Archive for the ‘Hockey’ Category

I like this guy. Image c/o NY Daily News

Lou Lamoriello resigned as president of the New Jersey Devils last Thursday. During his 28 years with the Devils, he won the Stanley Cup three times. He’s moved on to become the 16th general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a Washington Capitals fan, you’d normally expect me to ask, “Who cares?” But Lamoriello appears to be a generally good guy. What you all could verify with a mouse click is that Lamoriello took out a full-page advertisement in the sports sections of The Record and The Star-Ledger on Friday to thank Devils fans. That certainly seems like a decent thing to do, but I have more reason to believe that Lamoriello is really good guy.

I graduated from law school in 2000, and with nothing to lose, I decided to take a ridiculous shot at getting a dream job. I wrote every single NHL, NBA, MLB, MLS, and NFL team (except the Dallas Cowboys, because fuck those guys) asking for an interview for a position as in-house counsel. First, many of these teams don’t hire in-house counsel, instead retaining large law firms (which I call out-house counsel, because fuck those guys) to do the work. The jobs for which I applied, in some cases, simply didn’t exist. Second, for those people hired in-house at such a dream position, it takes a mountain of experience to get it, and there are the additional factors of luck and connections that a dopey, recent law school graduate isn’t going to have. As you might expect, I received rejection letters from about half of these teams, with the other half simply ignoring my request.

But not Lamoriello. He hand-wrote a letter to me explaining why he couldn’t interview me but wishing me well in my job search. This is a guy who had much better things to do than to tell me something that I already knew. Even if he were inclined to extend an extra bit of courtesy in the interests of public relations, he could have had his secretary send me a form letter with his name stamped on it. Nope. This guy appreciated my interest and wanted to connect.

I still hate the New Jersey Devils, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and every other that isn’t my team (because fuck those guys), but whatever you want to assume about people, this is no bullshit: Lou Lamoriello is a class act.

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If you can't handle the truth, hide from it.

One of the most prestigious papers in the country, the Washington Post, published an op-ed piece by Fred Bowen entitled, “Ultimate fighting is too brutal to be considered a sport, even if it’s on TV.” Rather than place this long of a response in the comments, I simply pointed to this article. This is my response to Bowen’s disturbingly unprofessional commentary on what he calls, “ultimate fighting.”

———————–

Your article is confused and intentionally misleading, and you should be ashamed of your willingness to protest a subject about which you know so little. You take many factual missteps in you op-ed piece. For starters, the sport is called, “mixed martial arts” (“MMA”) “Ultimate fighting,” is a throw back to the early 90s when the only MMA promotion was the Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”). Your ignorance isn’t limited to the sport you hate. Your claim that 15-round fights are the norm in boxing is also wrong. A simple internet search shows that the last 15-round boxing match in America (among the major organizations) was held in 1988. It’s these easily-verified factual discrepancies that cast doubt on your qualifications to address this topic; however, dismissing you outright would be lowering myself to your level and give you an “out.” Despite your apparent lack of concern for logic and factual evidence, let’s examine some of your more ridiculous claims.

Danger, Will Robinson!

To say that “almost anything goes” mischaracterizes the sport. Though you’ll likely deny it, you’re clearly trying to imply is that there are dangerous techniques (e.g., eye-gouging, fish-hooking, strikes to the spine) permitted in MMA, which is not true. The sport is a mix of many different martial arts, but everything that’s legal in the UFC (and some things that are not legal in the UFC) are legal in all of those other sports. That is, throws are legal in judo, punches are legal in boxing and kickboxing, kicks are permitted in kickboxing, and joint locks are legal in jiu-jitsu and judo. As a combination of multiple martial arts disciplines, all of these techniques are available in MMA. This means that there is a broader variety of techniques available to the fighters, but not that there are more dangerous techniques available. These are the same techniques to which you don’t seem to object in those other contexts. There’s simply no reason to jump to the conclusion that having all of these techniques available is somehow more dangerous.

In fact, there’s reason to assume the combination is less dangerous. The fact that some fighters choose to use grappling techniques to subdue an opponent rather than striking techniques to knock them unconscious would suggest, on average, a safer track record than a competition in which the only option available would be to use striking techniques to knock out your opponent. Is this true? Let’s go to the data.

