A Taste of London

london main

In 2009, a six hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean landed Joe Rapolla Jr. and I in London. We were on Spring break during High School visiting my sister who had been studying abroad in London for a college semester.

Joe and I were two young and eager 18 year-olds about to go on vacation for the first time together in a different country, a different city. From day one we knew the vacation had the potential to be the trip of a lifetime.

We went “all in” for our journey to the U.K., and prepared ourselves for what we were about to ourselves get into.

Five months in advance we researched online, asked relatives, and asked any acquaintances we knew who had been there before about their experiences and recommendations for things to do. We even took trips to bookstores to check out travel books and guides on London – talk about enthusiasm.

The details, advice, and information we gathered about which pubs to check out were what we poured our most attention into.

Did I mention the drinking age in the United Kingdom is 18?

As soon as we arrived Joe and I hopped onto a two-story red tour bus which took us all over the city. We personally asked the tour guide questions about the pubs we had heard of and any ones he would recommend.

london bus

Pinterest

 

He served our brains with all the pub information we needed.

Of course, it was the little things about London’s pubs where we found and experienced the city’s energy and flavor.

All of London’s pubs are hundreds of years old, and quite classic and historic looking. They were always either two stories high, or had an underground basement below the first floor.

The ceilings were always very low, and their names were typically creative that carried a special meaning behind them.

The first pub we arrived to was called the “Hog in the Pound.” It was an all gray building on a slope of a corner side street with a few empty kegs lying outside of it. I knew we were in the right spot after I saw the proud but lifeless empty kegs sitting there just waiting to be used again.

When we walked in it was exactly what I had imagined.

The pub was dark, old, and built mainly out of dark brown wood inside. We walked down the winding, old, and wooden stair case to discover the smell of fish and chips – which was something else London is notorious for. The downstairs was filled with empty small tables all around which covered the floor.

London is also known for their “warm beer,” so we had to order that as our first legal European drink. Our fish and chips and first warm beer gave us our first taste of London’s unique flavor. The beer was extra smooth and comforting as it hit your lips, and gave us a feel of what London was all about.

Afterwards as we roamed the busy streets of the city we came to a halt when we saw a small and dark side street that was only about twenty yards long with a dead end. As we curiously peered down this alley we could see a pub sign hanging ten feet from the ground that read, “Spread Eagle.”

Somewhat amazed by this hidden pub we had to walk in.

spread eagle

Spread Eagle Pub

 

The Eagle was cramped inside; all the tables and seats were tightly fitted next to each other to the left of the old maroon painted entrance door going in a straight narrow path, with the bar parallel to the right. There were only five guys in there enjoying their beers, smokes, and laughs.

It had a genuine comfortable feel to it though. I felt like I had been here plenty of times already before, like a regular.

Over the next three nights Joe and I went back to the Eagle just about an hour before closing time. Most pubs there actually close early at 10, but the Eagle would stay open a little later for its “boys.”

Every time we’d walk into the Eagle, it would be the same five guys, bartenders, and other regulars we saw the first time, and then our young American selves. We’d gotten pretty friendly with the regulars; they gave us great advice on places to go and simply shared great stories.

The owner was a Liverpool Football Club fan, as were as all the regulars in there. We had found out that basically the Eagle was a Liverpool bar in an area of London that was all Chelsea fans, their biggest rivals. So picture a Boston Red Sox bar in New York City…

On our last night we walked in to find a completely new scene at the Eagle. It was crowded out the door with people, and we could hear the noise from down the road. Joe and I looked at each other in an excitement like we just got backstage passes to a Bruce Springsteen concert, as we hustled into the crowded bar with our Irish lids almost falling off.

london underground

There was Liverpool game on against Chelsea, and I’d never seen a sports scene anything like it before. I could sense the passion from the fans yelling and screaming excitedly with everyone having a high football IQ; and their display of disappointment both verbally and facial expression-wise after their team had lost.

Garreth Davies, was one of the crazy fans we’d gotten to know to pretty well. He was at the game, but got thrown out, so of course he ended up back at the Eagle posting up with a brew.

He bought us a few rounds and explained the whole history of the team in full detail and his experiences of going to so many games over the years. Then, he got very serious about one story…

He explained that in 1989, 96 Liverpool fans died outside their stadium. They were crushed into one another by the police. “The Sun,” a newspaper in England, reported false information on how the people died and came up with statements that truly went against the poor fans who were crushed to death.

He was very intense with telling this story and you could tell he took a lot of pride in his favorite sports team. He even gave us a vintage sticker that says “Don’t Buy the Sun.”

Our final pub visit had come to an end, we thanked and hugged all the guys and parted ways – promising we’d come back one day.

