Picture the largest vaccuum cleaner in the world. As big as a truck. Now double its size and give it the suction pull of a jet engine. Times 10.
That’s how badly I sucked at hockey last night.
Am I being harsh? Probably. We’re usually our worst critics (well, unless you’re Rebecca Black, the “Friday” chick) but I didn’t play well. Couldn’t get near the puck for most of it, had trouble snow-ploughing under pressure when the boards loomed fast, and screwed up my only two potentially great moments: a clear-ice breakaway (above) where I got mown down by a better skater, and an all-alone open goalface where I couldn’t control a bouncing puck when it mattered. I also managed to skate offside repeatedly. Sigh. (Helpfully, Will showed up while I was on the bench, late in the game, and quoted The Simpsons at me: “There comes a time in every son’s life when he realises he’s better than his father …” (For Bart, this happened when he was three.) Will is even better at sledging, or “verbal disintegration”, as the cricketers call it, than he is at hockey. Don’t get me wrong: I’m proud.)
The good news is that even a terrible game of ice hockey, a howler like last night, is about 100 times more fun than most activities you can do on a Wednesday night. Even while sucking, I felt very alive.
I’d been pumped. As I arrived, I wandered over and saw the figure skaters doing their end-of-course presentation. One girl twirling and whirling and accepting the wild applause of her classmates and family. Then Will’s Intermediate class played their game, Will scored twice (playing Like A Boss! – Smartarse: watch it here) and everybody was blitzing. And my friend Renee turned up with home-baked “ninjabread men” as a pre-game snack, which had coach Lliam whooping and made me wonder if this should be among the world’s top three inventions ever: gingerbread men shaped like ninjas. How could that be bettered? So life was good and I was thinking: Let me out on that ice! Yeah!
And then it went to hell. There are excuses, mainly a painful one. I sort of hurt my shoulder a few weeks ago and last night’s first crash of the night, in my opening shift, finished it off. I’d love to say it’s a tough guy injury, damaged while playing hockey, or wrestling a shark or beating up bikies or something, but in fact it’s a snoring injury. I was sleeping in youth hostel-style bunk bed accommodation at the Queenscliff Dive Centre and a guy was snoring badly in my room, which was also claustrophobic and hot. I trudged off to the common room, attempted to sleep on a couch and woke up with muscles behind my left shoulder blade complaining loudly. It hasn’t gone away, no matter how hard I’ve tried to work it at the gym. One hit last night, which was a good collision – I fully “boarded” a guy – and it went. Then, second shift, I got planted into the bench and my left arm and shoulder took it again. I haven’t felt pain like that for a while.
To the point that I thought I’d have to sit out the game, but then I pulled myself together and thought: “You’re a hockey player. Go play hockey.” And I did. The shoulder, once warmed up, held up mostly. Today? Well, it looks like medical expenses are about to begin.
Around all this, I did manage to do some good things. I had some classic crashes into other players, sometimes even intentionally. One that was accidental was a three-way high-speed crash involving me, Renee (playing on the other team) and some guy I didn’t even see. I landed spectacularly but let the armour take it, mercifully not on my left side. Lliam Webster, hard man of the Melbourne Ice, leaned over happily and said: “You’re a fucking bully …”, which I took as a compliment.
“What?” I replied. “You can’t kill people in hockey any more?”
“Good fall by the way.”
I did have the decency to check that Renee was alive. She was and continued playing well.
So as everybody else skated like a dream, handled the puck like a pro, scored goals, laughed and shone, my second ever game wasn’t very memorable. I guess it’s going to happen. I’m still new. Dusty Martin and Trent Cotchin were quiet for my Tigers last weekend … But they’re puppies and get to play more than one game every 10 weeks.
I think I was also carrying unhelpful expectations, having played once before, an entire Intro class ago. You know that nasty second run of a new running campaign, when you think you should be better for the first gallop? That second or third surf or round of golf back from a break when you reckon by now you should be sharp again? Often the shocker. Last night, I expected I’d be a lot better, I thought I’d kick 10-weeks-ago-Nicko’s arse. Instead I suspect I was worse.
Which leads, do not pass Go, to the demons. What am I doing? I’m too old for this shit, as Danny Glover would have said if he was playing hockey in Lethal Weapon. Why do I keep taking on ridiculous challenges and aiming way outside the norm, hockey being symbolic of life? It’s nuts. I get hurt. Head. Heart. Body. I risk too much.
Then again …
The highs can be pretty fucking high and I definitely do feel alive. My left shoulder is telling me that even as I type. On Saturday, I fly to a northern beach. I won’t skate for a week. I’ll lick wounds and convince myself that this nutso hockey campaign can be done. Or, shit, maybe it can’t. Does whether I succeed even matter? I know I’m only a dumb hockey player so shouldn’t attempt philosophy and stuff and that and things, but when I lie on my death bed (which could be a lot sooner than later if I take many more shots like last night) I just want to know that I had a crack. That I took bites out of my time here. All the failures can sit proudly beside the wins.
Hard to know yet where hockey will sit in that pile.
But that’s the adventure. Over to you, Journey.