Judgement Day

The verdict: hockey school grades are in ...

I knew what was coming, before I had done the walk of shame along the corridor, past the smelly rental gear.

“We’re recommending you repeat the Intro course,” said Army, perched behind a card table.

“But, but – what about my blog?” I stammered. “How can I keep this thing interesting if I don’t proceed to Intermediate, you bastards?”

“We’re sorry. This is hockey,” said Michael.

“What about Will?”

“He’s going to Intermediate.”

“So now you’re breaking up my relationship with my son. Goddamn it,” I snarled, dropping my gloves and shaping up to them both. Time for a Gordon Howe Hattrick.

… OK, that’s not quite how it went down. Actually, I turned up for last night’s class, after a fortnight’s break, knowing we were going to be handed letters recommending we either repeat the course, or move up to the next level, depending on our skating proficiency.

It hadn’t seriously occurred to me that I wouldn’t have to repeat, even before I found out that we were being specifically tested on our skating tonight. After spending the fortnight fighting sickness, doing intense scuba diving, hanging out with friends from interstate and overseas, such as the renowned northern skater Hotcakes Gillespie, doing some boxing training, trying to entertain a 16-year-old Thai exchange student, remain on first-name terms with my neglected pooch, oh, and that full-time work thing, I hadn’t exactly been tuned into preparing for the test.

I’d managed exactly one skate, on Sunday, but the usual Sunday arvo carnage session was every bit as horrific as usual; in fact, maybe more so. I only lasted about 15 minutes on the ice before I had to give it up. Yes, I was skating laps confidently, with only hockey gloves for protection – looking ultra-cool in a Swiss Mammut peaked-beanie to hold my brains in if things went wrong. I had my legs, no problem. Bring on Wednesday.

And then on Wednesday, as in last night, when I needed to be good, I was crap. Well, actually, I did okay in the test – apart from a rookie error, which was to be at what I thought was the tail end of the line, but turned out to be the front. I led off, which meant Melbourne Ice player and our assistant coach Matt “Army” Armstrong was watching me like a hawk through the whole thing; watching every snow-plough stop, watching my hesitant crossovers, watching my wobbly but improving backward skating, watching my lurching pivot and my final stop.

For me, it was a pretty good effort. But I knew he wasn’t about to be impressed enough to suggest I leap into the Intermediate classes, where players can actually skate, and move fast, and turn, and handle a stick at the same time, and therefore start to concentrate on the game of hockey, and teamwork and other things where my still P-plate skating would leave me in their dust.

I had tried some orthodics in my skates and they were killing me so I jumped the barrier and sat on the bench, taking off my skates to remove them. “I thought you must have done so badly in the test they’d ordered you off the ice,” Will said helpfully afterwards. I was most impressed I didn’t fall as I came back on, swinging my skated feet back over the fence and landing on the ice; the first time I’ve tried a standard change-of-shift move.

I watched Will’s test and he did really well, so into Intermediate he goes, which sucks, because doing this together every Wednesday has been fantastic; one of the main reasons for the adventure. He started making noises like he might repeat with me anyway, to improve his skating voluntarily, which was above and beyond loyal. I took a deep breath, set my jaw and said: “No, Will, you can’t let me hold you back from your destiny. The list of things I’m better at than you is getting shorter but that’s life. You must move forward.”

“Okay,” he said a little too quickly and with a suspicious hint of pure relief.  By this stage, we were at our new local pool table, at Palookaville on Brunswick Street (the Tramway Hotel has been spruiced up to Yuppie-Grade and no longer has green felt, damn them), and my boy celebrated by taking the first game off me.  “The list gets shorter!” he crowed. Cocky bastard. I was forced to (just) beat him 2-1.

After our test, we had the rules of hockey explained to us for the first time, which was kind of funny in Week 9 of 10. We were all impatient to hit some pucks but it was good to have ‘icing’ explained – and how it’s different in the NHL, which is privately owned apparently and decided on its own rule, compared to all the other world leagues – as well as various penalties and hockey’s version of offside and even delayed offside.

