Wednesday, January 3, 2007

A sweeping diary

Notes from the Suns locker room

By Jon Duval

Friday, Dec. 29

5:30—Tom Hanks has been spotted in the gym. Christy Turlington's been checking out ski patrollers on Baldy. The Governator proved he is indeed not made out of a futuristic, bulletproof alloy. Who cares? No one, because once again Suns Hockey is coming to you live from Gund Arena!

6:00--Due to the holiday season and a couple of injuries, our line up looks somewhat different than when we played McCall a month ago. Sitting next to me is Frank "the Tank" Salvoni, who has been cryogenically frozen since retiring last season in order to be ready for emergencies such as this. Frank, a former Suns' captain, hails from a Boston suburb, giving us a winning trifecta of Massholes in the locker room tonight.

7:00—Coach Fester apparently tests out the 'Keep It Simple Stupid' theory and starts three forwards with the same first name—John Miller, John Stevens and Jon Duval. Wait, that's me! Butterflies morph into pterodactyls.

7:05—New Year's weekend and Gund Arena is packed. I manage not to fall when they introduce the starting line up. Goal for the evening accomplished, I can now relax and look for cute girls in the sold-out stands.

7:13--My first shift against McCall star player and Idaho Steelhead legend Cal Ingraham. A bizarrely significant moment for me. When I was 14 I went to a University of Maine game to see freshman phenom and future NHL All-Star Paul Kariya work his magic. While Kariya added to his record 100-plus point season, the player who really caught my eye was his diminutive linemate, Ingraham. In the many years since, my father went on intermittent tangents trying to decipher why Cal, with his baby-soft hands and freakish ice vision, never made it to the Show. I only wish my dad was here to see this.

7:43—Not exactly the defensive battle that we had in McCall, as we finish the first period tied at four. Reason #347 why hockey is better than soccer: there are already more goals than you see during the entire World Cup and we still have forty more minutes to go.

8:04—The Swain-Doogle-Jenson line is the hockey equivalent of Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. Prolific. I think they've combined for about 47 goals in the last two games.

8:16—Villi scrapes a bouncing puck off the boards at mid-ice. With a Mountaineer draped all over him, he makes a one-handed pass that puts Jamie Ellison on a breakaway without having to break stride. This goal is a litmus test for hockey knowledge—casual observers cheer when Jamie buries the puck with a well-aimed shot to the five-hole while aficionados are left shaking their heads in disbelief at the skill required to make that pass.

8:27--Skating four-on-four, Ryan Enrico gives me a perfect pass for a one-timer shot which hits the goalie in the center of his chest. "One more of those and you're cut off," Rico says laughingly on the bench, referring to my snake-bit goal scoring tendencies.

8:55--For the second time in as many periods, our line leads off by allowing a goal. Chugga sums it up best: "I don't really like starting." Couldn't he have told us that at the beginning of the game?

9:07--Adam Swain somehow gets in a fight with McCall's biggest, meanest defenseman. I've never seen Swainer so much as give an opposing player a mean look, let alone administer a cheap shot. "Must be going for the Bobby Hull hat trick," quips Rico. "Goal, assist and fight."

9:23--Cal comes down the left wing towards our goal. Everyone in the building knows he's going to shoot, but there's nothing our goalie Ryan Thomson can do, as Ingraham lets go a perfectly placed rocket over his shoulder. His little reminder to us that effort is no substitute for natural talent.

9:47--Kris Webster rips a wrist shot into the net for our 11th and final goal. At least I was on the ice for this one, bringing me to down to minus three for the night despite the unusually large number on our side of the scoreboard. Hopefully the NHL scouts in the stands didn't notice.

Saturday, Dec. 30

4:00--Back in town after an hour-and-a-half drive from Arco. I feel sorry for myself for a split second before realizing my parents had to do this an infinite number of times during my hockey career. I don't think I've ever fully appreciated the enormity of the sacrifices they made so that I could experience the joy of playing hockey. Therefore, I'd like to take a moment to send a sincere thank you to my mom and dad, as well as to the parents of every other hockey player who never once received a thank you for all the rides, early mornings and rink-filled weekends. Love you guys.

5:30--Good thing I got a triple shot of espresso, as I spill at least one shot all over myself getting into my car. Not the best start.

7:00--For the second night in a row I have students from the school I work at in attendance. It's like having my own little cheering section every time I step on the ice.

7:22--Doogle steps out from behind their net and rips a shot to the top corner. I wipe my blade across his skates hoping some of his scoring touch will rub off.

7:50--I look to add to my luck between periods by wearing a Latvian hockey T-shirt Muzzy gave me. I'll take anything at this point.

8:13--Cal stands in front of our net with the puck for a seeming eternity. He fakes the shot three times before finally letting it go. Our whole bench thinks it's going in, but Zulie has other plans and flashes out his glove, making the save of the season.

8:19--I get a sharp probe with a stick blade to the nether regions. Not a good feeling.

8:26--Looking to imitate Doogle, I step out from behind the net and try to go top shelf. The puck hits the sliding goalie and caroms in. I guess the shirt is working. Better lucky than good.

8:59—Our lead in the third period is more tenuous than Brittany Spears' career, but we somehow manage to hang on to win the game and sweep McCall for the season. Our locker room in Gund Arena after games is hilarious—half a dozen little kids doling out high fives and nearly avoiding decapitation as they roll around playing floor hockey.

12:37--The long drive back to Arco could be much worse. Tomorrow, New Year's Eve, I get to call my dad and tell him we beat Cal.

(Check out Suns rookie Jon Duval's diary of the Suns 12-2 rout of the Park City Silver Kings on this week's Express Web site)

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