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This is hockey

The engine protested, cranked, then finally came alive. My fingers were numb despite the fifty dollar Outdoor Research gloves. The temperature gauge read negative thirteen degrees. It wasn’t yet six in the morning. Sunrise was still just a thought. The Infiniti engine began to purr.

The last time I had been up at this time was after a two a.m. load out while still on the road with the band. With a fourteen hour bus ride and a couple of stops to make, there was no hurry to settle into my bunk. A few beers and good company led me to staying awake until we hit the first truck stop. This morning, however, was completely different. It had required my wife and me to wake up a half hour before, waking up my son, and getting part of his protective equipment onto the boy. This, was youth hockey.

Like millions of children before him, and like the tens of thousands across the world that are doing the same thing today, lacing up a pair of skates to glide across glazed ice with a stick and a puck is not only the highlight of a day, but the very definition of winter. Whether on a pond, an old run down skating rink, or a modern day ice arena, the boys and girls look the same. Jackets proudly emblazoned with team logos, Reebok or Bauer bags rolling through lobbies or carried across snow, hockey sticks poking out the top or carried awkwardly. Sleepy parents carrying Dunkin Donuts or McDonald’s cups, some with their own mugs from home, all filled with steaming hot coffee. Children either bundles of potential energy ready to be unleashed, or barely awake enough to trudge toward that mecca, that filler of dreams. The ice.

It appears blueish white. The ice stretches away from the spot one initially steps onto it, and the sensation is the same every time. Speed. Cold. Freedom. Skates slice in and push forward, or dig in and create snow… and stop. Direction changes are as exciting as a mid ice turn, head up, looking for a pass of the small black rubber disc. The puck whips forward from another skater, tape to tape, and I trap it with my stick, pull back and to the side, dangling it for just a moment in order to look for a pass, but then there is an opening to shoot on the netting behind the hulking goaltender. I shoot, a powerful, accurate, and quick release wrist shot, but not quick enough; the goalie has landed in a butterfly position on his knees and snagged the puck in his catching glove at the last possible second. In one moment, exhilaration, disappointment, and respect. A smile, a laugh, and it begins again.

The kids tumble onto the ice. The skill level and abilities are a wide range of capability between ages six and eight. Charlie weaves in and out of players, Cody shoots harder than some adults. Cyler stands tall and has an innate ability to defend against puck handlers, and Thatcher skates fast to make a strong defensive play and start the puck back up ice. Sean digs in the corners, and Burt makes both the play and the initial shot. Joey slams the rebound home. Evan and Quinn have already turned and are waiting for the oncoming rush from the opposing team; Evan prefers to skate up the side and Quinn prefers to take the center. Thomas goes after the puck no matter where it is. We’re not supposed to keep score, but the kids do. The parents do too. It’s competition. Not only against the other team, but against each other. It inspires them to reach higher. All of them have learned that they are capable of more than they initially thought, whether it was skating stronger, coming back against a team that was more advanced, or skating at seven in the morning.

After the games or practices, the locker room is a rush of parents, sweaty kids, and hockey tape rolled into balls being shot around the room. There are coffee spills, crying siblings, laughing players, and general curiosity as to whether there is a table hockey game in the lobby along with the availability of spare quarters from parents. There is tossed equipment missing bags and left on the floor, parental thoughts of the rest of the day, and the inevitable drive to the next responsibility, or home.

Some dream of making it to the National Hockey League. The NHL. The big show. To be the next Howe, Orr, Gretzky, Crosby, or Ovechkin. Some make it, like Patrick Kane, whose stories of him stick handling through hotel lobbies as a child tell of a work ethic beyond most, or at least indicate a childhood obsession with an art form that is fun. Some look at the game as pure fun, but hope to play through high school and college. Most don’t make it, but never stop dreaming. There are forty year old men who play in “beer leagues” at ten p.m. on Sunday nights for glory, bragging rights, and a workout. There are easier ways to attain all of these desires, but none hold the magic of ice hockey.

