Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Coupe de la Ligue Action!

A big win for us in Amiens last night came from a huge defensive effort by our club. Aside from going down 1-0 midway through the first period, we were able to respond with 4 unanswered goals to win the game 4-1. My defense partner Peter Slovak, who is one of the best defensive defenceman in the league had a huge offensive night with 2 goals and 1 assist. This is coming from a guy who has scored only 1 goal since his 2002-2003 season in the Slovak Extraliga in HK Nitra. Peter was named player of the game and takes home a nice box of chocolates.

Another highlight in this game was seeing Anthony Pernot score his first goal in the Ligue Magnus. It was in the 2nd period and off of a rebound he put it top corner. I was so happy to see him score this goal to put us up 3-1 that I jumped over the boards to go retrieve the puck that was still in the net. As I was picking up the puck in the net, one of the Amiens defenceman was not too pleased by this and gave me a little hook with his stick to show his displeasure. It was well worth it, as Anthony Pernot will remember that goal for the rest of his life, his first pro hockey goal and he will have the puck to prove it!

Yet again with a depleted line up, missing Chassard, Simko, Quessandier and Simon, we went with 3 lines and 5 defence. We suffered another blow when our Finnish Flash Ilpo Salmivirta left the game after taking a high stick and suffering 5 stitches. No anaesthesia. This left us shorthanded for the game and lots of ice time for some players. There were a few instances where I played 4 minutes and 30 seconds straight. We had taken a penalty and my coach wanted me out there for the whole time to kill it off, then right at the end of it, we went on the power play. Missing some of our power play guys, I had to play on both the #1 and #2 power play units. I'm not complaining! In total I think I played about 46 minutes in the game and finished +2.

Near the end of the 2nd period, we took a penalty, and as the French referees are at the caliber of Windsor Minor House League Tier II, it was a bad call. Our coach responded on the bench saying "C'est n'importe quoi!!!" Earning us another penalty and putting us down 5 on 3. This was the turning point in the game. Myself, Peter Slovak and Petrak were sent out to kill this off. We were doing a great job and were able to send the puck down a few times to kill time off of these unwarranted penalties, and with only a few seconds remaining in the period I went out to block a shot at the point. I took the puck square in the knee cap, shattering my shin pad. It was pretty painful but it soon subsided and I was able to play the rest of the game. As I type away on this blog right now, a day later, my knee has swollen up to the size of a softball and I hope to be able to practice tomorrow and be ready for our game against Grenoble on Saturday. Aside from that, as a team we shut down their top scorers and responded offensively when we had our chances. Huge WIN!!!

After the game we walked over to the restaurant where we were blessed with two of my favorites! To start off we had Tartiflette, which I have spoken about in a previous blog, man I love this stuff, so much that I ate the leftovers from 2 other players. Then for dessert we had Creme Brulée, my all time favorite! It was a great day all around, we played a great team game, we won, it was great to see my defense partner score a few goal, and best of all, we ate well!!!

Getting ready to dig into my Tartiflette. On the left is Erwan Agostini and to the right is Tarik Chipaux. Two French players who are helping me refine my French!

Just dominating my second Creme Brulée. Tastes so much better when you win!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Neuilly Sur Merde

On Saturday we took another trip to the worst part of France, Neuilly Sur Marne. In the title I replaced the word Marne with "Merde" (meaning "shit"). So it should read "Neuilly On Shit." Having already played there once this season, we knew what we were in for in terms of the ice conditions and netting. Arriving late never helps, as the Paris traffic was not in our favor on the Saturday afternoon drive over. Their rink, as I have described in a previous blog posting, is by far the worst arena in France and possibly the entire world. There is no glass, no team benches, no penalty boxes, no stands for fans and on top of that, the ice surface is the size of a shoe box. I think the total attendance for the game was 22 people.

This shows how netting is used to replace glace behind the net. Interesting....