Finally, we were skating, and passing, either charging down the ice, looking to pass to another player without them skating offside as they waited for the pass, or passing to a player and then peeling off to look for that pass. I was suddenly nothing but a fumbling idiot, despite a couple of goals at the end of the drill; one from a tough angle. My legs were everywhere and I even actually fell at one stage, trying to dig a puck out from my feet with my stick. Turns out that doesn’t work at speed.

The longer we went, the more unco I was. I need to put in more sessions between classes; especially as we have another fortnight’s break because of the World Championships, B-division, about to invade the Icehouse. Australia plays Mexico (yes, Mexico) on my birthday and we’ll be there. Tickets are selling fast if you want in.

And so I got my letter to stay down, to repeat; told Army and Michael I was fine with it and absolutely knew I needed to go again, to really try to pick my general skating skills up a level or two. I meant it too. I’ve come an amazing way in 12 weeks but I want to be a gun skater now, and I’d be demoralised in Intermediate, a point they’d made repeatedly while warning us not to take a request to repeat personally. (Apparently at the juniors class before ours, the “repeat” verdict had been greeted, umm, badly, with tears and wailing and self-flagellation. In contrast, I hardly cried at all and was adult and heroic.)

The Red Wings hear that Nicko failed to make Intermediate.

I walked back into the locker room and everybody looked up, wondering what the verdict was. “I’m going straight to the NHL!” I said, holding the paper aloft. “It turns out there was a third letter!”

Everybody laughed and knew the truth. One classmate, Amy, gave me a consolation choc chip cookie, which got me thinking about some, umm, space cookies in my freezer. That could be what I need, I thought, to help my fragile ego cope with the rejection, especially as I realised how many of the class had been given the thumbs up to move on from Intro.

No, screw you, ego. Down boy! Nicko, suck it up and learn to skate.

And so what does this mean for the blog? Who can tell? This was always going to be an adventure into the unknown, remember? I never said it wasn’t. Hopefully it will remain entertaining.

(And what does it mean for my hockey ambitions? Well, the Red Wings’ captain, Nik Lidstrom, just became the first 40-year-old ever to score 60 points in a season in the NHL, driving a thunderous shot home against the Blackhawks a couple of days ago. There’s time for me yet to make it to The Show.)

Let’s talk about violence.

Bob Probert (left) doing his fisticuff thing.

OK, we need to talk about violence.

Almost every time I mention hockey, non-hockey people have the same reaction: “Whoa, you’re going to be beating heads??? / getting your head punched in???”

The answer is, in the short term at least, no.

When I’m good enough – which could take months yet – I plan to play Rec Hockey, which equates to recreational leagues where the wild violence associated with hockey is somewhat frowned upon. In fact, there are mixed male/female leagues, so I’m assuming it’s considered bad form to bodyslam a chick into the boards, or drop gloves and helmets and go toe-to-toe. Then again, maybe I assume too much …

If you don’t know much about the hockey violence I’m discussing, either watch the pretty funny Paul Newman film, “Slap Shot”, which is frighteningly based on a true story and stars the actual hockey players it’s about, or crank up the volume for AC DC and watch this youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCZEMSsGWYU

It stars Bob Probert, one of the great (read: most habitual, vicious) fighters of NHL history – and yes, he was, at times, a Red Wing. You’ll notice that in NHL, unlike most civilised sports, the referees don’t do a thing while a fight is happening. You can knock helmets off, drop gloves, and KO a guy, knock him clean out, but nobody lifts a finger until somebody hits the ice. As soon as somebody’s horizontal, even if they slip, the refs jump in. Crazy, no?

The Red Wings even have a much-celebrated achievement called a Gordie Howe Hattrick, named after the greatest ever Wing. It means a modern-day Wing managed a goal, an assist and a fight, all in the one game. Nobody frowns. Everybody cheers.

