Monday, April 20, 2009

A Departure From Hockey Tales

Most men looking for a nibble or two on their privates would select Angelina Jolie to do the honours.

Not a man like Reg Mellor, a legend in the Yorkshire “sport” of trouser legging or trouser ferreting. The tradition involves men tying up their pant cuffs with ropes, dropping a ferret down their pants, and cinching the works with a rope belt at the waist to prevent the animal from escaping. This event does not use fluffy, furry, toy ferrets but real live weasel relatives complete with claws and fangs.

The winner is the man who can survive having the creature in his pants longer than the other participants. Mellor, discovered the sport in his 60s and his original record time was 40 seconds. Over the year he has worked his way up to over five hours – five hours with a “furry piranha” down his pants.

Such a feat could not come about without picking up some tricks, including how to dislodge ferrets from his person. That’s not easily done to wee beasties with jaw strength comparable to pit bulls, but the crusty Barnsley native whacks them near the eyes with a screwdriver.

That’s within the rules of ferret legging, as is dislodging ferrets from one’s body, but only from outside the pants. Apparently this is one time when being “master of your domain” really is taboo.

The only other regulation has to do with performance enhancing substances. Neither man nor ferret can be drugged or drunk. Funny that – if ever an event lent itself to being under the influence of mind and pain altering pharmaceuticals, this would be the hands down winner. As for the question you’re dying to ask…yes, Mellor has been bitten “there.”

"Why, I've had 'em hangin' from me tool for hours an' hours an' hours!,” he boasted. “Two at a time -- one on each side. I been swelled up big as that!," proudly pointing to a five-pound coffee can.

The first North American account of ferret legging came from a 1987 article by writer David Katz. Some naysayers claim the sport is nothing more than a legend, saying it is an urban myth created to poke fun at Yorkshire’s quaint and provincial traditions.

Toronto resident Paul Wilde, an ex-pat from the picturesque village of Huddlesfield, Yorkshire, adamantly denies that. “I’ve heard about it. It’s a tradition, something they used to do in working men’s social clubs.”

Over the years ferret legging has declined, likely because modern men want to protect the brains in their pants more than their ancestors.

Ferret fans fret not – the village of Sedgefield offers ferret racing.

*Mellor quotes from David Katz, “King of the Ferret Leggers,” Outside magazine – October 1987

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Withdrawal Symptoms

The NHL playoffs start tonight but I'm going through post-season withdrawal symptoms.

There is no shortage of hockey in my life since I'm covering two teams from a purely professional viewpoint. It makes no difference to me whether the St. Louis Blues or the Vancouver Canucks win their first round series.

What has altered things is being able to sleep in on Sunday mornings, not lugging hockey gear when I'm in heels, and no longer being a slave to last-minute game changes. I miss dragging me, my kid, and a giant, cumbersome bag out the door in the dark.

Most of all I miss spending time with people who don't care that my top is inside-out, that I'm not wearing makeup, or that I didn't brush my hair. Sleep deprivation fades quickly when you're greeted by smiling friends, especially when a nap is possible later on in the day.

Birds chirping as a new day dawns are a welcome sign of spring to those in northern climates. I don't begrudge the birdies but hearing them as I head out the door makes me melancholy.

Their spring song signals the end of house league hockey season.

Nothing though, can end the friendships found behind the boards.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Don't Let the Ladies Dance Alone

It's been a long time coming, boys. The Hockey Hall of Fame recently amended decades old bylaws to allow female inductees, up to a maximum of two per year, starting with the class of 2010.

Women have been playing the game for over a century but sometimes the old boys club takes a while to make up for lost time.

One of the ideas being bandied about is to have separate induction ceremonies for men and women. Let's check that idea into the boards until the glass pops out.

This is a team sport, and even though men and women, for the most part, play in their own leagues, they are part of the same hockey family. Induction is one of those times when relatives sit at the same table, crammed in, elbow to Gordie Howe elbow.

Let's face it. Having a separate ceremony for women would be like taking a date to the prom and ditching her. If you bring the girl to the dance, she deserves a spin on the floor with all eyes on her.

The reality is that there are more eyes focused on men's hockey. Women have waited far too long for their invitations to the inaugural ball.

Don't let them dance alone in 2010.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Boy at Ex-Leafs` Camp

A quick glance outside the Angus Glen Community Centre gives the impression of an ordinary hockey camp. The parking lot is full of mini-vans, SUVs, and one lonely, little Echo. Inside is a damp, sweaty arena with kids lined up behind the net, awaiting instructions, while parents sip lukewarm double doubles. Everything about this March Break 2009 camp is typical except for the coach.