We did not play very well and some costly turn overs lead to a few goals for the home side. Penalties were also a factor in our demise as we sent many players to the penalty box/area. You will understand when you scroll down to the pictures. We end up losing the game 4-1, even though we out shot them 44-22. I think I had about 5 shots myself, hitting the goalie in the mask twice. In Europe, if you hit the goalie in the head with a shot, it is an automatic whistle. Finally I was able to convert on a nifty pass from Ilpo Salmivirta to get our only goal of the game, but it was too little too late as there was just over 3 minutes left to play in the game.

If this sign was not posted indicating that this designated area is the penalty box, things would have been very confusing.

Where is our team bench? I guess we'll just sit in Detroit's old Tiger Stadium bleachers

I have to give them credit here though, nearly all of the arenas in France have natural light coming through.

The only thing that you can take away from losing on the road is that you get to have a nice meal afterwards in a french restaurant. Win or lose, it is always a salad, main course which usually depends on the region we are in. In the Alps we often have a tartiflette, but other times we have pasta, chicken, beef etc. Finished off with a nice dessert, I always hope for Creme Brulée, but it seems the staple here is "Tarte aux pommes" (apple pie). However, in Neuilly, we get right on the bus and are provided with these lame sandwiches, and I mean lame! We are allowed 2 and have the choice of jambon (ham) or fromage (cheese). You may think I am forgetting to mention what else is on these baguettes but I'm not, that's it! So to save carbs, I take the cheese out of the one baguette and put it with the ham on the other. for 1 ham and cheese sandwich. By the way I was kidding about the carbs.

So there you have it, instead of this nice french style meal after the road game, we are stuck with losing to one of the worst teams in the league, playing in the worst rink in the world, and eating the worst post game meal. Oh and did I mention we had to watch, Borat, and Fight Club on the bus? I am still shocked how well Brad Pitt speaks french!

Friday, 24 October 2008

The Perfect (Birth) Day!!!

I can honestly say that I love having my birthday, I don't care about getting older one bit, I just embrace the fact that it is just another day to celebrate my life! For one day of the year the world revolves around me and for that reason I try to set up the "Perfect Day." This will vary depending on your surroundings, sometimes it repeats year after year and other years it is just off the charts. I would say from age 7 to my 13th birthday, my parents would rent the gym at the Optimist Community Centre on Ypres, not far from our home and we would play floor hockey. Weeks leading up to that great day, I would put together of list of invitees, based primarily on their skill level and some consideration for their "intangibles" as Mike Kelly, former General Manager of the Windsor Spitfires so well put it when telling me my role on the team. Mainly this meant their attitude and leadership. I would be so detailed in this list of everyone to be invited, you would think I were an NHL scout preparing my final list for the upcoming draft. My homework usually paid off and my late round picks would prove to be the backbone of our floor hockey team, also providing great presents too.

Food was also very important into setting up the perfect day. If it wasn't my mom making me pancakes, it was heading downtown to the T.B.Q. for french toast. In high school it was a standard cake with the family and one year my girlfriend at the time photocopied a picture of me from my first year of hockey and plastered it all over the school. When I went off to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the focus shifted to drinking and partying at the Pit Pub on campus, jumping off the 10 meter diving board in the outdoor pool, then eventually puking at Gage Towers, under the watchful eye of teammate/bad influence Jarrett Winn. Floor hockey seemed like such a distant memory.

Now in France though, neither is really an option. Hockey is my job and I have to be ready to play my best everyday, practice or game. So those IIHF breaks that come up every few months are marked down on my calender and trips are being planned to let loose for a few days in a different country and have a good time. So my "Perfect Day" this year was a bit different. It started off by waking up at 8:30am, I had a bowl of instant oatmeal that my parents brought over here for me along a "pain au chocolat" which is my go to! Then I hit the gym for a good workout on our day off, stopping at the Boulangerie for a "croissant au chocolat." When I got home, all the guys were still sleeping in the house after declining the morning workout. The next stop was "Les Thermes" in "Plombiers Les Bains." This is a small little spa town with these ancient Roman Baths from 2000 years ago. They obviously have modern ones in there now but it is an amazing place to relax with steam rooms, jacuzzi, swimming pool, etc. When you arrive they give you a towel, and a big bath robe. We spent about 2.5 hours there and I have been drained every since.

