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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:

And just for good measure, here’s @FakeBertuzzi44, holding a fake Bertuzzi, in front of a picture of Bertuzzi:







What I Learned In Grand Rapids (Americans 4, Griffins 3, SO)

1. Downtown Grand Rapids is really pretty.

2. The Van Andel Arena is very shiny.

3. People are allowed through the turnstiles an hour before puck drop, but they’re allowed to line up in the lobby to wait so they don’t all freeze.

4. People waiting in line take their place in line VERY seriously.

5. The Griffins don’t warm up at the end of the rink you’d expect them to if you’d only been to Wings games.

6. Children are allowed to run utterly rampant in Van Andel Arena.

7. During warmups, there was a dude yelling at the Rochester Americans players that their skates looked old and cheap and they should buy better ones. The dude then told his kid that “you have to get in their heads.” This may actually be the worst taunting of an opponent I have ever heard. It’s even worse than me yelling “Yandle is a candle!” when the Wings play the Coyotes.

8. There’s a terrifying woman, whom I believe to be either a school librarian or a lunch lady, who attempts to wrangle the rampant children back to their parents. This woman was a Griffins fan, not an arena employee. The sternness of her expression had ME terrified, and I graduated high school in 1995! Oh god, don’t let her send me to the principal!

9. The speakers in Van Andel Arena are REALLY LOUD. Maybe it was just the acoustics of where I was sitting, but it seemed far louder in there than anything I’ve ever experienced at the Joe or at Toledo’s Huntington Center.

10. The Griffins put on a good spectacle of a show for their entry.

11. Defensive scouting (you know, my main observational objective!): Brendan Smith was the most noticeable guy on the ice, both for energy and for a few costly mistakes. He did have an assist on Francis Pare’s goal in the first period and was trusted to be the last Griffin in the shootout, but overall he kind of gave me the impression of an excited, overgrown puppy who is too eager to please and makes turnovers or misses coverage as a result. This is not at all the impression I had of him when he was up with Detroit for a couple of games, so I’m thinking it was probably just a bad night for him. Veterans Doug Janik and Garnet Exelby seemed dependably solid for the most part, and young Brian Lashoff seemed to do a good job with the puck possession and with scooping up any rebounds Joey MacDonald let get away. Lashoff also had the Griffins’ only power play goal. I don’t recall actually seeing Travis Ehrhardt on the ice, but the box score tells me he had 5 shots on goal and finished the game with a -2 rating.

12. Offensive scouting: Chris Conner finished the game with a -3, but he works as hard for the Griffins as he does for the Wings. I love his speed and his willingness to go in and muck things up in the corners to get the puck away from his opponents. Gustav Nyquist shows flashes of developing into a Datsyuk/Filppula type of finesse player and could be brilliant if he develops correctly. He and Tomas Tatar are basically NHL-ready NOW. Joakim Andersson is also very close to ready. Francis Pare (pah-ray, not pear) made some excellent plays, but his size could be an issue  if he doesn’t work on his strength (5’10”, 190#). (Nyquist and Tatar are listed at 5’11” 185# and 5’10” 186# respectively, but they seemed much better at protecting the puck and not letting themselves be shoved around than Pare did.) Mitch Callahan is developing into a good solid energy type of player. He played a defensively responsible game for the most part and also dropped the gloves with Rochester’s Shawn Szydlowski to get everyone stirred up in the second period.

13. Goaltending scouting: It… wasn’t exactly Joey MacDonald’s night. In fairness, his defense left him hanging out to dry more than once, and this was the second night of back to back games for him. (He posted a shutout against the Lake Erie Monsters the night before.)

14. Leaving the parking garage really wasn’t too bad, but getting back to the freeway was a little confusing. (The one way downtown streets don’t help, and apparently as you’re heading north on Ionia Avenue to get back to I-196, you have to be on the west (left) side of the street if you want the on ramp for I-196 East. Oops.

Overall, it was a pretty nice experience, but I’d have obviously preferred a Griffins win. Maybe next time…

No game posts today…

I won’t be covering the Red Wings vs. Blue Jackets game for you this evening (although I can report in advance that former Wing Brett Lebda will actually NOT be playing for the Jackets tonight). I’m going on a very important scouting mission– heading up to Grand Rapids to see my very first Griffins game. I’m hoping to do a little scouting of the Wings’ defensive prospects and see what sort of guys Niklas Kronwall will be whipping in to shape next season (if the unthinkable should happen and Nicklas Lidstrom actually retires). I’ll check in with my findings tomorrow!

