Friday, March 7, 2025

Welcome to Coach Chic's Hockey Diary

This Message from Coach Chic...

Just so visitors know, I've been writing about hockey for a good thirty or so years, and that has almost always included advice -- about coaching the game, about being a hockey parent, and about improving ones playing abilities.  

Over recent years, much of that more technical kind of writing -- and my video products -- have been hosted on a very popular hockey site,

Nowhere in there did I have the chance to do opinion pieces.

Enter my "Hockey Diary", which always seems to include at least a little about "The Life of a Hockey Coach".

With all that, I hope you'll scroll on through, and maybe even give me your opinions (God knows, I'm not shy about sharing mine).

Thanks for stopping by,

Dennis Chighisola

Monday, September 25, 2017

Not On These Given Sundays!

If you don't recognize that "given Sunday" reference, that's close to the title of an Oliver Stone movie called on "Any Given Sunday'.  A football flick starring Al Pacino, I guess that title suggested that anything could happen -- or anyone could win -- on any given Sunday.  As for my borrowing some of that title, let me get back to that momentarily.
Taking a step backwards in time for a sec, let me say that I played high school football and a rinky-dink level of semi-pro.  Still in our twenties, an old high school teammate and I bought New England Patriots season tickets for their new stadium just being built in Foxboro, MA.  We had a pair of seats each at the start, but I took on all four within a few years.  It was both fun and a hassle keeping up with the Pats' schedule, but I had to give up the seats when my hockey obligations caused far too many conflicts. 
That bit of history aside, I don't think one ever loses a love of a sport he or she has been involved in at several levels.  And so it was for me, with football, baseball and hockey.

Time permitting, Patriots games frequently owned our Sunday afternoons.  Those times were as much social, as I looked forward to watching a game with my dad, one of my brothers, or my brother in-law.

Fast forward to a few years ago, when Brenda and I moved from the frozen north to the Sunshine State.  Florida has its share of pro football teams down here, so the local airwaves were easily dominated with broadcasts of the local Buccaneers, the Miami team or the team up in Jacksonville.

Over that span, I've had to often rely on Internet reports or play-by-play posts by my social media friends.  Ya, I cared that much, hanging on every post or comment provided me by friends up around "Patriots Nation".

If you get my drift, I've been hooked on the Pats for a very long time, and I kinda lived or died with how they did on "any given Sunday".  I suffered through the years when the Sullivan family owned the team, and I've loved it all these recent years while Robert Kraft, Coach Bill and Tom Brady have been at the helm.  As a long time coach myself, I thought it something special when a pro team could project a one for all, all for one way of doing things -- ala Lombardi teams in Green Bay or Shula teams down in Miami.

That was then, though, and this is a day when I'm dealing with the aftermath of the most recent "given Sunday".  Actually, I missed this past Sunday's game because of other obligations, but I surely got the news about a bunch of Patriot players kneeling during the anthem.  I guess one player was heard to say something to the effect, "We want respect and unity."  Well, good for him -- or good for the lot of them.  As for me, though, I'm off the bandwagon. 
As most friends know, I've been a coach for more than 45-years.  And, I guess I'm also an old fashion sort.  So, while I know NFL types are wanting to handle things differently nowadays, I'd be inclined to fire any player who can't put his nation and his teammates before all else.  To my way of thinking, there are other ways to protest.  But...
I'm going to end here by saying that I could care less about the Patriots.  I'm also going to ask my northern friends not to relay scores to me anymore -- I mean that, I'm done.

Will I follow the NFL in the future?  Hmmmmmm...  I might be interested to hear how the Cowboys respond to their owner tonight, and I might jump on that bandwagon if Jones' players put football, their team, their fans and their country ahead of all else.


PS:  I recall Vince Lombardi prioritizing things for his players, and it didn't sound so far fetched to me...  As memory serves me, Lombardi believed that their God should come first to his players, their families should come next, and then the Packers team should come next -- above all else.  Of course, if Colin Kaepernick had been on that team, his preference for a certain ice cream flavor might well come just before or just after his commitment to the team.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

How To Be Thankful

Let me start by saying that Brenda and I have tried a number of churches since we landed in Central Florida. 
I don't think it's fair to suggest that any we visited weren't very nice, and more than good enough for a couple of sinners.  (Oh, we're not bad people at all, but we have learned to accept that we're all sinners, and we're all just trying our best to be right in the eyes of our God.)

Not so ironically, Brenda and I both spent most of our young lives attending services at churches our parents or ancestors picked for us.  Yes, think about that one...  Although growing up in different countries, our grandparents picked the churches their children would attend, and our parents just naturally continued a tradition that takes place in almost all families.

As for picking our own church, I think Brenda would agree that our choice had to be "us".  Do you know what I mean?
Speaking for myself for a sec, I'd say that I seldom left the religious services of my youth feeling all that inspired, motivated, cleansed, or whatever it is many God-fearing people seek.  Ya, that's a big part of what I mean by a church being "us", or maybe striking an undefinable chord within either Brenda or me.  (Truth be told, we thought we found the perfect church just before leaving Kissimmee.  Still, I guess God would have kept us there if that was his plan.) 
With all that.... 
Enter an awesome little congregation in a tiny town not far from where we are now, a little further south near Tampa.

Truly, none of the following should be taken in a negative way -- when I say that this church and its people are kinda old fashion, or kinda folksy, because I think the atmosphere there is totally "us".

We were made to feel at home from the very start, and nothing has changed over the many months we've been attending services there.  In fact, only missing a single service over that span -- due to a wicked flu bug, Brenda and I agree that Sunday morning is our very favorite time of the week.  Moreover, we usually go out for a bite after services, and we spend a great deal of time sipping coffee and hashing over our Pastor's latest message.

Yup, our Pastor...  Actually, this piece has a lot to do with the way he recently helped every member in his congregation to be thankful.  Of course, his lovely wife attracted everyone to that special night with her homemade chicken soup and dumplings.  (And, let me tell you, I was trying not to appear too piggish by limiting myself to just two bowls of that awesome stuff.)

Still, the best part of the night -- after some prayer, some talk of scripture, and a few warmth-inspiring Christian songs -- was a little game the Pastor had everyone in attendance play.  Here's how it went...
He gave everyone in the hall a small bowl, a small stack of notepaper and a pen.

The Pastor then asked everyone to take a piece of the paper, and jot on it something they were extremely thankful for.  Actually, he next turned to me at a nearby table, and I immediately pointed at Brenda.  Aaaaaah, for sure, the thing I'm most thankful for is having that always smiling young lady in my life.

He went on to ask us to fill our small bowls -- no, wait, he wanted us to overfill those bowls -- with all the things we were thankful for.
A few days after that stirring evening, Brenda asked me what I'd written on the remaining slips I heaped in my bowl.  That was easy...  Again, my first was about Brenda.  The next one I wrote with a lump in my throat, thanking God for the best upbringing a young guy could have ever have had.  The third one could have filled a bowl by itself, had I decided to list each detail separately.  But it was something simpler, as I expressed my thanks for "a life full of unbelievable experiences".  I mean, how many folks do you know who have made their favorite pastime their living?  How many do you know who got to study their sport in the old Soviet Union, to mix with many of the top people in their profession, or got to lecture in front of National Hockey League coaches and GMs?  Mixed in with all that, hardly a day goes by that I don't see something on TV and tell Brenda, "I've been there," or "I've done that."

To be honest, I've been into inspirational stuff since my earliest years of adulthood -- or even earlier.  And I'd long ago seen some ideas close to what the Pastor had us do.  A reader could even use the following version, especially if he or she is a little down in the dumps...
As I recall, the idea is to divide a long sheet of paper down the middle, and then go about listing all the negatives in your life on one side, and all the positives on the other.  As one usually discovers, the nice things tend to go far down the sheet, and sometimes even overflow onto another.  And, while the negatives might gnaw at you more than any others, this exercises tends to put things quickly into perspective.  I mean, no matter what might be bothering us at any given moment, we'd seldom ever give up all the great things that have happened to us over a lifetime.
As long time friends might know, I was literally wiped out a few years ago -- partly from a rather ugly divorce, with the finishing touches coming when I entrusted my coaching career to some extremely unscrupulous hockey people.  No matter, Brenda and I have spent little time crying.  We didn't even need any formal exercises to shake us out of those downers.  No, we've kinda known all along that we've been lucky, and we'll take the negatives in exchange for all the truly nice things that have happened for us in recent years.

