Charlie's Books

Charlie's Books
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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hockey Season begins tomorrow: Can yous feel it? The Callahan factor …


How does a 58 year old curmudgeon football fan wind up a hockey fan?

You watched that? Okay, keep it in mind, please: no stick, a blocked shot, a hit, dives to push the puck across the blue line, blocks another shot, and a hit on his way off the ice.
Listen to how they talk about Callahan in the video above. Listen to the crowd respond. Callahan’s play is an absolute adrenaline rush.

My first hockey game was about 48-50 years ago. Father Scavo took the altar boys from St. Jude to the old Madison Square Garden. Madonna mia, that was a long time ago. The Rangers played the St. Louis Blues and I’m not sure who won. Our seats were way high up, but none of us cared. I think we were all too excited about attending a professional sporting event to care about much else. None of us were really hockey fans. We were city kids brought up on stickball, wiffle ball, kick the can, ringolevio, baseball and football. I know I bought a puck and didn’t have a clue what to do with it once we were home.

If it had had icing on it, I probably would’ve eaten it.

Around age 13 or so, I played some roller hockey, but it wasn’t anything organized. We played in the streets and it didn’t last long because not everyone had skates. Very few of us knew how to skate, certainly not well enough to skate backwards (skating backwards usually occurred when we got knocked on our ass), and nobody could afford the equipment outside of sticks. Chances were, we used a roll of electrical tape for a puck.

I’m sure somebody eventually brought out a football and that was the end of our hockey careers.

Adam Graves on Callahan: "His work ethic is limitless ..."

Flash forward to about 1994 or so, to one of my father-sons days (there weren’t nearly enough and that was my fault), when I took my sons to see the Islanders play somebody. I had a ticket scalper in my pocket at the time, so we had great seats; on the glass, I guess they call it. I have no idea who won. There was a fight on the ice and I have no idea who won that either. I seem to remember some guy with an eye-talian last name (Pulillo or something). He had long (curly, I think) hair, if that helps.

I’d become a football fan during high school (about the time MLB instituted the designated hitter, for which I’ll never forgive it) … I and a few other guys from my high school managed to get football scholarships to play for a small school in North Dakota (Minot State) that sent 2 of our best players to the NFL. Jimmy LaCugna and I visited one of them, Terry Falcon (about 6’7”, 275), when he was with the Patriots. Falcon pancaked my ass in one of my first college nutcracker drills. I’m glad he made the NFL, because that continues to save some of my fragile self-esteem. Our QB, Randy Hedbgerg, tossed Tampa Bay’s first official TD (the two QB’s ahead of him were both injured during their pre-season).

Still, however, no hockey.

I was never a basketball fan, not really, although I did root for the Knicks when I was bored and/or when they were in the playoffs. I hadn’t even noticed the NBA and NHL kind of co-existed, at least on the calendar.

A Callahan loyal gives thanks after the infamous trade last year:

I stayed a football fan, loyal to the ONLY New York football team, the Buffalo Bills, but only after having been a Jets fan (and having really lousy season tickets at Shea Stadium—a few rows from the roof behind home plate/the uprights) back when the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets were actually from New York … before they became the Moonachie Green Team (and since they hired Michael Vick, they’ve become the Moonachie Green Dog Killers). Don’t bother arguing that one with me; you kill dogs, you lose me for life.

I was pretty much a psychotic Bills fan … flying and/or driving to Buffalo to watch my Bills … sometimes flying to away games as far as San Francisco. The frustrations of losing 4 straight super bowls, then turning into a consistently mediocre team since the late 90’s, I consider payback for past sins.

I can think of worse ways to pay for past sins.

A few years ago, when I first started working at a New Jersey law firm, I met a devoted Rangers fan—Sue Bennett … let’s just say Sue likes hockey and the Rangers the way I used to like football and the Bills. I still love the Bills, but I’ve lost a ton of respect for the way the game is played. I’m a dinosaur. I can’t deal with the never ending celebrations and the all too often neglect of team play by individual players (the chest beating, pointing to the back of the jersey – twice two weeks ago in the 49’ers-Eagles game that was televised). I know the younger generation likes the entertainment value of such nonsense, but I really have a hard time watching it. Just this past week, for instance, a Jets defensive lineman (in a game they were losing 21-0), made a tackle in the San Diego backfield immediately after a play in which the Chargers’ running back gained 50 yards on a similar running play. The Jet defensive lineman celebrated his astonishing play. Two plays later the Chargers scored another touchdown. One play after that, after the extra point, the score was 28-0.
Is there any humility on an NFL field anymore?

So, a few years ago, prompted by Sue and a couple of dear friends from south of the Jersey border, Dana and Corky King (Penguin fans from the Pittsburgh area—Dana is a terrific author), I started watching hockey. I even learned “some” of the rules. I’d send the three of them (Sue, Dana and Corky) Facebook messages with questions. Probably tired of my constant nudging, Dana sent me an NHL pocket A-Z guide book. I read it quite a bit. I’m still learning and very eager to learn more.

Aside from learning the rules when watching the Rangers play, I took notice of one guy, their captain, Ryan Callahan. I didn’t know anything more about him or the Rangers than I knew about chemistry (I know nothing about chemistry), but there was no way not to notice his hustle, desire and drive; the kid was giving himself up to block shots, diving to make passes, and mixing it up to defend fellow teammates.

