Blog - Steeler’s Spiel: Rod Sarich

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Sheffield Steelers’ defenceman and occasional forward Rod Sarich gives a unique insight into the life of a top-flight ice hockey player in the UK. As well as musing about the world in general.

Saturday, November 17

Trips to Belfast are always interesting. Flying as a team, staying in a hotel, and eating team meals together is something we only get a chance to do a few times a year. Although no two trips are ever the same, there are some aspects of our overnight trips that you come to expect.

The last trip started off in the normal fashion, an early morning get-up followed by a semi-comatose ride by bus to the airport. On this occasion we flew from Leeds-Bradford; it was my first experience flying from that particular airport. Already it’s one of my least favourites.

The airport has been partially refurbished and typical of airports, they’ve redone the departures lounge and shopping area first, the bit that brings in the cash. It’s understandable I guess, their wanting to make money, but they’d done nothing to enhance the overall experience of flying.

The check-in hall and security area hadn’t even been considered and now that I consider it more, I’m thinking that this is how they prefer it. They welcome you into some Soviet Satellite state check-in facility only to prime you for the wonders that wait on the glamorous side of security, within the extravagance of the new Leeds-Bradford dooty-free zone. But first I had to get rid of my equipment bag.

Again, the key to travelling as a team revolves around managing the movement of your equipment bag or, more correctly, how well you can play the on-the-bus-off-the-bus game (I’ve touched on this in an earlier blog). The smart player will make sure to load their bag onto the bus last, remembering its location so as to facilitate a quick retrieval upon reaching the airport. They might also slide their toiletry case into the bag to avoid any confrontation with the guy playing Pac-man on security X-ray. Then it’s straight to the check-in counter where hopefully someone has given the jaded Fly-Be lady a heads-up as to our dozy team’s arrival.

“Where are you flying to?”

“Belfast Giants.”

“Have you checked your own bag?”

“No. Andy did it. He’s a brilliant equipment guy and …. I mean … yes, of course. Look inside, you’ll find my toiletry case.”

“You’ll have to take this to the over-sized counter at the end of the hall.”

“Perfect. You mean the counter which doubles as reception for Beetlejuice’s waiting room?”

Oxymoronically, I did a quick stop in purgatory, followed by a semi-strip and evacuation drill redress in security, then it was off through duty-free and onto the world’s most expensive full English breakfast featuring a McDonald’s hashbrown.

Navigating through the IKEA-like maze which defines modern duty-free, my allergies usually force me to hold my breath and speed walk. Not that I consider this a bad thing. The quicker I can get through the better. It’s all just a bit too much like the opening scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark; it’s amazing how they force you down a particular route hoping to catch you off guard with their consumer booby-traps. There’s not a straight line to be found in this part of the airport. No arrows on the floor or hi-vis signs to guide you to your departure gate. Nope. It’s just a yellow brick road through endless rows of sunglasses, blinding kiosk spot-lights, disorientating mirrors, Toblerone and perfume clouds of death.

Safely on the other side, and with a non-lethal layer of Channel No.5 clinging to my Steeler track suit, it was a relief to sit down and enjoy a breakfast which, in the end, wasn’t all that bad. It was, however, interesting to witness the newbie North American’s first encounters with an airport version of Bubble-and-squeak. I tried to assure them that this was not a fair representation of a generally tasty traditional dish. Stephenson was not comforted; upon first glimpse of this culinary airport imposter he changed his order.

I could go on for quite a while about the inadequacies of the departure side of Leeds-Bradrford. I could mention the way they make you “relax and shop” until they display your gate number only seconds before loading commences. You go from ‘chilling-out, maxing and relaxing, all cool’ directly to the paranoid state of ‘last call for boarding’. They’ve completely done away with the middle stages of the build-up. When the paranoid herd gets wind that a gate has been prescribed, everyone charges for the holding pen, a dark corridor with no seats just off the tarmac.

Upon arrival at George Best’s airport in Belfast a regular Steelers’ ritual will ensue, which of course involves gambling. Everyone puts a pound into the kitty then stands around in anticipation to see whose equipment bag will be the first to come through on the conveyor belt, indicating the lucky winner. Disappointingly, I don’t recall who won on the last trip; I’ve gradually been paying less and less attention to the results, since 2006, when I last won. Nowadays I’m more concerned with getting a good seat on the bus so as to be one of the first people into the hotel and, hopefully, one of the first into a room, if they’re ready.

We ended up with a bit of lobby time on our last trip while the rooms were being cleaned from the previous night’s guests. I used the opportunity to duck out into the neighbourhood and locate one of Belfast’s abundant independent coffee shops. The tell-tale sign that you’re in a good spot is the pot of beef stew steaming away behind the counter. The temperature had been a bit low on our last trip as well so the stew was more than welcome.

I passed the Europa Hotel on the way back. Apparently it’s Europe’s most bombed structure … or most resilient, if you want to be a bit more upbeat. I arrived back just in time for our team meal.

Now, the food at the Premier Inn isn’t actually that bad. They do do a great breakfast. The trouble is, it can be hard to distinguish breakfast from any other meal when they follow up the chicken, pasta, and sauce offerings at the buffet with a further two trays full of bacon and sausage. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of that afternoon bacon got eaten but it also got me thinking about the other ingredients of our in-house meals. Besides the chicken and pasta, it appeared to be mostly recycled breakfast. Sitting there, plain as day, under the heat lamp and just behind the sneeze guard (actually there was no sneeze guard, which is a bit worrying in the middle of an early flu season), were the tomatoes and mushrooms of the Inn’s famous “Eat As Much As You Possibly Can” breakfast. The mushrooms were even still in their chunky morning shape.

This is typical of many hotels and restaurants these days. Limit the kitchen to a few basic ingredients then roll in the combination wheel and roll out the pseudo-variety of dishes. The best example of this, that I can think of, is a chain of restaurants back home called “The Old Spaghetti Factory”. Spaghetti dominates the menu and a solo serving of the stringy pasta with simple tomato sauce included will set you back $9.75 cdn. For forty dollars, a family could probably decorate their entire house in Christmas-spaghetti if they made a trip to Costco! Someone is making some serious coin playing this game and I’d suspect that the Premier Inn is no exception.

As I said earlier, the saving grace is that the breakfast at the Inn is really quite good. Their website will tell you that they’ve just added hash browns to the menu, due to popular demand. In the same breath they might inform you that they’ve got your health in mind as well, by the fact that there’s now “new cranberry juice” available. What exactly “new” cranberries are I couldn’t tell you, but a couple ounces of concentrated cranberry in your tiny breakfast shot glass goes great with a few kilos of pork.

But any health concerns are, in a genius move, washed away by the free Costa coffee and the availability of to-go-cups. It could be the worst coffee on the planet coming out of that automated machine (it’s not, it’s actually very nice) but as long as it’s in a Costa cup and I haven’t paid £4.25 for it, I’m going to have two.

All fed up and wired on Costa-to-go, I head off to the Odyssey arena in my oak-smoked track suit semi-wishing for some more Chanel No. 5.

Friday, October 12

When I first tied up my skates, at the tender age of four, I’d never have imagined it would someday lead to me standing at the front of a school assembly in Oughtibridge, England, attempting to manoeuvre my way around a seven-year-old’s interrogation of my involvement in hockey violence.

“Why do you guys fight? Have you ever been in a fight?”

At this point I’m usually glancing towards the teachers, quickly attempting to gauge how far I can, and should, go with this. Mr Shields, my co-pilot on this adventure, had been quick to note the classical music playing as we entered the assembly hall, no doubt part of some strategy employed by the staff in an attempt to calm the little beasts.

Well, beasts might be a bit harsh; all in all they were quite well-behaved. Yet I couldn’t be absolutely sure if their decision to enter the room and sit quietly in tidy little rows was actually due to their good nature or whether it was more likely they were, for the moment, under the spell Frédéric Chopin and a staff-induced “system of calm”. The soothing shade of green on the assembly hall’s walls only added to the mystery. You just couldn’t be sure. However, if you were forced to choose a beast, to liken to this group of 4 to 9 year olds, it would surely be the fox. Kids are very cagey.

They won’t be fooled by some evasive Westminster-style response, or any other attempt at side-stepping the issue at hand. No, they just peer back at you with eager faces, waiting for you to start squirming, ready to latch on to any potential slip-up that might unintentionally convey a message that fighting is an acceptable means of settling a playground dispute.

And even if you were able to wriggle your way out of a direct answer to this touchy subject, there’s always that other kid in the crowd who hasn’t been paying attention, arm in the air, only a hairs breadth away from dislocation, desperate to ask a question that has already been asked twice before.

I’m almost convinced it’s a group strategy, honed in the class room, and employed at assembly to disorientate the guests and drive them into error. All I know is that it works.

I’ve seen team-mates slip up before and it’s not always pretty.

I’ve been to a school assembly where the player I was with got tangled up in his own words. He’d managed to paint himself into a corner and his response to the necessity of fighting concluded with something along the lines of “yes, some players are specifically paid to fight.”

With that one loose comment he succeeded in changing the career aspirations of the entire back row of 6th grade boys. Like a judge laying down a new precedent, I suspect he may also have single-handedly opened the floodgates for a new wave of playground terror and lunch money thievery.

Taking a lesson from such previous mishaps, I usually go with a subdued response, portraying hockey fights as acts of self-defence, only undertaken as a last resort. If I’m on my game the whole explanation will be skilfully cast in a shadow of shame and followed up with a sobering explanation of the consequences of such action.

“If you get in a fight you’ll be sent to the sin bin for a time-out and you’ll not be able to play with your mates for at least five minutes.”

No kid wants to have to sit in a wheelie-bin of sin and watch everyone else have all the fun. Also, I think wrapping up your answer with a negative consequence satisfies those worried teachers in the back, biting their nails thinking “Oh God, where are they going with this?”

