The truth.

In exchange for the price of admission to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ first preseason hockey game, I got to scope out Allentown’s new hockey arena; watch three periods of decent-to-sloppy shinny; and learn something about myself.

I’m only gonna write about one of those things today … and yeah, I’m picking the choice that’s of no real interest to anyone but me. (Sorry.)

First, some background:

One thing that’s always, always, always set me off is trivia questions that are sloppily worded or flat-out incorrect. I come across them in public settings from time to time, and they invariably fill me with rage.

I have always credited this to a desire to be Correct, and a wish that all the world should know the right information. It seemed like a logical thing to get righteously peeved about. Who would argue for inaccuracy, laziness or slop?

The other night at the hockey game, the Phantoms picked a fan out of the cheap seats between periods and threw three music trivia questions at him. The prize was a set of tickets to an upcoming pro wrestling match. He missed all three questions but they gave him the tickets anyway, which says something about their eagerness to fill the seats.

The three questions were similar in construction — brief, blunt and delivered in an overheated, hucksterish answer-in-three-seconds-or-else tone.

We’ll focus on Question 2, which set me off:


The pop geeks in the crowd are thinking the same thing I was: Three of the four songs listed were U.S. Number One hits in 1980. Thus, there should be three possible correct answers to this question — three chart-topping singles — not one.

The correct answer was “Call Me,” and it wasn’t ’til I got home and hit Wikipedia that I figured out the logic behind the question.

“Call Me,” as it turned out, was the Number One U.S. hit single for all of 1980 — the most popular song of that year. So by that criterion, it “topped the charts in 1980” where the other songs didn’t.

It seemed like an exceedingly fine line, and a case where meaning had been sacrificed for brevity. (The copy editor in me suggests that “Who topped the charts for 1980?” might have been a better word choice.)

It bothered me, and I kept chewing on it, trying to figure out why I cared at all. The guy got his free tickets, after all. And most people in the crowd didn’t even see the question: They were in line to piss or buy beer.

Then I realized how the whole thing tied in to the anal-retentive/Asperger’s side of my personality. (I am fairly certain I would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child, had it been widely recognized back when Queen, Blondie and Olivia Newton-John — but not Air Supply — were topping the charts.)

Basically, I’ve always wanted to know everything, at least on subjects that interest me, including pop music. I have an urge to be able to hold forth authoritatively on anything and everything. And that’s why poorly done trivia questions set me off: It’s because they’re feeding me incorrect information, and getting in the way of my quest to Know It All. Every nugget that goes into my brain needs to be correct so I can be 100 percent confident when I regurgitate it.

In the past few years I have started to recognize my know-it-all streak and to try to hold it back. I find it increasingly annoying in others, and it makes me think of how many thousands of times I have surely annoyed others over the years.

(From time to time it is useful. I have a reputation in my office as the guy who knows everything. People throw questions at me, both work-related and pop-cultural, and I get just enough of them right to seem like a resource. I am sure I annoy people there, too; but in that setting, I can at least play it off as an asset, an institutional memory thing. And anyway, copy editors are supposed to carry the sum of human knowledge around in their heads.)

Diagnosing why the hockey-rink trivia question made me feel the way it did is an ongoing part of my transition to becoming, hopefully, a more reasonable human being.

I care less and less each day about being able to name every Rolling Stones studio album, for instance, or being able to tell you where the Grateful Dead were playing on such-and-such a date — examples of the sort of info I have either actively pursued over the years, or have simply absorbed casually.

Perhaps at some point I will be free of any interest in any of that sort of trivia, and I will be able to put on albums without caring about the record’s personnel, backstory or history in the slightest bit. Sounds appealing to me.

The other side of the coin is that, the less I care about being seen as a know-it-all, the less I care about expressing my opinions on this blog.

I recognize the difference between facts (Ron Wood is one of three guest guitarists on the Stones’ Black and Blue album) and my opinions (Black and Blue is a curiously satisfying, beguiling and enjoyable album despite its many internal weaknesses.) I know that stating one is not the same as stating the other.

