Eric “Coach” Bittle was never really one to watch college hockey. Why should he have been? Georgia didn’t have a team. He wasn’t even much of a fan of the sport, but he reckons he should try to become one, since it’s paying for his son to go to an Ivy League school. And his son’s team did make it to the playoffs, and the game is on ESPNU, which he gets as part of his cable package, which he can watch online- including on the high school’s network. The game starts at 2:30, and he’s got the last gym class of the day, a group of seniors, from 2:15-3:00, but… it’s thundering out, and watching a sport that isn’t common in the area totally counts as teaching about it, if they talk about it during commercial breaks, right?
He finds out which classroom is going to be empty and puts a notice on the locker room doors instructing his students not to change and to meet him there instead. He gets to the room at 2:00, sets up the projector, signs into the site to be able to watch the game, looks up some “Hockey for Dummies” types of sites to brief his class on the sport, and by 2:10 he’s leaning against the board at the front of the room as the class trickles in.
“Coach, what’s up? I know it’s stormin’ out but I was hoping we’d play hoops,” one of the seniors asks.
“Ya’ll will find out once everyone’s here.”
By 2:16 most of the students have arrived and are seated- he motions for someone to close the door.
“Today, we’re going to learn about hockey by watching some. I know it’s not a big sport around here, so I’m going to give you a quick run of the game, but we’ll discuss the skills, rules and terms during commercial breaks,” he pulls up one of the sites he’s found, “Can somebody get the lights?”
He spends the next 10 minutes going over the basics. At 2:27 he switches the screen to the stream of ESPN. It’s currently showing a pregame show, but he knows the game will start soon. He unmutes the computer.
“This should be an interesting match-up between two ECAC rivals. The Samwell Wellies and the Quinnipiac Bobacts- Samwell won the ECAC title, but the teams went 1 and 1 against each other in regular season,” the commentator states, as the camera changes to a head shots of the Quinnipiac forwards. “Now it’s time for the starting line-ups.” He goes over the Bobcat lines, stating some stats before the screen switches to the Samwell line-up.
Coach is only slightly surprised to see his son’s face on the screen. Objectively, he knew his son had been starting in a lot of games, but he wasn’t quite prepared for how proud the visual proof made him.
“Hey coach, ain’t that your kid?” one of the girls asks.
“Yup,” he grins.
“Now I see why we’re doing this,” someone mutters from the back, scoffing, “if little Dick is starting they must not be that good.”
“Now hush ya’ll, the game’s about to start.”
They watch the game,
“Eric Bittle, sophomore, from Georgia of all places- last year this kid came out of nowhere. Rumor has it that that was the first year he’d even played contact hockey, apparently he played in a coed league before heading to Samwell, and he only played in that for two years,” one commentator starts.
“Sure, that might be when he started hockey, but he’s been skating for years. A former figure skating champion and it shows. Reminds me of Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, who won the Calder in 2011. Look at his speed on the ice, and the way he spins away from checks.”
“Which he needs to do- look at his size. 5’7”, 140lbs- a good hit from a large D-man like the ones on Quinnipiac’s roster could be devastating for him.”
“Last year a hit from one of them was devastating for him, I’ve seen video of it, in the ECAC championship game, right after he made the pass for the assist on the game winning goal- he got air from that hit, and when he had to sit out of the NCAA playoffs due to the concussion it resulted in, his absence was felt. Forget his size and lack of experience- just look at his stats and his puck handling skills. You’d never know that he hasn’t been playing since he was 6 like most of the guys on the ice. I can’t wait to see what this kid brings to the ice during the rest of his career at Samwell, and beyond.”
“While most because some started playing at 6, Bittle’s team also includes his Hobey Baker nominee line mate Jack Zimmermann, son of legendary Bad Bob Zimmerman, who’s been on the ice practically since birth. Talk about a collegiate wildcard there. In 2009 the kid was predicted to go first in the draft, six years later we’re all wondering where he’ll end up, if anywhere. The kid, if we can even still call him that, given that he’s 24, definitely has the skills, but after this six year detour, not to mention his history…”
“I don’t know Jim, I think he’s really proven himself in his time with the Wellies. This is his third year as captain and the second year in a row that the team has won the conference title and made NCAA playoffs. Plus, we don’t really know what happened back then. There’ve been rumors, but the family never confirmed anything. But regardless of his past, just look at his present. Hobey Baker nominee, three year captain, leading the ECAC in points for the past two years, one of the revolving trio of leaders for point in the NCAA… I have no doubt that by the end of the summer we’ll have heard about him signing with someone.”
“Aaand we’ll be back for puck drop after a quick commercial break.”
Coach mutes the stream as it switches to commercials. “Any questions so far?”
“What’s the Hobey Baker?” a girl in the middle of the room pipes up after a moment.
“The hockey equivalent of the Heisman.”
“What’s the Calder then?” she continues, confused.
“NHL Rookie of the Year.”
She nods, seeing the difference.
“Any other questions?”
One of the football players, Joe, slowly raises his hand, his body language a little tense, “They mentioned that Dicky got a concussion last year- is he alright? How was his recovery?”
Startled by the question, it takes coach a moment to remember that Joe’s brother, a QB for LSU, had had to take a whole semester off and red shirt a season due to concussion issues. “It was a little scary at first, since that was his first concusion, but it was a mild one, relatively speaking. He only missed a week of classes and was fully recovered by the middle of the summer.”
Joe relaxes, and Coach is surprised to realize that the tension was out of worry. “Does hockey have the same concussion issues as football?”
Coach is about to answer when he notices that the stream is back to the game- they’re lined up for puck drop. “I’ll answer that next commercial break.”
They go back to watching the game. The students, for the most part, hold their questions for the commercials, though occasionally even Coach would interject with, “Oh come on! What did you blow the whistle for!” as most sports fans do when watching on TV. The class period (and school day) ended during the 1st intermission. The bell rings and the students start to file out of the room.
Joe pauses at the door, “This is on ESPNU, right?”
“Sweet. I’m gonna finish watching at home.” He pauses, “And Coach? I’m glad Dicky’s ok and doing so well for himself up there.”
“So am I, Joe. So am I.”