Jack Reviews 02 Fitness – Hanover Center Wilmington, NC

 O2

I was rather aggravated after signing up for a gym membership at O2 Fitness (Hanover Center) in Wilmington, NC last February. I ultimately decided that rather than do what I usually – i.e. belittle and berate people until they feel shame – I would wait for a few months and see if I still felt as strongly about the situation as I did initially. I was recently invited to participate in an O2 Fitness Customer Feedback Survey, and it turns out I’m still really annoyed. I sent a copy of this review to O2 Corporate via the Customer Feedback Survey. This is my review of 02 Fitness at Hanover Center. 

When I found out that O2 Fitness would be opening a second Wilmington-area location at Hanover Center (Intersection of Independence Boulevard and Oleander Drive), I was thrilled. Finally, there was a viable alternative to the limited gym options in the area.

Prior to the construction of O2 Fitness at Hanover Center, the only options were feeding trough-style meat-markets such as Gold’s Gym or Planet Fitness, or smaller, specialized facilities asking monthly membership dues of $100 or more. There was no middle-ground excluding the O2 facility at Mayfaire, which I considered before deciding it was a bit too congested for my liking.

At the time of the Hanover Center opening, I was using a facility in downtown Wilmington that, while satisfactory, was at an inconvenient location. I was driving 15-20 minutes out of my way just to get to the facility, which for me was a poor use of my limited free time.  For reference, I was halfway through a two-year gym contract that billed at $30/month and had required no initial fee.

By contrast, the Hanover Center was in a very convenient location. I went in to sign up for a membership shortly after the doors opened in mid-December 2013, although I ultimately did not agree to a membership until February 2014 for reasons I will detail below.

In the interest of objectivity, I will break this review down into Value, Pros, Cons, Personal Biases, and Final Thoughts, as I do many of my Jack Reviews articles. I slightly altered this review for the Customer Feedback Survey I submitted to 02 in the interest of cohesion, but I made most of the same points.

Value: Both O2 locations in greater Wilmington are a reasonable value at rates of $44, $49, and $54/month, with each escalating tier offering additional amenities. For example, at the $49/mo. rate, members have access to all O2 facilities within a certain area. This could be a perk for someone living in Raleigh who might use multiple facilities.

For the sake of comparison, comparable corporate gym chains such as Gold’s Gym and LA Fitness include free access to all sister gyms with a standard monthly membership. Still, there are other amenities that O2 offers at the different monthly set rates. I am disinclined to sell for O2 and list all of those amenities, for reasons I will detail below.

The monthly rate is a reasonable value, given that the gym itself compares favorably to other corporate gyms, particularly local comparable gyms Planet Fitness and Gold’s Gym. At the Hanover Center facility, the the equipment is new and the gym is extremely spacious. The monthly cost accounts for both the gym’s quality and relative exclusivity.

As has become the new norm, O2 features both an Initial/Start-Up Fee as well as an Annual Fee that presumably goes toward the gym’s upkeep. These fees are $25/$50 Initial (depending on when you sign up), and the Annual Fee is withdrawn in July at the same rate as the negotiated Monthly Fee.

I find Annual/Start-Up Fees like this ridiculous, but this has become the new norm at large corporate gym chains. Both Fees can be negotiated to a limited degree, emphasis on the word limited.

Pros: As noted above, the primary reason I did not enroll at the Mayfaire 02 Fitness is that the gym is somewhat congested, in particular the Free Weights section. Most dedicated lifters would be annoyed at the Mayfaire facility because there is not really adequate room to do staple movements such as Cleans or Lunges. The area in which the dumbbells are kept is also extremely-snug, which I found prohibitive.

This certainly isn’t a problem at the Hanover Center facility, which is very spacious. There is generous room to work throughout the lower half of the two-level facility, and the Free Weight section is configured quite well.

As you would expect, the equipment itself is all new and in excellent condition. The gym has almost all of the standard equipment you would expect to find in a quality facility, and most of the benches and weights themselves are good quality.

The standard strength training equipment is buffered by a good selection of Hammer Strength and Life Fitness machines, and there is a nice variety of cardio machines including 30-degree treadmills, lateral and standard elliptical machines, etc. The gym is a decent value at the standard monthly rate ($44/mo.) based on the traditional equipment alone.

The gym’s selling point for me was the specialized Performance equipment housed in the upper-half of the facility. The section is lined with football-field turf, and includes equipment geared toward athletes such as Prowlers, Bumper Plates, Ropes, a Glute-Ham Raise, Kettlebells, etc. While this section is primarily used for Personal Training clients, at the time I signed my contract I was told that any member of the gym could use the section at any time. This specialized section was the primary reason I enrolled.

The gym is also clean and well-maintained. The staff is almost unfailingly polite. I have almost no complaints about the gym itself, but that has become a common tack when dealing with larger gym chains.

Cons: Buckle up, because I am going to get my money’s worth. I will get two minor issues out of the way before I get into the issues that really disappoint me regarding the facility:

1) There are a few minor pieces of equipment the gym could stand to add, most notably a few standard attachments for the cable towers (V-Bar, Straight Bar). A Hexagonal/Trap Bar would be a nice addition to the Performance section. Oddly, the gym does not have a regular Stairmaster. Having said this, the gym has so much quality equipment that all of this is really a minor concern.

2) After signing my contract, a rather passive-aggressive addendum was added to the 2nd-Level Performance section: “All members must be accompanied by a personal trainer to use this section,” or something to that effect. I have never had this silliness enforced, but given that I signed up at O2 Hanover Center specifically to use the Performance section, I will be forced to make this an issue if I am ever hassled or asked to stop using the equipment.

These are relatively-minor gripes that would not have warranted mentioning had a more-egregious problem not presented itself. It’s the same problem that seems endemic to most national and regional corporate gym chains.

My main issues with O2 Hanover Center are the sales staff’s obtuse stance on local market competition, and the high potential for future billing issues.

This is no revelation, but the larger and more successful a business is, the less of a premium the business needs to put on Customer Satisfaction. A business such as O2 Fitness can put out as many Customer Feedback Surveys as they wish, but if they make no real effort to accommodate the requests of customers, surveys such as this are hollow and meaningless.

As I cited specifically in the Customer Feedback Survey, “I was so disappointed because I had hoped O2 would be different than Gold’s, LA Fitness, et al. in terms of recognizing the value of a content customer, particularly in a smaller market such as Wilmington, NC.” This was so disappointing to me because it directly ties into the second part of my point, which is that O2 Fitness members face a high potential for future billing issues.

Large gym chains are notorious for acquiring a customer’s payment information, and billing a customer’s credit card continuously and recklessly. I had hoped O2 would be somewhat different in this regard, but the early returns are not promising. At best, the O2 gyms in the region seem to get mixed reviews, and I have to report similar trends.

As alluded to above, I had a year term remaining on my commitment to another Wilmington-area gym, which compares favorably to O2. The local gym I had belonged to – whose name I don’t want to drag into this review – actually offered strong amenities (swimming pool, racquetball courts, etc) than O2, but again the location was problematic for me. I would not have considered switching to O2 Hanover Center if the gym were not so far away from where I live and work.

Anyway, I bought out the remaining term on my contract at a rate of 50% for a total of $180, spread out over six monthly payments of $30 each. I did this of my own free will, but in the sole interest of signing up at O2 Hanover Center.

I was thrilled to sign up, as I was practically salivating at the Performance equipment available at the club. The only thing I asked was that, as a token of appreciation, one of the membership counselors help me recoup some of the $180 value I had sunk into cancelling my membership at the prior gym.

This ended up being a lengthy ordeal. I first tried to sign up in December 2013, and ended up signing up in mid-February only because my desire to work out outweighed my contempt for the disingenuous salespeople I had to deal with.

Here is specifically what happened, directly lifted from the letter I sent to O2 in the Customer Feedback Survey:

…I had planned to sign up with my business partner, and in fact recruited him to join me at O2 Hanover Center, in early January. My view is that I paid a relatively-significant amount of money ($180) in the interest of enrolling at O2 Hanover Center before I gave O2 a single dime, and it have would been a Gesture of Customer Appreciation if someone at O2 Hanover Center would have helped me recoup some of that figure in value.

Factoring-in that I ate the buyout cost of my former gym, the distance I was driving to use the Hanover Center facility (32 miles), and the fact that I had recruited a second member to enroll with me, I had reasonably sought somewhere around $90-$120 in value, i.e. reductions from my total Annual Membership Cost.

The sales counselor I met with offered me a $5/month reduction based on my status as a student, and at the time the Membership Special was $1 Initial Fee. This equated to $85 in Annual Value. All I wanted – again as a token of appreciation, not because I desperately needed the cash – was another $40 or so in Annual Value. Waiving my Annual Fee, or giving me my first month free, would have easily accomplished this. So would dropping an additional $5 off my monthly fee. I suggested all of these ideas, and they were all rejected.

I asked the sales counselor to come up with some solution that put about $40 of Annual Value back in my pocket. My business partner signed up for a membership, but cost was no factor for him because his military service covered his enrollment costs. Meanwhile, I was angrily preoccupied with the $30/month I was paying one of O2′s local competitors to not use their facility. To my business partner’s chagrin, I walked out because of the sales counselor’s unwillingness to compromise with me.

The sales counselor followed up with me repeatedly, but I insisted on more Annual Value in some form. She declined to come up with a solution, so I contacted a different sales counselor. The second sales counselor, without replying, passed me along to the Hanover Center GM, Justin Mascho, which I was fine with.

Mr. Mascho also repeatedly rejected my request for additional Annual Value before signing. I made four or five different suggestions, all of which were dismissed. It made me sound cheap, arguing for $40 in Annual Value against $520 Annual Commitment, but again it would have shown decent Customer Appreciation if Mr. Mascho had just honored my request. After all, I was requesting $40 in Annual Value against a $520 Annual Commitment – less than 10%. It’s not like I was asking for a 50% reduction or a $10 /mo. membership.

Rather than just honor my request in any form, he positioned me as ridiculous for arguing for a relatively-small amount of value.

I almost asked him for $40 out of his wallet, if it was such an inconsequential sum. Instead, I asked him one final time to waive my Annual Fee ($39). He declined, but was willing to move my Annual Fee six months forward to January 2015.

I almost walked out of the gym again, just based on the subtext of Mr. Mascho’s offer: he either believed he was really helping me by pushing the Annual Fee forward, or he thought that I was dull enough to dismiss the Fee because it wasn’t as immediate. He was very directly insulting my intelligence.

But my desire to just go exercise outweighed my desire to continue arguing with a person of Mr. Mascho’s disposition.  Aggravated, I finally gave up and signed the membership contract.

What disgusts me is the sheer greed on O2′s behalf, vetted by the Hanover Center staff. Mr. Mascho (and his sales staff at the time) protected O2′s interests extremely well – I assure you, he got every penny I was willing to spend on an O2 membership out of me. However, here is the fallout from his decision to decline my request for additional value from my contract:

1) My enthusiasm for O2 was killed on my first day as a member. I walked in with a great deal of optimism surrounding the gym, but was greatly disappointed by the unbelievable greed on O2′s behalf in my membership negotiation. I was disgusted before I touched a single piece of exercise equipment.

I would have been a member who promoted the gym and brought new members in. I am active in the local sports and fitness community, and it would have been probable that I would have solicited four or five new members over the course of a year. In fact, I’ve probably had 10 or 12 people ask me where I work out and how I like it since enrolling.

My response to them? You’re reading the long version of it. I certainly haven’t given the gym a ringing endorsement, again based solely on what I perceive to be a lack of customer appreciation.

2) I have to assume that most of the employees are working under Mr. Mascho’s mindset, which apparently is that all member decisions are made on a calculator. If Mr. Mascho is putting such a premium on the bottom line over Customer Satisfaction and reasonable accommodation, I have to assume that the people under him are working under the same mentality. This makes me disinterested in being cordial with the staff, and while that’s no loss to O2′s bottom line, I’m bringing minimal positivity to the Hanover Center facility.

This extends to other members. As with the staff, I am certainly not abusive, but I am not outgoing, either. What O2 lost in this case was an opportunity: rather than having me on-board as a content, enthusiastic member, I’m annoyed as soon as I walk in the door. I could be increasing the enjoyment for other members and indirectly promoting the gym, but instead I mostly just do my training and go home.

I tend to be persuasive. If I think a gym is run by disingenuous people or a poor value, people tend come around to my point of view. What Mr. Mascho squandered over $40 in value, not cash, was free local promotion. Perhaps in the future, a greater premium should be put on ancillary costs such as this rather than just the final figure from a member’s monthly dues.

What the decision-makers at O2 need to ask themselves is this: are nominal sums in value such as what I requested really worth a greatly-dissatisfied customer?

As you can see, my issue is pretty specific to me, but it indicates a greater problem that could potentially concern you:

Larger gyms such as 02 Fitness are notorious – repeat, notorious – for assigning customers undue charges. I worked for one of these gyms, which I will detail in the Personal Biases section. My point is this: if the GM at O2 Hanover Center was this unwilling to work with me over such small amounts of value – again not cash, but value – what is the likelihood that he will have no qualms about overcharging your account after you attempt to cancel? Or saddling a customer with other unwanted or unrequested charges?