I’m not sure it means as much to me as it once did to state either. Maybe I just want to sit in the corner and let the music travel between my ears. (Which is also an echt-Asperger’s thing to want, I suppose.)

The world is awash more than ever in trivia knowledge. Every day, it seems, I see well-written and thoughtful essays dissecting some album from 25 or 30 years ago. Or, I learn that yet another album from my favorite years has been examined in book form. I fully expect that every single pop-culture rock, even those considered to be fool’s-gold, will be picked up, turned over, held up to the light, thought, re-thought, and chronicled in detail.

I find it overwhelming; I want to know less and less, not more and more. I want to find my own relationships with music and art and define them on any terms I choose … and keep them to myself, unless they really make words want to come out of my fingers.

So, we’ll see where I end up. I might be silent, or nearly so. Or I may continue to write, but it might take different forms and perspectives.

I don’t know.

(It feels good to say that.)

Sur glace.

I am on something of a hockey bender.

The Olympics is part of that, sure; but it’s that time of year anyway. Before the Olympics, I went to see college hockey. After the Olympics, there will be the NHL. And all winter there’s been snow and ice and snapping cold here in eastern Pennsylvania — very much hockey weather.

Somebody was kind enough to scan in the 1976 O-Pee-Chee set of hockey trading cards and post them all on Flickr. As part of my hockey jag, I’ve been enjoying them tonight. You don’t have to be a hockey fan to appreciate some of the faces and poses — some timeless, some firmly of the Seventies.

Here are some of my favorites. To respect the owner’s rights, I won’t copy them here. But each link should open in a new window, so you can check out the pix without having to leave my gripping commentary.


This pose is so metal.

– Know what today’s sports cards need? More flesh wounds.

– Something tells me Ernie Hicke‘s sartorial style was wasted on St. Paul. (Gary Smith’s, too; there’s more than a little Glenn Frey in that photo.)

Ed Van Impe looks as though he’s been playing since 1938 and has seen literally everything that can possibly happen on a hockey rink.  (“Did I tell you about the time the linesman’s dog came running onto the ice and blocked a shot?”)

Simon Nolet, meanwhile, looks like a former hockey star turned junior high school science teacher who terrorizes the kids every year in the students-vs.-faculty hockey game.

– With his unfortunate hair, his lopsided grin and the glint in his eye, Tim Jacobs could have played a member of a homicidal motorcycle gang in a slasher B-movie set in Quebec.

– Similarly, I’m glad that’s not a chainsaw in Larry Goodenough‘s hands.

These three guys, in contrast, look like some sort of Canadian hoser-humor vaudeville act.  (“Tonight at the Sherbrooke Theatre: Les Trois Canadiens, performing their nationally famous routine, ‘It’s A Beauty Night for Hockey, Eh?’ “)

Rod Seiling seems quite pleased with the airbrush job on his jersey; Michel Plasse, less so. (It is possible, I suppose, that those are practice jerseys.)

– I imagine slapshots clanking harmlessly off the frosted hair-helmet of Garry Unger. It’s easy to set a record for consecutive games played when your hair is impermeable to assault or injury.

– John Bednarski did radio and TV for my hometown Rochester Amerks for many years. In this pic, he looks like an 11-year-old youth hockey hotshot whose dad, the coach, has just pulled him off the ice for hotdogging.

Dallas Smith saw something in the basement of Boston Garden that he doesn’t tell anybody about.

– Playing a sold-out Madison Square Garden was the highlight of Ralph Klassen‘s career as Peter Frampton’s keyboard player, as well as Bert Wilson’s tenure as ABBA’s touring bass player.

Dave Hrechkosy, meanwhile, looks like the frontman of a power-pop band from Long Island that’s trying to decide whether to take that major-label offer.

– With his mustache, long hair and somewhat beefy look, Jocelyn Guevremont bears — at least to my eyes — a passing resemblance to Chicago’s Terry Kath. (Kath was fond of wearing hockey jerseys onstage, which probably contributes to the resemblance.)