So, did we find the right church "for us"?  I kinda think so.  And, while we don't have much flexibility in our lifestyle right now -- having to care for my ailing mom, Brenda and I truly want to get more involved in what we see as "our church".

As for being thankful, well...  After over 40-years in coaching, I learned to rely on a lot of little mental games like those described above.  They were useful to me, I think they helped my players at times, and I'm hoping they might help my readers, too.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The 15-second Commute

Actually, I lied about that...  My commute is probably more like 5-seconds -- from the bedroom to my laptop.  But then, it takes a goodly amount of time to get my first morning coffee.  :)

As for that expression -- about the short commute, it's well known and well worn in Internet marketing circles.  In other words, few of those guys and gals spend hours in rush hour traffic, and squeezing their steering wheels 'til their knuckles turn white.

Today, though, my sweetheart, Brenda, got me on this subject.  I mean, as I could tell she was running the day's schedule through her head, I posed a question I knew would ease here mind...  Ya, once I asked her how long her commute was this morning, she started to smile.  And that smile broadened quite a bit when I reminded her about the morning and nightly traffic jams that dominated her earlier life.

For me, the 15-second commute trickled into my life about 30-years ago, although it was never a full-time thing.  No, I was still running hockey clinics or camps or team practices and games out at rinks around New England.  Those usually weren't hectic trips, though, and I still got to do my 15-second commutes on most days.  (There was a stretch over about a decade when I had to have a downtown office, but even that didn't confine me to what you'd call "office hours".)
A quick Internet search had a company called "12 Second Commute" dominating Google's first page.  Buried far down the page was another company describing itself as "The 2-second Commute", with other so-many-seconds commuters showing on subsequent pages.  My points being:  1) that the expression is pretty prevalent in Internet marketing circles, and 2) that there are a lot of people trying to earn a living without the possibility of dying on a local highway.
Truthfully, I'm not here to promote anything -- except a lifestyle I've grown to love and thrive in.  And I'd like to tell you why I think I've thrived.

My hockey friends know well the story I tell about "The Start of Creative Hockey Coaching – My Bunker", and they know my bunker is not a specific place, but more like a state of mind.  The real point of that piece is that different places are more or less conducive to being creative.  In my case, I can go nuts under certain circumstances -- like at poolside, on a beach, at a campsite, or in the mountains.
I don't mean to imply that I need an exotic place to be creative, but...  The last two favorite "bunkers" have included a nice area I set up in my backyard up in Massachusetts, and then a comfy patio we had at a townhouse when we first reached Florida.
Neither location was exotic at all, but the ambient sounds -- like birds chirping -- along with a little cockapoo named Raggs sleeping at my feet -- really helped to get my creative juices flowing.
If you're getting the gist of what I'm saying, I don't appreciate just sitting inside and staring at four walls, and having someone suggest to me, "Write!"  Ugh.  I can do it, but it definitely isn't fun -- and it's not going to represent my best work.  No, the ideas aren't going to be flowing as they would in a nice, bunker-type situation.
Now, quite some time ago, I penned an article called "Performing Within Your Areas of Brilliance".  I wrote that partly to needle a few friends and family members who constantly advise me on how I should spend my time -- as if they know better.   But I also wanted to explain how none of us will ever be at our very best unless we're doing something we can become totally engrossed in.
As for my personal story, I've spent an adult lifetime working at hockey.  Sure, I worked "in" hockey -- teaching, coaching and lecturing, but I also spent my time away from the rinks and podiums, studying and studying and studying the game.
Along came the Internet, which helped me tremendously in so many different ways.  It started with an old fashion static webpage, but soon blossomed into my hockey advice site, and it ultimately led to my digitizing my instructional videos, some training manuals I'd previously sold as hardcopy,    


PS:  As I was writing this piece, Brenda was speaking on the phone with a young lady who had just lost her job.  Imagine:  she showed for work on Monday morning and was told then.  Sadly, that's how things work today, though -- no staying with one employer for a lifetime, being faithful for all that time, and getting your gold watch in the end.  No, what was once thought to be job security doesn't exist anymore -- unless, of course, your boss is you.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Understanding The Latest Internet Craze - 2

This being Part 2 on a rather unique topic, I might suggest that "Understanding The Latest Internet Craze - 1" was written for those who aren't all that familiar with either podcasting or Internet radio.  This entry, on the other hand, is especially directed towards those who are already into running their own online shows. 

Why speak directly to those who should already know all there is to know about digital audio?  It's because, I think, they know more about podcasting than they do the Internet radio side of things.

With that, what I feel the need to emphasize is the way I'd previously distinguished podcasts from online radio.
If you'll recall from that earlier piece, listening to our favorite podcast can be awesome.  If you'll also recall, though, that can be a bit of a hassle, too.
Yes, if there's a problem, a podcast generally stands alone, it plays from beginning to end, and then that's it.  
I'm not talking about quality here, or the fact that some listeners might choose to replay a given episode again, and maybe even again.  Sooner or later, however, that is it, and the listener -- and even the hardcore fan -- has to move on.

Does the listener move on to another episode, or to another site hosted by a different podcaster?  I'm not sure that matters in the context of what I'm going to suggest, but I'll instead state that the amount of time a listen hangs around is probably only once through the recording.
Yet another question that comes to mind has to do with the number of times a podcaster's advertisement will play on the visitor's ears.  Hmmmm...      
Still another question -- and perhaps the one that I want to emphasize here -- has to do with luck.  I mean, a podcaster can promote and promote, but that's a lot of work -- for what?  Oh, I know that being in a number of podcasting search engines is important and helpful.  However, how much help is it really?  In other words, is a podcaster going to be found because of subject matter?  Of course, although that probably means it'll be buried among a kzillion other programs of the same type.  Is a program going to be found because of its name or its host's name?  Sure, but then listeners are probably going to find that program anyway, in any number of ways.

Enter the single themed Internet radio station.  For a start, the station is likely to be listed in all the right search groups.  Far better yet, though, and using my Internet radio station as an example, here's where improved luck comes in... know for a fact that a lot of folks come to Hockey Talk Radio purely because of their interest in my sport.
Almost hourly throughout the daytime hours, I'm promoting one or another educational prodcast, and during the nighttime I'm pushing a different NHL fan based show.  Each of those posts go to about 16,000 contacts in social media -- that's 16-thousand, which means that a lot of hockey folks are ultimately going to recognize the names of the shows I promote.
That's not the half of it, however.  For, the luck I've been getting at goes something like this...  A listener tunes in because he or she knows the show host I just mentioned, or listeners are initially attracted to the station because they're interested in something like skill development, goaltending, nutrition, mental or physical training, or talk about the NHL.
It doesn't matter what attracted them, but it surely does matter the way all the podcasters on my station luck into being heard by folks who initially tuned in to hear someone else.  Actually, a number of folks have told me it works exactly like that. 
Then, one more thing...  I'm a numbers guy, and I see something that others seem to be split over.  What I'm getting at is that one show promoting to maybe a thousand connections is one thing, and it's quite another if I promote our station with close to 20,000 followers, and then about 15 show hosts do the same with their 1,000-ish contacts.

In other words, take your pick... One show promotes by itself to about a thousand connections, or everyone works together to bring something like 30,000 or so followers to one Internet radio station.  To me, it's a no-brainer, that spells the difference between great popularity and working in a virtual closet.

Ya, the things I've outlined above just seems to make sense to me, but I'd surely like to hear from others who run their own Internet radio stations.  As Part 1 should have convinced readers, this whole online radio thing is new, and I suspect it's going to evolve as each of us station producers keep experimenting and learning.  Sharing ideas along the way would surely help further what is right now just the start of an Internet craze.


Considering that we all live and learn, and considering that we're all human, I'm going to suggest a sports analogy when it comes to a program's involvement with a station.  Or, as I've mentioned sometimes to the shows I work with, there's a need for everyone involved with our station to work as "team players".  I notice that comes naturally to some, and not so to others.

As for the human part, guess what an old hockey coach does as he looks to spread those hourly promos...  It's human nature, I think, that I promote more often those earlier described team players, and often skip over those who tend not to help the other shows.  

Something most individual podcasters can't do...  As I've been able to pull off over recent weeks, my station's feed can now be placed on any welcoming hockey website in the form of a Hockey Talk Radio player

Actually, both the player down below and the one over in the right sidebar can be clicked so that you can listen to the station in progress.  In any case, the popup window can be moved out of the way or minimized, so that a visitor can move around the site, browse and listen to the station.    

Monday, March 7, 2016

Understanding The Latest Internet Craze - 1

The more I read, the more I find I'm once again faaaaar ahead of the proverbial curve.

