The Last Game

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest from Los Angeles nearly 21 years ago, we were Kings hockey fans. We became hockey fans when the great Wayne Gretzky took the city by storm and turned Los Angeles into a hockey town. But with the move north, we soon started attending the games in Vancouver, B.C., just 45 miles across the border and soon traded our Kings sweaters for Canucks colors.

At the time, we had three little boys, one of whom was already playing hockey and a second who began not long after we relocate. Travelling to Vancouver for a hockey game became a special family outing. The boys quickly memorized the names of all the players and, in the case of my oldest son, even recognized the referees.

Together with two of my sons who, like me, became Canucks fans at one of the games we attended together.

Gradually, we learned the best route into downtown Vancouver where the arena is located, the places to eat before or after the game if we didn’t want stadium food, the time to leave to insure we arrived in time for the first face-off, and, most importantly, where we could park the car for without paying a hefty $20 to $30 lot fees near the arena. For a while, we took the Sky Train in and out. And after the Olympics in 2010, the adjacent neighborhoods changed bringing new restaurants, shops and traffic patterns, especially around the Olympic Village which completely revived that decaying area.

A pair of our tickets from this year’s season. Will miss our seats.

It wasn’t long before we bought season tickets located in the upper level, attacking end of the ice near the gate and up high enough so that the protective netting above the glass didn’t interfere with my camera angle. I became pretty adept at shooting the action on the ice from far away with my point-and-shoot cameras because cameras with removable lens aren’t allowed inside. One of my best shots was the one when Alex Burrows fired a game winning goal in overtime past the shoulder of the Chicago Blackhawks goalie to cinch the play-offs for the Canucks and send them to the Stanley Cup finals.

I captured the winning shot by Alex Burrows that sent the Canucks into the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.

There are other memories as well.  Like the New Year’s Eve we took the boys for the then traditional game against Philadelphia and stayed overnight in the Vancouver Hotel. The next morning, the boys and I snuck into one of the hotel’s ballrooms where a party from the night before was still strewn with discarded party hats that we then put on our own heads and danced around. Or the year that my youngest son’s hockey team got to come out on the ice during the first period break and play a quick ten-minute game for the home crowd. After the Canucks game, they were escorted down to the locker room waiting area where they met Matt Cook, then a rookie, who signed autographs for them. My son later had Cook’s name stamped on his Canuck’s jersey. Cook was later traded but has since retired back to Vancouver.

I won’t forget the first time the Sedin twins skated onto the ice making their NHL debut. They’re now the ‘old men’ on the team but still dominating.

Of course, we won’t forget the first time that the Sedin twins from Sweden—Henrik and Daniel—first skated onto the ice to join the team. They were only 17 and celebrated their 18th birthday with a crowd of 18,000. The Sedins are now 36 and Henrik, who’s currently Captain, is the team’s all-time leading scorer.

We were there for the retirement of Markus Naslund’s number but missed the raising of Trevor Linden’s banner due to an ice storm. Our Vancouver friends got our tickets instead.

The 2016-17 season opening night line-up. In recent years, the Canucks games have become known for their production quality.

Then there are the not-so-great memories like the terrible incident with Todd Bertuzzi in 2004 who assaulted an opposing player whose injuries ended his career and Bertuzzi’s too with the Canucks. And Manny Maholtra who fans loved and who unfortunately received a serious injury to his left eye from a puck and lost significant vision. He’s now back as a Development Coach with the Canucks.

My son, Marshall, studies the game whenever he goes to see the Canucks. One reason he probably became such a good player himself.

There are memories too of the crowd cheering “LOOOOOOOOU” for goalie Roberto Luongo and the standing ovation the fans gave him upon returning from the Canadian Olympic Gold Medal win in 2010. Memorable too was the moment of silence our Canadian friends respectfully paid to the U.S. when the season opened after ‘9-11.’  The sympathy we received from our seatmates who knew we drove up for the games from the States was touching and overwhelming. And the friendship we developed over the years with Terri and son, Calum, who sometimes meet us for dinner, join us for a game or take our tickets when there’s a game we must miss.

Waving white hand towels, as my son demonstrates here, is a play-off game tradition that began with the Canucks.