I think it also satisfies the majority of the crowd itself. Yes, fighting does exist, and, yes, there also exist jobs where fighting is occasionally required, but there are always consequences. They’ve gotten their answer.

Naturally we follow up our delicate message of peace with a PowerPoint presentation which includes our pre-game intro video featuring some violence-inducing hard rock music. You know they’re getting fired up when the older kids in the back row get that glazed over ‘Lord of the Flies’ look in their eyes. And, when the clips of Colt King roll by, repackaging some guy into the ice with his fists, you can really start to see the wheels turning inside their heads.

“OK, pass the conch. Who’s got the next question?”

The safe bet would be that it’s another one about fighting.

But it’s not always a question that you receive when you randomly select an upheld hand from the crowd. There’s every chance it’ll be an entertaining off-topic anecdote oozing from a child’s short-term memory, possibly muddled with an element of daydream.

“My dad and I went to Disneyland to watch Monster Trucks.”

This is a declaration. Not much room for interpretation and difficult to respond to. How do you come back from a statement like that?

Maybe… “Wow! That’s super Timmy, you sly fox … now back off, cause we still need to get through the issue of you not eating your vegetables before it ‘s home-time.”

Monday, January 2 (2012).

It’s been a while since I last posted one of these blogs and a lot has happened since then. Halloween has come and gone, the team has travelled to Denmark to compete in the Continental Cup, I ruptured my kidney and spent over a week in hospital, and, more recently, Santa has been to visit. I’ve just realised, this is not in chronological order.

I’d have to say that Halloween was a big success - that success being determined by turnout and effort put towards procuring or constructing a costume. I should mention that any effort would have been better than last year’s party – we didn’t have one. If I recall correctly it was a scheduling conflict. It certainly wasn’t skipped due to a lack of enthusiasm; in my opinion Halloween is the best day of the year.

Fancy dress, a party, masked antics, dance-offs, no cards, no presents, no guilt for forgetting cards or presents, definitely the best holiday of the year. I regard it as a holiday and I went as Spock. It was a logical choice given my left over costume bits and bobs from years past. Two cheap eBay purchases, a bit of arts and crafts and I was out the door for less than £20.

I’d like to be able to give you a run-down of everyone’s costumes at the party but, to be honest, I can’t remember exactly what everyone came as. I’m sure some photo research on Facebook would reveal the answers but that would be way too time consuming and not in the spirit of how I write these blogs. If you haven’t already guessed, I prefer to use a rambling approach to writing and that’s exactly why we’re skipping over the Continental Cup and headed straight towards Christmas… with a quick stop at the hospital on the way.

Talking of which, it was probably the worst experience of my life. At the time of the incident, unknowingly rupturing my kidney, I didn’t feel as if I’d done anything too serious but a couple hours later I was in a respectable amount of pain and by the next morning I was Walter Matthau . . . a grumpy old man.

I couldn’t eat anything for the first few days; nausea is usually the fare for riding the “tramadol train” and dinner-land is rarely your preferred stop. When I finally felt up to it, soup and melted ice cream were the only real options. Not a great situation for a guy who typically eats four meals a day and biscuits every hour on the half hour.

In defence of the hospital, there were some decent meals along the way. There were also some questionable ones but it wasn’t as bad as standard hospital criticism makes it out to be. Saying that, I was pretty glad to get home and resume my usual schedule of consumption. I’ve still got a ways to go, to gain back the lost weight, but Christmas was the appropriate season for such a task.

Between the get-well chocolate and the Christmas chocolate that I’ve received, and since eaten, I think I may have even developed a small dependency. The fact that I no longer need one of those “chocolate maps”, for over a dozen different assortments of chocolates, is a good indication that I may have a problem.

On the other hand, I can’t be that far gone as I haven’t yet resorted to eating the Turkish Delights. I don’t see where any delight is found in eating one of these chocolate covered brussel sprouts. I’m convinced that the manufacturers only include them as a means of cost reduction, as a way of padding out the contents with inferior and less costly chocolate.

I can appreciate that the rose-flavoured imposters we encounter in a typical box are far from the original ancient recipe, but surely, somewhere along the way someone must have tasted one of these things. I’m sure someone who reads this will shrug and think “They’re not that bad” or “Actually, I like them. They’re better than a kick in the head”. It’s debatable.

Why can’t they all be like Nestle. They hire special taste-testers who sit in dark rooms and blindly sample chocolate recipes, all in an attempt to satisfy a global customer base by varying the chocolate used for its Kit Kats, customising the recipe to accommodate preferences in different regions. I was on the couch for two weeks. I saw it on the TV. On second thoughts, I just remembered that Nestle Canada does sell a chocolate bar dedicated to the Turkish Delight flavour, it’s called the Big Turk. Substitute the “k” with a “d” and you’re on the right track.

Anyways, I’m actually very grateful for all of the chocolate I’ve received and it must have done the trick. I’m feeling miles better than when I first got home from hospital and they’ve even let me off the couch and out of the house.

It’s been great to get back on the scene, see the guys at training and listen to the banter in the locker room. It really hit home how much I’d actually missed it when I first heard Hewey insult someone and their mother. Ah . . . everything back to normal. Just kidding Hewey, your new material is terrific.

The guys were once again at their best last Monday, returning from a come-from-behind, nail-biting, win in Fife. I caught up with them at Champs for a Christmas beer and a burger. Luckily I’d gotten the memo and was wearing my festive green jumper with red reindeer otherwise I’d have been left out.

No need for Facebook here, I immediately recall two attendees entering the building. One was wearing a stuffed turkey on his head. Not a real stuffed turkey, but rather a turkey half stuffed with stuffing and the other half stuffed with cranium. It was some sort of winter hat. The other had on a Santa hat, but on top it had a piece of mistletoe bobbing around on a glittering spring-like coil – fishing for a pre-turkey snog? Not to be confused with a turkey snog.

There were plenty of other festive frocks floating around the scene, a couple of Cosby sweaters here, a dash of Dancer and Prancer there. The winner for least decorative had to go to Decaro. Don’t get me wrong though, it was inspired. He was wearing a simple light blue cardigan, hand knitted I might add. But what really made this item come to life was the massive handlebar moustache John was sporting complimented with a slicked back Italian quaff . . . straight back and brilliantly greasy! It looked like he’d just arrived, or stolen, from elevenses at Thommo’s grandma’s house - that is, if Mark’s grandma serves tea to the cast of Carlito’s Way.

There was only one guy topping this display. This outfit involved a furry pair of knock-off Uggs, a zip-up high collar Xmas-jumper, and red lycra leggings who’s hugging effect would have made Pippa green with envy.

Colour-coordinated and topped off with a comb over, it was an Aspen-inspired ensemble that Lloyd Christmas himself would have been proud of - all courtesy of Primark and those tailors with the little fingers. I don’t really know the man behind the magic, we haven’t spoken much, but I do feel like I know him just a little bit better than before. Let’s hope he’s here for Halloween.

Wednesday, October 5

I recently saw a highlight of the Detroit Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk skating end to end and back- handing a cross-ice pass to a team-mate wide open in front of the opposition’s goal - a ridiculous pass for most, pretty standard stuff for Pavel.

The guy seems to be a human highlight reel. His moves seem to be above and beyond the mere mortal human. Again and again he continues to impress with his sublime skill, his substantially-gifted peers of the NHL equally-amazed as any other beer leaguer in the world.

But why are his moves and plays so effective? Others in the NHL have similar skill yet a lesser success rate, that’s my non-statistical opinion anyways. I’ve come to the conclusion that the secret ingredient must be timing.

His unequalled knack to keep possession of the puck while weaving, spinning and stop-starting through traffic must surely be a result of a superior sense of timing – a super long stick, maybe; eyes in the back of his head, perhaps; the balance of an inflatable weeble, definitely a factor ….. but, mostly, good timing.

Super Mario Lemieux had such talent. Forehand, backhand, it didn’t matter. He’d put the puck through a defenders legs three times before moving on to his next victim.

His impeccable timing allowed him to do it. If he’d have pulled the move a bit too early then the hapless 80s D-man would have had time to adjust and close him off. Waiting too long would run him out of real-estate - the puck might get by but Mario wouldn’t. Like Pavel, it should be noted that Mario also had a long stick and, to complete his freakishly long reach, stood 6ft 5ins, or thereabouts, which did grant him the advantage of sliding the puck through a defenders feet from a relatively untouchable distance. And this is just one of many examples where timing plays a key role in the skills of a hockey player.

For example, one observer might declare that a ‘lucky goal’ had been scored because a rebounded shot on net happened to land directly in the path of the lucky goalscorer. This could very well be true, but depending on the player that scored, you could argue that it was actually down to good timing. Some players have the knack of being in the right place at the right time. Arriving a second to soon or too late might mean a non-result.

This same simple concept can be applied to almost every aspect of everyday life.

Take driving in traffic for instance. My daily early morning commute downtown to the gym in the off season is usually a dozy one, not exceeding 25mph, but I still manage to make great time because there’s no one on the road, but also, I’ve got the traffic lights on my route timed to perfection. An even 25mph-ish is just right to get me from one light to the next, exactly as its changing. Sometimes I get caught up in my success and start pointing at the lights, commanding them to change, using the ‘force’. Tell me I’m not the only who does this. My uncle pulled this trick on me when I was about five-years-old and I spent the next three years thinking he was Obi-Wan.

Anyways, the ride back from the gym is another story, at 7:45am the road circus is just waking up. The first half of the return journey is actually pretty quick and painless. Most of the cars are headed downtown as I’m leaving the area. After the halfway mark everything changes.

Thanks to the hills of Sheffield, my easy ride soon becomes a hike up K3… that’s one harder than K2.

