The puck, the Force and the lawWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
One of our kids’ favorite Toledo Mud Hens nights is “May The Fourth Be With You,” which combines baseball and “Star Wars” for a stellar night of fun at Fifth Third Field. The players wear special jerseys, there are “Star Wars”-themed concession items and music and clips from the films play throughout the game.
It was a smart leap to transfer the concept to the Nov. 2 Toledo Walleye game, and the inaugural Walleye “Star Wars Night” was a success on several levels.
In addition to celebrating Wookiees, Sith lords and nearly as many Stormtroopers as Toledo has policemen, the Stanley Cup was on display at Huntington Center. At a pregame reception, hockey fans had a chance to be photographed with the Cup; most fans touched it with religious deference; more than a few kissed it. During the reception, a Huntington Center employee dressed as Princess Leia in her white “A New Hope” dress walked around and greeted the kids.
If the Walleye are looking to capture dads’ attention, next year they might want to consider Leia’s gold bikini from “Return of the Jedi.”
Several immaculately costumed “Star Wars” characters were available for photos; scores of kids were in Jedi and Sith costumes, as were a smattering of grown-ups.
Before the game, Lord Vader drove Lord Stanley’s cup around the ice arena in a pickup truck that circled for the crowd. The teams took the ice in their special “Star Wars” jerseys, the hometown heroes dressed in X-Wing pilot orange and the Kalamazoo Wings in Darth Vader black. My son, 7-year-old Evan, dressed in a Vader cape and mask, and his second-grade pal Michael, dressed as Jedi Luke Skywalker, were revved up by the surroundings; even if they had just seen all the “Star Wars” goings-on, they would have been happy.
The hockey action was fast and furious and the scoreless first period flew by like a T-16 chasing a womp rat through Beggar’s Canyon. We took the boys for a bathroom break and while we were making our way back, we were stopped by two Huntington Center employees. They asked if we were interested in participating in a musical chairs contest on the ice between the second and third periods.
I assumed they were asking for the kids, but it was a beer promotion so it was required the players be 21 years of age or older. They said they were having a tough time finding adults dressed up as “Star Wars” characters, and though my only outward nod to the movies was a hooded jersey that looked like Boba Fett’s armor, it was good enough.
We arranged for the boys to get a quick peek at the locker room, and they were each given a puck used in the game, a frozen prize they treated like bars of solid gold; Evan clutched his like a magic talisman.
Between the second and third periods, when it was time for the musical chairs game, I walked down to the meeting place and sized up the competition: a Stormtrooper in a jersey like mine, a well-outfitted Han Solo and an impressively dressed Jedi. We were walked to the blue circle at center ice, with 7,000 people watching and cheering. My Fett hood was zipped up, but Evan knew it was me and I could see him jumping up and down in his seat. As I navigated the ice, which had not yet been under the Zamboni and was still choppy enough to offer traction for my sneakers, I harbored two thoughts: Don’t fall, and don’t lose in the first round.
The staff threw three large blue beanbag chairs in the circle, and the four of us spread out. “Cantina Band” started and we began hesitantly walking the circle. When the music stopped, I was close enough to a bean bag to make a short run and jump on it knees first, blocking the Stormtrooper.
Solo, the Jedi and I began round two. When the music stopped, I could see the Jedi was close to a bean bag but I had a shot at beating Solo. It was close, but I edged him out. I looked over and saw Evan wildly cheering and thought I might actually have a shot at winning. As we circled around the last bean bag, the Jedi and I warily listened for the music to stop. When it did, we both lunged. I thought I might win, but then I saw the Jedi make a hand motion to use the Force to pull the bean bag a foot or so in his direction. I landed on the bag just a fraction behind him; had I jumped full-throttle, I might have broken the Jedi’s ribs or unwittingly consummated our relationship. I shook his hand and walked off the ice.
The Walleye won 3-1, and we all set off for home, the kids tired but very happy. After dropping off our friends in Wash-tenaw County, we headed back south. As we passed through a small town, Evan groggily announced he needed to use a bathroom, so we pulled into a McDonald’s. When we were back at the car, I strapped him in his booster seat and kissed his forehead as his heavy eyelids began to close. I pulled onto the main drag, noted the 25 mph speed limit and started for home.
Within a block, a police car pulled onto the road behind me and followed me through town. Even though I was obeying the speed limit, having the police car tailing me made me nervous. I watched my speedometer, looked back at the officer in the rearview mirror and repeated the process as I approached the less lighted edge of town. Just as I did, the red-and-blue lights came on. Confused, I pulled over.
The officer approached my window and offered a greeting, which I replied to with utmost neutrality.
“You were driving without your headlights on. Are you distracted?” he asked.
I was distracted by watching him follow me for two miles, but I did not want to say that.
“No, sir,” I said.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
“At the hockey game in Toledo,” I said. “We’re heading home to Tecumseh.”
“That,” he said, sensing a lie and preparing to call Homeland Security, “means you should be coming from the other direction.”
“We had friends to drop off first,” I stammered, like I had been outwitted by Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes.
“Do any drinking tonight?” he asked.
“Just a $3.25 bottle of water,” I replied.
The officer was silent for a few beats, then said, “Got anything from the game just for my peace of mind?”
I knew I had no obligation to prove my statement, but I’m not Jay Z so I frantically tried to think if I had anything I could show him except a Labatt beer T-shirt, which was rolled up logo-side down on the seat beside me.
It was at that moment that Evan, whom I thought was sleeping, piped up.
“I have a game puck, Daddy,” he said, holding it up.
The officer shined his light on the puck, which for just a moment really did look like a magic talisman, and smiled.
“Put your lights on and have a good night, sir,” he said.
We drove home, Evan drifting back to sleep, his small hands gripping the magic puck.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at mmiller@toledo freepress.com.