– I could also see a touch of the young, deer-in-the-headlights Brian Wilson in Richard Nantais, and the tiniest hint of Neil Diamond in Doug Favell.

– If Rod Gilbert never did ads for men’s underwear, it wasn’t any fault of his own.

Mundane Moments: Hockey night in Canada.

Part of an ongoing effort to dredge my grandfathers’ photos out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then:

ROCHAMBEAU, Quebec (AP) – When the streets ice over and the snow falls thick, the natives here still tell dazzling stories about Lyle and Jean-Claude Montraineau, the schoolboy wonders immortalized in Canadian history as “the Rochambeau Rockets.”

“I never saw anything like them, me,” local farmer Brien Saint-Denis said, nursing a beer at the bar and restaurant that sits beneath the town’s only stoplight. “They had une tete — one brain.”

“Remember when they scored in their sleep?” chimed in Jean Renard, the town shopkeeper. “No joke. They were asleep on their feet. You could hear them snore from the stands. And they each scored. They were tired from milking the cows, they said later.”

“You weren’t safe going to their games,” Saint-Denis went on, “because they used to put pucks through the glass. All the time. No one was safe. It’s a wonder someone isn’t avec les anges.”

The snow keeps falling, and the stories go on:

– The goal Lyle once scored in mid-fight.
– Jean-Claude’s astonishing ability to go from full speed to dead stop, and vice versa, in the blink of an eye.
– The brothers, arriving late at a game, splitting a pair of skates between them — one apiece — and still dominating the course of play.
– The “Montraineau Rule” briefly put in place by provincial youth-hockey authorities, limiting the brothers’ teams to permanent shorthanded status whenever they were on the ice.
– The number of opposing goalies who quit the sport and became preachers, convinced they had seen le diable lui-meme in the Montraineau brothers’ eyes.

“Gretzky?” summarizes the town’s librarian, Michel Arneault. “Gretzky avait rien. I saw the Montraineaus.”

It’s been 35 years since the “Magic Montraineaus” became the talk of their nation. And the mists of time have only added to the inevitable question:

How much of this actually happened, and how much of the legend is simply a self-serving folktale invented by bored farmers trying to put their town into the spotlight?

The Montraineaus’ most famous moments took place out of the camera eye, in countless identical youth-hockey rinks scattered across the farmlands of Quebec. There is no tangible proof of their achievements — and, to add to the mystery, many of the coaches and players they opposed refuse to discuss them.

“No. Rien,” shudders Claude Benoit, a longtime youth hockey coach in the area. “Some things, one does not talk about.”

The Montraineaus’ absence from the discussion only strengthens the doubters’ arguments. The boys who rumor said could have started for the Montreal Canadiens as middle-schoolers never pursued professional hockey careers.

Lyle developed a life-threatening allergy to Zamboni fumes, while Jean-Claude fell in love with the pedal steel guitar. Today, the older Montraineau is a computer programmer in Vancouver, while the younger plays in country-and-western bands in the Toronto area. Neither has visited Rochambeau in years, and neither speaks publicly about their hockey exploits.

“There is nothing to say, vraiment,” Jean-Claude says in a brief phone interview. “There is nothing to prove.”

No matter. The legend of the Montraineaus is deeply enough ingrained to withstand the futile search for details.

Especially in the farm towns of Quebec, where the brothers live forever in memory as tousled, heart-stoppingly gifted youths — like the pre-teen Paganinis of the national game.

“You should have seen them,” Arneault, the librarian, sums up. “Tabarnac. You should have seen them.”


In real life: Rochester, New York, circa 1980.
Mike Eruzione had nothing to fear.

At the rink.

There will be more local music reviews here in the near future.

But I was busy tonight at the hockey rink in Wilkes-Barre, watching the home Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins beat the Hershey Bears 5-3.

Like most sporting events, it was a cornucopia of little images and passing moments, some of which will stay with me long after I’ve forgotten the goals, saves and fights:

– 2013 marks the Penguins’ 15th year in W-B/S, and the team surprised me (granted, I haven’t been paying close attention) by wearing, not a commemorative patch on their jerseys, but an entire commemorative jersey. Pretty nice-looking, IMHO.

