The biggest vaccuum cleaner in the world

Every hockey player's dream: clear ice between me and the puck, and the goal. (Photo: Will)

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.

Figure skating graduation night

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.

Getting physical, chasing the puck. (Me in red)

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.

A rare moment as Nicko genuinely passes the puck.

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.

Open goal, bouncing puck. Sigh.

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.

John Green says it right. (c/o Lee Valentine)

A magician, broken Bears, and Bill

A week in hockey …

1. Bill glides

A mid-week skate, not many people on the ice. A few figure skaters, as always, doing their thing.

Including Bill.

Bill is not young. But he’s out there often, twirling gently, doing smooth pivots, skating backward, now forward. Effortless.

As we watch Army drive the Zamboni around the rink (do those Ice guys ever get a day off?) I get talking to Bill who tells me he’s 85 years old. He’s been skating for 75 years. Suddenly me taking up this crazy ice-based sport in my 40s doesn’t seem as ridiculous (OK, still pretty ridiculous).

Bill says he’s skated at 30 or 40 rinks around Victoria during his time. These days he just figures (pun intended) that it’s a good way to keep a creaky body moving and he’s totally right. He moves well.

The Melbourne Glaciarium, where Bill started out.

I asked Bill where he first skated and his reply is immediate. “The Glaciarium … across the river from Flinders Street Station.” (I checked. Yes, he’s right. It looks like it would have been awesome. Another of those breathtakingly gorgeous Marvellous Melbourne buildings that got bulldozed.)

He also told me about the time they put three barges side-by-side on the Yarra and built an outdoor ice rink on top. Of course, Australian heat was a problem and the ice got loose around the edges.

“Anybody fall in?” I asked.

“Yep. Me,” Bill chuckled.

The Zamboni chugged off the rink, Army sweeping the excess snow off the surface and closing the garage door. We skated. Last I saw Bill, he was giving gentle tips to a family clinging desperately to the side wall. Showing them the sideways push.


2. A Sunday with the Bears

Great win to the Melbourne Ice on Sunday, following Saturday’s beating up of the Mustangs, with a thriller against the Sydney Bears. Even with Lliam out (crook), the Ice managed to prevail, coming back from 0-2 down at the end of the first period to steal a 3-2 win with two whole seconds on the clock. I kid you not.

Jason Baclig with some dazzling stick work found a gap that wasn’t there between the goalie’s right shoulder and the goal frame, from side-on. Zetterbergesque.

The Bears were disgusted. As the Ice players celebrated, the Bears threw sticks and gloves with venom into their bench (not where players were sitting). An ugly loss.

My favourite moment? Waiting for hot chips in the cafe and realising the third period had started. It looked awesome so I cranked up the iPhone video. From the Icehouse cafe, the view of the game is like this (and note the guy getting boarded 5 seconds in).

3. Just one more reason to love the Wings

Will discovered a kid called Tomas Jurco a year or so ago. We oohed and aahed and gasped at his moves. Will sagged a little when he realised this kid was one day older than him.

But amen, Wings. The NHL national talent draft happened over the weekend and guess who the Wings grabbed with their first selection, in early Round Two? Yep. The Magician.

How good? We can now unashamedly barrack for the freakiest skillset in the game, already talked about in the same breath as Datsyuk for circus-trick stick-handling. Welcome to Detroit, Tomas. Learn the words to “Don’t Stop Believin'”.

Can’t wait to see you in the winged wheel in two or three years, once you’ve bulked up and done your time at Grand Rapids.

4. And me?

Last class of Intro on Wednesday night, which means we play an actual game – the absolute. undisputed highlight of the first time around in Intro. It will be interesting to see how far I’ve come by repeating, the problem being a lot of my fellow skaters are also Repeaters, so they’ve got better too.

Jurco won’t lose sleep about my stick-handling, Bill’s skating skills are safe. But I plan to have fun.

Judgment Day comes early

Uh oh, I thought. Oh God, thought I.

There I was, rugged up, sitting next to my sister and her daughter, who had come along to see what all these icy shenanigans are about – and were freezing because it hadn’t occurred to them that at “The Icehouse”, sitting next to an ice rink, they might want to wear a few layers. But I digress…

We’re in the grandstand overlooking the home of the Melbourne Ice, the Henke Rink, and Will’s Intermediate class skates onto the smooth white surface as the Zamboni Ice Cat garage door closes.