LiveScience.com recaps new evidence showing that the most dangerous sport for high school and college females is cheerleading: Another study found that between 1982 and 2007, there were 103 fatal, disabling or serious injuries recorded among female high school athletes, with the vast majority (67) occurring in cheerleading.”

This one point addresses Dana White’s comments on cheerleading in particular, and it’s a bit more scientific than your “I’ve watched some ultimate fighting” argument. I also direct you to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, and in particular their Annual Report on catastrophic sport injury for 2010, which covers high school and collegiate athletics. Here are some highlights:

For the 28-year period 1982-1983 – 2009-2010, high school fall sports had 771 direct catastrophic injuries and 747, or 96.9%, were related to football participants.

 

For the 28 years, 1982-2009, there were a total of 163 college direct fall sport catastrophic injuries, and 156 were associated with football.

 

As shown in Table IX, high school winter sports were associated with four direct catastrophic injuries in 2009-2010. All four were associated with ice hockey – one death, two disability, and one recovery. High school winter sports were also associated with four indirect fatalities and three indirect injuries with recovery during the 2009-2010 school year (Table XI). Basketball was associated with all seven indirect injuries. All four of the fatalities were heart related.

So, as an example, the number of deaths nationwide in 2009 for high school hockey alone is twice as great as the number of deaths in American professional mixed martial arts in its entire 18 year history. (Neither of those deaths occurred in the UFC.) The same can be said for the non-contact sport of basketball! Do we dare add the data from professional sports? Should we pull equestrian sports into this equation? I’m sure you wouldn’t want to ban that brutally violent and dangerous sport. (Which, by the way, you shouldn’t. Though it’s been proven by many studies performed around the world to be the most dangerous spectator sport, it’s still much more safe than riding in a car.) Combat sports in general, and the UFC in particular, are far and away the safest spectator sports in the United States. The data backs up that claim, but again, I’m not sure your concern is with minor details such as “data” or “logic.” It seems your focus is on making sure no one’s feelings are hurt. (For those that do care about such minor details, I suggest the Journal of Combative Sports as a starting point. When you consider the number of deaths per 1,000,000 participants, combat sports compare quite favorably to other spectator sports.)

But They Look Like They’re Hurting Each Other’s Feelings!

Your concern of the glorification of violence suggests you’re not much of a sports fan, which is fascinating in light of your position with the Washington Post. What’s more violent than a strong hit against a defenseless receiver in a football game, a hard check in hockey, or a fatal car accident? The fact that some of these (not all, as you state) are “accidents” doesn’t change the fact that their heightened frequency makes them more dangerous. It also doesn’t change the fact that those sometimes-fatal events are what the fans are waiting to see. That, by definition, is the glorification of violence, and if it doesn’t invalidate football, hockey, or auto-racing as sports, it doesn’t invalidate MMA as a sport either. (Auto racing isn’t a sport for a different set of reasons.)

On top of all of this is an intangible that shouldn’t be ignored (though I admit it’s immeasurable). Some people are better able to handle pain and damage than others. While I’m certain you couldn’t handle competing in a real martial art (i.e., not a dime-store “black belt factory” you might attend in the suburbs), these guys can. In short, for them, “pain don’t hurt,” and their superior athleticism means it doesn’t easily cause them long-term damage either. They’re ready for this, even if you’re not.

On one point we can both agree: You need to change the channel. I’m not sure you can handle the real world. The Washington Post, on the other hand, should be ashamed of themselves for permitting you to write on this topic. There must be some other writers that oppose MMA but are capable of doing research and putting together a sound argument.

Make sure to listen to Fight Fans Radio Monday through Thursday at 3pm for MMA news and analysis. Also listen in on Saturdays at 3pm before fight cards for my live Stupid Predictions™ segment.

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Don’t follow Fred Bowen on Twitter even if you can find his Twitter handle (I couldn’t). He’s not worth reading.

Does this really matter? Seriously?

The Washington Post reports that the Washington Capitals have changed their scoreboard, placing the visiting team’s score on the left side and the home team’s score on the right side. This is a reversal from how they’ve always reported it. In fact, most teams place the home team’s score first and the visiting team’s score to the right. Capitals’ majority owner, Ted Leonsis, explained the change was intended to comport with how the media reports scores.