So I’m a little conflicted about the violence in hockey. Truth is I’ve always had a secret, and occasionally not so secret, relationship with violence. I was a boxing writer for newspapers and magazines for years, and loved it. As a sports reporter, I covered Wimbledon and the French Open, AFL Grand Finals, all sorts of highlight events, but the boxing round was my favourite. (OK, covering the French Open might shade it, for sheer wow factor, but let’s move on, past the rows of French wine in the media canteen at Roland Garros, the simple fact of Paris (!) and French female ushers in designer clothes that fitted them very well. It was a long time ago.)

Boxing was full of such wild characters, many of whom – in these post-Melbourne gang war days – I now realize were criminals (for any of the hard-men, tough-guy criminals from boxing back-then reading this, I’m clearly not talking about you. You were great.) One trainer said to me, when I asked how his fighter, Tony “Mad Dog” Miller would go: “Tony’s gonna do to this guy what Marc Antony did to Cleopatra while Julius Caesar was out.” Gold. And between these dodgy types, these street-smart men leaning on the outside of the ropes, were super fit athletes facing genuine danger; somebody could get hurt. Fighters occasionally die. I watched and got to know these fighters who had to step alone into that ring, facing down genuine fear, finding courage, skill in a split second, mixing defence and attack, digging deep deep deep into reserves you and I don’t necessarily know if we have.

The glamour of the Fitzroy Stars: Scotty Brouwer spars with Jim Bakolias way back when.

I even trained for a while at the Fitzroy Stars Aboriginal youth club and gymnasium on Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, and still miss it. In fact, I might go back. I never planned to fight, obviously. Just wanted to keep fit and be among fighters. It was run by Jock Austin, and is now run by his daughter. Trainers there included Dana Goodsen, a former world heavyweight kickboxing contender (RIP) and it was the least racist place I’ve ever found. It was rightly assumed that if you chose to be there – even a white boy like me – surrounded by Kooris, Africans, Italian, Turks, you name it, then the chances were you probably didn’t have a problem with skin colour. I fucking loved the place.

Dana Goodsen in his prime. Greatly missed in the Melbourne boxing scene.

It was Dana, then in the corner of Lester Ellis and other locals, devoted to saving lost Koori youth in my hood, who taught me how to hit the bags, and used to make me laugh with his life lessons. This massive Hawaiian African-American showing me how to pose, where my left foot should be, how to swivel my knee on the hook as against the jab, where to hold my non-punching fist to protect the ear and jaw.

Me saying: “Heavy bags don’t hit back, Dana.”

Him saying, “Draw a line at your feet, Nicko. If they cross that line, you go to work!”

Me: “Nobody is crossing lines, Dana. I just want to hit bags for fitness.”

Dana, as though I hadn’t spoken: “Look, your hands are open and in front of you, hey, hey, we got no problem here, buddy … but you only have to close your fists and, shit, you actually already in your fighting stance. Your left is inches from their face and you got a jab. They don’t even know it til you go left-right, bam. You go to work. They cross that line, you’re ready.”

Me: “Nobody’s going to work, Dana.”

I think I have twice since found myself holding that pose, heart thumping, hands open but ready to close my fists if this prick takes one more step. Happily, the prick didn’t but thank you, Dana.

So I, for a brief time, covered murder scenes as a police roundsman. I covered boxing. I thrilled to the inherent violence of AFL. Still do. I’ve taken some hard, usually accidental shots to the head in my Sunday Footy adventure, The Bang!, and got a strange thrill from it; kind of liking the knowledge that I can still take a big shot and stand up. The hardest head shot I ever took was when I once almost KOed myself with a tree branch, collecting firewood in the Grampians (a whole other story; never said I was smart.)

And now I’m learning to play one of the most notoriously violent sports there is (recently a European cable network ran a series where hockey players would skate out in full playing kit, one-on-one, no sticks, to simply fight. The winner got something like 500 bucks.)

It’s a mystery. I don’t plan on going toe-to-toe with anybody – especially while I’m so unsteady on my skates.

But does the violence of my new sport bother me? No, not at all.

Yet I regard myself absolutely to be a pacifist.

Riddle me that.


