Out of the Box: Happy Birthday, Mom.

If you have had the chance to get to know me over the past several years, you probably know how I was raised by a single mother, who was probably a bigger Giants and Yankees fan than most men.  Sadly, I lost her nearly 18 years ago to cancer, and this week, I’m thinking about her more than usual.

Today would have been her birthday.  And over the weekend, during my trip to Yankee Stadium in which the 1998 team was honored, a few memories hit me during my train ride to the Bronx.

Everyone has their memories of the 1998 Yankees, arguably the greatest baseball team ever.  (Don’t even think about it, haters.)  For me, and it dawned on me Saturday, this was the last season my mom was able to travel to New York City to see her beloved Yankees play.

It was late June, when the Yankees visited the Mets at Shea Stadium for a weekend series.  Mom had bought a ticket package through Amtrak for the two of us…tickets and a round trip train ride from the Rensselaer train station (the closest to where we lived at the time) to Flushing.  Literally, the train dropped us off near Flushing Meadows.  This marked my one and only trip to Shea, I might add.

I remember wearing my Tino T-shirt (Mom absolutely LOVED Tino) that day, and I think we had seats in the upper deck, between home plate and first base.  And guess who came through with a home run that day?  Yes, it was Tino.  The two fans behind us got so excited I ended up having beer spilt on me…and Mom and I both thought it was funny.

Weird how I remember a few of these things from so long ago.

Later that season, the annual family trip to the Bronx–which would be my mom, uncle, cousin, and myself–would take place in late August, just before I started my third year of college.  It was a Sunday afternoon game against Seattle that didn’t go very well.  Sadly, although none of us knew it at the time, that would be Mom’s last trip to Yankee Stadium.

She would be diagnosed with colon cancer in late July the following year, just before we had two Yankee trips planned–two free box seats as a retirement present for a game against the Indians, then a bus trip to Fenway Park for a Sunday night game against the Red Sox, my first time visiting the Green Monster.  While she recuperated from surgery, my cousin would take her place for both games.

When Mom first gave me the news, I tried to be positive about it.  Hey, if Darryl Strawberry can have the same illness and come back, she can too.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case.

Our last happy memory together?  Watching the Yankees finish off the Mets in the 2000 World Series.  She took a turn for the worse the morning after that game, and passed away about three weeks later.  At least she got to see her team win it all one more time.

So today, I’m thinking of Mom and what she would think of this year’s team.  I’d say she would be a Judge fan for sure.  And probably yelling at Sonny Gray or Giancarlo for something.

Tonight, while the Yankees take on Miami (I’m sure it would pain her to root against Don Mattingly–she was a huge fan of him too), I may leave the TV on in the other room, waiting for loud clapping or yelling.  Because Mom wouldn’t have it any other way.

Everything Happens for a Reason…

So here we are, starting a New Year.

When I got home from Hartford this time last year, after seeing the Devils beat the Wolfpack and having an unplanned dinner with a few other Albany fans, I was feeling pretty good about what was to come in 2017. The team was playing well, on its way to another playoff spot, and I was looking forward to my first trip to Allentown in a few weeks for AHL All Stars.

Then everything happened.  First, the rumors.  Then, the breaking announcement that I had to learn from the media instead of the team.  The press conference in Binghamton that soon followed.  That I still don’t get as to why everything had to go down the way that it did.

But you know what?  Now that I look back on things…and see what has conspired since this season began…I almost feel somewhat content.

When I thought once the season ended my hockey writing career was going on hiatus, not one, but two doors ended up opening for me, giving me a chance to expand beyond the blog and find a new audience (not to mention it helps the resume out if I decide to switch careers at some point in the next few years too).  And, I found a new team that may be in a lower league that what I’ve been used to, but the environment is such an improvement over what I dealt with in Albany the last few years that…part of me wouldn’t mind if the AHL decided to put the Capital Region in its rearview mirror.

There are things I miss about Albany AHL hockey, of course: the shorter commute, befriending future NHLers, interacting with other fans in person and online on the regular.

