Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Update: Fox News still hiring third-graders to prepare its onscreen news captions

seen just this morning on FOX News onscreen text describing the potential impact of recent White House personnel changes on future government election results:

"Latest White House Shake-Up Affect On Upcoming Elections"

there's no time to waste: i must travel to Fox News HQ , sit down with the broadcast manager, and give him or her a lesson on the differences between "complimentary" and "complementary" before they do a news feature on what wines go best with steak!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Goalie camp - final days 6 & 7; the return of the teacher and the coast to the finish line

so i'm late on goalie camp blogging.... so you'll get the wrap-up of the final two class sessions in one fantastic post!

session #6 brought about the end to Wilkie's absence ( though only a day gone it still means i only got 86% of the professional instruction that i paid for; kindly refer to my day-five rant in an earlier post)

turns out he was up in Utah to be a spectator to some juniors training camp or something. our trickle-down learning benefit from this came from him telling us that apparently the coaches to the next NHL stars are now advocating a new position for the trapper (the glove that looks like a oversized baseball mitt) in the ready stance where the trapper opening faces down toward the puck instead of up and out. i suppose the theory here is that you'd want to point the pocket of the glove toward teh area from which the puck will be heading toward you, i.e. down toward the ice level where the puck is. hey, if it's good enough for the almost-pros i'll sure give it a shot.

as per the other class days (day five excepted) we mixed in one new drill with three other old ones for four total stations of work. the new drill for day six was the 2 - on - 0 .

the "2" refers to the number opponents (one with the puck) skating in on net with the intent to score, "0" refers to the number of your defensemen who didn't screw up somehow on the ensuing play.

for a 2 on 0 to occur the opponents had to get past both defensemen, who probably either were caught napping or who made some flat-footed attempt to stop the puckcarrier and were summarily circumvented. this kind of situation is a tough one for the goalie as the two opponents, with enough time and space in the zone, can stretch out the potential shot angles.

not only does the goalie have to worry about staying in between the net and the puck on the current puckcarrier's stick but he also has to contend with the possibility of the puck being suddenly moved to the other opponent who is likely all the way on the opposite side of the zone. if the pass is made the goalie usually has to scramble over to get in between the net and the puck's new location, often giving up proper gap control in depth to maintain the angle (and of course, students, we know that being too deep opens up many more and bigger holes to shoot at!); even after a successful scramble the puck might be played right back over to the first puckcarrier, requiring another frantic scramble to the puck's newest location.

even if the original puckcarrier never passes at all and takes the shot, the goalie is still at a disadvantage as he usually gives up some depth on the puckcarrier to hedge against the pass and also has his concentration partially diverted to the presence of the other opponent.

all in all, 2 on 0s are a bad, bad thing and do not endear defensemen to their goalie when they are allowed to happen frequently.

....i said earlier that we only mixed in one new drill but i take that back now, we also worked on dump-ins (i'm guessing that this or the 2 on 0s would have been week five's new drill).

a dump-in refers to the opponent shooting the puck into the offensive zone (the zone with the net they want to score on, the one i swore to protect), usually along the end boards, to put the puck behind the net and send guys chasing after it as part of the appropriately-named "dump-and-chase" strategy. the idea here for the offense is to force the defending team to beat the offense to the puck. at best, the offense gets to the puck first and starts the play from behind the net, a more dangerous spot for the goalie than you'd first think. at worst, the defending team gets to the puck first but at that point is usually collapsed deep in its own zone. overall not a bad play choice for teams with quick offensemen who can race quickly to the puck.

the goalie often has the best chance out of any of the defending team to get to the dump-in first. as the puck is shot down and around the end boards he has to leave his crease and travel behind the net to the back boards to stop the puck and look to move it to one of his defensemen for a counterattack up the ice. easy enough in theory but in practice it's almost pathetic how difficult it can be to move a mere six feet in enough time to stop the puck.