I have to ask, why is this such a big deal? Seriously, why does this matter? We live in a time where people insist on complaining about everything merely for its own sake. I submit to you that this is an example of that. Stop complaining. It’s just a scoreboard.

I’d rant some more, but there’s already been far too much attention given to this issue by its mere existence.

Lighten up, Francis.

Make sure to listen to Fight Fans Radio Monday through Thursday at 3pm for MMA news and analysis. Also listen in on Saturdays at 3pm before fight cards for my live Stupid Predictions™ segment.

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Fan-Violence

Idiot-File

I’m still working on the research for my article on how mixed martial arts compares to other sports in terms of safety, but I have a related story from the idiot file that approaches the issue from a different direction.

We’ve all heard stories of players getting killed for losing soccer games for their team, or fans getting killed simply for rooting for the wrong team. We also know that there are few sporting events at which no fan-based fights break out during or after the event. This is a level of danger that won’t be factored into any of the data I’m collecting.

So here’s an interesting story care of Bloody Elbow. Granted, BE consists of what I call MMAJs (i.e., mixed martial arts journalists), so it would be hypocritical of me to treat what they say as completely reliable. Nevertheless, this information is ultimately verifiable by anyone that wants to take the time to do the research (I don’t). Here’s a summary of the article.

The Vancouver police chief is asking that the UFC pick up the cost for extra police presence on June 11th, when UFC 131 will be held in that city. The UFC said “hell no,” citing that Vancouver has never asked this of any other sporting event held in that city. Moreover, the data seems to suggest that the UFC has less incidents of neighborhood violence than other events (though this is a weak point considering there’s been only one UFC in Vancouver). The best the police chief could cite against the UFC is the fact that two gay men were attacked after UFC 115 in Vancouver last June, but there’s no evidence the attackers even attended the event. On the contrary, BE points out that in 1994, Vancouver residents had a full-scale riot after their hockey team, the Canucks, lost the Stanley Cup finals. EDIT: If this sounds familiar, it’s because it happened again last year.

This is a re-post of an article originally posted on May 16, 2011, edited to add a mention of last June’s riots in Vancouver.

I’ve been to two UFCs and two Extreme Fighting Championships, and only EFC 2 in Montreal (technically, on the Kahnawake Indian reservation) didn’t have a fan fight; however, I’ve never been to another sporting event where I can’t remember seeing a fan fight occur. That’s a remarkable record, isn’t it? Regardless of whether my personal anecdotal experience is properly representative of fan violence in sports, holding the UFC to a higher standard than a known powderkeg, such as ice hockey, boxing, pro wrestling, or any other sporting event on the planet is remarkably unfair. At the very least, a city should provide more than one alleged instance that might be related to the event in order to treat the sport differently than others with a proven track record for such fan violence.

Tennis-Too

This image is from a tennis event. A tennis event!


The only explanation I have for it is sheer ignorance (and thus baseless prejudice) towards the sport.

Grow up, Vancouver.

Make sure to listen to Fight Fans Radio Monday through Thursday at 3pm for MMA news and analysis. Also listen in on Saturdays at 3pm before fight cards for my live Stupid Predictions™ segment.

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Jim Tressel recently resigned as head coach at Ohio State University. Normally, I’d ask, “So? OSU is no longer a top-5 program in college football, and there insistence otherwise annoys me, so I’m not watching.” However, the resignation has reenergized the debate on whether high school athletes should be paid, and South Park and the Daily Show have jumped on board, so I’m joining the debate as well. As to whether college athletes should be paid, here’s my answer:

Yes and no.

Most of my friends will sigh and say, “Typical lawyer’s response.” Well, they’d be right, but not because lawyers are afraid to commit to a point of view. Lawyers study issues more deeply than most others before opening our mouths and quickly learn to appreciate that the right answer is almost never perfect; it’s just the best one available. Almost all answers have something good in them, but all answers have at least some bad attached. The goal is to find the answer that creates the best net effect (i.e., the good minus bad). I wish more people would show that understanding in political debate.

But I digress.

Why Should We Pay Them?

