Category Archives: Sports

Summertime Slippin’ Away

Lazy and slow days and hot fun in the summertime. Things are moving slowly here in the Detroit Rock City.

Time for long days and sensational sunsets around 8:30 in the evening. Some of them are absolutely breathtaking out of the window of my 21st floor apartment overlooking the Detroit River.

There are a couple of fairly large “party boats” that cruise up and down the Detroit River at night. When they are all lit up they look like a piece of the city, brighter than the real city, has broken off and is drifting down river. There’s a walkway along the river and sometimes Janet and I walk along while the humid summer air is cut by a pleasant river breeze. We hold hands and try to enjoy our days in Detroit.

Meanwhile, life rolls by in the Motor City.

Every year they have a weeklong event just outside Detroit called the Woodward Dream Cruise. Literally millions of people gather, many of them camped alongside this long stretch of road called Woodward Avene which runs from Detroit far out into the suburbs. The other night we got caught up in a bit of the traffic from this automobile parade, with every imaginable form of vehicle from the Model T to modern day race cars in the slowest imaginable progression up and down both sides of Woodward. It’s a great symbol of pride for this section of the country where the automobile was, for so long, dominant.

We found ourselves among the car enthusiasts on our way home from the film, “Inception.” We don’t usually go to see these big Hollywood, multi-million dollar blockbusters, preferring instead to see whatever Independent film stops by at one of the two nearby film art houses. But since there was no great alternative there, we laid our $10.50 apiece down to see “Inception.” Please don’t ask me to review it or even attempt to summarize what it is about. Let’s just say it had a lot to do with folks who go around trying to implant ideas into other people’s heads while they are asleep. Which, interestingly enough, is basically how films get made in Hollywood these days.

Most of all these are the dog days of summer, these final days of August when vacations begin to come to an end and people grab at what remains of their summer days. Personally I look forward to autumn, with memories of the indescribably beauty of the changing of the colors of leaves and the cooler days fall brings.

Most of all the changing leaves brings a reminder that cooler days are coming, and it is almost time for the Detroit Red Wings to lace ’em up again here in HockeyTown, USA.

And that, my friends, is always a good thing.

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Filed under Life In Detroit, My Stories, Sports

The Runaway Horse

In an effort by my parents to improve my skills as a hockey player when I was 15 years old, and most likely to also get me out of the house, they sent me to summer hockey camp. It was quite a wild adventure.

Now I should preface this by the fact that I wasn’t an incredible hockey player to begin with. Even though I had been playing since I was about 10, I was just a little bit better than mediocre. I was a heck of a skater; in fact, due to the amount of time I spent skating on a pond in the woods behind my house I could probably skate circles around every other kid in my neighborhood. But to be a great hockey player you have to be able to hit – and hit hard and get hit. And in order to do that you have to be fairly big. While I was tall, I was only about 140 pounds soaking wet. So I got killed in the corners and that wasn’t so good when it came to digging the puck out of the corners so the center could score.

Anyway, I digress. This hockey camp was run by a former minor star in the NHL who’s name I can’t seem to remember. But, it was 35 years ago, so I hope you’ll give me a pass. Ron something. Bill whosamagig. Doesn’t really matter. Let’s just say it was this guy:

Nah. That’s Philadelphia Flyers star and Boston Bruins arch-nemesis Bobby Clarke. I just liked the photo.

So this was a summer day camp. Meaning that I didn’t sleep overnight at the camp. I just stayed there during the day, which was enough for me.

This was a strange hockey camp. It’s the only hockey camp that I’ve ever seen before or since that had a skating rink where we would practice and play games on some type of slippery hard plastic material. I’m not sure what it was, but it wasn’t ice. My parents must have got a heck of a deal, sending me to a hockey camp with a rink without ice.