Personal Biases

I obviously have an axe to grind, but I had zero problem with O2 Fitness or any of the local staff prior to entering the club. On the contrary, I had hoped O2 was different from Gold’s, Planet Fitness, LA Fitness, et al. in the sense that they viewed customers as more than just checking account numbers. Alas, my experience with O2 Fitness to date has been that they are relatively similar to the other large gym chains as far as money-handling goes.

I worked for LA Fitness, a California-based gym chain, and had an extremely-negative experience there. That obviously factors into how distrustful I am of the sales staff and how vehement I was about extracting better value in my membership negotiation.

However, I quit LA Fitness because I have a conscience and ethics, which many of the other people working for that corporation do not. Day in and day out, I saw frustrated members who were unduly charged monthly dues after cancellation, or trapped in Personal Training contracts they were misled into signing.

Beyond this, many of the sales staff members at the LA Fitness locations I worked in were instructed to misdirect customers who attempted to alter or cancel their memberships, all in the name of squeezing a few more dollars for the corporation. As a stand-up guy, this practice disgusted me.

I have never worked for an O2 Fitness, but the similarities between the O2 model and the LA Fitness model are striking. I admit to being distrustful of salespeople, but again I walked into O2 with a great deal of optimism.

My degree is in Exercise Science, and I have pretty discriminating taste when it comes to gym equipment. This bias works in your favor as a reader, however, as you will get a rock-solid assessment of a given gym. I can say with confidence that the equipment at O2 Hanover Center is some of the best available in greater Wilmington.

Final Thoughts

Some people will read this and say, “Who cares, it’s only a gym membership.” That’s fine. I just happen to be particularly-sensitive to the devious ways in which many larger gym chains operate, and I want discerning consumers to be as well-informed as possible.

I obviously cannot speak to all O2 Fitness locations. I have only ever been inside the Mayfaire and Hanover Center locations in Wilmington, NC. But knowing what I know about gym chains, I get the impression that the issues I have with O2 Hanover Center are not isolated.

It’s worth repeating that as far as gym memberships go, O2 Hanover Center is a competitive value compared to other gyms in the local market. But being competitive within a mediocre market is no coup. I would have been much happier to report that O2 Hanover Center went to lengths to ensure my satisfaction as a member, but that simply was not the case.

The dedication on behalf of the O2 Hanover Center staff to not meeting my reasonable request for recouped value in any way, shape, or form was very telling. Again, O2 Fitness does not have a spotless reputation regarding hassle-free membership cancellation, so I wanted to get a few dollars back up front to offset this. The Hanover Center staff went to lengths to not accommodate me, and did so in the argumentative way that veteran sales people tend to.

Still, I did enroll, due to the combination of equipment, location, and frankly lack of decent alternatives. There are certainly perks to enrolling at O2 Hanover Center – just know that you are going to end up paying (a lot) more over the term of your contract for the spacious facility and quality equipment.

In closing, I will tell you the same thing I would tell my friends if they asked me about O2 Hanover Center, which is this:

It has some excellent equipment, but I can’t fully recommend it because in the end, I think the billing issues will cause you frustration and cost you more than you bargained for.

Jack

Jack Reviews: X-Men Days of Future Past

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I’m writing under the assumption that you are interested in seeing X-Men Days of Future Past and have an idea of what’s going on, since it’s a novel Sequel/Prequel/Spin-Off concept. I will write without giving away too many spoilers, but I will indicate if a spoiler looms at the onset of a given paragraph.

I took in the Thursday night early premiere of X-Men Days of Future Past with Mike and Kacey, neither of whom are huge fans of the source material. It’s useful to go with people who aren’t big fans, because it allows you measure how well the story is relayed to someone experiencing it for the first time. It also lets you know which plot devices are confusing or poorly-explained.

In contrast to my pals, I am a lifelong X-Men fanatic, and have been mostly-disgusted with the films to date. I thought the franchise finally got it right with 2013′s The Wolverine, which I fully credit to the fanatical dedication of actor Hugh Jackman to both the character and the source material, but on the whole the films having ranged from “brutal” to “dumpster fire”, in my humble opinion.

Regarding the prior X-Men films, I’m in that situation as a fan where you try to like the films because you love the characters, lying to yourself about the quality of the movies and unable to form an unbiased opinion. Most of the films, especially 1998′s X-Men and 2008′s X-Men Origins: Wolverine hold up about as well as tissue paper in a rainstorm, but thankfully DOFP doubles as a soft reboot to the franchise, which I will get into below.

The setup is Crazy Time Travel Plot Device, which made my friend Kacey’s head spin. I knew what was going on, but as someone who has only seen the films and not read the comics, Kacey couldn’t figure out if the opening sequence was happening in the far future or an alternate present or what. It was apocalyptic and dark and ominous, but somewhat VAGUE as to the approximate time-frame. I can absolutely see where this would be confusing to a non-fan.

But non-fans are not going to come out in droves to see this film, or maybe they are. Regardless, the film should be a box-office smash because the nerds are going to pay to see this thing multiple times. Bold point: It lacks some of the finish and the mainstream appeal of the Avengers franchise films, but with DOFP, Bryan Singer has made an outstanding period-piece film.

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Most of the film takes place in 1973, and this is where both Singer and the franchise finally get it right. The biggest problem restricting the X-Men franchise, other than the absurd stories used in X-Men I and III and especially Origins, is the ridiculous miscasting and awful characterization. The franchise’s strengths on-screen are in Jackman (who is insanely committed to the Wolverine character) and in the X-Men: First Class cast, most notably the off-and-on bromance between James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto.

Singer wisely puts McAvoy and Fassbender (and Jackman) on screen the majority of the time. Their use takes the film away from awkward, geeky sci-fi fest into something the mainstream audience can enjoy. Firmly setting the film as a 1973 period-piece, complete with Richard Nixon as President and the conclusion of the Vietnam War, solidifies the absent core that plagued most of the prior X-Men films. Like The Wolverine, DOFP is actually a high-quality movie, rather than just a nonsensical, soulless blockbuster. DOFP is basically the opposite of Michael Bay’s Transformers films, in that the substance greatly outweighs the style.

Not that DOFP lacks style. I thought numerous times while watching the film how much more credibility and depth Fassbender gives to the Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto character. Rather than just making him a genetic elitist and genocidal maniac (which is played up in the prior films), Fassbender makes Magneto extremely charismatic and likable. He continues the portrayal he started in First Class, playing Magneto as more of a slick James Bond-type than recycling the tired evil-villain concept.

Most of the performances are outstanding, again in a tasteful and understated way, rather than, “ME AM MAGNETO, ME AM EVIL”. Jennifer Lawrence is great as Mystique/Raven. Nicholas Hoult is perfect as young Hank McCoy/Beast. As I’ve stated a number of times, Jackman is beyond committed to the Wolverine character. Props to Singer for putting these people on screen most of the time, even though it might have been more attention-grabbing to have the Sentinel robots in repeated battles with the X-Men in the apocalyptic future.

Much credit to the writers for modernizing and layering a two-issue X-Men story from the early-1980s. For example, the X-Men decide to send Wolverine/Logan back to 1973, rather than Kitty Pryde (as in the comics) because A) Jackman is the star of the franchise, but also B) because Wolverine regenerates and could potentially withstand something as catastrophic as time travel. It’s a tweak that makes a ton of sense on all levels.

Similarly, they use Mystique in a central plot device, to A) highlight mega-star Lawrence but do so in a way that B) explains why the Sentinels – giant robots that the X-Men ordinarily have no problems smashing to pieces – managed to subdue not only Mutantkind but also humanity. The film makes the Sentinels menacing for the first time ever, while paying homage to the source material.

Ok, that was a sufficient tongue-job in praise of the film. Now time for nit-picking (Warning: Foul/Insensitive Language because this part gets me worked up. It’s 15 years’ worth of pent-up aggression over how bad some of these movies suck):

Since we are now spoiled by the unbelievable quality of the Avengers franchise films, the retarded casting and characterization of the foundation X-Men films really looks bad here, especially compared to the First Class casting of Fassbender, McAvoy, Lawrence, Hoult, etc.

See, in 1998, before we established what a good Comic Book Movie was supposed to be, roles were cast based on looks alone with almost zero thought to how a given actor would fit the character. Here comes a franchise-long tirade on how bad the prior movies were miscast:

Storm: Halle Berry is a prominent actress, and you can talk yourself into thinking she would be good as Ororo Monroe, but Storm is a freaking African Goddess. She’s a strong-willed leader with a surprising mean streak, but in the films Halle Berry (on orders) plays her like a Gap ad. She looks and sounds like she just walked out of a suburban Starbucks. The problem is so bad that they barely let her speak in DOFP.

Cyclops: Don’t get me fucking started. James Marsden, the ultimate beta male, plays Cyclops like a complete twat. He basically consents to Wolverine fucking his wife, then blogs about it on MySpace or whatever the fuck while crying ruby-red tears. He’s the central character in the X-Men comics, a concept the comics themselves have mercifully corrected. He just got done kicking the Avengers’ collective asses, actually. However, he’s such an afterthought in the film franchise that he gets killed in the first 10 minutes of X-Men III with zero fucks given. People are happy to see him die in the films because he’s such a malcontent pussy.

Here is Cyclops as he should be, beating Captain Freaking America’s ass:

cyclops2Here’s Cyclops having just given Emma Frost 10 orgasms, yet too preoccupied with being Awesome to look at her:

Emma_Frost_and_Cyclops_bed

Here he is beating on Wolverine:

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But here is how the movies want to present Cyclops:

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You think I’m done? I’m not done.

It’s not a rivalry if Wolverine is constantly tooling Cyclops and banging his wife. I like Wolverine plenty, and I understand that Jackman is the franchise and rightfully so. But Cyclops is the X-Men. A main reason why these movies have sucked so awful up to point is that Cyclops is written and played as this emo douchebag, which I pray will be corrected when the franchise is fully reboot. But I digress.

This is one of my favorite comics of all-time, Classic X-Men #44:

classicxmen44It’s a recap of Cyclops burying his dead wife, banging random chicks, punching Wolverine in the dick, and telling Professor X to blow him before gunning off on his motorcycle to go grief-bang the Pacific RimThat is how Cyclops is supposed to be depicted, not bringing Logan extra lube and massage oil to use on his cheating fire-crotch wife.

I’m done with Cyclops. Moving on.

Beast: Hey, it’s Frasier! Fuck off and die.

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Thankfully, Nicholas Hoult does a great job in the role, but the ass-jockey that cast a man named Kelsey as Beast needs to be drawn-and-quartered.

Magneto: he’s a fine actor, by why the fuck did you cast 8,000-year old Ian McKellan to be Magneto? He doesn’t look like a very-imposing Master of Magnetism when his jowels are quivering in anticipation of the early-bird special. There is nothing enjoyable about beating up on Grandpa.

Jean Grey: Famke Janssen was too old for the role when she was cast in 1998. Of course a woman in her mid-30s would rather bang Logan than her inept 23-year old boy toy. But again, Janssen was cast in 1998, when the logical process was apparently, “dude, the Russian chick from Goldeneye would look hot as a redhead.” The lack of forethought is obnoxious.

Also, having Janssen, who plays a terrific cheating, manipulative skank in most of her roles, cast as the puritanical Jean Grey was a major swing-and-miss. Too late now though, as the 48-year old Janssen will be playing Jean Grey in the next X-Men film, presumably next to the 109-year old Ian McKellan. Normally, I would be fully behind the concept of Jean Grey: Insatiable Cougar, but it looks and plays ridiculous within the the context of the character.

X-Men III: I am lumping all of the casting of X-Men III into one category, because it was all just rotten. I like Vinnie Jones, but the thought process apparently was “WOW! A limey accent! Let’s make him Juggernaut!” I’ve blocked most of the movie out of my memory, but the fact it caused me PTSD says most of what you need to know about the casting/plot.

Gambit: LOOK! Shiny!

Sabretooth: Replacing whatever was going on in the first film with Hugh Jackman’s secret lover Liev Schrieber was not progress. He’s like a big cat, you see! So he growls and hisses, you see! And has the fingernails of a bag lady!

Deadpool: is Awesome, and Ryan Reynolds gets it, so why was Origins the biggest disappointment that’s ever happened outside of your bedroom? They gave the Merc with the Mouth NO FUCKING MOUTH. Thankfully, they are going to act like none of the prior films, especially Origins, ever happened.

Will.i.am: was in an X-Men movie, as some kind of gay Country-Western bouncer. I want to scream.

I could go on, but the obvious point is that the first four or five movies in this franchise sucked something terrible. DOFP does the world a great, great service by soft-rebooting the franchise, so we can live in a world without Singer’s errant S&M leather exo-suit experience as well as whatever the fuck was going on in the non-Singer films.

Luckily, the franchise got the casting right in First Class (aside from vapid wench Betty Draper Francis as Emma Frost), and the producers wisely toned down the S&M uniforms in lieu of something a non-sexual deviant would wear in public.  This trend further improved in DOFP, as all of the decor and outfits were very time-appropriate without cutting into the plot.

The next issue is the continuity. Havok (Alex Summers) and Toad were in Vietnam? What the fuckity fuck. And didn’t Wolverine fight in Vietnam? Why does William Stryker keeps radically changing ages and appearances? What year did Wolverine get his Adamantium, 2009? Why are there two fucking Toads? Why does Jean Grey’s face look like a withered baseball glove? GOD I HATE THESE FUCKING MOVIES.