the dump-in drill consisted of one man at the blue-line (the line marking the beginning of my defensive zone) who would shoot a puck around the boards behind the net; goalie had to leave his crease and go to the back boards to stop the puck, move it to a defender, and then get back in front of the net to field a shot from another offensive guy in the middle.

ideally, you want to get your whole body against the back boards to form a wall through which the puck cannot pass; with the speed of the dump-ins , however, i found myself lunging with the stick more than a few times. not much more to say about it than that, i was pretty tired from the other drills by the time i got to the dump-ins so i kinda half-assed it.

near the end of the session, in lieu of breakaways, Wilkie introduced the shooter-goalie fitness challenge: shooter would set up in the slot area (middle of the zone about ten to twelve feet out from the net) with five pucks and fire them on net in rapid succession. goalie stops as many as he can, when the dust settles the shooter owes three push-ups for each save that the goalie makes and the goalie owes three up-and-downs (going down into butterfly and back up) for each goal that is let in. i did pretty well on this one, four out of five saves on the first go-around and a full five for five on the second series so my workout was rather light.

fast-forward to this recent Monday, before the start of day seven:

i got out on the ice about twenty minutes before the start of the session so i could skate around and take a few warmup shots. the rink was having some sort of open-ice session where a few scattered people were milling around. one of the groups out there was what appeared to be a young dad and his kid of about four years of age (i'm a bad age guesser); obviously not a hockey player yet as the kid could barely skate and was actually in a rented pair of figure skates, but the dad did have him in a helmet and carrying a plastic hockey stick in his hands. after a while they waddled over near the net so i put a puck out there for him to shoot at the goal. he could barely move the puck a few feet so i think the first "goal" i let in i actually had to reach back and swipe at to knock it the full way in. did that a good number of times, a fun chance to give the kid some positive goal-scoring imagery and let me make some goofy super-slow missed save attempts.

day seven was "goalie's choice" day; at the end of day six Wilkie had asked us to bring in on paper our choice of preferred drill to run for the last session. i turned mine in , which read: "2 on 0s; for the love of god please no more pokecheck drills".

turns out i was one of about two people who remembered to turn in a suggestion, so we ended up doing these:

1) 2 on 0s - i actually regretted the decision to propose this because, although i did want to practice more on them, the monkeys who represented the attacking twosomes did not know how to recreate the pace or accuracy of the play. in general a 2 on 0 has to result in a shot fairly quickly as your defense should be charging back to hurry them up; with the practice monkeys, however, they skated around slowly, made some bad passes, and generally spaced themselves poorly. on top of that, the second twosome pair would usually start their "rush" even while you were down from making the save on the first twosome. overall.. blech.

2) butterfly slides - this drill i liked and i'm glad someone picked it (or that Wilkie picked it for us, who knows) ; pucks on both sides of the net and goalie had to push off from one post to the opposite side in a half-butterfly to make a save on what would be a shot after a pass through the crease. very entertaining and i'm getting better at it all the time

3) up-down saves - nothing more here than an endurance-save drill for the goalie where you drop into butterfly and get back up to field a shot, repeat four more times. the second series you got to drop on your stomach and recover back up for the shot..... fun! actually it was pretty fun.

4) dump-ins - just as crappy as last week.

one final hurrah of breakaways at the end of the hour and that was it, goalie camp complete! i eagerly await my gold-star-labeled certificate of participation in the mail.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Passive aggressive justice!

a couple of years back when driving in Houston i'd noticed a billboard asking local citizens to rat out their fellow Houstonians who are driving cars more damaging to the environment than the average passenger vehicle. you know the type, the ones with black or white smoke billowing continuously from the tailpipe; this phenomenon is defined by a handy Texas government website as "a result of incomplete fuel combustion...usually caused from improper engine operation".

back then (and now) i thought it was a good idea; some yutz mucks up our air because he isn't keeping his car properly maintained? i get my oil changed regularly and go in for interval service checkups, why isn't everyone else on board with the program?