I swear this today to you. It was some type of synthetic ice which I suppose has the advantage of not having to have those cooling elements that keep it frozen. Now I realize that some of you may think I’m making all of this up, so I searched the World Wide Web and found a video that proved my point. Watch and be amazed and imagine an entire regulation ice rink made of some kind of synthetic plastic.

Again, our rink was bigger than that. It was a strange sensation – skating on plastic. And it was a little bit harder to push off on your back foot. But that’s okay we were told. That will make you a stronger skater when you finally skate on ice. Okay, whatever.

One thing is for sure. It certainly cut down on the need for a Zamboni. Here’s one they could probably have afforded at this apparent low budget operation.

Here’s what they look like today, in case you haven’t been to a game recently.

That bed is in case the Zamboni driver has a second or third job and needs a bit of shut eye during the periods.

Anyway, the hockey camp turned out to be pretty good. I ended up a much better player (probably because of that synthetic ice, eh?) My sister ended up dating one of the instructors who played for a while with the Boston Bruins. (Sorry to mention that, Patty)

But you’re probably wondering why the title of this blog is “The Runaway Horse.” Well, sit on back little doggies and I’ll tell ya.

It seems hockey wasn’t all we did at this camp. I mean you can only play and practice hockey so many hours a day. I remember there was a pond. There were other summertime activities, like baseball or softball and maybe even a bit of soccer. But the highlight for me was that they owned a horse. (Great right. They could afford a horse, but not a damn Zamboni.) But I loved this horse. I can’t remember his name either, so let’s call him….Horse.

Well, one day I was taking a little ride on Horse and something went terribly wrong. The guy who prepared Horse’s dinner mistakenly rang the bell (this may have been a typical hockey prank) and old Horse heard the bell which, like Pavlov’s dogs set off his salivary glands) and Horse took off. So no longer was Horse trotting. No longer was horse walking calmly like a good horse usually does. Horse took off and started to gallop at a pace I can only compare to Secretariat’s speed in the final leg of the Kentucky Derby. And at 6 feet, I was no jockey. In fact, the only think I can honestly say I was…..is terrified. This was the fastest I’ve ever gone on any animal (including a camel) in my life. And this is what it looked like in my distorted mind:

Fortunately, the horses trainer saw what was happening, noticed the look of sheer horror on my face and said the secret word (all horses have secret words that mean something to them but not to us) which slowed the darn thing down to more of a…well….to a stop.

I got off and didn’t ride again for about 10 years. I went on to become a star hockey player, scoring the winning goal in the Stanley Cup Finals and I even let the horse’s real jockey pose for a photo with Lord Stanley’s cup.

And if you believe all that I have some synthetic ice that I’d like to sell you.

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My Friend Don Meineke – NBA Legend

One weekend last summer, I had occasion to visit my fiancee Janet’s hometown of Centerville, a sleepy and sultry suburb of nearby Dayton, Ohio – the town where the Wright Brothers grew up and first dreamed of flying. On that warm late summer weekend, I had the thrilling experience of meeting, among a group of Janet’s parents friends, a very tall, unassuming gentleman named Don Meineke, who is not only one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, but as it turns out, was also was the first man ever to be named NBA Rookie of the Year.

As it happened, Janet and I were in Centerville that weekend last summer, visiting her parents and my future in-laws, and we were invited to an old-fashioned neighborhood shindig. It seemed her neighbors, the Walshes, were having an outdoor patio party, the kind of thing that was popular back in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s in close-knit neighborhoods. Back in those days it was commonplace for families who lived within spittin’ distance of each other to get together for no particular reason and have a dandy of a time, just talkin’, drinkin’ beer and wine; in other words celebrating life. I suppose this kind of thing stopped happening quite a while ago in most towns when people began locking their doors at night and stopped getting to know their neighbors.

But in Centerville it still goes on. (Although I’m pretty sure they lock their doors at night.)