It’s hard to describe how immediately stressed you feel when you look to the road ahead and see a long train of early morning clowns in cars descending upon you, and worse, into your path by those annoying red bevelled speed bumps and bottle necks in the road.

You start to feel like you’re one of those salmon, swimming up river against the flow, eager to spawn - the difference of course being there’s no David Attenborough calling the play by play and there’s unlikely to be any pro-creation going on at the end of the river.

It only gets worse when you can smell your clutch burning, on what I’m convinced is a 72 per cent gradient, because some asshole in one of those Citreon Berlingo’s thinks his being late for his morning coffee takes precedent over the unwritten rules of the road and my right of way. You can Berlingo and shove your morning java you know where.

An even better example of the critical role that timing plays in life is Krispy Kreme doughnuts - that’s the American chain specializing in those mega-calorie, NHS- destroying, death rings of wonderful filth.

Arrive 10 minutes too early and you could face eating a petrified specimen; 10 minutes too late and there’ll be nothing left.

There’ll be nothing left because somewhere along the way some genius down at Krispy Kreme took our little concept to heart and thought what if we had a high-vis neon ‘HOT NOW’ sign on the road in front of the shop so that everyone will know when the optimum time to stop and gorge has arrived, just before the sugar glaze has solidified. That’s how they do it in the States anyways.

Joey Talbot, Pavel Brendl, Pavel Datsyuk - I’ve noticed certain hockey players always seem to know when the “HOT NOW” sign is on.

Talbot used to state that the reason that he was so slow getting up the ice in training wasn’t down to him being lazy, but rather, he was practicing being on time. Based on his goal tally you’d start to believe him, but then he’d then go on to say that he preferred to use a long stick just in case he happened to be running a bit late. Wa Wa Whaaa! Welcome to the wonderful world of Joey Talbot.

Also, you can’t always tell the difference between who’s lucky and who’s got the knack straight away but after a few seasons of consistent goal production, those games where you’d say “I didn’t even notice he was out there, yet he had 3 goals?” start to indicate that you’ve got a Krispy Kreme man on your hands.

In fact, I’ve played against a couple of horizontally challenged guys in recent years who would fit the mould both figuratively and literally. It’s not nice to name names, so we’ll just say that one of their last name rhymes with … actually, I can’t think of anything that truly rhymes with that surname - a prize for anyone who can.

In fact, how about a nice box of steaming ‘HOT NOW’ Krispy Kreme doughnuts as a prize. I’ve heard rumours they’re now in Meadowhall. It’s about time.

Friday, September 9

It’s here again, the start of a new season, the start of the late night routine . . . the start of the bus trips. The weekend before last was technically the first trip of the year, our jaunt down the road to Cardiff for a swim in the marquee, but the weekend just gone by feels more like the real thing. This is most likely down to the fact that we’ve resumed our little game of “Park & Ride”, a customary start to almost every road trip ever undertaken involving bus drivers, arena staff and the Steelers.

Basically this is a game of observation and forward-thinking. Members of the team arrive in their cars, 2012 parking passes swinging from rear view mirrors, and attempt to deduce the final loading place of the team bus. Meanwhile, the bus drivers and arena staff painfully work out the most confusing interpretation of parking regulations possible. This is then combined with an asinine evaluation of the impact our cars will have on parking space for upcoming events. It’s a very organic process – no two games are ever alike.

Usually, the game begins with us naive players parking in our usual weekday parking spots, assuming that our newly-issued parking passes actually entitle us to park at our place of work. Nope. The rest of the game will involve us following the bus around on foot from the front to the back to the side of the front back portion of the rear opposite or close to entrances B-F of the arena, and possibly back again, in no specific order. Confused? You should see the new guys. Or, possibly, we’re back in the cars again for a few more stages of “you can’t park there”.

But even if a smart player is able to correctly evaluate the circumstances and anticipate the actual position for loading and boarding the bus, this is only half of the equation. The real trick, the real game within the game, is to be able to park in a position which facilitates not only the departure but also the return of the bus, minimizing the distance between the ultimate “end of trip position” and where you’ve left your vehicle.

The Fischers and Kasparovs of the team will be many steps ahead of the rest. They’ll have taken into account arena event schedules, star appeal, multiple performance dates, arena staff shift rotations, service providers of parking control, driver tendencies, security gate closures, parking fines, next week’s training schedule, position of their own equipment bag under the bus, whether or not the gear will be hung in the rink or go straight into the van, traffic conditions, and - potentially a game breaker - the five-day forecast.

Picture a 4.30am return from Dundee, mid-February. No one wants to have to get off the bus in a drowsy state and hike across the frozen tundra of the ‘Ice Sheffield Expanse’ to arrive at their iced-over car facing a five-minute scrape with a Barclays debit card.

Hopefully, in this scenario, I’ve played my cards right and I simply ease into the Vectra where a working heater and a cassette playing Cliff Richard’s tropical tones having already thawed out the steering wheel. That’s right: the Vectra’s still up for grabs. Just give me a call, Cliff’s waiting.

As you can imagine, experience and observation, coupled with a refined power of deduction are critical to success in the game of “Park & Ride”. The reward for playing well is comfort and sanity.

Just last week I was watching the same exact skill-set picking apart the London underworld on TV. Fans of the series, books, TV shows, or movies etc. may have already made the connection, some may even have noticed the unusual overuse of the word “deduce”, and have decided where this is heading . . . straight towards Sherlock Holmes.

In this instance it was a repeat of an episode from season one of the series entitled “Sherlock”, the BBC‘s latest reworking of Conan Doyle’s world-famous material. Set in the 21st century, everything has been modernized and “GQ’d”. You could imagine a hardcore fan of Brett’s spitting on the ground after five minutes of viewing, but actually it works quite well, even in our digital age of high-tech wonderment. Although it does take a bit of getting used to seeing the super sleuth scanning a corpse’s Blackberry for clues, or, stranger yet, texting in Watson for backup.

Nevertheless, they haven’t sacrificed any of the quick-thinking and bit-of-a-stretch reasoning that makes the Holmes character so interesting and, in my humble opinion, accessible.

It only took the new Sherlock, with his messed-up student hairstyle and £1,000 designer jacket 20 seconds of intense casual observation to be able to recant a complete stranger’s entire life story to a dumb-struck Watson, all thanks to some telling fashion give-aways and a bit of unknown matter under the fingernails of the unknown person. “Oh Watson, he must be a veterinarian. He’s got an unusual build-up of faeces under his nails!”

Possibly Sherlock, possibly. Or, maybe they just forgot to take some plastic bags with them when they took Rover out for a walk earlier that morning and their conscience, combined with a park full of judging dog owners resulted in an unfortunate and unprotected run in with a turd. Personally, I feel that a long-winded revelation by fiction’s greatest detective, ending in someone being exposed for bare handing some recycled IAMs, would make for a good laugh and maybe even lighten the mood of a series that is sometimes trying to be too serious . . . too CSI.

An old school Holmes wouldn’t have any use for a forensic squad. A bit of red dirt on some boots would quickly bring the conclusion that the owner had worked since birth in some small mine in a remote village in Wales, a location exclusive to the dirt in question.

In today’s world those same boots might possibly belong to a person who has travelled the world on discount airlines, accumulating dirt from the four corners of the earth. Or, the boots may have just been purchased second-hand on Ebay, from a farmer living in some random state in Middle America, as part of a ridiculous attempt to keep up with some ridiculous fashion trend that will have changed in a week.

I can only hope that’s the case. Having grown up on a farm, I think that anyone wearing work boots with skinny jeans tucked in and an Aladdin vest from All Saints should be arrested on the spot anyway.

More often than not, a modern-day crime scene is simply combed over for pieces of DNA and ta-daa! A couple of days later you’ve solved the crime. Thankfully, Holmes is able to out-manoeuvre any competition from the DNA crime lab by maintaining his unrivalled ability to observe, deduce, and monologue at high speed. This ability is nothing short of a superpower.

Maybe you’ve tried out some of the master sleuths techniques yourself. I’m guessing you’re unlikely to have made it past the “they’re wearing a ring on the fourth finger of their left hand, hence, they must be married” stage. But, even though you may never get beyond the extremely elementary, it’s the idea that this particular super-power is just out of reach that makes it so attractive and intriguing to us mortal beings. Heck, there might even already be someone out there solving crimes in just such a manner, only we’ve yet to hear of it, unlikely maybe, but not impossible.

I mean, you probably couldn’t say the same thing about Superman’s powers could you.

Where someone sitting in a waiting room somewhere might finish reading a chapter of “The Sign of the Four” and have a go at studying the man sitting across from them, attempting to guess why his ears are burnt and there’s sand in his hair (maybe he’s just returned from building bricks in Qatar and he’d forgotten to pack a hat?), I doubt anyone puts down their DC comic book, strips to their pants, ties a curtain around their neck and jumps out of a second-story window in an attempt to mimic Superman.

It just isn’t something you’re likely to see someone attempt in everyday life, not unless you’ve just been on a 10-hour bus trip to Belfast with Jeff Legue. Hope you parked close to the bus Jeff because it ain’t hard to deduce those bus curtains aren’t very warm.

Wednesday, May 4

I can’t believe how fast the hockey season has gone by. Probably has something to do with the fact that we won the majority of our games this year and also that I managed to avoid a few pucks and broken bones. No body imprint on the couch this season.

Well that’s about enough hockey talk for one summer.

Actually, the surprising thing is that they’re still allowing me to write these blogs through the summer, although, in fairness, I probably never talked much hockey in the previous blogs anyways.

I guess now it’s a guilt free green light to ramble on. Yup, a nice miscellany salad dressed up with some useless digression. Certainly I’ll try to add a few hockey croutons whenever I can but I tend to leave those on the plate more often than not, especially in summer when the sun is shining.

If I’m not mistaken it was sunny two days in a row this week … in Britain … on the weekend.

Everyone’s developed a serious vitamin D deficiency over the long grey winter and this weekend we all got a good dose of ultraviolet. In fact, I believe a saw a couple people dressed up as lobsters on the pub deck this Sunday; bright red shoulders, walking sideways, carelessly dropping pint glasses from their pincer like grip.

It’s great to have the weekends back. Maybe a pint at the pub, maybe a ramble in the Peak, maybe a snooze on the couch, maybe a tidy of the house, maybe a trip to the supermarket, maybe cut the grasssssssssssssss/k jahdsfffffffffffffffff

Don’t worry folks I’ve regained control of the laptop (probably should have activated the bio-metric finger scanner).

You may not realize it, but you were very nearly subjected to a 3,000-word summary of ‘Heat’ magazine. Perhaps you can’t call it a summary as it’s unlikely that there are more than 500 words in ‘Heat.’

As you can probably tell, there’s a long list of things that need to get done this summer that didn’t get done in the winter due to school, hockey, band practice, rain, procrastination. Admittedly, cutting the grass is on the list and it will get done, but on my own terms … according to the ‘masterplan’. I’ve tried before to explain that there’s a very specific order to the jobs on the list. You can’t do one thing until the other has been completed. It’s simple logic. Spock disagrees. I agree to disagree.

You see, the kitchen needs a couple coats of paint; this is apparently the highest priority item on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree that the kitchen needs some attention; everyone in the house wants this to happen. The current mental hospital green that covers our walls has lost some of its appeal and doesn’t seem to be as soothing as it was a few years ago.

Next on the list, priority wise, are some shelves for the living room. I’m frequently reminded that they’re overdue. Again, I stress the ‘masterplan’.

How can we expect to slop paint all over the walls with two ultra-curious cabin fever fur balls on the loose? It’s hard enough to tie your shoes without our two cats mistaking the laces for flapping mouse tails and going ‘snakes on a plane’ mental all over the place. Crazy felines. You’d think they’d be calmer, they’re in the kitchen every day. Don’t they look at the walls?

Can’t really put them outside on their own yet either. Again, they’re just too curious. If they’re not running blindly out into traffic or prancing over with salutations for the neighbour’s pet grizzly dog then you’ll likely to see them waltzing back into the house with a live bumble bee buzzing inside their mouths.

It’s actually quite funny to see them with the bees. It’s as if as if the bee is controlling the cat from the inside like some sort of battlemech machine … covered in fur. The bee flies to the left; the cat veers to the left. The bee buzzes to the right; the cat careens head first into a wall. I’ve yet to see the result of a sting. Perhaps a double back flip? Some lessons they learn on their own.

Ultimately we need cat flaps, and this where the ‘masterplan comes into play. You’re probably tired of hearing about the ‘masterplan’, this appears to be a common side effect, so here are some specifics.

You can’t paint the kitchen or put up shelves until you’ve got the cat flaps in place and the cats have adjusted to the new system, no longer relieving themselves in the kitchen. But first you need to get rid of those shoes piled up in the doorway restricting the cats from learning to use the flaps. But where are the shoes going to go?

I suggested repositioning them into the chiminea, along with some petrol, but somehow that idea was denied approval. We settled for an alternate solution - building a shoe rack under the stairs near the boiler. Well, there isn’t really any room for a shoe rack under the stairs what with all the junk that’s accumulated there because we don’t own a garden shed.

So, first comes the shed, then the junk comes out from under the stairs, followed by the construction of a shoe rack. Onto the rack go the shoes, the cats learn how to control their own destiny, and the conditions should be right to touch up the asylum and hang some books on the wall.

Even as you read this, progress is being made. The shed is already in place, and almost full. The shoe rack has been built and inserted under the stairs next to the boiler - the girl finally has her walk-in closet. Also, the cat flaps are now in place and fully functional.

The flaps were easily the most exciting project. I installed the bog standard cat flap into the inside kitchen door first to work out the best way of making a tricky cut with a jigsaw on a door still hanging in place. It was a bit of a butcher job but some important lessons were learned and I managed to knock the rust off of my carpentry game prior to installing the expensive high-tech microchip reading flap.

We would have gone with two bog-standard cat flaps and saved ourselves a fair sum of money but after leaving the garden door open for our cats one afternoon a relaxing evening in front of the telly was interrupted by a rather large stray cat emerging from behind our sofa. The girl screamed, I went for a change of trousers, and together we decided on an upgrade.

A micro-chip flap identifies which cats to let in the house by reading the unique I.D. chip of an individual cat inserted by a vet for registry purposes. It’s a high-tech expensive solution, no room for error.

So, I’m down on the ground doing health and safety securing the flaps power cord to the skirting board - I said it was high-tech - and who comes along to check out the new flap but the uninvited guest from the previous week. He struts right over, attempts to gain access to the potential free meal waiting inside and is, true to the claims, denied access.

Sweet vindication! Rod 1- Jungle Neighborhood 1. Tie game…. sort of.

While walking away the cheecky sod squirted a laser beam of urine all over my Star Trek flap. I’d have been blinded if there weren’t the divider of plexi between us. I am not exaggerating for the sake of a story to tell. This happened.

Good luck getting my already naturally confused cats to go through the flap now.

Anyways, the ‘masterplan’ has been producing a plethora of organizational results and the next project on the list is a set of shelves. I’ll keep you updated on my progress as I go. I can only hope that “that” cat doesn’t find a way around my defence systems or I might be finishing off my new oak shelves with a couple coats of Cuprinol’s Ducksback sealant. Maybe they have it in a soothing green.

Monday, February 28

I’d like to talk about communication and the role it plays in both sport and real life. I don’t group those two things together anymore - real life and sport. I’ve given up. Partly because I’ve somehow been forced to have a go at a “real job”, but also, because the years of hearing people tell me that playing sports for a living is not really work has had an effect. Actually, it all makes a lot of sense. I can’t afford a car with a CD player, an electric guitar, nor a flat screen tv. Not really working doesn’t really pay well. What I also really can’t afford is to possess and operate three cars, especially as I’m only licensed to drive one of them. My small fleet now takes up nearly half of our street. In the world of neighbourhood parking I control Regent, Oxford, and Bond, and I’m putting up hotels. Neighbours love me.

Normally, there would only be two very small and planet-friendly cars parked out front. But now, thanks to my belief in the powers of procrastination, I’ve been sent on a little journey through bureaucratic funland and come out the other side in possession of a 1998 Vectra. Let me explain . . . in a round about way.

You might be a truly gifted athlete, headed for the upper echelons of the sporting world, but you’re never going to make if you can’t communicate in a game situation. Mind you, what you say has got to make sense, be useful. If the opposite were true, Hewitt would surely, by now, be on Crosby’s line whispering his sweet sarcastic nothings into the ears of the NHL elite, meeting each response he received with his standard “your mother” retort.

When it comes down to making a decision between two players of equal talent, the ability to communicate with team-mates might be the deciding factor. In some cases being vocal might even propel a lesser player past a superior talent. All I’m really trying to say here is that communication is a very useful skill, whether you’re playing a contact sport or trying to order a cheeseburger at the drive-through.

One thing I should mention is that, in the case of sport, the more tired you are the harder it gets to think and speak. Ever wonder why sportsmen score blatant own goals. Sprint three laps around McDonalds next time you’re there and immediately order a six-piece chicken McNugget meal at the drive-thru and you’ll understand. I’ll bet there’s no sweet and sour sauce waiting for you at window . . . you’ll have forgotten to ask for it. They won’t have reminded you either. They don’t like giving away the sauce if they don’t have too. They’re stingy with the sauce.

In the “real world” communication is just as important. I only wish that three months ago someone would have communicated to me that my Canadian driver’s license was about to become useless in the eyes of the UK government. If you’re living in the UK or on a work visa for over a year, you have to get a UK license to drive. Fair enough. It makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that they won’t let me trade in my Canadian license for a full UK license because it doesn’t state what kind of vehicle I took my test in 13 years ago back in Canada.

At first this doesn’t seem that unreasonable either. It’s only when you consider that I’ve been legally driving both automatic and manual cars in the UK, without incident I might add, for the last five years. Suddenly, I’m not capable to operate a manual vehicle. The commonness of the sense of the situation starts to fade.

Apparently, my options were to either keep my Canadian license and start from scratch with a learner’s license, like any other pimply 17-year-old, or surrender my Saskatchewan driver’s license for a British automatic one. The first alternative would see me having to take the written test as well as the driven. The latter option meant I would only have to take a driven test in order to become fully licensed.

Here’s an interesting scenario regarding option No 1. If I’d have known about these incompatibility issues a year ago I could have actually got a learner’s license, progressed through the system and legally driven myself to my own driver’s test. If I’d failed I could have driven myself home again on my Canadian license. At least I think I could have.

It’s no easy task to decipher government regulations online. I find drinking a bottle of White Lightning through the nose beforehand helps sync you up with the layout of the websites. They don’t like you calling in to speak with anyone anymore either. Human to human communication is at a premium. They’re stingy with the human contact.

If you do call in you end up listening to the options and pressing buttons for 10 minutes before being put on hold where another recording reminds you that you must be an idiot because all of the answers are already inconveniently located online. Cheers. What happened to elevator music? At least ease my pain and numb my brain. Maybe some Engelbert Humperdinck. “Les Bicyclettes de Belsize” on the bagpipes.

Anyways, as I was already going to school, I felt option two would be easiest, less studying. Besides, surely the driven test would only consist of me demonstrating some of my professional clutching technique in the back of the test centre parking lot. I drove my first truck, a 1981 Ford three-in-the-tree (three gears, shifter on the steering column), when I was 10-years-old. I’d have my license in a week, no problem. Not exactly.

I must have forgotten that this was Britain, 60 million present and accounted for, and not Bladworth Saskatchewan, home of the tumbleweed. Three-month wait for the next available driver’s test. Yikes!

And so, here I stand, with top hat and monocle, three cars parked out front taking up half the street. A 1998 VW Polo, no power steering, courtesy of my girlfriend’s recently-retired mother. A brand-new Toyota IQ, a team car kindly provided by Claringbold Accountants, it’s wider than it is long and looks like the tyres have been put on the wrong way. And finally, my very own 1998 Vauxhall Vectra . . . automatic, with cassette player (the first car I’ve ever owned).

I could go on for days about the injustices a first-time car owner might experience in the world of UK motor insurance, despite having 13-19 years of incident-free driving experience, but I won’t. The insurance is expensive and the car guzzles gas, this was all anticipated, we’ll leave it at that.

The one thing I didn’t anticipate was the increase in my iTunes bill.

Word of my latest acquisition hits the street and within a day I’m in possession of the greatest cassette collection in South Yorkshire. A friend dropped me a box of audio gems to sample at my convenience. Steely Dan for breakfast “… No I’m never gonna do it with out the Fez on.. .”; the Four Tops in the afternoon, and Paul Simon’s Graceland easing me into the evening . . . to name but a few.

It’s a big box of music and it’s costing me a small fortune to match in MP3s. Strangely, iTunes doesn’t currently offer an economical option combining Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and the best of Tina Turner. You can’t beat the versatility of the compilation tape. Or how about that moment when you feel like a professional DJ because you’ve just stopped the FFWD at exactly the beginning of the song you were searching for; I bet there’s a lot of people out there that have forgotten how that feels. Let me remind you. It’s fantastic, a ray of sunshine on a grey February day, in South Yorkshire, in the Vectra. Reminds me of a poem . . .

Like eager growing flowers we stretch towards the light

Just a single ray split through the grey will bloom sincere delight

And this energy that lifts us up closer to the sky

Is an ancient gift and the kind of lift that makes the day fly by.

-Author Unkown-

Where was I . . . something about communication? It doesn’t matter. Everyone should have a cassette player in their car. This is the new message. If you don’t have a cassette player, but would like to experience a daily dose of nostalgic bliss, only found in the owning and operating of some 1980s technology, this can be achieved for the low price of £1000.

Attached and included in the price of the cassette player is a 1998 Vauxhall Vectra, featuring low mileage (41,000 miles), automatic transmission, and overall good condition. I’ll even throw in Tina Turner. Not the person, just the hits.

This is a serious offer.

Rod

Monday, January 24

Happy Very Belated New Year! Here comes the future. Roll on the next wave of technological advancements.

Over the next four years, we should be seeing the introduction of hover boards, self-tying trainers, flying cars, holographic Christmas trees, etc . . . according to Marty McFly. Not sure that I’m convinced. The fact that I’ve still haven’t seen a toaster that can produce an end product with any more consistency than Andy French’s disciplinary decisions doesn’t make a rocket pack trip to Morrisons for milk seem just around the corner.

Despite the fact that James Bond was already blasting off via rocket pack as far back as 1965 (Thunderball) and I still haven’t gotten my rocket pack, is a bit of a downer, but, on the positive side, the advancements made over the last 10 years or so do seem to indicate that things are picking up.

It only seems like last year that my dad was sporting the cutting edge 15lb Motorola cellular phone (that’s North American for mobile). Not sure if they had the same phone here in the UK, I’m talking about the one with the full handset and stretchy cord that more closely resembled a Geiger counter from a 1950’s sci-fi B movie than a phone.

This behemoth was a back breaker and had a terrible operating range, but it’s offering of two-way conversation along with added privacy soon led to the end of CB radio’s reign on the farms of Saskatchewan. Of course it didn’t hurt that its massive battery could also be used to jump start your car . . . which had likely gone dead because you left your phone plugged in. My dad might suggest there’s a metaphor for farming somewhere in that last sentence.

Anyways, thanks to Steve Jobs and his uncanny ability to bully me into wanting what I don’t know I already want, the mobile phone has now become the ultimate tool for doing anything, though I’m guessing even old Steve-o couldn’t have imagined an app designed to simulate inebriated micturition in the public toilet. Tilt the phone correctly, don’t splash too much urine outside the bowl and you could be staring a possible high score in the face.

The rate of advancements in mobile phones is a great example of the way in which our desire for the next hi-tech marvel is being met in increasingly smaller increments. Accordingly, the lifespan of new products is heading in the opposite direction, so much so, that some products don’t even last six months before they are eclipsed by the next latest and greatest development.

The problem with all this occurs when the actual advancements can’t keep up with the every shrinking time-frame in which we expect manufacturers to produce something new and exciting.

Take sports equipment for instance. Golf clubs are a great illustration of the constant need for manufacturers to wow the consumer. The driver used to be an elegant looking instrument, hand crafted from the finest wood, featuring naturally pleasing shapes and finishes. Now, your typical “wood” has the dimensions of a loaf of bread on a stick and is, more than likely, the product of a recycled Klingon Warship.

Don’t get me wrong. The increased head size and space age material make it a lot easier to hit a golf ball and that’s great. I just can’t come to grips with gimmicks like Taylormade’s adjustable weight distribution system. This particular design cheat allows the club head weight to be manipulated, which in turn, helps straighten crooked ball flights.

The idea isn’t new really; many high-end clubs have featured custom set-ups for over 30 years or more. The difference now, comes with the ability to alter the set-up so quickly.

Normally, your drives scream off the tee, cruise for a hundred yards at toddler head height before flashing the right-hand indicator and pulling some sort of 9G evasive banking manoeuvre towards the trees in search of a teddy bears picnic. Now, a bit of skill with the screwdriver and suddenly your scud missile drives are transformed into soaring works of art.

In Taylormade’s defence, you’ve still got to produce that same hideous swing each time otherwise your weight adjustments may only make things worse. Consistently ugly is the key to modern golf.

Not surprisingly, this very same weight-altering concept has now found its way into the world of hockey. Just last week Jeff Legue walked through the door carrying a stick which featured an adjustable weight system. Basically, it’s designed with five weights, the size of pound coins, positioned within the handle, which help to balance out the stick and achieve greater control. Ahh . . . yeah. Right.

Maybe there’s some truth to it but I can’t see the benefits being worth the hassle, or extra cost, for anyone besides the elite of the elite. “Hey Clarky! Apparently, if you put your change in your handle you’ll get better results when . . . you . . . ahh, never mind.”

This certainly isn’t the first case of technological crossover within the world of sport. Reebok’s “Pump” technology first surfaced amongst basketball hi-tops in the early 90s. More a status symbol than an actual benefit to your feet, this poor alternative for proper fitting shoes soon found its way into a variety of different sports, including ice hockey and skates.

I must admit that the first time I saw a pair of pump skates I was a bit jealous. My worn out pair of Bauer 2000’s, twice handed down, didn’t have much sex appeal sitting next to a new pair of pumps. I remember sitting there, watching as the fat kid who owned the pumps pulled a strange canister from his hockey bag, completely unaware that my jealousy was about to be “pumped up”.

At first I thought it must be his inhaler, there to help him remain conscious while he battled the laws of physics, attempting to reach and tie his skates. But surely not; his dad always came in with a bag of crisps and tied them for him. Besides, unbelievably, he’d already managed to put them on himself. Of course they were tied so loosely there was no way he would be able to stand up let alone skate.

Then it happened. He put the canister, full of pressurised gas, to the side of his skate and proceeded to inflate his skate boot onto his foot. The lazy sod, he couldn’t even be bothered to manually pump his new skates. You could see the laces tighten as the skate started to bulk up. You could even hear it. So cool. So jealous.

Even today, I only take comfort in knowing that those fancy pump skates didn’t last the month and were in many cases a terribly painful skate to wear. The CCM Pump mangled many a good foot before making its first exit from the hockey scene.

The reason I say first, is that the “Pump” has recently found its way back into hockey, this time under the Reebok brand. I’m sure many of the kinks have been worked out and the airbags within the skate are of a higher quality but I’m still sceptical. The difference, this time, is that I’m actually rooting for the skate, or at least the technology, instead of maliciously hoping for it to self-combust into flames while a festively plump child practices his two foot stops.

At the end of each hockey game you’re guaranteed to hear at least a couple moans and groans about aching feet while we all stand about praying for Simmsey to wrap up his post-game ramblings. And the whinging is not unjustified.

One glimpse of a hockey player’s bare foot and you’ll have all the proof you need that skates are closer to steel vices than slippers. There’s some real ugly stuff going on inside those skates. One to five hours a day, five or so days a week, eight months a year. It’s not going to be pretty. I’ve even seen a toe that looks more like a seat- belt buckle from a 1970s Cadillac than a human digit.

So you can see why, with 25 years of skate-wearing under my belt, a two-inch B&Q Phillips screw protruding from my fifth metatarsal, and a daily dose of podiatric twilight zone, I’m now in full support of any gimmick that’s going to increase foot comfort or advance the technology further.

Also, I still want that rocket pack.

Thursday, December 23

So our Christmas tree only went up a couple of days ago, is that too late? I don’t think we’ve missed out on anything by not putting it up earlier. Procrastination does seem to be the theme of this year’s holiday season although 50 per cent of the people living in my house might argue that, for some, this theme actually extends beyond the holidays . . . 11 months beyond.

The truth is that we we’re both too scared to find out what our two not quite fully grown cats would do to the tree when we left the room. If a single shiny chocolate wrapper left on the floor could result in two hours of feline battle royale, what kind of reaction would a four foot artificial tree, decked out with flashing lights, tinsel, and sparkling bulbs, bring? Flying fur, possible fire, definitely tears.

As it was, the girl was halfway through decorating, I was in the kitchen conveniently using dinner as an excuse to avoid our tangled mass of ornaments and tinsel, when the light bulb appeared above my head.

