Core Samples |

Core Samples

High sticking, tripping, slashing, spearing, charging, hooking, fighting, unsportsmanlike conduct, interference, roughing… everything else is just figure skating.

–Penalty-box proverb

It was right after the players had returned to the ice from their locker-room break following the first period. The two Zamboni machines had finished laying down that thin layer of fresh glaze in their now-familiar tango and, rinkside, the fans were a-buzz in the manner only a three-goal lead can provide.

The pre-schooler, perched on the ledge, had his team jersey and nose smashed-up against the glass that separated the home team’s bench from oftentimes-overzealous fans. In his own way, through open-handed smacking of the partition, incessant bellowing and sheer attitude, the kid informed his heroes that now was not the time to let down.

"Wipe those smirks off your mugs!" he seemed to say. Something in his behavior caught the goalie’s attention — through the pads and all. Not unlike "Mean Joe" Green in the old Super Bowl Coke commercial, the eyes of the goalkeeper and the kid met in frozen space. Time stopped.

Not that he felt necessarily intimidated, but reacting immediately, the net-minder, with nothing more than a whisper to the ear, caused an equipment manager to scurry back down the tunnel and, as it turned out, dutifully fetch a single aluminum can, which was deposited, somewhat unobtrusively, within the bench area.

The "call and response" did not go unnoticed, however. Both the kid and the disheveled oldster sitting third-row-aisle behind him recognized the logo and the promise it tendered. On the current national beverage scene, the can’s contents constituted nothing less than the preferred quick-energy option of choice for millions of non-organic consumers.

That is not to say that a concoction composed of carbonated water, sucrose, glucose, sodium citrate, taurine, glucuronolactone, caffeine, inositol, niacin, D-pantothenol, pyridoxine HCL, vitamin B12, artificial flavors, and an assemblage of colorings not normally found in nature, is a "performance-enhancing drug," per se.

In fact, in keeping with the spirit of "full disclosure" and all, it should be noted that, not long thereafter, the visiting club scored twice within a minute or so — the second goal being rung-up on a short-handed breakaway with the puck easily navigating the space between the goalie’s pads before finding the back of the net.

Obviously, although the aluminum can was no longer "in situ," performance "enhancement" did not come into play. There may have been, however, sufficient circumstantial evidence pointing toward performance "impairment" of some sort — at least for the timeframe in question.

It should be noted here, though, that the symptoms vanished as quickly as they appeared. From the perspective of the net-minder, following the breakaway goal, the puck ceased resembling an aspirin tablet traveling at the speed of light and quietly morphed into a skillet-sized object that moved forward only when granted permission.

Quicker than you could say "glove save and a beaut!" the goal-keeper began deflecting everything coming his way. He became a "sofa" with arms, swatting away all comers. Time and again, he had the crowd on its feet as the puck-slinging bad guys peppered the goalmouth to no avail.

Theories attempting to explain such a quantum turnaround in defensive proficiency began to surface. A couple of forensic types even took their deductive insights for a spin around the arena during the next break between periods.

Clearly, changes to brain chemistry were at the center of the mystery and isolating the intervening variables involved would probably require more than rounding up the usual suspects. How do you explain the virtual disappearance and sudden reappearance of an acquired skill set — especially one practiced at the level of professional hockey?

Attempting to identify the chemical modifier in question while maintaining "cover" actually required nothing more than a high degree of nonchalance masking as composure. "They" were out there, no doubt about that, but now they had two crack agents on their trail.

Recognizing a need to maintain an energy level equal to that of the opposition, they went hunting some performance enhancers of their own. It wasn’t long before they were "holding" their chemical concoction of choice — something that could keep them focused for weeks on end.

The special blend of vegetable oil, water, butter, salt, all-purpose flour, eggs, sugar, and ground cinnamon had always served them well. Once it’s been stirred and beaten and squeezed through a tube, all you got to do is dunk it in the deep fryer and you were set. Nothing enhances one’s outlook like a good ol’ two-foot "churro" stick.

Shots-on-goal kept mounting throughout the third period but with brilliant save followed by brilliant save, our goalie kept us in the game. As long as we could hold up our end and keep glucuronolactone and its cohorts out of his net, when crunch time came, we should still be in the game.

At the end of regulation it remained a wash, all tied-up and nowhere to go — except into overtime, which, in this context, constituted a five minute extra period featuring four players per side. More ice area per skater provided a somewhat different take on the proceedings, kind of cool actually.

Immediately, roughing penalties were handed out to each team, a grand circumstance that reduced it to a three-on-three contest. This was way neat! But, alas, they never allowed the player ratio to keep diminishing. Just imagine two-on-two, then one-on-one.

In fact, taking it the other way with 10-on-10 or even 20-on-20 would make for an interesting game. It might even evolve into a kind of lacrosse on skates. Imagine the six nations of the Iroquois playing upon Lake Cayuga with 2,000 on a side. Drat, we just might be losing our focus here. Possibly one more churro stick might help keep things on topic.

As luck would have it, the game remained tied after the overtime period. In that it forced a "shootout" to decide the winner, that was a good thing! Especially for the home team and its hero goalie, who was nearly perfect once the chemicals were balanced. The same could be said for a couple of the fans.

High-fives and bald-faced lies, hoots and hollers and Canadian dollars, being brash, talkin’ trash, bettin’ cash everything else is just figure skating!

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