The Strange Snowy Journey of Ty Conklin’s Goalie Paddle
Part 1: Shopping at the Joe
My husband and I were at Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. We had gotten tickets for this one long ago, actually as soon as they went on sale. It was Bobblehead Thursday! And as my husband’s Twitter name is @fakebertuzzi44, we really kind of need to have an actual Fake Bertuzzi in our large bobble collection, don’t you think? Only as it turned out (because it’s hard to plan in September what you’ll be doing on a given day in February), he’s currently assigned to a clinical rotation in Findlay, about an hour south of Toledo where we live, which is of course about an hour (in really good traffic) south of Detroit. So we decided to go in separate cars– I would leave straight from work to make sure I was at the Joe when the doors opened to guarantee we’d get one Bobble Todd for sure, and he would get there as soon as he could.
So we were there to see the home win streak come to an end, and it was absolutely a hell of a run, and I feel very privileged to have gotten to see as many of the wins as I did. It was strange walking out onto the concourse; quieter than I’ve seen it in months. I’ll call it bittersweet.
It was also HOT. I’m not sure if the ventilation wasn’t working properly that night or if the collective will of 20,066 fans heated the building or what, but it was overheated and everyone was eager to get outside. We, however, had a stop to make: the small Hockeytown Authentics shop. (Their main store is up in Troy, MI, but they have a tiny shop at the Joe.) They sell game used sticks and jerseys, autographed pucks and photos, that kind of thing. And there were two goalie paddles hanging on the wall which I’ve been coveting for MONTHS– both game used and autographed, one from Jimmy Howard and one from Ty Conklin. After some careful budgeting and much dithering and wharrgarbling, we decided that one of them could be my birthday present. (I know my birthday is still over two months away– humor me here!)
The Howard one had been sold, but the Conklin one was still there. In a way, this is actually better because this way I didn’t have to make a choice. In theory, I will have many years to get a Jimmy Howard goalie stick. (I know he’s only signed through next season, but come on, do you really think Kenny Holland is going to let him go?) But with Conk having been demoted to the Griffins, well, a goalie paddle from him could become hard to find. And I really did want this one, it wasn’t just an instance of taking what I could get. Because Ty Conklin is my FRIEND.
Part 2: Why a NHL/AHL Goalie Is My “Friend”
We met Conk at Hockeyfest before the season started, and there weren’t too many people in his autograph line, so we spent a few minutes talking to him and welcoming him back to town. He’s really a super-sweet guy who seemed to thoroughly enjoy talking with the fans.
Well, I think after that, he would recognize me when I’d go down to ice level to take pictures of warmups. (My hair is kind of a bright purplish-red, so I’m pretty easy to pick out in a crowd. Not a lot of people around Detroit with purple hair.) But if he noticed I was there against the glass, he’d flash this grin at me, like we had a joke the other people around weren’t in on. It was the sort of grin that invariably should make the recipient feel warm and fuzzy and happy, and it did. Now maybe Ty just smiles at all the female fans that way, or maybe, as the season went along and his numbers got worse, he was just happy to see a friendly face. But whatever the reason, basic human psychology dictates that if someone smiles at me like that on something resembling a regular basis, my brain will start registering that person as a friend.
Don’t worry, I’m not quite crazy enough to believe that these interactions mean any sort of connection deeper than what they are on the surface: an exchange of smiles between two people who met one time. But they were very nice smiles, and I’ll be honest with you: that night without Conk there, I missed his smile a lot more than I had thought I would. I know Joey MacDonald earned the second string spot and I know demoting Ty was the right choice for the team, but I still missed seeing him there and wish things had gone differently. (This is why I’m glad I don’t have Ken Holland’s job.)
Anyway, that’s why I was walking out of the Joe Thursday night with a signed, game used, Ty Conklin goalie paddle.
Part 3: Goalie Paddle Fun Facts
Did you know that when you walk down the Riverwalk from the Joe to the RenCen, and then through the RenCen to the Port Atwater garage, carrying a great big goalie paddle, people will either be like “Whoa! Cool!” or they’ll look at you, their eyes will get huge, and they’ll get as far away from you as possible as quickly as they can? So that was fun.