the answer of course lies somewhere within the triangular boundary of economic status, laziness, and "jerk syndrome". some can't afford it (that's why they're driving the busted-up hoopty in the first place), some can't motivate themselves to get out to the shop and fix things, some are aware that they're laying down a Spy Hunter - like smokescreen but eh, my daddy didn't hug me enough when i was a kid so forget you man you can just "BACK OFF" like my Yosemite Sam mudflaps tell you, and countless combinations of the three forces.

technically it is illegal:
"State law under Section 547.605 of the Texas Transportation Code prohibits motor vehicles with excessive visible smoke emissions from operating on Texas roadways. Law enforcement authorities statewide may issue citations, punishable by a fine of not more than $350, to the owner of "a vehicle that emits visible smoke for 10 seconds or longer"

but there aren't enough cops on the road to catch all of the polluters so the government deputized all us do-gooder citizens to help out. all of this said i never followed through with a report until earlier this week on my drive in to work when i trailed behind a smoking car for a good ways into downtown, thought to myself "time to take action, citizen" and boldly copied down the car's license plate to ensure accurate reporting! once at the work desk i made my way to the online government website for reporting smoking vehicles and passed along the information (license, date/time/location) .

so what, did i discover, was the end result of my efforts?

to quote the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's site:

"The extent of the action taken by the TCEQ regarding smoking vehicle reports is the mailing of a notification letter to the registered owners of the reported vehicles. The letter notifies them their vehicles were reported to be observed emitting excessive visible exhaust emissions. It also encourages them to make repairs, if needed.... and inform vehicle owners that they can be ticketed for operating a smoking vehicle on Texas roadways"

a notification letter and gentle encouragement to have your vehicle properly maintained: take that, you no-goodnik!

really, what should i have expected though?

"Officer Kentz, we just received another anonymously-submitted report of a car emitting excess exhaust"
"Roger that, I'm heading directly to the suspect's place of residence to commence standard stakeout procedures. Requesting backup"

unrealistic both due to manpower constraints and that, if actual enforcement was part of the program, you'd end up getting a visit from the cops about your car, whether smoking or not, courtesy of your vindictive ex.

so overall i feel like a contributor to the government program equivalent of a homeowners' association, sending passive-aggressive notices to code violators, letters that will be summarily read, disregarded, and thrown away. considering that the product of the whole process seems to be limited to some paper trash destined for a landfill, did i just end up hurting the environment through my civil vigilance? oh the irony

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Of ziplines and kettle corn

Grace and i headed up to Austin last weekend to hang out with her sister and brother-in-law and go careening through the trees at Cypress Valley Canopy Tours.


now i, during my college and post-college years in Austin, never really strayed much to the southwest of the city but there's some really nice-looking hill country out there. this zipline tour happened to be nestled out there in a very scenic area filled with the titular cypress trees as well as shallow rivers and rockbeds.

the cost was a bit steep for what amounted to about a forty-five minute nature tour but the experience was fun nonetheless. i suppose the general rule is that cost increases proportionally to the height at which the nature is observed; in our case we were about forty to fifty feet above ground so we hit the middle somewhere between national wildlife park admission fees and a helicopter tour.

on the Sunday of that weekend i ran off to hang out with a good friend from college who so far has decided to stake his claim in Austin; got to watch a bit of HD playoff hockey (Anaheim vs. Colorado) on his mammoth TV so the day was a plus for that alone right there.

grace and her sister and brother-in-law , in my absence, ran off to the annual Old Pecan Street Festival which happened to be underway. the main objective for her was to secure some genuine kettle corn straight from an honest-to-god kettle; if you've never had it, it's quite good, popcorn with a little bit of sugar and probably something else unhealthy. light and sweet

after a time, my buddy rich fell asleep on his couch (the inevitable crash after his late-night adventures at a poker game the previous night) so i took my leave and set out to the heart of downtown Austin to locate grace and the gang. i've never been to the Old Pecan Street Festival before, don't know what its origins or theme really is, but as i stood on 6th street waiting to rendezvous with grace & company (man, how did anyone coordinate before the advent of cell phones?), i realized it had many of the same qualities possessed by the other Austin festivals i'd been to in the past (eeyore's birthday, 40 acres fest, etc.)