Story goes, this is the same place Napoleon used to take his armies before heading into battle!

For dinner we ate a "Raclette." This is set up with a special "Raclette Grill" in the center of the table, accompanied by different sliced meats, potatoes and white wines! Everyone has their own tray to grill their cheese and it proves to be a very social yet formal meal. Last year on my birthday we ate a Cheese Fondue, so I thought it was time to step it up a bit. Unsure on how much people would eat, I bought 4kg of the cheese, and with the potatoes, meats and wine my total came to 75 euro. It was worth it and we still have so much cheese left, so if anyone reading is interested in having a Raclette, invite me and I'll bring the cheese!

Just waiting for the Potatoes to boil, as the meats and cheese await patiently

Here is everyone enjoying the Raclette, except for me taking the picture!

This stuff is amazing!!!

Pauly loving that bottle of wine, while the cheese is just dripping down onto my plate!

Though it was more of a mellow day, with no floor hockey, no drinking games, I can confidently say that for my setting here in Epinal, France I had the Perfect Day!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Coupe de France

Last night was our first game in La Coupe de France as we skated to a 3-2 win over Strasbourg in front of 1000 screaming Epinal fans! A little background on this tournament for those who are unfamiliar, La Coupe de France is not just played in hockey, but in most sports, with Soccer "Football" being the most popular. This involves all the teams in France, from our Elite League, Div 1, Div 2 and even a few Div 3 teams. The first round is played by region and depends on which team you draw. Last year we drew a Div 2 team, Mulhouse, and smoked them 10-0, but this year we drew Strasbourg, who plays in our Elite League and already beat us this season. In this single game elimination, you often see some big teams fall, like first place Briancon losing last night to 10th place Dijon. Anything can happen in just 1 game.

Two years ago that was the case with our small budget, small town Epinal Dauphins, who knocked off some pretty good teams on their road to the Coupe de France Finals in Paris-Bercy. They eventually lost to a much stronger and much richer Angers team 4-1 in front of 14,000 fans. I was not a part of that year's team but hope to be a part of this one as we strongly believe we can make it to the Finals in Bercy.

Last night we got off to a rough start, already without our Captain and leading scorer Jan Plch due to injury, we were scored on in the first minute. In Jan's absence, I was the captain for the game, which was an honour for me as Plch is a great leader, trying to fill his void for that game would be a tough task. Also out of the line up for the 3rd straight game was Caicco serving his last game of his suspension for "allegedly" kicking a Rouen player.

Trailing 1-0 after the first period, the hometown favorite Tarik Chipaux put away a rebound on the power play to tie it, then a few minutes later I sprung Jan Simko for a breakaway goal to put us up 2-1. Actually it wasn't a breakaway until he turned on the jets and blew past the defenseman. This guy is the fastest skater in the league and wouldn't be far off many of the great skaters in the NHL. He played in 2 World Junior Championships for Team Slovakia in 97 and 98 and in his second year he played along side NHL star Marian Hossa when the games were held in Finland. Ok back to the was a penalty filled game, both teams had numerous power play opportunities, we killed off a 2 minute 5 on 3 late in the second to keep the lead. In the 3rd period, just as time was expiring on our power play, I got a pass from Simko at the blue line and wristed a quick shot through a great screen from our big Finnish winger Ilpo Salmivirta!

Strasbourg came close with a late goal but we played a great defensive game and killed off a 6 on 4 advantage in the last 2 minutes to prevail with a 3-2 victory and eliminate them from La Coupe de France. After the game our team president came into the room and told me that there was a fan who had a birthday present for me! Today is my actual birthday but we played last night so she brought it to the game. Candice, who is 12 or 13 years old and sporting #15 Gervais jersey gave me great bottle of champagne to celebrate my birthday with! She has been a loyal fan and I can often hear her cheering in the stands with the rest of "Les Supporteurs." Thank you so much!!!