But…I don’t miss AHL Live video, certain members of the fanbase, and having to plan life and the second job around a hockey schedule.  I’m actually enjoying being able to pick and choose which games I want to attend…it actually feels nice to be able to stay in on a weekend night on occasion and listen to games online on my couch with my pajamas on.

So what will 2018 bring?

As far as the blog goes (it turns 7 this week!), you’ll probably get mostly these kind of entries now.  With my hockey stuff outsourced, it would just get repetitive.  I want to go back to what I originally wanted to do before all the Devils stuff took off.  That will come as the inspiration–and the time to sit down to do it–hits me.

I’ll still be doing my weekly visits at Inside AHL Hockey and Raw Charge for the rest of the season…while keeping my eye on the rumor mill.  Personally, I don’t feel like another AHL team will call Albany home next season, but stranger things have happened.

Happy New Year to all, and thanks for still reading despite me changing my mind several times. (I really should work on my indecisiveness habits.)

Out of the Box: Life Lessons from a Nongenarian

On this Christmas Day…not to mention it’s been a few weeks since I’ve written something other than my weekly articles…let me share with you the story of Mr. Ullery.

Who is Mr. Ullery?  He was my mother’s former boss at the NYS Education Department.  I believe she was still his secretary when I was born in 1978.

He gave me a personalized rocking chair when I was about 3 or 4 years old, a chair I still have in my living room today, even though it’s a little beat up.

Even after my mom passed away in 2000, I would still get a Christmas card from him and his wife, with a typed letter that had to be printed out on the same press schools used to print out worksheets.  Even after his first and second wives both passed away, he would still send his annual letter of the places he has been and how the family was doing.

This year, I once again received a card and letter from Mr. Ullery, from his home in Ohio.

The biggest news he shared?  He hit 90 this year.  And what did he do?  Everything.

He went to the Rose Parade in Pasadena.  He took a bus to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Scottsdale.  He took a Caribbean cruise.  He even took a trip to Normandy, where he visited the same mudfield he visited as a member of the Army band back in 1947, just after the completion of World War II.

He plays in his town’s Community Band and Symphony Orchestra, and sings in his church choir.

He grants scholarships to music students at a high school where his father founded the band program, and traveled to Lake Placid to see 9 of those students participate in a local music festival.

Seriously, this man has a fuller social life than I do!  He went to France, the Caribbean, out west…and the furthest I traveled was to Allentown for AHL All Stars.

So why am I sharing his story with you?

As I am approaching a birthday milestone myself in 2018…I see what he has accomplished in his life, even in the last few years at his age, and it gives me motivation.  I would love to be able to do half of the things Mr. Ullery has done, especially later in life.

Basically, I’m learning a life lesson from Mr. Ullery that I’m passing along to you this holiday season…to live life to the fullest, to see and experience as much as possible.

I plan on writing a letter back to him this week…and I may just tell him that.

Rico and Blender: An Appreciation Post

Now that my jaw has been put back in place after being on the ground for most of the day…

With the bombshell news that Adam Henrique and Joe Blandisi have been traded to Anaheim for Sami Vatanen…I lost the two players that bridged my 7 years covering–and being a fan of–the A-Devils.

Let’s start with Rico, since I’ve known him the longest.

Back in 2010, when New Jersey returned to Albany after a 4 year hiatus in Lowell, I had to start making the transition from knowing who was who in the Hurricanes organization to refreshing my memory on who was still with the Devils.  About 95 percent of who was with the River Rats in 2006-the last year of the original NJ-Albany partnership-had moved on to other teams.  I only knew a few names from that last season in Lowell (i.e. Stephen Gionta, Tim Sestito, Louis Robitaille), and I hadn’t really done my homework on who New Jersey had drafted in the last 4 years because, well, at the time I wasn’t that into watching draft picks.

So, as the new team arrived and I started watching, getting to know the players and their skill sets, Rico was probably one of the few more consistent guys on that 2010-11 team (remember, this was back in the days of Lou, David Conte and the AHL team got whatever body off the scrap heap that may have a shot).