namely, you know you've arrived at an austin city festival when you're walking along and a hot summer wind brings with it, overpoweringly direct to your nostrils, the musky aroma of body sweat and patchouli.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Goalie camp day five draws the ire of the bobcat

so as good as the fourth day of goalie camp was, day five took a nosedive in quality of equal amount. for the most part this was due to the fact that our goalie coach, well, was not there.

"in Utah" was the succinct response from our temporary coach to inquiries as to the whereabouts of the goalie coach best suited (and appropriately paid) to teach us.

i can understand an emergency absence; hockey does take a backseat at times to family and business. what i'm less willing to tolerate is having to show up for a session painfully short on goaltending theory discussions, whether old or new topics, and long on being fed through the same old drills we learned in weeks prior.

maybe Wilkie, due to the Utah business, didn't have time to talk through the day five lesson plan with his helpers; i hold that as a possibility so no points deducted there.

even without any new material, though, i would have expected the assistant coaches to put at least some thought into the activities for the day. the biggest evidence of unpreparedness came when the temp coach split us up into four drill stations; no big surprise there except that stations one (which I started at) and four were exactly the same drill.

now, we have been through enough days and enough different drills that a number of options were open for #4 to avoid making us run through the same drill twice within the hour. when it came time for my squad to hit #4 i took the liberty of requesting that we run through the butterfly slide drill (an exercise from last week that i personally wanted to work on). after a moment's pause the guy in charge found no reason why we couldn't do just that.

all in all, i was a little pissed off at the situation and was a little surprised that i was the only one that seemed to take notice that we got hosed this time around on our netminding educations; we basically did goalie study hall for an hour.

Wilkie might offer us another week to make sure all of his planned topics are covered but i'm not really holding my breath, just look to make some gains in the next two sessions.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Goalie camp the fourth

for reasons unknown we only had seven goalies in attendance at this week's camp, down from our full class of twelve; the missing five were a mix of adults and younger ones as far as i can recall. they may have all just collectively missed a day but i'm hoping they wimped out for the remaining sessions, more coaching time for me!

this week's camp in particular was a good one for me as it addressed some positional concerns that i had and also gave me the chance to see some training tools in person that i had only read about previously.

i actually got suited up and onto the ice about fifteen minutes before the session started so i had the chance to do some warmup skating laps and stretching. after that some of the coach's shooters were out so i stood in net to let them take some shots and also get myself accustomed to the speed of the puck.

about five minutes before the session started, the coach came out, skated over and asked me more about one of the concerns i had detailed in my introductory email to him weeks ago; considering the length of the email and the time lapsed i was impressed and appreciative that he had the presence of mind to recall it and follow up with me.

in my post on day three of the camp i'd discussed angles and depth; this particular concern was the proper depth to use against puckcarriers who are to the side of the net below the faceoff dots. in past games i'd always felt uncomfortable even though having the puck that low and to the side is normally a good thing as the angle to the net is very sharp and doesn't give the shooter much of an option from there. i felt handcuffed between staying on my feet and feeling that shots to the left and right of my feet would be difficult to stop and going down in the butterfly to block low but leave the upper areas open or even giving the puckcarrier an opportunity to move around me into the slot area and an open net.

