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Two-thirds of the former Triplets Line, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat practice stick-handling.

Sometimes I wish my hockey writing sisterhood wasn’t a group of enablers.

When I posted on our private Facebook group on Monday night that I was contemplating driving an hour and 20 minutes to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s open practice on Tuesday morning, the ladies weren’t exactly going to be called for interference on that play.

Catherine Gayle was first to point out that maybe I was asking the wrong people for that kind of favor, a statement that six others quickly agreed to. I felt like John Scott asking if he should go to the NHL All-Star Game.

With those kind of friends…I mean, I did have a legitimate excuse of wanting to see an NHL practice. What better way to research for my current writing project.

I arrived at the Brandon Ice Forum a few minutes late the following morning and the Bolts were in the middle of running some type of power play drill. I attended Tampa Bay’s Development Camp in the past but this was something different. That was a day full of practices and scrimmages. Back in college, practice lasted at least a couple of hours. I discovered that day that an NHL session only runs a little over an hour on the ice. The players, though, go full on the entire time with a few opportunities to rest as the coaching staff instructs on the intricacies of the next complicated drill.

One thing I wanted to observe was how the players interacted, but that type of focus didn’t seem to allow for much brotherly rough housing or anything outside of asking for the puck on a drill. Once or twice they applauded a particularly brilliant play or goal.

Although with such complicated drills, I think I would need to concentrate, too. I’m not sure that the World of Warcraft includes so many crazy maneuvers. As far as I could tell, the Lightning worked on power plays, five-on-five and even three-on-three situations. The last drill was the most complicated. It seemed as though the players were switching lines mid-rush. I was dizzy watching.

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Head Coach Jon Cooper (standing, upper right) gathers the troops.

Practice ended with the usual fire circle. Instead of singing “Kumbaya” this one ended with a shootout twist. Fresh off a joint trip to the NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, where their Atlantic lost to the Pacific in the final, Captain Steven Stamkos scored top shelf, glove side on goalie Ben Bishop.

The players split up soon after, working on their own skills. One particular drill that I know I would have flunked after my recent failure at PNC Arena was the stick-handling obstacle course that Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Killorn and Brian Boyle conquered. I still don’t know how they knew which puck was theirs given that they used more pucks instead of cones.

More interesting than the practice itself was the player’s interaction with the few fans that had attended the practice. Leaving the ice, they stopped for autographing. One little girl had Ryan Callahan sign a puck he threw to her at a game last year and she received a fist bump from Killorn.

Brian Boyle Injury

Brian Boyle reassures a young fan by comparing pinky injuries.

My favorite moment was Boyle comparing war injuries with a young boy wearing a splint on his pinky. The kid had slammed the digit in a car door and Boyle offered his condolences, explaining that he’d broken his multiple times.

I think I walked away with plenty of insight so maybe peer pressure isn’t so bad after all.

(Please note that I will not be posting again until the week of February 14 because I will be cruising with Darth Vader in the Caribbean.)

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Okay, I believe I’m fully recovered from the craziness that was the Romance Writer’s of America Conference. Or at least enough that I can speak intelligently about what I learned from the whole experience.

In my pre-conference blog post, I talked about two goals I wanted to accomplish at the convention: networking and learning. Check and check.

As an RWA conference virgin, I wore a bright orange ribbon on the bottom of my badge that all but screamed “first timer”. Starting a conversation was easy with that, even at the book signings, with the most frequently asked question being whether or not I felt overwhelmed by the experience. Had it been my first national conference, I probably would have said yes, but I was at the 2011 RT Book Lover’s Convention. This was fairly tame compared to that madness.

Despite the fact that there were 2,000 attendees in Atlanta, I made so many connections with new and old friends. My online classmate Colleen Hampton and I bumped into each other at the conclusion of the orientation and spent a great majority of the weekend at the same seminars. So amazing to find a kindred spirit. (You can check out her blog here.)

Spirits were also the topic of conversation when I bumped into Cynthia Eden again. We were on a ghost tour together in St. Augustine during Old City, New Blood and we did some reminiscing about the blue orb that showed up on my camera. I also found Dianne Love – another fellow ghosthunter – at one of the publisher signings.

 Yes, I took advantage of as many of the publisher signings as I could without jeopardizing my learning experience and came away with over 60 books! Those signings also provided one-on-one time with my favorite authors. I spoke with Roni Loren about my crush on Jace and Andre from Melt Into You and discussed the merits of Cade and Garrick with Cora Carmack. I even briefly talked to the queen of romance herself – Nora Roberts – when she autographed a book for a co-worker.

Despite what you may think after hearing the collection of books I walked away with, I did attend as many workshops as I could and I appreciated that such a wide range of topics were covered – from craft to business to writer’s life. Among my favorite tips:

– Write each character’s backstory and use bits and pieces throughout the novel. (Susan Elizabeth Phillips).

-The stronger the antagonist. The stronger the protagonist. (Colleen Thompson)

-Make a soundtrack for your WIP and listen to it throughout your day to keep your book top of mind. (Ava Malone)

-Start chapter one, write the end then write the three turning points to keep momentum. (Erin Quinn)

-It’s the character who tells the story not the author. (Robin Perini)

-No one can lay on your computer and tell you to stop – except your cat. (Kathy Higgins)

 Of course, one thought that echoed throughout the weekend by authors and panelists alike was to write what you want to read. I think that is the most valuable advice I can took from the experience. 

Keep watch here in the coming weeks for my post on the New Adult discussion at RWA.