Remember, I was clueless about the game, so after watching him block shots WITHOUT A STICK IN HIS HANDS (see first video up at the top of this post), then cleanly nail a player on his way to the bench, I yelled: “Holy shit, why are they taking him out of the game?”

Who knew what a hockey shift was?

I knew lobsters shifts. I’d worked midnights most of my life, usually while working 2 jobs, but they never let me take a break after just a minute or so.

Okay, so it took a few more games before I realized there were up to four lines and each line played a shift before coming off the ice, and that nobody could play the entire game without taking breathers.

Then I kept watching hockey and it all started to make sense. I was still looking for #24, because the play always seemed to pick up when he was on the ice. I started to learn the names of the Rangers players. I had favorites: Callahan, Girardi, Lundquist, Boyle, etc. They made the playoffs and I was excited for them and myself (something to root for during yet another dreadful Buffalo Bills football season). I even made my first bold statement after seeing Chris Kreider get sent up and down and back again his first year with the Rangers. “This kid is gonna be great someday. He’s got speed and size. He needs to learn to use his body more, but I bet that comes over the next few years.”

My wife was happy for me, because I wasn’t driving her crazy over another Bills defeat. And let’s face it, whenever she asked me a question about football, I’d spend the next half hour diagraming it for her (until her eyes rolled up into the back of her head). I didn’t know enough about hockey to teach her anything, except to say: Look at this Callahan kid. He doesn’t stop.

In a very short period of time, I was no longer concerned about who the Bills were playing, but I was always looking forward to the next Rangers game so I could watch their captain instead. When he scored, I’d yell it out loud (and usually wake my wife up). When he blocked a shot, I’d yell out (and usually wake my wife up). When he dove to make a pass that turned into an assist, I’d yell (and usually wake my wife up). I guess it was better than hearing me curse about the latest Bills debacle, or listening to a half hour lecture on why I HATE THE NO HUDDLE OFFENSE WHEN IT IS USED EXCLUSIVELY … but she was genuinely happy for me. And I still believe, no matter what the college geniuses proclaim, that DEFENSE AND A RUNNING GAME are essential to being a great team. You can still win championships without so-called ELITE QB’s. See Jeff Hostetler, Super Bowl XXV … I saw it. I was there. Outcoached was what happened to the Bills in that game ...

When the Callahan trade rumors began at the beginning of last season, I was nervous, but I couldn’t imagine somebody like Callahan being traded. The kid gave it his all, 100% of the time, and Ranger fans loved it. He was honored several years (4) in a row with the former Police Officer, Steven McDonald award for his extra effort (performance above and beyond the call of duty). Callahan was a true inspiration for fans and teammates alike. When Callahan blocked a shot, the roar from the crowd was electric, and the Rangers always seemed to respond. He led by example.

The definition of hard work.

I dropped the Rangers like a hot cake. It is very rare when I will side with an organization over a player. Add the fact that a player’s style of play (i.e., blocking shots) might be held against him in negotiations (because his blocking shots, etc., can lead to injuries, and thus maybe shorten his career, and/or force him to miss games with injuries), and my socialist temper goes into overdrive. You’re holding his work ethic against him? Nice trick … and it was nice knowing you.

Heart and Soul.

Enough said about that. March 5,, 2014 was the day I decided to go on my Callahan diet. I’m down 88 pounds since. My powerlifting days are over, but I will lose another 70 and one day run (or walk) a marathon with my sons. Shin splints from too many years of running may preclude my bucket list goal, but I’m pretty determined and I almost always get what I go after.

For me, Callahan is the Derek Jeter of hockey, a player who never takes a night off and is always thinking team first. He’s a relentless worker with the kind of intangible value that can NEVER be replaced.

This kid adorable or what? My granddaughter, Evelyn Amelia Stella … another big time Callahan fan.

The trade is forgotten. I’m a Tampa Bay Lightning fan now. I remain a Callahan loyal. The fact Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman joined Cally from the Rangers makes this season all the more exciting. And Saturday, October 11, the Principessa Ann Marie and I are flying down to Tampa to see games 2-4 of the Lightning season. I hope to memorize my new team’s roster (I’m such a rookie). I still butcher Fillpula’s name every time I try and pronounce it. We’ll meet some old friends who’ve moved there to retire (Andy and Judy Pereiro) and we’ll meet some new friends we’ve made through the Callahan Fan Appreciation page (Tony and Mike Liberti). We’ll wear our Cally jersies and t-shirts and pick up Boyle and Stralman jerseys. We’ll be rooting for Cally and the Bolts … and I may even have some room in my Cally jersey, a double X (down from a 4X since March).

So, how does a 58 year old former football faithful and present day curmudgeon find a new sport and a player to follow like he used to follow Joe Christopher of the Mets and Willie Mays of the Giants back in the mid-60’s, or the Bears’ Dick Butkus in the 70’s? I thank my friends for pushing me to start watching hockey, and I thank Callahan for proving there’s still something to admire about hard work and dedication.

The other thing I love about hockey is the respect each team shows the fans after home games and the respect they show one another after a playoff game. Imagine shaking hands after some tough competition? It’s a beautiful thing.

Life is good, amici. Life is very good.

Callahan's first for the Bolts ... the first of many, many, many more.