After our experience in London I’d go back in a heartbeat. In fact, I always say it’s one of my dream places to live one day aside from California.

The little things like the crowds, stories we heard, laughs over beers, and meeting guys like Garreth Davies at the pubs made London’s experience extra special and memorable. I think I learned more about London in its pubs than I did on any of the tour guides too.

The little things gave us a taste of London we’ll never lose.

Green Meteor, or Something Unknown?

I was driving home on a freezing October night around midnight when I saw one of the most remarkable sights I’d ever seen with my own two eyes while crossing over the bridge from Long Branch into Oceanport on Shrewsberry Ave.

As soon as I crossed over the small bridge simultaneously my head slowly lifted up to my right to look up to the clear night sky, while my right hand slowly turned the volume knob to the left to lower my music.

“Whaaaaaat…” I said out loud.

Everything was now going in slow motion, and I felt like I was in some sort of dream because what I had saw didn’t seem real.

Up above in the night, soaring across the stars was a green light, a very large green ball of fire, with an even brighter green tail flying behind.

Time stood still for me.

green meteor

My head and eyes shifted from looking upwards to the right to looking straight ahead again as they followed the pace of this extraordinary green light as if they were attached to it by a string.

I watched it glow and sail behind the trees in a downwards arc motion, almost as if it was outlining the Earth’s spherical shape, in the same direction I had been driving. So, as I watched it fly in front of me, it appeared as if it was crashing down to Earth, unlike a shooting star that jets quickly across a night sky and disappears.

This looked like it was honestly going to crash right onto my front lawn which was about a mile up the road.

It was so close too – like when you’re outside and your reaction to a low plane flying above is, “Wowww, that plane is low.” Even though you’ve seen a million planes fly low you’re still always taken back by it, and it can startle you a bit.

My experience and reaction was like that, except I was looking at a green ball of fire fly across the sky.

After it had disappeared, and possibly crashed into little ol’ Oceanport, I was left there driving alone in my black Mazda speechless, zoned out, wide-eyed, and in shock. I looked to my left, right, and in all my mirrors to see if anyone else was around to have witnessed this phenomenon…

Nope, no one else was around of course when I witnessed something like that. My first reaction should have been – I just saw a UFO, but it wasn’t. Of course, I had been reflecting as I always do…so I just immediately made a wish like I would have done if I had seen a shooting star.

Two minutes later I pulled into my driveway and called my friend who I had just been with to tell him what I had just experienced.

I think I hurt his ear through the phone from talking so loud out of astonishment, and probably sounded like the “fast-forward” noise from an old VHS player. He was just laughing and said, “Maybe it was a UFO haha…” He probably thought I had stopped at a bar on the way home or something, and was imagining things.

I walked inside to tell my mom in the same astonishment – she looked at me like I was crazy – great no one was going to believe me about what I had just saw.

As soon as I got inside I Tweeted about what I had just witnessed. I then searched via Twitter for results for “green shooting star.”

BOOM.

I wasn’t alone.

Results came up. Tweets were made around the same time I had constructed my Tweet entailing characteristics about seeing this “green shooting star.”

 

greenshottingstar2

 

greenshootingstar

 

I was still in amazement at what I had seen, and so curious too. Like any other person would have done – I Googled it.

Online there are quite a few testimonies from people seeing green “fire balls” or “shooting stars.”

It was more than likely a meteor or a comet.

Or, perhaps I saw something that’s unknown, a mystery.

The Little Things About The Rain

rain_featured

“It’s raining, it’s pouring. The old man is snoring.”

An old rhyme that’s been said young kids used to sing when they couldn’t go outside to play because of the rain.

Rain seems to bother many people, and ruin their days.

As for me, I love a rainy day, especially in the Summer or Fall.

The sound of waking up in the morning to the crackling rain against my window and roof I find soothing. I can absolutely live with not having the sun slowly rise up, break through my blinds and glare against my face. I’d almost prefer to see rain drops stuck against the windows, and witness an overcast of clouds through the dispersed drops.

Rain_windows

When it rains it’s a classic excuse…an excuse maybe to go to a coffee shop and write. Perhaps stay in watch movies, catch up on a television show or even take a nice jog; why not?

It’s the little things for some odd reason I love about the rain. I appreciate that run in a light rain, which will have the misty precipitation hit my face, drip from my nose and soak my hair as if I just showered.

I get my most productive work done and inspiration to write when yes, it rains. Though not out of sadness or boredom. The rain puts me in a certain zone – A zone of motivation and determination.

Also, a rainy day is a time to break out a jacket. It could be an old hockey warm up, a vintage and cool looking wind breaker, a cozy sweat shirt or potentially a black pea coat.

