Wednesday, July 27, 2016

WORLD WIDE HOCKEY TOUR - SAN DIEGO (I)

Continued from WORLD WIDE HOCKEY TOUR –
SAN DIEGO (PART H) in July, 2016.

This era was a time that furthered a lot of social change, which also included sports. It started a trend to take the best players available based on their skills and talent regardless of nationality. The idea was that, if done properly, both styles could be blended together. Mekkar wanted to give a shout out to those who really pioneered this pattern like Borje Salming and others. The World Hockey Association was basically the first star chef in the hockey world to truly mix those individual player ingredients (talents) to form a great drink or meal (successful team). This would forever alter the fastest game on ice as we know it. [billsportsmaps.com; whahockey.com; The Hockey News; Playing Hockey The World Over … wha.htm; Wikipedia; hcokeyfights.com]     

Back home, Mekkar was taught that the World Championships and Olympics were the real testing grounds to resolve this debate. Thus, the priority on those huge events. The results from this tour would answer a number of questions in Mekkar’s mind. Despite the fact the Selects were much less experienced and younger than their professional counterparts. Mekkar thought other matches against collegiate and major junior clubs later on in the schedule would probably be a better indicator to test the Selects players at a similar level. It turned out that the teenager was right on the money with his analysis.

Not to discount another overlooked item by Mekkar and his teammates regarding this jaunt through the North American continent. The small expense and easy accessibility for the pro teams here to scout fresh, new, and young talent. Potential draft selection by major league clubs all over the map was already occurring but this is when the floodgates opened wide. In some cases the farm team or one that trained and developed the player up through the young ranks could be compensated. In other instances, the sports federations back in that individual’s home nation would be bribed with a handsome sum of dough. Then, that individual hockey rights were now owned by a particular franchise for a specific amount of time. Not surprisingly every member of the Selects squad was chosen, acquired, or put on some protected talent list in some form or another. A few of the professional teams did this, even by some of the Selects opponents on this tour that saw the future potential and were impressed by their poise.   

All of the home pro teams on this journey versus the Selects were stubborn and staunch in their way and all wanted to make a show of defending their turf as comparable to gang warfare. This was true especially for players that were on the bubble of claiming, keeping, and not losing the last few roster spots on their own squads. Since training camp had past and a few of these teams were in the middle of their long season no one wanted to be shipped off to the minors. Think of a peacock strutting their stuff to be the most noticeable, attractive, and ultimately selected to stay with the big club, as Mekkar referred to it. Mekkar was amused by all the posturing behavior and had encountered this before. This activity of what is called talk, but talk is cheap. Only results matter to Mekkar, everything else leading up to it is a crock.

Mekkar also saw a couple more main positives that the newer circuit brought to the realm of hockey. He was hoping to grow up fast enough and take advantage of this competitive, rapidly changing atmosphere for himself and his own personal benefit. The pay at home in the top league was a joke in comparison to what he could possibly earn over here in North America. On the other hand, some scouts had doubts about a positive transition for Mekkar. Comments such as could he take all of the punishment as an outsider trained in that other style of play? What about the adjustment to much longer length of schedule? How would he fare come playoff off time? Or would the youngster already be suffering from a number of injuries to limit his effectiveness on the ice?

As the team bus was coming nearer to the San Diego International Sports Arena, Mekkar looked out the window and saw a large advertising billboard high in the sky which caught his eye. He strained to read the hockey slogan on it. It said, “Mean. Mad, Menacing, Major League Mariners” on it with the picture of a player and their logo. First of all, Mekkar thinks the San Diego Mariners skating Sailor with a boat steering wheel in the background logo is fantastic and one of the best in hockey history. [WHA San Diego Mariners Historical Site – sdmariners.htm; whahockey.com; sportslogos.net; fanbase.com/San-Diego-Mariners; Wikipedia] Mekkar thought to himself Oh, No! I hope they are not that type of goon squad that we faced earlier. It was not supposed to be this type of rough and tumble affair, well according to his own preliminary report and analysis. Yet, you never know because this is the WHA. A nineteen seventies hockey version of the wild, wild west trying to be different and at the same time insert itself into the public sports consciousness. Mekkar needed a break from that type of physical abuse especially to his now badly damaged paw. Next he went deep into his memory bank and thought about home and how tough it was living there. He recalled how you don’t get a second chance to make first impression with a polar bear. The bear is either scared and flees or is desperate, hungry, scared, surprised, or annoyed. In other words, the white beast could look at you as a threat, an object to tear apart, or maybe as a snack. Since they can usually sense, hear, and smell a human and depending on the great white bear’s mood be violently aggressive and attack. After dwelling on this thought Mekkar felt better and became inspired for that evening’s matchup.

Due to Mekkar’s pre-tour research he discovered a few items about sports teams in San Diego. He heard and read about statements, on more than one occasion, that clubs from America’s Finest City have a habit of choking when the pressure is on. That there is a supposed sports curse on teams as well as an inability to claim a modern North American major league professional sports championship. The last one was the American Football League Chargers in nineteen sixty-three. Of course, the exception is the San Diego Sockers and minor league San Diego Gulls who both won many titles, but both are not in the big three sports on the continent. [Wikipedia]

Nonetheless, when the Selects arrived to the arena, Mekkar first went out to survey the rink itself. It was his normal custom, and part of Mekkar’s pre-game ritual, for the specific scheduled game for that day or evening. Mekkar noticed the uncluttered boards. In most rinks then used by professional franchises in North America there was little and sometimes no signage. Advertising logos did not surround the rink at the highest levels, unlike today. The reasoning was that it was considered so minor league and extremely unprofessional back then. Now, it is the opposite perspective where the goal is to maximize all possible revenue streams. Mekkar then saw there was something that resembled chicken-wire in some areas, as he referred to it. Instead of Plexiglas, there were wire-mesh gates in top of the dasher and boards surrounding the rink. It existed where there might be protective netting or higher glass today. Mekkar shook his head and did a double-take to focus and confirm what he thought he just observed. Maybe, he was mistaken or hallucinating from the pain medications he was taking like candy for the injuries. Added to that the extra alcohol mixed in to wash them down or the fatigued state he was in. The tiredness had come back in full force and was affecting his senses greatly along with the other factors. Mekkar wanted to stay away from fans who could throw things or pour drinks on him through the wire as it was common during this era. [The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association by Ed Willes, 2005]