Hello Hudak Website Visitors: Those of you who've gotten to know me over the years are aware that music and sports are two of my main interests. Not my only interests, by any means, but just as I play the piano or guitar virtually every day of my life, so too do I read the sports pages almost daily. I grew up studying music and participating in sports, having been taught that in a special way music and sports work together hand in hand. So it was that this past weekend, I drove through narrow, winding, country roads an hour east of my Clayton, CA home to Stockton for an EAST COAST HOCKEY LEAGUE game between the Stockton Thunder and the Bakersfield Condors. (The capitilization above is no accident. How humorous it strikes me that two teams in the warm climate of the extreme western portion of the United States play in a league with "East Coast" in its name). My wife didn't want to accompany me on this adventure, which was probably just as well. Quirky things like finding a parking place and waiting in line for a half-hour to get tickets are not her cup of tea. Not to mention attending a blue collar sporting event in a blue collar town like Stockton. But that's exactly why I wanted to go. I wore my blue jeans and tennis shoes and joined nearly 6,000 fans inside the Stockton Arena. It's only two years old, and still smells new and clean. It bears mentioning that little old Stockton has one of the highest per game average attendance in the league. That's impressive considering they're up against many cities that are larger and have a more established "hockey tradition" than this city at the edge of the produce rich San Joaquin Valley. The game itself was almost secondary to me. It was the total experience I was looking for. And I found it. Watching mostly 18-20 year- olds beginning their careers in the competitive hockey treadmill is a thrill all its own. I spent some time down at ice level to better see the looks on the players' faces as they made the necessary split second decisions inherent to the fast moving game of hockey. I quickly picked out the natural goal scorers and their bigger "body guard" mates who will fight to protect the team's best players. (In hockey, these players are known as "goons"). It's the same formula that hockey has used since, well, the Ice Age, whereby the skill players and the more physically intimidating players all know their roles. The highlight of the game came when the hometown Thunder staved off a five-minute two-man disadvantage - the first time I've ever seen a team penalized quite so severely in a hockey game. It seems their players got unwisely over-aggressive and took too many foolish penalties. I'll admit it: when the two-man disadvantage finally came to an end, with Bakersfield scoring nary a goal during the heated action, tears came to my eyes as those of us in attendance rose as one in a standing ovation for the Thunder's penalty killers. It was a moment I'll always remember. Oh yes, the final score was Stockton 5, Bakersfield 2. These two teams, both struggling in the bottom half of the standings and playing in the East Coast Hockey League outpost called California, gave all of us at the game three hours of gritty, entertaining escape. And isn't that at least a good part of what watching sports is about? For that matter, that's what music is about, too. To help the listeners find their way to another "place," at least for awhile. Somehow, this morning's exercises and composition work at the piano seemed a little more enjoyable than usual. The fingers flowed a bit more freely, as did the ideas and combinations of notes dancing through my brain as I played. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but I'll maintain that my Sunday afternoon spent watching a minor league hockey game in the San Joaquin Valley might have had something to do with today's inspired music experience at the piano. You'd be hard pressed to convince me otherwise. Jim Hudak

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