Let us Introduce Puckraker

Federal Prospects Hockey League Prospect

My dad played street hockey growing up in Queens, and claims he “never fought, but the other kids knew not to mess with me,” and that he was a pretty good high school roller hockey player. My brothers and I have all skated with him and can assure you that is not the case.  He never got to play ice hockey, though, so he wanted us to play at a young age.

He had me skating by age 6. I didn’t like it. At that point, hockey probably interrupted important backyard digging and putting worms and other bugs in jars. I’m still weird.

After I saw my dad play, though, I was in. I joined the house league and travel two years later. My first coach was a maniac who would scream at us for making mistakes and run it up on weaker teams (20-0 one game). Seriously though, this guy was not fit to coach 8 year olds. I remember crying after one game and wanting to quit. Glad I stuck with it though, because ya boi won the prestigious King of the Hill tournament. Guess Coach Psycho was right after all, and has the ring to prove it.

I knew then my signature would be worth a lot someday. 

In Squirts, I made the prestigious “B” team, and they didn’t trust on defense. I ground it out on the third line (non-check league), and was pretty awful. But one of my 6 goals came in the Can/Am tournament in Lake Placid on the 1980 goal medal ice. I’m also born on Feb. 22, the anniversary of the game, so naturally my best would come out there. This is what I looked like:

Learned how to play without the puck that year by no one passing to me.

After that, I became a decent puckmoving defensemen (Puckraker, hello), usually the 2nd or 3rd D. I made up for lack of size and strength with my hockey sense. When I did pop up to forward again in Peewees, I got 18 good ones, but it was in the “C” league.

For 3 years, I played for the same coach, which helped my confidence and skills a ton. Richie Meyer was the first coach I had who didn’t yell and took the time to explain things. Although I did all the fun stuff like tournaments, sleepovers, and mini hockey with my younger teams, on Richie’s teams I started making the friends I can run into anywhere and have a great conversation with. We made the playoffs (Long Island Tier III, baby), played Tony Hawk and GTA, and roamed the streets egging cabs on Halloween. Great team.

The TPS rubber two piece and Hespeller gloves helped me get 18 that year.

Around this time hockey got insane. Did I mention I have 3 younger brothers who also skated? We’d be at the rink all night 2 or 3 nights a week and all day Sunday. On Saturdays, our parents would part ways for the road game at various tri-state venues. 

Bantam, Peewee, and Squirts. I’m tallest (and sexiest).

Hockey is truly a family affair for me. With 3 younger brothers, we were a mobile 2 on 2 game. The younger 2, Sean and Steve, just led their D3 team to a championship game loss in their conference. They don’t want me to write about them, but they played sick especially in the playoffs where Sean had a 5-point night in the quarters and Steve had 2 goals in the semis to help the squad. Steve also led the conference in points. (Spoiler: my hockey career was not as good).

Wow, I’m only up to Bantam. Def have to shorten this. Anyway, we won the league championship in Bantam. Hockey was getting more serious and there were new coaches who were recruiting kids from other organizations to bulk up our teams. By this time, though, I was obsessed with hockey and basically choosing my high school based on my dream of playing in college. My teammates growing up and I dreamed of making the New York State tournament. That year, we only got 3rd in the regular season, so we didn’t make States. Still, we won the ‘ship in a shootout.

I played varsity for 3 years at St. Francis Prep is actually. I got cut freshman year for being too small.  Later, I would learn that Mr. Turner was really just putting lacrosse practices on ice after he started a lacrosse team and ran our practice. Glad I put my career in his hands.

Sophomore year was a low point despite playing on varsity. I was 5’1 playing defense for a coach that had no grasp of the game. I played about 5 shifts a game. To make matters worse, that was the only year I didn’t play travel hockey. The prior summer, my dad had a brain aneurysm and had to take almost 2 years off to recover. We are lucky to have him around, and lucky he put us in hockey. It was all hands on deck from our family hockey friends who pitched in with rides, food, weekends away, and visits to the hospital. The generosity was unbelievable. 