Well I don't want to spend too much time here as it is my birthday, but stay tuned for tomorrow's edition of the Perfect (birth) Day!!!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Happy Birthday Dad!!!

Today is my dad's 62nd birthday, so I am dedicating this blog to him! Over the years he has helped get me to where I am today in hockey and in life. The hockey part is obvious, he was supportive, he got me equipment, drove me to tournaments, paid for hockey camps. He was at every game just there for support, it didn't matter if I was cut from the team or if I scored a highlight reel goal against the Riverside Rangers in the Bluewater Playoffs on goaltender Sean Voy, my dad was supporting me no matter what.

The life part I feel has a greater value. As I sit at the dining room table of my house in France, it feels very comfortable to me, it is not such a foreign feeling to be here. In reality it's not! Since I was a little boy, my parents took me on all of their trips, explaining to my brother and sister that I was just a "very good traveler." Though England was my #1 choice for a vacation because of their amazing castles, France seemed to be the place my mom and dad enjoyed the most. We frequented Paris many many times, hitting up the great attractions of La Tour Eiffel, L'Arc de Triomphe, La Louvre and one of my personal favorites was Napoleon's Tomb and Jim Morrison's Grave.

For a young boy, this foreign country of a different language and no eggs or cereal for breakfast, was not very exciting for me! When I was in grade 3, I was set to miss 2 weeks of school for a trip to Europe with my mom and dad. My teacher at the time, Mme Easby decided that instead of assigning me homework for the whole trip, I was only to keep a journal of all my travels. The only problem with this was that our trip took place in the spring (Paris is beautiful in the spring), but the spring is also the time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Being a die hard Habs fan, it was imperative that my father call home to my brother Andre, (16 years old at the time, who no doubt was having parties) to get the scores of the games. I still remember, Montreal was faced off against Buffalo in the first round Adams Division match up. Players like Russ Courtnall, Shayne Corson, Patrick Roy, Guy Carbonneau and my favorite player Stephane Richer were leading the charge that year. Needless to say, my whole journal was summaries from the Canadiens playoff games, and littered with drawings of Courtnall scoring in overtime of game 2 and maybe a line or two of how the view was from the top of La Tour Eiffel.

My dad, a great story teller realized that my obsession with hockey and for the Montreal Canadiens was getting the better of me on this trip. He could see the value of me being in France but knowing that I would much rather be sitting at home with my Habs jersey watching the games, he began to tell me stories of the great Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Speaking of this great General in the French Revolution and how he ruled Europe, how his army was slaughtered in Russia, then he was exiled to the Island of Elba for 300 days before escaping. "wow this guy sounds amazing!" Now I look back, this was all a set up, my dad got me so pumped up about Napoleon, because he knew that going to Musée du Louvre, the world's most visited art museum, would be pretty boring for an 8 year old and for my parents to see everything, they knew that little Stephane would have to be kept entertained. So my dad would tell me about the great Napoleonic Wars, and how at this great museum contained tons of paintings of him in battle, crossing the Alps on a mule, killing people, and surrounded by his dead soldiers in the snow in the cold of winter in Russia. I couldn't wait to go!

Next up was none other than Napoleon's Tomb, well you just tell me where to sign!!! I was jacked, I got to see where this great Emperor was laid to rest, he was my hero and I didn't even know why, he was so built up. My father was so descriptive in his stories that I felt like I was there along side of Napoleon as "we" surprised the Austrians in Ulm in 1805 on October 20th (my dad's bday).

Another great feat my father was able to pull off was convincing me to change schools after grade 2 to go to this new "French Immersion" school that was opening. Still to this day he claims it was my idea, but I am pretty sure he was very manipulating in the whole process. To make this brief, lets just say, my favorite hockey team is the Montreal Canadiens and at the time my favorite player was their winger #44 Stephane Richer. So the final decision apparently was mine on the theory that if I went to this french school, I would be able to speak french to Stephane Richer. My dad insisted that it was a great idea. I stayed the course, never once made contact with Richer in English or french and even after he was traded to the New Jersey Devils, I still enrolled in the French Extended program at St. Joseph's High School for 5 years.

