Out of Midfield

I like sports.  I’ve played most of them.  I still play hockey at a “competitive” level.  Have for 30 years.  I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of a beating – more than enough times.  A few streams of thought.

The Women’s World Cup is underway now in France.  World’s largest sport, great stage, awesome that we can see more of it.  Hockey is in a similar boat, where the global talent pool is only just emerging.  It takes at least a generation to build a base, and that includes a massive investment in infrastructure.  Elite athletes are not born, they are bred.  And depending on the country, a particular sport may be more attractive than another (see Usain Bolt).  The gap in hockey is dramatically larger than football – but it’s similar enough that there are plenty of wash outs on the international level.

The US beat Thailand 13-0 the other day.  Opinions abound.  The aspect of this particular tournament is that goal differentials can make/break the way forward.  The men’s cup often sees this occur.  Combine that with the fact that the players on the team are all actively competing for a starting position, there are only a few games, and there’s ample reason to see why the US did not let up.  Anyone who has played at the competitive level where points scored mattered in a tie breaker understands this.  Be mad at the people who made the rules, not the ones who follow them.

Where a bit more nuance applies, and gameship, is in the way the US acted as the game progressed.  I don’t mean in a technical sense but in the personal sense.  In hockey, there’s an unwritten rule where you simply stop celebrating goals when you’re clearly dominating.  That’s really super evident in the lopsided international events where games can reach 10-0 and there’s barely a smile after a goal.  I can’t recall anyone celebrating an open-net goal to clinch a game.  I would hazard to say that this is a holdover of the Canadian “sorry first” mentality that permeates the sport. (US mainline sports do not have this, since baseball, football, and basketball are never managed on a points scored system.  It’s purely win/loss.)

Watching the US players celebrate their goals really got under some people’s skins, and effectively makes them look like villains in this tournament.  Villains in the sense of international eyes.  How the home crowd views this is really a microcosm of the global sport.  At no point do I advocate them not scoring plenty of goals – again that’s the way the tournament is structured.  Fill the net.  But perhaps lay off the major celebrations on goals 8+?  At no point did anything thing Thailand had a chance, so what exactly is being celebrated?  That you were able to beat someone that has half your skill level?   Yay you?

(For those watching NBA finals and wondering about the classless Toronto fans, hear me out a second.  When we (Canadians) see an injury, it is a real visible injury – e.g. blood, knock down, etc…  Hockey players end up in the finals with no ACL/MCL… so there’s a certain toughness in sport that’s expected.  KD stopped, and walked to the side to sit down, barely made a face.  That does not look like an injury.  The Raptors and replay were essential to communicate that it was indeed a serious injury.  When that was understood, the fans completely changed their response.   I don’t think it had any bearing on the game past that point – that was a horrible 2nd half for both teams-  and the game changer was the oddly called time out.)

Canadian Weekends

Ultra stereotype, but this weekend was spent entirely dedicated to a hockey tournament for my eldest daughter.  From Friday at 8am until Sunday at 3:30pm, she played 6 games.  I’m one of the coaches, making the stress levels a tad bit higher than when in the stands. Throw in a family party for 6 hours, and it was an exhausting weekend.  The great news is that they wont the tourney, took home some hardware, and a pretty large banner.  I am extremely proud of what those girls accomplished.  Was an amazing feeling to share that event with them, the other coaches, and the parents.

I am extremely biased towards hockey.  I spent the most of my youth winters either playing or being in a rink watching others play.  Ball hockey started on the street once the snow melted.  It is a stupidly expensive game, and requires subsidization for those that could get the most benefit from it.

Team sports in general provide tremendous benefits, in particular ones that can be played from childhood until you retire (or beyond).  Generally, team sports focus on bonding since it really isn’t possible to win all by oneself.  There may be dominant players, but they are not always actively playing.  It builds interpersonal skills, tolerance for others, the ability to work together to solve a problem, and just basic chemistry between people.

It provides a framework for a work ethic, in that you get out what you put in.  Practice and effort can provide tremendous output.  The main message is that continual improvement is an overall goal.  Even the best players/teams continue to practice.   In specific cases, that you can succeed even if you make mistakes.  That you can lose if you make none.  That the outcome of a game, or a tournament is not the outcome of a season.  It build personal confidence in one’s abilities.  Personal experience and subjective anecdote – people who stop team sports, will stop for this particular reason above all others.

It provides an environment to have fun while doing something strenuous.  As hard as the game can be, or the moment-to-moment action, you should be able to enjoy it before, during, and after.  There’s a reason they call it a game.  It provides a focused environment where the rest of your life doesn’t matter, only the game.  Being able to see through all that and still have a smile.

It includes fair play.  Nobody cares what you look like, what you dress like, who your parents are, where you live.  All hockey players are judged on their ability to play hockey.  It isn’t about injuring the opponent, it’s a test of skill.  It isn’t about dominating a weaker team.  When the game is over, you shake hands.  As an adult, you may end up at the pub with them later on.

