Stories indexed with the term ‘hockey’

Column: Remembering an Unsung Hero

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

An important tenth year anniversary is coming up, but it’s not one I’ve been looking forward to.

I first met Mike Lapprich when I was an assistant hockey coach at Ann Arbor Huron High School, and he was just a ninth grader. He was a big defenseman with a baby face, a shy guy with an easy smile – an oversized puppy.

I came back five years later as the head coach, when Lapper, as we all called him, had just finished his first year as an assistant coach, at the ripe age of 18. The team we inherited had not won a game in over a year.

When I met the returning captain, Mike Henry, over lunch that summer, he brought a list of things he wanted to discuss. The first: “You have no idea what you’re getting into.” The second: “Lapper’s our man. He’s the guy we trust. Keep him, and treat him right.”

It was not a suggestion. [Full Story]

Column: Michigan Hockey’s Consistency Streak

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Sports columnist Rick Reilly once wrote that weekend golfers invariably claim, “I’m a good golfer. I’m just not consistent.”

Well, he said, if you’re not consistent, you’re not a good golfer.

Americans are great at building things, and rotten at maintaining them. We admire winners and celebrities, but we overlook the loyal spouse and the honest accountant and the people who maintain our bridges – and that’s why they’re falling apart.

So, let this be a salute to consistency – that most unheralded virtue.

In 1984, Red Berenson took over Michigan’s moribund hockey program, which had not been to the NCAA tournament in seven years. Berenson thought it would be easy, but it took seven more years to get Michigan hockey back to the big dance in 1991.

Once they got into the tournament, they made it a point to stay there. Year after year, they suffered heart-breaking tournament losses, but year after year, they kept coming back. Finally, in 1996, they won Michigan’s first national title in 32 years – and they did it again in 1998. They’ve come close a few times since, but they have yet to win another.

This bothers Berenson, one of the most competitive men I’ve ever met. When he visited my class, I introduced him by listing his many accomplishments on the board.  When he stood up, the first thing he did was point to the two national titles on the board and say, “That’s not enough. We should have more.” [Full Story]

Column: Playing Hockey with the Pros

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

A few years ago – okay, a bunch of years ago – I bit on a bet I never should have touched.

I was writing for the Detroit News, and a top minor league hockey team called the Detroit Vipers played at the Palace. So, I got to thinking: just how big is the gap, really, between the pros, and beer league players like me?

Good question. And even better if I didn’t try to answer it. But, being the hard-hitting investigative journalist that I am, I had to go down to the Palace and find out. Bad idea.

I called the Vipers, and they said, sure, come on down to practice. Now, I couldn’t hear them laughing themselves silly when they hung up – but I bet they were. I should’ve known I was biting off more than I could throw up. [Full Story]

Column: The Legacy of Eddie Kahn

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Editor’s note: A version of this column was originally published in the Feb. 18, 2013 issue of Michigan Today.

In the Michigan hockey program’s 90-year history, some 600 players have scored more than 10,000 total goals. But the man who scored the team’s very first goal, 90 years ago, might still be the most impressive one of the bunch.

He was the son of legendary American architect Albert Kahn, who built the most recognizable buildings in Detroit and Ann Arbor, almost all of which still stand. He pioneered the new discipline of neurosurgery, serving 22 years as chief of the department at the University of Michigan Medical Center. In his free times, he liked to fly planes, speak half a dozen languages, and hang out with folks like Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Lindbergh.

But to his teammates, back in 1923, Eddie Kahn, MD ’24, was simply an exceptional college hockey player.

When he was in high school, however, you would have been wise to predict none of this. Certainly, his famous father didn’t. [Full Story]

West Park

Much of West Park pond sufficiently frozen to support a skater practicing with hockey stick and puck. Eastern-most end of pond is a puddle.

Column: A Tradition of Unity

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On Veterans Day, we generally honor our Veterans. It’s a good idea, for lots of reasons: they served our country, often in unpleasant places, and in great danger, to keep the worst of the world away from our homeland.

