GLENDALE -- There's something surreal about lining up against Alan Thicke in a hockey game. There just is. In fact, I'm pretty sure that sentence stands on its own well enough that I could just leave it at that and move on with my life. But that would be about a 50-word blog, so I'll elaborate.
The Coyotes Alumni took part in the Play for the Gray charity event last Friday, facing off against a team of NHL Alumni with a few celebrities mixed in for fun. The game took place at the Ice Den in Scottsdale, and I was fortunate enough to get asked to participate.
Which brings me to the point where I'm lining up against Alan Thicke - something I'd never prepared for in all my years of playing hockey. I also wasn't ready to see Al Iafrate suiting up for the opposing team. On the off chance you don't remember who Iafrate is, let me refresh your memory. He was the guy who spent most of his career shattering the record for the world's hardest slapshot at the NHL All-Star Game year after year. At one point, he hit 105 mph on the radar. If he wound up to shoot at any point during Friday's game, my strategy was to skate off the ice, down the 101 and directly to my house so I could hide under my kitchen table. Simple, yet inspired. Fortunately, it never came to that. Or maybe it did and I just didn't realize he had even taken the shot.
The game itself was great. Everyone skated at a high level, and the former NHLers could flat out fly. Sometimes we forget just how effortless it is to them, but guys like Greg Adams and Cliff Ronning were zipping all over the ice like they were still in the league. I was on the team with Tyson Nash and, for as much as he jokes around and downplays his skill, he definitely has an extra gear he can kick it into that reminds everyone he was playing professionally not all that long ago. His teeth are also brighter than the ice, and I'm not really sure what to make of that.
To make my presence felt, I spent my first two shifts stumbling around like Will Ferrell when he gets hit with the tranquilizer dart in Old School. Which is ironic, because skating wasn't an issue to me when I was six years old, but apparently it was for the first five minutes of the game on Friday. After a couple plays though, I got my feet under me. And once I did, it was an awesome experience. The game moved quickly, passes were crisp, shots were hard and right on goal and there was plenty of end-to-end action. In short, it had everything that makes hockey great.
By the time the second half began, I had adjusted to the speed of the game and was able to get a few decent shots, hitting the crossbar once and even slapping the puck into the top corner of the net from the slot with about 10 minutes left. Granted, it may have been tipped at the very last second, but I'll take it. I mean, let's be honest here - in 15 years I'll be taking credit for every goal that was scored in this game anyway, so why not start with the one that I actually shot, right?
Of course, my biggest achievement of the evening was the fact that I sat next to Patrick O'Brien Demsey - the actor who played Mike Eruzione in Miracle - on the bench, and managed to hold back from making 1,000 references to the movie. Sure, I was kind of hoping Kurt Russell would randomly show up and run us through skating drills until 2 a.m., simply telling us "again" every time we thought we were finished. And part of me wanted to ask Demsey who he played for over and over again, until he answered "the United States of America.” But I didn't. And that's the definition of willpower.
Well, until the very end of the game when we were down by a goal with two seconds left. At that point, I leaned over and told him we could really use a Miracle. I'm only human. It was worth it. I have no regrets.
In fact, the entire event was about as perfect as I could've hoped. It was run really well, everyone involved had a lot of fun and - on top of all that - it raised money for a great cause. The fan turnout was impressive, though that shouldn't surprise anyone because hockey fans in Arizona are extremely passionate about their sport. I showed up at the arena just looking to enjoy the moment, had a lot of fun during the game and, by the end, all I wanted to do was play again. That's hockey for you.
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