Yes, NCAA athletes should be paid for all the reasons we typically hear. They’re adults (legally-speaking) who are working hard to make a ton of money for their school. They do so at the risk of great bodily injury that could derail their potential careers before they even start. It just seems unfair for so many people to make so much money off of other people’s work, even in the cases of those lucky few that do hit the big time.

Just How Bad Is It?

So the system is unfair, but it’s not that unfair. Even for the sports that make a ton of money (e.g., basketball and football), the student athletes are often getting a free education that costs tens of thousands of dollars for the rest of us. They also get free housing, meal plans, and paid tutors to make sure they succeed despite themselves. For most student athletes, that’s an important perk because they won’t actually have a professional career. They need that degree more than most of them will admit, and it’s handed to them on a silver platter. It takes a special form of stupidity and irresponsibility to screw up that.

Still, the issue of fairness remains because the dollar amounts the big sports generate should result in payments that would pay for all of these things for not only the student athlete, but for his children (future or otherwise) as well.

Why Not Pay Them?

What’s the downside to paying them? They may be adults legally, but are they really mature enough to handle all that money? Remember that statement about a special kind of stupidity and irresponsibility two paragraphs up? It happens all the time. Of course, there are plenty of examples of professional athletes screwing up even after making millions in a major professional league, but that happens to everyone, and after you’re out of school, you’re your own problem. Universities can’t be expected to be responsible for people after they’ve left the school, but they are responsible for them during school.

Another concern is that the bigger schools will buy the better high school student athletes. Really? Doesn’t this happen anyway, even with schools that aren’t breaking the rules? Still, if the university has the means to teach their students good ethics, they should, so it’s a concern.

The Solution

The best answer I have is to create an interest-bearing escrow account from which student athletes can withdrawal their fair share when they graduate. This is not a novel idea; others have considered it, and I don’t mean to take credit as the only one. A student athlete fund would give student athletes a much-needed and much-deserved financial boost on graduation, and — depending on how it’s implemented — could actually satisfy the concern of bigger schools buying up the good players.

Some Options

If they don’t graduate, allow them to withdrawal only a percentage of what they’d otherwise get, with the rest of the money remaining in the fund and increasing the amount future athletes can withdrawal. Why give a non-graduating player less money than one leaving with a degree? While the non-graduating player, in theory, needs the money more than the graduating player, the benefits of providing an incentive to graduate probably outweighs that. I could, of course, be wrong, because I don’t have all the information I need to answer that question, but let the experts determine these details.

Another good question for the number-crunchers to consider is the possibility of placing the same limit on withdrawals on any student that gets a professional contract with a major sports league (NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB). Again, I don’t know whether that’s better. Remember, if it’s a common fund, the amount students could get might be tied into how much is in the pot (as opposed to a set amount), in which case the guys who really don’t need it don’t need to take from it.

Yet another question for the number-crunchers to consider is how to deal with players in different sports. Basketball and football players clearly bring in more money for the school then lacrosse players, so shouldn’t they get paid more? That seems fair. Warning: If you think this is all about fairness, think again. You know damn well that when fairness demands that men be paid much more than women under this thinking, there will be a cry of discrimination loud enough to drown out all logic you might have in support of it. Don’t worry, though; I’m sure universities will choose logic over political correctness. *sigh*

Details, Rob! Details!

So, how much do we pay them? This is yet another area where I honestly don’t know because I don’t have the data I need to form an opinion. I refuse to answer that question until I can do so knowledgeably. I wish more people would take that approach to political debate as well. 🙂

Just some food for thought. Considering we can’t get the NCAA to implement a football playoff system because it’s not immediately as profitable as the bowl system, I seriously doubt there’ll be a change without the government getting involved, which they shouldn’t.

Reminder: I’ll be interviewed by Fight Fans Radio on Monday, June 6. Listen in through UStream at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/fightfans-radio.

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WNBA-Shirt

I consider this post to be my first attempt at suicide. The issues raised here could get me into a lot of trouble with at least 50% of the human population. Still, I think an honest, fair analysis of this issue would be a good thing. As with every area influenced by political correctness, the heart is in the right place, but it very quickly is lead astray by zealotry, ignorance, and stupidity.

WNBA Is a Joke

First things fist: WNBA is pronounced WIN-ba. Get used to it.