My buddy Kacey was tripping balls trying to logically-integrate the prior movies, and I don’t blame him. This is not a criticism of DOFP, which goes to lengths to try to corral the nonsense logical inconsistency of the prior films, but a main reason the X-Men franchise lost steam was that things normal people notice – like dates, times, and ages of the participating characters – were all over the fucking place. It’s like they let a five-year old storyboard Origins on a piece of yellow construction paper.

In a practice that hit it’s nadir in Origins, the producers just threw a bunch of CGI at the screen and expected to hit a $100-million domestic box while insulting the audience’s intelligence. This practice was so obnoxious that is greatly damaged the gate receipts for The Wolverine, which in my view tied DOFP for strongest film in the franchise.

Anyway, know that going forward that the X-Men movies will be story-driven, which makes sense because the films have 60 years of excellent material to draw from.

(This concludes the disproportionate-outrage portion of the review.)

Thankfully, Singer fixes most of the aforementioned problems by effectively ret-conning all of the previous films. You see, because the X-Men changed the timeline, it’s like X-Men 1, 2, 3, and Origins never happened. This would be wonderful news, except that Singer brought back the entire principal cast from the prior films in a series of one-line cameos that peppered the film.

In that respect, DOFP ties a nice bow on the franchise while setting up a partial relaunch. (SPOILER!) Because the events of DOFP essentially cancelled-out all of the terrible decisions that were made in the prior films, Singer and friends have a brand-new playpen from which to create some strong X-Men films. Since The Avengers franchise (as well as the Chris Nolan Batman franchise) reset the bar for acceptable Comic Book Movies, the next wave of X-Men films will likely feature both considerate casting and strong storytelling. (END SPOILER).

So, in closing, pay the $12 to see DOFP? Obviously.

It’s a really strong film that will likely get better upon repeated viewings. Unlike a film like Origins, i.e. a cringe-inducing atrocity that you want to pretend never happened, DOFP is the kind of film that you will always stop to re-watch when it’s on HBO or TBS or whatever. Rather than beat us over the head with CGI and too many character, Days of Future Past focuses on telling a unique story, which will ultimately make the film hold up better over time.

Again, the worst thing you can do is compare DOFP to a Marvel film like Avengers or the recent Captain America 2. Those films were well-ahead before the race started. What DOFP does is wash the stink off of a nearly-ruined franchise, and it does so in a very measured, tasteful fashion. Go see it.

Jack

 

Jack’s Final Rant on the 2014 Pittsburgh Penguins

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This is a rant. It’s not going to be meticulously-edited, and it’s going to be light on the links and the pics.

(Update: I wrote this thing Jerry Maquire’s memo-style, in one sitting until the wee hours of the morning, practically frothing at the mouth. I went back today at lunch and noticed I left entire paragraphs incomplete. So, I filled those in. Thanks.)

You already know what happened, or you wouldn’t be reading this. The way things unfolded wasn’t quite my nightmare scenario, but it was in the Top 5. Losing three straight to get bounced in the Eastern Semifinals – including two at Consol Energy Center – and scoring a total of three goals in the process is about as much of an organizational backslide as one could imagine, given the sky-high standards now set by Penguins’ fans and ownership.

I want to say my final piece before Mario or David Morehouse get in front of a microphone in the coming days and announce one or more firings. If you want to skip to the ending, it’s this:

This thing needs to be burnt to the foundation. “End of an Era”. The core – and by that, I really only mean Sid and Geno – needs to be rebuilt around entirely. The contributions of every player need to be mirco-analyzed, and weighed against the contributions other Stanley Cup Contenders are getting from their supporting casts.

I’ll get to the players in a minute. But I’ll start with a few comments on Disco and Showtime.

On Dan “Disco” Bylsma

Trolls like to point out that the Penguins are only a Regular Season team, but give Dan Bylsma a ton of credit for becoming the Franchise Wins leader. Morons and Yinzers (basically interchangeable) are seemingly eager to dance on Disco’s grave, they conveniently forget that Dan Bylsma has won a lot - a lot – of games as Head Coach of the Penguins.

People sometimes ask me what I think about Dan Bylsma. Here is a typical reply:

“In my view, Dan gets a 10 for managing player’s personalities. He’s immensely likable. He’s well-spoken, and constantly shows great poise in the public eye. That’s huge. However, like a lot of other people, his adjustments – or lack thereof – confuse me. He steadfastly believes in his system, which is admirable, but he often continues to run both his stretch-pass/tip breakout and his aggressive forecheck against Trapping or defensive-minded teams to negative results. And while it’s understandable given his background, he practically dotes upon low-talent fringe players, sometimes at the expense of both common sense and attention that needs to be given to his stars.”

Many forget that Bylsma had minimal head-coaching experience when he inherited the Penguins from Michel Therrien in Spring 2009. Disco is outstanding with people and the textbook definition of a Player’s Coach, but he still has a lot to learn about tactical coaching at the NHL level. He has certainly proven that his system can be highly-successful, but I will be very interested to see how he looks with a few more years of experience.

More recently, some people have asked me about Disco’s potential firing. A typical recent response:

“For 2014, he got a hell of a lot out of a highly-flawed roster. He’s going to take the fall, but he gave his all trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.”

There are only so many ways you can mix up the lines when you have an AHL bottom-six at Forward and a patchwork defense every night. Disco did an amazing job ringing as many Wins as he did from the 2014 Penguins, who lost more Man Games to injury than any other team. The assembled media is practically ready to canonize Mike Babcock for his efforts in Detroit this season, but Disco won more games with less NHL talent. How quickly we forget.

Disco needs to go. It’s time. It’s not because he suddenly became a bad NHL coach – in fact, in my view he’s easily one of the best five or ten – but it’s simply time for a culture change. In this case, Good has become the enemy of Great, and Disco’s continued reliance on what has brought the team prior success is retarding the team’s growth. The field – particularly the Bostons and LAs and Chicagos – has passed the Penguins. A fresh approach is needed.

If the Pens do fire Disco, he will take his pinch like a man. He will sit with poise at the microphone and say all of the right things. He will answer questions thoughtfully, as he always has. He will take the fall for being unable to work miracles with a top-heavy – and frankly, mediocre – NHL team. It will be a shame, but he will be out of work for about 12 minutes. He will land a plum job with Washington or Vancouver or maybe San Jose.

That’s not to say Disco won’t be missed. He will, greatly. But this is where Disco and the Pens part ways.

On Ray “Showtime” Shero

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I have repeatedly written that Ray Shero is my Religion. My emotions cloud my judgement concerning him.

I honestly don’t know if Showtime could have done better with the 2014 roster. The lowered Salary Cap certainly handcuffed a lot of other NHL Managers. But it was infuriating the watch the grossly-overmatched Penguins slog through the post-Olympic break before sputtering out against the Rangers. Again speaking frankly, Columbus probably should have beaten Pittsburgh in the first round.

Disco is going to take the fall for the 2014 team, but my view is that he got every ounce of production that he could have from a team that looked much better on paper than in-actuality.

I love most of Showtime’s moves on paper, especially in recent years. Bring back Alex Kovalev? Snag James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Go Go? Bring in Jarome Freaking Iginla for fifty-cents and a can of Coke?

I remember calling my friend Mac like a giddy schoolgirl when I heard we reacquired Alex Kovalev. Showtime righted a ten-year old wrong by bringing Kovy back the Penguins, even if Kovy never got to play with Sid or Geno. Showtime made the type of roster moves in real life that I would make on my Sega Genesis. My affection for him become blind and canine.

I was not a huge fan of Showtime at first. I was pretty vocal about my displeasure over his drafting of Jordan Staal ahead of a winger for Sid (at the time, I wanted American Phil Kessel). His early personnel moves were so un-Penguins – bringing in grit and muscle like Georges Laraque, Gary Roberts, Chris Thorburn, Matt Cooke, and so on – that they were off-putting. The Marian Hossa-Pascal Dupuis trade was so jarring that I didn’t even know how to feel about it.

But the team was trending in the right direction. Maybe Showtime knew better than I did, bringing in hustlers and in some cases scumbags instead of skilled-but-soft guys. After a while, I just said, “Fuck it. In Ray Shero I trust.”

Today, I am here to take a cold, sobering look at his roster decisions and drafting. Based on results, is he really the genius I’ve thought him to be? Or have I lost my religion?

Let’s say you inherit a team with Sid Crosby, Geno Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury. You just picked Jordan Staal with the #2 Selection in the 2006 NHL Draft. You inherited hard-nosed defensive coach Michel Therrien. How are you going to fill out the roster? How are you going to reconstruct this organization?

I am a disciple of Mario Lemieux. To build a successful Mario Lemieux team, here is the formula:

1) Have the Best Two Players in the World, and ideally at least two or three other all-world players like Ron Francis or Alex Kovalev

2) Add in no less than two or three potential offensive dynamos, such as Mark Recchi, Marty Straka, or Brian Smolinski, at Forward. You should basically roll three Scoring Lines and a fourth line that plays about six minutes per game.

3) Have at least one big hitter and fan-favorite (such as Ulf Samuelsson, Matt Barnaby, Darius Kasparitis, Bob Boughner, etc). Showtime inherited Brooks Orpik, who would seemingly fill the role once he reached maturity.

4) Have a big offensive catalyst on your defense. Prior examples include Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Sergei Zubov, Big Dick Tarnstrom, etc. Again, Showtime inherited Sergei Gonchar, who was signed to be this player. Kris Letang was groomed and eventually re-signed to his mega-deal to ostensibly fill the role.

5) Have a knuckle-dragger, but make sure he can take a regular shift with your superstar center. Mario seemed to somewhat enjoy skating with the likes of Dennis Bonvie, Steve McKenna, Frankie Leroux, Krystoff Oliwa, and so forth.

6) Make sure your Coach is a completely-replaceable organizational guy (Rick Kehoe, Eddie Olcyzk) and if needed bring in Eddie Johnston for 40 games to “get things back to normal” if your Coach gets too far off the rails with a defense-first system ala Kevin Constantine.

7) Make sure your goaltender understands that the team is an “Offensive Carnival”, and that minimal attention will be paid to defense. Make sure your goalie also understands he will be expected to see and stop 35-40 high-quality shots from the other team, and that shot-blocking is something maybe one or two guys on the team knows how to do.

8) Assume each and every one of your forward prospects, or anyone with a hint of offensive upside, is a burgeoning 30-goal scorer. Tomas Surovy, Shane Endicott, Rico Fata, Randy Robitaille, Toby Petersen, Jan Hrdina, Marcus Freaking Naslund…I could go on.

Pardon the aside, but that was the 20-year old formula when Showtime arrived in Pittsburgh, ostensibly to clean up Craig Patrick’s ineptitude.

Rather than continue with this approach, Showtime brought a hard-hat mentality to the Penguins, retaining “Iron” Mike Therrien and surrounding his jewel #1/#2 Overall Picks with low-salary muckers. Showtime did not want Sid, Geno, etc. to grow up to be the snotty rich kids from the down the street, and tried to circumvent entitlement by surrounding his superstars with blue-collars players.

Showtime also showed a marvelous deal of restraint, refusing to spend big on Free Agents and capping deals for new players at two years in the interest of maintaining flexibility. The bigger-ticket players he eventually did bring in to solidify the core – Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin, even Marian Hossa – were much grittier than those that Craig Patrick may have sought out.

Again, I was slow to buy into this new approach – after all, why the hell would you make Sid Crosby play with something called Nils Ekman or Andy Hilbert – but again, the team was trending in a positive direction. Showtime’s build peaked with the 2009 Stanley Cup, and has been on a slow-but-steady decline ever since.

This article is so damning that I included it twice in this post:

http://www.mc79hockey.com/?p=6761

Most will agree that Showtime inherited a pretty enviable core group, and that his primary responsibility on a year-to-year basis is to competitively fill out the remainder of the roster. The reason I linked the article above is that the evidence is statistical: the 2014 Penguins’ bottom-six forwards were so collectively-terrible that a tremendous strain was placed on Sid, Geno, and Flower, the three guys who always receive the lion’s share of the blame when things go wrong.

The longstanding tack has been, “We’re paying Crosby and Malkin and Fleury the big bucks, they can do the heavy lifting.” Rather than maximizing the value of these respective assets – you know, by acquiring elite wingers for Sid and Geno and playing strong team defense around Flower – the approach for most of Showtime’s tenure has been to surround these world-class players with replacement-level players. 2013 was a notable exception, but the 2014 team came by their playoff flame-out honestly. When guys like Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc are a massive upgrade, you know something has gone horribly wrong.

It’s possible that Showtime’s approach to team building, at least while constrained by the gigantic Cap Salaries of Sid and Geno, has handcuffed the team in a similar fashion as Disco’s approach to systems play.

As with Disco, it’s time for a new direction, one that isn’t constrained by past successes. Showtime, like Disco, did not become an idiot overnight, but after four years of underwhelming playoff performances (2011 doesn’t count), it’s fair to question if a different approach might convert more of the Penguins’ potential into post-season results.

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I would like to see Showtime shown the door along with Disco. Showtime signed off on the crap 2014 roster, has failed to draft a respectable amount of complimentary players, has recently handed out a few very-troubling contracts, and was unable to reload the team at this year’s deadline despite knowing how thin the forward corps was (notwithstanding the Ryan Kesler situation, which could have changed everything).

