Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Never Drove the Zamboni

Around 1995 that a new sport came into our lives.

It was sometime in 1990 or 1991 that we took in our first Ohio State Hockey game. They were playing Michigan and neither team, especially the Buckeyes was very good. The old ice rink was sold out and we ended up in the standing room only area behind the north goal. Ohio State got beaten rather convincingly. For whatever reasons we never went back.

Fast forward a couple of years and my wife has a couple of the players in one of her classes, including the team captain. We end up going to another game, and the team has deteriorated. The coach's contract was not renewed and he resigned. The interim coach, John Markell, was trying to turn the team around and become the permanent coach.

Somehow my wife landed a position writing about the team for a Michigan hockey publication and leveraged her way into writing about the CCHA for a national college hockey website.

I started going to the games as my work schedule allowed and watched John Markell turn the team from a horribly coached team into something slightly short of mediocre to a league upstart in the matter of two seasons. The ice rink began filling up, the pep band played in their corner and the little rink rocked. It was a dump, but it was our dump. And the team was going to be moving out into the newly built Value City Arena in early 1999.

I think the best game at the ice rink was in 1998 when number one ranked Michigan State came to town. The building was rocking and Todd Compeau added to the atmosphere when he scored less than a minute into the game. He also added the game winner on a sweet feed from Dan Cousineau that I caught on a crappy camera.

This was the magical season the Buckeyes went to their first and so far only Frozen Four in Boston, only to lose to Boston College in the semi-finals. About all my wife and I had left was my crappy work situation and this hockey team. So when the season was over, there really was not much of anything left. The marriage officially ended in the autumn of 1998, but I still went to the games, including the last one in the ice rink against Notre Dame.

The team's first game at the Schott was in January of 1999. I was supposed to bring a date, but got stood up. It was for the best. I ended up taking this picture, had it blown up to poster size and signed by the team. They loved it and one of the player's parents asked for the negative. I gave it to Ryan Skaleski's parents and have not seen it since.

The old ice rink had some seating taken out to finally make the ice regulation size (it was fifteen feet short) and now houses the Women's Hockey Team.

Got to know a few of the players a little during this time. The first athletes I met who were not interested in throwing me into a locker or deliberately trying to break my glasses during dodge ball. Good kids. Fine, respectful young men. Their parents are devoted, they get that way through taking their kids to practice at 5AM. You get a few stage parents, but they're rare. One Dad would sit in the end where the opposing goalie was, to see his kid try and score goals. He'd switch ends between periods. Other parents would let the refs hear it, and not just when their son was hit. One hockey mom called the Athletic Director during a road game, demanding the coach be fired.

Like the fan dork I am I have a couple of old, game worn jerseys from this era. Because of this experience my respect for hockey players and what they do increased a hundred fold.

Hard to get to many games these days. I go when I can, the team has been through some changes. Markell was relieved of his duties, the new guy had an epic collapse in the second half of this season, but that's hockey.

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