In WNBA’s first year, I was in a bar in Greenwich Village with my cousin, Mike. I told him that WNBA isn’t a real sports league, but rather a politically correct effort to jam a piss-poor product down our throats. If the league can’t earn its place on its own merits, it has no business in the sports universe. Mike approached the issue from the perspective of affirmative action. If we just give WNBA a chance, it’ll earn it’s place, and giving women’s sports a chance is a matter of “fairness.”

Ugh.

He went on to add that if WNBA couldn’t pay for itself within 5 years, it would disappear. “There’s no way they’d keep it around if it weren’t making money.” We should be so lucky. After all this time, it still can’t hold it’s own financially, and that’s despite lower salaries (compared to other pro sports), a growing US population (and thus, consumer base), a larger economy, and politically-correct, charitable spending. WNBA survives only because it’s subsidized by a real sports league, the NBA.

Chart

Why is WNBA such a joke? It’s because WNBA is trying to be something it isn’t. WNBA players try to dunk on a men’s size hoop. They try to play on a men’s court. They try to be the same as men, when they’re clearly not.

And stop treating this as an issue of “equality.” Women don’t have a Constitutional or statutory right to their own pro basketball league. They don’t even have a moral right to it. Besides, this is an issue of “sameness,” which is something different. This issue isn’t about civil liberties; it’s about height, upper body strength, and other purely biological characteristics, and on those points, women aren’t the same. In a Playboy article, Craig Kilborn talked about how he often plays his friend, Rebecca Lobo (then playing for the New York Liberty), in one-on-one basketball and beats her every time. Yes, Craig played basketball at Podunk state university, but he’s a talk-show host. A talk show host! She was one of the best players in the league at the peek of her career. Try to imagine how embarrassing this would be for any other sports league.

This means that WNBA actually retards women’s sports. As things stand, it makes women’s sports the subject of ridicule, distracting people from a very important point . . . .

Generally, Women’s Sports Is Not a Joke

As a follower of tennis, I can assure you that women’s tennis is just as good a game as men’s tennis. It’s just as much fun to watch despite the fact that the #1 women’s player would probably get destroyed by the #100 men’s player. The reason is two-fold: First, women don’t play men in tennis one-on-one, making the comparison to their abilities meaningless. Second, technique is more important to tennis, being that it’s not as dependent on the physical differences between the sexes. This is why, for example, plenty of women who are half-decent, casual players of tennis can destroy male counterparts.

The same effect can be seen with hockey. In January 2009, I put on ice skates for the first time (age 40), and by June, I was playing on my first C-league team. There’s still segregation in league play, but I have plenty of opportunity to play against women in hockey classes and scrimmages. As a new player to the sport, I get completely outplayed by women all the time. The technique is often independent of the physical differences. I will add, though, that if it was a full contact game, their ability to check me at will wouldn’t hurt me, but if I got just one shot against one of them, I’d be able to take them out of the game with a single, legal hit. Really, I’d destroy them. However, it’d be tough for me to catch them. Overall, they whoop my ass.

Even in combat sports, the same thing can be said, though not surprisingly to a lesser extent. I’ve trained with women in Tae Kwon Do, American kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, and aikido. Many of them deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what they’ve accomplished in their respective sports. As a heavyweight, (I could never quite drop below 100 kgs during my judo days, dammit!), I could probably take out every single woman I ever faced, though I’d have to take them very seriously in order to do it. Assume that they’re “just a girl,” and you’ll find yourself on the toe end of a groin kick.

Of course, all of this depends on the individual, and comparing amateurs to each other does less to prove the point than comparing pros. As I stated above, when comparing pros to pros — people dedicating their lives to the sport — women can almost never compete with men, but that’s okay, because they don’t.

Except in fake sports, like auto racing.

Danica-Patrick

The Point

My point is that WNBA makes a mockery of women’s sports. Rather than rally behind it, you should see it for what it is — a financial drain on our society — and treat it accordingly. Otherwise, the ridicule for all women’s sports will continue, whether deserving or not, and that hurts those sports that otherwise should have an equal place in the sports world. If WNBA wants to become a legitimate sport, they need to change the way the game is structured. At this point, however, they’d lose so much face in doing so, there’s no possibility they will. The only way to truly bring women’s basketball into the mainstream is to fold WNBA and hope a smarter group of investors create a new league with a better structure.