Is this an overreaction? Very possibly. I’m way too close to the situation to be objective. But forcing myself to look at just the rough data – the general direction the team is trending in, the general draft record, the roster going forward, the way the team looked slow against Columbus and the pitiful performance against New York in Games 5-7 – I have to logically conclude that someone else deserves a turn at the wheel.

If Ray Shero were to become available, like Disco he would be unemployed for all of 36 minutes, and his place in the revitalization of the franchise will forever be secure. But the evidence seems to indicate that his decisions are restricting the team’s growth.

There is are huge disclaimers to everything I’ve just written. The Penguins lost 500+ man-games to injury in 2014. The loss of Pascal Dupuis for the season was cataclysmic. The addition of Ryan Kesler at the trade deadline likely would have gotten the Penguins into the Conference Finals, and thus spared all of you this article and saved both Disco and Showtime. The team played a huge chunk of the season with Matty Niskanen and the Seven Dwarves on Defense. Showtime certainly tried the “All-Star Team” approach in 2013, and shouldn’t automatically be crucified for staying the course in 2014.

But if a disheartening loss in the Eastern Semifinal is going to cost Disco his job, it should cost Showtime his, as well.

I have no idea who will run the team if Showtime is canned, especially with the 2014 Draft right around the corner. But keeping him at this point is endorsing the flawed, good-but-not-great culture in the same way keeping Disco would be.

On Sid and Geno

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They are the franchise. Deal with it.

A troubling report came out from the Tribune-Review in which Sid and Geno apparently stated how unhappy they were with Disco. If it’s true, than Disco goes.

Since Showtime arrived in 2006, the tack the team has taken has been to make things as difficult as possible for their two superstars, Sid especially. Instead of drafting a winger for Sid, let’s draft another defenseman or another center. Let’s trade Sid’s buddy Colby Armstrong. Let’s play a defense-first system. Let’s give Sid linemates like Jani Rita and Andy Hilbert and past-his-prime Miro Satan and Nils Freaking Ekman. Let’s make Sid take half of our defensive-zone draws.

This article by Serbian Reactionary Dejan Kovacevic brought me around to my former way of thinking: why are the Pens doing anything to limit their superstars’ chances of success?

The Penguins have the League’s top-two offensive generators. I realize goal-scorers don’t come cheap, but there have to - have to be – players available who can better support and utilize Sid and Geno’s gifts, just like there have to forwards available who can do the digging and the hitting necessary to make room for them. The fact Sid had to take so many defensive-zone draws, just because there wasn’t a viable alternative, was a disgusting misuse of the 2014 scoring champ.

On Sid specifically:

Yeah, Sid had a shitty playoff. He will swear to the grave that he was healthy, but I continue to suspect otherwise. Putting that line of thought aside, as Kovacevic suggested: why the fuck were the likes of Brandon Dubinsky, Dominic Moore, and Marc Staal allowed to carve Sid into shreds with no repercussions? Why didn’t someone like the continually-useless Tanner Glass just maul Dubinsky or Moore? Why did no one make a better effort to protect not only the team’s captain, but also the League’s scoring leader and consensus best player?

I understand that “elite players need to fight through checking”, but it was comically-easy for both the Jackets and the Rangers to hound Sid because A) there was no reasonable offensive threat on his line to account for, until Geno moved up to play with him, and B) there was no reasonable offensive threat on the lower lines that could thin the checking, and C) no one on the Penguins was interested in making Dubinsky, Moore, et al. pay for their actions.

I fully expect Sid to bounce back. These whispers about his decline – at the old age of 26 – are preposterous. Maybe the combination of the Olympic schedule, the weight of his country’s expectations, a nagging soft-tissue injury that robbed him of his explosiveness, and the constant ball-punching from the Dubinsky/Staal demographic combined to limit him in the second half of the season. But he’s not even close to being washed up.

On Geno:

He’s a Beast. Getting him two linemates who potentate him, rather than the other way around, would likely lead to a 150-point season.

On their new status quo:

Until this year, Sid and Geno were always cordial, but never overtly buddy-buddy. The perception seems to be that they bonded after Sid helped pull Geno out of his post-Olympic funk. All of the sudden, Geno wanted to play on Sid’s wing, perhaps to pick up his struggling friend, perhaps because got tired of James Neal coasting and taking stupid offensive-zone penalties.

Anyway, the two seem united going forward. The Penguins can take solace in that their two superstars are both under contact (forever), seemingly on the same page, and not resentful of each other as some pundits would have you believe.

For the next stage of their careers, I would like to see a management team in place that recognizes how fortunate the franchise is to have these two generational players, rather than complaining about petty nonsense like Cap Math or line-juggling. Those are called Quality Problems. 29 NHL Teams are insanely jealous of the Penguins’ perpetual “dilemma”, which is how to maximize the contributions of Sid and Geno.

On Flower

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Flower is plenty good enough to win with. In my view, his resolve in the 2014 Playoffs proved that the 2012 and 2013 Playoffs were aberrations, or at least struggles that he’s seemingly put behind him.

Even his most staunch detractors would have a hard time blaming him for the 2014 Playoffs. He kept the Penguins competitive throughout their brief run, and was arguably the most-composed player for the Penguins in their 1st Round Series versus Columbus. I can easily argue that the Penguins don’t escape the First Round without Flower’s play in net.

We all know the book on Flower. He’s going to let in a terrible goal from time-to-time, but he also makes a plethora of circus-saves because the team in front of him has a very tentative, or at least inconsistent, commitment to defense. He might have a pile of personal NHL awards if he played for team that insulated him better.

As far as stay or go, my view is that Flower has earned the right to play out the final year of his deal, and to stay through the probable regime change. I think we are seeing the beginning of a more-mature, settled Marc-Andre Fleury, and a goaltender who can carry a rebuilt team to additional Stanley Cups. Whether he stays beyond 2015, or gets swept away with as a remnant of the Disco/Showtime culture, will be up to future governors of the franchise to decide.

Quickly, through the rest of the roster:

Chris Kunitz/Pascal Dupuis: should be thoroughly evaluated. Are these really the best two wingers we can find for the Best Player in the World? Sid does a lot more for them than they do for him. It would be nice to see Sid playing with someone who can make him better in bursts, rather than the other way around all the time.

James Neal: needs to be shopped. Not necessarily dealt, but put on notice. The bullshit – the retarded penalties, the lack of discipline, the dangerous hits, the lapses of apathy – need to come to a screeching halt. If the new regime wants to move him out to create some flexibility, or deal him straight-up to Vancouver for Ryan Kesler, that’s fine too.

Brandon Sutter: has established himself as a worthwhile player to build with. Remember all the Sutter-for-Kesler talk? I’m thinking trade Neal and keep Sutter. Kesler can play wing, and having all of those Centers available lets Geno slide up to Sid’s line whenever.

Kris Letang: won’t be going anywhere due to both his contract and his health condition. He should be given a chance to round out his game under a new coach.

Paul Martin: should play out the final year of his contract in 2015, as he’s our best defenseman right now and will help other Penguins’ prospects develop.

Brooks Orpik: It’s shameful his Penguins’ career will end the way it does. Some Western Conference team – please not New York or Boston or Philly – will pay him handsomely, way more than the Pens can afford. Thanks for the leadership and the memories.

Jussi Jokinen: deserves to get paid well by someone else. Thanks for a caring and for a great season/playoff.

Matt Niskanen: Same as above, but if you want to come back, please, it would help a ton. You’ve emerged as a leader and in my view are a big difference between a Rebuild versus a Reload. Take a Hometown Discount from Showtime’s replacement and take the other “A”.

Olli Maatta: Another reason to keep Nisky? If only to maintain his stellar pairing with Olli Maatta, who should continue to develop into a two-way rock for the Penguins.

Rob Scuderi: must be bought out. I realize he isn’t eligible for a Compliance Buyout, but the traditional buyout – 2/3 the remaining salary paid out over double the term, or $1.11 million against the Cap for the next six years – remains an option. I like him as a person, but he was getting crushed out there against Columbus and New York. Even on the 3rd pairing, he is impeding future success.

Craig Adams/Tanner Glass: NO. Seriously, happy trails. I’m not Mr. Stats, but you guys got killed all season in Corsi/Fenwick numbers, which confirmed the obvious.

Deryk Engellend: Tough player, but he’s impeding progress. He’s not a top-six defenseman on a Cup Contender.

Joe Vitale/Brian Gibbons: Both should be re-signed by whoever is in-charge because they at least play like they give a fuck. Given that both are veterans minimum-level paychecks, retaining both to fill out the fourth line is a fine idea.

Robert Bortuzzo/Beau Bennett/Simon Despres: need to play somewhere. If not in Pittsburgh, then move them out. They need to be allowed to make the occasional mistake, because not everyone is a 19-year old phenom like Olli Maatta.

Jeff Zatkoff: is a fly-on-the-wall. Backup Goaltender is the least of the organization’s concerns.

The Penguins will be back sooner rather than later, with the dynamic play of Sid and Geno at the forefront. In the coming days, I suspect Ownership – by which I mean Mario and Burkle – will demand to see a higher return on their investment, or at least a better protection of that investment on the behalf of Management. It should be fascinating to see how the team is reinvented, should Ownership part ways with Disco and/or Showtime.

I’m spent. Now comes the waiting.

Jack

Reboot Hockey: What You Need to Know About Hockey Stick Flex

 

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This article is meant to help you select the appropriate Stick Flex for your Hockey Stick. With the bevy of choices available to players at the retail level, it can become overwhelming for both the novice and even the experienced hockey player to differentiate between Flex Ratings and to choose the proper Stick Flex for her or himself. This article will hopefully make it easier for you to choose the Stick Flex that best suits you and your game, ultimately making you a better and more-effective player.

After determining your Effective Range for Stick Flex, you can then fine-tune to find your Optimal Flex. Ideally, this article will save you time and effort in finding a stick that maximizes your game, rather than restricts it.

Stick Flex Overview

Hockey sticks are sold in a number of Flex Ratings ranging from about 50 Flex to 115 Flex. You will occasionally see sticks that reside outside of this range, but those would be quite rare.

To keep the article simpler, I will write this under the assumption that you are using a Senior Flex stick. Sticks are also available in Junior and intermediate Flex Ratings, but the article could get very confusing if I incorporate both of those. If you are selecting a stick for a younger or lighter player, the principles covered in this article can be applied in the same way, but the Flex Ratings obviously would be lower.

First, consider this Stick Flex Chart:

FlexChart

This chart is going to make sense to a limited number of people, while completely confusing most others. I will try to break it down so you understand the principles of modern Stick Flex:

A number of prominent hockey stick manufacturers are listed along the horizontal axis of the chart: Inno/Warrior, Bauer, CCM/RBK, Louisville/TPS, etc. The yellow column on the left indicates stick manufacturer Easton’s Flex Ratings. Easton is often used as the standard because until recently, they were by far the industry leader in composite sticks sales and innovation. For the purposes of education, Easton’s Flex Ratings will serve as our constant or Control group.

Easton Senior sticks are usually seen the Flex Ratings 75, 85, and 100. 85 Flex is often referred to as “Regular Flex”, while 75 Flex is commonly referred to as “Whip Flex”. 100 Flex is usually referred to as “Stiff Flex”, and anything over 100 Flex is typically called “Pro Stiff”. This delineation is now pretty standard among the major stick manufacturers.

Sticks under 75 Flex are generally labeled as Intermediate sticks, and marketed toward 10-14 year old kids or lighter and smaller players. Intermediate sticks are usually seen in 55 Flex and 65 Flex.

There are a number of formulas used to estimate which Stick Flex may be appropriate for you based upon your bodyweight (or even Lean Body Mass). A common formula is to choose a Stick Flex that is half of your Lean Body Mass in pounds. For example, a 200 lb. player with 15% Bodyfat would have 170 pounds of Lean Body Mass (200 x 0.85 = 170). Halving this number would suggest a Flex Rating of 85 Flex for this player (170 x 0.5 = 85 Flex).

This is extremely rough math, and serves only as a starting point for choosing a stick with an optimal Flex Rating. Many other considerations go into selecting an appropriate Stick Flex, such as style of play, position, frequency of play, relative strength, etc. Some very heavy players prefer sticks with lots of whip, while some very light players prefer very stiff sticks. The goal for the moment is to help you find a stick that works well for you while you continue to experiment and fine-tune.

Most Senior retail sticks measure 60″ from the butt of the stick to the insertion point of the blade, called the Hosel. Some sticks may come longer off the rack, such as the Sher-Wood 9950 Iron-Carbon wooden stick, which leaves the factory at 63″/105 Flex, but most retail sticks measure 60″ uncut. Again to avoid confusion, let’s keep this style of measurement (Butt to Hosel) as a constant.

Many recreational players use sticks that are much too long. To properly determine your optimal Stick Flex, you must first determine your optimal Stick Length.

The notion of players using sticks that are too long is well-explained here at Cut Hockey Sticks. The reason most retail sticks come at a length of 60″ is because this is the maximum length most players would need for a stick. If you are unusually-tall (and likely a defenseman), you may have a preference for a stick that exceeds 60″, but this is pretty uncommon.

As per Wiki, the maximum stick length used by most NHL Players is 60″. Six-foot-eight Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has a special exemption that allows him to use a 63″ stick, but he is obviously not typical. Frankly, if the gigantic Chara can use a 63″ stick, there is no logical reason why a 6’3 or 6’4 (or even 6’5) player would need a longer stick than that.