Ya, Internet radio is becoming more and more accepted, or it's being discovered by more and more fans of traditional radio.  But, if I'm ahead on something else, I'm also going to suggest that the biggest problem producers like me face today is a lack of understanding on the parts of potential listeners.

Here's what I mean...
Number One, although I'm sure most folks now have a sense of what a podcast is, I hear from some friends who don't understand how a bunch of podcasts can be strung together -- or placed back to back -- to make a full day and night of online programming.  
Secondly, while I often like surfing the Net for podcasts of my liking, I'm usually done on the host website when the program I selected is over.  From there, then, I have to either load another program from that site, or conduct another search for a new host site.  And, while that might be fairly easy to do on my laptop, it's not so convenient to pull off on my smartphone.
Thirdly, I'll suggest that a lot of folks don't realize how much can be accomplished online nowadays.  I mean, the radio station I now run can be listened to on a computer from my website.  Better yet, it can be accessed by way of a simple and free app that can be downloaded from either type of smartphone store.
Fourth, sports fans ought to recall that some traditional AM radio stations were told they'd never make it by switching to all-sports talk programming.  Ya, I can remember that happening in Boston some time ago, but that station took off like gang busters.  And today, biggies like ESPN have their own around-the-clock sports stations.
Part of the reason I'm writing this is because of a Facebook post I saw from an old teammate of mine back in Massachusetts.  Like me, he's into old rock music.  So, he was wishing aloud for a station that played everything from his teen years.  I countered with the fact that I'd actually built something like that a few months ago, as a way of practicing for the new Hockey Talk Radio station I had on the drawingboard.

That old rock station was actually awesome -- and it was super-easy to put together.  But it died a slow death, mainly because I was preoccupied with building the hockey station, and not able to promote it enough.

Again, though, it was easy as pie to put such a station online, and the friends who listened to it -- most of them being in my age bracket -- seemed to love the music.  The reason it was so easy, is because I was able to pretty quickly gather several hundred songs from about 1955 to 1965, place them in seven different orders, and then program each of those 24-hour collections into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and so forth.  From there, things ran smoothly, without much cause for me to change anything.  Oh, I'd have done a lot of things differently, if I was going to keep that station going.  But, since all that work was really just to get myself familiar with the required software and programming methods, I let it go after just a few weeks.

As I said, all that was purely practice for my planned "around-the-clock, all hockey talk" station.  And that, of course, was going to be quite different, and a whole lot harder to pull off.  Unlike a music station -- where the songs never really get old -- as long as they're not over-played, talk shows lose their newness pretty quickly.  So, such a station as Hockey Talk Radio requires constant attention, and a constant change to newer podcast episodes.

If the reader doesn't know, I've been an ice hockey coach for over 40-years.  So, I was especially excited about gathering a bunch of podcasters who like to teach, or who like to share their particular areas of expertise -- like in hockey skill development and coaching, nutrition, mental training and goaltending.  Those shows rotate through the daytime and so-called drive-time hours, while I had something different in mind for the late-night and overnight hours.  That's when a number of entertaining NHL, fan-based shows air, from about 9pm through the wee hours.  Mixed in between all the different shows is some truly upbeat "bumper music" and short advertisements.

Now, I hope I didn't bore anyone by explaining all that.  I did, however, want to give you a sense of the way an online radio station might go together and operate.  In other words, if you understand the rough workings of what I've done behind the scenes, it might make the final outcome -- an online radio station -- more understandable.

As I mentioned earlier, it's pretty likely you can find a ton of awesome podcasts online.  They're everywhere, and they're available in every topic imaginable.  As I also mentioned, though, it can be a hassle to play more than one episode at a time.  That's where an online radio station comes in handy, so long as it's playing the type of music or other content you really want to hear.    

Personally, I work an awful lot on my laptop, writing for this blog and my site, promoting a lot in social media, and a whole lot more.  During those times, I have Hockey Talk Radio playing from my desktop.  I just lost my faithful little pooch, Raggs, but I long ago loaded a free app on my Android smartphone, so I could listen to my station as we walked the neighborhood during all hours of the day and night.  Better yet (LOL), I take my phone with me when Brenda drags my butt to places I'm not crazy about going, so I can listen to my station and keep smiling.
More recently, I found a way for my radio player to be installed on any hockey related blog or website.  It's getting out and around already, and I can envision the day when it will bring my station's hockey programming to hundreds of sites around the world.  
I happen to use a special service called Radionomy to host Hockey Talk Radio.  And, while my station can be listened to directly from there, I've done what most other broadcasters do, and also host the station from a pretty nice website.  There, I can have a page for each podcaster, so listeners get the chance to put some faces and background information with the voices they hear on the air.  I can also provide news there, as well as highlight a top "Show of the Week".

Now, there's a popular expression I've been known to use pretty often, mainly because I dare to dabble with things far in advance of others.  That expression:  "If you want to know the innovator, he's the one with arrows in his back."  Okay, it's not as bad as all that, but I have been knocked for some of my hockey inventions and drill ideas that later became mainstream, and I've also taken plenty of abuse for claiming something that didn't ultimately become accepted until 5- or 10-years later. 

In the case of Internet radio, I'm betting it's going to be a biggie fairly soon.  It's way too easy to listen to -- on a computer, walking or puttering around the yard, driving, wherever.  So, while I'm sure I'll take a few arrows in the back over this one, I sense it'll be like most of my other strays from the norm, and prove me right in the end.

I've just added an Understanding The Latest Internet Craze - Part 2, and I've geared that more to folks who run their own podcasts.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Must I Apologize For Talking Politics?

Ya, that's the question -- not only today, but for the past few years.  Why?  Well, let me count the ways...

Up front, everyone in the world knows I tend to think about teaching or coaching hockey -- morning to bedtime (and, a lot of folks probably think I'm inventing new hockey drills in my dreams).
I have to go off on a tangent for a sec here, because it matters a lot to my title question.  What I'm getting at right now is my personal climb up the hockey ladder.
In every case, I was on my own -- to leave an engineering job I felt stifling, and to experience numerous failures and successes moving up that ladder.
Even in recent years, the choice has been mine. For example, while I'm no longer coaching teams or running hockey skill clinics and schools, I've been able to determine my own fate in a number of online projects --  from book writing to running an online radio station to virtually helping hockey coaches, parents and players with their game.
And, while I spent most of my life in the hometown my ancestors chose long before I was born, only 3-years ago I was free to move 2000-miles away -- for a new job and a warmer climate.  
In reality, though, family comes first to me.  As an example, I can't tell you what it meant to lose my dad, the best friend a young guy could ever have.  Anyone who sees us together, or follows our online exchanges, knows that Brenda and I are soulmates -- no question, case closed.  And, friends are probably tired of me frequently mentioning other family members, including the stories I tell about helping raise my grandson, Tony Chic.  Then, of course, I wrote that piece recently on losing my best little buddy, the Raggamuffin.

So, why do I say all this?  It's because of all those things that matter so much to me can be either taken away or greatly influenced by politics.

Let me go a little further with that, however, by sharing something that really got me going today.  Shown below is something that appeared on Facebook earlier today, and I implore my friends to read it...

Seeing that, I added a comment that includes something my friends here may not know... 
"I studied in Moscow when it was still under Communist control. And, while their sports and hockey programs were unbelievable to learn from, I felt so badly for the common people I saw and met there.:
Oh, man, I can't emphasize enough the looks on the faces of average Russians, each and every one of them showing a busted spirit, or no hope for a better life than the one assigned to them.  That's right:  citizens under the Socialist/Communist Party were assigned their roles, they were assigned where they'd live, and so much more.
A sad aside...   I made friends with several of my study group's Russian interpreters, including a young, former figure skater who told me, "I can always recognize Americans, because they're always laughing."  Man, that broke my heart, because I knew exactly what she meant.
So, must I apologize for talking politics on occasion in my Facebook posts and Twitter tweets?  Hmmmmm... 

I think my grandparents would have had heart attacks if a Socialist was getting serious consideration for the presidency during their time on earth.  In fact, something like that probably would have stalled their going through all the hardships they did in order to get to the US.  And, while I can't speak for the reader's ancestors, I do ask you to please consider that one.