These values permeate through team sport into nearly every other aspect of life.  School, work, personal growth, relationships…I still meet people on a regular basis that I’ve connected with prior through sport.   It isn’t to say that all hockey players are like this, or that this particular skill set is only found in team sports.  At the larger trend level, you’ll simply find more of this in team sports, otherwise the sport itself wouldn’t work.  And for the best coaches, success isn’t measured in the game, it’s measured in the growth of the players.

I love this game.


Rink Building Time

Winter is nearly a month early here.  The first snowfall stuck, and it’s consistently below freezing.  That means that it’s time to build the backyard rink.

The first year I had a tarp.  Last year I had boards.  I made sure to number them when I stored them for the summer months, making the setup a whole lot easier this year.  It’s more like legos… if legos had screws.  Better news is that lessons learned from last year were applied.

  • Layout of tarp on the most level part of the yard.
  • Layout of the board components and braces.
  • A bag to carry the screws and joints.
  • A fully charge power drill!
  • Tighten the tarp as much as possible to avoid folds/ripples
  • Set up before the snow

What took close to 6 hours last year was done in about an hour this year.  Including having an 8 year old on the drill this year.


Filling in the rink is the perennially painful part.  The most level part still has a near 1 foot drop from one corner to the other.  It takes a surreal amount of water to fill that in. A slightly different take this year is to wait until there’s snow, which generally auto-levels itself.  Then apply the old-school misting of water to build a foundation of ice.  The downside to this is that it has to be at least -10C for the water to freeze in a reasonable time and not melt all the snow.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  It can’t snow during this time (usually a few days).  You can’t stand on it for a while, let alone skate.  And it’s been snowing nearly every single day for 3 weeks now.  Not exactly easy to get rid of the snow to put more water… keeps breaking the ice.  But I’m about 75% of the way now, with 2 more nights of watering to go.

The tarp would be a whole lot more useful for a really level ground.  I could fill it 2 inches and let it freeze and be done in a night.  Some engineering work for next year.

If things do work out, I should be able to run the rink until mid-February.  Considering my kids were on it 5 nights a week last year, that’s a whole lot of use considering the effort to create/maintain it.

Plus, you aren’t really a Canadian unless you play on the outdoor rink, right?

Olympic Fever

I’ve been following the Olympics for a while now, something my better half gets a significant amount of joy from watching.  Igloo-world is a winter Olympics country and we usually do pretty well.  Summer… let’s not talk about summer.  It only lasts 2 weeks here anyways.

The “traditional” medal sports here are hockey and curling.  Not that other events have not been medal contenders, but those two have for 20+ years been gold/silver conversations.

Hockey this year is a bit different, at least for the men. There’s no NHL players, so North American countries are a much lower caliber.  OAR and a few other european countries are in a better spot and taking Canada to town.  Women though, nothing much changed.  The US (gold) and Canada (silver) have dominated for 20 years.  There’s still a long way to go for parity.

Curling was dominated by Canada for nearly 30 years.  Just complete washes.  Over the years every country has gotten better, helpful for a sport that isn’t physical but mental instead.  The Canadian women played horribly, and the men just weren’t at the level needed to deliver.  Curling is measured by %shooting, or just rather accuracy.  Medal players shoot in the 90%s.  There were some odd shot choices, and mistakes that typically do not show up at this level.  That, combined with other nations consistently shooting above 80%.

With both of those traditional sports not delivering, it’s opened up eyes to other events.  Ice Dancing, moguls, downhill, speed skating, bobsled…lots of fun to watch events events with some interesting twists. The snowboard big-air competition was something else.   Watching Esther Ledecka win gold on downhill, and unable to believe it is my go-to story for this run.

It’s really something to see both the combination of athletic development (skill) and the ability to report on it (technology).  Some of the replays and art used is quite impressive.  We’ve come so far from tape and 10+ minutes of review.  Even Ice Dancing has a clear on-screen marker for technical score, updated while the skaters are on the ice.  Not to mention I can stream everything from my phone through an official app.  The exposure is great.

It’s also a nice thing to see the country being able to produce a record amount of medals (27 as of this morning) without the traditional ones.  Even those in 4th or 5th are better than the 7,600,000,000 other people on this planet.  Even qualifying is an achievement.

Hope other people are getting as much fun out of watching this as I am.

Outdoor Rink

I had built an ice rink last year for the little ones and that went over rather well.  They were outside for about an hour a day, skating around and getting used to the ice.  I made my own ice surfacer too.  There were a lot of lessons learned, primarily that my backyard is not level and that the ice takes a crap ton of water to get started.

This year I want to try something a bit different.  We had our first snowfall last weekend, so time’s a wasting before I can get something up.  Instead of just laying it on the ice and flooding (and losing water from the sides), I want to do a slightly better job.  Main points:

  • Set up boards and supports
  • Put a tarp to contain the water
  • About 20′ by 30′.

