Show Prep: For the Love of the Game – Old But Ever So Blessed By Bob Marrone

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Marrone_Bob It was about six months ago,‭ ‬maybe more,‭ ‬on a late Sunday afternoon,‭ ‬when it hit me.‭ ‬I looked from tying my skates and before me was a collection of aged,‭ ‬patched up hockey players whose love of their sport transcended any conventional wisdom or common sense.‭ ‬Across the room sat our youngest player,‭ ‬Jimmy,‭ ‬a buff,‭ ‬stylish youngster of about forty two,‭ ‬who explains the blond highlights in his otherwise brown hair and his piercings as the signs of a modern metrosexual.‭  ‬He still flies out on the rink,‭ ‬skating with an élan that fits his description.‭  ‬He also plays with a stent in his coronary arteries,‭ ‬the result of a heart attack about five years ago.

Across from Jimmy sat a stout fifty five year old,‭ ‬John,‭ ‬still called Johnny Boy by those who grew up with him in Hell's Kitchen.‭  ‬He is that rare breed of person who is tough,‭ ‬funny and decent,‭ ‬and liked by absolutely everyone he meets.‭  ‬Back in the day when we were on different teams that shared a bitter rivlary…it was a Brooklyn verses Manhattan kind of thing…I still like him.‭  ‬As I looked at John,‭ ‬I noticed the scars on his shoulders,‭ ‬not the same kind of dent really that Jimmy,‭ ‬the heart attack guy,‭ ‬had on his,‭ ‬but nasty.‭  ‬John looked up and,‭ ‬and as is his custom,‭ ‬said‭ ”‬what the‭ ‬##‭@* ‬are you‭  ‬looking at‭ ‬#‭@‬##.‭  ‬He is as gifted a hockey player as he is a ball buster…well,‭ ‬maybe not…‭ ‬who plays the game at a very high level of skill.‭ ‬He has velvet hands,‭ ‬a booming shot and makes everyone around him a better player.‭   

Next to John sat Butch,‭ ‬a youthful fifty,‭ ‬also called George‭ (‬His real name‭) ‬or fat boy‭; ‬the last handle courtesy of a perpetual pot belly that really isn't that big.‭  ‬Lets just say,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬that phrase fits.‭  ‬He too has the shoulder scar thing going on.‭  ‬Butch is the acting chief of a nearby police deparment and has the calm under pressure that comes with the job.‭  ‬He is a steady defenseman who takes warm ups with a cigar in his mouth.‭  ‬In the interest of full disclosure,‭ ‬no hockey player we know has ever referred to it as a cigar.

Next,‭ ‬my eyes fell upon Sal,‭ ‬or coach Sal,‭ ‬as the kids that play on his high school team call him.‭  ‬He is a cerebral player with good skating legs,‭ ‬who at the tender age of sixty,‭ ‬is thin and whispy.‭  ‬Not an ounce of fat.‭  ‬Thus far,‭ ‬other than playing with a hernia that he is till waiting to fix,‭ ‬he avoided broken bones.‭  ‬He knows the game so well,‭ ‬that he hides his frustration with less savy colleagues until it boils over,‭ ‬usually,‭ ‬as a comaplint to the referee,‭ ‬or the other team.‭ ‬He may not know it,‭ ‬though he will now,‭ ‬but it could be construed as whining.‭ ‬But that’s okay,‭ ‬he is also my road roommate when we head to Las Vegas every year to take a shot at an over-fifty championship.‭  ‬He is,‭ ‬sort of,‭ ‬my hockey wife,‭ ‬and what wife doesn’t whine a little bit …

Up next is one of two men I have played with,‭ ‬off and on,‭ ‬for over forty years.‭ ‬Joey.‭  ‬He is only fifty nine.‭ ‬Only‭! ‬Joe is a gifted carry the puck defenceman who is equally skilled in the defensive part of the game.‭  ‬These days,‭ ‬he stresses defense a little more,‭ ‬especially when dealing with thirty somehting forwards.‭ ‬He is one of my closest friends in the game who travels as lightly now as he did when we were kids,‭ ‬which is a nice way of saying he is cheap and unafraid.‭ ‬I know those two things seem unrelated…work with me here.‭  ‬You see,‭ ‬he never has tape,‭ ‬never did,‭ ‬not at‭ ‬$3.50‭ ‬a roll.‭ ‬The first words out of his mouth before any game are,‭ "‬who has tape.‭"  ‬He doesn't ever tape or put a knob on his sticks.‭ ‬He has owned,‭ ‬as far any of us can tell,‭ ‬only two pairs of skates in the last thirty years.‭  ‬Rather than spring for a good helmet,‭ ‬he wears a device that you would expect to find on a man shot out of a cannon,‭ ‬and wears almost no padding save shin guards.‭  ‬And,‭ ‬thank goodness,‭ ‬he never gets really hurt.‭ ‬Sure he takes the occasional cut,‭ ‬or stick near his eye.‭  ‬Still he will not wear a mask,‭ ‬nor get better head gear.‭ ‬But Joseph is a beatiful man and a beatiful hockey player.‭   ‬He is the consummate teammate and friend.‭ 

