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Thursday, September 27, 2007

It Is Definitely Palpable

I went to a practice today. Three and three-quarter miles in a straight line from my front door to the main entrance at the UAA Sports Center. It's just a degree or two from being directly east and the mid-afternoon crosstown traffic gave me plenty of chances to anticipate the destination. It was a gorgeous fall afternoon; some puffy white clouds on the north and west horizons with the warm sun still high in the sky but definitely beginning it's southerly transition. The first solid layer of termination dust cap the highest peaks of the Chugach Mountains and was ever-present in my gaze as I stopped at virtually every single red light. It's like that in the afternoon in Anchorage. If you're going North or South the traffic light timing favors you. It wasn't a problem though, instead of being concerned about how long the light would remain red; my senses were filled with the deep blue skies and all the foliage in various states of decline from the green of summer . The air was crisp but not cold and even almost tangy as it flowed into the car windows at 35mph. There is no denying it's fall. But for a late September day a bit above the 60th latitude it was pretty damned nice. The official high was 50 but it sure felt warmer.

The Sports Center is completely awash in fall colors. Good landscaping ya know; a quality mix of shrubs and trees that turn different colors and do so at different rates which nature really cannot match. The grass was freshly cut probably for the last time. I couldn't quite figure out whatever parking rules are in place this time around. As long as I've hit that campus it has seems to be different each year. Now they have a drive through automated parking attendant for visitors to pay. You can't operate the thing from a sitting position and of course when I got out of the seat I found "Robopark" completely dead. Woohoo! Free parking, I didn't need the quarters I'd brought! It had taken almost 25 minutes to negotiate the 10 or so red lights I hit along the way and when I made my way up the stairs the Zamboni was making the final couple of laps and about 15 players were waiting on the benches. With the Zam off the ice everyone else came onto the sheet. Coaches Blair and Whitten followed directly after and practice commenced with a few quick warmup laps. It was just enough to create that "rink wind" and waft the slightly pungent smell from the collective stank of the equipment. Yeah man. Hockey season is definitely palpable. There's no debating it. It isn't just the weather and the rink sounds and smells. It's palpable on Uncle Ted's big series of tubes as well. Fan forums are becoming busier and the newbies and trolls are making thier first dutiful appearances. All the leagues have released their yearly coaches polls. I got a hit today from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia from a Google search for "neutral zone trap". The three main websites for our beloved sport are updating regularly and bloggers like me (as well as fans like you) are feeling the fever. Sadly the main news of the day is that one of the four teams we UAA fans will be watching in the Nye tourney in a couple of weeks is beginning it's final season. No wonder I didn't get an answer from Wayne States blogger when I inquired about exchanging team previews last month.

There isn't much I can say about any indivdual player with my three year old vision prescription which clearly needs updated. Little yellow numbers on the backs of speeding green helmets were really just too difficult to pick up on a consistent basis. I liked what I saw of enthusiasm and effort overall. New goalie Matthew Gordon looked solid and I mentally noted how quickly he went from standing to butterfly and back to standing. He has a nice compact stance as well; he also collected and handled the puck well behind the net. Aaron Mayo definitely has the sharpest helmet of all three goalies. Jonny O has the same paint job as last year which is something I meant to ask him about when I spoke with him at the picnic and Matthew has the plain white. All the drills had both clearly defined offensive and defensive purposes. Nobody seemed to be dogging it and certainly there were some rookies giving it their all in hopes of impressing and earning ice time. Passing was crisp and more often than not, it was tape to tape.

My eyes were able to discern that all the defensemen were in white shirts with the forwards split into groups of three wearing black, grey, green, gold, and dark blue (thank god there was no orange since I failed that color in 1st grade). Kevin Clark, Josh Lunden and Paul Crowder were linemates but as I've said I couldn't be definitive about any other combo. I spent most of my visual energy focused on skates. I like to see how a player uses his edges and turns his feet over; I like compact powerful efficient strides; I don't like choppy skaters whose ankles look to turn over at any particular moment. I like to watch for guys that get to speed with the most efficiency. An easy way to summarize my skating fascination would be to say; I like to watch Mat Robinson skate. Laura Stamm would love Mat. None of that reflects on other skaters of course. And sometimes guys that can't skate worth a damn have a knack for scoring goals (former Nanook Aaron Voros and former Badger Jake Dowell come to mind; both of whom I saw score more than just a couple of goals off their thighs). I saw some good smarts from guys during the drills that allowed them the freedom to be creative. I saw a couple of players that perhaps need to be reminded to keep moving their feet and forget about relying on their stick trying to gain position on an opponent. Pretty much every drill had rink long implications which was also good to see. Coach Shyiak has talked about continuing the effort toward that sort up and down game. He's got a group of blueliners this year that will contribute to that philosophy. Of course it all contributes to my already optimistic outlook. Not long now to see how it all begins and follow the progress. Are we there yet?


Jeff said...

the beginning of this post sounds like a poem. But ya, i'm pumped for the game in wasilla this weekend. We're almost there!

Donald Dunlop said...

I guess I was trying to set the mood. I won't be at the game in Wasilla but I'll be listening on the radio.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the practice notes, getting stoked for the season to start.........the thrilla from Wasilla

Anonymous said...

does anybody know who the captains r or when shyiak will announce em?

Donald Dunlop said...

I neglected to mention that at the picnic Shyiak said the Captains would be chosen during or after the first week of practice. He talked about the importance of letting the players choose. With only another week before the exhibition game I'd think they've chosen them by now. I've found that such announcements aren't necessarily timely from the SID; though in fairness to them the info they put out has its origins elsewhere.

Peter Chen said...

Hi Donald,

Thanks for the alert regarding the Haloscan commenting system you gave in my post Haloscan commennting system for New Blogger. I have immediately updated the post to warn my blog readers. They will be grateful to you.

Peter (Blog*Star)
Natural Remedies

WhiteBeard said...

So ... you were the one heading east that thought that stopping at red lights was optional. I though you were just admiring the day.

Donald Dunlop said...

You mean I missed a chance a stop at a red light? Argh ...

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