Finally, we watch games. The Boston Bruins on television or from high up in the Garden “nosebleed” seats. Rink-side behind the players’ benches at the local AHL affiliate Springfield Falcons is an up close opportunity to see the speed and skill of top professional players. But to watch Westfield High School battle against Agawam High School in western Massachusetts’s packed Amelia Park Ice Arena is to go back in time. There, almost 1,000 spectators- students, alumni, parents, and local hockey fans, stood and watched Agawam edge past first place Westfield. There wasn’t an iPhone in sight- the energy and participation in the action negated the time and desire for anyone to resort to modern day technology. School spirit and camaraderie had returned as students covered with face paint ran up and down the stands firing up their school’s section. It was refreshing.

This is hockey. It is in cities and small towns, on rivers, ponds, and organized rinks. It is families coming together, or a lone skater under a light in the backyard following homework completion. It is a dream, a job, and a thrill. It is winter. This, is hockey.


Column 24

Another Side
By Jon Berman

The change of the seasons in New England has nothing on the change in my life when switching gears between a life in music and a life as a parent and community member. I try to balance them, but in reality, at any given time one is given precedence over the other. That really doesn’t mean there’s a preference, just that my focus oftentimes needs to switch, in either direction, sometimes on a weekly basis.

Sitting on our bus for twelve hour rides is no joke. Trees border the highways down south, broken up by 237 billboards announcing Pedro’s South of The Border and cities like Jacksonville that pop up from no man’s land into concrete in a flash of windshield. The truck stops are stopped at sporadically, but they just add to the drive time so no one really wants to stop. The job is over, the tour is finished, and really, I just want to get home to my family.

Tours are strange beasts. Hotels all begin to look the same, boundaries are forgotten, and remembering what town you’re in is close to impossible, let alone what day it is.
The last night in Del Ray Beach the theater held 1,300 but was not sold out; however, most of the tour was capacity crowds. By anyone’s account, it was a good run. My mother’s cousin showed up to the show, which seems to be more of the case as the band grows. Friends in different cities are starting to show up more often as the band gets better known. The work gets repetitious, like any job. The end is a celebration.

And home life begins. Reuniting with your family is the best moment; rejoining the community and daily life is refreshing. Getting the mail. Listening to a record. Going to the transfer station. Playing with Legos. Getting the mail while listening to a recording on the way back from the transfer station with Legos being thrown at your head because a six year old doesn’t want to get the mail, and then contemplating throwing all the Legos in with the next transfer station load. Or in the mail.

It’s writing this column that puts it all in perspective for me, and while the last two months have been full of music and my world away from my daily life, I feel so fortunate to come back to New England and make plans for the future. There’s writing to do, helping out in the schools, working with the restaurants I perform at, and preparing for the next series of shows on the road. There’s raising my son, helping my wife, trying not to get in my son’s way, and trying to get in my wife’s way.

Winter is coming to an end. We’re rolling into March and that means maple syrup, melting snow, and mud. In that order. Warmer weather is heading our way, and bike riding will soon be part of our day, along with little league. The music schedule will be busy again when the summer hits, but for now, it’s time to relax and enjoy this variety of life.

Column 23

Another Side
By Jon Berman

I had an idea to start the New England Cleanup Crew. Someone should make NECC t-shirts, or get some Carhartt sweatshirts printed up. We’re going to take over our communities. Here’s how it started.

Just once I’d like to walk up my road and pick up less than three dirty cans carelessly discarded. I presume they are being tossed from moving vehicles. Because we don’t live on a main street, I would venture to guess that the cans are deposited from people that actually live near me. And since I seldom see anyone else walking, it is inevitable that I’m the one it falls on to keep the area free of debris.

I’m okay with this, but would rather not have the job. Most people are sane and do not choose to walk up the hill our road travels up; instead they take the modern mode of transportation known as a car. This certainly is easier on the legs, lungs and one’s time, however, it doesn’t have the benefits of exercise without a gym, some time to reflect on the day, or in my case, a chance to return phone calls for work. I don’t believe in desks. Or sitting, really.

