jersey yank move where he pulled me back. That was December 11, 1995. I will never forget. Other than all that, games in Concord against Concord were so amazing because they too had great fans. We had all the pressure of facing a great team and a great group of fans. Despite losing every game to them in high school, playing at Concord was a treat. It made us step up our game, and knowing we were playing the best in the state of NH didn’t feel too bad either. Funny memory from Concord: I believe I was a Bantam and Mick Mounsey (who went on to play for the University of New Hampshire) rifled a shot from the opposite blue line with about two seconds left in the period. Our goalie was Freddy Weis. Great kid, bad goalie. He had no idea the shot was taken, and is just standing there, when the puck rattles off his head and out of bounds. Again…..great stuff.

Again because of the high level of competition, Manchester was a great venue. I feel I played better at West Side Arena, than I did at JFK. West Side didn’t have much personality. I just remember playing some close and not so close games against Manchester 1. We lost a tough double overtime game there against Concord in the state playoffs when I was a Pee Wee. Also Trinity High school had the greatest goal song I ever heard. It was James Brown’s “I feel Good.” It was simple and honest and just a great song to play after a goal.

JFK was great because that’s where we played Central, West and Memorial. The best victory there was our quarterfinal game in the 1997 State Playoffs. We beat Trinity 3-2. Ken Macie had an unbelievable game in goal. Big goals were scored by Steve Symonds and Ken Powers. I had battled a stomach virus all season and played through it.

My last game ever at JFK. A loss to West
Did you know?
Concord High School won the state championship all four years I was in High School.

I never beat Manchester West once in my four years at KHS. There may have been a tie. But damn, they had our number. Matt Joseph and Eddie Sullivan played for them. Again…battles.

Playing for Bergeron Const. Mens League. Amazingly, no penalties.
I was beat on a one-on-one by a girl, Olympian Tara Mounsey of Concord during my freshman year. She didn’t score though. Yep, makes me feel a lot better.

I am wearing the same helmet in my inline hockey league that I received for Christmas in 1988 or 89. I have played nearly every game of my entire life in that helmet.

During youth hockey, I wore the numbers 3, 4, 5, 9, and 18. There may have been more. When I was in High School, I wore #6 for the first two years because my brother wore #9. When he graduated, I took over #9. We still have that jersey at home which was only worn by Jon and me because after six years, KHS bought new home uniforms. Liam Burke went on to wear #6 after me. I had no emotional ties to number six. It is an upside down nine, that’s all I was thinking.

Best memory of a car trip was with the Sayre Brothers, Mike and Tom….and Mrs. Sayre. Mike was playing with a little rubber thing that goes on a finger, like a finger puppet and as he tried to pull it off, he slapped Tom in the face. An argument ensued and that’s when Mrs. Sayre stepped in and said “Give me the finger, give me the finger!” and proceeded to throw it out the window on the highway. That was funny.

Worst memory: Getting car sick on the way to Manchester when I was a Pee Wee. I was so close to the arena too, but couldn't hold it in. All over myself and I was wearing my gear already. Jon, Dad and Gramp witnessed that one.

Well that’s enough for one night. Maybe this is an excerpt from my future book. I’m not sure. But hopefully you enjoyed remembering some of those places mentioned above. I could write one about my baseball memories, although, I might need another 3,000 words to get through that. I miss you guys back in Keene, NH. Goodnight.

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