My grandfather was a New York dentist who volunteered at age 39 to hop on a ship in the Pacific during World War II. My dad graduated from medical school, then enlisted in the U.S. Army, which sent him and his new bride to Fulda, Germany, to guard the border. It was an unconventional decision, but he’s always said it was one of his best.

“I earned more money than I ever had,” he often jokes, though that wasn’t hard to do for a recent medical school graduate. “People had to do what I said. And I never got shot at.” My parents also made lifelong friends, and still travel every year to see them at reunions.

I grew up hearing Dad say things like, “Smart to be seen in Army green!” And “Three meals a day, and –” well, I’m stopping there. (If you know that one, you know why.)

On Veterans Day, I’ve gotten into the habit of calling my old man to thank him for his service. But this year, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League spent Veterans Day telling its 183 member high school teams to stop performing the national anthem before their games.

The league commissioner, Ed Sam, was quick to explain, “It’s not that we’re not patriotic. That’s the furthest from the truth.”

I actually believe him. They’re not unpatriotic. They’re amazingly stupid. [Full Story]

Column: The Gift of Growing Up

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Teresa Bloodman’s son was thrilled to pass the first two tryouts for his Maumelle, Arkansas, high school freshman basketball team, which allowed him to play on the team for the first two months of the fall. But, when the football season ended, the coach held a third round of tryouts so the football players could come out for the team, and he cut Bloodman’s son.

Teresa Bloodman was so livid she sued the school, the district and the state. She claimed cutting her son was arbitrary, that the lack of a formal appeals process was a violation of due process, and that her son has a constitutional right to participate in school sports.

I can appreciate a mother’s pain seeing her son suffer a setback. And certainly, coaches make plenty of arbitrary decisions, even unfair ones. But if Bloodman wins this case, the rest of us will lose – especially her son.

Her lawyer wants the coach to use a quantitative evaluation system for tryouts – rating each candidate’s skill in dribbling, passing, and shooting, for example – to make the process more objective.

But only an idiot would pick a team on stats alone. [Full Story]

Column: Shawn Hunwick’s Impossible Dream

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Two years ago, Michigan’s hockey team was in danger of snapping its record 19-straight NCAA tournament bids. They finished seventh in their league – unheard of, for Michigan. So, the only way to keep the streak alive was to win six straight league playoff games to get an automatic NCAA bid.

Oh, and they had to do it with a back-up goalie named Shawn Hunwick, a 5-foot-6 walk-on who had never started a college game until that week.

It didn’t look good.

But the kid caught fire. Michigan won all six games, stretched its streak to 20 straight NCAA tournaments, and Hunwick won the league tournament MVP.

This never happens.

The next season, head coach Red Berenson alternated goalies until he had to pick one to play in the Big Chill game at Michigan’s football stadium – which was going to be the largest crowd ever to watch a hockey game, anywhere. He picked Bryan Hogan, but in warm ups, Hogan pulled a muscle, so Berenson put Hunwick in the net at the last minute. The kid beat Michigan State, 5-0, and a star was re-born. [Full Story]

Column: Gender on the Ice

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Michigan women’s club hockey team beat the #1 ranked Michigan State women’s team twice down the stretch to finish second in the league, and earn a spot in the national tournament. Hats off to them.

Although I’ve coached high school boy’s hockey teams for almost a decade, a few years ago, I spent two years helping out the very same Michigan women’s hockey team – and I learned a lot more than they did.

It’s worth noting that I’m comparing only high school boys and college women, based solely on my observations of two hockey teams. Your mileage may vary.

My education started on day one. I dumped a bucket of pucks at center ice, grabbed one for myself, then stickhandled the puck around the rink. But something seemed strange, and it took me a while to figure out what it was. [Full Story]

Column: Journey to the Stanley Cup

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Steve Kampfer grew up in Jackson, and learned to play hockey well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Michigan. He was a good student and a good player on some very good days, but few expected Kampfer to make it to the NHL. I confess that I was one of them.

What chance he had seemed to vanish on an October night in 2008, when he was leaving a campus bar. He started jawing with another student, who happened to be on the wrestling team. Things got hot, but it was all just talk, until the wrestler picked up Kampfer and turned him upside in a single, sudden move – then dropped him head first on the sidewalk.