Off the ice, in the rare chances I got to interact with anyone on the team (remember, what’s social media in 2010?), he was always one of the players I talked to the most.  I never had a problem with asking and getting autographs or photos with him (and he had the Rico smile, even back then).  I still tell everyone the story of how at the Booster Club bowlathon midseason I needed someone to take a photo of me and Nathan Perkovich on the lanes, and he volunteered to do it.  And nearly took a selfie of himself with my camera (if only he actually did take a photo…) in the process.

So when he finally made New Jersey for good back in 2011-12…I had found my favorite NHL Devil.  Of course, I’ll forever be grateful for that one fateful goal…the one where I screamed so loud at Recovery Room in Troy I’m sure people in Vermont heard me…

When he came back down to Albany in 2012 during the lockout–this was a few months later–he still remembered the fanbase, actually coming right to my group one night post game early in the season.  Now, normally I can handle myself around players, but on this particular night, when I saw him in the doorway in the back entrance of the arena, I was literally star struck. Luckily, I got myself together just in time.  Unfortunately, an injury in late November that year cut his visit short, and he would return to Jersey to rehab till after the lockout ended.

But the best moment was probably that first home preseason game in September 2015, the first official Welcome to the Shero Era night, I guess you could say.  A friend and I decided last minute to get tickets for that game, and I remember standing in line at a Starbucks on the Thruway and finding out via Twitter we could meet Rico before the game.  HOLY CRAP!

So…we waited for the right time to get into the Rock–Cory, Palms, and Andy Greene were also part of the welcoming committee–and followed the rush of people upstairs to the concourse and waited patiently.  When it got to be our turn, he saw both of us and his face lit up instantly.  The fact he still remembered who we were after all this time…thismoment is why I’m involved in hockey.  It was a very quick 30 second conversation and a photo, but to me, it was worth it.  Of course, stupid me doesn’t get my newly lettered Rico jersey signed at that time (smacks self hard again).

On the same night this happened, I was introduced to Blender.  Well, the on ice version of him anyway.

The kid was all over the place in that game against the Islanders.  Fighting, scoring, you name it.  I was so impressed that I figured I’d never see him come down to Albany.

Well…a couple of weeks later, there he was, walking around at the preseason Fan Fest at the arena.  I introduced myself to him and had mentioned how much I liked his play in Jersey, that I was happy to have him in Albany and I wasn’t going to let him leave (he laughed at that comment).

Blender, to me, was one of those players you couldn’t help but love watching him play, no matter what he did on the ice.  Pregame habits–soccer, jumping into the glass during warmup–became normal parts of my game day the last two A-Devils seasons while he was here.  Off the ice, he was such a wonderful person to get along with.  I even got to know his mom a bit since the family came down from Ontario to visit quite often.

Out of everything I miss with the move to Binghamton, I think my conversations with Blender postgame (when I actually did stick around) are one of the things I’m missing the most so far.  Just simple non hockey talks about random stuff, basically.  Luckily, I did get to see him in both my trips to see the Devils this season.  I had told him I’d see him in Utica in December…well, I guess not now.

Adam and Joe…thank you so much for helping shape 7 years of local memories for me.  Enjoy the sun in Anaheim.  I’ll miss you tons, but hopefully I will see you on the ice again soon.

Branching Out…

Normally, this would be around the time that I would lay out my plans for how I would be covering the regular season, with Opening Night just days away.

But this year…it’s going to be very different.  Without just a single team to focus on, and taking on multiple ones, how is the best way for me to do that?

It used to be quite simple: pregamer, live tweeting, weekly recap, and any extra stories in between that couldn’t wait till the next gameday.  Now, it looks to be just more on the extra stories front.

AHL-wise, what I’m hoping to do is attending (or attempting to watch on AHL Live) one to two games a week, kind of like a Game of the Week feature.

Not to mention…I’m branching out beyond the blog coverage.

I have accepted a roster spot on a relatively new website, Inside AHL Hockey, as the North Division correspondent (and maybe some New England mixed in as well).  I’m not sure how often I’ll be writing over there, likely at least one article a week.  Only catch with that is…you have to subscribe to the site to read it.  But trust me, it’ll be worth it.

As far as Adirondack goes…I may do more coverage of the Thunder here, such as a weekly recap or any breaking news during the week.

And I had mentioned possibly a few posts about my travels…stay tuned for some venue reviews!

