10. Battling customs to allow Tyson Nash through in his cage and watching the horror on the guards’ faces as they witnessed, firsthand, Nasher rolling over and attempting a smile through all the leather skin and matted hair. Then, developing a bond with them as they came to realize what the team had endured in adopting such a unique specimen.
9. Eating fries and chicken fingers out of a vending machine. While waiting in the train station in Sapporo and being so hungry that I could eat my shoe, I discovered a vending machine that sold hot meals in four minutes. I proceeded to order myself fries and chicken fingers that were automatically cooked right in front of me. There was even a ‘view window’ so people could watch the progress of their selected meal.
Initially, I was quite excited by the concept, but my excitement rapidly turned into concern after dinner as I suspected that eating chicken from a train station vending machine might not have been one of my smartest life decisions. After 10 to 12 sprints to the bullet train lavatory – and seeing God and a white light a few times – my suspicions were confirmed; I could only lay in the fetal position on the bathroom floor cursing that damn machine.
8. Witnessing a goal judge smoking during the play. As I reported in one of my previous blogs, there was a game in China that I didn’t dress for and while sitting in the stands I looked down and saw the goal judge with an ashtray sitting on the boards, smoking during the play. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen in pro sports. I have known many coaches and athletes who smoke between periods or before and after the game, but I had never seen someone smoke during a sporting event. Pretty cool.
7. Feeling a sense of warmth and pride from the generosity of the organization and its fans when they ran a fundraiser to hire a team of dentists for Tyson to deal with his oversized gums and horribly decayed wooden teeth. The whole venture was deemed a success when they were able to – with the assistance of a sandblaster and a giant pair of forceps – neutralize the horrific monstrosity and give Tyson a set of piano keys (mostly the black ones) for a smile.
6. Witnessing a ref lose control of a game by getting flustered. On several occasions, I witnessed officiating that would make any fan climb the glass and want to attack the ref. Never in my career had I seen an official reverse his call, but on several occasions in Japan a ref could be persuaded by a coach – or the fans – to change his call.
I once shot the puck over the glass with no one even close to me and I deserved a delay of game penalty. As I saw it heading over, I yelled at the ref that it had been deflected. It took five minutes to sort it out, so you can imagine how hot the other team’s coach was, but after calling a penalty the ref decided to reverse his decision and rule that the puck was deflected out of play. Our team had already sent a player to the box to serve my penalty, so he was released and the faceoff took place in the neutral zone.
5. Being locked out of my hotel room by the chambermaid. At the end of the season we went to Tokyo to drink for one night and then fly home to Canada. After a long, but good night out, I woke up hungry and a little dehydrated. I decided to go get a little grease.
There was a Mickey D’s attached to our hotel so I set out to go grab some when I realized my room key did not work. I saw the chambermaid next door and – using some charades – managed to ask her if the door worked. My door was open and she gave me towels and came to the conclusion that my key was de-magnetized.
Knowing my key didn’t work, I put the latch on the door to keep it open while I literally ran downstairs for some takeout. I was gone a maximum of seven minutes and when I got back the maid was in the next room cleaning, but she had closed my door. I waved to her to have her come back and open my door. She walked up to me and literally pretended that she had never seen me before in her life. I motioned for her to open my door and she stepped back, put both hands on her head and made the symbol for ‘devil horns.’
I had no idea what she was doing because she was not saying a word and just stood there with both hands on her head. I quickly yelled to Joel Prpic, who spoke fluent Japanese, and he came running down the hallway to stop me from yelling at this lady for not letting me back into my room. She told him I could have been a thief trying to get into a room, but as I became more agitated and tried to remind her she was the one who closed my door and should have remembered me from five minutes ago.
Needless to say, Joel debated with her for another five minutes until he finally snapped. She got so scared she just opened the door and ran away as fast as she could. To top off this craziness, McDonalds had forgotten to put my chicken in the burger. All I got was a bun with lettuce and mayo on it. One lesson I learned was, apparently, the international symbol for thief is devil horns.
4. Watching Nasher hit unsuspecting players. The whole league was well aware of Tyson and myself signing with Nippon and I guess a lot of guys tried to see if they could stand up to him physically. Unfortunately, they soon experienced his special ability to crush people, even when carrying the puck.
Players would try and catch Tyson with his head down and at the last second he would drop his shoulder and absolutely run them right over. It was like a man playing against boys.
One night against OJI, he hit a guy so hard the guy’s helmet flew 10 feet in the air; I thought his head was still in it. Tyson did this regularly and for me it was quite entertaining to watch, especially because I could see the plays developing before they happened.
3. Allowing a bad goal and getting cheered. As I have written before, the fans in Japan are very supportive. In one 6-1 victory, I blew the shutout near the end of the game. Instead of getting razzed by the fans, they started to chant my name in support.
I had to laugh because I knew if this happened back home, the fans wouldn’t have been as supportive, nor would management. It was as exciting as it was humbling to experience them embracing support.
2. One night after a game, I came home late after a few cold ones to hear something nosing through the garbage. At first I was a bit concerned with the setting of the whole situation. It was a back alley, 3:00 in the morning, the dumpster was full of garbage I could only come within 10 feet of before I got nauseous, but I noticed the lid open and something stirring around causing quite a commotion. I quickly put my scarf over my mouth and nose and tied it in position to shield my senses from the stench. I then methodically moved towards the dumpster.
It was only five feet high and as I stumbled into position I could only see a figure moving quickly from side to side, attacking the bags as if a fight was about to commence. Now, at first I identified the short and horrendous looking creature as possibly some sort of wildebeest or rare mutant dog. But as I let out a startled gasp the creature turned around and in a raspy frightening voice said ‘Hey Noodles.’
I realized Tyson was back from his leg injury and was testing the strength of it by bodychecking bags of garbage and attacking things in the dumpster. I wished him luck and told him I would see him at practice the next day.
1. The four-foot tall, 100-year-old lady with the eye patch driving in our arena parking lot. Talk about possibly the worst scenario for someone to be in behind the wheel. I witnessed firsthand as the poor lady tried to maneuver her way out of a parking spot with nothing within 20 feet of her, but still running into the curb and hitting a pole.
Each story was funny and enjoyable in their own way. I can only say I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it all.
Born in Edmonton, Jamie McLennan is a former NHL goaltender who spent this season playing for the Nippon Paper Cranes of the ALIH (Asia League Ice Hockey). Nicknamed ‘Noodles,’ McLennan was drafted by the Islanders in 1991. He played 254 NHL games with the Flames, Rangers, Panthers, Wild, Blues and Isles, compiling a 80-109-33 record.