HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER

 

From overcoming the denial of yet another finished season to the anticipation of the next one, there is a never ending struggle to find a balance between tending to our everyday summer duties and keeping our mind off the fact there are no games to watch on television.  Yes, summer is great in its own way, but for us hockey fans, myself included, there is a sort of emptiness which can’t be explained by conventional means, a hunger which can’t be overcome by food or water.  Especially now as the nights get cooler, no matter how hard we try (at least for me anyway), there just seems to be no filling this void until the puck drops on a brand new season.

I’ve previously written about some of the ways I attempt to overcome this struggle which we refer to as hockey withdrawal.  I’ve decided to revisit this topic because the last time around I got a ton of response from people just like myself who go through the same struggle and wish to help satiate their appetite for some hard hitting, tight checking ice action.  Perhaps even you fans of other sports out there have experienced this as well.  The closer the new season gets, the more we hunger in anticipation of another fun filled season.  Over the past year I’ve found a few new ways to help me get through the days and nights until October arrives.

If you’ve gone shopping at your local Wal-Mart or even your friendly neighborhood grocery store recently, you may have already met McFarlane.  The folks over at McFarlane Toys have released a whole line of action figures for virtually every professional sport in North America, and they’ve taken the world by storm.  For hockey, they’ve managed to create five series of molded players in their favorite on ice poses.  Simply finding them has become somewhat of a collector’s nightmare.  I bought my first one last winter when Series 4 came out, Ryan Smyth complete with a stick, puck, and a platform to hold him up.  These toys are so well detailed with actual tape around the stick and perfectly painted jersey and socks.  A few selected goalies even come complete with a net, goalie stick and a water bottle!  It’s almost a shame to open up the plastic packaging these models come in.  Thanks to a Wal-Mart five dollar rollback special, one model quickly became the entire fourth series.  Players like Jeremy Roenick, Brendan Shanahan, Jocelyn Thibault, Ron Francis, Jarome Iginla, and one of my favorites, Ilya Kovalchuk positioned coming over a fake board, all now sit on a shelf I put up for this very purpose.  Recently, a fifth series of players was released, but not just any series, a special Canadian version which sees the likes of Patrick Roy in his old Montreal Canadiens uniform, Joe Sakic donning the former Quebec Nordiques attire, and Mark Messier with the old style Edmonton Oilers jersey all come mixed with the likes of Tie Domi, Saku Koivu, Marian Hossa and Dan Cloutier dressed in their current teams’ clothes.  The only problem is, try finding them all.  By sheer fluke, I was fortunate enough to snag myself an impossible to find Patrick Roy, which has been seen on Ebay selling for no less than $100 US.

One of the things die hard collectors of these models really go for are a series of variants which are essentially the same players in a given series, but with a different look to them.  For instance, the Mark Messier I mentioned comes in the old Oilers blue road jersey, but the variant has the home white.  I somehow was lucky enough yet again to find a couple of these variants, and I kid you not they all disappeared from the store less than twelve hours after I purchased them, not just the one store I found them at, but all the stores I’ve checked since.  A lesson is to be learned here, when you see them, buy them.  The variants I managed to find have stayed sealed in their package for safe keeping.  McFarlane seems to have started something here which is reminiscent of the Cabbage Patch doll craze from way back when.  In any event, there will be two more series released before the end of the year, so keep your eyes peeled and keep away from my shopping cart!

 

 

For those of you who like to read it, the new official NHL yearbook has recently hit your favorite news stand.  This book has everything, all the stats, all the players, a look back at the playoffs, the awards, the draft picks, a season preview of all the NHL teams, along with the full 2003-04 NHL schedule.  Often imitated, never duplicated, pick it up now.