My brothers played travel at a new organization so rides would be easier on our family. Unfortunately the team was in New Jersey and I didn’t think I could handle 2 teams in different states. I spent a lot of Sundays that year putting off AP Bio homework, watching the Giants, and sneaking Marlboro Lights from my parents’ packs. Ah, sweet rebellion.

At the end of sophomore year, I had a game where I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I got paired with the senior D man, Charlie, during his last high school game. He wanted the puck, so we went D to D with about 48 times that game. I proved myself I could play at the NYC high  level (in retrospect, not impressed with my self-confidence). 

Junior year, it all started to click. I played travel with a team that scheduled around the high school schedule. It was my first time meeting a whole new team, and cool to be welcomed by them. Ya boi has good footwork and joins the rush when needed, so it helps. 

On the HS team, there were two seniors in front of me, so I still didn’t get the ice time I wanted. However, I did absurdly get called in for a shootout appearance in the semi-finals. I went for the 5-hole shot and got stopped. Awful. And we lost. Mr. Turner came into the locker room and said we shouldn’t be upset over a hockey game because there were people dying in Iraq. Fair point, but not the right moment.

In travel, I had a career highlight at the end of our Spring tournament. In the Saturday morning game, this kid with a mustard yellow helmet absolutely waffled me. He caught me blindside along the blueline and I went DOWN. After the game, I insisted I was fine, but that’s one of my “looking back on it? Concussion.” moments. 

On Sunday, we faced the same team in the finals. With 3 minutes to go, I was out there with the score tied 3-3. I blocked a shot in the high slot, stepped around the point man, and was suddenly on a 2-on-1 from my own blue line. The goalie was a righty goale, I’m a righty, and I was coming down the right side. I looked the defenseman off and ripped my best wrist shot high glove for the sweeeeeeeet finish and tournament winner. 

Senior year, we made a run to the championship and lost. It was disappointing because Mr. Turner finally stepped down. I thought I’d have a real high school hockey coach. Then, Watts came in. Oh, Watts Watts Watts. This guy walked up to me at the first practice and told me I should choke up on my stick to get a better point shot off. Like choke up halfway. I knew we were doomed.

I played like a soccer player that year. It’s the only time I’ve ever come to the bench and been told “No, stay on.” in my life. I seriously logged a couple 35 minute nights in a 45 min game. 

Intense brother head to head HS matchup.

I did redeem my shootout failure from junior year. Again, it was in the semi-finals. I had scored a bunch that year (fucking finally) and went 2nd or 3rd. I was still shitting a brick. I had a sweet backhand roof move I’d used 2 or three times that year. I went to the well again, and the goalie had me read. It was so disappointing for a split second. But there was nothing to do but throw it at him, and it slipped through his arm. So satisfying to see the net bulge on that one.

I fucked up in the championship series, game 2, heading into overtime. My coach asked if I wanted to start or hop out second. We were playing a team stacked with kids from the organization I grew up playing for, and were about to go undefeated on us. I gambled and though I could catch their second line and try to score early in OT. The first shot deflected off one of our sophomore D’s sticks and slid painfully behind our goalie. Chants of “UN-DE-FEAT-ED” was the soundtrack that ended my high school career. 

Between high school and college, I did a year at community college. I didn’t play junior: the realistic option was $10,000 and no better competition that the year before. So, I played for the Bruins, a team that was kind of a laughingstock in the Long Island league. OK I’ll be honest here and I’m a little nervous how this will be perceived so it’s getting buried here randomly. I thought joining the military would be a good move as a response to my need to get away from family issues. It was not the right move at the time, and I quit immediately. So, I really didn’t even plan to play hockey that year. When I got home from the military, I was so disappointed and confused about what to do, all I could think was “I NEED to play hockey.”

It was already October. So, we whipped out the hockey rolodex and made some calls. There was a midget major team looking for a guy because they had THREE goalies but only 10 skaters. Perfect, they can’t say no. The coach who hooked it up was our local 1980 Olympic “late cut” and youth league fixture from my old days at Abe Stark. His name is actually Dan Girardi, funny enough. Thanks Dan!