That's not even the half of it, though...  I mean, a couple of generations later -- even without any supposed non-Capitalists running our country, things have changed for the worse.  Little by little, rights have been lost, and our Constitution has been eroded.  
Which brings me to another reflection...  When I was an older teen or a young 20-something, the USSR's leader, Nikita Khrushchev, announced something to the effect that, "We do not have to invade the United States, we will destroy you from within."  That sounded absurd to my young ears at the time, but I'm surely wondering how far-fetched it seems today.
All that said, I think caring so much about my family and friends is good enough reason to worry about the direction of my country.  Even more importantly, I care about what life will be like after I'm gone, for my grandchildren and their children.  

I'm hoping they're able to choose to work at something that gives them satisfaction, and I'm hoping they'll be able to travel or strive for the home of their dreams.
I tend to lose a few Facebook friends right after I post a political opinion -- could it be that my fair-weather friends were afraid to hear a contrary position.
And, I had a long time friend post to no one in particular on his Facebook wall, something to the effect that he wasn't going to tolerate any more political discussions.
Still, none of the above seems possible -- at least to me, unless I and thousands of others keep a vigil, and not apologize for talking politics.

PS:  The following came to my inbox today.   I don't think one has to get into political party choices here, but we definitely should look carefully at anyone who espouses the following (from a book by Saul Alinsky, these noted as "eight levels of control..."

The first is the most important.
1) Healthcare– Control healthcare and you control the people.

2) Poverty – Increase the Poverty level as high as possible, poor people are easier to control and will not fight back if you are providing everything for them to live.

3) Debt – Increase the debt to an unsustainable level. That way you are able to increase taxes, and this will produce more poverty.

4) Gun Control– Remove the ability to defend themselves from the Government. That way you are able to create a police state.

5) Welfare – Take control of every aspect of their lives (Food, Housing, and Income).

6) Education – Take control of what people read and listen to – take control of what children learn in school.

7) Religion – Remove the belief in the God from the Government and schools.

8) Class Warfare – Divide the people into the wealthy and the poor. This will cause more discontent, and it will be easier to take (Tax) the wealthy with the support of the poor.
Sound familiar?  As a matter of fact, does it sound like anything Khrushchev would have proposed?  Ya, I think so.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Duped By Faulty Logic

I'm not sure where to begin with this one, but maybe it's best to first explain what set me on fire...
As readers know, I like to follow goings on in various hockey and other sport forums.  And it was one such group having mainly to do with skate sharpening and pro shop operations that recently got me flying at my keyboard.  Discussions there are usually kept at a fairly high level, but some odd posts do seem to slip through the cracks.
What I'm talking about is a post that had absolutely nothing to do with skate sharpening, or much else that takes place in a typical pro shop.  Naw, it was purely a poorly disguised advertisement hyping the need for figure skating training in a hockey player's development (or, maybe it was just there to tick me off). 
The initial post/ad contained a subtitle noting, "Did you know Carolina Hurricanes forward and 2010 Rookie of the Year Jeff Skinner was once a competitive figure skater?"  A little later down the stream, one guy even added, "Gretzky was a figure skater....".
My first reaction was to cringe, and my second was to envision a picture of a given specimen with the caption underneath:  "If I found an NHL player who tried sumo wrestling when young, what would it prove?"

What I pretty quickly realized was that I was referring to "logic" here, and that got me scurrying for a definition of that term...
Merriam-Webster provided first a "Simple Definition of logic" as "a proper or reasonable way of thinking about or understanding something", then a little later adding, "the science that studies the formal processes used in thinking and reasoning".
Hmmmm...  "The science that studies the formal processes used in thinking and reasoning."

A little more surfing brought me to the realization that we're really talking about "cause and effect" here.  In other words, one might suggest that practicing figure skating caused a hockey player to achieve a high level of play.  Or, maybe we could say that my tongue-in-cheek logic suggests that a youngster's dabble with sumo wrestling can provide a shortcut to the NHL.

I hope readers see the reason I used such an extreme as sumo wrestling.  I mean, if we're talking cause and effect here, it makes sense that we explore all the possible causes that might go into affecting a given, desired outcome.  For example, is it possible that more players in the National Hockey League practice a specific religion, thus making that practice a shortcut to the pros?  Or, could we say that, because there might be more French surnames among NHLers, a youngster growing up in Brazil with a French last name has a better chance of playing high level hockey than a kid named Smith growing up in Toronto, Ontario?
The current mental tussle with logic ultimately had me thinking about comparing two other sports that have a lot of similarities.  Ya, I'm talking about baseball and cricket.  Oh, I know there have been a few former cricket players who switched to baseball in their teens, and then made it to high levels.  However, this I found just now...
"Ian Chappell, who represented Australia in both cricket and baseball (one of the few countries that plays both sports with vigor), believes that such a spectacle wouldn't be worth anybody's time. At the thought of cricketers playing a baseball game against baseball's best, he told the British cricket publication Spin in 2005: 'It wouldn't be worth it. There would be no contest, absolutely no contest ... Cricket's batsmen would struggle to get bat on ball, never mind hitting a home run.'"
Presumably, he would say the same about Major Leaguers taking on England or Australia in cricket.
Aaaah, but how about another cross-over, this time from floorball to hockey?  Well, although we can find numerous mentions that many European born NHL players either grew up playing floorball or used that sport for off-season training, I've yet to find stats on just how many.  One thing I do find interesting, however, is that Hockey Canada goes out of its way to promote floorball as a cross-trainer, while I've yet to hear them suggest either figure skating or sumo wrestling.

Okay, so let's get back to some logic here.  And, to do so, I'll suggest a need to prioritize the skills and attributes that go into being a successful ice hockey player...
I have no doubt that a poll on such a subject would have almost everyone rating skating as the most important skill of all.  But, is it really?  If that was the case, wouldn't the best skater in the NHL also be its top player?  
If you ask me, a hockey player can't really contribute at a high level without a bunch of other skills, without certain physical qualities, and without some special knowledge.  
Who are the best players in hockey -- at almost every level?  I'd say pretty good puck skills put most of them near the top, and I'd also suggest that they tend to think the game on a slightly different plane than most others. 
Where do most top players rank in their skating skills?  It's quite possible they're "up there", but not necessarily when it comes to technique.  I mean, the most effective players I know would be considered elusive attackers, and quick footed defenders.  (As I so often joke, our game doesn't include judges at rinkside holding placards with ratings of "9.9", 9.8", etc.  No, prettiness doesn't really matter in our game.) 
More than anything, though -- and I've written the following many times over the years...  The best players tend to skate "effectively" for their style of play.  In other words, Sid Crosby doesn't skate exactly the same as another perennial NHL star, Zdeno Chara.  Again, they're not necessarily the best skaters, they're often quite different from each other, but they definitely are effective.      
Now, does any of that sound like I'm downplaying the skill of skating?  I hope no one has gotten that impression, because I'll be the first to say that skating is super-important.  At the same time, I need to tell the reader that our game is unique.  Ya, take that from someone who authored a book titled, "The Nature of Our Game"...
The implication in that title is that every sport has it's own unique nature, or there's something unique about what players go through in their hopes of playing well.  The rules of a sport influence this, as does the playing surface, the number of participants, and even the strategies that evolve over many years.
For just a hint at what I'm saying, consider Major League Baseball occasionally changing the height of the pitcher's mound.  Has raising or lower it influenced the pitchers' effectiveness, and have those changes further influenced the effectiveness of hitters?  You bet.  And, what about the way hockey rules have changed over the years -- like having to do with the two-line pass, clutching and grabbing, and so much more?   
Would the kind of players you select differ if a hockey rink was suddenly changed to the size of a football field?  Ha.  And, what about if it was reduced to the size of your livingroom?  Again, you can bet on it, with skating being super-important in the first case, and hardly important at all in the latter example.  
Then, along this line of thinking, could we surmise that there is a drastic difference in the nature of ice hockey as compared to speed skating and figure skating?  Most sane people would echo my "You bet" from above, but I have a feeling the folks who try to push figure skating lessons on hockey players aren't buying it.  They're not believing that figure skating is a sport that is practiced and performed at a comparatively slow and planned pace -- as in sticking to an exact routine, not in the least interrupted by the need to read and then react to opposing teammates and conditions, and not in the least having to fear dangerous body-checks and the like.  Again, however, that's the nature of figure skating, and it differs drastically from our skating sport.
As readers might imagine, I could go on in this particular area, describing the serious differences between my favorite sport and any other.  What I hope I have conveyed, though, is that any differences between two sports also have to be met with corresponding differences in the kind of athlete we need, and the way the athlete needs to prepare for play.  If you don't believe me, however, how about something out of the mouths of figure skating instructors -- oh, boy...
Anyone who knows my sense of humor ought to imagine me standing at rnkside, and mentioning to a local figures pro that I was thinking of offering my hockey skating services to local figure skaters.  I did that about three times, with all answers being quite similar, as in, "Nooooooooo...  Hockey and figure skating aren't anything alike!"  LOL!
Here's another cute story, although only slightly related...  I can't tell you how many times I've had a figures pro view the ice with me, and dream about working with one of my hockey players.  The usual observation was something like, "Wow, I'd love to work with a skater like him!"  I always knew what they meant, because my guys were pretty exciting to watch, and pretty explosive in their movements.  I'd have to tell them, though, that, "You figure skaters spend so much time on pretty poses and perfect posture, that you eventually suck all the excitement out of your skaters!"    
 Winding down here, let me try to clear the air about a few last things... 
A former player of mine, Robin D, saw that I was working on this post, and she added the following comment to my Facebook wall...  "Hi coach. I think it (figure skating) really helped me. I was a much better skater, edges, stopping etc when I was a teen. Speed not so much but I could stop on a dime and my tight turns were tighter"  Admittedly, Robin was a pretty good adult lady player.  However, we will never know whether she could have been miles better had she spent an equivalent amount of time on hockey skills.  Could she have been quicker and trickier from working at hockey-specific skating skills, rather than slow, pretty figure skating?  Could she have been even better with the puck, had she devoted more time to skating and stickhandling, rather than solely skating?  Again, Robin was a good one, but I'm betting she could have been even better with the right kind of guidance.
So far, at least, Jeff Skinner seems the real deal.  The son of two attorneys, I'm guessing he was given all the opportunities he ever needed to work on his game, including the chance to succeed at figure skating.  Don't take that thing about the opportunities lightly, either, because I'd be willing to bet that he had some other professional trainers beyond a figure skating coach, and I'm just as willing to bet that he spent a kzillion hours handling a puck and ball.  Anyway, he's a rare one, unless someone can tell me that there are a hundred or so advanced level figure skaters currently playing in the NHL.

