Fischler Sunday ColumnBy Stan Fischler
If you want to see the ice game, live there's plenty of action just up the Thruway where the Albany Devils compete in a very high-class American League that's sprinkled for the duration with NHLers.
Likewise, there's plenty of rip-roarin' college hockey around and if you want a compact-sized version all you have to do is drop over to the Kiwanis Rink in Saugerties where the kids play.
You'll never hear me diminish kids hockey as a tantalizingly fun sport to watch especially when the lads and lassies are in the eight to twelve-year range and are mostly stickhandling and shooting for the fun of it. There are no scouts around just parents and friends rooting them on and, of course, hoping that no one gets hurt, physically or psychologically.
Occasionally emotions can soar out of hand because -- of all the competitive sports -- hockey can get heated faster than a new toaster-oven.
Nobody knows more about hot ice than hockey moms and pops which brings me to the ultimate hockey mom-broadcaster-writer, Christie Casciano, who camps just up the road in Syracuse.
When Christie isn't doing TV news for WSYR and helping her kids, 17-year-old Joe and 11-year-old Sophia, grow up, she sits in front of a keyboard and writes books for children, while also penning a monthly advice column for USA Hockey Magazine.
And is this gal ever focused.
She's done two books so far for the young set and both are about hockey. In fact they have virtually the same title: Puck Hog One and Puck Hog Two.
Not surprisingly Puck Hog Volume Two: Haunted Hockey in Lake Placid just hit the bookstores after a most successful run for the original. Each of Casciano's books bears mighty messages; which means that it wouldn't hurt for a hockey parent to peruse either of the Puck Hog volumes.
“There’s so much pressure on the kids from the parents. It really squeezes the fun out of the whole experience when kids’ parents are overzealous.” Casciano tells my associate, Allyson Gronowitz. “The best seasons are the ones in which the coaches are directing kids in the right way and the parents are supportive and not so critical.”
“When kids read the book, they can comprehend in their own terms the importance of playing to have fun, not playing to win at all costs. That’s what motivated me to come out with the second book.”
Casciano’s sister, Rose Mary Casciano Moziak, did the nifty illustrations for both Puck Hog installments. Another sister, Teresa Marzec, can be found at the Kiwanis rink, a fact of which I'm aware because Teresa asked me some of the best hockey questions when I lectured there a couple of summers ago.
A family visit to Lake Placid—home to the memorable 1980 Miracle on Ice—provided Casciano with even more motivation to compose a second installment.
“We’ve been to so many hockey tournaments all over New York state and Canada, but I thought the most incredible tournament we ever experienced was in Lake Placid,” she explains. “It’s magical.”
“For the kids, stepping on the ice where their heroes played sends chills down their spines,” says Casciano. “And I’m not just talking about the temperature!”
The inspirational setting has a thematic connection to the story as well. Casciano: “Believing in yourself is what Miracle was all about. The 1980 team was just this ragtag American group; no one thought they had a chance, but they never gave up believing. I want kids to internalize that, too.”
One of the neat aspects of Christie's work is the fervent support she received from Howard Dolgon, who owns the AHL's Syracuse Crunch. At one of Casciano's autograph sessions in a Syracuse suburb Dolgon sent two of his top players to help draw a crowd. As it happened, people were lined up in the store to see the stickhandlers and buy a book.
If there's one aspect of the Puck Hogs that piqued my curiosity, it's all about the author's view of fighting on ice. After all, at any given Crunch game you're apt to hear a couple of skaters shout "Do ya wanna go?" Then, the gloves are dropped and the fists fly.
“I’m not a fan of the fighting; I wish it would end,” Casciano admits. “I would love it if the professional hockey players would focus more on playing the game of hockey. I think they would get legions of fans just based on their incredible skill.”
With two Puck Hogs in the books, where does Christie go from here?
“I want to write a third book to make it a whole series. What adventure will the puck team go on next?”
Whatever it is, you can bet I’ll be tagging along for the ride!