I should probably briefly take the Wayback Machine, to explain how this all came about.
It starts with me sick as eight dogs, bedridden for a week, in mid-2008. Coughing, sneezing and channel-surfing Foxtel at the exact same time the Detroit Red Wings were contesting (and winning) the Stanley Cup, the NHL’s grand final series.
I’d never watched ice hockey before. Never taken much of an interest, beyond knowing vaguely from my sportswriter days that it was alleged to be the fastest-moving sport in the world; at least involving something like a ball, or a puck, being hit.
The Red Wings logo caught my eye immediately. Vivid bright red jersey with a winged wheel. Fantastic. I’d never seen such a strong, simple brilliant logo.
And the Wings were great. Chris Osgood was having a career-defining season as goalie. Future Hall of Famer Nick Lidstrom leading the defence. And Henrik (Hank) Zetterberg was totally blitzing. This Swede is on something like a 12-year, $60 million deal with the Wings. He’s one of their marquee players. Alternate captain and wearing number. 40. And I just instantly liked him; the way he took the other team on, scored goals regularly, got back to help with defence.
And suddenly I was barracking for this strange team in red from Detroit. And some Swede called ‘Zee’ or ‘Hank’.
Fast forward a while and I’m in New York and wander into an NHL franchise store. “Hey,” I ask the guy at the counter. “Do you have anything from that Detroit team? You know, the Flying Wheelers or whatever they’re called?”
He looks at me, down his nose. “The Red Wings?”
“Yeah, that’s them … (awkward silence. Somewhere a dog barks) … I’m from Australia.”
And so now I return home with a Red Wings T-shirt, and a year later, I’m staying in touch with the Wings (who lose the 2009 Stanley Cup to the Pittsburgh Penguins) but my son Will starts to take an interest and then, in a very Will way, gets far more interested than I am. And becomes close to obsessed.
Now we’re both decked out in Wings tees and caps. And then I get a Zetterberg jersey and Will is sporting a Darren Helm No 43 jersey. And Mack, my younger son, is in a Pavel Datsyuk No. 13, although personally I think he’s only in it for the fashion, not the hockey.
And now we’re back to the Present Day, as Hollywood scripts like to call it.
Will, just 18 and finally free of VCE, is fully into watching Melbourne’s very own ice hockey team, the imaginatively-titled Melbourne Ice, and is taking things a step further, learning to skate like a madman with ambitions to start actually playing hockey, instead of just watching.
I’m lurching from a broken relationship and wondering how I can throw myself out of my comfort zone; out of howling at the moon? On a whim, I perform a stand-up story at Rocket Clock, a storytelling slam and get an adrenalin rush.
I watch the Wings and think: man, it could be fun to play … if I could learn to skate.
I’ve skated precisely once, desperately clutching the wall of the Ringwood ice rink when I was about 10 years old.
I’ve always been crap at skateboarding, rollerblading, surfing – anything where things are moving under my feet.
I could get hurt.
I’m terrified just thinking about it.
It’s the middle of an Australian summer.
I sign up.
And here we are.