Lacing Up: Gobble, Gobble
In remembrance of the late Ashley Gallant, originator of “Lacing Up,” Matt Paul, Joshua Neal, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF Monday mornings. If you have any topics you would like to see us discuss, or if you would like to be a guest in our series, please let us know through the comments section below or on our Contact page, linked at the top of FF.
Matt Paul: Josh, we’re quickly approaching Thanksgiving, and I’ve already begun prepping for the massive amounts of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, and pumpkin pie I’m destined to eat — not to mention alcohol that I’ll undoubtedly consume. I’m at a crossroads, though — albeit not quite as dire as the Kennedy Crossroads discussed in Monday’s Lacing Up — about whether I should be fasting so that I’m overly hungry or devouring everything in sight so that my stomach stretches. What’s your approach?
Joshua Neal: I’ve been on a pretty strict training regimen, getting in as much football, home cooking, and gravy-laden foods through the past two or three weeks as I can. I always think I’m prepared, but it always seems to come up a bit short. I’m hoping one year I get the right balance and things work out well – I like to refer to this as “The Tangradi Effect.” But for this week’s Lacing Up , let’s remember the reason for the season – with a hockey twist. Matt, what are you thankful for in the world of hockey both past and present?
Matt: Above all, Josh, I’m just thankful for the game of hockey, itself. Growing up, I spent a lot of time playing and watching sports, but none appealed to me the way hockey did. I’ll never forget my first hockey experience: a Johnstown Chiefs (ECHL) game back in the early 1990s with Stan “Smokey” Reddick in goal, Bob Woods (now assistant coach of the Washington Capitals) on defense, and Bruce Coles on offense. Not only was it my first game, but truly my first exposure to hockey, period. It became an instant passion that led to me playing broom hockey on holidays at my grandparents’ house, knee hockey at school during recess, and mite/squirt hockey at 5:00 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena. Nowadays, I don’t spend much time playing hockey, as my love as evolved with age to be more spectator-based. That said, I’ve commissioned a fantasy hockey keeper league (UPJFHL) since 2004 and have run Faceoff-Factor with Jesse Marshall since 2007. Now, Josh, you get to express your passion for hockey through Faceoff-Factor, as well. With an ongoing lockout, do you feel a similar grassroots thankfulness, or are you going to give me the sarcastic, “I’m thankful we don’t have to watch Rico Fata skate offsides anymore”?
Josh: Well, I think everyone (including Rico Fata) is thankful that they don’t have to watch Rico Fata kill momentum and the flow of the game anymore. We definitely know that he won’t be making an appearances on “Penguins Classic Rewind” either. However, I’m thankful for what hockey has done for the Pittsburgh sports scene in recent years. In the not-so-long-ago dark ages, I worried that there wasn’t a large enough group of dedicated fans to prevent the team’s possible relocation to Kansas City. I worried that even with young talent through the lineup that our football city would never come to fully embrace hockey and allow it to coexist with football. Sure, there were the golden years which brought us two Cups and some incredibly memorable moments with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and so many others. For me, though, I remember those all through televised flashbacks rather than first hand memory, as I was too young to actually remember those times. For a hockey fan from my age bracket, times looked to be on the decline for the Penguins. We all know how things shook out, though, and hockey is alive and strong in Pittsburgh. In the midst of the last lockout, the general Pittsburgh sports fan said “Big deal, there’s no hockey.” This time around, Pittsburgh natives are displeased and frustrated at the lack of hockey, which I think speaks volumes to how far the game has come in our city in just a short period of time. I’m thankful we have the Penguins close by for us to enjoy, and that they are getting to a level where they are consistently competitive. I’m also thankful Johnstown has brought back a hockey team to our back yard, where we can enjoy the game any time for a cheap and still satisfying experience. Matt, anything there strike a chord with you?
Matt: Home is where the heart is, Josh, which means I’m absolutely thankful for the new team in Johnstown. By all accounts they’re doing well and are getting strong local support. But looking at things in a broader scope, I think you really hit the nail on the head with regard to the Penguins. Sure, we’re in the midst of a lockout that has no end in sight. But we do know there will be an end at some point. Hockey will be back, and we will be able to watch our beloved Penguins again. Just a few short years ago, that wasn’t a given. No matter how difficult, frustrating, and even maddening this lockout is to fans, it should always be kept in perspective that the simple fact that we’re following the lockout means we have a reason to follow it: a team in which we have invested our time, emotions, and money. At some point, we’ll be fortunate enough to get that back — even if we are angry at all parties involved. Any last words before you head to the store to buy a new pair of sweatpants to wear Thursday evening?
Josh: Well, it fortunately appears that the proposed moratorium has been scrapped and negotiations began again on Monday between the players and the owners yet again. I think I speak for everyone that if I get the bigger half of the wishbone, I’d wish for a speedy start to salvage some kind of hockey season this year. Maybe the holiday spirit can inspire these guys to get a deal done, or maybe they can settle it with a wishbone as well. To me, it doesn’t matter how they get it done, but it’d be nice to see hockey by Christmastime. I’d even give up a week of leftover turkey sandwiches for that.