As far as live tweeting games…I’m pretty much retiring from full on tweeting like I used to do with the A-Devils.  But there will still be some form of game tweets, depending on where I am.

Any photography by me, which I’ll organize by game or by week, will be over on my Flickr page.

So it may not be what you’re used to reading…but it’s a new beginning.  The next chapter is here.

 

 

 

One Girl’s Journey…

May 10, 1995.

That’s the day everything began.

It was late in the school year, my junior year at Bishop Maginn High School in Albany.  During a lunch break, there was an announcement about discounted River Rats playoff tickets for high school students.

Sure, I knew who the River Rats were, thanks to a friend who had season tickets with her parents.  I knew they played downtown at the Knickerbocker Arena, a building I barely went to other than my mother getting Knicks preseason tickets (stop laughing).  I would sometimes watch the pregame show Fox had on back in the NHL on Fox (never forget the Glow Puck!) days, where John Hennessy, the radio voice of the River Rats at the time, would have players on for interviews.

I came home from school with my team photo and flier, and pretty much made my mother go with me that night.  We got seats in row DD (I can’t remember the section number), which I didn’t know till I got inside was four rows from the glass.  I remember watching the Rat players skate around during warmups and instantly finding a favorite…hey, that’s Mike Dunham from the pregame show!

I even won a prize in a special student drawing, and went on the ice during an intermission to choose a mystery envelope…it was a Walkman (yes, I am showing my age here), while the kid standing next to me won the grand prize, a night in a suite for 20.  The Rats didn’t win that night, but to 16-year-old me, it didn’t matter.  I was hooked on River Rat hockey.  I still remember watching on TV the night the Rats would finish off Fredericton in Game 4 of the Calder Cup finals just a couple of weeks later…and throwing a fit when my mom wouldn’t let me go to the parade (single mom rules…if she doesn’t want to go, you’re not going either) downtown a couple of days later (luckily my Math 12 teacher did attend and filled me in…and showed off her autographed towel).

Naturally, I had to be at the 1995-96 home opener that October.  Of course Mom waited till the last minute to get tickets, and we were in the upper deck (you know, back in the day when the upper sections didn’t need the black curtains) by the press area as the Calder Cup was lowered from the ceiling, and the red championship banner went up.  Sitting upstairs that night did have one perk…I got to meet Corey Schwab, who drove north from New Jersey where the parent Devils had an afternoon game earlier in the day, and was standing near my seat.  He signed my program and talked to me for a couple of minutes.

As I got older, the involvement increased…a handful of games turned into going every other weekend, joining the Booster Club, venturing out on the road, and finally, full season tickets once I was out of college.  There was a few years stretch where because of my insane work schedule I didn’t go a whole lot, but eventually, I found my way back to full time status.

I even got some college credit as a result of my fandom…for the first three months of the 1999-2000 season, my final year at The College of Saint Rose, I worked as an intern in the Rats front office, helping with press packets, scout passes, working at the fan relations table, and I even got to wear the iconic Rowdy costume a few times at a couple of school functions.

22 years and thousands of games attended later since that night…this book is closing.

I find it hard to believe that for more than half my life, I’ve been involved in Albany AHL hockey.  So many life milestones…graduating high school, getting my degree from Saint Rose, losing my mom to cancer, moving around the Capital Region, real world jobs…but the River Rats, and later the Devils, were always my steady presence.  Now…how to best fill that void?

So many players, so many names to remember that came through this area that started their professional careers.  I can turn on a random NHL game and probably know a few names that either suited up for the Rats/Devils or I saw play as opponents.

I’ve been through a lot with this journey…that lone Calder Cup just weeks after I got started, the Red Wings days, the lean early 2000s where wins were few and far between, saying goodbye to New Jersey the first time around and saying hello Carolina, five overtimes, the Mass Pike bus accident, saying goodbye to the Rats as they moved to Charlotte, figuring out the second New Jersey coming, more lean times, finally getting back to the playoffs.  Now I’m saying goodbye for a 3rd time.