The impact my parents have made on my life has been tremendous but also a bit eerie too. You would think they must have called Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends Network from the TV infomercials back in early 90s and were told that their young Stephane would one day have a life in France, be it as a pro hockey player, and that it would be essential for me to see this beautiful country before I lived there and how could I possibly survive if I did not speak the language? Is that the reason they took action??? Or was simply that my mom and dad have always loved France and the half dozen trips we took here together was a scheme to somehow brainwash me into believing that this was my calling and the stars must have been aligned when the call came in for this great opportunity to play hockey in France. Riiiiiight..... They just wanted me to live here so that they could have a reason to keep coming back here! I still remember being pulled away from a basketball tournament in grade 8, and as I was leaving the school gym, a girl said "where are you going Stephane?" I responded very disgruntled "I have to miss the next game, I have to go to Paris with my parents." I missed the playoffs too. They knew it was not basketball that was going to bring me here though.

Whatever the case may be, I am just glad that they allowed me to choose my own way to get here, instead of forcing me into writing or being a painter. At least I am able to combine my passion for hockey, with their passion for Europe. Though I do remember stopping at an art store just outside of Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg) and being very fascinated, that Henri Matisse used to buy his pencils there. Grrrrrrrrr, dad was at it again!!!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Working Smarter is Working Harder

As I am preparing for tomorrow night's home game against Morzine, I would like to talk to you a bit about my other job here besides being a hockey player. As well as being the Strength and Conditioning coach for my own team, I also work for minor hockey as the director of Hockey Off-Ice Conditioning. It is only once a week but it involves driving this big van to go pick up students from school, making 3 different stops, drive them to the rink, then run them through workouts. You would think I would feel at home doing this, as I work a similar, yet more professional job in Vancouver at Twist Conditioning. These students are in a program called "Sport-Études." This means that for the students in this program, if their sport is hockey, they get out of school early to come to the rink and either do on-ice or dryland sessions, replacing a boring phys ed. class that they would get nothing out of in the first place.

I thought this would be a walk in the park, but after the first day I realized that this was going to be more of a challenge than saying "jump" and them saying "how high." On the first day they asked if they could grab something to eat quick before we started so I gave them 10 minutes to get ready. I had guys that were strolling in, baguettes in hand 25 minutes into the workout. So the next day, we arrived at the rink at 4:25pm I said if you are not ready to workout at 4:35pm you will be doing some push ups. Believe me, the french kids do not like to do extra work, it is a struggle to get them doing anything, so most of them were on time. One kid was 1 minute late so he did 10 push ups, 2 others were 3 minutes late so they did 30 push ups. I thought the last to be late was 6 minutes behind, so he did 2 sets of 30. You get the picture, for every minute late, you have 10 push ups. Then to my amaze, I had 2 more kids come in 17 minutes late! The rest of the students started cheering "170!!!" By our rules, they had 170 push ups to do, standing firm I told them they had the hour to complete them, thinking that they would accept, then after about 40-50 I would tell them it is good enough and to join the group. Well, they heard that, turned around and flipped me off, saying screw this, then sat in the bar and had a coffee and baguette for the remainder of the hour.

In Canada, if you were late and your coach gave you the opportunity to stay and finish the workout, you would be thanking him for those push ups. Was I going to make them do 170 push ups, well.... haha no not a chance, but it was just to test their character. They failed.

Now everyone usually uses about 5 of the 10 minutes I give them to get ready, and we start on time and work hard. Well kind of work hard I guess. That's another thing that bothers me, these french kids have no problem bailing out on an exercise. I had them all doing the plank, or forearm bridge, I said OK here we go, 45 seconds guys, lets go!!! After 10 seconds some of them are dropping to their knees, or my favorite is when they slide their feet up against the wall for support. When I try to encourage them they respond " Je n'arrive pas" meaning, "I cant do it." Some of these are junior players, and in Canada, when a coach is encouraging you and trying to get more out of you, responding "I can't do it" would get you cut so fast that the Belmont Jr. D Bombers would already have a jersey hanging for you in your stall.