I went along, looking forward to meeting some of my future in-laws’ good friends and enjoying a nice summer night, as well as meeting my in-laws’ best friends and neighbors never expecting to meet and talk half the night away with Don Meineke. When we arrived, Don was sitting completely contentedly next to his equally hospitable and kind wife, Mary Jane. After the introductions, and after being told that Don had not only been a college basketball standout for the University of Dayton Flyers, where he is still held in great reverence, but also a star for the former Fort Wayne Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons), I moved to the closest chair near Don so I could listen and learn more. He looked like a guy with a few stories to tell and that night, Don didn’t disappoint.

Having personally been a tall teenager and an aspiring basketball player myself, and someone who still has a keen interest in the game, I was anxious to hear about what it was like to play “old school” basketball in the 1950s. Don regaled me with countless stories of his days playing, first college and then NBA basketball. He told stories of the low pay and big men he played against, including one of my heroes, Bill Russell and all the miles he traveled to get to the next city and next game – Syracuse, New York, Boston, etc.

But perhaps most fascinatingly, Don told me of his association with fellow Fort Wayne Piston star Jack Molinas, a man whose life has been chronicle’s in a book titled, “The Wizard Of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed The Game Of Basketball.”

According to author Charley Rosen, and confirmed by Don Meineke as I sat next to him in complete awe, Molinas was a guy with a tremendous amount of talent who threw it all away by fixing a bunch of basketball games. Don told me he was questioned by the team owner and the commissioner of the NBA, but they had nothing on him. For Molinas though, his criminal activities connected to basketball landed him in jail, then after he was suspended from the game, in the company of mobsters which led to, according to Rosen, “a gruesome and mysterious murder.”

Wow! Suddenly Don Meineke was telling me his story and the sad, but inevitable fall of Jack Molinas and I was more than a little intrigued. Don had other stories as well, about other records he set, and his years after he retired from the NBA and I sat and listened with rapt attention until it was late and Don and his wife had to call it a night. I spoke to Don again last December I went to a University of Dayton basketball game where Don and a number of other former stars were honored. (The team is quite competitive, winning the NIT championship last season by defeating North Carolina in the final game.)

I spent some more time at yet another party speaking to Don Meinike on my most recent trip to Centerville, I went to a Fourth of July gathering and Don and I posed for pictures together and talked some more. It’s not every day, after all, that you get to hang out with an NBA legend.

I hope that Don Meineke will always be my good friend.

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My Childhood Hero – #4, Bobby Orr

When I was just a boy, Hockey Fever swept Boston and Boston fell in love with Bobby Orr. My life, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of other hockey fans, would never be the same.

This “Fever” of which I speak happened in the late 1960s and coincided with the arrival in Boston of a young man named Bobby Orr who would begin a seven-year, injury-shortened love affair between fans and one extremely talented athlete.

If you lived in the Boston area in the late 1960s, Bobby Orr was akin to the second coming. The blond skating and scoring sensation grew up in Parry Sound, Ontario (about 2 hours north of Toronto and, what seems on the map like a million miles away from Boston.) It is said that Boston Bruins scouts were on a trip to Canada to check out a couple of other players when they happened to spot Orr and decided that day that he would someday wear a Boston Bruins jersey. After courting the Orr family for about a year, the Bruins organization did just that. They convinced 14-year-old Bobby and his parents (especially a reluctant, protective mother) to sign on the dotted line in the kitchen of an ugly old home next to the railroad tracks, not far from the frozen rivers and ponds on which Orr had been skating and playing “shinny” hockey for the previous 10 years.

If the Bruins front office could have had their way, they probably would have had Orr playing for the franchise team in Boston the next night, but in the NHL you had to be 18 to play in the big leagues, so Orr played for several years on the minor league Oshawa Generals, a mere child competing against players much older than he was.

Finally, at the ripe old age of 18, with the eyes of an entire city on him (the hype was incredible), Bobby Orr arrived in Boston. And not long after that, with the acquisition of several other great players including a scoring machine named Phil Esposito, the Boston Bruins were suddenly a contender for the Stanley Cup and Bobby Orr became my full-time obsession.

