Pucks fly with a week to go

Nicko, mid-drill. Pic: Stavros.

Christmas came early to the Icehouse yesterday. Well, ok, not Christmas. That would be December 25, and it was only April 13, so it’s a ridiculous analogy.

What did happen is that our hockey coaches admitted they’d stuffed up the dates and this was only our second last week of training. Say, huh?

We’d all turned up, sad it was our final week, pumped for scrimmages (actual hockey game play) but found ourselves with an extra week. Coolness!

We instead spent the majority of the session on gameplay drills, which I actually love, so no complaints.

We did the off-side drill, where two skaters take off together, passing the puck. The one nearest the boards then keeps going, while the other peels off to the left. This is happening at both ends of the ice so you end up with a player skating hard along the boards from both ends, looking for those players peeling into the centre from the opposite end, right near the blue line nearest each goal. (Don’t worry: we get confused and we’re on the ice, watching it.)

It all ends up with the board-side player either passing to the peeling player, if they haven’t crossed the line and therefore are not offside. Or carrying the puck over the line and then passing towards goal.

Another drill was simple passing, with one player doing figure eights between two stationary players who alternate long passes to one another and shorter passes to the moving skater between them.

This drill was hilarious only in how many ways apparently intelligent skaters can screw it up. Before you get to errant passes spraying past sticks, or dodgy traps not capturing the pucks, you had the stationary players heading to the centre, or both doubling back to the same end or … it was chaos.

We also did our first one-on-one drill, where a defender had to skate backwards as a forward tried to get past them, to have a free run at the goal. Really tricky. As Michael, one of the coaches, pointed out, this drill emphasised how important backward skating is in hockey. Not many of us are genuinely good enough at backward skating to pull off the defender role flawlessly. Lots of defenders left flailing as the forward made one feint and then was home free.

Me? In a miracle, I was barely moving backwards at the moment I totally committed to stealing the puck off my opponent’s stick and somehow pulled it off. Wham! As a commentator recently called it in an NHL game: “A magic wand steal”.

Lliam was observing as I did it, pumped my fist and yelled “Kronwall!” (a slightly obscure Wings defender) and so he had a laugh … then gave us a lecture about the need to actually be moving backwards while defending. Sigh. Bloody world champions … think they know it all.

Finally, with about five minutes to go, we broke into light shirt and dark shirt teams and played our first game of hockey. I was a defender for the first shift of the whites (Medicine Hat Tigers home jersey) and got a couple of touches. I also had a stick hook my legs out from under me, at the same moment I got one of my touches, so that went well.

So much fun though. Another player went down much harder than me and, back on the bench, I said to our crew of whites: “Nice collision.”

“That was me,” admitted Morgan, not looking as sorry as he probably should have. “I cross-checked him … like, I totally cross-checked him.”

We all chuckled.

Will in flight. I love this pic. (Nice one, Photographer Stavros)

Hockey as a non-contact sport doesn’t really work.

Will was playing for the dark shirts in the second shift (Medicine Hat Tigers away jersey) and of course scored a goal. The term “Teenage Strut” really doesn’t cover the aftermath of that event. Ever supportive, I said in a stage whisper to our friend, Stavros, who’d come to watch and take pics: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you send a gentle pass to Will, completely unmarked and a metre out from goal, and he’ll sink it several times out of 10.”

Will grinned the f-you smug grin of a goal-scorer.

And so we reeled away from hockey, with the promise of another week of pure game play ahead, and raced into the city to see Simon Coronel’s “Manipulations” show of illusions and comedy (awesome show – part of the Comedy Festival. Go see it!). I had a gaggle of friends from different parts of my life there, so we had a few drinks then a bunch of us, including Simon and the magic crowd, went out to the Italian Waiter’s Club for dinner. Doesn’t get much better.

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