And did you know that a goalie paddle is kind of heavy if you take it for a one mile walk while stinging snow is blowing in your face? (Google says it’s a mile; I’m not sure this is true, but it felt like it Thursday night!) I came out of that walk with a whole new respect for goalies’ arm strength if they can wield those paddles for an entire game, let me tell you! Granted it was specifically designed for a guy who’s considerably taller and stronger than I am, but still! (Fake Todd Bertuzzi would have carried it for me, but I wouldn’t let him– it’s from MY friend!)
And did you know that it takes some odd contortions to try to fit a big goalie paddle into a small Saturn? It turned out that it was really a good thing that Fake Bert and I had to drive up separately, since the best way to get the stick to fit was to have the paddle part in the floor of the passenger seat with the stick/knob part stretching into the backseat.
And did you know that goalie paddles are not really great conversationalists, but they’re pretty good at listening?
Part 4: Goalie Paddle Anxiety Therapy
We (Fake Todd and I, not the stick and I) had been joking on the walk that I would have a nice long conversation with the stick on the way home.
As it turned out, the roads were absolute shit from a snowstorm blowing through. (We’ve had about 4 storms that have made the roads terrible so far this winter. Three of them were on nights we went to games and the other was a night we were driving home from helping my aunt who lives Downriver to move house. WHY do we keep getting the storms ONLY on long drive nights?) It started out in Detroit with poor visibility from snow, but the roads not too bad, just wet. Then Downriver the visibility was still poor and the roads were getting kind of slick. (The visual effect of the blowing snowflakes looking like hyperspace from Star Wars was entertaining for only about 30 seconds, since I couldn’t see past them.) Then just north of Monroe, the snow turned to sleet, so the visibility improved some, but the roads were just brutal and a convoy of three semis deliberately tried to run me off the road. (I was chugging along in the right lane at about 45-50 mph, and I can swear truthfully I was fully in the lane because I’d drifted right and been checked by the rumble strips just before, and they came barreling through, straddling the lane line, and blaring their horns at me like I was the one doing something wrong! Fucking douchebag bullies.)
Needless to say, I was kind of white knuckling things. I had a spinout on I-475 a few years back– I didn’t hit anything and landed safely on the shoulder, but I’ve never been the same about snow and ice driving since.
So I really did wind up having a long conversation with my goalie paddle in an attempt to keep myself calm. I started out addressing it as “Ty Conklin’s Goalie Paddle,” but over the course of the 2 hour drive (which should have taken 1 hour), I wound up just calling it Ty. Yeah, I’m on a first name basis with my game used, autographed, Ty Conklin goalie stick.
Part 5: What Does One Talk About With A Goalie Paddle?
Part of the time I talked to him (yes, it’s a boy) the way I might to a dog or a stuffie if I were nervous and by myself, more or less just talking myself through the bad drive but addressing it to him. Part of the time I talked to him the way I might to the real Ty if he were a real friend instead of a smile-through-the-glass friend– about the Wings’ chances, the Griffins’ chances, the strange nature of goons, the strange nature of goalies, the strange nature of goalie girls and whether a goalie girl’s particular goalie crush reveals aspects of her psyche. That kind of thing. And singing along with the radio whenever a song came on that I know and that is at least vaguely near my range. Which means I was singing Matchbox 20 and Katy Perry songs. To a goalie paddle. Whatever it takes to keep my mind off the ICY DEATH FALLING FROM THE SKY, right? And then I had a (VERY) minor visual hallucination– thinking the clock said 1:22 when it was really 12:27. And then I told Ty I was hallucinating.
And then I realized I just told a goalie paddle I was hallucinating.
Part 6: Aftermath
Once we reached the state line, the road improved vastly. I guess ODOT must have brined I-75 recently, to which I must say, thank you, ODOT! The surface streets were pretty slushy, but no big deal. So Ty (the paddle, not the goalie) and I made it home in one piece. (I’m sure Ty the goalie also made it home in one piece, but I had no direct personal involvement.) And there you go.
To add insult to injury, the snow and ice pretty much all melted off during the few hours I was asleep. That whole traumatic thing left no evidence of itself!
But here we are safe and sound.
Here are Ty and I defending our hallway against incoming wrist shots:
And here we are doing our best Dominik Hasek impression:
And here’s a closeup of the autograph: