Blog - Steeler’s Spiel: Rod Sarich

AFTER a disappointing 2009-10 Elite League season was curtailed early by a broken foot, 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 against the world in general.

Monday, January 24

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

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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.