Kampfer lay there unconscious, with blood sliding out of his mouth. His stunned friend thought he might be dead.

They rushed Kampfer to the hospital, where they discovered he’d suffered a closed head injury and a severe skull fracture, near his spine. He woke up on a flatboard, his head in a neck brace and tubes running out of his body.

His coach, Red Berenson, talked to him about the possibility – even the likelihood – that he would never play hockey again. The goal was simply to make a full recovery, but they wouldn’t know that for three months.

Kampfer was a student in my class at the time, which met twice a week at 8:30 in the morning – not the most popular hour for college students. Just one week after the incident, at 8:30 Monday morning, Steve Kampfer walked back into my class, wearing a neckbrace. He never discussed the injury. He never made any excuses. He never missed a single class. [Full Story]

Column: A Simple Father’s Day Gift

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

My dad grew up in Scarsdale, New York – but, as he’s quick to point out, that was before it became “Scahsdahle.” His dad told him always to root for the underdog, and my dad took that seriously.

All his friends were Yankees fans, but Dad loved the Brooklyn Dodgers. A perfect Friday night for him, when he was a young teen, was to go up to his room with a Faygo Redpop, a Boy’s Life magazine – he was on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout – and listen to Red Barber reporting on the Dodgers’ game. He wouldn’t say something so prosaic as, “the bases are loaded,” but “the bases are saturated with humanity.”

Dad was a decent athlete – baseball and golf – but he didn’t make his high school team. He did have a star turn as the short stop for his fraternity softball team, which won the championship when he pulled off a perfect squeeze play. You never forget those moments.

My parents raised three kids, and spent most of their weekends schlepping us to swim meets and hockey games. My dad had to wake me up at five in the morning, then pile me and my hockey bag into our 1965 Volkswagen Beetle – which had no radio and a heater only in theory. I’m sure I complained every time he woke me up. He didn’t complain once. [Full Story]

Column: Michigan Hockey’s Cinderella

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last year, Michigan’s men’s hockey team was in danger of breaking its record 19-straight appearances in the NCAA tournament – a streak that started before many of the current players were even born. They were picked to finish first in the league – but they finished a disastrous seventh, unheard of in Ann Arbor.

The only way they could keep their streak alive was to win six league playoff games to get an automatic bid. Oh, and they’d have to do it with a back-up goalie named Shawn Hunwick, a 5-foot-6 walk-on who had never started a college game. Things looked bleak, to say the least.

But the kid caught fire. The Wolverines actually won all six games, they stretched their streak to 20 straight NCAA tournaments, and Hunwick won the league tournament MVP award. He was like Rudy – with talent.

But there are no sequels for Cinderella. One run is all you get. [Full Story]

Column: A Man of Character

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Whenever I talk to a high school coach who quit, they always say the kids were great, but the parents drove them crazy. Doesn’t matter what sport.

But when I coached the Ann Arbor Huron High School hockey team, I was lucky. Yes, getting to know the players was the best part, and now, seven years after I stepped down, I’m going to their weddings. What I didn’t expect, though, was becoming lifelong friends with their parents, too.

The team we took over hadn’t won many games, but after we had a decent first season, three hot shots showed up at our door. They had all been coached by Fred Fragner, who once played for the Junior Red Wings.

Whenever these boys blew a great scoring chance, or received a bad call or got whacked with a stick, Fred always told them, with a grin, “Three words: Be a man.” By the time they came to Huron, all three were just that. [Full Story]

Column: Red’s Tough Skate to Success

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On Saturday, more than 100,000 frozen fans will watch Michigan play Michigan State at the Big House. Not in football, which happens every other year. But in hockey, thus setting the record for the biggest crowd ever to watch a hockey game – anywhere.

To build a hockey rink on a football field, a six-man crew works for three weeks. First, they install the floor out of big plastic tiles called Terratrak, which were originally designed to create portable runways for fighter jets in the desert. If they can handle F-15s, they can handle Bauer Supremes. Then they put up the boards, the glass, and start flooding the rink with some 40,000 gallons of water.

