• Skating with Marty Brodeur; dodging ruts at Madison Square Garden
• Playing the Red Army
• Taking the worst photo of Bobby Hull the Golden Jet ever saw
Marty Brodeur plays forward – in his goalie skates – better than you’d think. Unless you know that, when he was twelve he had to choose between being in the nets and skating as an attacker or D-man.
In 1995, the NHL was trying to capitalize on the ratings bump the ’94 NY Rangers’ Stanley Cup victory had given the league. They hoped to spur more interest in hockey, which was perennially bringing up the rear in terms of US popularity among pro sports. The league invited NY-based magazine editors, TV producers and other media types to an all-day “clinic” at Chelsea Piers’ Sky Rink. Included were talks by hockey figures, a luncheon and a scrimmage with some NHL players. Some of the guests could barely stand up on skates; all seemed to have a good time. I represented CNN, as did Eric Gonon, then a producer at CNN Business News. Participants were given a bag full of hockey gear and an authentic NHL jersey from the team of our choice. (Eric and I were playing on a team in a league at the rink at the time and that team’s jerseys used the Toronto Maple Leaf “blank.” So we listed the Leafs as “favorite team” on the advance paperwork and were rewarded with Toronto sweaters with our names and numbers on them.)
So Brodeur played in the scrimmage on his flat goalie skates and, of course, skated circles around everybody but the other NHL players who showed up. He was as friendly as he seems in those rental car ads ubiquitously on TV.
Around that time, a friend who did business with American Express was invited to a scrimmage for clients at Madison Square Garden in the late afternoon before a Rangers game. He didn’t play hockey so he arranged for me to take his place.
The scrimmage was brief and the thing that stands out in my memory is that the Garden ice was as bad as advertised; it had a sketchy reputation league-wide. I can verify that the ice near the boards behind the goal at the Zamboni entrance end looked like a glacier from 30,00 feet. Deep ruts and dangerous gashes.
In the early ‘90s I got a call at CNN from a producer working on a segment for ESPN’s ESPY Awards. It was a brief comedy sketch purported to be an exposé of the “Miracle on Ice” – the great upset by USA college kids over the powerhouse Soviet Union in 1980. The premise: an investigation determined that the USA didn’t win after all – some sort of chicanery was involved (I don’t remember the details). They needed video of Russian hockey players answering “Do you believe in miracles?” with a resounding “Nyet!”
I rounded up some teammates after a game at the old Sky Rink at 33rd and Tenth Avenue and we put on the CCCP sweaters ESPN provided us. We were videotaped shouting “Nyet!” and we ultimately appeared on the ESPY’s telecast for about five seconds. We didn’t get to keep the sweaters, черт (Damn it).
Speaking of the 1980 Olympics, as I described in Philadelphia – Pt. 2, I attended a USA hockey game in Lake Placid: their fairly easy victory over Germany two days before the miracle win over the Soviets. I brought my SLR and a telephoto lens and took some shots of that contest:
Pretty decent shots, eh? Wait till you see this next one.
In 1976, John Hewig, my friend with the Cincinnati Stingers, got us tickets to a game in the first Canada Cup international series bringing together the best pro and amateur players from 6 countries. It was a round-robin game, at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Canada was hosting the Soviet Union. Canada prevailed, 3-1, and went on to win the tournament over Czechoslovakia.
The photo I took from our seats behind the goal at the North end is of Bobby Hull breaking in on the great Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak. You’ll have to take my word that’s Hull; you can barely see the Golden Jet’s sideburns. And you can’t see the puck, something a good hockey action photo really must include. Maybe it’s blocked by the head of the guy in front of me which fills up half the net. Hey. I wasn’t credentialed, wasn’t in a photographers’ position.
The next year, when Hull came to Cincinnati with the Winnipeg Jets, I gave a print of the photo to John and asked him to see if Hull would sign it. Bobby, who was used to seeing the work of actual sports photographers, said something to the effect of “Who took this piece of crap?!”
Lastly, a photo quiz game. Can you spot the cat, Oliver, who was remarkably unaffected by the powerful scent of sweat-soaked hockey pads and pants being aired out on my terrace, the famous SolarDome®? (answer at bottom) Greater love hath no pet than one who can fall asleep amidst smelly hockey gear.