Click to enlarge. (Or, don't.)
Click to enlarge. (Or, don’t.)

– In a classic and long-fought rivalry, the evening pitted two second-rank Pennsylvania communities against each other (well, three, if you count Wilkes-Barre and Scranton as two), and I was pleased to see W-B/S come out atop H.

There’s nothing in Hershey except chocolate … and the reality of that is less alluring than the concept, let’s just say.

– It was Teddy Bear Toss Night, when fans are invited to throw plush toys onto the ice, to be collected by the local Tobyhanna Army Depot and distributed to needy children.

One older gent in the row in front of me brought a Hefty bag packed full of toys. The overall haul of playthings was quite remarkable, considering the arena was only about half-full.

One little kid in the front row had one of those huge floppy stuffed teddy bears, and kept trying and failing to get the mammoth toy over the boards and onto the ice. One or another of its limbs kept catching the top of the glass and pushing it back into the stands.

Finally, with much of my side of the arena cheering them on, a couple of helping hands managed to get the thing over the glass and onto the ice … where Tux, the Penguins’ mascot, leapt gratefully upon it.

Tux, at right, hefts his quarry while Mr. and Mrs. Claus prepare for their egress.
Tux, at right, hefts his quarry while Mr. and Mrs. Claus prepare for their egress.

– The National Anthem was performed by a group of perhaps 25 clean-cut young men from a local boys’ prep school.

In between periods, they entertained on the scoreboard with Christmas carols, juggling tricks and other diversions.

(As I left the arena, they were standing in the cold outside the east gate, singing, while two of their number juggled flaming torches. If I hadn’t known they were from a Cat’lic boarding school, I might have mistaken them for the kids from “Fame.”)

Between periods, trying to out-sing the Zamboni.
Between periods, trying to out-sing the Zamboni.

During the playing of “Surfin’ Bird,” the lads appeared once again on the Jumbotron, doing the Bird in not-quite-unison, jerking their arms back and forth, mouths open, gently flushed with spirit and exertion.

It looked a little like they were indulging in a different form of stress relief, one known to prep-school boys since the dawn of time and not normally practiced in public.

– On the ice (ahem), the evening belonged to the Penguins’ captain, Tom Kostopoulos, who scored two goals and was named the first star.

Kostopoulos will be 35 in about a month; this is his 15th season of professional hockey, including part or all of 11 seasons in the NHL.

Doubtless, the AHL is not where he wants to be at this point in his career, and he’s probably giving a lot of thought nowadays to what comes next.

But he hasn’t lost his skills yet, and he seems to be a fan favourite in coal country.

If his career is winding down, nights like tonight seem like a nice way to head into the sunset.

Tom Kostopoulos

If any of these things sound like fun to you, get yourself to Wilkes-Barre in time for tomorrow night’s game against Utica.

Eastern Pennsylvania is going to get something like nine inches of snow tomorrow.

So plenty of good seats will be available for you to enjoy the details and passing moments tomorrow night, when the arena opens its doors, the Penguins suit up, and everybody does it all again, only different.

It’s an old romance, the goalie dance.

One of my favorite little moments in all of sports is the herky-jerky “dance” hockey goalies do at the start of each period to scrape up the ice in the crease.

(I *think* the intent is to make the freshly smoothed ice a little less slick and give themselves better traction. I’ve never put on the pads myself, though, so I could be wrong.)

I happened to be in the right place at the right time the other day to catch a goalie conducting his solitary ritual. So I taped it.

As an added bonus, the goalie in question — Matt Benincasa of Lafayette College — drops to his knees at the end and prostrates himself toward the memory of Georges Vezina.

Or something like that, anyway.

The moment isn’t special to anyone who watches hockey, since they’ve seen it a million times … and it probably won’t be all that charming to anyone who doesn’t watch hockey.

But I like it.

Do you believe in miracles?

This past weekend was better than it seemed at the time … and at least the second-best part of it was the college hockey game I went to this afternoon.