Video games continue to be an integral part of my summer nights.  I’m playing through my umptillionth season of NHL 2003 in anticipation of EA Sports’ biggest and best hockey game yet, NHL 2004.  While it promises to be the ultimate in sports gaming, it will have some healthy competition this time around, at least for those who aren’t using a PC.  Sega has teamed up with ESPN for ESPN NHL Hockey 2004, which will replace the NHL2K series.  Midway is coming back with their latest adrenaline style hockey game, NHL Hitz Pro.  And Microsoft is getting on the ice this year as well with NHL Rivals 2004.  EA should still end up with the upper hand here as they will still have the only title to cross all platforms.  Microsoft’s game will be produced exclusively for the Xbox, and the Midway and Sega titles will only be available for Playstation 2 and Xbox.  This means if you have a Nintendo Gamecube or a PC then you’re out of luck, NHL 2004 it is!  This is a good thing, as EA appears to have taken their game to a whole new level (and it’s about time).  I don’t want to give away too much about the new game because as always, I will have a full review for you in September after I’ve spent many sleepless nights playing it.  Hockey promises to be the game of choice for many gamers this fall, both online and off.  Are you game?

Last week I sat down with some representatives of NHL Centre Ice to get some information on one of the hottest pay per view sports packages available (what can I say, when you work for your local cable company, you get the inside scoop).  This year we’ll see more games than ever before, as up to 40 out of market games per week are on the slate.  The only thing to remember here is your local team will always be broadcast locally due to blackout restrictions, but thanks to this package you won’t miss too many of the other games that you wouldn’t otherwise see.  Call your local cable or satellite provider for more details and reserve the best seat in your house for the upcoming season.  I also want to thank ESPN Classics and the NHL Network for getting me through with more than a few classic games.  If you don’t currently subscribe to these channels, what are you waiting for?

For you movie buffs, I have a few more for you to rent, buy or watch on cable TV.  In “Sudden Death”, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a Pittsburgh fire marshall who ends up saving the President from a group of assassins, while his kids enjoy Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final between Pittsburgh and Chicago.  I won’t give up the ending of the movie if you’ve never seen it, but one thing that’s always disappointed me about this movie is you never find out who wins, but I’d be willing to bet Van Damme would make a better Pittsburgh goalie than their current one.  In “Mystery, Alaska”, Russell Crowe heads up a small town which attempts to stage an exhibition game against the New York Rangers.  And in “Net Worth” we go back in time and learn about how the NHLPA was born.  This one features Kevin Conway, Carl Marotte and Al Waxman in a story centered around the 1956 Detroit Red Wings captained by Ted Lindsay.

Who can forget Val Kilmer in “At First Sight”, the story of a blind man who gets to see his first live hockey game where previously he could only listen on the radio.  Previously I mentioned the classic “Slap Shot”, a must if you’ve never seen it.  Well this has been released on DVD along with “Slap Shot 2”.

Hockey references have even been found in movies such as “Wayne’s World”, where Mike Myers and Dana Carvey put on Chicago Blackhawks jerseys and play street hockey, or even in “Lethal Weapon 3”, when Mel Gibson chases a crook across the ice of the former Los Angeles forum.  If you look closely in the Lethal Weapon example, you can notice a bit of a blooper, as at first you see the Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs actual uniforms, then as they do a close up on the ice you’ll notice the team logos change to a spade for Toronto and simply “L.A.” with a different shape for the Kings.  Do I seem as though I have too much time on my hands or is it just me?

There are some new real life videos available which chronicle the 1972 Summit Series in its entirety and take us back through the 2003 NHL playoffs from a New Jersey Devils perspective.  Let’s also not forget about the Don Cherry Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em videos and DVDs, which I’ve noticed are harder to find over the past year.  Many of you have asked me where to find them all to which I’ve responded either check the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto or get in touch with Molstar Communications.  I’ll throw some more possibilities your way.  Don’t forget about Ebay, or even a garage sale, not to mention a discount store.  I found a cheap video of hockey highlights from 1993, as well as a CD from a dollar discount store filled with audio highlights from Wayne Gretzky’s career, nicely narrated by veteran hockey color commentator John Davidson.  All have done their part to help the summer along. 

Summer is practically over again, so sit tight and get ready for what proves to be yet another outstanding season.  No matter how you decide to pass the time, remember not to be seen wearing white after Labor Day unless it happens to be a hockey jersey!

To read part one about this topic, click here.

 

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