There’s another issue. Traveling at 35 miles per hour may give one time and for whatever reason, opportunity, to toss trash out of a window, but not give enough time to see when it begins to accumulate. This is our neighborhood and a beautiful place in the woods.

First it was a beer can clearly placed upside down on a tree branch. Then it was a soda can added. An empty pack of cigarettes. A couple more cans. A half-drank bottle of some energy drink. By the time I get back to my house and get all the stuff into our recycling containers I’m disgusted. Why don’t people recycle this stuff?

My wife made a system where most of our trash is separated  and recycled. Unless it has touched food, it’s pretty much shredded and recycled. Everything. We try to minimize what’s actually going in the trash, and usually it’s one bag a week, mostly food. We should probably compost and garden but that’s another column.

With landfills marring our planet, burning trash damaging our atmosphere, and climate change upon us, one would think that at least an effort would be made to minimize one’s own environmental impact. Even if one thinks it’s a liberal agenda, an evil Al Gore initiative, or special interest propaganda, doesn’t common sense just say “don’t throw it away” because there’s really no where for “it” to go?

I try to use a stainless steel mug for coffee and a Nalgene bottle for water. If I can’t, the plastic water bottles get recycled and cardboard sleeve and plastic top of the “disposable” coffee cup get recycled. But it’s still not really disposable, the cup is still technically somewhere (see the law of matter). It may be in a trash bag, it may be in a dumpster, it may be on a barge in the middle of the ocean, or apparently, it may be on the ground next to my road. And that’s where I come in. Or you.

This is important if you want to be in my NECC club. First, don’t throw “away” something that can be recycled. Just don’t do it. In this day and age, care. It’s easy and it will eventually make an impact. And realize there’s no “away”. Second, let’s all be a part of the New England Cleanup Crew. Take a walk down your road. Park further away from your destination. You may want to bring a bag. Don’t throw the bag in a dumpster; recycle all that you can. Third, educate those that are coming up. If your children see your recycling and caring habits, they will pick them up. We live in a beautiful part of New England. Let’s keep it that way.

Jon Berman is a musician who lives in Blandford. Previous columns and contact information are available at

Column 22

Another Side
By Jon Berman

I played a show the other day that just went completely the wrong way right. I had felt sick all day but had offered my music to entertain folks voluntarily working and people donating supplies. My friend Darlene Sattler put together an afternoon to fill a full size trailer with supplies and necessities for people in Staten Island, NY recovering from our latest natural disaster, Hurricane Sandy. I could not cancel. The ibuprofen wasn’t working.

Driving out to Chicopee, Massachusetts, the setting sun began to sink. My head was pounding. I was driving 65 miles per hour on the Mass Turnpike. Every other driver annoyed me. And I thought to myself, “there is no way you’re going to pull this off”.

I pulled off the highway at exit 5 and headed for a Starbucks coffee shop. I walked into the men’s room and looked at my pale face peering out of the hooded black sweatshirt. My head resting on the mirror, I ran some cold water and splashed it on the back of my neck. Immediately someone pulled on the door handle to enter, because that’s what happens. I headed out to the counter.

Ordering coffee at Starbucks can be a challenge, because what Starbucks really sells is vibe, and that vibe is faux European. It can also be a challenge because my lovely wife orders a venti soy no water chai tea, which can come out pretty garbled when I attempt to order it.

I ordered a small coffee. The barista did not hesitate or translate my order into Starbucks language. I looked pretty beat I’m sure. I paid and returned to my truck, and began to navigate my way to where the event was taking place.

I found a good spot to stuff my truck into and began to set up. It was sunny but windy. The temperature was dropping fast. Solo gigs for me mean no crew. I’m the act, the crew, and the management. I’m in no shape to manage anything. But it’s an important cause, and it sets a precedent in my mind for future acts of kindness in this world… and my part is small anyways.

During the second song I performed it became apparent that the temperature had dropped so fast that the saxophone was going to be difficult to keep in tune and unpleasant to play. But the caffeine was beginning to set in, and I was beginning to feel, maybe not… good, but at least human.

