Friday, July 20, 2012

I'll tell Gunnar Stahl you said hi. And that we won.

Before I start writing this I'll give another one of my heartfelt apologies about how I haven't written in two weeks. You see, I don't know what's come over me -- or maybe it's just that I didn't want to talk about Zach Parise leaving the Devils or the Mets losing six in a row in brutal fashion until yesterday's almost-blown win in Washington, but I haven't had too many opportunities to write in the last few months. Much of this has been because I've been tied up with personal or family obligations -- also I had a birthday last weekend and the effects of aging another year are, er, prevalent -- but most of the reason I haven't written has been because I'm going on vacation tomorrow for quite some time, and that requires some planning.

What kind of vacation you ask? Well, to explain that vacation, I will need to take us way back to that magical year of 1994 when a scrappy junior team from Minneapolis teamed with other prime prospects from around the country to face off with the mighty competition of Iceland at the Junior Goodwill Games. Typically that would be a daunting task for a bunch of goofy childlike scrubs on the rink, but the team representing the U.S. was plenty mighty as well. One might say they were Mighty. Mighty Ducks. See while Charlie Conway, Connie Moreau, Kenny Wu, the Bash brothers and Greg Goldberg were knucklepucking their way through such international hockey powerhouses as Italy and Trinidad and Tobago, we all knew that Iceland, the elite hockey nation that it is, was laying in wait for the Mighty Ducks in the Gold Medal Game.

Well, when the chips were down in that final showdown, the Ducks quacked their way to a final shootout and it was there that Julie "The Cat" Gaffney made the save that all of us will tell our children about.

So why am I telling you this? Well, for one thing, it's clear that even 18 years later, this is a film that still resonates with my generation, but perhaps more importantly, defeating Iceland in a fictional movie where the entire Icelandic team was played by American child actors is one of the great youth hockey triumphs in U.S. history. After all, Iceland is a global hockey power, what with its all-time high No. 35 ranking in the IIHF standings this year, it's incredibly competitive 3 (or 4)-team national ice hockey league and its impressive 2-5-0 all-time record against the world's greatest hockey nation: Israel.

Ok, so Iceland isn't really that great of a hockey playing nation. In international competition they only have winning records against Armenia, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, North Korea and Turkey, accoprding to Wikipedia. And maybe they didn't even play their first ever international match, an 11-0 loss to the Israelis, until five years after D2: The Mighty Ducks came out. But we're not going to let all those "facts" sully what was an incredible moment for America, hockey and peace-loving people everywhere.

And this weekend, I'm taking a victory lap. That's right, folks. Tomorrow night I will be taking off from JFK and a few hours later I will be touching down at Keflavik International Airport and heading up to Reykjavik, Iceland. Now, I know I didn't face the same kind of struggle to flash my superiority against Gunnar Stahl and Wolf "The Dentist" Stansson. I didn't need to gel with new teammates, overcome the vanity of coach Gordon Bombay when he lost his way or rediscover my love of the game by facing off with an inner-city gang or roller hockey players in south central L.A. (still one of the most ridiculous sequences in movie history). But I do know that I will be checking out the statue of Leif Ericsson, perusing the Gullfoss and the Þingvellir, and I will be doing it all with this sweatshirt on proudly, showing off my pride for the Ducks and the U.S. and thumbing my nose at Gunnar Stahl even if he does want to shake my hand.

Of course, I'll be gone for 19 days, so Iceland isn't the only place I'll be spending these next three weeks. I will also be making my way to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Uppsala, Helsinki, Tallinn, Tromso, Oslo, Amsterdam and Utrecht. It might be a bit exhausting, much like my European adventure a year ago, but it will also be, you know, awesome. So really, I can't wait.

That said, I will be flying off to Europe with a bit of a heavy heart. There were a few tragedies in the U.S. this week, some that were more affecting than others in a few ways, but the one that has hit closest to home for me has been the destruction of the program lodge at Fairview Lake YMCA Camps, the place where I spent ten summers of my life and still visit regularly, after it was struck by a lightning Wednesday night and burned to the ground.

In many ways that was just a building, but for those of us who grew up at Fairview and still considered it our home, this was a devastating loss not only of where we forged so many memories, but where so many of them had stayed. In the past two decades I had (pretended to) interviewed Sean Connery in that building on the camp radio station. I had written Color War stories there. I won lip sync competitions and performed in welcome shows for campers that involved all too much cross dressing. I had performed in multiple camp plays and a plaque honoring a trip group I was in in 1997 hung on its walls. There were many memories important to people at that camp that were taken down in the building, and not only is it difficult news to hear, but it almost makes me feel guilty to leave the country right away when I feel as though I should immediately be raising money to build a replacement or hammering in the nails myself.

There may be time for that, but in the meantime, the one reassurance I've gotten about that has been the instantaneous outpouring of support from a community that is disparately spread across the globe and yet eager to help rebuild because of the time we all spent in an 80-year-old wooden hall in Stillwater, New Jersey. Perhaps as I fly off to Iceland tomorrow, my heart shouldn't be quite so heavy after hearing of a tragedy I identify with across the country or being connected to a destructive fire at a place so dear to my heart. After all, even in the face of fanciful big screen sports or in the face of a very real horrific tragedy, there is at least one thing you can always learn.

In the real world or in the fake one, ducks fly together.

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