Wilkie had me stand out at the side and look at the net from a shooter's perspective while he set up in a standing blocking stance near the goalpost. even without any goalie gear on he took away almost all of the available angle just by standing right next to the goalpost. moving out from the post toward the puckcarrier was a case of diminishing returns; not much additional angle was removed and instead the risk of being stranded on a puckcarrier deke or pass to the center was much greater.

the big takeaway lesson here was that movement around the crease is less of a semicircle and more of a horseshoe. From the center area moving left, tracking of the puck is done in an arc to maintain proper depth; however, after the puck passes below the faceoff dots you can generally move backward straight to the goalpost and remain in good position.

to reinforce the concept Wilkie had a few shooters carry the puck in on the side to down low and then attack the goal laterally. By using the concept Wilkie had outlined, I could discourage shots from the sharp angles and force the puckcarrier to move to the center; being near the goalpost made it easier for me to drop down and slide laterally to follow him and stop the play on net.

as it stands this was part of the lesson plan that Wilkie had for the day; to instruct the class he set up a traditional goaltending coach's exercise, which was to tie ropes to each goalpost and hold them in one hand tight while skating around the zone. The ropes showed the possible range of angle that a puck could be shot from at any position on the ice that would result in a goal (similar to what i discussed in camp #3 post as well) ; goalies were made to adjust their depth and angle to the ropes as the position of the ropes changed.

Wilkie also went into the concept of the butterfly slide and backside leg recoveries.

The butterfly slide is the motion of sliding laterally across the ice in a butterfly position to follow the puck around the zone when you do not have time to recover and shuffle or if you are anticipating a low, quick shot. Most often the butterfly slide is used to follow the play after an initial shot & rebound, and is also one of those techniques that i find much easier to do in a game situation without thinking than when i'm in practice and focusing on it deliberately. One of the drills we did consisted of shooters on both sides of the net; the goalie would hug one post and then push off to butterfly slide toward the shooter on the opposite side to cut down the angle of the shot.

Backside leg recovery refers to the technique of recovering from a down stance onto your "power leg", the leg that needs to be used to move you toward the puck's position. For example, if i went down in a butterfly and made a leg pad save that rebounded the puck to my left, i would need to first get up on my right leg; with my right skate back on the ice and under my body, i am in position to push off to the left in a butterfly slide to regain angle position to the puck or, if time permits, to regain my normal stance and shuffle off to the left.

With fewer goalies around we each had more time in the drills and by the end i was pretty beat, especially with the last drill we did. i'm not sure what it's called but it involved putting about a bajillion pucks in a semicircle about a foot outside the crease and having a shooter fire any puck he wanted at any time and forcing the goalie to make as many saves as possible. it was a great scrambling drill but holy moley was it tiring.

all in all a great session and the best part was that i really put the new concepts learned into action at this week's league game; having finally seen for myself how little net i gave, just by standing on the post , to shooters attacking on sharp angles , i played much more confidently and controlled the play in those situations much more often. now if my defense could just understand why it's a bad idea to constantly allow opponents to screen me and hang out on the backdoor of the crease...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Goalie camp - day 3, shuffling around and gazing with telescopes at the stars

day three of seven of the social bobcat's goaltending camp is in the books, and it brought..... pretty much more of the same: drills, drills, drills.

this past monday's camp focused primarily on two different aspects of goaltender movement: telescoping and shuffling.

telescoping is the act of moving out toward the puck or backwards toward the net and is the cornerstone of good gap control.

in a standard goaltending matchup (goaltender vs. single attacker) you can think of there being two "gaps" in play: the distance between the puck and the goaltender and the distance between the goaltender and the goal itself. (or think of a straight line from the goal, A, to the puck ,C, with the goaltender as some point, B, between the two)

the greater the distance between the puck and the goaltender, the more time the goaltender has to react to a shot on goal. to an extreme, if the goaltender planted his feet on the goal line the goaltender-to-puck gap would be maximized all the time and the goaltender would always have the most time possible to react to a shot. this method wouldn't be too practical, however, as a standard goal measures four feet high by six feet across; most people can't fill up twenty-four square feet of space, bulky protective gear or not, leaving numerous large holes for shooters to target. with the speed that hockey pucks can achieve, playing a 100% reaction-based goaltending style won't get you too far, sometimes you need to just be a wall that the puck hits.

