Eugene Buchanan: Hockey clock hell
Steamboat Springs — It’s part of living here as a parent … volunteering to help your kid’s sport. No matter that it also counts against your work deposit, negating any altruism. If your kid’s on a team, it’s your duty to help out.
My role this year just happened to be a tad more complicated than most: it involved the dreaded time clock at Howelsen Ice Arena.
In soccer, you might man the concession stand, pump up a ball or sub in as a line judge (“That way, I mean that way!” you point the flag).
But the dreaded time clock? No one steps up for that one. Come tournament time, it’s the last spot filled on the spread sheet, the Hades of helping, the Voldemort of volunteerdom.
The reason I even took the spot is I had already failed at the easier task of announcing, manning the mic and music. While I played “We Will Rock You,” the “Rocky” theme and girlie hip-hop well enough, I was a tad zealous with the announcing, play calling like you hear on the radio: “Pataznick over to Johnson, Johnson back to Pataznick, Oh! What a save!”
Only it wasn’t the radio; you’re not supposed to do that on-site. My phone buzzed with texts from a fellow volunteer in the stands: “No announcing, no announcing!”
So I tried my hand at the time clock, even taking the little training course from Metzy beforehand. After all, if he could figure it out, I certainly could.
Fat chance. It all looked so simple then, watching his pudgy little fingers push various buttons here and there and then the corresponding numbers all showing up perfectly on the scoreboard for all to see.
But it’s a whole new ballgame when you’re on your own in front of refs, coaches and, worse, hockey parents.
To start with, it’s always in winter, in the cold end of the rink, with your time somehow always starting at 6 a.m., when even roosters’ gullets are frozen shut. So you bundle up and position yourself between two archaic space heaters just a breath carry’s away from the world’s slowest-closing door.
Once you settle in and rub your hands together a few times, the other team’s managers and coaches filter in, sharing cordialities. But all such niceties end there if you so much as miss a paltry second on the time clock.
Begrudgingly, you cowboy up for the task, wary of the electronic box in front of you. A simple look at it begins the jitters; it has more buttons than the NORAD defense system.
It’s an All Sport 4000 Series control console by Daktronics, with buttons for each team, so multiply the total by two. There are buttons for Player Penalty, Disable Player Penalty, Enable Player Penalty, Score +1, Period +1, Clear/No, Enter/Yes, Set Main Clock, Start/Stop, Horn, Main Menu, Shots on Goal and more, as well as cursor and scroll arrows to navigate the navigation screen.
First, you have to program in the rules of engagement — a three-minute warm-up, run time; first two periods 14-minute run time, meaning the clock keeps going unless there’s an injury or the ref stops play because you’re a doofus; third period 12-minute stop time, unless one team has a four-point lead in which case the mercy rule kicks in, and it reverts to run time.
And that all changes depending whether it’s league or tournament play. Really, guys?
Thrown to the wolves, you set it at five minutes for warm-up time … oops … should be three, so re-set the manual clock.
Thank God its only 14-year-old girls playing — who can get that worked up over a missing practice second here or there? Nothing against the girls and their fine abilities, it’s just a hair less serious than, say, the high school state championships. I probably should have started on a game for 6-year-olds.
Warm-up time inputted, it’s time to move onto the actual periods. Let’s see, is it 14 stop, 14 stop and 12 run; or 12 stop, 12 stop and 14 run? Or 14, 14 and 14?
And all bets are off, heaven forbid, if there’s a penalty to input, let alone two at the same time. Enable Player Penalty, Enter/Yes, Enter Jersey Number, Enter/Yes, Enter/Yes. (You have to hit that enter button twice the last time.) Then hopefully 2:00 pops up on the scoreboard before the ref drops the puck, forcing you to hit the Start/Time button again.
So you hedge your bet by scribbling down the clock time on a piece of paper just in case, so you know when to let the poor bugger back out into society.
You also have to know how to get rid of a penalty if the other team scores, beginning a whole new era of button-pushing and mistake-canceling (today, I wish I had a “Jensen” button to push, the big bruiser).
Eventually, if you’re lucky, you might get it right. And you get a warm fuzzy feeling inside when you see the two minutes pop up on the scoreboard just like they’re supposed to and actually start ticking off in perfect unison with the time clock. It’s not like you found the cure for cancer or anything, but it’s a feeling of accomplishment all the same.
At one point (sorry, visiting Eagle Valley), I neglected to start the clock correctly, letting the game accrue 30 extra seconds. But in the grand equaling-out-of-things, I cheated ahead a few seconds during the next few puck drops until all was more or less even-Steven.
It’s the stop time that’s hard; more so than even players at practice, you have to pay attention to every whistle. During run time, you can kick back and relax, entering an occasional score or penalty here and there.
Stop time makes you regret that margarita the night before; it takes your full mental faculties. No day-dreaming, no spacing out drinking coffee, just eye on the game at all times.
Eventually, you’ll make it through the first period with only a few scoldings. Then you’ll push the second and third period buttons until, miracles of miracles, the buzzer sounds the end of the game with the score correct and everything.
You’ll let out a sigh of relief, leaving it just like you found it for the next poor soul working off their deposit hours. So, too, will the poor parental sap next to you running the Sport-Ngin Point Streak system, who kept track of jersey number changes, player scratches, goals, assists and shots.
The good news, and volunteer validation, for me came that night when watching a Denver University/St. Cloud game on TV. At one point the announcers said the penalty clock was broken, which is why it didn’t show on the scoreboard.
Yeah, right … it was probably some poor schmuck of a parent just like me.
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