It was Lafayette College’s last hockey game of the year, and maybe the last real competitive game ever for the four or five seniors on the team.

Lafayette showed up with nine skaters and a single goalie, while their opponents, Penn, brought a full squad.

I figured Lafayette would put up a valiant fight, but would run out of gas in the middle of the second period and end up losing.

When Penn scored three times in quick succession in the second period, bringing a 5-3 lead into the break, it looked like my prophecy would come true.

As the Lafayette players trudged into the locker room, I heard the family members of one player call, “Go get ’em, Kev!” The kid looked up, smiled ruefully and said, “I’m gonna die.”

A couple minutes later, I saw one of the other Lafayette skaters buying a bottle of Powerade from the vending machine in the rink lobby. He looked spent.

And then, absolutely out of nowhere, Lafayette came trucking out for the final period and scored. Once, twice, three times.

They gave one back.

And then they scored again. Once, twice, three times.

Start of the period: 5-3, Penn.
Barely two minutes into the period, it's 5-5.
Barely two minutes into the period, it’s 5-5.
90 seconds later, it's 6-5 Lafayette.
90 seconds later, it’s 6-5 Lafayette.
Fast-forward four minutes. The game ended 9-6.
Fast-forward 10 minutes.
Game over. I bet that drink of Gatorade tasted pretty good.
The final buzzer has just sounded. I bet that drink of Gatorade tasted pretty good.

After Lafayette pulled to within 5-4, I went from a dispassionate observer to a fan. I got sucked right in, like the Miracle on Ice, tapping my hands against the boards and rocking anxiously back and forth every time Lafayette beat back a rush.

After the game, the seniors lingered on the ice, posing for pictures.

It was easy to imagine them, 50 years old and graying, still telling each other, “Remember when we dropped six goals on Penn in the third period?”

It felt like a small pleasure of my own to be part of the memory.

We are the champions. Well, maybe not, but we went out winners.

And then there was one kid — not a senior, I later found out, but a freshman — who didn’t seem to want to leave the ice.

Over and over he skated circles, up until the Zamboni started to pull onto the ice and he had to leave.

Maybe he found his freshman season too memorable to leave behind. Maybe he was thinking about February of 2016, when he would pull on the uniform for a final time himself.

Either way, after three hard periods of hockey, he wasn’t too tired to cling to his own private reverie.

Sorry, kid. Time to go home.
Sorry, kid. Time to go home.

On ice.

I went to see some college kids play hockey today.

This could easily be one of those blog posts that rants about how the NHL owners and players are all worthless greedheads, and how they are shooting themselves in the feet (if not the head), and how hockey played by unknowns for a crowd of 20 in a rink that smells like teenage socks is somehow purer and more righteous than that played in the NHL.

That would be bushwah, of course.

Grass-roots hockey is often sloppy and imprecise and frustrating to watch.

One of the players I saw today — I’ll spare him the embarrassment of identification — was so clearly deficient in passing, puck-handling and skating that I winced whenever the puck reached him.

The teams combined for 13 goals, one of them an own goal by a defenseman who chipped a bouncing puck the wrong way in front of his own net. That one made me wince too.

I’ve seen a couple club-level (sub-varsity) college hockey games, and there always seems to be one guy on each team who can outskate everyone else. That’s frustrating, too.

Seeing a big-league athlete take a game in the palm of his hand is magical. Seeing a bush-league athlete dominate just makes you think he should have gone to a school with a better hockey program.

All that being said, I enjoyed this afternoon’s outing. I expect I will go again, numerous times, between now and February or March when the local club squads pack it in for the year.

I would even go so far as to say that college hockey as played by the economics and engineering majors at Lehigh and Lafayette is one of the small undiscovered pleasures of the Lehigh Valley. It is low-key, spirited, and accessible. Free, too.

But, no lectures about how I don’t need the NHL when the humble local kids take the ice.

Amateur pluck has its place. So do the crisp laser-like passes and jaw-dropping finishing moves that only the very best can pull off.

One will hold me. But I still miss the other.