A farewell to hockey

August 31st, 2015 1 comment

Ten years of hockey. That’s what fate gave me. I cherished them. They are now in the past.

As I related in my previous blog post, I had been playing for almost exactly 10 years when I suffered a bad knee injury in December 2014. My MCL was sprained in an on-ice collision. Goaltending places enormous stresses on the MCL, and I suddenly found myself unable to stay stable in my stance let alone move as a goalie must. An attempt to return to the ice — perhaps too soon — led only to a painful re-injury of my knee and crushed hopes.

I always knew that I’d need to hang up my skates someday. I never expected to be in my early 30s when that day came.

Skating towards my net in November 2014, the week before my knee injury (Photo: Tyler)

Skating towards my net in November 2014, the week before my knee injury (Photo: Tyler)

When I chose to start my hockey career by playing goalie at a learn-to-play session in December 2004, I joined a hallowed fraternity. Jacques Plante, Vladislav Tretiak, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur… those men were my hockey heroes: the ones defending their nets, not the skaters putting pucks past their opponents.

Although I wasn’t a particularly good hockey goalie, I truly loved playing. Goalie was an individual position in the midst of a team sport. Goalie required an analytical mind. Goalie rewarded strong legs and steely courage. Goalie had cool gear.

I think I liked hockey precisely because I wasn’t good at it; it was an enjoyable challenge for me. I had begun to expect success at whatever I tried, and with hockey that turned out not to be the case.

Hockey taught me humility when my teams would lose by half a dozen goals. In the locker room after those miserable games, all I wanted to do was curl up in the corner and disappear. The numbers on the scoreboard were undeniable reality. But I couldn’t disappear; and I would have to come back again the next week with the same teammates; and so I was forced to learn how to deal with defeat.

But victory? What a high, what a thrill! The celebration in front of the net, the pats of congratulation on my mask, the satisfaction of a job well done, the memories of saves. Beautiful saves!

The victory was sweetest when my goaltending made an undeniable contribution to the win. In many games, my team won in spite of me, but once in a while we triumphed because of my performance.

In the summer of 2014, my team won a game in a shootout after ending regulation tied 0-0. Not only did I get the shutout and the shootout win, but I had earned it. I was in the zone. I was seeing the puck. I was making saves, and those saves were making a difference. I felt prescient.

We go through life seeking those often-fleeting moments of flow. When we achieve them the high is as sublime as any drug. That win was one of my happiest hockey moments.

I had never been athletic growing up, nor was I on any team sports. Hockey was my way of experiencing that joy as an adult. Out there on the ice, we were all just big kids having fun. I regret not playing hockey as a child, but I’m glad I started eventually rather than never. I’m so glad I continued to play while I was able.

Hockey gave me a reason to look forward during dark times. My hockey trip, where I played in every American state and every Canadian province, was born of near desperation to escape what had become a year of failure. Hockey became a goal, a reason to get up, a reason to dream again.

“The Trip” fulfilled its promise. It changed me. It became a profound pillar in my life history, an epoch marker. From then on, everything was “before my hockey trip” or “after my hockey trip.”

I miss the sound of steel on ice. I miss the bracing cold of the rinks. I miss the camaraderie of the locker room, the pre-game rituals, the post-game beers whether in victory or defeat.

Oh sure, I might still be able to skate out, but I never found as much joy in that as when I was in net. For me, playing hockey means playing goalie.

Perhaps, given enough time, my knee will eventually be strong enough for me to return to the ice. I hope that will come to pass. If not, at least I can look back with fond memories of the decade of my life when I was a hockey goalie.

The knee

August 28th, 2015 Comments off

My first thought was that my team really needed to get the puck out of the zone. My second thought was that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stand up again.

It was a beer-league hockey game in December 2014 at the Ice Ranch in Littleton, Colorado. Only a few minutes had gone by in the game and my team was ahead by five goals. I was in net pitching a shutout. We weren’t usually that good — the season was actually going quite poorly — but we were helped by the fact that our opponents were playing with no goalie at all. Something about a mix-up getting a backup tendy.

Me, in mid-movement to my left during a game in November 2014 (Photo: Tyler)

Since they were skating six men, they managed to break it out of their zone. Their center carried the puck to near the faceoff circle to my right, so I followed him over in my stance. Suddenly, one of my defensemen collided with me from my left — behind the play. I went to the ice on my back, and he fell on top of me. Since I had been in my stance, my knee was bent when he hit me, and when we went down, he pinned my lower left leg back and to the side of my upper left leg, bent and slightly rotated. A body isn’t supposed to twist like that.