I put down the frozen horn and picked up my guitar. The wood felt warm in my hands compared to the metal sax and I began to strum the beginning chords to a song about a summer day on the beach. And just like that, the world changed.

The ache in my head was gone. I could stand there all night, give a little rhythm and  warm up the thoughts of those volunteering their time, money, and efforts to a common cause. There were songs to relate to the cause, songs to feel warm, and a couple of cover songs to sing along to. This is what music is about. Raising spirit, bringing people together.

When a couple of girls asked about CDs I immediately handed five to the organizers and told them to sell them for whatever they wanted to and to donate the money to the event. It was that moment. Clearly something had connected. And someone wanted to take the music home with them.

Which is what it is all about. People, sharing, and connecting. That night, that guitar was magic in my frozen hands. And I’m thankful for it.

Jon Berman is a musician who lives in Blandford. Previous columns and contact information are available at

Column 21

Another Side
By Jon Berman

Two to the left, three to the right. The word go has barely passed my lips as I take three steps back and roll to my left. As my right arm comes forward, my friend steps toward me over the goal line for the catch in front of the defender. Touchdown! The pandemonium in the stadium reaches… actually it’s more like the noise of leaves shuffling under the feet of our “opponents” in a backyard football game. In fact, it is exactly the leaves making the noise. Going to have to break out the rakes.

It was Columbus Day weekend, and we were able to fit in a day of BBQ wings and “fixins”, family, and football, capped off by the Patriots win over the Broncos. It was the kind of event that happens relatively often, but not nearly often enough lately. Luckily, when I ask my neighbors to come out and play, they’re pretty willing.

Football has become sort of overdone, and a backyard game is missing the cheerleaders, fireworks, sound system, John Madden, and replacement referees (actually, we had the cheerleader (yay Kim!) and the name Kim is in no way representative of my neighbor Kim, and any similarities to the character in this column are purely coincidental). But between everyone, there were probably nine touchdowns. And the score was really lost as no one really cared.  It was a moment to squeeze in togetherness.

Because soon, the cold will set in. The trucks will have to be warmed up in the morning and the windows properly scraped. Snow will need to be plowed, and shoveled off the flat part of my roof (however it was pointed out that I’m scheduled to be on tour in Florida for some of this). Holiday obligations, school, and keeping the house warm will be priorities, and the football sailing through the air so Mark can show off his vertical leap will be just a memory. He can get up there though.

There will be less moments of greetings and moments to catch up. Neighbors and friends will spend more time indoors than with each other until spring when we seem to emerge around April Fool’s Day. Seems like there should be a connection there.

And I just love it. Every season has it’s perks, and it’s pains. For every snowfall there’s a moment over hot cocoa, for every storm and cold snap there’s a victory over time and place that sustains the old New Englander and one’s sturdy march through life that is passed to the next generation. We know it’ll freeze, trees will fall, power will be lost and eventually restored. But we are prepared with generators, boots, and friends. We know spring is coming at some point, but there’s sap to boil first. We’ll look forward to the next change, and prepare for the future.

For now though, it’s crisp mornings, warmer afternoons, orange, reds, and yellows raining down on pumpkin fields and stone walls that chipmunks scurry through, storing their winter surplus. It’s football games and picking up the boy after school, remembering what’s important as we pack as many memories as we can before the first snow. Let’s grab a football and head outside.

Jon Berman is a musician who lives in Blandford. Previous columns and contact information are available at

Column 20

Another Side
By Jon Berman

Music is really to set a mood. It’s
not about selling records, the pursuit of rockstardom, or a lazy luxurious life of excess. It’s not about the long drives on the road between venues, the rest stop coffee shop breakfasts, the late night phone calls home or the waiting. Part of the job, yes. But that’s not what it’s about.

When you select a cd, sorry, let me start again. When the listener selects a track on their iPod playlist, odds are they are not thinking of the writing process of the writers, the music lessons of the musicians, or the experience drawn upon by the engineers. They may have some lyrics in their head, or a melody that they hum. But songs like Kenny Chesney’s bring us to a beach side bar and songs like Staind’s often commiserate in a problem before twisting into a message of hope.