For visual reference, here is a picture of Zdeno Chara that illustrates the point:

chara

I realize that’s not a perfect picture, but notice where the heel of the stick blade rests in relation to Chara’s chest. At his height, a custom 63″ stick hits him right around the breastbone, as is the case with many other elite players. A lot of recreational players have a complete misconception about how long the average hockey stick should be, and insist on using too-long sticks despite evidence to the contrary.

Having stated my view on Stick Length, let’s assume that a 60″ retail stick is more-than-suitable for most players. For the sake of explanation, let’s say you are about to purchase a 60″/85 Flex Easton V9E. Here are some of the considerations you should make before purchasing:

1) Lie

The first thing I do with a stick is lop a good 4-6″ off of it so the blade sits flush against the ice or deck. Here is a good picture of Sid Crosby demonstrating his preferred Stick Length:

crosby3

Notice how the blade of the stick lies completely flat when Sid has his arm fully extended to his side. To achieve this, most players are going to have to trim a minimum of 2-3″ from a 60″ stick.

People are going to dispute this idea with me, citing the shooting benefits that theoretically come from a longer stick. My counter-argument is the above picture of the Best Player in Hockey, a superb passer and puck-handler if ever one existed, using a 53″-54″ stick. This article from the Denver Post discusses how Sid and off-season training partner Matt Duchesne use short sticks to success. You can also re-visit the Cut Hockey Sticks link above to see any number of Hall of Fame players who use similarly-short sticks.

Misguided recreational and youth players often use sticks that are far too long for their body proportions simply because no one has ever taught them differently. There are exceptions who benefit from using an unusually-long stick (such as Pavel Datsyuk or Marty St. Louis), but your unwillingness to saw-down your own stick may also be hindering your puck-control abilities. Something to consider before we proceed.

lieYour own body proportions and skating-style are going to determine which Lie is optimal for you. For example, I have a relatively-long torso and arms. I also tend to skate in an aggressively-forward stance. Lower Lies (such as Lie 4 or Lie 5) tend to to allow me to puck-handle better. You may have a proportionally-shorter torso, and use a more-upright skating stance, a higher Lie (6 or 7) would be more appropriate. I highly recommend using the Cut Hockey Sticks article to help you sort all of this out.

Assuming you have determined your appropriate Stick Length via Lie:

2) Adjust for Increase in Flex Rating

Cutting inches off of a stick, in most cases, increases the Flex Rating of a stick. Some sticks (notably Sher-Wood composites) come with a “Flex Free Zone” due to their variance in kick-points, but let’s not discuss that for the moment.

Generally, cutting 1 Inch from a stick will add 2-5 Flex Points, making the stick considerably more stiff. The shorter a stick is initially, the stiffer it will become, as each additional inch cut from a stick represents a larger overall percentage of the stick.

If you cut 5″ from a 50″ stick, you are cutting off 10% of the stick. Meanwhile, cutting 5″ from a 60″ stick means cutting off about 8.5% of the stick. Cutting 5″ from a 70″ stick would mean cutting off 7% of the stick. The standard unit of measurement – in this case, 1 Inch – has a greater impact on a shorter stick because it accounts for a larger percentage of the stick.

Let’s say that you determine that your 85 Flex Easton V9E lies best for you at a length of 55″. This will mean cutting 5″ from the 60″ shaft. Time to grab the saw.

(Not to confuse you, but Easton sticks generally run “soft”, meaning they have lower Flex Rating than indicated. We will revisit this later in the article.)

Most sticks now come with a Cut Line near the butt of the shaft. This will help you take some of the math out of calculating Flex Rating. Here is one such Cut Line from a Bauer shaft:

cutline

Easton sticks are convenient to gauge because their Flex Ratings move in increments of 2.5, 5, 7.5, 10, etc. Let’s say that an Easton stick increases 2.5 Flex Points for every 1″ inch you trim from the end of the shaft. If you determine that you need a 55″ stick, cutting 5″ from the shaft will take your 85 Flex V9E from 85 Flex to 97.5 Flex (2.5 Flex Points x 5 inches = 12.5 Additional Flex Points). This is a fairly drastic increase in Flex Rating, and could greatly alter your puck-handling or shooting.

This is a consideration you need to make before you purchase a $240 V9E: will you be cutting a significant amount from the stick? If so, perhaps dropping in Flex Range from 85 Flex to 75 Flex may be appropriate.

There is no universal measurement tying Stick Length to Flex Rating. Making matters more complicated is that some sticks (such as the Sher-Wood Rekker and True Touch models) come with the aforementioned “Flex Free Zone”, meaning the stick’s Flex Rating does not alter unless it is significantly shortened. As mentioned before, the placement of a stick’s Kick-Point also can affect it’s Flex Rating. It can get fairly mind-boggling.

Take a breath and check your stick for a Cut Line, ideally before purchasing. That will take much of the doctorate-level calculus out of the equation.

The next best thing to a Cut Line is a Cut Chart, which geeks with calculators have put together so you don’t have to agonize over a stick purchase. I could not find an Easton Cut Chart, so this Chart from Bauer will have to do:

flexchartThere seems to be little rhyme-or-reason to this chart, but the takeaway is that in general, the more you cut from a stick, the higher the Flex Rating increases. With Bauer sticks, when you start cutting drastic amounts from the stick, you start changing the stick’s Kick-Point. That’s why cutting 2″ from an 87 Flex increases a stick’s Flex Rating by 9 Flex Points, but cutting 6″ from an 87 Flex increases the Flex Rating by 25 Flex Points. It moves like a Bell curve. Something similar occurs with
Bauer’s 102 Flex stick, but not with their Junior or Intermediate sticks.

For the moment, let’s assume that we have gotten you within your Effective Range for Stick Flex, meaning that you are using a stick that does not hinder your puck and shooting skills by being too stiff or too “whippy”.

3) Adjust for Kick-Point

A stick’s Kick-Point is the location at which the stick bends maximally while being flexed.

Traditional wooden sticks flexed uniformly, like a bow being drawn. The Kick-Point was at the mid-line of the stick in most cases, but a player’s personal mechanics could alter the Kick-Point depending on her or his hand location and shooting style.

Wooden sticks have largely gone the way of the dinosaur, and a more-recent trend among the retail stick manufacturers has been to lower the placement of the Kick-Point in the interest of increasing Shot Release.

Here are two pictures representing Mid-Kick and Low-Kick sticks. First, a Mid-Kick

midkick

And here is a Low-Kick stick:

lowkick

By lowering the Kick-Point, stick manufacturers are attempting to increase Shot Release, or the time is takes for the puck to leave the blade of a flexed stick. The trade-off is that an unnaturally-low kick-point can diminish slower-release shots such as full wrist-shots and slap-shots.

Many if not most composite sticks now feature a Low Kick-Point, with several of them trying to drive the Kick-Point into the blade itself. Recent innovations include Warrior’s Dagger Taper release in 2011, and this year’s Easton VE technology, which focuses on Blade-Loading.

Here is a picture of the Warrior Covert, featuring an ultra-low Kick-Point:

covert

Without getting off-topic, know that altering a modern stick’s Flex Rating by shortening or extending it will frequently alter the  Kick-Point. This will turn shooting into a chore, or force the player into uncomfortable Shot Mechanics.

For this reason, I strongly prefer Mid-Kick composite sticks. Mid-Kick sticks conform more-naturally to the player’s personal mechanics, and the Kick-Point is not altered drastically if the stick is lengthened or trimmed.

If you purchase a stick with a super-low Kick-Point, such as a Warrior Covert or a Reebok SicKick, know that altering the stick’s length will affect the Kick-Point to some degree. Also, be cognizant of the position you play and your shooting style: if you are a defenseman and a long-time player, a stick with an ultra-low Kick-Point may fight your natural mechanics. I find that Low-Kick sticks fight me quite a bit, especially on slap shots.

4) Differences Between Manufacturers

As I alluded to above, an Easton 85 Flex is not necessarily a Warrior 85 Flex, which is not quite a Bauer 87 Flex.

I have used dozens and dozens of composite sticks, and there is not really a concise way in which I can break down the differences between all of the manufacturers. Here are some insights I’ve taken from various sticks, but by no means use take these insights as Gospel:

Easton: Easton sticks tend to run “soft”, meaning that an 85 Flex Easton does not reach a Flex Rating of 85 until 2-4 Inches are trimmed from the stick. Using an uncut 85 Flex Easton may be more like using a 78 Flex Bauer. Easton’s Kick-Points are generally mid-low, finding a good compromise between modern shot release and traditional shot mechanics. Easton was the composite stick market-leader for a long time, and delivers a very respectable product across most of their price-points.

Bauer: Bauer Vapor sticks are Low-Kick, while Bauer Supreme and Nexus sticks are Mid-Kick. Their Flex Ratings are more “true” than Easton’s, and Bauer makes the process of finding the correct flex easy for buyers by constructing Flex Charts (such to the one posted above). Bauer now leads in market-share, largely due to the high quality of their sticks. Bauer also offers custom fine-tuning (95 Flex, 107 Flex, etc) on their high-end models.

Sher-Wood: Sher-Wood offers two lines of composites, the True Touch (Mid-Kick) line and the Rekker/Nexon (Low-Kick) line. I have used Sher-Wood composites extensively, and I believe they are a great value. They perform well at their respective price-points, and Sher-Wood has put a lot of time into their Research and Development. Sher-Woods do not shoot like Bauer or Easton sticks, and I believe they shoot a bit more “traditionally”. Sher-Wood uses a “Flex Free Zone” on their Rekker/True Touch models, meaning that a player can cut 4-6″ off of an 85 or 95 Flex stick without altering the Flex Rating. Sher-Wood releases Senior composite sticks in Flex Ratings of 85, 95, and 105. They also offer both 60″ and 64″ Senior sticks, if you prefer an extra-long stick.

CCM: I cannot comment on CCM because I have not used one of their sticks since the company collaborated with the TailorMade golf division to create the CCM RBZ stick. I have heard multiple reports that the sticks have greatly improved from the underwhelming U+/CL lines, but in all honesty CCM had nowhere to go but up. CCM has remained competitive in both Skate and Protective sales, but the CCM brand has never really been known for their sticks. RBK/CCM owns the Hockey Company, which includes former stick giants Koho, Jofa, and Titan, but these sticks were obviously from a prior era and did not really factor into the modern composite marketplace.

Reebook: My understanding is that after purchasing Reebok/CCM, Adidas (Reebok’s parent company) sent most of their long-time R&D people to work under their Reebok label, while the R&D staff working under the CCM label is relatively-new. I couldn’t find any articles online to substantiate this, but I did get the opportunity to speak to Reebok/CCM head Phillipe Dube, who was kind enough to take a phone call from me. I was given the impression that as of 2005, CCM’s veteran R&D people put most of their focus into establishing Reebok while the CCM people were newer hires. This seems to present itself in the quality of some of their recent products, with sticks being a prime example.

Reebok has been an innovator in the modern composite stick market. For example, they released the controversial O-Stick in 2008. They have used a variety of different grip and texture options, such as Snake Grip and Shark Grip, I have found their models to perform well at most price-points. The SicKick models are their signature Low-Kick sticks, while their AI line is a Mid-Kick.  Again, veteran players will notice that much of the former Koho/Jofa technology has been put into Reebok, so players with an affinity for those brands may prefer Reebok sticks.

Warrior: Formerly Innovative Hockey, Warrior sticks seem to be favored by a lot of veteran and European players such as Alex Kovalev, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Sergei Fedorov. Many Innovative sticks were extremely-stiff, and Warrior took a huge chunk of the marketplace when they first appeared in the mid-2000s.

My review of Warrior sticks is that they are boom-or-bust. The impression I get is that Warrior tries a lot of unconventional approaches to creating the ultimate stick, and they are not afraid to release a flawed or incomplete technology at the retail level. Due to the variance in their Kick-Points between models (such as Spyne vs. Widow vs. Covert), I would say Warrior sticks pose the highest risk for inconsistency after being extended or trimmed. An average uncut 85 Flex Warrior feels a bit firmer than an 85 Flex Easton, but a bit softer than an uncut 87 Flex Bauer.

Their line is currently divided into Covert (Low-Kick) and Dynasty (Mid-Kick) sticks, both offered at a variety of price-points. My opinion is that Warrior gets their high-end sticks right, but does not produce a high-value product on their low-end sticks. I am also not thrilled with the durability of the Warrior sticks I’ve used, and I’ve used 10-12 at this point.

Warrior is also a lacrosse company, and there is obviously a technology crossover as with Easton (Baseball bats) and CCM/TailorMade (golf clubs). I can’t write much more on the subject without making a lot of assumptions, but a Warrior stick may “shoot” more like a lacrosse stick while a CCM would be more prone to “shoot” like a golf club. Any company with successful in-house baseball or lacrosse R&D would undoubtedly share technology with the hockey department, and the carryover properties from other sports may be more prominent in a Warrior Covert versus an Easton Synergy versus a CCM RBZ.

There are obviously other stick manufactures, but it would go beyond the intent of this article to review them all. Just know that there are notable differences between the large stick manufacturers that will affect both your purchasing decisions, as well as the way a given stick performs.

Lastly, I found this ultimate Stick Flex chart from Total Hockey very instructive, but it may be too numbers-heavy for a lot of people.