(POSTSCRIPT: Just like the post, “Hockey Player v Car”, where I managed to hurt myself right after publishing that post about hockey players hurting themselves, today I went to my gym, a few hours after publishing this one and ended up having my most intense boxing session for a while. The major reason, in fact a deal-breaker reason, for being a member of the Artist Formerly Known As Hunt’s Gym (now Goodlife, Johnston St) is that it has a decent boxing set-up. A converted squash court with a floor-to-ceiling bag, two heavy bags, speedballs, etc. I usually take my gloves and try to whack the bags around, post-weights, as a warm-down/up before I leave. Today, one of the personal trainers, Ben, saw me arrive and said: “Want to do that boxing work we’ve been talking about?” I said sure, and he put me through 30 minutes or so of hitting the pads, kickboxing, punching combinations, bag work, the lot. Was awesome and sweet timing after everything I’d just written, above. Gonna be sore at hockey training tomorrow but hey ho. After my endless viral lurgy, was good for me to be pushed.)

Nicko. Now hockey-free since … last week.

Between the nasty virus (which I was wildly optimistic to have thought I’d beat inside of three days), to an intense scuba course, the small matter of work, the real world and other such inconveniences, I haven’t been on the ice since last Wednesday’s class.

It’s a shocking confession and actually feels strange; as in, for something like 12 weeks now, I’ve forced myself onto skates at least twice a week – often lately to genuinely skate – so the absence of quality Icehouse time has been noticed. Last night, when I normally would have been suited up and controlling pucks (well, trying to), I was in a sunny backyard 800 km north, holding a 10 month-old Half-French baby and listening to him laugh so hard he got hiccups as I poked my fingers at moths on a tree and they flew away. There goes “tough guy hockey player of the year”.

I drank straight single-malt whisky afterwards, to reclaim some tough guy ground. Then again, I do that most days, whether trying to be tough or not.

Mostly, since last week’s dream class, I’ve been crook, and busy. Stress & Rescue diving turned out to be pleasingly full-on. Try duck-diving three metres down, in a seven-mill wetsuit (think having large helium-filled balloons attached to you)  and no mask, searching increasingly desperately for an air-source regulator that you know has been tossed into the deep end of the pool. It’s challenging, trust me. The good news is that nobody “drowned” on my watch, but I did end the weekend with a shocking sunburn and skinned knuckles.

And this endless virus. And a mountain of Giants work. Hey ho.

Happily, while I’ve been temporarily dormant in my hockey adventure, the Detroit Red Wings haven’t.

With less than 10 games left until the play-offs, my team is in good shape, points-wise, but battling injuries and facing a bunch of top teams down the home stretch. The Wings had an entertaining win over the Washington Capitals, ending the Caps’ nine-game winning streak and seeing my boy, Hank Zetterberg, rediscover his goal-scoring with two. Then they fell 4-0 behind fierce rivals, Pittsburgh, as goalkeeper Jimmy Howard had a howler. Somehow the Wings got it back to 4-4 to force a shoot-out, which they lost, but snagged a point.

By far, the funniest moment of recent Wings’ play was painful for Patrick Eaves. Against the Predators a week or so ago, he stopped a hard shot with the unprotected inside thigh of his left leg. Nasty. So nasty he couldn’t use the leg. Which teammate Nik Kronwall pragmatically viewed as leaving the Wings’ defene one man down. So Kronwall used his stick to shove Eaves off the ice. See it here.

Next week, the big questions: Can I still skate after a week off? And should I grow a “play-off beard”?

Happiness is a lid that fits and a puck that flies.

I’ve got a very good friend who, during a bleak time I was enduring not so long ago, gave me some great advice. She said that at the end of each day, she writes down at least one cool/good/great thing that happened that day. It’s so easy to get lost in misery, to only think about the shit. She forced herself to recognise the glimmers of good and write them down, no matter how tenuous.

This post has the opposite problem: I had so much fun tonight, I’m struggling to think of anything negative at all.

Nice problem to have, huh?

It started when I marched into the Icehouse pro shop and demanded my face mask. I bought my helmet something like eight weeks ago, and the facemask has been on order ever since. This has been well annoying because it means I’ve had to wear a rental helmet, which never fit as well as your own carefully-chosen lid. In the photos Mack took of last week’s session, every second shot had me desperately trying to yank the rental helmet out of my eyes (see below).