But if it’s this much work, why bother? It’s bleeding horribly. Let it die.

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This is a more personal post than I generally publish here, but it has an important message at the end relevant to what this day represents to me.

Last Wednesday, I played pick up ice hockey for the first time in over a year. It was embarrassing, but at the same time I swelled with pride. On Friday night, due to a change of plans, I was free to go again, and the experience was even more embarrassing, and likewise pride-inducing, because there were about 30 people playing, and only three of us were not kids that play ice hockey for college teams. All the college kids were in town for summer break, and rather than go out drinking on Friday night, they play pickup hockey . . . and drink during the game. Needless the say, I got my ass kicked.

Some History

The first time I was ever on ice skates was January 9, 2009. I hadn’t worked out in 2 years, and so I was the heaviest I’d ever been and had a poor endurance. Moreover, skating works the lower back in a way I’ve never experienced. Consequently, I had a great deal of trouble getting through my 30-minute “learn to skate” classes. I was out of breath within 10 minutes and in terrible pain within 20. By the time I was capable of handling the class, I was now in a 60-minute “learn to play hockey” class wearing full gear. The effect was magnified. What made all of these experiences more amusing was that my classes shared the ice with kids classes, many of whom were experienced skaters. Geez.

Lost Opportunities

Age 11

This was especially annoying to me. Since 1974, when the Washington Capitals came into existence, I had been a hockey fan. In 1979 (age 11, 6th grade), I learned that one of my friends (and his two brothers) played ice hockey. I wanted to play, but there’s was no way that was going to happen. My older brother, Russ, was two years older than I. He would always say he wanted to try this hobby or that hobby (e.g., Cub Scouts, tennis), and by the time I was old enough to participate, he (and my parents) inevitably had lost interest in the work it took to participate. I’d always be told, “I’m not going through that again!”

The only exceptions were middle-school football, which I was forced to play, and martial arts, in which I participated at my own expense of time and money and, despite predictions from the family, stuck with until I was 39. Playing football was miserable for me because I was on my brother’s team, and everyone was two years older (a virtual eternity at that age) than I, so I was always warming the bench (bored out of my mind). Although my brother never asked to play ice hockey — the request would almost certainly have been granted — the culture of my nuclear family always had me receiving a “no” answer. The fact that my one early-age hobby, “football,” was the source of frustration for me and had me complaining, constantly justified in my parent’s minds their unwillingness to allow me any organized hobbies. In fairness, my family wasn’t even close to “rich,” and hockey would have been an expensive hobby for me to start and not stick with. Everything my brother did, when put together, probably wouldn’t have been as expensive, or as much a pain in the ass, as me playing hockey for a week and quitting. Hindsight is usually 20-20.

Age 23

Several years later, when I was a season ticket holder for the Capitals, I was studying ninjitsu with a guy from Detroit. He had been playing hockey since he was a kid. He told me all about adult league hockey and tried to recruit me. I was working my first job as a professional and training in ninjitsu took a significant amount of free time, but ultimately I said no because I felt I was too old to start. I was 23.

Present Day

So, there I was, struggling to skate at age 40, constantly reminded of stupidly rejecting the idea of learning while I was a relatively-young 23. By the summer of 2009, now 41 years old, I was playing on my first C-league team, the Old Puckers. They were a brand new team in the Prince William Ice Center’s (“PWICE”) C-league. I played two seasons with them, and we literally went from worst to first in those two seasons.

Old-Puckers

Then the Snowpocalypse hit, and PWICE’s roof collapsed, and with it so did my new ice hockey career. For a large number of reasons, I didn’t play ice hockey again until last Wednedsay, and during that hiatus I had put on skates only once for a public skate session. The result was that I put on the extra weight, lost my endurance, and was worried that, being such a new player, I had lost my abilities on the ice.

Well, I wasn’t wrong about any of that (except that my lower back is surprisingly as strong as it was when I stopped playing), but one thing that my hockey experience taught me is that it’s never too late. Do I have a chance of being a Washington Capital one day? Of course not, but so what? The only thing that matters is that ice hockey is a ton of fun for me, and right here, right now, even though I turn 43 today, I’m playing ice hockey.

Fry-Seymour

“In your face Grim Reaper!”

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