If it rains on a Saturday, the forecast may entail a day out with friends at the pub watching college football or an NHL game on NBC – A day of toasting and laughing when there isn’t a care in the world.

As a youngster, sometimes it even meant playing in a classic football match with buddies, and not thinking twice about how muddy and dirty we got.

Rain on a Fall day, the best.

The precipitation isn’t too cold, plus the smells of September and October compliment the distinct odor a rainy day has to offer.

In the Fall, as the water falls there’s a certain glare in the overcast sky that glows, and almost gives everything a brightened mysterious haze that’s somehow captivating. As if you could snap your fingers and change the scenery with an Instagram filter.

October, the rain usually brings a swirling and whistling wind that will press the refreshing rain against your skin. The trees will sway back and forth in a slow constant motion like a pendulum from an old clock.
I admire the little things when the rain makes all the gorgeous Fall colored leaves shine like they just got polished, as they heavily stick to the streets; giving the roads and sidewalks a different look, and have the surrounding trees’ characteristics flaunt more than usual on a Fall day or night.

rain_leaves

The Little Thing5 Pinterest

 

A summer rain brings back memories to hanging out with family and friends at the beach club. It involved playing card and board games in a beach cabana. If it stopped, we’d wait and go play “running bases” on the cool temperature beach, while the rocky ocean crashed loud and hard against the quiet and deserted Shore.

The little things about a rainy Summer thunderstorm – I look forward to. The powerful crackling sound of thunder that sneaks up on you, shakes your living room floor and drags out its rumbling sound for seconds much longer than you’d expect makes the hair on my back rise, but in a unique and intriguing way.

Then after the thunder makes its demanding presence known there’s a silent pause, as if someone muted and sucked all the air out of the world, and lightning flashes throughout the dark charcoal gray sky.

At night, the little things like listening to the rain harmoniously hit the windows, roof, gutters and the trees slowly swaying like a clock’s pendulum all compose peaceful soothing noises as I begin to fall asleep…

I appreciate the little things about the rain.

Goodnight.

The Nickname Mickey

“Mickey! Mick…” Coach Kanaly sternly said while skating around in our first ever practice together back in 2006.

He looked right at me as I just stared at him with my mouth open in confusion, and before I could ask him if “Mickey” was in reference to me he energetically continued draw out an offensive zone breakout.

It was as if he didn’t understand how to correctly pronounce my last name, so he quickly just came up with that substitution for it. I was a new player to the team, and really didn’t know anyone at all. From that moment on almost all they guys just assumed “Mickey” was my actual name.

Coach Kanaly and Derek had officially given me my new nickname and identity.

From that day moving forward the name Mickey stuck to me for good, and quite frankly I absolutely loved it. I embraced it.

Every athlete knows from playing on teams that most guys, especially hockey players, are typically given nicknames. It could be because there a few players on a team with the same name, someone portrays certain physical characteristics, like calling someone “Turtle;” or, simply because it’s easier to shorten someone’s last name like Phillips to “Philly.”

Hockey is such a fast paced game, and communication with teammates on the ice is one of the “little things” that are so key to having success, as our coaches always preached to us.

Athletes could also relate to the fact that sometimes you could go years without actually knowing someone’s real name, because we’re so used to calling each other by nickname. I actually had that happen to me with an old teammate of mine.

Even after being teammates for a year my teammate Jared Zavatsky and I were sitting in the locker room before practice, and he goes, “Wait, Mick…what is… your real name? Like, someone else asked me what it was the other day, and I just thought it was Mickey…and they told me it wasn’t…”

I told him what it was, and we both just laughed our asses off. I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually know what his name was either because I just always addressed him by his last name.

photo1 (2)

Dream board. Click for link.

 

As my hockey days continued I went on to play for two different teams after the Blackhawks, the Philadelphia Revolution and Monmouth University. For both teams I introduced myself as “Kyle McKenna,” but told everyone to just call me Mickey.

My new teammates always responded with, “Why Mickey? Where did that come from?”

My response back was always the same as well.

With a quick laugh and an elated smirk on my face I would look down real fast with an expression on my face portraying reflection; where a million memories would soar through my head in the span of two seconds.

I would say, “My old coaches just gave it to me, I guess it was a shorten version of my last name, and I don’t know – I like it and it just stuck with me.”

Whenever I would hang out with my teammates outside of hockey and meet their friends most of them would normally introduce me as Mickey, and if they introduced me as Kyle for some reason I would just say, “They all call me Mickey, so you can just call me that if you’d like.”