Then there is Cookie,‭ ‬alias The Captain,‭ ‬rarely called Bob,‭ ‬sometime known as the GM,‭ ‬as in general manager.‭  ‬He just turned sixty.‭  ‬When I first met Cookie in‭ ‬1965‭ ‬he was the best player on his team,‭ ‬and for a number of reasons has lost very little over the years.‭  ‬Really‭!  ‬It's both freaky and joyful.‭  ‬He is the one of us who never took a break,‭ ‬never,‭ ‬not ever.‭  ‬As the rest of us got older,‭ ‬saya round around thirty years ago or so,‭ ‬we all took breaks from the game.‭ ‬Some took to coaching like I did,‭ ‬others started new jobs,‭ ‬still others stopped for marriage and family,‭ ‬and many of us gave it up because we could no longer keep up with players in their primes‭;    ‬but not the Captain.‭  ‬He kept up until he was in his mid forties,‭ ‬playing outdoors in the toughest of leagues.‭ ‬He also was raise his terrific daughter and built a successful business.‭ ‬When he came to play over‭ ‬30‭ ‬hockey…which is what we do even at our advanced ages…he made sure that the league was the competitive and that he could play in its top division.‭ ‬He did not skip a beat.‭ ‬This was his primary hobby and he has never eased off that premis.‭ ‬My own feelings about him vary from awe that he is pretty much the same shape he was thirty years ago,‭ ‬to envy‭  ‬for his ability to consistently play well against the top younger players.‭  ‬Now,‭ ‬the rest of us are all accomplished players,‭ ‬as well,‭ ‬some who even do different things better than Bob,‭ ‬but none of us does as many things as well,‭ ‬or as often‭ (‬he plays three games a week‭)‬.‭  ‬As for his injuries,‭ ‬there are no visible signs,‭ ‬other than add odd looking face mask that only protect his teeth…they took a stick about six years ago.‭  ‬He‭  ‬too has had his share of bumps and bruises,‭ ‬all treated with some interesting remedies including‭  ‬wrist magnets,‭ ‬amino acids,‭  ‬Glucosamine and Chondroiten,‭ ‬Flexall and God knows what elese.‭  ‬Hockey is what he does,‭ ‬who he is.‭  ‬He is also stand up man,‭ ‬through and through.

Before I describe our goaltender,‭ ‬think of the Manhattan Accent and voice tone of the late George Carlin.‭ ‬Add the toughness of just about any Scottish character in the movie Braveheart along with the charm of Frank Sinatra.‭  ‬Also think of old,‭ ‬very old.‭ ‬Dennis is sixty five and plays the toughest postion on the team.‭  ‬He stops pucks.‭  ‬He is able to do this with a stand-up stlye that is so technically correct that he is rarely out of position.‭  ‬It is almost heartbreakng to see the faces of thirty year olds who get stopped on a breakaway by a man,‭ ‬older than their father,‭ ‬who did’nt even break a sweat.‭  ‬Dennis has bad shoulders and like all goelies has injured just about everything at one time or another.‭ ‬There is not enough column space to cover them.‭ ‬What is important is that he is still here.‭  ‬And this man goes back a ways.‭  ‬He was Hall of Fame‭ ‬NHL forward Joe Mullen’s childhood coach.‭  ‬Joe is already retired ten years.‭ ‬Denns is,‭ ‬perhaps the most admired player among the collection of great hockey players who came out of Hell’s Kitchen,‭ ‬and I am including the pro and college players who moved on to great heights in that statement.‭  ‬Playing on the same team with this one time foe has been one of the absolute honors of my hockey life.‭  

And,‭ ‬lastly,‭ ‬there is me,‭ ‬hanging on by a thread at sixty,‭ ‬now almost sixty one.‭  ‬I still skate very well,‭ ‬but my hands are shot and I don’t score as much anymore.‭  ‬I get by on smarts and what is left of my legs.‭  ‬Sometimes I worry that I get icetime only because I tend to run most of the teams I play on.‭ ‬As for my maladies,‭ ‬seven years ago they put a thirteen inch rod in my leg to fix a triple fracture,‭ ‬one of my shoulders has the telltale shoulder separation dent in it,‭ ‬and my broker finger just healed.‭  ‬Currently,‭ ‬the doctors are also treating me for something called compartment syndrome in my right leg.‭ ‬So I am fine,‭ ‬or as fine as anyone else I the room at any given time.‭ ‬What with the leg thing I have been thinking about finally giving up the ghost.‭  ‬To that end I have been patching my beaten up skates with tape and making other assorted emergency repairs.‭  ‬No sense investing in new ones with only weeks left.‭  

But something has been going inside me since I went into rehab for the leg thing.‭  ‬It is what made me think back to that Sunday over a year ago when I first wrote this column I my head.‭  ‬I love this sport and I love these men.‭  ‬We play this child’s game even as Social Security is coming up on us a fast as one of Johnny Boy’s shots.‭ ‬Three of us are grandfathers.‭ ‬But I need to leave you with this.‭ ‬We are blessed to have such frindships and such fun and such commeraderie at this or any other age.‭  ‬This short piece is my way of sharing that joy with you,‭ ‬and making a tribute to my friends,‭ ‬all of them,‭ ‬including those that are not mentioned for reasons of space.

By the way,‭ ‬if you are at all intersted.‭  ‬My new skates are Missions.

eHeziShow Prep: For the Love of the Game – Old But Ever So Blessed By Bob Marrone

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