As for Gretzky, please give me a break...  His dad, Walter, was a genius for his time, and he did a lot of things that led to Wayne's ultimate advanced level of play.  Ask me to rank his skills, however, and I'd lead with elite level puck-skills -- I mean, an ability to stickhandle in a phone booth, and to find open teammates as if he had eyes in the back of his head.  Right up there, I'd also rank his playing IQ.  As far as skating goes, though, I'll put Wayne in the same category as Crosby, Chara and other top pros, in that he was effective on his blades for the way he played the game.

Could there be an advantage in a hockey player taking figure skating lessons?  Well, for that, let me offer another bit of science here...
Top hockey skating coaches -- I mean the guys who REALLY know their stuff -- will tell you that most hockey skaters fall into two general categories:  those who are naturally quick but not very smooth, and those who are smooth in movements but have difficulty changing gears or quickening their feet.
Every time I share that tidbit, I have coaches immediately nodding their heads and telling me they have players just like that on their team.  I've yet to hear anyone explain the reasoning why players generally fall into either category, but I have a suspicion it has to do with their natural makeup -- as in a preponderance of either fast-twitch or slow-twitch muscle fibers.  
Anyway, with the above knowledge, I wonder if it makes sense to readers that I'd recommend some figure skating work for some players, and I'd suggest that others steer clear of such work.  Ya, the quick-footed skater who needs some smoothing might benefit from the slow, methodical figure skating approach, while the other group would be beating a dead horse, and maybe even going backwards in his skating.
With all that, let's just say that it's not a great idea for anyone in our game to suggest that there's one thing that can help a hockey player make it to a higher rung.  Nor is it right for anyone to draw a connection between one player making it via a given route, when there have been literally thousands who didn't.  In fact, I think it's disingenuous to suggest such, and I think it's extremely unfair to parents of young players who spend a good deal of their time wondering who the heck they can really trust.

As for me, I'm well known among skating analysts, while I'd never advise anyone that focusing primarily on skating represents a shortcut to the higher levels.  Perhaps my favorite area of teaching involves puckhandling and related skills, yet I'd never suggest that such a skill -- without numerous others -- would get a player anywhere.  Then, while my long ago studies in the old Soviet Union make off-ice training a biggie with me, I've never stated that such training is the secret to making it big.  As for sumo wrestling, well...  Please give me some time to study that one.  :)

If you'd like to know more about the skating stride than most others, check out this post on "The Latest Hockey Skating Advice".
If you'd like some ideas for other things to try, here's an interesting video.  Many of the drills foster more explosive, hockey specific athletes than does the slow, deliberate figure skating approach...

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Meaning of Happiness

Hmmmmmm...  The Meaning of Happiness... 

I kinda like Wikipedia's definition, as in it being "a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy."  And it goes on to suggest that, "A variety of biological, psychological, religious and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources."

Every time we take on this line of thinking, though, doesn't happiness ultimately boil down to the last part of that statement?  I mean, the biggest challenge -- for you and for me -- seems to have so much to do with identifying the sources of happiness, or discovering exactly what makes us happy.
My guess is that a lot of folks are already thinking about money -- or the lack there of -- as one major cause of being either happy or unhappy.  Yet, a quick Internet search will find all sorts of wild tales about people who came into riches and quickly lost it all -- see "21 lottery winners who blew it all" and "Lottery Horror Stories That Will Make You Think Twice About Buying That Ticket" as examples of what I'm getting at. 
Closer to my kind of thinking...  Years ago, a friend asked me to stop at a convenience store in a not-so-nice part of a city back in Massachusetts.  As I waited in my car, I watched a pantomime starring a bedraggled young lady sitting on a curb and scratching lottery ticket after lottery ticket.  Oh, I might have felt badly for the young lady -- she truly was a mess, but I told my friend as she got into the car, "See that girl over there?  Even if she does hit big on one of those tickets, she'll be broke in no time, mainly because I can almost tell she doesn't have the skill-set or mentality to live smartly and make that money last."  
Honestly, I don't want to come off meanly on this topic, but please do consider what I'm trying to suggest.  Anyway, let me come back to the issue of money a little later.

Now, I'm an older guy, and I've seen and experienced plenty in my time on this planet.  My soulmate, Brenda, is 20-years younger than I, but she'll be the first to tell you that she's an "old soul".  In fact, we'd both been through a lot -- I mean a REAL lot -- before meeting, and I sense that has brought us to pretty close to the same feelings when it comes to happiness.

