Puck me into my happy place*

(* with apologies to the excellent song, ‘Rabbit F***ers’, from the brilliant Smoke & Mirrors cabaret show)

NIck Place, hockey, stick

Nicko, starting out right-handed

Empty ice.

Unheard of. A mirage. One of the greatest things I’ve seen since an empty surf break years ago.

When I was a kid (well, a teenager), I was into surfing in a bigger way than now, where I’m many years older and remain crap at it. Back then, as with many things, surfing had endless potential.

In those days, I surfed a lot with the Glasson boys, Andy and Rich. We called ourselves the Dip-Out Brothers, although that had more to do with our success, or lack thereof, in nightclubs with the opposite sex than it did surfing. But I digress. Already.

At dawn, you could find us, sleep in our eyes but in the car, Radio Birdman blaring, heading to a west coast break, hungry eyes taking in the lines on the ocean; the angle and size, as well as the wind direction and where the tide was at. Educated surfer eyes, blinking into the day, adrenalin starting to pump before we even hit the beach car park.

And every now and then, you would find it, usually in mid-winter when less insane people were still in warm beds: an empty break. A reef with waves peeling, and not a soul surfing it. This was Heaven, and would usually last about 10 minutes before other cars appeared, like wild dogs scenting blood. And you’d sigh and try to catch one more wave before the crowd paddled out.

Today I had the ice hockey equivalent of that empty surf break.

I’ve written before about the crazy crowds that pack a Sunday general session, and how annoyingly popular skating is becoming in Melbourne. Today, I found empty ice.

I need to say that, at the start of the day, I had nothing but good intentions, as far as Professional Company Director Nicko goes. I had a meeting all lined up at the Seven Network, to go through their news archive for a doco I’m directing. My hockey partner in crime, Will, being, um, between engagements, had nothing on his mind other than to take advantage of a 10.30-2.30 free pond hockey session being run at the Icehouse for Facebook-savvy hockey players. The Icehouse isn’t far from Seven’s HQ. I could park at the Icehouse, and walk to Seven. Then walk back. Maybe in time for the final hour of pond hockey, as my lunch break, if I had my act together.

See, it was a genuine and reasonable plan.

Until my phone rang as I was literally killing the engine in the Icehouse carpark, and it was Seven, saying the archive thing wasn’t happening after all.

And until Will explained he needed my iPhone to show the front desk that he was checked in on Facebook at the Icehouse, for the free session.

Which meant I had to walk in with him.

And meant I had to say hi to Will’s mate, and my other partner in hockey, Jack, who was just arriving.

And we wandered in and there it was. An empty ice hockey rink. Home of the Melbourne Ice team. About to be home to a world championships. Home to our Wednesday classes.

And completely empty. And recently cut by the Zamboni so that the ice was virgin.

Just waiting. Calling me.

Will and Jack, putting on their skates.

Will showing how it's done

And you know what happened next. Sometimes in life, to Hell with the consequences, you just have to ride your luck. Feel free to get the T-shirt made that says that. The stolen afternoon with a lover. The unexpected chance to see a band you love instead of getting an early night. The extra day at the beach, instead of fulfilling commitments back in the real world

These are the moments I say you rarely regret. In fact, I pretty much never do.

These are the moments you smile about later.

And so it was today.

By 10.30, I was not at the Seven Network or dutifully travelling to my office; I was wearing a Medicine Hat Tigers jersey and full hockey kit and skating like a maniac, with only Will and Jack for company (and a couple of other guys after a while).

And, for the first time ever, I was holding a hockey stick, and chasing a puck.

Jack and Nicko face-off

This was no small thing. All these weeks of skating, without actually handling a stick (OK, OK, step back, away from the computer, and get all the “handling a stick” jokes out of your system now, so we can all move on. You done? OK …)

In fact, handling a stick was more of an issue for me than most because there had been, umm, an incident in the pro shop a few weeks ago.

Will was buying a stick and so I tagged along, feeling the weight of the different sticks, and the length of them (step away again if you need to), and I realised I had no idea if I was left or right-handed as a hockey player. I was stupid enough to say this out loud, at which point the entire pro shop stopped (cut to guy playing piano in the corner, suddenly freezing) and stared at me. Even the ever-polite Melbourne Ice players who work behind the counter were looking something between skeptical and straight out amused. And clearly laughing at me, not with me.

My statement wasn’t actually as ridiculous as it sounded. I am generally right-handed and left-footed (thinking footy here). But I throw a Frisbee left-handed (can’t do it right-handed for shit), and am crap kicking a footy right-foot, although I do other things leading with my right foot. I can play tennis, eight ball and darts with either hand, although better with my right because I’ve practiced more, and so on …

Today, I hit the ice armed with one of Will and jack’s old sticks, a battered right-hander, and was predictably clumsy. I’ve always had decent hand-eye so I was reasonably pleased with my opening efforts; kind of almost controlling the puck, getting used to skating and using the stick – hockey stance, where you’re low, knees bent, finally making total sense.

I had a few shots at goal but missed every one, but hey, this was my first attempt.

But then I thought I may as well explore the options and asked Shona, who was overseeing the session, if she had a left-handed stick. The same skeptical look as I explained it, but she went and got one.

nick place

Nicko, the leftie. Much better.

And within minutes I’d slammed home four goals. And was handling the puck more easily (still crap, of course, but less so).

Shona explained that in an ideal world, hockey players who are right-handed in life, do play left-handed, but most don’t – especially in Australia for some reason.

So there it was. I’m a leftie at hockey. And that’s perfect world.

As my world was today, after two and a half hours of blissful stick-and-puck hockey. So much fun, even if I ate a lot of ice, over-reaching, forgetting where my feet were as I concentrated on stick-work, or just plain got tired, messed up and crashed. I definitely shouldn’t have had such a physically demanding weekend, including that eight kilometre run yesterday … my legs tonight are trashed.

But the rest of me is pumped.

(Oh, and yes, I did spend the afternoon getting some work done. Honestly.)

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