Rental helmet issues ... now solved

But confronting the pro shop staff about this issue, no matter how much right was on my side, was tricky. I may have mentioned that team members from Melbourne Ice, our local Australian-League team, man the pro shop, so you have to think carefully about getting too huffy in there. Hockey players are known for being handy with their fists. Not a place to pick a fight, right? So today I picked my moment and waited until the guy behind the counter was the smallest on the staff (or, in the words of comedian Jon Bennett: “He’s not short, he’s just always in the distance.”) and a guy who isn’t training with or playing for the Ice because, as well as being a freakishly good hockey player, he plays in a band which is now going so well he’s touring and getting ready to record an album.

So anyway, I worked myself into a self-righteous frenzy, and being much bigger and assertive and all, I stormed in there and said: “Hey, um, sorry … I was just wondering if my facemask has arrived yet? … no biggie. you know. Whatever.”

And he took pity on me and gave me a perspex face mask that has been waiting for some woman’s helmet to arrive. (He also warned me that everybody would laugh at me because wearing a full-face plastic mask is “very European”, whatever that means. Nobody did … to my perspex face anyway.)

Anyway, I could care less: I am now an outside chance to come out of this nutso adventure with my teeth intact. So I walked out of there with a cool plastic full-face visor, ready to wear my own lid for hockey school at last.

And twinning it up with Will as we both wore our Medicine Hat Tigers jerseys on the same night for the first time (mine is the white Home jersey, he wears the black Away top) and nobody said a word. We’re accepted now as hockey players.

And then the ice time was simply awesome. Nothing but sticks and pucks tonight and yes, I missed a few shots and a few passes and a few puck traps, but hey, it’s second week with the little discs skipping across the ice. At one stage I was paired with Barbara, who sounds Canadian, and she kicked my arse at cross court passes. I had a nicer perspex face visor though, so I called it square.

We had a fun game where coaches Lliam,  Army and Shona put a basketball-sized blue rubber ball in the middle of the ice between two lines of players and we had to fire pucks at it, and trap the pucks coming from the other way. Good trapping and passing practice. Then at the end, we would fire a pass to somebody rounding a glove on the ice, so they could shoot at goal, then we’d take off, round the glove, accept a pass and have a shot. I was 2 for 2. Go, leftie! (Sure, I fell over celebrating my second goal, but who hasn’t done that?)

Too much fun.

Meanwhile, Lliam, esteemed captain of Melbourne Ice, our spiritual leader and somebody to look up to, while teaching us the finer points of puck control, quoted freely from the Mighty Ducks movie, and then Happy Gilmore – classic moment right here (for a bonus point: which NHL team does Gilmore barrack for? answer here … for a second bonus point, why doesn’t Sandler make films like that anymore? Why did he make so few good ones among the crocks? Sorry, I digress).

And now I’m at home, eating chicken and red pumpkin curry from Bala’s, drinking whisky and smiling. I may, just may, have fought off a nasty lurgy that was stalking me for the last few days too (touch wood). I hope I have. On the weekend, I’m due to attempt the prac part of a Stress & Rescue scuba course, where the instructor Paul cheerfully told us: “You pay us to torture you!”

The final assessment is where we sit on the beach, and watch a “stricken diver” disappear near the end of St Leonard’s Pier (a long jetty). That “stricken diver” is instructed to swim away from where they went under. We have to put our fins on, swim out there, go underwater, complete an underwater search, find the stricken diver, check that they are genuinely unconscious – as against not moving because they’re taking a photo or something – get their dead weight to the surface, get their weight-belt and other scuba gear off them, get ours off too, give them CPR in the water – very tricky apparently – and then swim them to shore, giving one CPR breathe on every eighth second. Then carry them onto the beach. If we screw up any single component of that – like, CPR on the ninth second, for example – they don’t tell us until we’re finished … and we have to do the whole thing again.(If you feel like being entertained, you could do worse than be at St Leonard’s pier on Sunday arvo. Seven or eight of us will be crying/wailing/despairing.)