What do I think are the feelings we share on this topic?  I believe it's to put a premium on a combination of relatively good physical and mental health.  Oh, God and genetics will in a way determine those.  But so can Brenda and I influence both.  In fact, I don't think many folks will argue with the probability that our mental status will have a huge bearing on our physical health.  Ya, keeping a rosy attitude -- something that seems to come naturally to both Brenda and me -- seems the first step in our striving for happiness.
With my mom aging and ailing, we're now living with and caring for her in a nice retirement community in Central Florida.  If there's a problem, that puts us smack dab in the middle of a lot of sickness.  I mean, as many of my mom's neighbors drive walkers and wheelchairs as automobiles.  Making matters worse, such surroundings make it difficult for us to avoid talk about this ache, that pain, this illness and the person in apartment #___ who just passed away.  
Then, here's something interesting from my 40+ years in hockey coaching...  More times than not, I discovered that an oft injured or oft sick player was the son of a nurse or doctor.  I'm not kidding about that.  I great defenseman, who always seemed dinged in one limb or another, turned out to be the son of a top sports medicine doctor.  And the talented young forward, who was always quoting the Latin terms for the muscles that hurt him, was also the son of a doctor.  It didn't end there, either, because there were as many kids belonging to nurses who similarly limped on a regular basis, and weren't sure if they'd be able to participate in the next shift or the next game.  My thinking was/is that medical issues were a constant topic of conversation around their households.  And, while I'm not blaming anyone, I am pointing to the probability that thinking and constantly talking about unhealthy things leads one to, sooner or later, take on those very symptoms.
If I could add one more element to happiness -- beyond good mental and physical health, I'd have to suggest that happy people mostly do things they love.  Actually, I covered this pretty intently in an early post called "Performing Within Your Areas of Brilliance".  Case in point...  I spent a number of miserable years in a job others picked for me, and one that would sound pretty good from a distance.  Thank God I dared walk away from that job, to submerge myself in a sport and lifestyle I absolutely love.  Or, as that past article explains, I've been able to feel successful doing things I'm usually pretty good at.
Of course, the above has a lot to do with what we choose as a career.  At the same time, I have to suggest that it also involves what we do with our spare time.  
I can recall old friends telling me they got their relaxation from things like a hot bath, reading a good book, or taking a brisk walk.  If there was something wrong with those examples, my friends seemed just as tense and unhappy after doing what they said relaxed them.  ???   
Am I suggesting we shouldn't lie to ourselves about what does or what doesn't make us happier?  Ya, you bet.   
Summing things up to this point, I'll suggest that happiness can be found in 1) having an extremely positive attitude or mindset, 2) being reasonably physically healthy, and 3) spending the bulk of our time on things we truly love.
Personalizing all this...
I built what I believe is an awesome post around a video by my Internet marketing friend, Sean D'Souza.  The article is called "Three Obstacles To Happiness", and it gave me the opportunity to describe two things Brenda and I have found contributing to our good health and positive states of mind.  I'm talking about taking nighttime walks together right after dinner, and spending some time each afternoon at the swimming pool.  And, while it's by no means a scientific study, I truly believe I've felt worse during times when life got in the way, and we were unable to do those two very simple things.
When it comes to money, don't let any of what I said above sound like I don't like it or want it.  To the contrary, I've been both fairly well off and not so well off, and you can just imagine which I'd choose.  All I tried to convey earlier is that the green stuff isn't the end all to be all, and it isn't going to help us if we're not mentally and physically well, and mostly doing things we enjoy doing.
Then, one other thing about money...  
In Internet marketing circles, a lot is made about the negatives of trading time for money.  In other words, we punch a clock at 9am, punch out a 5pm, and only get paid on days when we do just that -- trading our 40-hours of labor for the weekly paycheck.  I'm not knocking all those who perform traditional jobs, and keep our economy and our American way of life going.  I'm only suggesting that there is also another -- maybe better -- way.
Ya, that other way is through what's referred to as "residual income".  That mode of making a living has been around for years, but it's even more prevalent today owing to the Internet.  In its most basic sense, digital and other products can now be offered online, and the sales can be carried out online without the seller's personal attention.
Understand that earning a residual income isn't necessarily easier, it's just different from a traditional job.  For example, I busted my buns to write the two books offered over in the right margin, and I can guarantee you that I spent more than 40-hours putting everything together.  What's different, though, is that I don't have to keep rewriting that book -- or keep producing one of my videos -- each time I record a sale.  As a matter of fact, I'm hoping my heirs keep reaping the benefits of those products long after I'm gone.  
Almost in the residual income category is my membership website -- which takes an awful lot of behind the scenes work, and my new Hockey Talk Radio station.  
The similarity in all those projects is that -- while I have to work some long and hard hours for each, I'm able to choose the hours I wish to work.  In other words, if Brenda and I want to take a break and get some exercise in the pool, I can take time to do that.  If Brenda wants me to join her for a run to the store, I can do that.  And, if I want to take Brenda out for lunch or dinner, I can fit that into my schedule, too.
On the negative side, here's a big LOL I joke about often...  What I'm getting at is that I can't call in sick for a week, nor is anyone else going to do my work if I'm not able to.  Yet, if that's the worst of it, I'll take it
As a wrap up, I'd love to hear others' opinion on that all-elusive experience known as happiness.  Have I nailed it, or have I missed something?  Again, I'm saying that my version of happiness includes a relatively positive attitude, having reasonably good physical health, spending a bulk of our time doing things we really enjoy, and maybe having a job that permits relatively flexible hours.

Personally, I believe money is important to our happiness, and an adequate amount should mean that we worry less than those who toss and turn due to overwhelming bills.  Of course, "enough money" seems relative to me, because I know some with a lot of money who still worry about paying their bills, and I know as many with far less money having their financial life well under control.


As a PS to all the above, I'm getting the feeling that this might just be the first post in a new blog site.  Ya, over recent days, Brenda and I have become involved in something new and exciting, and something we might want to tell our friends about.  To me, that new venture has a lot to do with nurturing a more positive mindset, in improving our physical health, in having the chance to do something very enjoyable for a living, in having flexible work hours, and in improving our financial status to about any degree we wish.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Forever Chasing Butterflies

Aaaaaah, those butterflies...  Here's the story behind that story...

At 10-years old, my grandson wasn't giving up on his want for a dog.  His grandma and I had been through that before, and we were looking for every way possible to get around all the responsibilities that come with such a move.  So, over most of a late-winter, spring and early-summer, the conversations with my grandson went something like this...
"Grampa, after the tropical fish die, can I have a puppy?"
"Gramps, after the finches die, can I have a puppy?"
 "Gramps, after... "
Okay, it was getting to be late-summer -- actually, Labor Day Weekend in '99, and we were running out of other pet options, as well as the warmer weather when it would be easiest to house-train a new puppy.  So, off we headed, early on a Sunday morning -- August 29, 1999, to be exact, with a list of pet shops, a cell phone and the classified ads in hand.  Hours upon hours passed as we three rejected just about every sickly looking pup we saw in stores -- from our home area around Whitman, MA to the outskirts of Boston.  So were we running out of places to call, with most puppies sold or whatever.

It was getting late -- and we had one half-excited, half-disappointed young guy sitting in the backseat, when we connected with a small-dog breeder some 2-hours away in Western Massachusetts.  She had three cockerpoos remaining from a recent litter, although we hadn't a clue what a cockerpoo was.

Man, we were in for a treat...  Before the days of GPSs, we wound our way through unmarked mountain roads until finding a small farm as rustic as ones I'd grown up around in Eastern Mass during the 1950's.  Talk about rural...  As I recall, the owner didn't have electricity or cable, and her kids were home-schooled.  Roaming around the yard were typical barnyard animals, including a cow and at least one goat.

Following the usual niceties, the lady left and then rejoined us in the yard with three adorable little balls of fur.  As I discovered, the cocker spaniel we saw nearby was the litter's dad, but we never did get to see the (toy?) poodle mom.

Two of the pups sat cutely and calmly where the breeder placed them, but that wasn't the case with the third little rascal.  No, he was off to chasing the cow, then the goat, and then a butterfly or three that dared violate his space.  Ya, and he didn't give up on those butterflies like most pups would.

"Oh, no!" I thought to myself, as my grandson said he wanted the butterfly chaser.  "Are you really sure?" I asked more than once.  He was sure, of course, and our lives were never to be the same from that day forward.  ("Did we pick that pup, or did he pick us?"   That I've asked myself often over 16-plus years.)

A couple of interesting things that happened on our way to the pup's new home...
The three of us seem to have different stories about how that pup came by his name.  I swear it was my grandson's idea, because I was looking for hints on signs along the highway.  I mean, I saw a sign to one town, and thought that a beauty -- as in "Lincoln" or "Linc"   I also thought that "Hobart" sounded like a noble name, and one suitable for the stately looking little rascal staring back at me through the rearview mirror.  Somehow it became "Raggamuffin", though, with the nickname "Raggs" -- ya, and it had to be with two gees.
I figured it would be neat if we grabbed some burgers and such at a highway take-out window, and stop somewhere for a roadside picnic.  And that coincided with the pup's sudden crying in the backseat.  Huh?  "Could it be -- that this only-weeks-old pup was crying because he needed to pee or poop?"  Yup!  Quite amazingly, he was already house-trained, and he held a poop until we found a place to stop!  Unbelievable!  (Mentioning this little thing still being a mere baby, I just checked to see that our new pup was born on a Sunday, June 20th, and this day was August 29 of '99, or something like 9-weeks later.)
If there was a problem with stopping, we'd left that morning not exactly prepared to bring home a new puppy.  I mean, we didn't pack a leash, and there was nothing to be found in the car to use as a substitute.  So, my grandson carried the new "Raggs" to a spot where we could arrange our picnic, right at the edge of a small pond.  And, while Raggs ate a little, he was most interested in wading in that pond.  "Ya," I thought, "that's the cocker in him."  If there was a problem, Raggs refused to be corralled.  I mean, we couldn't catch him.  So, I suggested we try a game, and make our way to our distant car without him.  Thank God, because that hot little potato didn't want to lose us; he just wanted to go along under his own terms.
Hours later, when we finally arrived at home, my grandson and his grandmother went inside to prepare and puppy-proof things, while I watched Raggs in the backyard.  Looking to pass some time, I grabbed a twig, rubbed it under Raggs' nose, and then tossed it about 10' away.  I motioned for him to get it, and get it he did.  Oh, man, this little guy was as sharp as a tack, and he was going to continue to amaze us for years to come.  (If there's anything we had to learn about Raggs, it was that he had a short attention span.  In other words, he'd amaze you with a trick, and then let you know he was done.  Ya, two or three fetches -- or whatever, and he was done.)
Thinking about his stubbornness and smarts...  We used to offer Raggs about three or four different kinds of treats at a time.  Offer him one, and he'd push it aside with his snout.  Offer him another, and he'd push it or peck at it, also to signify he didn't want it.  He might even go through all of them more than once, finally settling on the treat of his choice.
A Funny thing...  Growing up around farms, I was more into collies and sheepdogs, and not very much into what I considered "sissy dogs".  Actually, I always thought cocker spaniels were cute, but I definitely didn't care for the sissy-est dogs of all, the poodles.  Yet, I learned to appreciate (at least my own interpretation of) Raggs' unusual lineage.  For sure, the noble look and a little surliness came from the cocker side, while the smarts were all-poodle.  I've shared these feelings with other cockerpoo and poodle owners, with all of them agreeing on the latter.

