As it turned out, the worst was yet to come. I made some inquiries at St. Francis College during my senior year about their hockey team, and the guidance counselor hooked me up with their team which met weekly at the Long Island Coliseum where the Islanders played. Let me tell you, as badly as the Isles stunk in their pre-Cup days, they would do nothing compared to what BT Superstar would do during his tryout.
I’ll never forget it was Israel who drove me out there on an hour-long haul for which he asked not a cent. He watched in embarrassment as I went out on my figure skates and did my flip-flop rubber ankle routine. Unbeknownst to me, one of my schoolmates, Robert Lacey, was in the audience as well. He was a big strapping Irishman who reminded me a lot of Bobby Orr during our Loughlin hockey games. Lacey decided to inquire and, as in turned out, became a welcome addition to the Terriers’ hockey club.
The difference in my second coming on ice was the sheer desperation with which I approached. I was in my early fifties and knew that I had a snowball’s chance in hell of going anywhere, but realized that I had never had a chance to find out where the playing skill the Lord had provided could have taken me. The difference was that at 240 pounds, with a 350-pound bench press and a 485-pound squat, as well as two brown/black belts to my credit, intimidation was going to be a non-factor in my opponents’ regard. I would have broken anyone across my knee as easily as a hockey stick. Unfortunately, everyone saw me coming and decided they did not want or need that in their fantasy hockey microcosm. After a season and a half of play at the Waukonis Ice Center, both players and officials alike decided to blackball me from their Mickey Mouse league.
What will forever stick in my craw was the weasel who did me in, Joe Lynch. He had been sucking up to Islanders’ legend Ken Morrow, who lived in the area and came to the rink regularly. I was dying to meet Morrow, inasmuch as the Isles were our heroes during their Stanley Cup reign and I knew everything about them, even after twenty years. I also knew that Morrow could assess my skills and give me advice as to whether I could create my own miracle on ice just as he and the US Olympic Team did against the Russians in 1980. Unfortunately, Lynch was insanely jealous of my ability, largely due to our closeness in age. He was a beat-up bag of shit who could barely skate, while I had his entire crew hearing skates behind them when I was on the ice. Lynch railroaded me out of the league, along with any chances I had of meeting Morrow and fulfilling a possible destiny. Que sera, sera.
I always knew deep down that brute force is, was, and will always be the deciding factor in all sports. The bigger and stronger team or individual will always win provided there is not a major discrepancy in the level of skill. Back then, I knew that I would get my arse handed to me for playing the kind of hockey game I did on Columbia Street. One of Dad’s friends from the Veteran Boxers actually sat next to Bobby Orr on a plane trip. They hit it off well, and he later told Dad that he might have been able to arrange having me sent to one of Orr’s training camps. I realized this was not an option because I didn’t have the necessary skills or the muscle to back it up. Over two decades later, I developed both in my own time, at a point in my life when most of what I had left was time.
It was too bad as far as football was concerned. I was an above average quarterback in that I had developed the skill of my hero Joe Namath in reading defenses and calling audibles in a day and age when it was virtually unheard-of. I also had a great shotgun short pass that Manny had helped me refine out on the street. I was also a decent runner though not good enough to make the Loughlin track team. My long pass was average though I could always put the ball on the money within my range. On defense I played middle linebacker, and I could read offenses plus make people pay for coming down my lane as a headhunting tackler. I was also a great pass defender and was the one guy Ismael and Spook Guzman could not beat. Of course, it was not meant to be, but I’m sure I could’ve contributed heavily to any football team had the opportunity presented itself.
As a hockey player I had above average skills in every facet of the game. Regrettably, as time went on, my size and strength gains came in forfeit of my speed. When I returned to Columbia Street hockey in ’75 at 185 pounds, my days as a speedster were long over. I was forced to depend on my hitting ability and my skills as a shooter and playmaker to compensate. Unfortunately for all concerned, I was carrying forty extra pounds and they packed a brutal wallop. When I took my last shot at the game in 2009, I came in at 240 pounds and was the terror of the league. It was a different day and age, however, and this carnivore got tossed out on his butt.
Basketball was one game that helped us stay in top shape, even though we were far too short to make it count anywhere outside of the schoolyard. I fancied myself another Pistol Pete Maravich, having incorporated some of my hockey moves in eluding defenders while dribbling. We were all at about the same skill level, and our games were highly competitive though I daresay that Ismael and I won way more games than Israel and Mark did. In all fairness, Spook Guzman was probably the best of us, though I fought him tooth and nail in every game (basketball or otherwise) that we played.
(To be continued...)