Back to Playing Hockey – Thirty Years after my Last Winning Game

In early December, 2014, I was looking for something to do with my 4-year-old child on a Saturday afternoon. Somehow I found out that there was an ice-skating show going on about 10 miles from my house. I telephoned my wife and asked her if she would like to go, and three of us were off to the ice rink. The show ended up being a pretty big bust, but we got to see the ice rink, and I suggested that we stay over for the public skating. We rented the skates for ourselves, including our 4-year-old son, and got on ice.

This was the most fun and thrill I had had in years. My parents enrolled me in figure skating when I was 5, and then I switched to hockey at the age of 8 and played until I was 15. I was never good enough at it to make a semi-professional youth team at the local hockey club, but I continued playing and was pretty good at the street level. At the age of 15, I scored my last goal that ended up being the winning goal in the game that brought my team local championship, and as far as I remember, that was the last game of hockey that I had played. This was in 1985, and I was 15 years old.

Since then, I ice skated a few times every decade, so perhaps, I had skated 10 times in thirty years – at most. So, in early December 2014, I got on ice the first time since 2003-2004 – the first time in over a decade. I was on rental skates – a pair of old CCM hockey skates, which were in a pretty bad shape, but after a few laps around the rink, I felt like I was back and enjoyed the skating session a great deal. By the end of that skating session, a few adults asked me if I was interested in giving their kids private skating lessons, so I knew that not only did I impress myself with my skating skills – being away from skating for over a decade, but I stood out of the crowd during that skating session. I also fell once and ended up damaging my shoulder pretty bad that night, but that is my little secret that I am not sharing with anyone.

After that public skating session, I decided that I really want to get myself a pair of good skates. I blamed my fall on the bad skates I had rented that night, and on my over-zealous desire to skate hard that night. I’m glad I didn’t hit my head on the ice that night because I was not wearing a helmet – for obvious reasons.

Therfore, for the holiday season in late 2014, I got myself a pair of nice hockey skates. I had ventured once into buying hockey skates when traveling to Canada in 2001. I ended up paying a few hundred dollars for a pair of CCM skates, which as it turned out later, hurt my feet so much that I could not skate more than 15 minutes in them before I was in so much pain I had to quit. I believe the reason is that they are a little too narrow for my foot. Therefore, this time I decided to choose a pair of quality skates that fit me well and not to worry too much about the price.

I went to several local hockey stores (LHS) and looked at different types of skates they had in stock. Because I was out of this field for so long, I had no idea about all of the improvements and inventions that occurred in the business of making hockey skates. Obviously, I was overwhelmed at the choices. There are several major hockey manufacturers out there: Bauer, CCM, Reebok, Easton, Graf, Warrior, etc. Some of them manufacture only certain types of hockey equipment, whereas others manufacture everything related to hockey. Each manufacturer has more than one lines of hockey equipment, and each line has several levels based on the quality/price ratio. Therefore, there are literally dozens if not hundreds of choices that a consumer has in front of him/her for every piece of the hockey equipment. If you are just getting into this field, the number of choices is overwhelming. This blog post is to help a new hockey player choose the proper equipment.

I tried a pair of Bauer Nexus skates at the hockey store located inside one of the local hockey rinks. The skates felt too wide and too stiff to me. They didn’t feel like anything that would be comfortable on ice. Unfortunately, the sales clerk at the store didn’t bother (or didn’t know) to explain to me that Bauer Nexus line of hockey equipment is made for big wide-boned guys, which I am not. Therefore, I decided that Bauer skates are not for me and moved on. This same store also carried Easton skates, which I looked at, but they didn’t have my size. I had never even heard of Easton before, and the prices were very steep, so I never really pursue Easton either.