I felt a pop and then sharp pain in my left knee. I screamed.

My team’s failure to clear the puck out of our zone ended up irrelevant since the ref blew his whistle within a few seconds of the collision. After my d-man got off of me, I rolled over and tried to move my leg. It responded, but something was definitely loose. The sharp pain had been replaced by a dull numbness, the sort that heralds an injury that will be terrible once the swelling starts and the adrenaline wears off.

Somehow, I stood up and limped to the bench. I had a vague notion that I might be able to work it out or stretch it out or will it out… or something. In hindsight, my mental state was a bigger liability than my leg. I was terrified that I might have had a severe knee injury, unsure of what to do, and even less sure about the conflicting instructions being tossed my way by well-meaning teammates on the bench.

With the other team’s goalie still absent, and me on the bench with a loose knee and sheer terror in my mind, an extremely rare event occurred in the game: both nets were empty. It was something I’d never seen before in any organized game at any level of hockey.

Unfortunately, my team was less deft at running up the score with both nets empty than with only our opponent’s goal unmanned. Our opponents were more skilled; the tally moved closer to parity with every ticking minute. Then, worse news for us: a guy who looked high school age with goalie sticks in one hand and a goalie equipment bag in the other was rushing towards the changing room.

My team begged me to go back on the ice. I wanted nothing more than to rejoin them in battle, but my left knee protested. It felt as though any stress would cause whatever shreds of tissue were holding it together to give way entirely. Perhaps I could go back to the net and just stand there, one teammate asked? I hesitated for a moment, watched yet another puck go in our still-empty net, and decided to give it a try.

I normally played goalie in the butterfly style, which takes away most of the lower part of the net but places high levels of stress on the knees. With my left knee no longer able to tolerate that abuse, I was forced to play more of a standup style. It was a return to an earlier time, something seldom seen since the early 1990s.

Although my legs were fixed upright, my hands were still free to move, and I began turning away shots with my stick, glove, and blocker. About five minutes after my return, the other team finally got a goalie in their net, too, and the game began in earnest.

I wish I could say that my personal shutout continued, but it was not to be. A lack of mobility was too much to overcome, and I let in another goal or two after my return. Fortunately, my team had managed to find the back of the net enough times in the early minutes of the game that we still pulled out the win overall.

My job completed, I limp-skated off the ice and into the dressing room. My knee had already begun to swell.

By the next morning, I was in tremendous pain, my knee was swollen so much that it barely bent at all, and it was all I could do to let Sophie outside into my fenced yard. Our usual morning and afternoon walks were out of the question.

There was but one question on my mind: had I skated my last game of hockey?

(To be continued.)

Car Number Seven

June 28th, 2015 1 comment

Just before the turn, I downshifted to 2nd, blipped the gas, and let the clutch out. The tires strained against the forces of the curve. I gradually opened the throttle. The flat-6 engine behind my head sang, its harmonic chorus growing more glorious with the increasing revs.

And so it went. The miles descending from Nederland toward Denver snapped by in quick joy. Not far from the top, another silver Boxster S, nearly identical to my own, popped out behind me. He waved; I waved back. We chased each other through the forested hills.

The sun was out, so I had the top down. The sweet perfume of pine permeated the cool morning air. I’d driven Coal Creek Canyon Road before, but never had it been such a zesty enterprise. That’s not to say the speeds were illegal; no, the twisty road combined with an amazing mid-engine car provided spice without excess speed. A pleasant drive is a meditation that clears the mind.

My Porsche Boxster S

While I was growing up, my dad owned a series of interesting cars. The one that captured my heart wasn’t the Corvette. Instead, it was the red 1978 Porsche 911SC. His was a “targa” model, meaning that it had a partially removable roof. It was the car I learned to drive a stick in. I remember cruising along, open sky above my head, the tires gripping the Minnesota country roads. What a blast! I knew that, someday, I wanted a Porsche of my own.

Me in my dad’s 911SC around the year 2000

For the next 15 years, other priorities held sway. Then, this spring, the flame was rekindled.

I was shooting sporting clays with my friend Kameron and his coworker Gavin in early April. Gavin mentioned that he raced Porsches with the local Porsche club. “Ah yes,” I thought. “I remember wanting to do that.”

Two weeks later, Tyler bought an MG Midget — a classic British sports car. He gave me the opportunity to drive it, which I accepted. It had been eight years since I sold my sports sedan, the BMW 540i. I’d forgotten how much fun it was to drive a car built for the joy of driving. I started looking for a car of my own.

