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.)
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.)