Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gut Check as the NHL Beings Again

Three days of the flu seems like a rough way to prepare for the start of the NHL:2013.

If this short season will feel like being trapped in the backseat of a Tijuana taxi as it swerves and sideswipes its way toward either paradise or the lower reaches of hell (commonly viewed as the first mile you cover as you walk as toward town, if you exited the United States at the San Ysidro crossing ... at night), you might think that being down a few gallons of fluids while experiencing thought-crushing headaches would not put you in the proper mind for the great game of hockey.

Fools, I say to all of you. No pain, no gain. Nothing wakes you out of a soul-numbing layout like extreme nausea and baby bird sips of chicken broth. You come out of the flu with a hunger and thirst that grows in intensity the moment you realize you can eat this or drink that.

Three days into the young short-season, I have watched 16 games in full. I am back and I am stronger than before.

Wish I could say the same for the Kings, whose defense lost Matt Greene for the season and must still play minus Willie Mitchell. Those quick passes the Kings flashed in the playoffs? Replaced by tentative solo play that quicker skating teams feast on. Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane were picking pockets like the young and tender sales reps for Chiclets that one tries to avoid upon crossing into Tijuana.

Bad positioning (see the Ducks/Flames game or the Rangers/Penguins game) and not knowing who should be on the ice (see the Flyers against the Sabres) and you have that feeling that no seat belt can help you overcome.

But you must learn to love the uneasy feeling. Use it to your advantage. You cannot be certain of anything. There will be plenty of surprises along the way.

The last time I walked into Tijuana, I was a few blocks away from my destination on the Avenida RevoluciĆ³n. I saw this rather tall woman in a rather short skirt part company with a man. And as the woman turned to her right, a bankroll the size of luxury toilet paper fell out of her bag and hit the rubble that passed for a sidewalk.

I called out to alert her. She turned, smiled and retrieved her not-so-small fortune.

"Thank you," she said in her best James Earl Jones voice.

I should have seen that one coming. Keep your head up out here. It is going to be that kind of season.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Center Ice Out, GameCenter Live In

Many cable providers do not assign the NHL Center Ice package to HD-capable channels. I know my provider does not.

This usually leaves me with two choices. One is to get drunk enough to not mind the fuzzy images on my HD screens. It's sort of a fun option, but highly unproductive.

The second is to adjust the picture to fill out the HD screen, rendering even the thinnest player as worthy of the nickname Gump. A lot of rotund looking players is the result of this option.

This season, I am going with GameCenter Live, which will allow me to watch out-of-market HD-quality feeds on my iPad2, iPhone5, Roku box (2XS), and Macbook. That leaves the Lounge's main HD screens available for the three locals (Rangers, Islanders and Devils) and the games on NBC, the NBC Sports Channel or the NHL Network channel.

(Not to mention the various AHL, college, junior and high school games I get via cable. OK, so I mentioned them. You knew that I would.)

My Macbook laptop will get the call on opening day, as NBC Sports will stream the Kings-Blackhawks game in the Northeast (Penguins-Flyers will be shown on traditional TV in this region). For those outside the Northeast who want to see the Pens-Flyers game, the NBC Sports website is your source for the game.

And the new Roku box will be the real rookie of the year in my house. Great thing about it is that it is portable and can be moved to any TV with an HDMI port.

Time to rest my eyes a bit. There will be a lot of action in the Lounge tonight. As a warm-up, the big HD screen in the Lounge will have Duluth East against White Bear Lake in a Minnesota high school boys hockey matchup starting at 8:30 Eastern on the Fox College Sports Central channel. The small screen will have the NHL Network's latest division preview, which is on at 7 Eastern and will be replayed at 10 Eastern.

And we are reading season previews from TSN.ca, SI.com, ESPN.com, USAToday.com, NHL.com, The Hockey News and Hockey Prospectus. The Lounge reading circle should be done in time for the opening faceoff Saturday.

Now, like I said, I must get a little shut eye before tonight's action. Thanks for dropping in.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Season of Contempt

Although we know that the 2013 NHL season will consisted of 48 regular-season games, the exact dates have not been released yet.

But the basic matrix is 4 games each against 2 members of a team's division, with 5 games each against the two remaining members of a team's division. That gets us to 18. From there, a team will play 3 games each against the remaining members of its conference. No intraconference games this season.

A lot of 4-game weeks are coming as the league tries to wrap up the season before May Day.

If the above video can be used as a guide, familiarity will breed contempt this season. And as you know, hockey can break your heart. So date outside the conference. It's safer that way.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Things Just Keep Getting Better

Twitter has become much more interesting now that the lockout minutia (NHLPA execs are here, now they are there, NHL execs aren't here, etc) has been replaced by talk on who will be in camp, who might be bought out, etc. The boys are coming back.

And then there is Norm Macdonald, who is doing his best to make me interested in golf. Right now he is doing play-by-play on whatever event he has decided is worth 140 character bursts of chatter.

You don't have to be on Twitter to read his work -- you can use the link above or do a Web search of his name and Twitter -- but it helps if you want to read it as the thought moves from brain waves to nerve impulses at his fingertips.

Gotta go, I need to catch up with work and Norm's tweets.

Monday, January 7, 2013

My Extended Family Returns

I remember various parental figures, as well as assorted aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins, griping from time to time about supposed slights committed by people from the same group.

There was a note of bitterness, sometimes some notes carried the heavy toll of possible retribution, but all in all, it was my family being my family. Come the holidays, the issues and wishes of revenge were buried underneath the mounds of tamales, chicken in mole sauce, Mexican rice, soupy beans (my term for cooked pinto beans that have not been refried), fried potatoes with cheese and home-made flour tortillas, all of which made the Christmas Eve dinner so special and gut busting.

But finally there was a split, a divide that could not be bridged and the giant family meals ended. (Funny, the amount of food at the various splinter Christmas Eve gatherings only stayed the same, so more food for fewer people.)

That is pretty much where we are now that the good news has reached all precincts. A collective bargaining agreement for the National Hockey League is awaiting ratification.

Once the votes have been cast, presumably in the affirmative, we can get back to action on the ice, where the players belong and clearly wanted to be before the owners locked them out.

But there are fans who will not be back, having scratched the NHL off their list of things to watch. No return after a few weeks, or after a month. No return at all. That is sad, but true.

I am coming back, as I never left. My family members were in unions, and the plant where my father worked seemed to lock out employees around Thanksgiving. They did it a couple of times. All the while, neighbors and friends of the family would try to offer help, often in the hollow words of "you are getting paid to much" and "you should go back." (Those people will always be on my list of people to look up when I am sitting in for St. Peter. Yeah, I know I will never have that job, but I have the list in case I do get the gig.)

I take my inspiration from my father, who stayed calm and focused during these labor battles. I did not loose my head during labor negotiations at my workplace last year. (We eventually won a new Guild contract.) And I did not vow to never watch the NHL because I was not getting my daily fix of the game.

I stayed patient. I spent more time with my family. I spent more time walking the dogs, contributing to holiday conversations and helping out with the repairs and such around the house. When it came to getting that kind of work done, my wife humorously gave me the nickname Edward James Almost. (At least we laugh about the name and the devilishly sharp sense of humor she has.)

Well, I managed to learn how to "Stand and Deliver," being more like Edward James Olmos's character in that film. I hope to continue to contribute more around the house and here, in the Lounge, this year.

Thanks, guys, for getting my extended NHL family back together for the feast of hockey. And thanks to you patrons for checking back into the lounge. The first one is on me.