I kid you not, that we had to spell upwards of 20 words within ear-shot of Raggs -- just like you'd have to do with a toddler.  Mention going out for a "walk", and he'd take off like a shot for where his leash hung in the back hall.  Ask someone if we had any "cookies", and you were in BIG trouble.  I'm not talking about us overtly saying those words in front of him, but I'm talking about him overhearing conversations from a room away and his coming peeling in to say he wanted in.  And I'm also telling you that he acted like a little toddler when he knew you were tied up with something important -- you know, like when a little kid gets into the pots and pans because he or she knows you're trapped on the phone.  Ya, that was Raggs, knowing exactly when he could get into stuff.

I have to laugh now, that he perceived himself as our watchdog.  And he'd somehow, when the need arose, make his bark -- coming from all of his 25-pounds -- sound just like a big dog...
There was a TV commercial that used a digital bell in it, and the sound was exactly the same as our front doorbell.  So, don't you know, that he'd go tearing towards the front door -- growling and barking all the way, every time that commercial aired.
He'd watch our body language, too...  Like, I could be standing in the middle of our front livingroom, glance to see something outside, and Raggs would spring to the top of a sofa or loveseat to see what I was seeing.  I wouldn't have to move much, either, because he'd often just react to my eyes.  
One thing I think is sad -- at least for the moment, is that I recall more of his first days with us, and then his last.  Like all our human lives, I guess, it seems the many, many years in the middle are just a blur.  That's not right, of course, because little Raggs brought us to smile or laugh from the belly nearly every day he was with us.
Oh, another beauty of a thought...  It was hard to explain our Raggamuffin's intelligence to anyone who didn't live with him.  I mean, he did instinctively all the things you see dogs in the TV programs and movies doing.  If there was a difference, the cinema stars were trained to do something they didn't have a clue about, while Raggs knew exactly what he was doing.
Case in point...  Late at night, he would go to his grandmother and try to pull her, because it was time to go upstairs to bed.  I'm not kidding here...  At first, he'd just stare.  However, if that didn't work, he'd next grab her by the blouse sleeve and try to tug her off the sofa.  And if that didn't work, he'd bark at her until he got his way.  Again, I used to watch Lassie do things like that on TV, but those trained dogs were just doing what they were told for the treat they'd later get.  Raggs actually lived those thing daily with us, he knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew exactly how to communicate with us.  
Actually, there's something I feel terribly about...  I don't know whether I caused or worsened our little buddy's fear of thunder and lightening or not but, in my attempts to integrate him into all we did, I several times made him go to fireworks displays where there was nowhere for him to hide.  Anyway, as smart as he was, he always associated any kind of flash with the thunder that should soon follow...
The nearby photo most folks in social media are quite familiar with actually had to be staged -- big time.  In other words, you couldn't raise a camera to your eye, because someone had once used a flash when taking his picture.  You couldn't even pretend with empty hands, without him scurrying for cover.  So, in order to get the pic I ultimately did, I arranged a small video camera and tripod on the diningroom table, and then teased Raggs to sit for one of his favorite treats, an Oreo cookie.
Oh, boy, did Raggs also love Chicken McNuggets.  And he'd get pretty psyched when he saw us pull up to the drive-thru window at a local fastfood place.
That's nothing, though, because he'd also start to salivate and run all over the car before he learned the difference between a MacDonald's and my bank's drive-thru window.  The girls at my bank thought he was a doll, and they used to call him "Funny Face".  He wasn't accepting their stale old biscuits, though, and he'd push my hand aside just like he did with other treats he didn't want.
Something I noticed about Raggs, that I'll never quite understand.  He seemed to warm quickly to any female who stopped at our house, while he wasn't nearly as welcoming to the males.  He even growled at my brother until we welcomed him in, and I noticed he was the same with a nephew.  It wasn't just relatives, though, but those were the males who would visit most often, and the ones I noticed drew that kind of reaction.

Anyone we'd tell Raggs stories to would always give us the old, "Ya, sure" thing as a typical response.  No, they weren't believing the stunts he'd perform -- I guess you had to be there to really appreciate them.  My son discovered the truth, though, once he visited Raggs and me down here in Florida.  Raggs drove him crazy, he bossed him around most of the time, and my son could never have a snack without having to share -- like in, "Grrrrrrrr...  I want mine!"  Little wonder, the stories about Raggs spread further once my son left.  And, every time he'd call thereafter, he'd end the conversation with, "Oh, and kick that dog for me, will you!" 

Speaking of Florida...  I guess that's our final chapter together, but it's as significant or meaningful as all the years prior...
God must have told me to build a special seatbelt arrangement for Raggs.  I did it initially for my sake, because he wouldn't stay in the backseat of my SUV, and once up front, he wanted to be halfway across my lap.  So I devised a very nice configuration that kept him in the passenger seat, with just enough play that he could touch me if he wished (and he usually did), or he could fall asleep if he wished.  Oh, and Raggs also told me when he wanted the window down or up.  Anyway, that seatbelt probably saved his life on the long drive down Route 95 from Whitman to Kissimmee.  We experienced what was nearly a fatal brush with the guardrail somewhere in Northern Florida -- at 70mph, and I'll never forget the look on Raggs' face as we got back to the pavement and under control.  It was much like the pose in the above photo, except his mouth was wide open, as if to ask, "Are we okay, Grampa?"  Honest to God -- and thanks to God, I never ever will forget that look -- just Raggs and me together, on a long mission, and suddenly scared to death.
As far as Raggs was concerned, Brenda was the "Ginny Come Lately" when she joined him and me in Kissimmee.  In other words, he wasn't about to let her sit next to me or anything like that.  If he saw her heading to join me on the sofa, he'd jump up first, and growl for her to stay away.  If he missed her sitting down, he'd jump up between us after the fact, and start his growling act.  The funny thing was, while he seemed indifferent sometimes, whenever he sensed any kind of intimacy between Brenda and me, he was right back to pushing himself in between.
Of course, Florida is the thunder and lightening capital of the world, which meant that Raggs spent many a restless nights since arriving.  That might have also been a blessing, though, because Brenda was the answer to our little man's prayers.  In fact, I'll never forget one night when I awoke to a sweet voice singing a lullaby in our master bathroom.  It was about 3am, I think, and Brenda had brought Raggs into the darkness of that room to shelter him from seeing the lightening.  She was hugging him, and calming him by singing that lullaby.  Man, talk about my two favorite two people in the world.  And, talk about Raggs' newfound friend and protector.
From about that point on -- or from about 3-years ago, Raggs saw her as his mom.  And he looked to her for everything thereafter.  Even when we moved to be with my aging mom in Tampa, Raggs went to Brenda for everything.  Where he used to come to me and whack me with a paw to get my attention, it was "his Brenda" he went to these last few years.

Another interesting thing about my little buddy...  I've heard this about other dogs, and Brenda says that one of her dogs did the same.  But Raggs was often able to notice your aches and pains just by sniffing.  I'd come home from a rink some nights, and he'd know right where I'd sustained my latest ding.  And he'd several times per week sit next to me on the sofa and sniff my left eye, which has been slowly failing me for probably 25-years.  He'd never do that to my right eye, but he would sniff all around that left cheek, up and around toward the brow, and right on the eye, itself.  Hmmm...

About the only thing he couldn't tell us about was the way his little body was eventually failing him.

