I hit the puck so sweetly I felt the shot right through my forearms in a good way, and right across my ribcage. The puck fairly flew into the bottom right hand corner of the goal, Otto the goalie beaten pointless. And then I realised: the crack of my wooden hockey stick turned out to be a genuine crack of my wooden hockey stick.
This is why I’ve been walking around with my fists under my biceps all week, in case you were wondering. This is why my Play-Off Beard is unfeasibly bushy after only one round of the NHL Play-Offs.
I broke my first stick. It’s a big moment for a budding hockey star. Let me explain …
It all started on Good Friday. Three men. One Perth chick. A lot of ice.
Mack, Georgi Kay, Will and I take advantage of a public holiday to hit a “Try Hockey” session at the Icehouse.
There are only a few people on the Heinke Rink and Georgi – Perth’s hottest music sensation (yes, soak up that free gratuitous publicity, George – who, did I mention? is playing around Melbourne over the next week: see you there, hockey fans) – proved to be a decent skater, drawing on lots of inline experience. Mack, for a kid who hardly ever joins us on the ice, looks solid, wielding a stick for the first time. He later said he wants to sign up for Saturday morning Intro to Hockey sessions! Three Places on the ice? Too good to be true … we could have our own line in a team!
Over time, the session sorts itself out so that most of the newbies wear themselves out and leave the ice, while a bunch of hardcore hockey dawgs are at one end, enjoying an actual goalie in net, deflecting their shots. And a few of us are at the other goal, with the standard “fake” goalie – let’s call him Otto the auto-goalie for Flying High fans– protecting the net.
I’m practicing cross-overs and feeling pretty balanced, while also stick-handling to control the puck. And I’m working on really hitting my shots at goal. Until now I’ve only pushed at the puck. I can send a decent pass across the ice, stroked firmly, but haven’t really wound up on shots for goal until now. So I do, trying to balance on my right foot as I throw my weight and upper body into slapshots.
And towards the end of the session, I start getting it right. Send some cannons into the holes in the corner (still can’t lift the puck to aim above Otto’s shoulder) and then I really hammer one. Well, it feels like it. Big swing, puck flies, perfect aim. Goal. I’m strutting as much as is possible for a guy with dodgy balance on newly sharpened edges.
And then I go to get another puck and realise the bottom of my stick is swinging in a sickening way.
And I’m prouder than ever – I have just broken my first hockey stick, and while scoring a goal. I have become a hockey man.
Sure, it’s expensive, given it was an eighty buck stick (and I end up replacing it with a much better composite stick that costs three times that) but hey, it was worth it for the testosterone rush.
Tommy Powell, of Melbourne Ice and Australian fame, is well impressed when I skate back to the bench for a new stick – they hand them out for Try Hockey sessions, if you need one – and congratulates me on having reached such a milestone, asking what I plan to do with my souvenir – as in, the broken stick? It’s a good question. How much does it cost to frame a hockey stick? Does Ikea run to cheap and nasty frames measuring 180 cm in length?
This was all a forerunner to my return to Intro Hockey class, which was also a lot of fun. Strangely, it feels as though at least two-thirds of the class are repeaters like me so everything that Lliam and Army introduced was met with an air of: “Yeah, sure … swizzels? Let’s go”, but they had to explain them anyway for the true newbies.
I was enjoying the sheer sense of knowing what I was doing. Forward swizzels, for example, where you push off your inside edges and bring your legs around like a frog kick, practicing balance and edge control, took me weeks and weeks first time around – a whole couple of months ago. Now, I was able to just reel them off. Next!
I’m not too cocky though. My snowploughs weren’t in great form and I usually pride myself on them. And the bastard that is the pivot and other such horrors are to come.
Through all this my beloved Red Wings had sat on their bums, watching hockey on tellie. Detroit swept the first round of the play-offs against the Coyotes, becoming the only team to move into Round 2 on a 4-0 scoreline. Most of the other first round series went into a sixth or seventh game, so the Wings rested then practiced to keep sharp, as potential opponents beat the Hell out of each other and wore themselves out travelling across the country. My guy, Hank Zetterberg, was able to return to full practice, having recovered from a knee that saw him miss all four games against the Coyotes.
Now the question, as the Wings prepare to face the San Jose Sharks, is whether all that time off will leave them flat against battle-hardened opponents, or fresh and eager against tired skaters? The Sharks were a tough team for us throughout the regular season. But, hey, all games from here against any opponents are going to be knife-edge. My play-off beard might have a week or a month or more to keep getting all Wild Man of Borneo … who can say?
It’s already been a Play-Offs to remember … The Canucks only edged past the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, with an Overtime goal in the decider, Game Seven. And then Boston did the same, to sneak past the Montreal Canadiens.
By the way, there was a great article about Detroit’s Russian wonder, Pavel Datsyuk, in Sports llustrated. In raving about his sheer talent, it talked about his best trick being to sneak up behind an opponent who has the puck, gently lift the opponent’s stick an inch off the ice with his stick and steal the puck, without them realising he was even there. This is all at extremely high speed. Sometimes they go to pass or shoot the ghost of the puck and it’s only then they realise it’s long gone. All this after he arrived in 1997 as a scrawny kid who was spotted in Russian junior leagues while the Red Wings scout was there to see a more known, bigger, highly-rated kid. But couldn’t help but be amazed by this weedy genius of a teenager.
How can you not love Datsyuk?