Not unlike the Grinch, my smile began to curl in the corners. It was so simple, why hadn’t I thought of it earlier. A small dose of hydrotherapy, combined with the correct application of cat psychology, would surely bring the desired results. Still grinning, I headed into the living room with the spray bottle in hand, already adjusted from tropical mist to stun.

Normally, any such action would be greeted by the strict disapproval from the boss, but not this time. As I had guessed, the cats had already worked their magic, bringing the reactor close to meltdown and effectively signing off on my latest disciplinary proposal.

The ginger cat made an aggressive move towards one of the lower lying bulbs. I drew quickly and with a precise double tap delivered a cold dose of “That’s not a play thing” to the back of his head courtesy of Yorkshire Water.

Am I a mean guy? I don’t think so. No one got hurt . . . we don’t have hard water (sorry couldn’t resist).

Was it effective? Definitely yes. In fact, rioting students beware because if news of this recent water cannon triumph reaches home secretary Mrs May’s desk, you might want to consider packing a snorkel for your next little run through the streets.

In the case of my cats really being a remarkable turnaround, a complete 180 has occurred. Both cats now regard the tree as some sort of supreme deity, only approaching in quiet reverence to sniff at its feet or gaze in bewilderment, heads tilted at an inquisitive 45 degree angle.

The key to the whole operation was not letting the cats see where the water was coming from; allowing them to assume it had come from the tree itself. It’s been highly effective so far. Three days with no incidents and only one further therapy session to report. My only slip up in the whole affair has been relating my recent success to my teammates so near to the exchange of our annual Christmas gag gifts, which, in keeping with the theme of procrastination, was only confirmed a few days ago.

The Christmas gag gift exchange is a pretty common event in hockey and almost every team I’ve played on has arranged one. I imagine other work places also partake in similar traditions but I doubt many of them employ the prison rules attitude that we do.

A year ago I was lucky enough to unwrap a raw pork-chop, as one of my ever respectful teammates attempted to relate to me that my current hair style was, in fact, not very current and, also, to suggest that I had been achieving such a look by combing my hair with an uncooked piece of meat. Far from the most personal or lewdest example I could give, you can still see that there are no rules governing this event regarding what is acceptable and what is “off-side”. As long as you get a laugh nothing is sacred.

Most of the gifts received are disposable, only selected or manufactured for five minutes of humiliation. There’s generally a spending limit of 10-20 pounds but most times that will be enough to cover the purchase of an inflatable sheep or “Manzere”.

The personal touch of the handcrafted gifts tends to produce the biggest laughs - it’s the thought that counts. Therefore, if you’ve had an embarrassing experience in the first half of the year or left the door slightly ajar on some other exploitable part of your lifestyle, you shouldn’t be surprised that you find yourself parading around in front of the boys wearing a cardboard nappy highlighting, perhaps, that unfortunate sharting accident you suffered in Cardiff and wish everyone would just forget.

It’s essential to have a long-winded explanatory gift card attached as this provides the crucial context for the gag and, as a mandatory read, provides further opportunity to humiliate the recipient. There is always someone that will forget this important element and find that their gift has been wasted. “It’s a bottle of Merlot and a toothbrush …?” What?! Some might get it but not all and this is supposed to be a group activity. Team building ... sort of.

Then, of course, there’s the scenario where someone just hasn’t had enough time (likely more procrastination) or possibly forgot and, instead of milking this golden opportunity for all that it’s worth, has gone out and purchased their gag victim a copy of “The Dark Knight.” Nice gift but what a waste. Fine, you’ve been really busy and haven’t had the time to construct a dress from macaroni and inflated condoms. Fair enough. At least attach a semi-abusive card. Make something up. Grasp at straws. Maybe the recipient has got a partner who, like the Joker, is a little over-zealous with the make-up. Close to off-side perhaps, but I’ve heard worse.

Nine years of professional hockey and I can only recall one instance of actual offense being taken. In fact, most of the guys will usually embrace their gifts to get more laughs, some even keep them. I gave Steve Munn a personalized t-shirt when we played together in Augusta which poked fun at a recent run of bad luck in the plus/minus department and I believe he’s brought it with him to Sheffield. That was six years ago. Yikes!

All in all, my talk of cats over the first half of the year may leave me a bit exposed but unless my name’s been drawn by someone extra perverse or ruthless, I can’t see it being too bad - that’s about an 85 per cent chance. I’ve yet to design my own gift to give but I’ve got some good material to work with. I’ll get on with it just as soon as I’m done writing the finance report which I haven’t started, which is due in a week.

Thursday, December 9

Bah! Humbug! I didn’t sign up for this.

Since enrolling in the IWPP (International Winter Protection Plan) I’ve been successfully avoiding freezing temperatures and that annoying white stuff, for the last 10 years. They told me I wouldn’t even have to change my name, I’d simply have to settle for playing hockey in the traditionally lesser known markets. Lafayette, Louisiana; Augusta, Georgia; Sheffield, England. Not exactly hockey meccas.

The closest thing to snow drifts in Lafayette are the kids birthday parties, held at the local arena, where they scrape the ice and dump the snow in the middle of the rink so the kids can play in it and build a snowman.

Well, winter has once again managed to track me down. I can handle the rain ... you don’t have to shovel rain.

Speaking of shovelling, I got all bundled up for the snow, even dug out the second-hand pair of fireman’s boots I’d bought a few years back for a Steelers Halloween party, I went as a deep-sea diver and set out for the local Homebase to buy a snow shovel. I should have known better.

Coming through the door, the first things I see are a bunch of shovel handles sticking out of a barrel. Great, they’re making this easy. There are snowflakes coming down the size of tea doyleys and they’ve got the shovels waiting … on sale.

Nope. They’re spades.

Perfect, now I can strangle the person responsible for this slap in my frozen face and bury them outback thanks to these conveniently located spades. On sale, I might add.

I wasn’t expecting a Snow Flinger 4000 but I was hoping to head home with something slightly tailored towards snow removal. There wasn’t a single suitable shovel in the store. So I left - disgusted - back up the hill, in search of buried treasure with my new spade.

I probably shouldn’t complain. I’ve seen some pretty poor examples of snow removal over the last week. I noted one girl attempting the kick board method - stick a wooden board in the snow and kick it ... genius. Another guy had on his rubber dishwashing gloves, dustpan in hand, scraping the snow from his walk, spine doubled in half. “Could I interest you in buying a spade sir?”

Of course, my neighbourhood is located atop one of Sheffield’s many hills, and accordingly, has received a massive dump of snow, so any residents who don’t happen to own a Chelsea tractor have been forced to make their escape on foot.

I figure I’ve covered somewhere in the area of 15-20 miles in total last week. Three 5-mile round trips to the city centre and back to catch the tram, plus a few fruitless treks to Homebase and the Co-op (no bread, no milk, no snowmobiles), all adds up to too much time, and too much irony, spent walking around in steel-toed fireman boots with freezing toes. Next Halloween . . . I’m an Eskimo.

On the positive side, the snow does help get a person in the mood for Christmas. I even find myself temporarily enjoying the Christmas tunes, which have once again begun their repetitive assault on our sanity; all part of the ever-intensifying build up to Christmas.

The same songs are played over and over, year after year. They’re starting earlier too. I’m confident that most people reading this will have recently heard, or made the comment themselves, about the current lack of legal repercussions for playing Christmas music outside the month of December.

Now, if you’re someone collecting a royalty cheque for one of these melodic brain drills, then you’re probably well chuffed that your window for making easy money has been extended. Yup, you could play the lottery, or . . . you could invest your time and money towards producing just one catchy festive jingle then sit back and put your feet up for the rest of your career; the worse the song, the better. Perfect example: “Grandma got run over by a reindeer”. Terrible lyrics, annoyingly simple and repetitive tune, only a smidgen of humour yet . . . “Christmas Classic”.

As it is, the snow must be working some sort of miracle because I’ve actually gone as far as putting together my own special Christmas playlist for the dressing room and the enjoyment of my accepting team-mates.

I’m not too sure how long I’ll get away with it. You can only listen to “Walking in the Air” so many times before the migraines set in. However, anticipating this, I’ve done some experimenting and have come up with an effective formula to counter such negative side effects. Essentially, I’ve gone for the soothing sounds that only a German/Jamaican approach to traditional Christmas carols can bring. You’ve got it, Boney M. That’s one sugar-glazed tropical Christmas disco hit strategically placed (every third song) throughout the mix.

One minute the endless stratospheric wailing of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” is bleeding your soul dry, the next your transported to Santa’s private beach resort via the reggae Yule tidings that only Boney M’s “Mary’s boy child/Oh my lord”, and a heavy dose of steel drum, can provide.

Hewitt nods in approval, Clark starts singing the wrong words, and I know that it’s working . . . but for how long?

Tuesday, November 24

I’ve got to say that I had a great experience in training this week, although technically it wasn’t my experience at all.

It’s Friday and Disney on Ice has taken over the arena. This means two things. Firstly, there’s a ridiculous amount of traffic in the area and for your life you can’t find a spot at Centertainment. Interestingly enough, the cinema’s empty. Do the math. The parking lot is filled with the vehicles of Arena goers and merchandise vendors.

How many people go to the movies in a white moving truck full of cardboard boxes and unload a pimped out wheelie-bin decorated with princess stickers and pink lights?

These unlawful parkers and peddlars of second-rate merchandise make no effort to conceal their breach of Centertainment parking policy.

They even leave their boxes, empty of stock, on the ground next to where they’ve parked taking up precious space in what also happens to be the only empty stall in the lot.

Two thoughts … mulit-storey parkade and/or parking police. The signs currently posted asking people to “pretty please don’t park over here if you’re going to a concert next door” just don’t seem to be cutting it.

