Sunday, June 26, 2016

WORLD WIDE HOCKEY TOUR – HOUSTON (D)

Continued from WORLD WIDE HOCKEY TOUR – HOUSTON (PART C) in June, 2016.]

In the beginning, the pace of the game turned out faster than what a few of the Selects’ team members were used to. The smaller rink dimensions, as compared to an international ice surface, also added to early perceptions that made it seem quicker. Not only that, there were fewer stoppages in the action. Mekkar discovered his pre-tour research that Houston was probably one of the top squads the Selects would encounter on this schedule.

Every time Mekkar kept chipping the puck off of the wall out of his own zone, it seemed to come back almost as rapidly. No matter how often he would head-man the puck forward or sent a crisp tape-to-tape pass ahead to a teammate, the biscuit repeatedly returned. Out to center ice and further just to withstand another onslaught.

He was busy in his defensive responsibilities inside the Selects’ own blue all night. The only breaks he received was during the shift changes that brought him to the bench then back out again for some more. Mekkar was feeling frustrated at this situation because he sensed the pace of the game was picking up at an increasing rate. The native boy asked himself a question, “Do these guys ever get tired? They appear to get stronger as the game has gone along.” Mekkar was beginning to believe that this is how it is with the top pros in the world. He identified the standards required to be consistent at this high level, up close and personal. 

The Aeros were dominant in the face off circle in this game. It also appeared to Mekkar that the Selects were out there chasing them and the puck everywhere on the ice all night long. The Native from the North instinctively knew that when he is behind trying to catch up to an opponent there are certain infractions referees are looking for. Thus, he wants to use other ways to slow them down such as body checks or better positioning.

Mekkar has a philosophy regarding when a team wins draws in their offensive end of the rink. It is much easier to set up plays. Yes, they do have set plays in hockey just like basketball, indoor soccer, and other sports. This makes it possible for better scoring chances and quick shots on a rival’s net. However, when a squad loses face-offs in your own zone these same factors work against you. It is all a matter of controlling the puck and possession, which means you direct and dictate the action during the game. The club that keeps the puck the most normally is the winner.

For comparisons sake, as in soccer the team that has the most possession of the ball usually wins the game. That is unless your team’s defense and goaltending really stinks. These strategies and styles are what make the Soviet and some club teams in Europe so successful and dangerous. When a squad or anything has mastery over another they typically mandate many variables to the other side.

During a forwards only, not the whole five man unit (excluding the goalie) line change on the fly, Mekkar followed the play and charged straight ahead. He continued despite his warped sense of timing was off by a second or more. Mekkar was in attack mode like a heat seeking missile searching for its target. He went much further deep into the offense zone than he should have and now the defenseman became a forechecker. He chugged along and had picked up his pace. The Arctic Warrior Mekkar saw a Houston player along the boards behind the backline still with the rubber disc at their feet. Mekkar thought he would be tenacious and take this opportunity to try to check that player hard into the wall. It was in retaliation from an earlier hit where the hometown athlete said, “You set your sights on our players, and you will pay the price.” Mekkar was focused on making his opponent feel the crunch of glass. What happened instead was that the Aeros’ player raised his elbow and The Arctic Warrior received a collision of his own. He ended up leading with his face into the elbow bone breaking his nose instantly.

With blood streaming out of his nose and mouth as well as his blackened eyes watering up Mekkar skated back to his side’s bench area in shame. Alf then blasted his older sibling with a number of comments. One of them that Mekkar’s little brother fired off and many Selects players heard was, “You are an idiot. You have watched the films a number of times and you forgot about the prominent elbows? Since you didn’t seem to pay attention and learn your lesson, you got exactly what you deserve.”

The home crowd fans heard the comments also but they probably were unable to decipher the meaning since the words in the Selects’ team speech and not in english. Many on the team there just cracked up laughing until the coaches admonished them, “That is enough. Keep your mind in the game.” A few of them on the bench figured that the crowd would be laughing with them, if they could understand.

After Alf’s criticism Mekkar went to the dressing room to have treatment on his upper body injury. When he came back to his team’s side not long afterward, Mekkar remained incensed at Alf. Now Mekkar was looking a chance at payback or redemption of any kind.

Some shifts later, Mekkar was back on the ice at the same time as the Houston player that had broken his nose. Mekkar caught him unaware this time and got his retribution with a downward chopping motion hard slash of the ankle with his stick. That retaliation on Mekkar’s part not surprisingly got him sent to the sin bin and he received a game misconduct penalty. Thus, his night was over and Mekkar concluded with a trip back to the locker room. The target of Mekkar’s nasty display of frustration was now extra motivated and hurt the Selects where it counted most, on the scoreboard. The Aeros’ team member potted two goals himself after Mekkar had been ejected from the match.

What saved the Selects from great embarrassment of being blown out that evening was the travelling team’s goalie made fifty six saves. However, Mekkar’s team was still on the wrong end of a four-two score in favor of the home side. Some nights you have it and some you don’t! Well, Mekkar knew it was not the thrill of victory, but the agony of defeat. [Jim McKay; Stanley Ralph Ross, ABC's Wide World of Sports! 1970] What a way to start this tour thought Mekkar. He just hoped the rest of this slate of games was different or he was in for a long trip.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

WORLD WIDE HOCKEY TOUR – HOUSTON (C)

Continued from WORLD WIDE HOCKEY TOUR – HOUSTON (PART B) in May, 2016.]