Oh, and they had a game that afternoon. I barged in 20 minutes before game time and not knowing anyone. My head was completely shaved. AC/DC was playing, and everyone looked at me and I was like, “I’ll play anywhere, I just need to skate boys.” Someone asked me what my hair was about, and I was off and running. 

It was a clown car of a team, but we made states with 11 guys and 3 goalies. I know I’m being a hero in this bio but making States in my last year of hockey was awesome. It was Tier 3 states, but whatever. 

It all came down to us versus the top team, the Vipers, in the last regular season home game. 

They were the 1 seed in the league playoffs. We were down a goal in the 3rd, and I made an absolutely wreckless pinch in the middle of the blue line, wrestled it away, went give and go, THEN went post-in. 2-2 game. BUT we need 2 points boys. So, more chances were taken. Another pinch and pass set up Brett for the goal and States berth. 

The following year, I was set to go to college. My game plan was to walk-on to SUNY Oswego’s D3 team by hopefully my junior year. I was going to be the guy that showed up for 3 years before getting on the ice and proving all those suckers wrong and getting one pity shift against SUNY Morrisville.

Oswego also had a club team, which had their tryouts first, in September. It was a 3 night tryout, and I hung in there in night 1. There were 7 D and 4 slots open. I think I had a good shot. That night, I felt a pulled muscle in my abdomen. I spent the rest of the night puking, and got my appendix out the next day. The club hockey coach simply said to come back next year when I asked if he could consider my one night tryout. So, I ran track.

Like the wind.

My brothers still abuse me for it. But, I joined the track team because they were the worst team in the SUNYAC conference of champions and I was “pretty fast” as I told the coach. I thought I could be good at the hurdles or steeplechase (I wasn’t good at either). They accepted my measly offering and made me run 4 miles a day for like 2 months. I collapsed after the first run (my appendix area was not quite recovered).

I eventually got OK by my third year by going HARD, taking ice baths, training every day, and not drinking for like 4 months my senior year of college. Huge hardo move but did get three school records (2 in relays). Two got broken the following year by this really fast kid. I was only pretty fast.

DMR bronze medalists (I have the flow #36). Dear Fed, I still have cardio.

Hockey wasn’t out of my life for long. I became a men’s league junkie immediately after college. I also got to coach my old high school team for one year (lost in the championship, again) and helped out coaching at another school. I even kept score at the league games for a couple of seasons. 

However, life took me to New Orleans and I got my law degree here last May. It’s been 4.5 years without hockey, although I do get a summer skate in thanks to my brothers. Went pretty hard at Christmas Eve pickup hockey this year.

One of my favorite memories the last few years was being asked if I played college at one of the summer skates. I even talk sh*t about trying out for a Fed team. I’ve seen how some of those defensemen skate.

Now, I play when I can, and enjoy other aspects of the game, like watching, writing, and pretending I’ll be my brothers’ pro agent. I’m excited to be a part of The Morning Skate and help spread the game we know and love.

My pen name is inspired by a Jacob Riis Park in Rockaway where you can play pitch and putt, surf, run, learn to drive, and see the eldery (mostly dudes) on the federal nude beach. I spent a lot of time there. The park is named for Jacob Riis, who exposed abusive tenement housing in NYC in the late 1800’s. He worked a series of odd jobs before earning his livelihood by writing. 

Hockey has affected literally all aspects of my life. From family to my screenname to my unhealthy thirst for competition and adrenaline, to my propensity for analyzing everything and being hard on myself, to my genuine altruism when it comes to my team, to my explosive but well-meant tendencies, it’s in my DNA at this point. 

Fed teams: get at me. 

-Puckraker

Author: Puckraker

Puckraker grew up skating and retired after a Tier III NYS tournament appearance with the Great Neck Bruins. These days, Puckraker is a lawyer living the dream from New Orleans, where there are no hockey rinks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s