Off Day Odds and Ends

This really seems like the longest we’ve gone without a game in quite some time, doesn’t it?

1. Darren Helm and Tomas Holmstrom have both been back on the ice for practice with the rest of the team. Ansar Khan of MLive reported on Twitter that they’re both confirmed out for sure for Saturday’s game at Toronto. Both Homer and Helmer think they’ll be ready for Sunday’s game at Chicago, but Mike Babcock was non-committal.

2. Jakub Kindl will be back in the lineup against the Maple Leafs. Mike Commodore will likely be the defenseman removed from the lineup.

3. I suppose congratulations are in order for the six players who won the fan vote to be the “starters” for the NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa on January 29th. That would be forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, and Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators, defenseman Erik Karlsson, also of Ottawa, defensman Dion Phaneuf of the Leafs, and goaltender Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. Thomas has a 1.90 goals against average (currently 3rd in league) and a .940 save percentage (currently second in league). Those are all-star numbers by anyone’s standards. The other guys… well. The voting was done completely by internet, with close to 24 million votes cast. The NHL has not released the I.P. addresses of the votes to tally how many of them came from computers in Ottawa running vote-vote-vote shell scripts. And seriously, there are no starters from the entire Western Conference?

The rest of the All-Stars will be named by the NHL and that list will be released on January 12th.

4. More heartfelt congratulations are in order for Gustav Nyquist, the only Grand Rapids Griffin (even though he’s currently on the Wings’ roster) named to the AHL All-Star Game.

5. Congratulations are also in order for the “Vote For Jimmy” write-in campaign to get Jimmy Howard named as an All-Star starter. He wound up in 6th place among all goalies with 192,685 votes, which, for a write-in, is pretty impressive. I would be pretty shocked if the League didn’t invite him when the list comes out next week.

But here’s my confession: I never once voted for Jimmy to go to the All-Star Game. I think he absolutely deserves to go. I think I get more and more impressed by him every time I see him play. At this point in the season he’s been without a doubt the team MVP and he’d be on my shortlist for Vezina Trophy candidates. But doesn’t he deserve a few days off? He’s started 34 of the Wings’ 39 games this season. The All-Star Game is really just a meaningless exhibition. Granted, 6 total goalies will be at the game and each will only play one period, but it seems like it would be better for the team in the long run if he could just take a small break. The long grind of February and March games is looming, with hopefully a long playoff run beyond that. A short break could be a useful thing.

6. Speaking of Jimmy Howard, his next win will be the 100th of his career.

7. The Red Wings-related Twitter feeds (at least the unofficial ones) were practically exploding Wednesday afternoon with news that the NHL had “confirmed” that the 2013 Winter Classic would be between the Wings and Leafs at Michigan Stadium. As the day wore on, it turned out that the only source for this was an AM sports station out of San Francisco. It seems highly likely that Detroit will indeed get to host the Classic next year. (Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports called this the second-worst kept secret of this year’s Classic.) The Leafs would certainly be a possible opponent, even though no Canadian team has yet played in the Classic. The “rule” has been that the Heritage Classic is for Canadian teams and the Winter Classic is for U.S. teams. This isn’t set in stone by any means, and Wings-Leafs would be a huge draw for the Original Six nostalgia factor. Probably the biggest thing to hammer out would be the venue. The Big House can seat 100,000 people, which means more revenue– however, that revenue would have to be shared with the University of Michigan. Comerica Park, on the other hand… Mike Illitch already owns it. No profit sharing needed. Also given that Illitch is and has always been a supporter of the city of Detroit itself, I think he’d push really hard to have the game in downtown Detroit instead of in Ann Arbor. (Also, I’m not sure that former Spartans Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader could play a game in the Big House without getting twitchy and unhappy. Just sayin’.)

Will I be at the Winter Classic? Me, the Florida native who still has to bundle up like a southerner to go outside in winter? The one who spends the entirety of January, February, and the first half of March daydreaming of spring? The one who actually perks up and feels revived on those 90 degree July days with 98% humidity?

Yeah, probably.

It’s Red Wings hockey. And I’m a fan. It’s what I do.

(Just make sure I have some thermal undies and my down-filled parka.)