I’m glad the nickname stuck with me. Regardless of what’s happened in the past the name would still always have a big place in my heart because of my former Coaches and teammates who originally addressed me as Mickey.

One memory I can recall is when Coach Derek texted me before a game one day, and addressed me as “Kyle.”

I quickly texted him back saying something along the lines of, “Dude, are you feeling OK? In the four years of playing for you – you’ve never called me by my actual name.”

After the name had originally latched onto me I wanted all my hockey guys to refer to me as Mickey. It’s what I had grown accustom too, and them calling me “Kyle” just sounded weird to me.

Chances are if you’ve met me and know me as “Mickey,” in some way we have a mutual friend who I used to play hockey with.

As I get older I certainly appreciate the little things about the nickname and the memories that come to mind of being with all my former hockey brothers.

The little things, like remembering which guys originally gave me the nickname.

The little things, like being able to explain why I stuck with the name years later down the road from today – I’ll appreciate.

“Mickey,” is a reminder and a short story from my past…

My grassroots for welcoming “the little things.”

DP5, RG71, MW12 Tribute Jersey

As a “jersey collector” for professional sports teams, thinking about what jersey I should look into getting next is on my mind quite often.

Last March for my 23rd birthday I wanted one gift, and one gift only.

A “tribute jersey.”

Over the last couple of years I’ve slowly had some visions and thoughts about getting some-sort of jersey in honor of Coach Derek Percy. I could never quite put my finger on what exactly I wanted to do, or assemble…

I would have ideas like, do I get “Percy” and his number “5” on the back of one of his favorite team’s jerseys, whether it be hockey or football etc?

Thoughts would come and pass as time went on, and then about a month before my birthday it suddenly hit me. I knew exactly what I wanted.

Whenever you go to hockey games, or ever get the chance to, you’ll notice there’s always one person walking around wearing a custom made jersey that has some type of meaning to it.

For example, a New Jersey Devils jersey with the number “95” on its back with “00” and “03” on its right and left sleeves, and “Champs” stitched onto the back nameplate in affiliation to the organization’s Cup winning years.

Recalling seeing jersey’s like “Champs” with three different numbers had me thinking that not only could I honor Coach Derek with a custom tribute, but I could have two other brothers of mine represented on this jersey I had been envisioning.

The Chicago Blackhawks played in one of the few outdoor Stadium Series games last season for the NHL. Each team wore a custom made alternate-esc-jersey for their outdoor game. The Blackhawks just so happened to wear a modified version of a jersey that resembled their old black uniforms; a black Blackhawks jersey I wore playing alongside Rich Grande and Mike Weltner while playing under Coach Derek.

The Chicago Blackhawks Stadium Series Jersey was fresh, and had a certain “SWAGGER” to it that made it great. I knew all three of the guys would have loved it.

hawks stadium series

Blackhawks Stadium Series

 

I had made tributes towards the guys before in the past, like writing their numbers on my game sticks and skates, or getting numbers outlined on the back of my head during a haircut. Yet, this idea I had felt different to me… it was something felt previously before I started working on “The Little Thing5” story.

It was a gut and jittery feeling of, “Hey, I have to do this, and I deeply want to.”

It was like the guys were slowly hinting and pointing out all the signs for me. So, I listened and took in the little things that lead to some creativity and a tribute that brought joy to my face.

When my family asked what I wanted for my birthday I listened to my heart and could feel it in the bottom of my gut, like I had just made the cut at a professional tryout. The tribute I had been seeking was to get the Chicago Blackhawks Stadium Series Jersey with Derek’s number “5” on the back with his last name, “Percy,” stitched onto the nameplate.

Then, on the sleeves I would get Grande’s hockey number “71” added on one side and Weltz’s “12” on the other. Numbers they wore while we were teammates.

I thought it be appropriate to have Coach’s name and number on the back symbolizing that we’re a part of #TeamDerekPercy. He was one of our inspirational leaders and idols, especially for myself. We were all his boys…

I added little symbolic things like having Grande’s number placed on the right sleeve, because he played right-handed. Weltz’s number “12” was placed on the left sleeve because he played lefty.

Jersey Tribute

Jersey Tribute

I added the captain’s letter “C” to represent myself. My last season playing with Weltz and playing under Derek I was named team captain, so that represents my spot on the jersey, being alongside my brothers again.

Thanks to coolhockey.com I was able to have the jersey customized exactly how I wanted it.

A week after the order was placed I knew the day had come where the jersey should have been delivered to my place. After class I drove back – nervous and excited. I was nervous because I would be bummed if it hadn’t arrived yet, or if something had gone wrong for some reason.

I got to the house in the late afternoon to find that the jersey had not arrived. I was more than disappointed. I just didn’t have the patience to wait any longer, and it should have arrived hours ago.

I wistfully headed back into my car to leave. I started my car, and was about to drive away. Something kicked into my head though…I decided I’d wait five more minutes to see if just maybe the UPS truck would magically appear with my jersey.

What’d you know, as I sat in silence I heard the noise of a truck to my left. A UPS truck was coming down the street -fate played in my favor – and I immediately jumped out of my car.

As the brown UPS truck pulled in front of my house I ran onto the front lawn with an adrenaline rush going through me. While the delivery man was in the back of his truck my legs naturally took me two steps forward towards the truck, but I hesitated and stopped.

blackhawks jersey 2

I would have probably freaked the delivery man out if I just ran up and met him to take this package before he could even get out of the truck, so I awkwardly stood there in the middle of the lawn, eyeing the package the UPS man was carrying towards me like a hawk eyeing down it’s prey.

The UPS man looked around a little confused at first with an expression on his face saying, “What the hell is this kid doing in the middle of the lawn not moving and staring me down.”

I grabbed the package right out of his hands as he smiled and shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

After I opened up the gift I held up the jersey to admire it – It was gorgeous. It’s chrome logo shined in the light, and the white numbers outlined in a sharp red gleamed even brighter against the midnight black-based jersey.

It’s proven to be a “lucky jersey” ever since. If I go to a Devils game now with some old teammates of mine, I’ll typically wear it. Most people around me compliment it, instead of questioning why I’m wearing a Blackhawks jersey to a Devils game.

blackhawks jersey (1)

Reunited with old teammates

 
The jersey had brought wins to Devils, and when I wore it a few weeks ago to a game I randomly got offered a seat upgrade to have access to the “Platinum Club” – a private and hidden club in the Prudential Center. I’d say that’s pretty lucky.

Last NHL post-season when the Chicago Blackhawks fell down in a series against the Los Angeles Kings three games to none, I decided I’d break out the lucky jersey for the Hawks’ sake. I wore the jersey for the next two games, and the Hawks won. For game six I wasn’t around, but I had my mother hold onto it while she watched the game – the hawks won…

This birthday present was awesome for a number of reasons, but most importantly it was created out of pure love and appreciation for a special group of guys.

It’s a reminder our boys are always with us, they’re always watching over us, and luck is on our side.

#TeamDerekPercy

Odell Beckham Jr. “The little things”

459482410

On Sunday November 23rd, the New York Giants and their division rivals the Dallas Cowboys squared off on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football In America” at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands.

The Giants lost in a very close and exciting game 31-28, but the outcome of the game was overshadowed by New York’s wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s outstanding one handed catch that resulted in a touchdown.

It was brought to my attention that in a post game interview the rookie wide receiver mentions “the little things..” about 50 seconds in.

I’m sure Beckham Jr. will continue to find success and be a star NFL player because of the little things he sees and takes care of.

It always puts a smile on my face to see athletes mention the little things…

Student Of The Game

B&W4

“He’s pretty good. You can tell he’s going to be GOOD when he’s older,” I said to Coach Derek as we watched the younger players scrimmage towards the end of a Pro Performance clinic from the side boards.

He stood there, intensely still and focused on his mite level players, wide eyed with his necklace-whistle clenched and gritted tightly between his teeth, like a referee waiting to make a call towards the end of a big game.

There was a silent pause between us, as if he wasn’t listening to me. Then it was like something had suddenly hit him.

He slowly nodded his head with his wide puppy looking brown eyes and said, “You know why Mick…he’s a student of the game. He studies and understands the game.” He quickly turned his head to look at me and said, “He’s like you, he’s my student.”

From the age of 14 until 19 I was Coach Derek’s student; ‘a student of the game,’ a student of the sport, hockey. I was lucky enough that Coach Derek saw something in me that perhaps other peers and coaches around me did not.

I will never forget when he took me aside after our final game of the 2006 season. That had been my first season playing under him and Coach Kanaly in Toms River.

Preaching 'the little things'

Preaching ‘the little things’

Before the game had started, as I wrapped clear tape around my white socks against my shin guards, Coach Derek took me aside and said with an eager – yet serious look on his face, “Hey, I need to talk to you after the game, ok? Don’t forget either, alright buddy.”

As usual, I nodded, gave me him a fist pound, and continued to get dressed in the boiling hot locker room of the half indoor/outdoor rink at Winding River.

I had already come to love and admire Coach Derek and had improved my hockey skills tremendously as the year went on thanks to him and Kanaly. But, I wasn’t sure what he wanted to talk to me about.

After the game ended the team and the parents had a pizza party. Everyone was in great spirits, especially after the way we had ended the season. We were finally becoming a true team, and a good one with a lot of potential for future seasons.

Coach Derek then took me aside in between the player’s locker rooms and the rink. It was a cold November night, in the old rink which keep in mind again was a half indoor/outdoor rink set up. I stood there shaking a little bit because of the temperature outside and being right next to the ice rink. Also, I was a little jittery and eager to see what my Coach – who I had grown so fond of, wanted to tell me.

I stood there at the age of 15 looking up to this guy who had already taught me so much and inspired me in such a short period of time. He stood there looking fresh as always in his suit, short and flowing curly hair, with his right hand stroking his goat-tee scruff.

“I wanted to bring you aside because I’m proud of you and you may not even realize, but I see something unique, something Kanaly and I can’t exactly teach either,” he said in his confident voice.

I froze. I wasn’t sure where the conversation was going. So, like any other nervous 15-year old I just stood there, and kept nodding my head.

“Your skills sets have grown tremendously over these past few months. It’s literally been night and day from the start of the season until now, and I promise you if you stick with us, Kanaly and I, you’ll only get better. You went from a guy just trying to crack into the lineup – to a go-to guy; a guy we look towards putting out there in any given situation…penalty kill…power play….a faceoff situation,” he said with his right hand now moving from down to up emphasizing levels of a ladder.

As he continued to talk I could see his passion and enthusiasm for the game, the sport, this special group of guys we had, and his belief in me.

“This unique characteristic you have that Kanaly and I have discussed is something called ‘scale-ability.’ You’ve only gotten better by working hard over the last couple months, and you’re only going to continue to get better as time goes on, as you work more, and grow…”

It felt awesome hearing this from Coach Derek. I had worked extremely hard to get where I was at thanks to him, Kanaly, and my teammates.

He went on, “I’m going to continue to work with you. Take my word for it. And, one day you’ll be playing Junior hockey.”

He started to smile and laugh, “One day I’m just going to ship you off…to New Hampshire or where ever it may be, because you have the potential to play at that level. I see it. It’s the little things you do that I can’t stress enough about, right?”

I stood there and was certainly inspired. I had already begun drinking he and Coach Kanaly’s “Koolade, ” like I was a freshman at his first college party that he and Kanaly were pouring to us all season; and was only going to consume more of it after this talk with Derek.

It got me motivated to start the next season right then and there at 9:30pm on a Sunday night just after our season had literally just ended. Derek was great at motivating any of us at any given time.

I could remember driving home that night with a lot on my mind. Also, well aware that I would be working with Coach Derek over the next few years, none of this would be something that happened over night. There wasn’t a worry in my mind. I was at ease, not too content and comfortable, but inspired to continue work and grow alongside my teammates.

Pro Performance Camp

Pro Performance Camp

Over the next three years I continued to play for Coach Kanaly and Derek with the rest of the same core of guys.

Derek and I personally took the extra time to have me work hard on and off the ice. He started up his own private lessons during the year and week long summer camps. They involved every aspect of the game to turn someone into a complete hockey player.

Skating technique/form, power skating, balance, stick handling, endurance, strength, shooting, passing, edge work, face-offs , friendly competition…you name it – we practiced and worked on it.

Showing up to Winding River in the Fall before a team practice to do a skating clinic with Derek was a norm. Sometimes I would be the only guy from the team there, and one my age. It didn’t matter though. The drills he had me working on were to push me; make me stronger both physically and mentally.

If he saw me doing a drill the correct way – he would enthusiastically stop me during the middle of the drill to show the others how to do it, and vice versa if I did something wrong.

All eyes were on him as he would show us step by step clearly what to and not to do typically in his black and red CCM warmup suit, and sometimes wearing his white Bauer 4500 “bucket” on backwards –somehow it never fell off either.

The only thing you could hear in Winding River when he spoke was his loud and enthusiastic tone echo throughout the rink. It was a voice you could always immediately recognize. That was him teaching, while we took notes. As soon as that lesson ended we got right back to work.

Not being able to breathe after drills and breathing in the cold distinct rink air that stung like hell was nothing new as the years went on attending Derek’s sessions.

As Fall came and went, High School season would began. Derek would still hold private ice and run clinics. Still, I would drive down for an hour clinic. Most would say it probably wouldn’t be worth the drive, but it was Derek, I had to, I wanted to. He was my guy, my idol, and I was his guy. He would always be there for me, as I would be for him.

Plus, showing up to rink meant I would run into someone. Whether it was Kanaly, Philly, Weltz, Neebus, Pizzulo, Renae, Wyotes etc. It would be great to see those guys and be reunited. The jokes, smiles, and laughs never got old – they never could.