Where he was able to jump all the way from the ground to my SUV's passenger seat before we left for Florida, it wasn't long before he'd have to get up there in stages.  In other words, I'd have to coax him to the floor, and then up to the seat.  Oh, he looked and acted as energetic as ever, but at about 13-years old, he was beginning to lose his strength.  By the time we arrived in Tampa, he was having good and not-so-good days climbing the long flight of stairs to mom's second floor apartment.  Just last year -- when he was 15, I decided not to push him to climb the stairs anymore, but instead let him use the elevator.  He'd begun limping a bit with a front paw, which I know was from being dropped as a young pup.

About 6-months ago, Raggs' testicles seemed to be enlarging, and a visit to a vet gave us news we didn't want to hear...  First, he had a tumor there.  Secondly, at his advancing age, an operation wasn't really recommended.

Although no one ever wants to face up to it, Brenda and I kinda knew that our little buddy's time with us was waning.  The worst of it, though, was this past week, when Raggs ate little, and then stopped drinking.  He'd always been an incessant water drinker -- going through three and four pretty large bowls per day.  But only once in the past few days were we even able to force him to drink a little...
Another funny story that just came to mind...  No matter where you were in our huge house back in Massachusetts, in our two story townhouse in Kissimmee, or in mom's apartment in Tampa, you always knew if Raggs was out of water or dry food.  He'd always begin with a little tap of his bowls.  But, if no one reacted to that quickly enough, he'd pick up one bowl -- or the whole arrangement, and toss it up in the air.  "Crash!"  Yup, Raggs was out of water (or food), and he knew how to communicate that.
Oh, and Raggs also talked to himself -- or whomever...  There would be times when I'd awake and hear him standing near me, grunting this and that.  Ya, it's hard to explain, but it was usually some grunts, but strung together with rising and lowering pitches.  Again, there's no doubt he would be talking, with that up and down mumbling.  Sometimes he did seem like he was talking to himself, but a lot of times it was purely a prelude to his yapping to me or someone else.  In other words, he might start by grumbling quietly, but then he'd bark to let someone nearby know he was really talking to them.
Anyway, yesterday our vet suggested keeping Raggs overnight for a slow intravenous feed.  Our collective hope was that he might regain some strength, maybe regain an appetite and thirst, and maybe come home again.  Of course, late news that the vets had found yet another tumor should have forewarned us that such chances were moving between slim and none.
Now, I've had a ton of great words of comfort from social media friends from around the world, and I wish I could do more than just thank them all here.  However, a conversation last night with a fellow hockey coach from Canada echoed in my mind while we were at the vet's office today...  "Ya," I told Doug S in a Facebook message, something to the effect that, "we hockey guys might seem tough, but we're pretty soft when it comes to our pets."
Well, we got to the vet's office this morning, shortly after 11am, and we were ushered down to visit with Raggs in the cage where they'd placed him the night before.  He was still on the intravenous drip, but he wasn't up and around as we'd prayed.  No, there would be no miracle cure or storybook ending to this visit.

Before the doctor was able to break away and meet with us, Brenda and I took a walk outside.  One thing we hashed over was whether our keeping little Raggs going was for our sake or for his.  And, we kinda knew the answer to that without much discussion.  Truly, I wanted "my Raggy" for purely selfish reasons, and I wasn't taking his needs into account at all.

Minutes later, the doctor raised the exact same question -- not about us, personally, but about the average pet lover keeping his or her best little friend going for selfish reasons.  Of course, we knew it was time.  And, with that, the vet very nicely explained our options.

At about noon today -- Friday, February 5, 2016, the vet brought Raggs to us in a side room.  He replaced the intravenous with a needle, and asked Brenda and me if we were ready.  "Ya," we said, between tears.  And for probably less than a minute, we took turns patting the Raggamuffin, rubbing him behind the ears like he always loved, and I kissed him on the nose and on his little head as he also liked.  In time, that was it.  Little Raggs was in pain no more.


Not much of a consolation, we expect Raggs' ashes to be put in an urn for us sometime early next week, and we'll at least have a little piece of him to go along with all the great memories.

Reviewing little Raggs' records again, he was born on a Sunday, June 20, 1999, I bought him weeks later on a Sunday, August 29, and he passed on a Friday, February 5, 2016.  


After we got home today, I noticed Brenda crying as she looked at her laptop.  In due time, I discovered she was reading some nice sayings about losing a pet.  One she sent me said, "Dogs' lives are too short; the only fault they have, really." ~ Agnes Sligh Turnbull  (That's making me think that I'll pray our next pet -- if there ever is one -- will have to out-live me!)

Yet another great one Brenda pointed out to me was,  "Dogs have a way of finding people who really need them, filling an emptiness we don't even know we have." ~ Thom Jones
And, man, did that one hit home with me...   I actually broke up too much to tell that to our vet this morning, about growing up in my "Lassie World" as a kid, with my own loving, Lassie-look-alike collie, and about losing her when I was just 10-years old.  She'd taught me a lot in the short time we grew up together, though, and I swear up and down that she's a major reason I am who I am today.
My son grew up with an Old English Sheepdog named "Bilbo Baggins".  And Bilbo stuck around long enough to see my son off to play Junior hockey in Canada, before disappearing in a snowstorm one night.  I looked for Bilbo's tracks in the snow several times that night, and again in the morning, but...  The dog office later told me that pets don't want their family to see them die, so they often go off to where they can't be found.
Then, while Raggs might have been brought to our home for my grandson, it seems his job wasn't done when the young man went off to college.  No, as the above message suggests, Raggy might have known all along that he'd be with me in my late-life transition and move to Florida.  He might have even planned to ease Brenda's better than smooth move into my life.
Growing up mainly through the 50's and 60's, I was on the edge of my seat watching "Lassie Come Home", I cried my eyes out over "Old Yeller", and I later got at least a little choked up watching "Marley & Me" and "Hachi: A Dog's Tale". 
Still, the movie that tells the best story of all, as far as I'm concerned, is "My Dog Skip".  Like in most other dog movies, Skip seems to know what his job on earth is, and he also seems to know when his job down here is done.  Anyway, as I begin choking up all over again, I'm thinking that Raggs somehow realized his job was done here, and in the classiest way I've ever seen.
As I wind down here, I sense I'll remember a million more stories about my little buddy as the days, months and years go by.  As a matter of fact, my Facebook flashback page seems to remind me often about some antic he was pulling -- last year, or on the same day several years ago.  In other words, I sense I might add to this over time.  I'm hoping Brenda might also have an urge to talk about "her little Raggs" here -- he and she deserve it.
Paul S, an old friend from back in MA, left me something to truly ponder, saying, "I hope the happy memories will bring you many smiles."  Hmmmmm...  That's pretty interesting, because I'm thinking that the hurt will disappear with each passing day, and I'll be able to smile and laugh all the more at the crazy Raggs stories.
Then, two more friends tried to lift my spirits...
Mary M suggested that, "He was the best loyal companion. Over the rainbow bridge he goes." 
Bonnie H added as neat a vision, suggesting that, "He is probably romping around looking down on you, your 4 legged angel."
Ya, my little Raggamuffin is probably "chasing butterflies" right this minute, and we should all live our lives the way he did.

I love you, little buddy, and I'll talk to you in my prayers -- tonight, and for many more days and nights to come -- I feel I owe you a lot.

PS:  My professional video studio is in storage right now, and there are tons of great pics and videos of Raggs stored with that.  So do I have some other nice videos I think I can add here soon from some CDs.

PPS:   I don't want to editorialize here, but I do have some strong feelings when it comes to pets...  And in Raggs' case, I don't think he got to be 16-years old by accident.  No, I believe in God's will, I believe in genetics, and I also believe our treating him most of his life as a little junkyard dog had some bearing, too.  I mean, Raggs was pampered and then he wasn't.  We watched his diet, but we also let him have plenty of table scraps.  He was in and out constantly in a yard that was big to his little body, and he tore up and down backyard and inside stairs like crazy.  He wouldn't allow a bird or a squirrel hit the ground in his backyard, and he killed two possums that I know of.  He climbed lots of snowbanks, and he dug plenty of holes under my shrubs (grrrrrrrrr).

For sure, Raggs didn't come from a so-called "puppy mill", and I'll suggest that his being born and even raised briefly on that Western Mass farm had a lot to do with his strong constitution.  Oh, man, would I love to someday chase down the lady who sold him to me.  I'll bet that Raggs' mom or dad and a number of siblings experienced similar long, healthy lives.

Anyway, while I'm not sure Brenda and I will ever take on the responsibilities of owning another dog, I'll suggest a couple of things if we do...  I can't see getting anything but a cockerpoo, and I think it will have to come from similar, rural circumstances, just like our One And Only Raggamuffin.