At first, I thought I wanted an air-cooled Porsche 911. Then I saw the prices. Seems they had gone up significantly since my dad has his car in the 1990s. I adjusted my sights towards a newer-yet-still-old 911 model, the type 996, which, being water cooled, was less desirable to enthusiasts and therefore substantially cheaper.

I was looking for a closed-cockpit coupe, not a convertible. I didn’t see the appeal of a drop-top. The trip across Colorado in Tyler’s MG, which was a convertible, changed my mind. Despite the MG’s top not sealing well against rain (duct tape to the rescue!), and although I got a sunburn on my arms, face, and neck, I had a great time being out in the open. I began to understand why people liked convertibles.

I researched the Boxster, a convertible, and I realized that I could get a good one for less money than a type-996 911 in equivalent condition. Never mind my other biases about the Boxster. Sure, I had thought the back end was ugly and that the whole car was a “poor man’s” 911, not a worthy car in its own right. Then I started reading people rave about the driving experience, and I decided that it was one of those cars that photographs poorly but looks good in person.

I found my future vehicle on Cars.com. It was the right color — for Porsches should only ever be silver or red — it had the right transmission, a stick, and it had the bigger “S” engine, a 3.2 L beast instead of the basic 2.7 L.

The Boxster was at home on Colorado’s twisty mountain roads

Bob, the defense attorney who sold the Boxster to me, was upgrading to a 911. In the three years he owned it, he spent thousands replacing the convertible top, tires, brakes, and numerous bits and pieces related to the engine. He even saw fit to replace the missing “Boxster S” badge on the trunk. Such was his attention to detail. It wasn’t the cheapest Boxster available, but there is nothing so expensive as a cheap exotic car.

My other car with a flat-6, my Subaru Outback, was still objectively better than the Boxster in nearly all regards. It was newer, quieter, more powerful, more comfortable, and more spacious. It could drive through snow. It could pass over bumps taller than four inches. And yet, for the pure thrill of driving, the Boxster bested it. With a curb weight of just 2800 lbs, nearly 800 less than the Outback, the Boxster felt far quicker and more nimble. Indeed, I was taking advantage of that in Coal Creek Canyon.

My drive through the foothills led to flatlands, and eventually our fun little road met its end at a boring stoplight. The other Boxster turned his way, and I turned mine.


  • Meridian silver metallic 2002 Porsche Boxster S
  • 3.2 L naturally aspirated flat-6
  • 6-speed manual transmission
  • 250 hp / 225 lb-ft
  • Natural grey leather interior
  • 66,200 miles when acquired (June 18, 2015)


MG in the mountains

June 21st, 2015 Comments off

The little MG Midget was struggling. The altitude and the climb appeared to be wreaking havoc with the 1970-vintage British four-banger up front. She’d be fine for a while, then suddenly she’d seem to be on her last legs. Then, without warning, everything would be fine again. And so it went, all the way up 11,300 ft Berthoud Pass.

Tyler and I were on our way from Denver to Glenwood Springs. We were competing in a “rallye” organized by the local MG Car Club. In a time-speed-distance rallye — yes, that’s how they spell it — teams follow a list of driving directions and attempt to hit checkpoints at precise times. Early or late arrivals at the checkpoints worsens one’s score.

Tyler had acquired his MG a couple months earlier. There seemed to be no better way to enjoy it than with many other like-minded individuals.

Tyler’s 1970 MG Midget

I think that everybody born before 1975 has an MG story. They had one, or their parents had one, or they knew somebody who had one. Always past tense — everybody owned one and nobody owns one. So it goes with sports cars; the same could probably be said about Corvettes.

The day had begun in a downpour. The remains of Hurricane Blanca were over Colorado, and the heavens were adding precipitously to what had already been a very wet June. In the years since the MG was built, the front seal on the convertible top had deteriorated. Or perhaps it had never worked, British automotive engineering being what it was. No matter. A quick stop and a roll of duct tape came to the rescue.

Unfortunately, there appeared to be no role for duct tape in solving our engine problems. Speculation abounded about why we appeared to be intermittently lacking one cylinder.

Was it the cooling system? That was the leading hypothesis for a while. Despite a supplemental electric cooling fan and having the cabin heat on high, the temperature gauge still read near the top of its surprisingly limited range.

Was it general engine malaise? The previous owner had had the engine rebuilt just a thousand miles earlier, so something like poor compression seemed unlikely.

Was it something to do with the altitude? The Midget was built before the era of fuel injection, and its carburetors had been tuned for the significantly lower Denver elevation, so that seemed plausible.