And this is only the final thing. There’s an entire weekend of in-pool hands-on stress torture they won’t even tell us about before that.

No wonder I’m thinking of being a hockey player.

If there are no blog entries next week, it means I didn’t survive the weekend. Or, then again, to use one of my company Media Giants‘ favourite mottos: “Hey, what could go wrong?”


(Oh yeah, and I’m in Sydney next week and was bummed I was going to miss a class … turns out, there is no class. Am I on a roll, or what?)

Heads Up!

Nicko on an open-ice breakaway

Week 6 of 10 in Hockey School. Finally, we carry sticks onto the ice. For the last 15 minutes, we even got to hit pucks – practising cross-checking puck-control, or the faster breakaway-friendly open ice control, where you use the backhand of your stick’s curve to bunt the puck ahead of you as you fly, fast as you can, away from opponents. Fair to say, most NHL players would catch me pretty quickly.

Most of the lesson was skating theory and prac: including the backward crossover, which is challenging the Pivot for the title of “The Bastard That Is … ” I can kind of feel how the reverse crossover is meant to happen; that one day my legs might have muscle-memory to pull it off. But I can also see a long, ice-filled road ahead… then again, I never thought I’d be backward skating or doing the pivot, and both are now sort of in my skill set.

One thing we also learned was some hockey lingo, as the term: “Heads up!” comes into play once everybody is trying to skate backwards and crossover and not necessarily look where they’re going. Or watching a puck instead of where they’re going. I should have known something was up when the coaches were all in helmets for the first time, instead of Icehouse beanies.

Who? Me? ... Not guilty, Your Honour.

So “Heads up!” means just that. (See photo to the right for what happens if you don’t … actually, the camera lies. I didn’t kill anybody. Honest.)
We also did standard crossovers, Supermans, and pivots … Lliam, head coach, had fun whacking us with sticks if we were slow off the mark. We have padding, he has a stick … hard to argue, really.

In other news, I finally wore my prized Henrik Zetterberg jersey onto the ice (I hadn’t previously because I felt my dodgy skating was a travesty to Zee’s reputation, but now we have sticks? Why not?) and my teenage non-hockey-playing son, Mack, came along to take photos of sticks and pucks making their debut.

Rather than me write a thousand words, check the shots, if you feel so inclined.


Fun night. I’m looking forward to the next phase, where the pucks really start flying. Better remember to wear my protective box. And keep my head up.

Scenes from a hockey changing room

Men and women in together. Talk of the air show. One guy, ex military, telling stories.

Locker room banter, one-liners, as per any sport.

Giant hockey bags fill the floor.

Icehouse Changing Room 1.

Will and I try to find enough bench space for our gear as we slowly dismantle our armour (see previous post). Stuff our sweaty gear into our bags. Others are getting changed for an Adult Drop-In session. Which means they can skate, are probably part of teams.

Our Stick and Puck session was fun but kind of intimidating as we worked on our basic moves (yes, still wrestling with the bastard that is the pivot), while all around us. accomplished hockey players zoomed, shot, passed, flew.

Before hitting the ice though, there was one very disconcerting sight in the dressing room.

as per below:

Icehouse Changing Room 1: on the floor

And yes, the guy, a bit older than me, was out on the ice and yes, he was tearing it up, on a specially designed prosthetic with a hockey skate attached. As far as I could tell, it didn’t inconvenience him at all.

Meanwhile, in the NHL, my Red Wings managed to let go of a 4-1 lead in the third and final period against Phoenix (Detroit Free Press), eventually losing a shoot-out to be beaten 5-4. Sigh. Still in decent shape for the looming play-offs but need to finish games off, and learn how to win, not drift. Coach Mike Babcock wasn’t happy at all.

Elsewhere in the American media, debate rages over concussions within hockey. They’re up this year but the evidence suggests it’s not just fighting that causes them (New York Times); in fact, more come from in-play collisions (even ex-hockey fighters agree: New York Times again). The long-term effects aren’t good. What am I getting myself in for here?

Gearing up

(WARNING: partial nudity is included in this post)

Got your attention? The bad news is it’s only me partially nude in the following photos. Sorry in advance that you had to endure this.

But at least respect the humiliation I am prepared to suffer in order to bring you, dear reader, everything hockey … in this case, what you wear onto the ice. Which is a big (fun) part of the game. And expensive.

The short story: hockey gear is awesome. Lots of fun to wear, protects me from untold injuries and makes me feel like a super-hero. At least until I start skating in a very non-superhero type way.

The long story … Well, you start off like this: Carrying the world’s biggest bag into the Icehouse. Luckily, just about all the hockey gear is surprisingly light.


Hockey stuff = bulky.

Now, you strip …


Before suiting up ...

And yes, the shorts were for modesty. In fact, you wear compression fitted boxer undies with an incorporated box. Trust me, you don’t need to see that. Next up, you lose the street shorts for padded hockey shorts, which look ridiculous anywhere but on the ice, yet make up for their looks in usefulness. These shorts save your hips and thighs endlessly with strategic padding. Even your coccyx.


Hockey shorts ... always a fashion statement.

Next up, knees and shins. If you’re in correct hockey stance, you’ll mostly fall forward, onto your knees (which is a good thing: the alternative is straight backward, whacking your head, among other less-protected body parts).  Plus sticks and pucks are flying around mostly below the knees, so decent protection is a must.


Knees and shins protected? Check.

And finally – sorry, ladies – the chest and shoulders are covered. This is for collisions with other players. I only just bought this gear; while I’ve been learning to skate, pre-sticks, I didn’t need it (apart from one nasty crash from an accidental collision, mentioned in the first blog). But now we’re moving into stick-work, there are going to be more frequent collisions – even before we start bodyslamming one another into the walls. So armour becomes important.

Armour ... gridiron (or maybe Gladiators), eat your heart out.

And now the elbows … this protection has saved me over and over as I’ve learned to skate by trying and failing. I’m a writer: can’t afford a broken arm. Amen, elbow guards.

Elbow padding tag-teams with the body armour.

Getting closer now … socks cover the knee and shin guards (to make you less slippery, as you try to regain your feet, apart from anything else) and the jersey (in this case: Medicine Hat Tigers home jersey – a Canadian team maybe two levels below NHL, where Red Wings’ Darren Helm and Chris Osgood came from, and which a couple of the Melbourne Ice players played against). And skates. They help immensely on ice. Trust me.

Suited up, almost there.

The gloves deserve a picture of their own. They’re awesome. Very Mad Max. I’ve had one sprained wrist, when I landed flat on my palm; otherwise, they’ve worked.

A hockey glove in repose.

Hockey glove in repose, front view

And finally, helmet and stick. Ready to rumble. (If you were actually about to go on the ice, it would probably be a good idea to wear a face mask on the helmet – still waiting for mine to arrive, after six weeks of being on order at the Icehouse. Sigh – and to tuck your skate tongues behind the shin guards … oh, and to tie the laces on your skates. It’s the simple things that can make a difference.

Prepared for battle.

So, this all looks expensive, huh? Well, yeah, it is. You can do like Will and go to hockeymonkey.com, a US site where gear is SO much cheaper it would make you weep. But they won’t ship to Australia. Will had a friend in America receive his skates then mail them on. A few of my classmates, in the locker-room, have told me that UPS offers a diverted package service, so you can tell hockeymonkey to send kit to a US-based UPS depot and then UPS bring it to Melbourne.

All too hard. I went to the Icehouse pro shop and got pretty much everything there. For a start, I only wanted low to mid-range kit, while I got my eye in. I figure if I ever actually make it into a decent team, I’ll upgrade. Secondly, I wanted to try the stuff on, especially the skates – which were heat-moulded at the pro-shop to fit my foot. And thirdly, I like supporting the local hockey scene. It’s not like the Melbourne Ice team or the Icehouse is rolling in cash. (And, as signed-up hockey class members, we get a 10 per cent discount on all purchases.)