My bedroom walls were covered with Bobby Orr posters and articles I had read over and over about the young superstar. Orr seemed to have it all. He had winning good looks, a gentlemanly, shy manner, and, most impressively, he could skate circles around every other player in the league. My uncle was a Boston Police lieutenant and he would often be assigned to details at Boston Garden which meant that he would allow my father, also a huge hockey fan, and I to walk past the press gates. We didn’t have seats and often had to stand behind the last row of the first balcony inside the old Boston Garden, and occasionally old eagle eye, yours truly, would spot a pair of open seats and drag my dad to go sit in them. And sometimes we didn’t get kicked out.

But whether I was watching the Bruins play in person or on television, my eyes were transfixed on Orr. He was so fast and had so many different moves, faking and deking the opposition out of position to line up a slapshot from the point. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was watching a man who literally changed the way the game was played. Orr turned hockey from a defensive game into an offensive one and it was great to watch. Orr was so good his first year in the league that he won the NHL Rookie of the Year award. But he also hurt his knee that first year, suffering an injury that would limit both his playing time and shorten his career.

But nobody was thinking about Orr’s knee injury on May 10, 1970. It was a warm, spring day in Boston and about 50 of my relatives gathered at my Aunt Babe’s house (yes, Babe was really her nickname) where we witnessed what everyone agrees is the most incredible and famous goal in hockey history. The Bruins were up 3 games to none against the St. Louis Blues in the finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Boston hadn’t won a Stanley Cup championship since 1941, some 29 years earlier.

When the game went into overtime, the tension grew. Thinking back to that day, it seemed like we all knew what was about to happen. Just 40 seconds into overtime, Boston Bruin player Derek Sanderson, who was standing just behind the opposing net, passed the puck to a streaking Bobby Orr. Orr shot the puck between Blues goalie Glenn Hall’s pads to win the game and the championship. A millisecond after the shot, as Orr skated away with his arms and hockey stick raised to mark the win, he was upended by an opposing player. Bobby Orr went into flight and for a second seemed truly superhuman. The picture of Orr flying through the air is planted in my mind as firmly as anything else from my childhood. Needless to say, the entire living room at my Aunt Babe’s erupted in celebration, as did the city of Boston for the next three or four days. It was truly something else. A young boy’s dream had come true.

A few years later my father told me that he was taking me to Toronto during summer vacation. There we would see the Hockey Hall of Fame, do some other sightseeing and possibly make the trip in our rental car to Parry Sound, Ontario, to see the town where Bobby Orr came from.

On our way to Parry Sound we stopped at Orr’s hockey camp. Orr was there and I was thrilled when he autographed a magazine and posed for a photo. Meanwhile, my always gregarious father introduced himself to Bobby Orr’s father, Doug, and the two men began talking. My dad mentioned that we were going to be visiting Parry Sound, and Doug Orr invited us to stop by the house. Let me repeat that. Bobby Orr’s father invited us to stop by the house. When I found out, I couldn’t believe it. Things became even more surreal after we got to the Orr household, were warmly greeted (Bobby wasn’t there) and given a tour of the basement where the family kept a trophy case, which must have been at least 25 feet long, filled with trophies and pucks and other mementos. Before we left, Doug Orr gave us a couple of Bobby Orr coffee mugs, “gifts from the Orrs.” Over the years, one was broken (knocked off the wall during puck shooting practice in my cellar), but I still have the other one. My most prized possession!

Years went by, and I remained a huge fan of Bobby Orr. I even started to play the game. When Orr was forced to retire because of his injured knee, my heart was broken, and when they paid tribute to him and retired his number at the old Garden, I wept along with thousands of other Bostonians.

Bobby Orr was, in my opinion, the greatest hockey player who ever played the game. The images of him skating the length of the ice and scoring goals are forever etched in my memory.

He was my hero.

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