It encouraged Mekkar as he felt emboldened like hey, if a little guy like Lee could take on larger people and kick their rear ends when necessary, why couldn’t he? Of course, Mekkar realized that Bruce was in a class all by himself. Lee was an innovator and might never be matched in the combat arts realm.

Nonetheless, Bruce in his films provided some additional inspiration to Mekkar in regard to overcoming his lack of imposing physical structure and size to make great impact anyway. Mekkar also referred to him as, “The Bruce man,” as he called him admiringly, “Probably hasn’t encountered a pack of wolves or a polar bear too close for safety’s sake.” Well, in this one area, Mekkar thought in a humorous way, that he an advantage over the out of this world Lee in his realm. Each of the four in that crew at the movie house continues to love and enjoy good action martial arts films ever since, plots and speaking be damned.          

During next day and in the span before The Selects match against the home team at the Summit arena, the Aeros has a surprise activity awaiting their tour guests. The hosts invited The Selects team members to join them to attend a major league baseball game at the Astrodome.

The Astrodome was the first multi-purpose dome stadium in existence when it opened in nineteen sixty five. Approximately a decade before other early domed facilities such as the Superdome in New Orleans or the Kingdome in Seattle. The Astrodome was nicknamed The Eighth Wonder of the World as it was one of a kind at the time it was built. Now, it is empty and houses almost no sports - probably just rats, Mekkar figured. [Wikipedia]

Mekkar was familiar with baseball because he had been forced to watch many tapes and films. He did this along with other sports as part of his mama’s plan for him to learn the english language. Plus, Mekkar had previously played similar games like pes├Ąpallo, rounders, and over-the-line. So, attending this game would not be a total foreign experience to him.

The Aeros and Selects players sat in a section designated for them down near the field level. Undoubtedly, the Selects players enjoyed the various snacks and beverages mobile vendors would bring by during the game. Unknown to Mekkar, many of his teammates had never been to a live baseball game before.

As Mekkar was trying to find his seat he blurted out the comment to one of the home team players, “You know that this doesn’t change the fact that you are still the enemy come game time tomorrow.” On of the Houston players’ responded back, “That is tomorrow, just sit back and relax and enjoy today’s game as our guest.” That particular home team player was there with other members of their family to enjoy the day off. Since, it is a rarity during the long season.

Native from north Mekkar was enthralled by the indoor playing area and soaked up the atmosphere of the place along with the game as well. It was good thing that Mekkar had brought his binoculars, as he usually does, to see things more close up. He just thought that the hometown Houston Astros Rainbow, Tequila Sunrise uniforms with the multi-colored stripes were the coolest things. [Wikipedia]

He is a sports fan in general and welcomed colorful items and clothing. Mekkar has the concept of if you just want just black without color in everything, like the trend is going in today’s sports world, just revert yourself back to the nineteen fifties and before. Similar to the period before the advent of color television.

The visiting teen hockey player doesn’t remember who won the baseball game or even who the opponent was and didn’t care. He did get to have some interaction and converse with each of the Howe’s - Mark, Marty, and Mr. Hockey Gordie. That itself was the highlight of Mekkar’s day. Mekkar had got wind that there was supposed to be an evening meal with both teams together later that day, but it never materialized. That was okay because some of the Selects’ team members had consumed too much of the ballpark goodies. A copious amount beyond what was beneficial for their own good. Those same individuals paid for it later.

Suspicious in his nature as he was, Mekkar thought that maybe the whole thing might be a tactic used by their opponent. Not only to soften the Selects’ players up but also to distract them. This in turn, would affect the upcoming match. Mekkar unwittingly made his thoughts regarding this matter audibly known to others around him. This was by the way a regular unconscious habit of his.

Some of the squad hung out together in one of the hotel rooms that evening after arriving back from the ballpark. During the banter when Alf heard his older brother’s incredulous comments, he rebuked Mekkar. The reply was, “We are not in Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain you paranoid, unappreciative oaf!” Mekkar gathered Alf was probably right. Yet, he wouldn’t admit it outwardly as to not lose face. Definitely not in front of the team.

On the bus ride from the hotel to the arena a couple of hours prior to faceoff, Mekkar noticed that a couple of his teammates looked lethargic. It seemed to him like they had the flu or something related. So, Mekkar decided to move over to sit by the goalies as they might be more alert. Mekkar figured that they would need to be more awake if a lot of high speed vulcanized rubber was about to be blasted at them. Since netminders are normally so superstitious, he calculated their other worldly aura might separate him. That is, whatever was affecting the sluggish ones he saw on the bus.

Mekkar went through his common pre game routine and it was not long to game time. He started to get revved up. He also grasped that the Aeros were a veteran team with a championship pedigree. Early in the match he foresaw that this was going to be game involving a lot of speed and skating along with quick puck movement. He also supposed there was to be minimal plodding, grinding, bulliness, and thuggery on the ice that night. Some of the Selects’ players had pre-notions, expectations, and assumptions of a North American goonish style they would face before the game began. The Aeros could bring the wood or the pummeling if they had to but it was not necessary for this matchup. This was a definite relief to Mekkar.