When Summer came around it would be time to do Derek’s week long summer camp. A week of nonstop hockey. A week of working hard and having fun. A week of off-ice which usually made me feel like a 70-year old man the next day.

As Derek would say after an off-ice workout with a smile larger and wider than the United States, “Yeahhhh BUDDY, tomorrow you’re all going to bend down to sit on the toilet seat, and you’re not going to be able to because of the soreness in your thighs.”

It was true, ha.

For my final season playing under Derek he had named me team Captain for the Blackhawks right after tryouts. I could not have been happier. It not only showed how far I had grown and excelled, but how far he and I had come together – a tribute towards our relationship.

We had kept both of our word towards each other three years later, neither giving up on one another no matter what the outcome was after a game, or season.

That summer during his week–long camp we agreed that I would show up an hour early or so in the morning to get extra work in. I absolutely hated the mornings. Nothing was worse than waking up at 7:00am when I was 18. But, if it meant getting up and attending Coach Derek’s lesson – I did it. To anything else I would have easily said, “Screw it,” back then.

He knew how far I had become as a player both skill and leadership wise, and wanted those qualities to progress. He was grooming his student to be the best, and a representation of himself as well.

That same summer my transformation was complete. I went from being an average player, to one of, if not the fastest player on the ice during the season. People and guys I used to play with in the past wouldn’t have recognized me out there from the player I once was.

The film, Dead Poet’s Society, always reminds me of playing in Toms River with my teammates.

We were a group of teenagers who banded around each other, and embraced our teachers, our coaches. I always associate myself with the shy main character, Todd Anderson, who was pretty much scared of his own shadow at the films start, but ends up portraying his “scale-ability” throughout the film, and turns into a leader in the end, thanks to his inspirational teacher.

Thanks to my teammates, Kanaly, and especially Coach Derek I transformed from a follower into a leader. A boy to a man. An average player to a top-notch player.

Derek and Kanaly challenged and put confidence in me that I needed to get where I wanted to and could be as a player and person. Other than family and my parents, they’re a huge reason of what and who I turned out to be, and how I carry myself.

As Derek’s student, even though he is no longer with us, I still take notes from his lessons and blue prints he left behind that I would see later on.

Something I truly admired, and reminded me of something a Professor of mine asks us to do, is an “act of kindness;” His act of kindness out of love for our friend, brother, and teammate Mike Weltner, “Weltz.”

About two months after Derek had passed, while Weltz was still battling, I received news about something Weltz had received.

Derek had reached out to a hockey contact of his from California with the Los Angeles Kings for Weltz. Weltz had received an autograph jersey from the entire 2011-2012 Kings roster. Interesting enough, that Kings team beat the New Jersey Devils and won the Stanley Cup. What’s interesting is that he received the jersey 3 months after the fact they had won.

I marveled at what he had done for our brother.

It was the little things that Coach Derek did for myself and others that helped us grow as players and people that we followed and admired.

It was the little things he saw in me that took my hockey play to a whole another level.

The little things like taking the time to tell me at 15-years old that he believed in me and was willing to go the extra mile to work with me to succeed – I couldn’t be more appreciative of and recommend more Coaches and teachers do the same.

And, as he promised – I went on to play Junior Hockey in Philadelphia, where new lifelong relationships were formed that I treasure. I was lucky enough to in fact meet another inspirational and favorite Coach of mine – which is a story for another time.

Thanks to his notorious “little things” I was more than prepared to succeed at that level, and lead.

To this day in any situation, good or bad, I can still hear his voice in my head, and I can hear exactly what he would say, or advice he would give.

I was his student – a protégé, and always will be a product of Derek Percy.

When it’s all said and done, what Coach Derek meant to “us” – was everything.

derek

Click for “DP5” post.

A Change of Pace

This past summer while driving back from a friend’s house in a suburb outside of Philadelphia, located in South Jersey, I decided to try something different, a change of pace.

I had a general idea of which way I had to take to get onto the main highway to get back home to the Shore, but still needed my GPS to reassure that. As I came to a light where I had to make a turn onto a main highway my mind suddenly began to race.

I realized I was in zero rush to get back home on this Saturday in August. “Why not try something different Kyle,” I said to myself. I decided I wanted to explore this area, and take back roads home. See what new things I could find and what this area had to offer on a gorgeous summer day at 12:00pm.

Instead of making the turn onto the highway and taking the “mainstream” way home, I said, “Screw it.” I ignored my GPS and threw it onto the empty passenger seat. I went straight through the light and down a road that looked extremely long and hilly. Yet, my gut told me I would be fine, and what’s the worst that could happen?

