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Los Angeles Kings Gameday: The Jet

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Kyle Clifford has been a decent surprise, but he is hardly the greatest

As if Clifford didn't look insane enough
As if Clifford didn't look insane enough

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Los Angeles Kings
@ Calgary Flames

Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013, 7:00 PM PST
Scotiabank Saddledome

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Being completely honest, Kyle Clifford really isn't that good. He is skating hard and it's creating him opportunities. If the rest of the Kings actually did this Clifford would be back on the fourth line and nobody would be stroking his weasel. Instead, he's seen as one of the top Kings, which is partially true because they look like crap, and is now poised to get top line minutes. But is he the best bad player we have known? Jonathan Cheechoo was horrible but turned into the second coming of Guy Lafleur with Joe Thornton feeding him passes. Corey Perry is horrible but sold his soul to Satan and offers sacrifices of Chilean orphans every new moon in a cave in the Mojave desert to the demon lord, Zezergast, and look what it has done for his production. The greatest awful player I have ever known though is a far more powerful/pathetic being.

Every team in every sport, every class in every school, and every workplace at every job all has the one person that is just a touch further off than just being a little awkward or weird. You know the one. The one where you have no idea if that person is actually that crazy or if they are just messing with you. The one where at some point they are just going to lose it and go all Ralphie from "A Christmas Story" and beat the shit out of the person that pushed them just a little too far on one bad day. By far one the most memorable I have ever known (and the most relevant to this blog) is that of Andy.

I played hockey through high school as a goalie and for the better part of two full years I was the only goalie at our school. My sophomore year had me on the JV and two Frosh-Soph teams at our school to start. By the end of the season I was on varsity because the senior that played goalie ahead of me had like one leg shorter than the other or something like that. From there it was two JV teams, plus varsity, for the next two years. I didn’t get out much. My social life basically revolved around hockey, which was nice because my teammates were funny assholes, and we would drink beers in our locker room after games occasionally and think we were badasses (we totally were). Every team that I played for had one guy that was kind of a goof, but Andy was a giant amongst dwarves when it came to being socially bizarre.

During my junior year Andy joined our program as a freshman and more or less sucked balls. He was put on Frosh-Soph. Despite my status as a junior at the time, I was goaltending for that team as well (four teams in total) because we had no one else that was playing that god damn position. I was an old fart playing with kids fresh out of junior high that weren’t very good (I have to be pretty nice in case they are reading, sorry guys). Andy may have been one of the shittiest (don’t worry, he probably isn’t reading this). He barely could stand on skates, much less move, and shot the puck about as well as Mr. Burns bowls. We couldn’t play him on defense because a cone would have likely provided more protection, so it was off to the right wing with him. To top it off, Andy was the weirdest fucking kid to ever, as he put it once, wear the "piss-gold and blue".

At our first game it was the first I had seen Andy since our summer practices (I didn’t go to Frosh-Soph practices because they were on Saturday at seven in the fucking morning and I just got done playing doubleheaders the night prior) and Andy was pretty quiet still. Up until that point in time, I had never heard that kid utter a single word outside of "I really hope I get a ride to the game". When we were finally playing, our coach, for whatever reason, started Andy, and then all of a sudden Andy just wouldn’t shut up. It wasn’t like he was talking about the game or anything either. It was just random phrases like someone was getting broken radio singles from about a dozen different frequencies. "FDR was a cripple" and "I put salt in my water" obviously really stuck with me even to this day for the sudden history lesson and whatever the hell was running through his head on that second phrase.

Andy didn’t fall over during his first shift, and I felt like a proud parent when he actually received a pass, but shit started getting really weird. Mostly because he scored a goal. The puck just kind of careened towards him and by some grace of whatever weird god Andy prayed to it hit his stick and went in. Our team was mildly celebrating and Andy went to retrieve the puck himself, which was still in the back of the net, ignoring the referee that was going to get it. Instead, Andy got their first, and fired the puck at the other team's goalie. At the intermission I asked Andy what he was doing after he had scored. "I was sending a message," was all I got. But shit, the other team knew not to mess with Andy even though his stature was probably 5’1 and he weighed about the same as a medium sized dog. Andy went on to get a hat trick in his first game. It was like watching an episode of the Twilight Zone. For some improbable reason the kid who couldn’t turn without having to make a 50 foot arc going 1 mile per hour had potted three goals. His second had only resulted in him using his patented rink wide turn and not saying anything. On his third goal he finally celebrated, if you can call it that. He just wound up shouting, "I’M THE FUCKING EAGLE GOD".

His first penalty was more serious. He had received a pass and promptly got stripped of the puck. For a guy who wielded a hockey stick like it weighed 500 pounds he swung it pretty damn fast all of a sudden. You do not take Andy’s puck. Andy’s first defensive play was another highlight. The opposing team got control and readied what appeared to be the world’s longest and slowest windup for a slap shot ever. Andy, while in his massive turn no less, swept in and without flinching at all just slid by and had the puck conveniently roll right to the blade of his stick. In a half of second right after that, Andy spun around 180 degrees and fired a slap shot over my shoulder past my right ear off the crossbar. I’m pretty sure he winked after that. Completely out of the blue Andy had gone from toddler learning to skate to Pavel Bure with the only issue being he fired on our own net. I asked Andy after the game what had happened with that play. "I got confused." Indeed.

One game in and Andy was far more vocal at this point. He got the game puck, and one of the more assholish freshman guys on the team asked Andy if he wanted to hot box in his car afterwards. "I will fucking kill every single last one of you if you are on drugs." It didn’t really play as funny.

The second game Andy arrived at there was another marked difference: His eyebrows were gone. When asked about what had happened to said eyebrows his response was, "I wanted to look more intense". He certainly looked like an angry hobbit going through chemotherapy, so mission accomplished I guess. Asked again if he was interested in hot boxing in the parking lot prior to the game, Andy responded with a more measured, "I will cut your balls off with a switch blade".

Andy unfortunately ran into some issues just before we hit the rink as he was standing about a foot shorter than everybody else (two feet in some cases). I pointed out that Andy may have been forgetting something. Andy looked down, noticed, and replied, "I wanted to give them a chance," and left to get his skates.

After what appeared to be a fluke of a first game, Andy followed up his hat trick with a repeat performance. Some more random statements of "fish are the populace to rule us" and an another outburst of his being an eagle god, and Andy had solidified his place as our league’s leading goal scorer. Additionally he was also the most skilled eyebrow-less Tourette's syndrome high school hockey player in the region.

Our third game would be Andy’s last he would play in sadly. For our sign-in sheet that we were required to sign for whatever oddball reason a high school league would need a bunch of 13 to 18 year olds’ signatures, I was surprised to see next to Andy’s name the signature was instead in print reading THE JET. I looked over at Andy and he only said, "I should have Danger Zone play when I go out there". Andy didn't score that game, and the next week he wasn't at practice at all during the week. The fourth game rolled around and there was still no sign of Andy. We just figured since he wasn't scoring at a three goal a game pace he just got bored.

A week or so later one of the guys on the team said he saw Andy on his way to the game. Andy was sitting on the curb in their neighborhood with a paintball gun, eyebrows still missing. He asked Andy if he was going to the game. Andy responded that he was busy now, and that he couldn't get a ride last week. Instead he had joined a gang. That he founded. And that ran the mean streets of a white, affluent, gated community. I saw Andy once at high school later that year, but he didn't seem to recognize me. I did the same,to be fair. It was mostly because he a was freshman and I was junior and that shit wouldn't be cool. It also had something to do with the fact he also only had patches of his eyebrows.