Boards can be simple or complicated.  A real rink is rectangular, with rounded corners.  I’d have to bend some wood to make that work, or get some plastic.  And I have a near full size outdoor rink about 5 minute walk from my house anyhow.  I need simple.

The thinking right now is a simple box, with side supports.  Figuring I’ll need those supports every 4′ or so, and at the above size, that’s 26 needed.  NiceRink has some brackets that I’ve used in the past.  They are quite expensive though – just over $250US.  I think this year I’ll just use some treated 2×4 and build my own 12″x18″ brackets.  That’s ~48″ linear per bracket, I need 26, and a spare or two… so 112′.  Or 10×12 footers.  Just under $100.

Then the actual boards.  Plywood seems the best option.  2′ height, 8′ length.  A full sheet is 4’x8′, given 2 lengths per.  At 100′ to cover, that’s 7 total sheets.   Prices are all over… but likely $250 all told.

I bought a tarp last year for $100 that will more than cover the surface.  Just need to make sure that when it’s all assembled, I don’t pierce it.

I’ve got a couple weekends to go before the real snowfall and freezing temperatures hit.  Let’s see what I can do.

Axe Throwin’

There’s something to be said about the zen in throwing deadly weapons at walls.

Friends of ours booked a spot nearby to throw some axes (Backyard Axe Throwing League).  Went in with rather open eyes, as a few friends had given it a go and reported some fun to be had.

We headed in, found a rather open room and walls of spruce with painted targets.  Our guide, Rick, took about 30 minutes to teach the 7 of us some basic throwing techniques.  A sports background helps to start, but becomes a hindrance as you move on.  Explain.

The axe has to be thrown in a specific line.  If you throw it like a ball, it will twist in the air and lack bite on the board.  It really has to be on a consistent plane.  Experience in sports teaches you the basic technique and you’ll pay attention at the start.  Aside from spin, the distance is key, so moving forward/back is important.  Once you’re at the correct distance so that the blade hits, and you’re on plane, then things just work out.

As you spend more time throwing, you become more relaxed, and fall into older habits.  I found that as time went on, I applied more spin to my throws, which caused misses.  I had to concentrate on keeping plane and modify my technique.

Did I mention there’s beer?  That didn’t help.  Or maybe it did.

There’s a lot of fun to be had throwing an axe on a wall, sticking a bullseye with a flush blade.  And then doing it multiple times. And cheering on the rest of the team.

Tech-wise, they use a mobile app to track points, assign random bouts, and eventually set a seed for an elimination tourney.  We were there just under 3 hours, and I’m sure I threw the axe about 100 times, all told.  Had a smile the entire time, and the body hurts more from the laughs than the throws.

Well worth it if you have one in your hometown.



Wrist Issues

I’ve been going to physio for a few weeks now, with a pain in the lower left part of the palm of my right hand.  It’s been nagging me for a few months, enough that push ups are too painful.  Anyhoot, a fair chunk of exercises and massages and treatment with basically more pain.

Last night I had a 2nd consult, from someone with a bit more experience with hand injuries.  It is difficult to describe the level of pain felt when he started some movements with my hand.  Sort of like stubbing all your toes at once and the body simply goes numb except for that single part flaring like fire.  He found some other issues at play and now I have a taped up wrist and a new set of exercises to do.  Apparently I have a month of rehab at least, then it may end up with surgery.  I am not looking forward to that possibility.

The worst part is that I play hockey and the injury is on the hand that does most of the work. And some of the exercises I do are limited by the movements of the wrist.  I’m told that as long as I have the tape, I should be able to keep doing what I was doing… but I’m now consciously aware of the issue more so than just living with the pain.  Ah well, cardio doesn’t really require the hands so maybe I’ll swap to that for a while.

I did order some gym equipment… and I think it’s being delivered today.  That should be interesting.


I’ve read a fair chunk of Hugo books lately, though the most challenging was the Rama series.  I really like Clarke’s style of sci-fi, a real knack for the future.  The first book is exactly this, an exploration into a new world, with great pace.  A solid pitch.

The next 3 novels in that series were not really from Clarke but from Gentry Lee.  They go back to the same spaceships and focuses more on the people than the science.  Gentry Lee is not a very good “people” writer.  It is littered with tropes and needless sexual descriptions.  It’s got to be every 40 pages that the characters are getting it on.  The science and underlying ideas are solid enough, minus the last 20 pages or so.

spoiler.  If your main character has spent 60 years cheating and avoiding death, yearning to stay with their family, I am not certain that they would have a sudden change of heart and just accept they are going to die in 10 hours, when a perfectly viable solution is available.  end spoiler

The first book was done in 2 days.  The last 3 took me nearly a week each because it was so hard to get into it.  Then again, I guess it’s like asking someone to take up Michelangelo’s chisel and make another David.