They have no problem quitting exercises or taking the easiest way possible, but that is just their culture. They have the shortest work week in the world with 35 hours being considered full time work over here, and it seems that when you ask for something to be done, it is always "demain" (tomorrow) never right away. Though we are very different, I must say that I admire the French. I admire how they can manage to have 2 hours in the middle of a work day to go home and eat with their families from 12-2, I admire how they do not work on Sundays and use it as a day of rest and most of all, I admire their history and how everyone has ties to the World War II that took place on this very land. Just last weekend I ate lunch at our trainer's house, he is 72 years-old, and very grumpy, often blaming the import players for stealing tape and sticks, among other things. We started talking about WWII, and he said that in 1939, he was only 3 years old at the time, his father was taken prisoner by the Germans, and was held for 3 years before being released back to France. I was shocked by this but "Papy" as we call him, just nodded "Oui Oui" saying oh yes dad was a gone for 3 years, like it was no big deal? When I was a little boy, I would be upset if my dad spent too long at the launching for his "Boarder Police" book, let alone being gone for 3 years in a German Prisoner War Camp.

I appreciate their culture here and I am glad to be a part of it, the young hockey players I train are learning and getting better everyday and having learned a little more about "Papy" I understand why he favours the French players and is always blaming the imports for stealing. He is just protecting his own.

Monday, 13 October 2008

So.....We beat Rouen???

On Saturday night on l'île Lacroix, in Rouen, we made history! With us matched up against last years Champions of France, a team that possesses 4 of the top 5 scorers in the league, you would think we made history for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps the most goals scored on a team in the history of hockey or first team ever to record zero shots on goal? Well I am happy to say, it was neither. After 9 hours of travel, I am happy to say that we went into Rouen, missing our top 2 centers and top left winger, and beat the best team in the league 7-4!!! Not to mention losing one of our best defensemen Ben Quessandier to an injury in the first period and also our newly appointed 1st line centre Ryan Caicco at the end of the 2nd for "Coup de pied a un joueur" (he kicked a guy). Tough to believe he would kick someone but you never know with these French refs and what they think they see.

The game was kept close the whole night, we went down 3-1 in the second period but responded with 2 quick goals at the end of the period to tie it. On our second goal, Caicco hit me at the right point with a cross ice pass and the left handed Jan Plch read the play well and I was able to hit him backdoor on the left side to a nice tap in goal. Plch scored again 3 minutes later and we found ourselves with a 4 on 3 power play with under a minute left. With 30 seconds left Tarik Chipaux, a 21-year old french player for us, who has yet to record a goal in 2 seasons in Epinal, found himself all alone with the puck on his stick and an open net to shoot at. He paused, then shot and hit the goalie somehow, missing this glorious chance to put us up 4-3 heading into the 3rd. In the dressing room, he was getting a lot of heat from other players for missing that opportunity, even our assistant coach gave him shit for it. He left the room, kicked over a garbage can and returned a few minutes later with tears in his eyes. He was sitting right next to me when he came back into the dressing room, I told him to forget about it and said our best players miss chances like that all the time but the difference with them is that they forget about it and go out and score a goal to make up for it. "So just go out and score this period!"

In the 3rd period, both teams traded goals early and then, with only 4 minutes left to play in the game, off of a rebound, Tarik Chipaux scored his first goal in the Ligue Magnus. He stood behind the net with his hands in the air, just stunned, not yelling, not screaming, just silent and proud. This is coming from the same Tarik Chipaux who threw his stick and gloves in the air in celebration of an OT winner that Peter Slovak scored a week ago, which eventually was disallowed, forcing Tarik to skate into the other team's zone afterwards and pick up his equipment he tossed off.