Final Considerations for Effective Range

The goal of determining your Effective Range is to find a stick that allows you to perform at an acceptable level. After skates, a player’s stick will be the most important purchase made by a hockey player or parent.

The player will constantly be trading Finesse skills for Grit skills, and vice-versa, while fine-tuning Stick Flex. If hockey involved no puck battles, almost everyone would use a super-whip stick. However, while sticks with a lot of extra flex are great for fine puck-skills, they often prevent a player from competing as hard as she or he can.

By the same token, being able to win a face-off or take the puck from an opponent along the boards is useless if a stick is too stiff to pass or shoot effectively. Finding an Effective Range involves finding the lightest Stick Flex that allows you to compete, and finding the stiffest Stick Flex that allows you to puck-handle and shoot well.

I think the most cost-effective way to determine Effective Range is to invest a few Wooden Sticks with different Flex Ratings. You will be much more comfortable chopping 6″ from a $30 Sher-Wood 5030 than you would cutting the same amount from a $260 Reebok RibCore. Wooden sticks flex naturally, and will force the player to use proper puck-handling and shooting mechanics. It will also be much easier for a player to determine that a 105 Flex Iron-Carbon is too stiff, or that an 85 Flex 5030 has too much whip, than with rocket-launcher composite sticks.

It’s worth repeating that I have no financial stake in any of the aforementioned hockey companies. I am just passing along experience and information.

Optimal Stick Flex

Finding an Effective Range will be fine for many people. However, there will always be players who want the absolute most out of their equipment. For players such as this, finding an Optimal Stick Flex becomes a worthwhile pursuit.

You may do just fine with an off-the-rack, uncut 60″/100 Flex Easton. The problem starts when the stick model you have grown comfortable is altered or discontinued. Knowing your Effective Range will allow you find a comparable model, and ultimately find the Optimal Stick Flex for you and your style of play.

To start, this is the Stamp from a pro stock hockey stick:

flextag

I will decipher the Hieroglyphics for you: that stick is a Bauer NXG (Special Edition), 82 Flex, in Bauer Pattern P92 (Backstrom), Right-Handed. The W03 designation is “Warrior 03″, which is Warrior’s comparable blade pattern to Bauer’s P92.

The player in question has obviously optimized his hockey stick. 82 Flex is a fine-tune between Bauer’s retail-issue 77 Flex and 87 Flex models. The player had an 82 Flex ordered to his preferred length, so there is no guesswork about altering Flex Rating or Kick-Point. The stick is a Supreme Total One NXG, meaning the player prefers a Mid-Kick to a Low-Kick. He even has an alternate company’s blade pattern stamped on his stick in-case the Bauer NXG is unavailable.

You are likely not a professional hockey player, but you can still customize and prepare your equipment like one. The Pros have had years of access to the finest Equipment Managers in the world, so they have been able to make advanced customization such as this a relatively-simple procedure.

Unless you have access to a quality Equipment Manager, you will have to do this customization yourself. There will likely come a point when you want to reach a higher level of play, and getting the most out of your equipment is an important part of the process.

Let’s say you and your 55″/97.5 Flex Easton V9E are getting along quite well. You are puck-handling much better because your stick is the appropriate length, and shooting better because your stick is no longer too stiff for you. However, let’s say you want to add even-more zip to your shot, or you want to be stronger on face-offs. This is where finding an Optimal Stick Flex comes into play.

Here is my general overview for the trade-offs between higher and lower Flex Ratings:

Lower (Whip) Flex: Increased Wrist Shot Power, Passing/Shooting Release, Saucer Passing, Touch, Fine Puck-Handling skills (Deking)

Higher (Stiff) Flex: Increased Wrist Shot Accuracy, Increased Slap Shot Power/Accuracy, Puck Battles, Face-Offs, stronger or sturdier overall Puck Control

As you can see, there are benefits to both higher and lower Flex Ratings. Most players elect to fine-tune and find a stick that allows them to perform all skills well, maybe shifting a bit in one direction or the other to account for their position and style of play.

I’ll use myself as an example:

My Effective Range for Stick Flex is 95-115 Flex. If I go lower than 95 Flex, the stick becomes slack, like a stretched-out guitar string. Controlling the puck in-traffic and winning puck battles becomes a chore, and mid-flex/slower-release shots such as Slap Shots become ineffective. If I go over 115 Flex, basic passing, puck-handling, and shooting becomes laborious because I have to consciously flex the stick, weakening all passes and shots. This problem increases with fatigue.

Using a stick closer to 95 Flex allows me to prioritize puck-skills while still being competitive. I shoot effortlessly with a 95 Flex, and can routinely snap clean shots past goaltenders. A 95 Flex stick allots me much better touch, so I can do fancier moves like heel-drags and backhand saucer-passes with more assurance. The lighter flex is definitely better when there is less room on the ice. The trade-off is that I lose a little bit of edge on face-offs and in picking pucks off the wall. My shots also tend to be a bit “softer”, making them less likely to get through traffic or trickle through a goaltender.

Using a stick closer to 115 Flex allows me to be incredibly-strong on the puck. This allows me to dominate in the face-off circle and win battles down low. It’s very helpful for holding onto and distributing the puck. Passes are extremely precise. At 115 Flex, I can still perform a full complement of shots (wrist, snap, slap, backhand) adequately, though not as crisply as with a 95 or 105 Flex. My game may not be as pretty with a 115 Flex, but it’s usually more-effective and definitely more-rugged.

The ideal scenario for me is to split the difference and use a 105 Flex. Toying with both ends of my Effective Range allowed me to find an Optimal Stick Flex, and it’s a template most any player can copy.

Here are additional considerations:

Position: If you investigate, you will find that many Centers prefer a slightly-higher Flex Rating for passing precision and the aid in wining face-offs, while many Wingers prefer slightly-lower Flex Ratings for the shot-release benefits. Many defensemen like a higher Flex Rating because they are not particularly artistic with the puck, and prefer Mid-Kick sticks because they take Slap Shots the majority of the time. This is a rough generalization, but your position may dictate your Optimal Stick Flex to some degree.

Style of Play: a dangler who shies away from contact is going to prefer a lighter Stick Flex, while a stay-at-home defenseman is going to prefer a higher Flex Rating in the interest of winning more puck battles. Those may be the extreme outliers, as most players will want a combination of Finesse and Grit in their play.

Let’s assume for a moment you have Stick Length and Lie down to a hard science, and that a 55″ stick works best for you. Let’s also assume that you are Effective with a 55″/97.5 Flex stick, but that you play Center and want to be stronger on face-offs and crisper with your passing. Here is how I recommend you fine-tune your Stick Flex:

Maybe you play well with a cut-down 85 Flex, but you want a slightly-stiff stick. Jumping to a 100 Flex Easton stick and cutting 5″ from it increases the Flex Rating to about 112.5 Flex, which may be too stiff for you. It would again behoove you to consider your options before making a purchase. Is there a 95 Flex stick made by a different manufacturer available for purchase? Can you borrow a stiffer-stick from a friend for a practice session? Will you consider purchasing a wooden stick before you over-invest in a too-stiff composite stick? Can you buy Pro Stock?

If you have not determined your Effective Range by trial-and-error, I recommend you make your drops or jumps in Flex Rating gradually – no more than 10 total Flex Points. If you have the means, a drop or jump of 5-10 Flex Points would be even more ideal.

My Optimal Stick Flex is about 105-107.5, which I have learned from years of trial and error. I learned by using a Reebok 100 Flex than I cut down 4″ (making it about a 108 Flex), then noticed a performance bump. I saved the info for future use, and wouldn’t you know it, I replicated the results by keeping my Flex Rating right around 105-110.

Account for variances in Kick-Point. If you are using a Low-Kick Bauer Vapor to good results, switching to a Mid-Kick Bauer Supreme may negatively-effect your play. Do some investigating and find sticks that are comparable to the model you are currently using. Try not to change two factors at the same time (such as Blade Pattern and Flex Rating, or Length and Kick-Point). If you are using an 85 Flex Easton V9E and want a slightly-stiffer stick, try to get the stick in a similar Blade Pattern and cut it to the same length. Otherwise, you will not know which fine-tune was most effective.

Keep Records. There is nothing comparable to firsthand experience. Keeping a few personal notes about your equipment preferences is almost cost-free, and pays large dividends down the road. What did you like about a given stick? Were your Slap Shots unusually-hard? Did you feel your puck-control skills were especially sharp? Were you dominant at face-offs?

Dedicated players may want to keep an eye on the Length (hosel to butt), Flex Rating, Kick-Point, Lie, Blade Pattern, and Grip of their sticks. As you continue to play hockey or as your children continue to play, I promise you will go through a lengthy number of them. Making a note of which sticks worked and which didn’t, and tracking a few fine details, could save you a lot of frustration and money in the long-term.

In Conclusion

This is a lot of information, especially to newer players. Hockey equipment has gotten so advanced and technical that modern players need to be more savvy than in generations prior in order to optimize their games. However, try not to let all of this become overwhelming and stressful. Ultimately, the information you have just read is only a guide, not a rulebook. Pick through this information as needed and as you gain experience, rather than trying to digest all of it in one sitting.

Also see the Reboot Hockey articles on Choosing an Ideal Hockey Stick and How to Optimize Your Hockey Skates. As I wrote above, your skates and your stick are your two most-influential pieces of equipment. If you are using an ineffective sticks or pair of skates, your game will likely suffer. You can compensate for equipment issues in many cases, but sometimes bad equipment limits your potential to a great degree. Understanding the principles of Hockey Stick Flex will allow you to choose a stick that works best for You. Knowing about Stick Flex, and then cultivating personal preferences, will ultimately help you become the best player you can be.

Jack

Reboot Hockey

 

 

 

 

Honest Hockey Review: CCM Crazy Light Skates

clsI had the opportunity to pick up a pair of CCM’s top-of-the-line skates from 2012, the CCM Crazy Light, at an absolute steal of a price. While I was thoroughly disappointed with a lower offering from the same line, the CCM U+10, the allure of a $700 skate at a fraction of that price was too strong to forgo. I gave the Crazy Lights a whirl, and here is what I have to report.

All Honest Hockey scores on the 1-10 scale, with 10 being “Must Buy” and 1 being “Avoid at All Costs”:

(UPDATE: 5/26/14 – I had a critic question my ability to review the CCM Crazy Light skates, so I have added two sections called, “Basis of Comparison” and “Personal Biases”. I think both of these will help add objectivity to the Honest Hockey Reviews going forward.)

Basis of Comparison

I have skated in CCMs since I began playing at age 7. I believe I used a pair of Bauer Supreme 1000s for a season or so when I was around 10 or 12, but for the most part I have always been a CCM guy. My feet are ridiculously-shaped, and traditionally CCM skates have almost always fit better than Bauer skates.

I currently have in my possession the following skates: 2008 CCM U+Pro, 2009 CCM U+Pro Reloaded (with a Bauer Lightspeed 2 Holder/9′ Radius), Reebok 11K Pumps, CCM 1052 Super Tacks, CCM Custom Pro Tacks (Pro Stock), and CCM 852 Tacks. I will put up a pic of all the skates to validate this shortly.

In recent memory, I have also tried the 2011 CCM U+10, Graf 535 Supras, Graf 709 Texalites, and Easton Mako skates, all of which I re-sold for one reason or another. I wore a pair of 2006 CCM Vector 10.0s until they fell apart. As a kid, I had a number of other Tacks-era CCM skates.

In short,  I am qualified to review the Crazy Light because I have used many skates that are directly comparable within the CCM/RBK family. Because I have purchased a CCM boot every 1-2 years on average for the past 20 years, I believe I am well-suited to note changes in the Crazy Light from prior models. As written above, I currently skate on two skates directly- comparable to the Crazy Light in the U+Pro Reloaded and the RBK 11K Pump.

Looks

The Crazy Light is a gorgeous skate. I picked up a pair of the original silver/black skates with the red accents, and I was wowed by how sharp they look. In fact, I may have somewhat-fallen into the “beautiful woman” trap of almost overlooking fundamental flaws in the skates because of how good-looking they are.

CCM has generally made a more meat-and-potatoes line of skates, based more on substance than style. However, the Crazy Light was a strong step toward revitalizing their brand from an aesthetic perspective. The Crazy Light compares very favorably looks-wise to other 2011/2012 offerings.

HH Rating: 8.5

Fit

The Crazy Light features CCM’s patented U+ Foam, which they included in their U+ models from 2008-2012. This technology is fantastic for people such as myself who have misshapen feet, as it provides instant customization in most cases. The skates are meant to be baked and re-baked until the proper fit is achieved.

One of the best things I can say about the CL is that the U+Foam used in the skates is a marked upgrade from that found in the U+10 boot. I have not seen a U+12 to compare the bridge between the two, but the foam in the CL boot is professional grade. You can take it as a positive that CCM includes such great materials in their top-end boot, or take it as a negative that there is such a marked drop-off to their mid-level boot, but Crazy Light buyers have nothing to be disappointed about.

Having said that, this is an extremely-stiff boot, at least compared to other 2012 models. That’s a positive or a negative depending on your personal preferences, but I found the Crazy Lights to be oppressively-stiff along the Eyelet Row. This prevented me from skating in my natural mechanics, which are pitched aggressively-forward.