We were there for the start of traditions such as twirling white hand towels above your head during play-off games. Or laughing at the antics of the ‘green men’, covered head to toe in green skin-tight body suits. Or watching the giant Orca blimp bob high around the arena dropping prizes to fans below until one night the remote-controlled balloon dive-bombed the crowd and lost its job.

Only once did we catch one of the T-shirts propelled by an air gun into the stands by Fin, the team’s Orca mascot. Once was I caught momentarily on the big screen when the camera turned on to our section. Never did we win the 50-50 cash raffle benefitting Canucks Place, the team’s charity for critically ill children. Never did Fin stick our head into its giant tooth-lined mouth as it did with other fans although I managed to snag a photo with the oversized Orca once during a period break.

During a period break, Fin managed to snag a photo with me!

The memories will continue but the season tickets will not. At least not for now. Last night was our last game as a season ticket holder. Forty games a season is just too many for us to make with our sons no longer around to The league also has changed the scheduling so that the Canucks, who must travel further than any other NHL team, are away for long stretches then back home to play games almost back-to-back. That much back and forth for us to Vancouver is more than we can fit into our already busy lives right now.

So as much as we hate giving up those great seats, we’re not taking them again next year. We’ll still go to games to cheer on our Canucks. But won’t be there as often and may not be sitting in ‘our’ seats. For us, it’s the end of a season and the end of an era. It’s been fun. Thanks Canucks!

The last game of the season marked the end of an era for my family.

 

Covering a ‘Hot’ Topic at ’84 Summer Olympics–Men’s Water Polo

American swimmer Michael Phelps is making a big splash at this year’s Olympic games but at the 1984 Olympics it was a water polo player named Terry Schroeder and the men’s Olympic water polo team who were catching the eye of fans, especially female fans.

Members of the 1984 U.S. Mens Waterpolo team await their turn in the pool.
Members of the 1984 U.S. Mens Water polo team await their turn in the pool.

That year, the men’s water polo team was anticipated to take the gold medal and I was assigned by TIME Magazine to cover their games.  The assignment had nothing to do with my knowledge of the sport, which was zero at the time, but everything to do with its proximity to where I lived.  I simply was closest to where the water polo events were being played, at Pepperdine University‘s pool in Malibu.

I had only to drive over Malibu Canyon Rd or Topanga Canyon Road from my home in the San Fernando Valley, drop down to the ocean side town and make my way to the pool that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. From my spot in the stands, I watched the men’s team battle it out each day while I got a good tan and enjoyed the view, both in the pool and beyond.

In the game against Yugoslavia, the U.S. team races towards its goal while being chased by their opponents in the dark caps.
In the game against Yugoslavia, the U.S. team races towards its goal while being chased by their opponents in the dark caps.

Water polo, which has grown in popularity in the U.S. since then, was largely dominated by European teams at the time. But the ‘84 American team played in a style that was said to be ‘revolutionizing’ the sport. As then coach Monte Nitzkowski explained to me, they borrowed a lot of their technique from American basketball and football to make their playing look “creative and instinctive.” That, plus the fact that they were fast and highly mobile, put their chances for winning the gold medal better than in any previous Olympic Games. (Sadly, Nitzkowski just died recently on July 28 at age 86.)

But while their athleticism was exciting, their physiques were, how to put it, well quite explicitly, ‘hot.’ The poster of the 16-man team posed poolside instantly sold out its first run of 10,000 with two additional printings equally as popular.  The team had to set up a special toll-free number just to handle the order requests. And the poster, along with my reporting about it, appeared in TIME’s People section of the magazine.

USA player Terry Schroeder is interviewed poolside by a member of the television media at the 1984 Olympic games.
USA player Terry Schroeder is interviewed poolside by a member of the television media at the 1984 Olympic games.

Sculptor Robert Graham, was also struck by the water polo players’ perfect  physiques. He selected one of them–Terry Schroeder–to pose for the giant sculpture of a headless male figure, very controversial at the time, that towered before the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies took place. The model’s identity was to have been a secret, but somehow it was disclosed that Schroeder had been chosen.

