Russ Ringsak

Varlamov and Clutterbuck

January 3, 2011

These are the awesome new names of two of my grandchildren. I'd never heard either one until I set out to go Christmas shopping two weeks ago. Semyon Aleksandrovich Varlamov is a 22-year-old from Kuybyshev who in 2008 helped Locomotiv Yaroslavl to the Russian Super League finals and is a first-round draft choice and goalie for the Washington Capitals. Cal Clutterbuck is from Welland Ontario and plays right wing for our hometown Minnesota Wild. This is hockey thank you, not soccer. Cal Clutterbuck currently holds not only the best name in sport but also the National Hockey League record for the most hits in a single season at 356, 45 more than the previous record. When he skates by the enemy bench they make unfriendly smart remarks to him. He seems not to be bothered by it.

These names will be on the backs of my young descendants, setting themselves very high bars indeed. It's who and what they wanted, genuine hockey jerseys, not t-shirts but bright colored beautiful sewed-tough hockey jerseys. It's more fun to shop for something like that than one might expect.

Our 12-year-old Varlamov makes a fairly good copy of the original: he's extremely quick, very focused and possessed of an early devotion to his trade, which of course is to keep his team in the game. The original Clutterbuck simply does not want anyone on the opposition to handle the puck and if they try it, as they seem wont to do, he hits'em. Even when the puck is gone. Hit. He was an instant crowd favorite when he came here. And right now he's also the team's second leading scorer. Our guy, the 14-year-old version, is a more cerebral player and perhaps a more cheerful sort generally, who spends his icetime focus mostly on tactical and strategic matters. Not that he's opposed to punishing the opponent but it's not his prime destiny out there. He's out there to learn the game.

It makes me want to go see some pro hockey games. Back in the days of the North Stars here we'd split season tickets with a gang of friends and see eleven or twelve games a year. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr. Now my daughter is playing hockey in a women's league and with their two boys playing I can't get to nearly the amateur games I'd like, much less the professionals.

But it's an amazing spectacle. The players can do things ordinary mortals can't imagine and do them as casually as you'd pick up a cookie. From a close seat, seeing an armored player sail by at 25 miles an hour is akin to witnessing a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball. You just don't imagine a creature of similar DNA to your own could ever do anything like that. They glide smooth like eagles and turn as suddenly as Peregrines. A lot of grace and violence out there, like watching a nature special about raptors. Maybe not quite as fast, but bigger and badder. And the players are not just predator but prey at the same time, hiking up the drama.

* * * *
Our truck made it from Times Square to this back yard two Monday mornings ago, legally, and it was still not there early enough to beat that incoming snow storm. Meaning the driveway hill was too slick for it to make it to the top and to settle into its own little nest up there next to the metal shed. So it sits halfway up the slope, across from the house. Looks like a big redneck lawn ornament.

Northern Lawn Ornament
Northern Lawn Ornament

The snowfall kept up all day and night and the next morning there was a silence on the landscape that you could get in no other way. A car passing on the county road made no sound at all. It was as if the snow had sucked even the early day quiet into it. It was a strange and aggressive silence, soaking down every snick and flutter, including even the low level ambiance in your own ears. Others commented on that same thing. It was quiet as sleep.

Of course I had to wreck all that. I gave it its time on stage but then the driveway had to be cleared and I fired up the rackety big orange snow thrower and threw every flake that wasn't where I wanted it up into the sky. Hurled it all across the river into Wisconsin or over into the next township to the west. Sliced through and ruined the clean drifts, destroyed the silence and the grace and the natural purity of a fresh snowfall. Came back inside and had a cup of hot coffee.

Hurling it
Hurling it

Sat and dragged it out as long as I could and finally got up and drove out into the big mall shopping experience. Found Clutterbuck but had to order Varlamov. Wandered around hoping to be struck by chance inspirations. Ended up buying a couple of small folding spades, useful for the snow emergencies when you slide into a bank and need just a bit more traction but not something you'd want to dig your overturned RV out of a snowstorm with. It's a mini copy of a military entrenching tool, with a collapsing handle. Comes in a cool little black bag, whisk broom size. Finding nothing else more interesting, I ended up doing some gift shopping at a local liquor store.

Considering the mega-monster storm blasting the east coast that little shovel now looks pitiful. The wine and spirits are much better suited to the big jobs. One could say that the folding shovel is okay for ordinary winter but the spirits are a better weapon against full grown blizzards. Provided of course that you stay indoors and at home the whole time to deploy them. (And remember, MPR disclaims any and all responsibility for advice given by hired hands below executive pay grade. Especially hired hands carrying commercial drivers licenses.)

* * * *
The winter storms out east bring to mind a year when we took the show to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York and into a monster ice storm. Miles of woods were leveled by the weight of a massive glass blanket. It looked like a frozen forest fire. The power lines were down over such a large area that crews of linemen were called in from all over the country, as far away as Tennessee and Missouri. I can't recall what year this was and haven't found it on our web site, but it was back in the early years.

And I remember talking with one of the linemen after the worst of it was over and the news had come that we'd have power to get on the radio. We were sitting at a smalltown lunch counter and he said that two days earlier he and three crewmates had worked 22 hours straight, from midnight until ten the next night. He might have been from Michigan.

"We got a lot of the main lines workin' about nine in the morning and then we spent the day gettin' some of the business and residential stuff back. It was cold I kid you not. You get used to it sort of but not really, not when it's like this. Hundreds of breaks all over three counties here. Un-freakin-believable.

"Anyway, they turned us loose at ten that night and we're starvin', y'know, and nothin's open. Power's on there now but none of the diners, no fast food, nothin'. The only thing we found was this upscale kinda fine dining place. So we're thinkin' what the hell, they got food anyways, who cares what it costs, and we weren't about to go to back to the motel hungry, y'know? So we park the truck and go in.

"And we go inside, and we're standin' there in our frozen coveralls and dirty boots and we're all filthy, faces all black and grimy, dog-ass tired; unshaved. We look like hell and prob'ly smell like it too. Four big ol' dirtbags standin' there. Y'know?"

"I can picture it," I said.

"Yah, and the place was full, people all happy to finally get out of the house. White tablecloths, candles, wine glasses, nice silverware, the whole bit. We're lookin' at each other kinda expecting to get thrown out. Never felt so out of place in my life. . . . So we're standin' there and the lady in charge, she's sort of walking our way and you can see she's not exactly sure who she's dealin' with here, and right about then the people kind of get who we are. They see the power company on our caps, I guess, or maybe the truck sittin' outside. And this guy and his wife at a nearby table, they stand up. And they're smiling and then they start clapping. And then another table gets up, same thing. . . . . and then a couple more, and pretty soon everybody in the place is standing and they all stand there clapping and smiling. . . . for a long time. . . . nobody really saying anything, just clapping. . ."

He looked away and down, inhaled, didn't say anything for a minute. I think I finally gave a low-key wow.

"Yeh. I'll never forget it. . . . Every now and then, y'know, somethin' happens, and you think life is not really that bad. And y'know what else?"


"We didn't have to pay for our dinner that night."

©R.Ringsak 2010

russring at visi dot com

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