Don’t worry – these guys have built rinks in San Diego and Mexico City. For them, Michigan’s a skate in the park.

The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network, and will receive worldwide attention. Lawrence Kasdan, the Michigan alum who wrote and directed the classic movie “The Big Chill,” will drop the opening puck. And every time Michigan scores, fireworks will fly.

But that’s not the most impressive part. [Full Story]

Column: NHL’s “Original Six” Were Neither

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Hard-core hockey fans – and really, are there any other kind? – are all pumped up this week because on Wednesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks scored in overtime to win their first Stanley Cup since 1961. And that harkens back to the era of the so-called Original Six.

But if you’re not a hard-core fan, you probably don’t know what Original Six means. The Hard-Cores will be quick to tell you the Original Six is code for the first six NHL teams. They’re easy to remember, if you think of them in pairs: New York and Boston, Montreal and Toronto, Detroit and Chicago.

Hockey fans revere the Original Six the way basketball fans gush about the Celtics-Lakers rivalry and classical music buffs go on about Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. The Original Six has become such a popular catch-phrase, it’s now on a baseball cap, featuring all six team logos. It outsells the caps of most individual teams.

I’ve always suspected the Original Six is such a hot catch-phrase because, for the Hard-Cores, it doubles as a secret password. If you know what the Original Six is, you must be Hard-Core. And if you don’t, you ain’t. [Full Story]

Column: Why the Red Wings Rock

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Red Wings bowed out of the Stanley Cup playoffs Saturday, in just the second round. It was disappointing for Red Wings’ fans – okay, crushing.

But it’s worth remembering the Red Wings have made the playoffs for 20 consecutive years – the longest active run of any team not just in hockey, but in baseball, basketball and football. The last time the Red Wings didn’t make the playoffs, George Bush was just getting started – George H.W. Bush, that is.

That 1990 team was decent, but nobody thought it would spark a streak of 20 straight playoff seasons. To do that, the Red Wings have stayed at the top of their game with four different coaches, 25 goalies and hundreds of players. Not one has spanned the entire streak. But the team has been led during the entire stretch by just two captains: Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom – and no team has ever had better leaders than those two. [Full Story]

Column: Hunwick Makes the Saves

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

It’s been a dismal year for Michigan fans. The football team and the men’s basketball team both failed to make it to the post-season, and together they lost to Michigan State three times.

The men’s hockey team was supposed to be the saving grace. Entering this season, the Wolverines had made it to the NCAA tournament a record 19-straight seasons. That streak started in 1991, before many of the current players were even born.

The Wolverines were picked to finish first in their league – but they finished seventh, unheard of in Ann Arbor. The only chance they had to keep their streak alive was to win four straight rounds of their conference playoffs. Nothing else could save their season. [Full Story]

Column: Winners & Losers of the Olympics

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

It was the best of Olympics, it was the worst of Olympics. For some, it was the season of hope; for others, the winter of their discontent. But to heck with all that. I’m just here to give you Coach Bacon’s Winners and Losers of the Winter Olympics. So, here we go.

WINNER: Vancouver

Great city, great people, great Olympics. Well done, my Canadian friends.

LOSER: Vancouver

In the opening ceremonies, the flame apparatus failed to rise, launching a thousand Viagra jokes. But the real joke was the speed skating oval, where the Canadians failed to manufacture decent ice. That’s like Jamaicans failing to manufacture decent sand. What’s up with that? [Full Story]

Column: “We Believed”

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The surprising United States Olympic men’s hockey team will play Finland today in the semi-finals, inspiring some to compare them to the last U.S. men’s team to win the gold 30 years ago, Lake Placid’s “Miracle on Ice.” Sorry, even if the U.S. wins it all, it will not qualify as a miracle. We are not likely to see anything quite like it again. And there will never be another coach like Herb Brooks.

I will never forget the impact the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team had on our country – or the impact the coach, Herb Brooks, had on me.