Before hockey, I had a very limited social circle (it’s what happens when you’re an only child and you stay inside a lot.  And not talk a lot to others…okay fine my social skills were very limited).  Now, some of my best friends I’ve met have been because of this sport.  I’ve seen kids grow up, others get married and start families, and sympathized as some lost loved ones along the way, including alumni (Coach Cunniff, Peter, Alex, Dave, and Sasha…you are all missed).

I could say the same about the players that have come through here too.  I still remember Patrik Elias coming here as a 19 year old in his first North American season, before he became a legend in New Jersey.  I’ve seen players start out as young party types grow up and become family men, go on to have long careers.  And even if I haven’t seen a player in years, they still remember who you are.

When the Devils returned in 2010, I had no idea that just practicing how to use my BlackBerry at a preseason game in Glens Falls would launch another phase of fandom.  Or a possible new career.  Writing was something I’ve always loved doing since I was about 7 years old…since I wasn’t much of a talker back then, it’s how I communicated best.  I thought that would be my future career when I chose to be a communications major at Saint Rose…either writing for a newspaper or maybe doing books.  I kind of lost that career track, but starting this blog was a way to get me back in the game, so to speak.  Especially when it’s a topic you really couldn’t find much news on (good old Lou keeping everything under wraps!).

Thanks to these teams, I went to cities I probably never thought I’d get to see, from as far north as Glens Falls (never made it to Portland or Manchester), as far south as Norfolk, as far east as Providence, and as far west as Rochester.  And in between: Syracuse, Binghamton, Utica, Springfield, Worcester, Hartford, Bridgeport, Lowell, Wilkes-Barre, and even Atlantic City.  (Still have to get to Hershey…Allentown was for All Stars but I wouldn’t mind a return trip.)

So what does the future hold?  Where will I be?

My heart is still with the AHL.  It’s the only hockey I’ve known for 22 years.  I can’t see myself walking away from it.  Since I refuse to set one foot in Binghamton (unless a certain person in their hierarchy apologizes for more or less treating us Albany fans like we don’t exist…he knows who he is), I’ll most likely be splitting my time between Springfield and Utica, with at least one or two visits to a few other arenas (i.e. Syracuse, Rochester, Hartford, one of the PA teams schedule permitting).  I’ll also be making a few visits to Adirondack as well, since they’re really the only game in town in the winter. We’ll see what non-hockey life allows me to do.

As for New Jersey…you may have screwed me over with the minors, but I just can’t quit the NHL on ice product.  I still plan on at least one or two trips to The Rock next season to visit everyone.  I’ve made so many friends over the last seven years I just can’t walk away.  And I’d miss the snark too much.

Even though I won’t be covering the Devils prospects on a full time basis anymore, I still want to see them do well.

Thank you all for following along this journey with me…and stay tuned as I decide what to do next.

 

No Words.

You know how Facebook has that On This Day feature?  The one where you can look back on posts from years ago?

When I checked mine this morning, I saw my memories from my first AHL All Star trip to Utica (and my first ever trip to Turning Stone) two years ago.

And then I see an article I shared from Puck Daddy from 2010…back when the rumors of the River Rats moving to Charlotte were starting to take hold.

Who would have guessed exactly 7 years later I’d find myself in the same situation?

The news broke via the Times Union about an hour or so ago…what I had read a couple of weeks ago then reminded by several people about a week and a half ago…may really be happening.

And for the second time in 7 years…I don’t have a team.

But why?  A 3 year extension was announced last season, the arena is being remodeled, by all accounts things seemed…okay?  I get it, the attendance clearly wasn’t there.  The media barely covered the team.  It seemed like no matter what was tried…you can’t compete in a college town, which, even though Albany is the capital of New York State, is more into basketball…especially college/HS…than a pro hockey team.  RPI and Union offer the same entertainment for much less.  And downtown Albany at night?  That’s a different story for another day.

Lesson learned: Support your minor league team, no matter the time or cost.  Don’t take it for granted.  You never know, one day they’ll be gone.

As for the future of this blog…it’s too early for me to make any decisions.  Let’s see how everything plays out first before I decide.

Oh, and I’ll be in Allentown for All Stars, so please feel free to give me your best sales pitch as to why I should join your bandwagon…