Even after hours and hours on the ice, I was not achieving the uptick in performance that I had been hoping for. As with the U+10s I had purchased the previous year, the Crazy Light hindered my performance by greatly restricting my ankle mobility. While they felt fantastic as I laced them up in the locker room, I was not achieving the desired carry-over onto the ice. I tried 8 or 10 different lacing styles, and none of them really allowed me to skate to my potential.

Along the outsole (the bottom of the boot), the fit could not be better. The U-Foam in the Crazy Light – called “U+Grip Rebranded” – could not have conformed to my foot better. The U-Foam in the Crazy Light may have conformed even better than the U-Foam in the 2008/2009 U+Pro models, which is really saying something.

Having said that, I prefer the customization of the Reebok Pump from my 11K models. The 11Ks give me tremendous support around the achilles as well as superb Heel Lock. As a direct comparable, my view is that the fit of the 11K is better than that of the Crazy Light, though the Crazy Light certainly fits very well along the outsole.

My main criticism – and this is a criticism of modern skates themselves, rather than the Crazy Light in particular – was getting an appropriate fit along the top of the boot and the ankle. Due to the nature of the composite materials themselves, I could not achieve acceptable “Foot Wrap” in the Crazy Lights.

CCM completely rebuilt their skates for the 2013 RBZ line, and presumably will do the same for their 2014 Tacks re-release.

HH Rating: 7.0

Durability

Again, I was most struck by the quality of the Crazy Light compared to it’s sister skate the U+10.

I looked, but I don’t have any pics remaining of the U+10s. You will have to take me at my word: I used a pair of CCM U+10s for no more than four or five months, and they looked like they had been used for four or five years under an NHL schedule. The U+10s were so misshapen and warped from routine use after half a year that I eagerly re-sold them for $50 on eBay.

But this article isn’t about the U+10. This is about the Crazy Light, which again compares favorably as the top-of-the-line offering from CCM for 2012.

The rigid materials that somewhat limit forward foot-flexion are, as you would suspect, extremely protective. I feel like the quarter package could withstand a bullet at close range. No one in my local league shoots at NHL caliber, but I think beer-leaguers could block shots in the Crazy Lights without much trepidation.

Ditto for the tongue, which I would not describe as especially soft or forgiving. “Rugged” – like the skin of a crocodile – would be a more apt description. If you are a flopper, i.e. you wear the tongue of your skates outside the shin-guards, note that the tongue of the Crazy Light skate is not particularly lengthy or plush. It’s not uncomfortably by any means, but it’s not cotton-soft, either.

Finally, the Crazy Light skate was considerably less “rickety” than the U+10. Out of the box, with the U+10, the steel felt loose in the holder. It rattled as I walked to the ice. Meanwhile, the CL feels like it could withstand a chainsaw attack. As you would expect from a $700 retail boot, it’s incredibly well-constructed.

HH Rating: 8.5

Performance

With skates, fit and personal preference become the issue. Here is what I will say on behalf of the Crazy Light skate:

1) As the name suggests, it’s hard to envision a lighter set of skates. CCM apparently lowered the weight by 25% for their 2013 RBZ line, but the Crazy Lights feel weightless. That’s going to appeal to a great number of buyers.

2) With the U+Foam, the skate will mold to your foot like few others. “Hot Spots” are easy to work out, and you can achieve tremendous fit around the bottom of the foot. This will undoubtedly improve performance in a great many skaters.

Here’s the deal-maker or deal-breaker:

The CCM Crazy Light is exceptionally-stiff. Depending on your skating style, this can be a boon or a major hindrance.

Like the U+10 and many contemporary skates, the stiffness of the boot along the Eyelet Row (and to a lesser degree the tongue) limits forward flex. Many players, pros especially, combat this by dropping or skipping one or more eyelets. I was never able to achieve desirable forward flex with either the U+10 or the Crazy Light, though again the CL fit 10 times better due to the superior U-Foam.

HH Rating: 7.5

Personal Biases

I apparently have to state that I am not a professional hockey player. Having said that, I played college and have been playing continuously for since I was seven. I can properly skate in high-end retail skates, assuming a proper fit, since I am frequently mistaken for being a young Bret Hedican.

I am quite biased in favor of CCM/RBK. Despite the bad experience with the U+10, I convinced myself that the Crazy Light was going to work fine for me and that the U+10 was just a defective, low-end boot. Frankly I wanted to Crazy Light to fit identically to my 2008 U+Pros and save me further aggravation, but that simply wasn’t the case.

I did not compare the Crazy Light to a price-similar Bauer skate because I cannot get my foot into one comfortably. I do feel the Reebok 11K is a strong comparable, noting that both are made by the same parent company. The Easton Mako is a one-of-a-kind fit, and does not serve as a great comparable to the Crazy Light because of its uniqueness. I dislike Graf, and the models I tested were not terribly comparable to the Crazy Light.

Again, the Crazy Light is a massive upgrade on the U+10, but the most glaring problem with the U+10 (the oppressive stiffness of the Eyelet Row, and the inability of the skate to properly flex and wrap my foot) persisted.

My feet are just hideous, and I have major problems finding skates that fit. However, I got 4-5 years each out of both the CCM Vector 10.0 and the original CCM U+Pro. It’s worth nothing that a number of veteran NHL skaters – Joe Thornton, Loui Eriksson, and Brendan Morrow, to name a few – have continued to use the U+Pro, which I believe is stronger overall boot than the Crazy Light.

While the Crazy Light’s U-Foam wrapped the bottom of my foot wonderfully, the top half of the boot would not conform properly around the top half of my foot. If you have more-normal or less-damaged feet, you may not experience the problems I do with most skates, but if you are a long-time or more-traditional skater, you may find the Crazy Light to be too much of a “ski boot”.

I skate in an aggressively-forward posture ala American Hero Bret Hedican or Sergei Fedorov. If you skate with a very upright torso and 90-degree angles at both your hip and your knee (like Jordan Staal), the Crazy Light will certainly aid you in maintaining this form. If you skate more like Sergei Fedorov – i.e. with extreme forward-flex – you may find that the Crazy Light is so stiff through the front and tongue that it prevents adequate flex. I had to drop the top two laces to make the Crazy Lights usable.

Final Considerations

If you’re considering a Crazy Light, than you are likely considering a close-out skate from 2012, which at this point would include the Easton Mako (2013) and the Easton EQ50. I’ve never tried an EQ50, but compared to the Mako, my assessment would be that the Crazy Light will provide inferior fit but superior durability and protection.

The Crazy Light is “meant” to be baked and re-baked. I personally think that one or two bakes should be more than sufficient, but again the Crazy Light is also crazy-stiff. If you decide to go with Crazy Lights, know that you’re in for a lengthy break-in period, and adjust your patience accordingly.

The Crazy Light uses CCM’s trademark holder prior to the RBZ line, the E-Pro. The steel comes factory-contoured at 10′. Most people, for whatever reason, prefer the Bauer TUUK holder, which comes factory-contoured at a 9′.

As written above, CCM completely rebuilt their boot for the 2013 RBZ line. Additionally, the 2014 Tacks line is about to be released to the general public. If I were doing the purchase over, I would make sure to at least get my foot into both an RBZ and a 2014 Tacks boot before I made a purchasing decision.

In keeping with this line of thought, the reason CCM has undergone a massive re-branding is that the company has gradually lost more and more market share to industry giant Bauer at the retail level. While the RBZ line was a major positive step for CCM and the Tacks line looks to make a similar leap in sales, the Crazy Light could in some ways be considered a low point in the CCM line.

The Crazy Light could potentially be a steal for you at closeout prices, but with updated offerings available, it’s also possible that the Crazy Light represents a failed concept. Read as many reviews as you can, and try to get into as many price-comparable boots as possible.

HH Overall Rating: 7.5

Jack

In Defense of Sid Crosby I

sidinjured

I incited a minor Twitter war when I made a comment in response to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review/TribLive columist Dejan Kovacevic’s article, “Embarassed? Not Penguins”. I was less-than-thrilled with a few of the opinions Dejan submitted, and I felt something needed to be said in defense of Sid Crosby in-particular.

My view is that the Penguins, like anyone else, are subject to due criticism. But being a huge Penguins’ homer, I view undue criticism of the team, and a few players in particular, very unfavorably.

I have no problem with the majority of the article. The Penguins have played inconsistent and often uninspired hockey for most of the 2014 Playoffs.  But I take issue with Dejan singling-out Sid Crosby, who in my view is playing through a mid-body or soft-tissue injury, for poor performance. I consider it undue criticism to cite a player for underwhelming play when he’s clearly struggling through an injury.

This is the remark I made in response to Mr. Kovacevic’s column:

I think it’s irresponsible for @Dejan_Kovacevic to call out Sid when he is obviously injured

Casual or ignorant fans can easily latch onto the idea that Sid is simply “not trying hard enough”. It’s the classic situation of blaming the best player when a team fails to meet expectations. When a respected columnist such as Dejan suggests that the team’s captain might be giving less than his best, it fuels the wrong kind of fire.

This is the main excerpt from Dejan’s column that tweaks me:

Crosby has to be better, even if he’s playing through some kind of injury. He’s out there getting star minutes. He has to be a star.

That’s very easy to say or write. Play better, dummy. Dejan admits that Sid is injured, but the tone of his article is that Sid, like the rest of the team, has this untapped reservoir that they aren’t reaching due to lack of desire. That may or may not be true in the case of some players, but in my opinion, Sid is giving absolutely everything he has. My view is that lying on the goal line trying to block a Benoit Pouliot wrister ala Doug Glatt is about as much as a player can reasonably be expected to give.

I am not going to pick apart Dejan’s column point-by-point. For the most part, I enjoy his columns and agree with much of his insight. I agree with the overall theme of his most-recent column, which is that the Penguins need to find an emotional charge from somewhere if they hope to advance past the Rangers. But I think it’s poor form when a columnist with Dejan’s access cites Sid’s recent play without throwing up a huge asterisk.

Dejan is right in this regard: for the Penguins to get to where they want to be, Sid has to be better. The 2014 Penguins are not a deep team, and Sid is clearly the engine that makes the team go on-ice. The team and the coach all know this. Rolling out a column that suggests the team’s captain is satisfied with his below-standard play is inappropriate, in my view.

As I wrote on Twitter:

Because a stat line of minus-3, 30% face offs, and 25-second shifts is obviously normal for the Best Player in Hockey

That’s not Sid’s standard. It’s not even close. Believe me, he knows it. The tack that Dejan took in his column – that Sid could simply turn it up a few notches, and that he was opting to give less than his best in the NHL playoffs – offends me because of the disrespectful subtext: that a dignified hockey player such as Sid Crosby would dog it under any circumstances, particularly these.

Almost all hockey players, especially those at the NHL level, do not know how to give less than their absolute best. They routinely play through pain that would cower lesser men. Sid is no exception, but I apparently need to remind some people that Sid ate through a straw for two months last year before returning to play the 2013 Playoffs in the Hannibal Lecter bite-collar:

sidteeth

sidteeth2

Let’s agree based on recent precedent that Sid is willing to play through pain and injury. Is criticizing him in various local media for not playing better while clearly injuredreally the most appropriate stance to take?

It must be incredibly frustrating to be Sid Crosby and to know that you are playing well-below your personal standard during the most-critical part of the season. But it must be doubly-frustrating to have a local writer imply that your mediocre play stems from lack of will.

Can the team play better? Certainly. Can the team give more? Maybe or maybe not, at least not without deviating from the game-plan that Dan Bylsma and his staff have constructed. But Sid is out there giving everything his body will permit. I think in this scenario, praise and support would be much more appropriate than swipes at his integrity as a hockey player.

Maybe I should have a better sense of humor about this, but questioning an NHL player’s commitment at this time of year, particularly Sid’s, is really offensive to me. Sid Crosby is far too classy to dignify any media mischaracterizations, so I’ll take the role I usually take against unwiped Flyers and Bruins’ fans and defend his character.

He’s playing hurt, and he’s refusing to complain about it. That’s extremely noble.

As for getting “Star Minutes”, anyone watching can see that Sid is bailing out early on shifts. As per Eliotte Friedman, Sid’s shift average was down nearly 10 seconds per shift in Game 4 of the Columbus series. He played 19:36 in Game 1 versus the Rangers, and 19:48 in Game 6 against Columbus. Right now his body, for whatever reason, is simply not allowing him to sustain pressure in the Offensive Zone as he has in the past. He’s taking brief swings at the opposition and heading quickly to the bench, because right now, he has to.

Sid’s playing 1st-line minutes, yes, but who would you rather give those minutes to in a must-win environment: Sid Crosby at 50%, or some combination of the Penguins’ bottom-six? Dan Bylsma must have thrown up in his mouth when he saw Brandon Sutter hobble off in Game 6 against Columbus.

He also lacks his trademark explosiveness. He’s practically slogging through the Neutral Zone as he’s receiving outlet passes. Anyone watching can also see this. Again, this screams “back/sciatic injury” to me.  Most impressive to me is that despite the loss of his acceleration, he’s continuing to impact games with his hockey IQ and his passing, which Mike Colligan of the Hockey Writers noted in his article, “What’s Wrong with Sidney Crosby?

My sudden ally Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada also mused that Sid has a back injury of some sort. Based on personal experience, I would have to agree. The only thing worse for a hockey player than localized sharp pain in a limb is when a problem with your back steals your ability to separate from opposing players. If you ever have the chance, ask Mario Lemieux about that.