I then went to anther LHS that carried Bauer, CCM, and Reebok brands, but no Easton. Since I had ruled out Bauer before, I decided to try on Reebok and CCM. I LOVED Reebok skates. They felt on my foot like regular shoes – the feeling I had never had while wearing hockey skates. I also tried a pair of CCMs, and they were just like two stiff boots, so compared to Reeboks, CCMs were inferior. Seasoned hockey players reading this post will probably think to themselves that I don’t know what I’m talking about – I didn’t specify the type of CCM skates I tried, and CCM has several lines of skates with each line having several levels. Well, I wholeheartedly agree with this, but I didn’t know anything about that back then, so all I knew about the product was what I saw at the store. It is a good idea to have done you research before showing up at the LHS, but, when buying hockey equipment, and hockey skates especially, the most important thing is to try them on and see what they feel like. That’s exactly what I was doing. Another consideration was, of course, the price. The owner of the LHS – the second one I visited – really recommended the Reeboks. He also explained to me the different levels that the Reebok Ribcor line of hockey skates has. Even though this time I wasn’t going to go cheap, I also didn’t want to drop $1000 on the skates along. I was hoping to get skates in the $400 – $500 range. What ended up fitting the bill were Reebok Ribcor 30K skates. Those skates are just one level under the most expensive Reebok skates – Reebok Ribcor skates. The LHS owner explained to me that the price different between Reebok Ribcor  and Reebok 30K – almost 100% price hike – doesn’t justify a few additional features that Ribcor has over 30K. I figured that I will never be able to play at the professional level, so there’s no reason for me to drop close to $800 on Reebok Ribcor, whereas I could get Reebok 30K for $400. Another consideration was that I was getting the second best skate in the Reebok line of skates for $400, whereas if I went with Bauer or CCM, I would have to drop $600 – $650 for the second best level in their lines of skates. The most expensive Bauer and CCM skates were close to $1000, whereas Reebok Ribcor was under $800. I figured I was getting a good value for my money with Reebok 30K skates, but most importantly, they were available (last pair) in my size at the LHS, and they felt great on my feet.

The LHS owner advised to me that they could “bake” the skate to my feet, which I didn’t even know was possible. So, I told him I needed to do some more research and would most likely be back shortly. I took a day to consider my options, do some pretty serous research on the internet, and figured out that Reebok 30K were in fact the best choice in my circumstances unless I was ready to drop close to $1000 for just hockey skates. Money is really not as much of a consideration for me at the current stage of life, but I didn’t want to squander it on the top-level equipment just to have the best; instead, I wanted to make my first hockey purchase prudently. The following day, I was back at the LHS to buy the skates. The LHS baked my skates and I had them molded to my feet. Then, I was off to my first skate. What a difference! I was thrilled. The skates felt perfectly in the beginning of the public skating session, but by the end, I felt pain and my feet were rubbed raw in certain places. I did a few more public skating sessions in those skates, and then went back to the LHS to show them my foot injuries. The LHS owner offered to bake them again for me. He also said if that didn’t help, he has techniques to stretch the skate boots in certain places to make the problem go away. So, I had my skates baked again and molded to my feet. After that second skate bake, the skates broke in, and I’m no longer having any problems with pain or blisters. All in all, I think I made the right choice with my hockey skates, and I would recommend Reebok 30K (or obviously Reebok Ribcor) as a great skate at a good value. I know some NHL players swear by Reebok Ribcor, such as Sydney Crosby, so you can’t go wrong with Reeboks, just don’t try to save money and go with the lowest-end ones because you will still spend a few hundred buck but will get a pair of sub-par skates, which is true not only with Reeboks but with any other skates – be they CCM, Easton, Bauer, Graf, etc.

As I was skating with my family at one of the public sessions at a newly opened rink, which was recommended to me by one of the employees of the LHS where I bought my skates, I decided to approach one of the workers there and ask them if there was some class for adults who are trying to get back to playing hockey. It turned out that the owner of the new hockey rink was standing by and overheard my question. He said that, in fact, he was planning to start a hockey clinic for adults. So, a few weeks later, I went to my first hockey clinic class. Before that, I purchased a helmet and hockey gloves in my LHS. Since I already bought my skates there, and they were Reebok, I decided to focus on Reebok as the brand of hockey equipment I was going to buy. Because the same LHS also carried Bauer and CCM, I naturally also compared the Reebok helmet to CCM and Bauer. The situation repeated itself – the top-of-the-line Reebok helmet was over $100 cheaper than the top-of-the-line CCM or Bauer. Reebok ended up being the most comfortable of the helmets that I tried on at that LHS. I ended up going with the top-of-the-line Reebok helmet, which was Reebok 11K. I bought it without the face cage, but I later purchased a Bauer Hybrid Shield, which is a combo of plexiglass shield and wire cage. When I tried on the Reebok with its original wire cage, I hated it. It felt like I was looking out from a prison cell. With the Bauer Hybrid Shield, the view was perfect: when I looked straight, I saw no wire cage, but the lower part of my face was fully protected with the wire cage. I would recommend the Bauer Hybrid Shield together with the Reebok 30K. The size I got in both was Large – I do have a very large head, which I want to believe is due to my unbelievable intelligence.

The next was hockey gloves. Obviously I went straight to the Reebok section to try my hockey gloves. I tried a pair of Reebok 30K and immediately fell in love with them. Then, I compared them to the top-of-the-line Bauer and CCM gloves, and spent about an hour there, trying to decide if I had become obsessed with Reebok, or if they actually make superior product. Again, there were different lines of CCMs and Bauer gloves that I tried on, with Reebok only having one line but several levels. I tried Reebok 24K and 26K, but decided to pay extra for the Reebok 30K gloves. I love those gloves just as much as I love the Reebok 30K skates and the Reebok 11K helmet (top-of-the-line).

So, for my first adult hockey clinic session, I had my own pair of skates, gloves, and my own helmet with the Bauer Hybrid Shield. I also purchased a Sher-Wood 5030 wooden stick, which is another story. I had not realized that a revolution had occurred with the hockey sticks sometime around the year 2000. I didn’t even know that hockey sticks were no longer made of wood, and when I saw the price of the composite hockey sticks on sale at the LHSs, I was floored. The sticks cost between $200 and $300 per stick. I couldn’t understand who in their right mind would pay this amount of money for a hockey stick, and I still cannot grasp this idea. So, I went with a wooden stick I found in one of the local sports stores for under $30 per the top-of-the-line wooden hockey stick. I have now played with this stick 8 times or so, and it is still in great shape. However, I also picked up a composite Reebok Ribcor 26K stick for $54 dollars at the LHS. I haven’t yet played with it, but I’m planing to try it out very soon. Weight-wise, I don’t see much of the difference between the Sher-wood 5030 and the Ribcor 26K, but this is an entry-level Reebok stick. I cannot make myself buy a hockey stick for $250 – no way Jose. Maybe some time in the future, but not yet.

So, I absolutely LOVED my first hockey clinic session. I was thrilled. I was on ice with a stick and puck for the fist time in 30 years. Our coach was the owner of the new hockey rink, who has been coaching kids for a long time at other hockey rinks. The guy is a French Canadian, and he is absolutely amazing as a coach. I wish I had such a coach when I started playing hockey in late 1970s – early 1980s. I may have become a hockey player with such a great coach. He made us do drills that were very helpful. I remembered some of those drills back from my childhood. Unfortunately, I fell quite a bit during this first session and hit my left knee against ice on multiple occasions that evening. When I got home, my knee was in a pretty bad shape, and I had to put an ice pack on it for several hours that evening. I realized later that the reason I fell so much that evening and every time hit my left knee was because my skates had dulled by then, and I failed to have them re-sharpened. Another thing I realized was that I really needed shin guards with knee pads if I was serous about getting back in playing hockey. So, off I was for another adventure of buying knee pads. To be continued ….

Sprint is Rumored to Acquire T-Mobile

There are reports that Sprint is looking into acquiring T-Mobile. 

In my opinion, Sprint is going to end up as WorldCom did. In fact, Sprint and WorldCom were going to merge, which was announced in 1999. In 2000, the merger was barred by the feds.

I used to work for Sprint back in the day of Sprint ION. That was one cool idea – the first commercially launched VoIP/VoATM service for small business and residential customers. The project ended in a spectacular bust, with Sprint losing billions of dollars. They spent about $100,000 per residential customer in capital expenditures, and ended up killing the program in 2001, with only about 3500 customers being recruited. Sprint had spent close to $5 billion on that project when they killed it.

Their cellular business has always been a disaster, even back 12 years ago when I worked for them, it was one of the worst cell phone services – Sprint PCS. They were one of the biggest long-distance providers in the US, but that business started collapsing in 2000, and by now there’s almost no profit left to be made in long distance. I remember in 2003 Sprint was still trying to charge 20 cents per minute for long distance calls within the US when others were already charging pennies per minute. Sprint coined the “pin-drop” moniker to try to bamboozle their customers into paying many more times for their long-distance calls than the competitors charged. Sprint knew back then that they were in trouble. Even though they are the ILEC in some areas, where they own the wires in the ground and are still making some money on DS1, DS3, PRIs, etc., this field is quite a bit more competitive now than it was a decade ago. Therefore, the revenue is slowing down and profitability is collapsing from that business as well.

Don’t forget the Wi-Max fiasco with Sprint heavily investing in Clearwire and then acquiring Clear to become Sprint’s 4G technology. All of the money spent on Clearwire/Clear was wasted as well.

Sprint never had great engineers working for them. Sprint has always had huge aspirations, and could borrow billions for all these nebulous ideas, but none of the projects amounted to anything that Sprint could draw a profit from. Verizon is run by geniuses compared to Sprint’s management.

So, this acquisition of T-Mobile by Sprint is one disaster company trying to broaden its market share by buying another underwhelming company, not to mention that the two companies run on incompatible technologies – CDMA vs GSM. Maybe Sprint wants to buy T-Mobile for their LTE deployment because Sprint is really behind on 4G due to the Wi-Max detour they took for over 5 years. Perhaps they want T-Mobile’s frequencies and/or towers. In any case, Sprint is up to its neck in debt, which keeps mounting with Sprint making the same stupid operational blunders time and again. They don’t have money to buy T-Mobile, but they are going to finance this deal by assuming even more debt on their books.

WorldCom was doing exactly the same thing until it went bust in 2002, and this is exactly where Sprint is heading. Next thing we may hear is that Sprint’s executives are on trial – you never know. Perhaps Sprint should shut down their customer-facing business altogether, and be a wholesale reseller for various MVNOs and CLECs.

I’ve Paid My Dues – Why Are You Charging Me the Same Monthly Fee? 

In the Fall of 2009, we got our first iPhones – iPhone 3GS. Two years later, when our contract with AT&T was over, and the iPhone 4S had just been released, we were happy to upgrade our phones to iPhone 4S, and had to sign another two-year contract. However, this time around, in the Fall of 2013, even though there are two types of new iPhones that have just been released – iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C – we are no longer compelled to upgrade our phones. Our iPhones 4S are still functioning as they did in 2011, and the hardware is good enough to run all modern apps without a hitch. Additionally, the rumor mill has it that there going to be an iPhone model released in 2014 with a wider screen, so why lock ourselves into another two-year contract?

Those were my thoughts when I called AT&T the other day to see what my options were. I told them I didn’t want to upgrade our phones yet, and that my contract had just expired. Then, I asked what my options were. They told me that I could continue using their service on a month-to-month basis. When I asked them about the monthly service fee, they told me that it would stay the same. 

Let me start with gently informing the reader that this is a complete rip-off. In the US, when one gets a new iPhone on a contract-based plan, the initial price that one pays to get a phone is heavily subsidized by the cellular carrier. To recoup the price paid to Apple (or any other phone manufacturer) by the wireless carrier, they design a monthly-payment plan and add that price to the price of the actual service that they provide. This is why we arrive at the exorbitant monthly fees to the north of $175 for a two-phone account. We end up paying hundreds of dollars more in two years for the smartphones than we would have paid if we had bought unsubsidized phones bypassing the cellular carriers. This is how the rest of the world buys phones. They pay the full price upfront, but then have a low monthly fee and no contract. The phones they buy are not locked, so people can switch carriers very easily. Unfortunately, in the US even if one buys an unsubsidized phone (for example from an Apple store), one cannot avoid paying the same exorbitant monthly fee as one would be paying had one bought a subsidized version of the same phone from a cellular carrier. This applies to all major carriers except for T-Mobile, which allows you to buy an unsubsidized (and unlocked) smartphone and get a lower monthly fee, or alternatively, buy a subsidized version of the same phone and have a higher monthly fee. This is exactly the way that subsidies provided by cellular carriers should be handled, but that is not the case with the major three US cellular carriers: Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint.