However, this parking nightmare has presented yet another unwanted opportunity to fine-tune my parking strategy. I’ve developed a nice little technique for sniffing out the vacant spots. It’s called auto-stalking. Sound familiar?

Basically, my method consists of driving as slowly as possible around the parking lot scouting for anyone who might be headed to their car to leave. Usually the best targets can be found exiting the restaurants. The most promising ones look as if they’ve just been consuming for hibernation and would actually prefer it if their car were a couch.

Once the mark is identified, I proceed to shadow them in my car hoping they’ll notice me and give me the signal. A bit of eye contact and a head nod or possibly a shaking of the car keys is enough of an indication to confirm my suspicions that, yes, you’ve just ate two-and-a-half Peri-Peri chickens alongside a small crop of corn at Nando’s and as a direct result are most definitely headed to your car.

My return glance of course attempts to convey that I am indeed desperate for somewhere to park but also that I’m probably the nicest person you’ve never met and as so there was really no reason to have been creeped out by my idling alongside you and staring you down for the last hundred yards with a longing look on my face.

Actually, it’s not as disturbing as it sounds and it’s fairly effective, but there are some risks. For instance, the target may have parked in the back somewhere and quite possibly will lose you as they zigzag their way through the busy lot squeezing between cars. Or, it’s possible you’ve tracked someone all the way from their table to the car only to have some other driver, who’s been amateurishly searching without a strategy for the last 58 minutes, luck out with the timing and snag your precious spot.

The only thing worse is the person who leads you to their car only to take off their coat or drop off a load of shopping (Meadowhall scenario). Of course they give you that annoyingly sympathetic shrug. “Oh, you were hoping for this spot? Sorry. I’m here all day. In fact, I think I might start living here. I’ll just take up residence at Monkey Business, right at the bottom of the ball pool collecting kids lost shoes and surviving off half-finished lollies.” Monsters.

Initial eye contact is paramount to the success of auto-stalking.

Getting back on track, the second result of Disney on Ice arriving in town is that the Sheffield Steelers are forced to relocate training to the surface of the moon (Ice Sheffield). Anyone who’s had the pleasure of skating or playing hockey on the ice after the figure skaters will know what I’m talking about.

Anyways, it’s the middle of training, I’m on the Sea of Tranquillity (trying to recall the details of my insurance policy), and we’re doing some drill which begins with the defensemen making a pass out from the corner of the rink to the forwards in the middle.

As usual, the hopeless forwards are aimlessly skating around in circles pretending they know what they’re doing. Half of them likely developing headaches, still trying to decipher the hieroglyphic instructions they’d just seen on the coach’s board only a minute ago. Just kidding Ben, your colouring skills are definitely senior level.

Meanwhile, at the other side of the spectrum, the highly intelligent group of defensemen have quickly established a rotation by which to take turns participating and initiating the next repetition of the drill. You may have noticed there’s a bit of a friendly rivalry between the forwards and D-men.

Occasionally throughout practice someone will miss their cue to pass a puck over here or to skate over there. Inadvertently someone will respond to such a slip-up by yelling “Sleep at night!” or “Coffee’s free!”

On this particular occasion it was Mark Thomas who was positioned at the front of the rotation with me standing next in line anxiously awaiting my turn. We’d already done a couple of reps and everything was going chaotically normal as usual when suddenly everyone on the ice turned and started skating towards our corner and shouting.

I was a bit out of breath and truthfully hadn’t been paying much attention at that point so when I heard the noise and looked up my first thought was Mark’s missed his cue … again and everyone is yelling encouragement and helpful reminders at him, nice guys that they are. Not so. They kept getting closer to us and louder as well (Domish in front).

In Mark’s defence, he hadn’t missed his cue so it’s understandable that he would at that point have a confused look on his face. But he shouldn’t have.

Everyone had been skating towards him, but they hadn’t been shouting “Drill wrecker!” as is customary. What they’d been shouting was “You’re having a baby!”

The Thomas family had been on baby high alert so Mark had given his phone to his secretary Jono Phillips in case anything should happen while he was on the ice and it had.

At that point the light came on, admittedly for both of us, and he was off like a flash to try and catch the birth of his second son Harley. Congratulations to the Thomas family!!!!!!

Like I said, not really my experience, but it was genuinely exciting and will definitely stand out from the memory blur brought on by a career’s worth of training sessions. It was a nice little Disney moment.

Thanks Harley.

Friday, November 5

Who’s my favourite superhero? Top of my head . . . Spiderman. As a kid, the made-in-the-60’s Spiderman cartoon was a staple in my Saturday morning viewing schedule. Most of my memories involve episodes featuring encounters with underground races of apemen or molemen and action scenes occurring in front of recycled backgrounds set to the music of a psychedelic organ. Wait a minute, didn’t he just pass that same stalactite a minute ago? You’re going in circles.

You need to have a bit of an apathetic attitude when viewing the older cartoons, even as a kid. I’m still not sure how old Spidey managed to swing into the middle of Central Park and then away again with only a few small trees around to cast a web out to. The laws of physics were never a big element of the Spiderman cartoons.

How does any of this relate to hockey? ... Very indirectly.

Firstly, those Saturday morning cartoons of mine would always be cut short as a result of a scheduling conflict with the under-7 training session. As a five-year-old, I couldn’t believe that someone would schedule a practice or, worse yet, power-skating right in the middle of my prime-time cartoon slot.

For those who don’t know, power-skating is a training session with no pucks (ie: no fun) designed to teach the fundamentals of skating; in my case, usually led by a grumpy woman named Linda who always looked like someone had farted in her spacesuit - obviously not a morning person.)

At least I had legitimate reason for being annoyed; missing my beloved Spiderman, wound up on some semi-addictive breakfast cereal then stuck in the corner of a freezing rink and told to stand still and pay attention by someone most likely nursing a hangover from the night before, meanwhile, my toes slowly turning black.

To top it off, the worst thing was knowing that the answer to my previous question, regarding who would be so inconsiderate as to book the ice in the middle of a cartoon marathon, was that it was my dad/coach who had instigated this ridiculous schedule.

The guy was, and still is, a bigger Spidey fan than me (oohed and aahed the whole way through the first Spiderman movie when it came out). Makes no sense.

The second roundabout link between superheroes and hockey is a bit more current.

The conversations players get up to on bus trips can and do cover a large range of interesting topics (some not mentionable here). Our recent trip to Edinburgh is the kind of trip that usually produces the best conversations. The length of the return trip combined with fatigue and the odd beer works to relax the brain muscles and that’s when the magic happens.

“Who’s your favourite superhero?”

“Spiderman, no doubt. Yours?”

“Probably Superman. X-ray vision. Very useful… airports.”

“You?”

“Batman”

“He-Man!”

“He-Man?! Who said that?”

In-house expert Jason Hewitt refuses to acknowledge He-Man as an actual superhero. Neil Clark retorts that anyone who can raise a sword above their head, summoning lightning bolts and thunder, suddenly changing their costume and that of their pet tiger from rags to battle armour, all in the blink of an eye, must surely be super. For the record, Neil’s actual favourite super hero is Superwoman. That’s ... super, Neil.

Get-rich-quick schemes and inventions, complete with Dragons Den-style pitches and long-winded spiels, have also been recent topical favourites. I can’t go into too much detail. Clark made us all sign a non-disclosure. All I’ll say is Utili-tie and Holiday-0-gram 3000. Catchy names aren’t they? (my contribution towards the securement of our future millions). Everyone needs something to fall back on after the hockey career wraps up.

Worst idea so far has to be the tie template (we tend to get stuck on the same themes). This is some sort of guide worn around the neck that would be incorporated into the tying of the tie giving you step by step instructions to follow as you go. When finished the template would simply slide away from the finished product . . . a perfectly-tied tie. Tadaah!

I’m not sure how this would actually work. I keep imagining Christmas morning and some unfortunate dad, reluctantly demonstrating his children’s latest gift, ending up blue-faced on the floor gasping for breath, making hand gestures for the scissors.

Could be a potentially dangerous product and for that reason Clarky . . . I’m out.

Wednesday, October 21

Hi everyone,

THE team that stays healthy is the team that wins. This is fact. Two years ago the Belfast Giants had a team capable of contending for the league title (we won the league by the way, with relatively few injuries) but injuries side-lined some of their best players and that pretty much spelled the end of any title bid. Not that the remaining players on the team weren’t good enough to carry on the winning ways it’s just that fatigue and further injury eventually take over as the minutes and games pile up.

Compared to most other leagues in Europe and North America a full EIHL roster is already a limited one. This was nicely highlighted for anyone who made the trip to the Continental Cup last season and happened to flip through the tournament program. Our roster looked like the lunch menu compared to the other teams and their small armies of players.

And let’s not forget the three page listings of physios, masseuses, accountants, equipment trainers, belly dancers, and strength coaches comprising the fine dining full entrée evening menu. OK, maybe the accountants are an exaggeration, but I took a quick glance inside Red Bull Salzburg’s dressing room while passing by and you couldn’t say for sure either way.

Anyways, it’s a bit disconcerting to see our players getting injured after such a nice start to the season, especially our Brits. Jono Phillips has hurt his knee this weekend and likely won’t return till sometime in the New Year if at all and Mark Thomas is out with a broken foot.

I feel your pain Mark but don’t worry. We’ll soon have you back better than ever. I’ll just get you started on my semi-skimmed aquatic rehab program and you’ll quickly develop bones of steel, just like mine. That’s correct - exercise in a pool of milk. Stimulates bone growth through saturation and reduces recovery time by 1.35 per cent. Not to mention silky, smooth skin. I think the Finns invented it.

It’s never good to lose players to injury and British players can be particularly hard to replace. I’m not sure if there is a plan to bring in any other players but thankfully we do have one player ready to step in - as long as no one from Azerbaijan calls seeking justice for Derek Campbell having played with an illegal stick in the Caucasus Cup as a seven-year-old then he should be returning from suspension, boosting our forward numbers to a solid seven.