On Dec. 13, 1979, my best friend was heading home from hockey practice up north, when he was killed in a car accident. I found out the next morning, seconds before my Huron High School hockey teammates and I walked out onto the basketball court for our first pep rally. What started out as one of the happiest days of my life, had suddenly become the saddest.

I didn’t come out of it for months. But when the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament started, I watched every second of every game – I was transfixed by this team and their coach –  and that’s what brought me back. [Full Story]

Column: Values Before Victories

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Michigan basketball team recently lost to Michigan State by one point, all but ending the Wolverines’ chances to return to the NCAA tournament. The Michigan hockey team faces Michigan State this weekend, and they need a sweep to improve their fading chances of getting back to the tournament themselves.

For Michigan fans, this is the Winter of Their Discontent. Provided, that is, only wins and losses count.

But the head coaches of both teams did notch a couple moral victories last week. Yes, they’ve lost some battles this season, but they’re still winning the war. [Full Story]

Column: Pondering Pond Hockey

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

“I think we have too many AAA, Showcase and elite camps for the kids today, and as a result, we are creating a bunch of robots. We need to make it fun for the kids and let them learn to love the game the way we did.” – Herb Brooks, coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team in “Pond Hockey: A Documentary Film”

Just over half a million kids play organized hockey in the United States, as I did – but trust me, they’re missing out.

We’re deep in the dead of winter. And for most of us, there’s not a lot to do, and not much to look forward to for the next couple months. But if you’re a hockey player – scratch that, if you’re a pond hockey player – this is the best time of year. [Full Story]

Column: For the Love of the Game

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Old Man Winter is back with a vengeance. That’s okay. I like the snow – and I love the hockey.

You can play pond hockey, drop-in hockey or beer league hockey, but for me, the best hockey is the pick-up game at Michigan’s Yost Arena on Tuesday nights.

The game features some of the best players in the area, most of them former Michigan players, many of whom played pro hockey. But a few wannabes, like me, have gotten regular spots. It’s by invitation only, and I only got invited because I knew the guy who started it. Jeff Bourne – known as “Tiny,” thanks to his 5-6 frame – cared as much about attitude as ability. As he said: If you don’t pass, you’re an ass. [Full Story]

Column: Stevie Yzerman

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

When the Red Wings drafted Steve Yzerman in 1983, he was 18 years old, but he looked even younger – less a Boy Scout, than a Cub Scout.

But his baby face didn’t prevent him from notching a stellar 91 points his rookie season. Two years later, the coach named him team captain – the youngest in the Red Wings’ history – though he hadn’t really earned it yet.

Oh, he could score. In his twenties, Yzerman rattled off six seasons of 100 points or more – including 155 points in 1988-89. In the history of the game, only two players have ever surpassed that mark: Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. Not bad company. [Full Story]

Hockey Players Find a Home in Ann Arbor

Michael and Will

Michael Paliotta and his younger brother Will in the lobby of the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. Michael's family was visiting from Connecticut – he lives in Ann Arbor with a host family while participating in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program here. (Photo by the writer.)

In a lobby filled with well-dressed young men, proud parents and assorted siblings, Gene and Sue Salaniuk stood back together and took in the scene.

They watched as Michael Paliotta, one of two teenage hockey players who currently lives in their house, talked with his parents amid a cluster of family members – two brothers and a sister – who’d made the trip to Ann Arbor from Westport, Conn., just to watch him play.

Six-year-old Will Paliotta stuck close, quietly playing with the buttons on his big brother’s suit jacket.

“I think Michael misses his brothers and sister,” Sue said softly, leaning toward Gene. He nodded and said, “Look how Will won’t let go of him.”

Two months ago, these people were strangers. But for the Salaniuks, Michael is now one of “their” kids; Will and the rest of the Paliottas are one of “their” families.

The Salaniuks have been hosting hockey players from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in their Ann Arbor home for 13 years. Every few years they’ll tell the program’s housing coordinators that this will be their last. Then another bunch of 16- and 17-year olds come in and, well, they haven’t said, “no” yet. Their hockey family just keeps growing. [Full Story]