Then, there was what would become my favorite guess: a rather vague “something to do with the ignition system.” Although I couldn’t articulate my exact reasoning, it seemed like a problem where one cylinder appeared to spontaneously cut out and then spontaneously rejoin the party was likely to be electrical.

After an agonizing (yet beautiful) grind up the pass, the summit mercifully presented itself. We had crested the highest point of the trip. The duct tape was ripped off, the top was stowed, and we cruised down into Winter Park in classic style. The sun smiled on us.

Touring the Colorado countryside behind a rainbow of other old MGs

The rallye proceeded along its meandering route towards Glenwood Springs. The engine continued to be temperamental, but the old girl never stopped lugging us along.

We made it to our destination after about 270 miles of driving spread across eight hours. Our performance in the rallye had steadily improved, and by the later stages we were claiming errors of just a few tens of seconds. Our skin was sunburned, our legs were cramped, and our smiles were large.

The MG Rallye route from Denver to Glenwood Springs


Days later, safely back in Denver after a lower and more southerly return journey, Tyler figured out the cause of the problem: there was coolant in the distributor. At least one cylinder wasn’t getting spark.

The car’s performance in the face of that challenge was all the more impressive. The original 60 horsepower had been reduced by at least 25%, and yet she still managed to climb through the Rockies.

Like the Little Engine That Could, the MG made it. “I thought I could! I thought I could!”


Homeownership is the art of plumbing

November 13th, 2014 Comments off

I woke up this morning to find the sun shining and the world glistening white. As always, I let Sophie outside and back in, then I returned upstairs for a warm shower. I twisted the knob to hot on the shower. Instead of a glorious steamy spray of heat, my action was met only with a dribble of cold. There was no water pressure. I put on a robe and began to investigate.

Despite being only November, the temperature had dipped to -10 °F overnight. My immediate suspicion was that a pipe had frozen somewhere or a water main had burst. The problem with the idea about a pipe freezing was that none of my plumbing ran in exposed locations. While my water heater did reside in a closet attached to my garage, the door opened into the garage, and being a townhouse, the garage stayed relatively warm: 45 °F according to my IR thermometer. The closet, which also held my furnace, was about the same temperature.

A new possibility sprung to mind. What if the pipe leading from the main to my meter had frozen? That would have been a real pain, as it ran underneath my concrete driveway.

Perhaps the blockage was somewhere else in the house, maybe a poorly routed pipe running through an exterior wall. I started going through the various faucets in the house and turning on the hot water to no avail. Then I got to the kitchen sink, which unlike the other faucets had a single handle to mix both hot and cold. I pulled the handle, and a healthy stream of water came out. Curious, I moved the handle back and forth from cold to hot. Cold worked great. Hot worked not at all. I figured that something had clogged the hot water heater.

Back to the garage I went.

With a flashlight, I began inspecting the hot water heater and its pipework. I followed the hot-water outflow pipe up from the water heater and… right past the fresh-air intake for the furnace.

Cold air getting sucked past the water pipes

Cold air getting sucked past the water pipes

The furnace had been running a lot during the night, so it had been consuming a lot of air, so a lot of very cold outside air had been flowing into the closet. Since no hot water was flowing while I was sleeping, all of that cold air had cooled the hot water line below the freezing point. A quick check with the IR thermometer confirmed that a short section of the pipe was at 28 °F –just below freezing.

Crossing my fingers that the pipe had not been frozen severely enough or long enough to do any lasting damage, I decided to unthaw that section. First, I turned on several faucets to hot so that any water movement would draw hot water from the tank and warm the icy blockage. Next, I got out a space heater, set it to high, and pointed it at the pipe above my head. After about a minute, I started hearing the hiss of a small amount of water beginning to flow. Thirty seconds after that, there was a bang, the pipe shook, and the water flowed. No leaks.

Back at the faucets, the water was gushing forth, hot and plentiful. I smiled and took a gloriously warm shower.

Update: It turned out that there was a second vent pipe to the outside.  It’s visible as the large bent pipe in the background of the image above. The vent pipe that was causing me problems appears to have no specific purpose. I’m at a loss to explain it; it doesn’t appear on any furnace-installation diagrams that I’ve found. I could see how it might be useful if I were to install a high-efficiency furnace in the future, as those vent out walls instead of out a chimney, but that’s just speculation.

Update 2: Apparently, it’s not uncommon to have a second vent to the outside. I ended up solving my problem by adding foam insulation around the pipes and adding some semi-rigid material to deflect any incoming air away from the pipes.