As I drove instinctively I then turned up my music and instantly began to have an adrenaline rush go through my body. I didn’t know exactly where I was going now, but still didn’t have a care in the world. I had no reason to.

I was completely alone on a perfect sunny summer day that wasn’t too bright or too hot. I had zero obligations to be anywhere at a specific time. No one was asking where I was or telling me to what to do. Luckily I wasn’t one of those guys with that annoying girlfriend pestering me about my night, when I would be back around, or making plans that I wanted absolutely no part of. No homework assignments due, or a work shift starting in two hours that I would be miserable at…

This was a time for me to do something new, explore, reflect, clear my mind, and perhaps find inspiration to write.

It was serenity.

I drove about 50mph down the first long and hilly road. I was surrounded by bright green and yellow colors. Fields of various plants and parallel rows of flowers to my left seemed endless. To my right I would see corn fields and then some open land on scattered farms with a few animals appearing here and there.

I was very close to pulling over on the side of the road and getting out of the car to go explore through the fields, take pictures, and really take in this country scene. But, I continued to drive listening to my loud, lively, and enthusiastic music which simply put me in an even better frame of mind. Driving and seeing all of this even made me think – how could this even be the same State in comparison to other parts of Jersey.

I soon came to another light and now made a turn away from the country scene of New Jersey. I was entering a small vintage looking town.

The roads were narrow and winding in all different directions with a speed limit no higher than 25mph. The streets were like rivers as they were bordered by old and dark red brick patterned sidewalks on either side.

The surrounding buildings were identical to the sidewalks. They were all slender and two stories high, and each entailed only about five to six old stained looking windows.

There were no corporate or franchised businesses to be seen. No CVS, McDonalds, or Starbucks. What first looked like a Welsh Farms from a distance turned out to be a family owned business called, “Town Convenience Store.” There was barley any other cars besides mine driving on the roads either. Everyone was out about walking from place to place in their town. Once I found my way out of the downtown area I began to slowly navigate through a neighborhood.

old philly

Click for link

The homes were all classical looking as well. They were built tightly close to each other –pretty much on top of one another with an old brown or white painted wooden fence separating the properties. Most had a small front porch that you would think to see on a farmer’s ranch, were two stories, narrow looking, with a triangular-pointed roof, old fragile looking windows, and the wood they were built of had a rustic appearance.

Minutes later I had finally navigated my way back to a main road which then led me towards Interstate-195-East.

Back to reality.

As I headed back East on the interstate I kept thinking about my passage through the old and historic-classical “Philadelphia-like” town. The truth was – I admired it a lot. It was so different than the Jersey I had grown up with, or what most people would envision when they “picture” New Jersey.

It was the little things about that town and area outside of Philly that got my attention. The old brick sidewalks, buildings, small-owned businesses, and “dollhouse” looking homes – I appreciate.

The little things like the long road with the endless colorful fields and crops, and the perfect temperature outside with some dark clouds a ways in the distance behind the sun. A small breeze brushing my arm backwards over and over again as it hangs out of the car window – I cherish.

The little things like deciding to take the back roads home through a South Jersey suburb over taking a main highway – I dig.

The little things like having time to yourself, not having any worries, obligations, or ultimatums; singing and listening to music while drumming my hands against my steering wheel, not caring if the person next to me sees and laughs at me – I get an adrenaline high like Jim Carrey does during one of his acts.

Life’s boring when we do the same things over and over again, follow the mainstream all the time, and don’t try new things or explore.

Whether it’s taking a different route back home, trying new experiences or foods, or even a new clothing style you’re unsure about; I say try it, and do what makes you happy…

A change of pace – Inspires me.

Martin St. Louis NBC Sports Interview: Appreciating the ‘little things’

Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Rangers

On Wednesday November 19th, 2014 NBC Sports’ hockey analyst Pierre McGuire interviewed New York Rangers forward and assistant captain Martin St. Louis.

St. Louis discussed how he “Sees the little things…” and truly understands and appreciates them even when others may not realize what they are. (See link below)

http://www.nbcsports.com/hockey/nhl/martin-st-louis-nothing-beats-watching-sons-play-hockey?utm_network=twitter&utm_post=3176207&utm_source=TW%20%40NHLonNBCSports&utm_tags=

St. Louis is a prime example of what a “true underdog story” is and has always personally been inspiration to myself. I admire his leadership, play, and heart both on and off the ice. During my playing days I always studied very closely how he played the game and carried himself, and tried to replicate his ways on and off the ice as well.

I say – thank you Martin St. Louis for being such an inspiration and role model for all hockey players and more.

Most importantly, thank you for seeing and appreciating the little things…

%d bloggers like this: