Man, it was all going so well, until The Pivot.
In fact, I wish this blog was audio so I could drop my voice a notch and say those words in a menacing, ominous tone. Do it for me: “The Pivot”.
I want this blog to tell it like it is, no prisoners, so I’ll confess to having a hard week, in my life and in my head and heart. I won’t go into details but I’ve had happier weeks. I did have a fun night seeing a band and True Grit (pretty good but not in my Coen Bros top 5), and had a weekend of respite and walking dogs and hanging out in country air. A missing Castlemaine chook miraculously turned up alive and my work is good so, you know, it’s not all bad…
But, on Tuesday evening, I was ready for some ice time. Will and I checked into the Icehouse and I found myself thinking about how battered I felt, and how unsure of myself I had been feeling on my skates – see last week’s blog about how I was sick of being crap.
And then it happened. I stepped onto the ice and somehow just felt right. The exact opposite of last week. The general rink wasn’t very crowded, so we had room to move, and suddenly I was flying. Stepping confidently, going faster than I ever had, with some kind of surety, and snow-ploughing for brakes, as required.
I even got so cocky I started trying swizzles (a bizarre edge-control and balancing manouevre, where you V your feet, push out with your legs then bring them back in, like the ice equivalent of breaststroke.) I can’t do it and fell over a couple of times but then started to actually occasionally land one. I rule the world.
Youth being youth, as I concentrated on this technical stuff, Will just tried to go as fast as he could, terrorising the beginners.
We went home and tuned into a recorded hi-def game from that day, where the Detroit Red Wings hung on to beat the New York Rangers at the Joe (Joe Louis Arena, Detroit’s home rink … Hockeytown!); Pavel Datsyuk back at last from a broken hand (his goal here; so much more fun with Russian commentary), and a 3-2 scoreline our way. Scrappy but sweet.
So skating life was rosy again, until Wednesday’s lesson.
Even that initially went well – after sympathizing with the guy who’d crashed last time, and ended up needing three stitches in his chin; our class’s first genuine hockey injury. I was skating okay, balanced, occasionally swizzling, falling gently when we tried backward swizzles. I was confused too because everybody else seemed fine with them, even those I would regard as slightly behind me on skates. Turns out a lot of our class come from an inline skating background and the movements are the same for backward skating and pivots.
Yes, which brings us to The Pivot.
In hockey, The Pivot is a crucial move. It is how you switch in one move from skating forward to backward, without losing momentum. In other words, you’re charging in one direction, chasing the puck and then play heads the other way and you’re immediately in defensive mode. Which means you need to skate backwards, and hopefully quickly.
In the NHL, is is something I have found astonishing. I recently watched one of the Red Wings’ lesser lights, Ruslan Salei, find himself one-out against an opposition breakaway. There’s an opponent with the puck, at full pace, charging down the ice, and Salei all alone, apart from Jimmy Howard in goal. Salei skated backwards as fast as the other guy was skating forward, calmly, effortlessly, stick balanced. At the crucial moment, the opponent tries to change direction, take the puck off to the left, and Salei neatly taps it with his stick, totally pickpockets him, and the moment is over. He’s now skating forward again, with the puck. A commentator on Tuesday, in the Rangers game, called a similar defensive steal “a nice magic wand defence.”
When you see it, it’s fantastic.
I’m no Salei.
And so Lliam, our instructor, effortlessly showed us pivots, and then everybody started going forward to back, back to forward, with maybe the occasional wobble, and I ate so much ice, trying and failing, that I thought I might crack the surface. Landed hard, and often, but had a crack, dammnit. All you can do.
One issue we’re going to have is that there’s no way to practice stuff like pivots in full protective hockey gear outside of class. I badly need to spend time on this, and padded so it doesn’t matter when I crash.
But the only options are to skate in general sessions, where they frown on us wearing our full kit, or at stick-and-puck hockey sessions, where pucks a flying and much better players are practicing. I’m not sure you can suit up and then crash, crash, crash in the middle of an actual hockey session. I might write to the Icehouse about it.
The session finished with a relay, individually pushing a hockey goal down the ice. I went okay, had fun. Good session. And then caught up with friends at RocketClock, the storytelling slam I went in last time. A couple of magic crowd mates had a crack; one – Australia’s Honest Conman, Nicholas J Johnson – even won.
Life is never boring.