I believed in him and didn't even get a chance to go celebrate with him in the corner. For me it was more important to go get that puck for him, a goal he will remember for ever. We went on to beat Rouen 7-4, Tarik scored the winning goal, and with that win Les Dauphins d'Epinal made history, beating Les Dragons de Rouen for the first time ever. Even more impressive, it was in their building!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Netting, A Loss in Neuilly

On Tuesday we made our way about 20mins outside of Paris to a small place called Neuilly Sur Marne. This is a new team in our league that got promoted from Division 1 last year. The way it works in France is that in the Elite League (Ligue Magnus) we have 14 teams. The top 4 get a first round playoff bye and the bottom 2 (13th and 14th place) in the regular season have a best of 5 playoff series to see which team gets to stay in the league and which drops down to Division 1. Then the Champions from Division 1 move up the following season to the Ligue Magnus! GOT IT???

Anyways, so that's who we played and with them having been the champions from Div 1 last year, you would expect it would be a pretty good organization and a nice rink to play in right? Well no. This place is in the ghetto to start with and the rink, oh my the rink. There is no glass, no stands no team bench and no penalty box. There is netting that covers the whole rink to prevent pucks from flying out of play, but if it does, it wont hit any fans because they have none, and there is no place for them to sit anyways. Behind the net, the netting is fair game, I took one shot that got deflected and it flew up about 20ft in the air but because it did not go over the netting, the play continued. Both teams watched and waited for the puck to slowly roll down the tall netting, as if they were waiting for the rebound in basketball to fall, boxing each other out, getting better positioning to jump up and grab the ball off the rim. However, on the side boards if the puck hits the netting, the whistle is blown and the play is dead. In about 4 or 5 instances, the puck hit the netting behind the net, dropped down and sat on the top of the boards, right on the ledge, never falling to the ice. Another whistle.

The game itself was bizarre in which the first period we took 5 penalties to Neuilly's none. They scored 2 power play goals. A scoreless 2nd period followed and then we made it close when I picked up the puck behind our net, made a few moves around their forwards in the neutral zone and walked over the blue line and took a slap shot stick side. On the same shift we nearly tied it at 2 but Jan Simko hit the post off of a one timer. That was the turning point, we went on to lose 5-1 in the Coupe de la Ligue game.

After the game, instead of heading back with the team on the bus, I jumped in the rental car with my parents who are in France right now visiting me. We drove to their bed and breakfast and then got on the road the next morning. Stopping for a few hours to see a castle Fountainbleau. I love castles but this place was a tad boring. I prefer the fountainbleau near Adstoll Arena in Windsor!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Epinal scores in OT!!! But lose the game

On Saturday night, we played against one of our rival teams, Strasbourg. With a depleted line up, missing our top 2 centers and best left winger, we managed to play an amazing game. This forced us to have one dman play wing, and our 4th line guys filling in on the 2nd line and power play. With the score tied 1-1 in the 3rd we were given a power play. All night I had a guy covering me and was not getting any passes for one timers, until there was a breakdown and Plch fed me up high, I blasted it to the net and the rebound came right to Simko and put us up 2-1. Not long after, Strasbourg scored on a quick shot right off the face off to tie it and send the game into Overtime.

In the 10minute overtime we traded scoring chances and with about 5 minutes to play in the OT, my defense partner Peter Slovak got the puck off the face off in the offensive zone. Prior to the 3rd, our coach, Shawn Allard said to us that their goalie was rushing out of the net to cut off the angle and we should fake it and go around him. I couldn't help but think that he was taking that from Don Cherry's Rock Em Sock Em 4. Anyways, Slovak got the puck at the point, he faked the shot and moved pass the sliding forward trying to block the shot, then he faked the shot again and the goalie came rushing out. I saw visions now of like Darryl Sittler breaking down the wing in Overtime, faking the shot on Vladamir Dzurilla and sliding it into the empty net in the 1976 Canada Cup. Slovak put the puck into the empty net and the game was over, we won in OT! All thanks to Don Cherry.

