The final night of pre-hockey school skating school was intense. I’d had a strange day too, fighting a nameless melancholy, feeling physically drained, so this was the first skate session I’d half-heartedly turned up for, not really in the right place.
Suffice to say, the ice and I got close and personal more than once. Which got my blood going and shook off the lethargy, fast. Plus, I was in my complete hockey kit, so falling was no big deal. As against one skater who turned up in shorts and no padding on his knees or elbows. He went straight over backwards, smacking his back, and helmeted head, a few times. Nasty.
But that’s the point of these classes. You should hit the deck. otherwise you’re not leaving your comfort zone. Even Jack, who is two months and about a thousand on-ice hours ahead of me, crashed a few times, working on correct technique instead of just free-range skating where he’s now awesome.
Given it was the fourth and last week, our instructor (and Melbourne Ice captain) Lliam Webster (pictured) had really stepped things up. Had us standing on one skate, skating forward, while crouching and putting the other skate out in front of our body. Had us getting down on our haunches while skating so our bums were dragging the ice, then standing again. Lots of tough balance stuff. Then skating backwards practice, pushing off just one leg, which requires a strong anchor leg.
Of course, when I say he “had us doing” this … that’s not strictly true. Maybe about a dozen at the elite end of the 30 pupils were more or less pulling off some version of what was required. The rest of us were eating snow. It was fun watching people who have appeared flawless (why are you even doing this beginner course?) finally get pushed into skating they couldn’t handle. Everybody was in good spirits; falls are part of this world.
Having said that, one poor bastard, Lachlan, had just joined the class for his first lesson and was simply overwhelmed. I skated over and pointed out that I was him two weeks ago, having missed the first lesson. He had seen me fall several times already and asked if I was okay. Now he looked me up and down, the Michelin Man in all my padded gear (post to come, concentrating on what you wear) and asked if I had bought all my kit? I said yes.”That’s the point,” I explained. “I know I’m going to hit the ice, and hard. So I’m wearing all the padding I can.”
I was gently encouraged when Lliam looked at the guy in shorts, who had landed hard, and said: “Dude, don’t wear shorts when you’re skating. It’s just going to hurt.”
I was also more than gently encouraged during an early drill where we hung laps and the instructors blew a whistle for us to speed up, slow down or stop and go the other way. I’ve pretty much finally mastered the snow plough stop, which puts me tantalisingly close to the full two-foot hockey stop (to be explained later), and I loved this drill. I could skate faster than even a week ago, when the whistle blew. At the next whistle, I could snow plough gently to brake my speed and then cruise. At two whistles, which means turn, I was actually able to snow plough hard, stop, turn. Go. Me … doing this. Under my face grill, I was grinning like an idiot about stuff that Jack and Will were probably yawning about, it was so 2010.
We finished our four week course with a race. In a group of seven skaters, we had to push a hockey goal the length of the ice, turn it and come back, handing over to a second group of seven in a relay. Two teams. I should point out here that there were about five women in the group of 30. Lots of youth. Male youth. Testosterone. I was in the first group for our team and figured out immediately what was required. As the others pushed hard, powering the goal like this was an Olympic gold medal event, I just kept my skates straight and surfed along, like a water-skier holding the goal frame.
Which worked perfectly until the turn. It was my right skate that didn’t keep up and suddenly my helmet was smacking off the ice like I’d been body-slammed by Hulk Hogan. Strangely, it barely hurt. And I had to scramble to catch up and rejoin the team, who were steaming that I was the one who’d lost it. Not that it mattered. Our second team of seven included a bunch of the skaters who, like me, were genuine beginners. So we lost.
Our punishment? Two laps of the ice. The testosterone crew, muttering, set off to set ice-speed records. I skated happily in their wake, enjoying some final ice time with space and air (no public crowds like in the everyday sessions) to just enjoy how far I’ve come; that I can now skate a lap of the Melbourne Ice rink without any real fear of falling, even at a decent pace.
Will and I headed home, hooked up with Mack, and celebrated graduating from the Beginner Course by watching Mystery. Alaska, a hockey-based film starring a younger Russell Crowe and Burt Reynolds. It’s a pretty good film.
Next week, we start the 12 week hockey school: six weeks of learning some more how to actually skate like a hockey player. Then we get sticks. And pucks. Bring it!