I don’t know exactly how the IIHF works but you’d have thought that they would have enforced, or at least mentioned, any suspensions occurred over the summer at the start of the season. Seemed like it was more of a “oh that reminds us” kind of situation. Thanks for that.

We certainly didn’t have our best game last weekend. I feel our loss was a combination of things; our passing was a bit weak, the ice was melting in the third, we didn’t score on the powerplay early on, they’re a good side with a good goalie, there weren’t enough players on our bench to paddle a canoe, and the referees were all from the IEHL. Actually, I probably can’t go to default and blame this one on the refs.

It’s kind of frustrating when you’re looking for a game the next day to try and make amends and it’s not there. Though, maybe it’s a good thing that we had the Sunday off giving us a week to look at how we’re going to bolstering our line-up.

That and the terrific team BBQ we were able to have Sunday afternoon featuring Domish’s much-hyped barbeque chicken extravaganza. The only thing better than the chicken was watching Domer cook it. One fork, two grills, a few beers (cooking purposes), no apron and the secret Domish BBQ chicken extravaganza ingredient….noise.

Too hot!!!

Cheers, Rod.

Thursday, October 14

Hi everyone,

This is a bit of an out-of-date entry but I hope you can let it slide. I’ve just started back to school and the combination of international business class mixed with finance and accounting can numb the brain.

Minimum three days to recover after a session of analysing company income and balance statements. I’ll have to find something to do after hockey though I’m not sure accountancy would be my first choice, possibly a golf course critic.

That’s right, I could tour the country playing various courses, for free of course, relating my experiences and issuing my invaluable opinion to the golfing masses. Like a lighthouse shining across the landscape of the golfing unknown, safely steering weekend hacks away from the rocky perils of worn out municipal dog tracks and snobby overpriced country clubs. Or maybe I’ll get a job in marketing. Dare to dream.

Anyways, it’s been great to get back on the ice playing again. I feel like an 80-year-old the morning after a match but at least it doesn’t last all day. It was nice to only have one game my first weekend back, followed by a day off.

Some of our guys had to make the trip to Belfast to face the Boston Bruins last Saturday and then get home in time to play at the Arena Sunday afternoon. They looked a bit tired from Saturday’s game plus the travel but definitely deserve a big pat on the back for representing our league so well.

To actually be leading halfway through a game against a club whose budget eclipses our entire leagues value many times over isn’t a bad result in my books. (Joe) Talbot joked that at that point they let the Bruins turn their sticks back the right way round. That’s funny but, when you think about it, our guys were an all-star team and had only been together for one day with a single training session the previous afternoon so I say ‘well done.’

The other side of the argument is that the Bruins players may have been holding back somewhat, not desiring to get injured so close to the start of the regular season.

Having had a few conversations with my older brother, who currently plays with the Calgary Flames in the same league as Boston, on the subject of pre-season play he’s mentioned on several occasions that veteran players are never too disappointed if they don’t end up icing in such matches.

Understandable I guess when you consider that NHL players play 82 games in a season. Throw in pre-season and a good play-off run and you’re looking at over 100 matches for a season. No small feat when playing a contact sport but that’s why they pay them the big bucks.

Ok, so some of the older players might not have been giving it there all. But let’s not forget the younger guys trying to make the squad with only a couple of games left to impress. Dangle a contract worth possible hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in front of anyone and you’re likely to get an honest effort.

Just picture the Gloucester cheese roll if there were a pig pile of cash at the bottom of the hill. Maybe that’s a bad example. Those folks are already crazy and require little prodding.

Chasing cheese . . . over a cliff? No thanks, I’m already 29 going on 80.

Cheers for now,

Rod.

Friday, September 17

Hi everyone,

I hope that everyone who was out to watch on last weekend enjoyed themselves. I really thought that Saturday’s match against Dundee would have been a closer affair considering their loss to us the weekend before and the fact that they’d be looking for some payback.

Our getting off to another good start, with a couple of quick goals combined with their hitting a few posts, probably didn’t help with their confidence early on.

As to whether I personally enjoyed the game, the answer is that I did . . . and I didn’t. I always say that I’d prefer a close game to a blow out any day, and that goes for whether I’m playing or watching. Unfortunately, it was the latter last weekend.

I somehow managed to throw my back out in training on Wednesday of last week. No real incident to speak of either, just a few quick strides out of the corner and then something went. I think the last time I’d experienced anything like this was my last year of junior hockey, about nine years ago!

I haven’t had any real issues with my back this past summer but, in hindsight, I’m thinking there’s a likely connection between my being off the ice for so long and my sudden lower-back issues. Most players will tell you that no matter how much you train in the off-season there’s no substitute for skating or taking a slapshot and you’re always stiff and aching for the first couple of weeks in the season.

Now, I knew this, and was expecting the sore legs, feet and, to some extent, back as well, but this really caught me by surprise. Mostly because in Wednesday’s training, prior to the incident, or non-incident if you like, I had felt the best I had since my return to the ice.

Anyways, I’ve been to the physios, therapists and chiropractors and I’m feeling a whole lot better and should be back in the action this weekend. I was spared the long bus ride to Cardiff on Sunday and missed a hard-fought almost-come-from-behind defeat, and apparently some of the worst ice conditions in the league for some time. It’s hard enough to play on ice the size of Cardiff’s let alone playing in conditions where your skate blades sink through the ice/slush to the dirt below.

It’s not likely to be any easier this weekend seeing that we’re headed up to Whitley Bay on Sunday. Yikes!

Cheers for now,

Rod

Thursday, September 9

Hi folks,

At the time I thought to myself that it was going to be a great plan. I’m going to sign in February, have the whole summer to enjoy stress-free knowing exactly where I would be playing hockey the following season. I’d be able to make plans for the future and concentrate on getting fit again.

Well that’s what I thought, but that’s not exactly how it played out, was it?

There was a lot of uncertainty with the club, a lot of issues that came up regarding the ownership and management, and certainly a lot of emotion to go along with it all. But, in the end, the club has made it out of the gates, there is a good team on the ice, and what do you know - we’ve won the first two games of the season. I think it might even be one of the best starting weekends we’ve had for a few years now.

For myself, this summer was an extra long one, and probably the longest single period of time I’ve been off the ice in my life. Since breaking my foot last January it’s been close to an eight-month absence. The summer felt even stranger having to come back from that kind of an injury, where your body feels off balance from having one strong leg, which did all the work for the six weeks you’re stuck in a cast hopping around, and the other leg being weak and shrivelled from being stuck in a pot.

As well, there’s the aches and pains that you’d expect from reintroducing a broken foot back into day-to-day life. But, in the end, I’d have to say that I’m pleased with where things are at now and thankful that there weren’t any significant problems putting on the skates again.

Everyone in the league will be making a few more miles this year with the inclusion of Dundee and Braehead. Although we now have an even longer road trip up north this season it’s not so bad knowing there’s a nice facility at the end of the line. Some of the guys had given the rest of us a heads up as what to expect in Dundee. The arena is a decent size with a large ice pad and some nice changing rooms as well. Dundee also had a decent turn out of fans. I only wish a place like Cardiff could follow suit. Braehead is new and should be a decent place to play as well, so that’s exciting.

Thinking about our home game last weekend, it was nice to see such a good turnout of fans. Even before the weekend, at the shirt launch, there were a lot of supporters who showed up at the Magna Centre. As players this means a great deal to us. We’ve all been trying to gaze into the crystal ball this summer wondering if anyone is going come watch us after a less than satisfying season 2009-10 and the turmoil of the recent off season.

Personally, I think that the fans who have taken less notice of the goings on over the summer might be the best off. A bit of time with head in the sand can sometimes be a good thing. Hopefully as players we can do our part and provide everyone with some wins and excitement. Success on the ice can go a long way to improving the mood of everyone concerned.

We’re off to a good start so far. Our new coach Ben Simon seems to be an organized guy and a hard worker on and off the ice. He’s going to bring some structure and stability to the team. It can’t be an easy gig having to manage a team and fit into the team as a player as well, and the guys are there to help him out where ever we can.

I think its been a big help having guys like Steve Munn and Ash Tait return as well. They’re both experienced players and guys who bring a lot to the team on and off the ice and the fact that they’ve only been away for one season should mean a fairly easy transition back into the league. Couple the return of some familiar faces with some fresh ones and you’re looking at a pretty solid roster. I’m sure everyone who was at the game on Saturday would be pleased with what they saw from the new players. We’ve added some speed and size over the summer - Domish has got to be one of the fastest skaters in the league - while Clark and Simon are both mobile forwards with size; additions such as these can never be a bad thing.

Our Latvian goaltender Ervins seemed to be quite comfortable in the net as well and it’s likely that as the season progresses he’ll continue to improve. He’s already been named player of the week and the thought of him improving on that is exciting!

I don’t think we want to get ahead of ourselves though, looking only at last weekend. A good start was important and yes, we’ve taken good steps by winning the first two games. But, realistically, the matches are only going to get tougher. Even by the second weekend when we face the same teams again, the games are likely to be a lot closer. It’s always tough to win in Cardiff’s small rink and generally both teams will be more organized with another week’s training under their belts. But, then again, we should be too!

Ultimately, we’re going to have to have a full roster on the ice if we plan to keep up the tempo from last weekend for the whole season and compete for the league title. If some of the new guys didn’t realize the importance of a complete line here in the EIHL then I believe it became quite clear during the first game.

Some players took mid-game vacations to the penalty box, and I won’t name any names here, while the rest of the team probably averaged over 35 mins in ice time each covering for their absence.

At the same time, it’s exciting to think that we were able to put up 11 goals short handed over the two games and we’ve still got some offensive players to arrive!

Cheers for now,

Rod.

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