In the midst of our celebrations, we are getting word that the goal has been disallowed. Apparently the ref was calling a penalty on Strasbourg for holding our guy in the crease, but they never touched the puck and the whistle was never blown. It wasn't until the puck went in that he blew the whistle and waved off the goal. But still gave us a power play??? So confused....

Here is Tarik Chipaux, celebrating after the OT winner. You can see the ref just blowing the whistle now, with the Strasbourg players upset but not complaining about losing the game. On a side note, Chipaux tossed his stick and gloves off in celebration and later had to skate past the Strasbourg bench to get them after the goal was disallowed. Kind of embarassing.

Long story short, we did not score on the power play, Strasbourg scored with 2 minutes left and we lost the game. The fans went crazy and started littering the ice with beer cans. My mom was at the game sitting high in the stands and said that the man next to her even tried to spit on the ref as he skated off. Some poor Epinal fan was accidentally hit as the ref was about 50ft away. Our coach could not keep his composure and ran back onto the ice and challenged the ref at center ice. He would have killed him, he was so angry!

We all feel pretty cheated by the whole thing and very confused. The only thing we can do is just get back to work and put this bizarre game behind us.

C'est La Vie

Friday, 3 October 2008

La Fete Foraine

If you follow hockey and the NHL, then you are probably aware that there have been some pre season NHL games happening over here in Europe. Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and New York are all over here playing. On Wednesday, our team had a scheduled day off, and it just happened to fall on the same day that the Rangers were playing a Russian team in Bern, Switzerland, only about 2.5 hours from Epinal, France. So arrangements were made to get tickets to the game and we were all set to go when we were informed at the last minute that we had a team function. At first it was, "oh great, the whole team is going to the game!" Wrong, we had to be at "La Fete Foraine" in other words, the Carnival. This is the equivalent to the Freedom Festival in downtown Windsor, with rides and games etc... And also at the end of the evening, the Carnies were making us dinner!

Not a tough decision to make as to which option I wanted to take, but being a team guy, we had to stay in town and miss the game, but did I mention we had a pass for free rides all day! Oh yes, that included "Break Dance," "Himalaya," "Haunted House," "Les Karts (go karts)," and don't let me forget "Beach Party!!!" In all honesty, for those who know me pretty well, you would have to say that if there was a "non hockey" related consolation prize for missing the NHL game, this Carnival thing with free rides and a free dinner would be it! I had a blast, the food was great, it wasn't hot dogs and burgers, it was crepes and waffles. I was hitting up as many rides as I could until the "Beach Party" got the best of me and I was ready to puke up my Nutella Waffle.

It was a little different hitting up these rides too, while on the Himalaya, when you just spin around in a circle and they play great music and say "Let me here you scream if you want to go fasterrrrrrr!!!!" well all this stuff was in French, and though I appreciate the differences "Crie si tu veux aller plus vite!!!!" just didn't have the same ring to it!

On our first ride "Break Dance" which is much like the Giant Teacup Ride at Disney World, I was sitting in a buggy with Tarik Chipaux, 21 year old french player on our team. In the other buggy was another younger french player Anthony Pernot and Canadian Ryan Caicco. We were all pretty excited to get this going, it was our first ride and all, and Tarik is yelling things over at Ryan (who doesn't speak french). So Caicco, thinking our french teammate is just yelling things to get him fired up for the ride, is raising his hands in the air smiling, and yelling "Ya! Woooo! Ya!!!" Tarik continues, screaming the same thing prior to and for the duration of the ride "Hey Ryan, Va te faire enculé!!!" and Ryan continues to respond with "YA!!!!" and celebratory actions, throwing his hands up in the air, single arm fist pumps. This went on for the entire ride and the same reaction every time. I'm sure you all are curious as to what that means..... in English what Tarik was yelling was "Hey Ryan, GO FUCK YOURSELF!!!" Poor Ryan, with a smile from ear to ear: "Woooooooooooo! Ya!!!!"