Once I’d worked out I was a leftie (see two blogs back), I got my stick at Bladeworks in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn. It’s mostly an inline skating and skateboard shop but has a small ice hockey section. (The guy behind the counter even turned out to be in the 8 pm hockey class, which follows my 6.45 pm class. In solidarity, he gave me a discount.)

My stick is strictly a practice stick, made of wood, as against a high-end space-age real stick. It’s fine for what I need right now, especially given I can’t smash the puck the way a real player would hope to, and only cost about $80. Even better, the curve on the stick (because sticks can have specific curves, with different angles) is the preferred curve of none of other than my Red Wings hero, Hank Zetterberg:

My Zetterberg stick.

So, all the above kit has cost upwards of a thousand bucks. Around that, anyway. I haven’t toted it up; just bought a piece here, a few bits there. The skates were $500-plus on their own – Will’s (one Bauer model below) cost only $US80 plus the whole shipping thing, on hockeymonkey. Sigh.

Most of the Wednesday class are in borrowed Icehouse kit (the entire 10 week course is less than $250, including all kit … bargain of the year) but it’s great to have your own gear – everything they say about the infamous hockey smell is true. You get waaay sweaty on the ice, and having to don rental gear already stunk up by somebody else doesn’t appeal to me at all. Then again, my house’s hallway is strewn with Will’s and my hockey gear being aired at least twice each week. Strangely, not many hot dates seem keen on hanging out at my place. Hmmm, related?

So that’s the gear. You too can look like an NHL star. Now all you have to do is learn to skate and swing a stick, while trying to avoid being KOed by the opposition. How hard could that be?

Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!

Hockey totally rocked tonight. For the first time, everybody had to wear the full kit. I even bought body armour, finally getting around like a gridiron player on skates, with giant shoulders. I’m going to do a full blog on the equipment in the next few days.

So there we all were, looking like a hockey team and grinning at one another. On the ice, we did some nasty balancing drills (we’d done these on my first class – see the earliest entries, and I had had no clue. Painful and frustrating … things like skating on one skate with your other foot out in front of you. Tonight, sort of did it … steady improvement; massive improvement from, what? Seven weeks ago).

We did backward skating, where Michael, one of the coaches, remarked that I had improved big time from last week, and pivots (nailed a couple), 360s (basically, two pivots, front to back, back to front, without stopping … I did a 720, which would mean I totally rock, except I didn’t mean it), and crossovers. I’m even starting to truly get crossovers. Not that I can do them; but I can see the day I will.They’re genuinely within reach. Exciting.

And so it was an awesome class. I’d had a crappy, emotional day, so it was SO good to hit the ice. Literally, as they had us doing “Supermans”, now everybody was in full gear. Supermans are where you skate hard and then throw yourself forward, sliding along the ice on your chest. Then have to get back to your feet as fast and as steadily as you can. So much fun.

And finally, to top the night, I had my very first hockey fight.

Sure, Mel (magic crowd member, see previous posts) comes up to maybe my mid-chest, but ask anybody who knows her and they can confirm she’s feisty. Fully padded, we found ourselves standing next to each other at the end of the lesson so what was I going to do? I hit her, hard, in the shoulder pad. She took it badly.

We started whacking into each other as everybody else cleared the ice and managed to make the fight last the entire length of the rink. “Surely it’s bad form to hit a girl in the chest, even if she’s wearing padding,” I said. Mel considered this for a fraction of a second and punched me hard in the helmet. I tried to skate away, but damn, she’s getting good and could keep up. So I snowploughed and hit her with a left hook to the face guard. Outraged, she let fly and it was on. Neither of us fell. We kept our gloves on, playing nice.

She finally got to the gate and steadied, to step back onto real land. I got her a good one, while she wasn’t paying attention. My straight left has always been a source of pride in the boxing gym.

An independent judge from the class gave the fight to her, which pissed me off. I disputed the decision. Mel said, simply: “Next week, we get sticks. Oh, and if I was you, Nicko. I’d be wearing a box.”

And so it begins.

Next week, sticks.