It’s easy to feel sympathetic for an injured player when the injury is highly visible. We all wince when a player takes a puck off the face, and most of us feel pangs of compassion when we see bags of ice or soft casts on a wrist or knee. But when a player has a less-obvious injury – such as a concussion, or as I believe Sid currently has, a moderate spinal injury or sciatic nerve impingement – some people raise eyebrows. It’s as though some people need to see the blood or the bone poking through to take an injured player at his word.

I have recently read and heard much more-pointed attacks on Sid than those opined in Dejan’s recent column. But unfortunately, Dejan’s suggestion that Sid has another gear that he’s simply refusing to hit was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The notion that Sid isn’t giving his all offends me as both a hockey player and a Pittsburgh Penguins fan.

I am highly biased. I love the Pittsburgh Penguins, and have since I was young. I am prone to defend the Penguins’ superstars, as you can read elsewhere on this blog. I take issue with Dejan’s assessment that Sid is  half-assing it. Sid Crosby is one of the most competitive people in sports. Even if Sid were inclined to take shifts off, the Eyeball Test verifies that he has a hitch in his giddy-up.

Most of you reading this are also highly-biased. The Penguins, and Sid Crosby in particular, are lightning rods. Most NHL Hockey fans have an extremely-strong opinion one way or the other about both Sid and the team he plays for, and these opinions cloud tend to cloud the truth. Just for a moment, put your own biases aside and consider the rough data:

Does Sidney Crosby look like himself?

Does he have a reason to suddenly play at half of his ability?

Have his many of his raw statistics – Goals, Plus/Minus, Faceoff Win Percentage, Shots – drastically and suddenly fallen off since, oh, I don’t know, April 3rd versus Winnipeg?

Sid has thick skin. He’s been picked apart since he was 14. But having a local writer question his level of play while most evidence points to a significant injury is something he shouldn’t have to endure. Since neither the Penguins nor Sid, admirably, will not own up to his injury, I defended him. I am sure it will not be the last time.

Jack

 

Most informed observers will agree that the Penguins took a downturn following the Olympic break in mid-February. This makes a good deal of sense because a number of Penguins represented their respective countries at the Sochi Games. This idea is well-covered by Mike Colligan of the Hockey Writers in his article, What’s Wrong with Sidney Crosby?”

I’ll be lazy and let Mike Colligan’s

 

On Will and The Hardest Class I’ve Ever Taken

book

The picture above is the cover of the Textbook I’ve been living in for the last seven months. It contains almost 1500 pages of single-spaced, tiny type and weighs more than an oxygen tank. It is almost thicker than a clenched fist. I am certain it could stop a large knife and possibly a small-caliber bullet.

I would gladly burn the book in effigy or sell it if I were not sure that I will be referring back to it with frequency in the future. Even if I didn’t need the book as a reference, I would probably keep it as a reminder of an accomplishment I view as a minor miracle: that I passed my EMT Certification Course.

I have no interest in nor any exceptional talent for Medicine of any kind, but to fulfill my dream of becoming a Firefighter, I have to be EMT Certified. So, I’ve spent the past seven months grinding my way through this wretched book. The last leg of the course involved these insane 12-hour class days (Thanks, #Snowpocalypse!) in which I had to sit there for hours on end and feel my body disintegrate while my head continually threatened to explode.

On the day of my Final, I contracted what has come to be known as the “Goddamn Bear Flu” from my roommate. I am part-Navajo, and thanks to 170 years of white people sneezing on my people, I almost never get sick. Ordinarily, I go years between colds or sinus headaches. But my roommate was exposed to some freak who picked up this obnoxiously-virulent strain from a bear, which he regrettably passed onto me at the worst possible time.

As I took my practical final, I was seeing double and doing that awkward shivering/sweating thing people do when they are extremely-feverish. I had already thrown up everything I had eaten in the past week. I wish I could attribute some of that to nerves, but in reality I wasn’t nervous at all, except about possibly passing out from hypovolemic shock in the middle of my Scope of Practice. February 28th, 2014 will go down as one of the 10 Most Miserable Days of My Life, unless I move to Canada or Philadelphia for some inexplicable reason.

My Practical Final was what I would call a “Game 7 Overtime” victory. To continue with the Hockey analogy: I got an early lead in the series, then fell behind. At the last possible moment – cold-sweating and shivering thanks to the Goddamn Bear Flu – I managed to eke through with a Passing grade. I have seldom been so relieved as when I saw the words “Adequate” on my Review Sheet.

(“Adequate?” Bet you can’t wait until you see me coming at you with a hypodermic needle and a grin, can you?)

I don’t even remember my Written Final. I literally blacked-out, again thanks to The Goddamn Bear Flu. Apparently, I got a 94, so, uh, good on me.

Afterwards, I was too exhausted, both mentally and physically, to even celebrate. My big celebration involved me forcing myself to stay conscious while I drove home, glaring at my stricken, strung-out-on-NyQuil roommate for passing along the GBF to me on the day of my Final, then crawling into bed and going into a 15-hour coma.

EMT is the Hardest Class I’ve Ever Taken, for reasons I’ve explained and reasons I’ll touch upon below. It’s basically taken my body a full week to recover from the chronic stress of the course, and for me to gather myself enough to write a post about it. The Textbook is my $170 Trophy, reminding me of what I accomplished and how hard I worked to get through. Plus, in the event of a home-invasion, the book can double as body armor.

On Jack the Student

I am the definition of a Professional Student. Following a leisurely, Van Wilder-esque five-and-a-half year tour at my beloved Duquesne University, I almost immediately rolled into a nine-month Personal Training Certification course. After working as a Trainer for a few months, I went to a school I completely despise for about 18 months to get an additional Undergrad in Sport Physiology.

I worked full-time as a Strength Coach/Personal Trainer for another year or so before I grew dissatisfied. I had an honest conversation with myself, and decided I was wasting time not actively pursuing my dream of becoming a Firefighter. I abruptly quit my job as a Strength Coach (though my employer will tell you I was fired – it was one of those, “You can’t quit! You’re Fired!” deals) to start over again.

I couldn’t get someone to pay for my training, so I paid for my own. I decided to put myself through an EMT Certification course, one of the necessary Certifications to being a Firefighter, at significant cost to my own bottom-line, health, and sanity.

As I wrote above, I finally got through the EMT Certification course about a week ago. I have taken almost 250 College Credits and on-going Continuing Education since I was eighteen, and I can say again with no hesitation: EMT is the Hardest Class I’ve Ever Taken.

This seems to be a fairly-common view. I’ve spoken with a number of successful Paramedics or even Doctors who have told me that EMT is the most-difficult course they’ve gone through. Here is my quick overview on why I believe that is:

To be an EMT, you have to know a good chunk of what a Physician has to know. You do not have to be able to practice all of it, but you need to know much of the Anatomy/Physiology, effects of Medications, Medical Conditions, and so forth. The catch is that you have to learn all of this information in a relatively-short amount of time. In my case, EMT – AKA, “How to be a Street Doctor” – was crammed into a Semester + Four Weeks of Hell in February. The volume of information is just staggering, especially if you are not used to such an informational overload.

Beyond that, most EMT students are getting this tsunami of information with little or no background in Medicine. I’ve worked extensively in Preventative Medicine as a Strength Coach/Trainer, and I have an excellent understanding of the Human Body and Orthopedics. I was still drowning at times due to the sheer volume of facts I had to be able to recall and apply at a moment’s notice.

But I got through. By the skin of my teeth and with a number of good people pulling along, but I got through. It may not be a giant accomplishment for some people, but it took every ounce of my effort and Willpower to force myself  through it. It’s been an extremely-rough seven months, but it’s finally over, and I am one step closer to my dream of pulling people out of  burning buildings.

On Hockey, Golf, and What My Family Doesn’t Know About EMT

happy

I love Hockey. Breaking News, I know.

One of the reasons I love Hockey is that there is a direct correlation between Effort and Results. If you work harder, the vast majority of the time you will get a better outcome. Usually, you can compensate for a lack of talent with determination and guts.

I am the type of person who will punch through a brick wall, if I want something on the other side of it badly enough. My Willpower – my ability to drive myself through duress – is probably my greatest character strength.

Meanwhile, one of my greatest weaknesses is my complete inability to think like other people. One of the people I recently took the EMT course with noted that I could read the same paragraph as ten other people and take something entirely different away from it.

This is what gives me such a talent as a scoring forward and a purveyor of girls with low self-esteem: I have an uncanny knack for seeing the flaws or holes in something – the negative space, if you will. I can look at a Goaltender and see the 1/100th of the net he or she doesn’t have covered. I can look at a neatly-stacked defense and see how they are slightly misaligned. Many of my gifts lie in Creative Problem Solving and taking an unconventional approach.

And really, that’s Hockey. Unlike Football, in which a Coach draws up a designated play and the Players execute it to the letter, Hockey is best-played when it is free-flowing and unscripted. Hockey involves chemistry and constant reaction, but it’s very difficult for anyone to compel a Hockey game to unfold in a step-by-step fashion. Hockey lacks the predictability of Baseball, Football, or Golf, and in my view, that’s one of the things that makes the game so great.

The other way Hockey differs from those other sports, and Golf in-particular, is again that there is direct correlation between Effort and Results. Golf is a game of notorious frustration, one that requires a consistent and methodical approach. You cannot play Golf harder, only better.

I liken EMS to Golf. It doesn’t matter how hard you try – it only matters if you can do a given procedure or if you know the appropriate solution to a given problem. Like Golf, EMS requires an individual to take an extremely-systematic approach, and like Golf, EMS involves a dedication to perfection. You can treat a patient properly in 99/100 ways, but if you mistreat them in even the slightest – for example, if you forget to ask if the patient has taken Sildenafil before you administer Nitroglycerin for his chest pain – you could kill someone. This stress – the knowledge that one wrong move could kill someone – is chronic and constant.

You all know me pretty well – I am not great at following orders. I excel when I am allowed to think creatively and unconventionally, and I struggle mightily when I have to follow protocol. Someone smart wrote this about me:

“…Your overly-relaxed nature can make it difficult for you to focus on projects that require organized sequences of steps or stages. Thus, your ability to accomplish may be inconsistent. Indeed, it’s possible that you might be criticized periodically for being unreliable or unable to “stay within the lines…”

Guess what? To be an EMT, you have to do exactly that. EMS is predicated on following protocols and sequences to the letter. To use the Golf analogy, you can hit the ball as hard as you want, but it doesn’t matter if you send it slicing into the woods or line-drive it into the water. In Golf and in EMS, you have stay on the course, avoid a litany of traps, and do so with very limited margin-for-error. The difference with EMS is that you must do all of this while a patient is gushing blood and people are screaming at you.

There are people who are simply wired for the error-free, systematic approach. These people often gravitate toward Medicine or Mechanical Engineering at a relatively-young age. These are the people who have the discipline to ensure that parts of our society run like a metronome, and have the ability to completely block out external factors and stress while doing so.

Meanwhile, there’s me, Mister “Artistic Temperament,” who needed the support of an A-Team of confidants and friends as well as a minor Act of God to get through a course that some incredibly-dense people have no problem with.

While acknowledging that I would not have gotten through this course were it not for some exceptional support, I am very proud of myself for sticking with it. EMT was not easy for me, at all. I couldn’t apply my strength, my Willpower, to internalizing the material itself, but I could apply it in how relentlessly I fought through the frustration and stress of the course. I succeeded, which is going to do nothing to rein in my ego.

Now, as for what My Family Doesn’t Know About EMS:

I have always been academically-gifted. One of my favorite jokes is that the first time I took the SAT (back when it was a 1600-point test), I was sober and well-rested and only got a 1250. The second time, I came in hungover and sweating Black Velvet, and I got a 1390. One of my minor claims-to-fame.

As such, the expectation of me has always been that I will pass any course or test thrown my way with flying colors. One of the reasons I took so long to finally commit to Firefighting was that my family insisted it was not a proper use of my intellectual gifts. From a very young age, I was told, no joke, that I could be a Doctor or a Lawyer.

So when I would occasionally talk to my mother about the course and she would hear that I was struggling, she was stunned. She would ask me questions like “Did you get hit in the head again?” and “Are you drunk or retarded?”

There are some people who can barely spell their own name who are very successful EMT/Paramedics, and there are some academic geniuses who cannot get through the course. It’s a fine line between knowing a tidal wave of material, and being able to recall/apply that knowledge instantly and under duress.

Also, one has to take my personal biases into account. As I wrote above, I am probably the last person in the world who should be an EMT. I am a mistake-making, risk-taking free-thinker (WOO!) if ever one existed. It’s hard for people like myself to remember Step #34 in a 100-Step process when we are busy dreaming of Manhattans and ways to seduce the Madame of the Office.

But the bottom-line? EMT is Hard. I would double-underline that if I could. If I could convey one point to my family, it would be that my Hockey-related concussion issues aside, I did not suddenly go from being an academic all-star to being a dolt. Again speaking from the position of a Professional Student, it’s hard to envision a more-demanding course.

So, in Conclusion:

Ask anyone who has completed it: EMT Certification is rough. No matter what happens from here, I can say that I got through it. As someone who lacks the natural attributes that most successful EMTs possess, I can say as a proud Hockey Player that my well-refined Will was what allowed me to get through.

On to the Next,

Dr. Sexy

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