So, what do I do now? Paying AT&T the same exorbitant monthly fee while using my old iPhones 4S does not make much sense. I am satisfied with the service that I receive from AT&T, and I’m not planning to switch to any other major carrier, so I don’t really care about being locked into a contract for another two years? Why not just get new iPhones and sell mine on eBay for about $450 each? It would actually pay for the new iPhones, and I will continue paying the same monthly service fee.

The answer to this question is as follows. When you get a subsidized phone from a US cellular carrier, the phone comes locked. Actually, it’s not that simple – if you buy a Verizon iPhone 5S or 5C, the GSM hardware in the iPhone is unlocked, but the CDMA hardware (the system used by Verizon) is locked to Verizon. Therefore, you can actually get an AT&T (or T-Mobile) SIM card that has a plan associated with it, stick it in a Verizon iPhone, and get service on AT&T (or T-Mobile). Unfortunately, iPhones purchased from (and subsidized by) AT&T are locked, so you can’t use an AT&T iPhone 5S or 5C on T-Mobile. This is not so bad if you are satisfied with the AT&T service and never travel overseas, but if you do travel, then you will have to roam on your AT&T phone in a foreign country, which will cost you a fortune. There are two ways to avoid this: wait for your two-year contract to complete and then ask AT&T to unlock your iPhone, or jailbreak your iPhone and use a jailbroken app to unlock it. The latter option is not yet available for iPhone 5S or 5C (at the time of this writing), and so if I sell my iPhones 4S and get iPhones 5S or 5C, I will seriously affect my ability to use my iPhones abroad.

What other options do I have to keep my existing iPhones 4S but not have to pay exorbitant monthly fees to AT&T? I could try a pre-paid plan with some no-name reseller, but all the reviews I have read so far left me with an impression that the service I would receive from a pre-paid reseller would not be worth the savings. I do want to save on my monthly cellular bill, but I’m not prepared to receive substandard service in return.

There is one interesting option that I am currently trying out. The gist of this is to get a data-only plan (or a data plan with a low monthly allotment of voice minutes) and use a VoIP service over data, which is similar to what Americans have been doing for close to a decade now with Vonage and other VoIP offerings (including ones from TV cable operators). In fact, it is possible to create a plan that will allow you to have one account that covers your home number and several mobile numbers on the same plan. You can even get free minutes on all inbound calls to any of those numbers, and then buy one pool of outgoing minutes (including unlimited outgoing minutes for $20/month) to be shared among all numbers on the account – you home number, and your mobile numbers.

What you will need to do is:

1. Get a data-only plan. AT&T has one for tablets at $30/month for 3GB of data. T-Mobile has one for smartphones at $30/month for 5GB of data and 100 voice minutes.

2. Get a VoIP account at one of the companies that allow to bring your own device. You can try Callcentric or a similar VoIP provider.

3. Create several “extensions” on your account, and register each “extension” to the phone number that you can either obtain from this VoIP provider or port to this VoIP provider.

4. Purchase a VoIP app. Groundwire by Acrobits is a good choice.

5. Spent a few hours on setting everything up. If you are technically inclined and understand VoIP and SIP, you can get yourself a setup that allows you to make and receive unlimited calls on your home phone and your mobile phones.

Your investments into creating such a setup will run about $25-$75 to pay setup fees and purchase the VoIP app. You can get your monthly bill covering two mobile phones (with large data allotments and unlimited voice minutes) and even a home phone with unlimited minutes for under $90/month.