Wednesday, February 16, 2011

NABOKOV, ME & THE MEANING BEHIND "STOP DA PUCK"



The name of this blog is "Stop da Puck," which probably seems like a sort-of clever name I conjured while sitting at the keyboard wracking my brain for sort-of clever names for a blog about goaltending.

That'd be a really good guess, but, guys, I have a confession: The dirty little secret is that I can't take sole credit for calling this sort-of wondrous bit of web publishing "Stop da Puck." Rather, the inspiration came from something once said to me by none other than former San Jose Sharks goalie turned KHL defector Evgeni Nabokov. Let me explain...

Back in the olden days - before Facebook and Twitter, before Martin Brodeur was an oldster - I came out of retirement to take a jolly-good stab at playing pro hockey in the West Coast Hockey League (now the Pacific division of the ECHL). It was a crazy adventure that, well, required me to be crazy.

Among the crazy things I did as part of my comeback training was swing by the Sharks' practice rink one day to ask the then-broken-English-speaking Evgeni Nabokov for advice. His coach, former U.S. Olympic team goalie coach
Warren Strelow, had loosely invited me to come pay a visit after I pestered the legendary coach for weeks.

It was September 2001 and I was just days from leaving the Bay Area for Bakersfield. Warren, now deceased, was in a sour mood that day because he had taken a puck on the shin during a morning skate. Nonetheless, Warren (appearing surprised, and slightly annoyed, that I actually showed up) met with me in the locker room.

And, well, here is how I told the comedy of what happened next in my book "They Don't Play Hockey in Heaven:"

Fortunately, Warren shows some charity and chimes in, “Nabby, I want you to meet someone. This is Steve Baker. He’s a goalie, trying out for Bakersfield in the West Coast League.” (I let it slide that he keeps calling me Steve.)

Nabokov played three seasons in the AHL and IHL before making the Sharks in 1999. He has to be aware of the WCHL. He takes off his blocker and kindly shakes my hand. He looks at me not like a peon, but like a member of a fraternity, that of pro goalies. With respect. I feel I’m in the presence of royalty, which I am.

“How’s it going?” I ask nervously.

“Getting ready,” he says. “It should be good year. We see.”

“Got any advice for me?”

“Any what?” Nabokov asks Strelow. “What duz he say?”

Warren saves the conversation from sinking into total absurdity, shouting on my behalf, “DO-YOU-HAVE-ANY-ADVICE-FOR-HIM?”

Somehow, Warren’s nurseryschoolspeak works.

“Oh, oh,” Nabokov says apologetically. A few seconds later, he looks me in the eye and says, “Stop da puck.”


Not the most eloquent words of wisdom. But certainly accurate.

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