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.