the way to reduce these holes is through, you guessed it, adjustment of the goaltender-to-goal gap. as you travel farther out from your net toward the puck your body covers more of the net, same as how holding your hand up to your face covers more of your computer monitor than if you place your hand against the screen.

the trick in proper gap control is to figure out just how far you need to be from the goal and from the puck at any given moment. you want to be out from the goal far enough to reduce the amount of the goal that the shooter can see (called "cutting down the angle") but don't want to be so far out that you overcommit to the current puckcarrier (mind you, there are usually four other guys in the zone who would also endeavor to put the puck past you into the net).

visualize a triangle between the puck and the two goal posts: the puck can be shot on a line anywhere inside of this triangle and, unless impeded in some way, a goal will result (unless of course it's shot over the top of the net itself).

Your friendly neighborhood goaltender can maximize his level of coverage without overcommitting to the puck's current position by telescoping out to where his body touches the edges of the triangle (for most modern-style goalies, where the feet would touch the triangle edges while in the butterfly position). By doing this the netminder can ensure that a puck shot on net will at least be in reach of his limbs, upper or lower, giving him a chance to make the save; a puck shot any wider will miss the net entirely.

So what have we learned? Telescoping is great and a good example of geometry and physics in the real world. But.... it doesn't get the save made by itself.

I've found that opponents have the nasty habit of not staying still while play is going on; one guy moves around the attacking zone to my left with the puck or passes it to another guy in the center of the zone who passes it off to yet another guy down to my right or maybe back to the first guy on the left. They keep changing the size and shape of my puck-to-posts triangle! It's really quite impolite as it requires me to make sudden changes in my physical location and angle as well; with all that gear on it can get quite tiring.

When making these positional changes, the goaltender wants to maintain the uniformity of his stance and be "square to the puck" (meaning he is between the puck and the goal with his body perpendicular to the line between the puck and the center of the goal line); this maximizes the surface area width of the body between the puck and goal. since shots can be fired on net at any time, it's best to be ready for a shot at any time and in the right position. if you moved to your left by turning your hips to face the new spot you wanted to be in, you'd open up a lot of net and also not be ready to react to a shot; the way to move around and stay ready is to shuffle like a madman (assuming that madmen shuffle in the way i'm about to describe).

Shuffling is nothing more than facing forward and pushing off to the side with your right skate (to move left) or left skate (to move right). The goalie does this motion from his crouch stance and the upper torso remains motionless; all movement is from the hips down. With a series of small quick shuffles the goaltender can track the puck around the zone while maintaining a solid mass between the puck and the net. of course, on some long-range passes where the angle of attack changes sharply the goalie must abandon the shuffle and make a quick skate over to the new puck location, but for the most part the shuffle is his bread n' butter.

so there you have it, making saves is as easy as telescoping out and back to adjust to the puck's distance from the net and shuffling laterally to accomodate for the angle of the puck relative to the net.

..... and maintaining proper stance and balance.....and monitoring the puckcarrier while noting the locations of the other opponents in the zone.....and noting the locations of your own teammates in the zone.... and tracking an inch-wide , 3" diameter cylinder in flight and telling your various limbs what to do to stop it..... simple!

(and hence my attendance at goalie school)

still waiting..

a brief note here:

i don't know if the hiatus, the introduction of American Dad, or some other factor is to blame but another Sunday passes and i'm still waiting for Family Guy to be cleverly funny again, as in the days before it was canceled and brought back to life by DVD sales and Cartoon Network reruns. the first episode when they came back was great (i recall a subplot with Mel Gibson) but the quality has been steadily rolling downhill since that point.

i still DVR every episode and watch but i wonder how long it'll be before Seth and his crew make me stop caring about Family Guy the way my enthusiasm for the Simpsons eventually waned into nothingness.