Like most of his young charges, he too dreamed of playing hockey for a living. As a little boy in Scarborough he donned hockey gear to spend Saturday nights in front of the TV watching the Toronto Maple Leafs play in the boom of Foster Hewitt’s voice at Maple Leaf Gardens.

As a teen he was a high-scoring junior in that same arena, hanging his helmet a stone’s throw from his hockey heroes.

As a man, seven years into his pro career, his childhood dream finally came true. January 16, 1991 Peter Zezel became a Toronto Maple Leaf.

In the summer of 1998, anticipating a post-playing career, he became a camp director. 11 years and hundreds of clients later, he still operates Peter Zezel Hockey and Sports Camps. The one week summer camps run all day and include swimming, soccer, and golf in addition to hockey drills.

Christmas and March Break camps consist of 90 minute, on-ice sessions Monday through Friday.

At some celebrity camps the namesake shows up only in the brochure. That’s not the case here. “With my name attached it has to become a good camp,” said Zezel. “You know how word of mouth really travels? We have a lot of kids that come back.”

Zezel and his senior instructors, Jim Carey and Sam Katsuras are usually first to arrive at the rink and last to leave.

Carey was the Toronto Maple Leafs equipment manager during the Pat Burns glory days and has had a successful career. In addition to being a Level III coach, Carey has won awards as a trainer and equipment manager including a Canada Cup ring.

Katsuras is a full-time school teacher who has played in the OHL, CHL, and ECHL. He also plays for the Hellenic Lightning of the CMHL, where he tied for third in 2008 tournament scoring.

When the former faceoff phenom isn’t around, all is in good hands, but make no mistake - this is definitely Zezel`s baby. He is hands on, spending a good 20-30 minutes planning drills and assessing progress before heading onto the ice himself. He`s even been known to do the odd coffee run.

Back at the March Break house league camp, one young defenceman gets hands-on help with pivot techniques while another receives assistance with goaltending, including how to correctly put on the pads.

The youngest one, nicknamed Timbit by one of the rinkside parents, looks like a bobblehead on ice, warming the hearts, if not the quickly cooling coffees of all who watch. Occasionally he takes a break and lays down on the player bench, but not for long.
Within a few minutes, big, caring hands come along to prod Timbit back onto the ice.

Like his coaching mentor, Mike Keenan, Zezel expects a certain work ethic, “The parents want hard work, they want the kids to work hard and get something out of the camp.”

Don’t worry though – the kids don’t have to retrieve their hockey bags from the bowels of the arena the way some of Keenan’s players did. At this stage, it’s still about enjoyment. “We provide something that revolves around having fun for hockey again,” said the ex-Leaf. “I see over years and years of developing these kids now that the fun is really starting to get out of the game. We’re in this camp to provide fun for the kids and to develop the kids as best we can, and mostly to have fun doing it.”

Judging by kids who are reluctant to leave on the final day of camp, it looks like they’ve succeeded.

Being a former Toronto Maple Leaf has some perks. Immunity to the current economic downturn isn’t one of them. There were only nine participants in the house league group for the March Break camp. That said, the AA, AAA, and team sessions were full.

Parents don’t think sending their children to this camp, any camp, will magically give them a 15-year NHL career like Peter Zezel’s. They do believe, however, the skills and discipline they learn from participating will benefit their children off the ice as much if not more, than on it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

More Proof Hockey Rules My Life

My son's hockey team will experience their first tournament this weekend. Parents, kids, and coaches are excited, especially since it's a chance to face some rival teams from our league.

One of the players, our captain, moved last weekend. His mother has been so busy working nights, unpacking, and doing "mum stuff" that - gasp - she hasn't checked her email for a week. I laughed because I've gone longer without brushing my teeth than without reading my email.

This however, was no time for chuckles. She asked what the schedule was so I filled her in - season end breakfast at 9AM, then game 1 at 1PM, game 2 at 5PM.

She: "Game 2? Both games on Saturday? Oh no, then we can't do it. Saturday's my only free day."

Now it was my turn to panic.

Me: "He has to be there! He's our top scorer!"
She: "I can't give up the whole day!"

Apologies to Blackadder fans, I have a cunning plan.

Me: "If you can get him to the breakfast, he can stay with us for the weekend."
She: "Really?"
Me: "You have to ask? Consider it done."
She: "Well, your boy will come out here one weekend."

Whew. Another minor hockey crisis averted.

This defies logic. In between spending two full days at the rink, I have to cover another tournament and still find time to write four articles by Monday. There's also the matter of tracking down a few people to get quotes.

Why am I bringing another person into my home to look after in the middle of all this?

Why not? Hockey players, teammates, know all about looking after each other.

In hockey, friendships don't end when the arena doors close behind us.