Music often brings us back to the mood of a moment. On a warm day a few weeks ago, I was walking down the road with my headphones on and a song called “Wish” by Joshua Redman came up. And I shivered. The memory came rushing back.

I don’t remember what year it was, or even whether we lived there at the time, but we were walking down Boylston Street in the frosty afternoon, flurries of snow teasing us in late November. The wind was harsh like it always is there and I wore no gloves, so my hands were absolutely numb. But we walked by the glowing storefronts that whispered of warmth beyond their closed doors and then I heard it. From speakers above the door of a shop, Joshua Redman’s saxophone solo on his previously mentioned song was playing. I hadn’t heard it in years but knew the song after a few notes. And we stood there in the cold listening. It made the scene perfect, like a moment out of Childe Hassam’s painting, “Boston Common at Twilight”.

The music continued until the song was over. I remarked how much I missed hearing it and remembered being in a practice room memorizing it early in my career. She smiled at me, appreciating the effort if not quite understanding why anyone would do that. And we moved on from the moment.

We stopped into Marshall’s there and I bought a pair of gray fleece gloves. When we stepped back out we kissed, my now-wife-but-then-girlfriend’s nose was as cold as ice. And we headed to Starbuck’s for some hot chocolate and tea.

In the next few weeks I’ll unearth those gloves from their summer home of a plastic bin and remember the day we bought them. I’ve almost lost them many times, but, the moment!

The moment was so important to my life and a keepsake of a memory I want with my best friend that I’ve panicked, chased them down, and retrieved the gloves from wherever they escaped to. And the song that showed up in a playlist on my iPod rushed that reminder… a reminder to put on a song, set a mood, and tell her that I love her.

Jon Berman is a musician who lives in Blandford. Previous columns and contact information are available at

Another Side
By Jon Berman

Is fall on the way? Some folks cringe as if the autumn season is solely responsible for the harsh icy snow to follow. But as I drove through Huntington this morning the top of a tree was beginning to turn orange, and my admittedly nostalgic mind began to turn away from summer with the leaves that had fulfilled their seasonal duty.

The summer seemed to start in March this year, and the growing season was hot and much too dry. Drought conditions have enveloped much of the country, and I can only hope that there will be pumpkins to pick and apple cider to drink with my son after reading that pumpkins are suffering blight and apples are early. Hope that it’ll get cool enough to throw on jeans and a sweater to hike with the family up in the white mountains. Pick a few apples, clean up the yard, and get in a few barbecue dates with the neighbors. Catch a Patriots game and recreate the winning drive with the boy on the backyard. Fall is so full of energy, and here in western Massachusetts lies the focal point. I’m just waiting to see a wagon filled with the last bales of hay.

Some folks want to extend the summer as long as possible, but not me. I want the earth to cool off. To feel the crisp air in the morning, see my breath in the frost, hear the crunch of the leaves, and smell the wood fire. I’m ready for the  bugs to disappear and the LL Bean Christmas catalog to come. It’s time to listen to stories that my son brings home from school and bring him with me in my truck for some weekend adventures.

But it’s just the beginning. The anticipation. The hints. An acorn falls and a chipmunk scurries through a stone wall. Neighbors disappear for a week or two to go hunting. Someone lights a fire one night and the wood smell puts you in that state of mind. The sun sets a little earlier and the flip flops are traded in for Birkenstocks and wool socks on your local college campus. Hand painted signs advertise apples and hayrides, and even retail stores turn ablaze with the orange of Halloween. A passing snow flurry is almost possible the first night the temperature dips.

Of course parking in Boston becomes more scarce and driving in Westfield goes from annoying to impossible with the influx of students back at colleges, but here’s the thing. Autumn in New England is hands-down, unbeatable.

A person can have an awful day at work, and be restored with a breath of the crisp air. A weekend of trying to clean up the yard is made easier with leaves for a kid to jump into. The world begins to move a little faster into a season of promise, holidays, and fresh beginnings of a new year.
We’re almost there. I’m going to go pull my sweaters out.

Jon Berman is a musician who lives in Blandford. He can be reached at