Goalie Craig Wilson of the U.S. team leaps out of the water to stop an anticipated attempt at a goal by the Yugoslavian team. Wilson is considered to be the best goalie to have played the sport.
Goalie Craig Wilson of the U.S. team leaps out of the water to stop an anticipated attempt at a goal by the Yugoslavian team. Wilson is considered to be the best goalie to have played the sport.

Water polo‘s a fast game, one that demands an excellent backstroke, strong legs to propel the player up and out of the water with the ‘eggbeater’ kick in order to pass the ball to teammates and speed to out swim the opponents when attacking the goal.  I had to be a quick study to learn the basics of the game and understand the qualities that made the players so good. It helped that I was, and still am, a swimmer myself. Despite expectations, the 1984 team lost in the finals to Yugoslavia to capture the silver instead of the gold medal.

This year’s Olympics’ men’s water polo team didn’t make it through to the Quarter Finals but the women’s team (which didn’t exist in 1984) will be playing this week as they advanced in the competition.  Although a difficult game to watch on television as much of the action occurs underwater,  tune in and I think you too will discover how exciting the game is and just how strong and skilled the players must be.

Me, on the job, as a reporter for TIME Magazine's Los Angeles bureau covering the waterpolo competition at the 1984 Olympics.
Me, on the job, as a reporter for TIME Magazine’s Los Angeles bureau covering the water polo competition at the 1984 Olympics.

The 1984 mens team captured the imagination and eye of America’s Olympic fans across the country and no doubt, raised the awareness for the sport. And, I’m pleased to say, I watched it happen while reporting on them for the magazine.

 

 

Hail to the Kings!

Los Angeles waited 45 years for its first Stanley Cup so when the L.A. Kings captured hockey’s top trophy the townsfolk gathered there in the arena on Monday night went crazy!

After the final championship game, which his team won, in the College Scholarship Tournament in Vancouver B.C. Marshall was the only U.S. player chosen for the invitational tournament.

The city’s love affair with the Kings began about the time that Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, stepped onto the ice in 1988.  His time with the team coincided nearly exactly to the  years my son, Marshall, spent as a young boy in Los Angeles.  In fact, Marshall’s early interest in the sport, at age 4 and nurtured by his grandmother,was what introduced my family to ice hockey.  To say that he was “interested” in hockey is an understatement.  Passionate is more accurate.  He still has years worth collecting of hockey cards to prove it, as well as a love of the game that continues today even though he no longer plays.

Marshall began playing hockey,
like a lot of Southern California kids,
on roller skates and blades.

Marshall was like a lot of kids in Los Angeles at that time who became excited about a fast-paced, hard-hitting, highly skilled sport that was taking the city by storm.  A large part of hockey’s popularity in a city where it seldom snows was due to the invention of roller blades.  Kids no longer needed ice to play, not with all the parking lots available throughout town.  Teens, like our babysitter, Andy,  for example, would leave his evening  job with us about 11 p.m. and head directly to the Target parking lot just in time for a pick up hockey game with friends.

Our son too started in roller hockey, playing in organized leagues that faced off in parking lots as well as in local rinks.  But when we made the move north to Bellingham, he switched to ice hockey so that he could play with the local minor league team, the only one in the country that plays an entire schedule against Canadian teams just across the border.  He was no Gretzky, or even Luc Robitaille who was his favorite Kings player at the time, but he became an accomplished player  ending up among the top ranking high school players in the Western U.S. and Canada.

During Marshall’s hockey playing years (our son, Tim, also played for a short time), my husband and I learned a lot about hockey and are now avid fans.  I also learned how to shoot the games while the boys were shooting pucks.  I now take my trusty point and shoot with me to most of the Canucks games and manage to capture some pretty amazing images with it, despite it’s limitations.

Canucks goalie Cory Schneider and defensemen foil a goal attempt by Kings Captain Dustin Brown during a game this season in Vancouver.

Marshall’s hung up his hockey sticks for now, trading them for drumsticks, but he continues to be a big fan of the game, as does our entire family, and joins us whenever he can for Vancouver Canucks’ games.  Even though our loyalty to the Kings isn’t as strong since our relocation, we were thrilled by the team’s win on Monday.  I even wore my old Kings sweater as I watched the televised games.  So a hearty congratulations to the Kings.  Maybe next year it will be the Canucks turn…..