As the skaters hang laps, warming up, Army and Lliam go into a huddle and then send the class down to one end of the ice and explain the first drill. But I spot immediately that it’s not a drill and feel my throat drying up.

Will brings snow, showing how to hockey stop like a Boss!, mid-Assessment.

Because, one by one, the skaters unmistakably start to go through the Assessment Routine, as performed (not very well) by me in Week Nine of Intro, first time around. Skate to the grandstand edge of the blue line. Stop facing the stand (left skate forward). Skate to the red line. Stop (right foot forward). Crossovers around the centre face-off circle, then stop facing the stand (left foot forward). Skate backward to the orange cone near the far goal and pivot, backward to forward, then curl around another cone in a tight left hander and stop near the stand (right foot forward). All while watched carefully by the coaches.

One of my Intro classmates, Frank, who had also arrived early, gave me a glance. I nodded grimly. Yep, only Week Eight but there it was. Judgment Day.

Of course, it goes without saying that I hadn’t been on the ice even once since last Wednesday’s class when I resolved I needed to practice hard. Had my kids’ film festival at ACMI (see Juxtaposed), intense scuba theory for a Deep, Nitrox and Wreck dive course I’m enduring, and general Life Stuff. No chance to even hang laps in a General Session, as I had totally planned to do. Hadn’t even been running, played footy or made it to the gym so I was feeling particularly creaky.

And now it was assessment.

I won’t bore you with it. It strangely went okay. I didn’t make any colossal errors, even if nobody watching would have mistaken me for an Ice team member in training. I skated forward. I stopped (snow plough, not a hockey stop, but whatever. I stopped.) I didn’t crash during the crossovers. I went backwards and pivoted (at the exact moment another student fell at the other end of the ice. I am nothing if not street smart, although I suspect Army spotted my sneaky early pivot, dammnit). My family crew, now watching from the warmth of the bar above, all cheered at the end and I gave them my best “Steve Holt” salute. Lliam shook his head sadly.

STEVE HOLT! (courtesy Renee)

I was mostly relaxed because I had already decided I was going up to Intermediate, whether I passed or not. I’d spoken to a guy in Intermediate the week before who fessed up that he’d done that. Been told he should repeat Intro but shrugged and signed for the more advanced course. He hadn’t died.

So that was my plan. Twice around in Intro would do. If I totally suck at Intermediate next term, to the point that I can record it as an Epic Fail, maybe that answers the question about whether I can be a hockey player?

When I got the Letter of Death at the end of the lesson, it read “Intermediate/Intro”, which means they think I’m borderline but I can decide which way to go. No vote needed. That’s close enough and so (thank you for your applause), I’m no longer an Intro standard hockey player, as of a couple of weeks from now.

I’ve even signed up for Intermediate on Wednesday nights (the 6.15 class, reunited – which rocks – with Will, who’s repeating!) and the same class on the Saturday, for extra ice time and concentrated training.

After assessment, we had a lot of fun. Supermans, some pivot drills and then lots of puck-handling and passing, which I was mostly all over, relief and happiness that assessment was done freeing up my skates.

All this and an awesome weekend of scuba diving at Queenscliff with my dive buddies Sam, Sabrina and Marie, and then the news that Nick Lidstrom finally announced he is not retiring, intending to anchor the Red Wings defence for his 20th year in the NHL. Life is good.

Canuck season in Bruins (see what I did there?)

Boston Glee Party (c/o

And so the NHL season is finished. The Boston Bruins somehow won the Stanley Cup, beating the Canucks in Vancouver and winning the Cup despite going to Game 7 in three rounds of the Play-Offs. Amazing.

Sudden-death Game 7 wasn’t even a nail-biter, with the Bruins wiping the locals, 4-0. The two goals late in the second period were killers. I still have no idea how the Vancouver goalie, Roberto Luongo, let the third goal find its way into the net.

It was Boston’s first win in 39 years, after failing in their previous five trips to the final round. The poor Canucks have never won the Cup and this was a heartbreaker. The estimated 100,000 Canucks fans gathered outside the stadium didn’t take the defeat well. Check this out straight after the game:

And well played, Sports Illustrated Online, which immediately came up with the headline: Boston Glee Party.

Meanwhile, here is the Cup presentation. Pay special attention to the hairstyle on the blond guy carrying the Cup onto the ice:


The Everfresh crew's Fitzroy masterpiece.

The Everfresh crew has long been among my favorite band of street artists. Maybe it’s because Phibs and co have frequented my Fitzroy hood for years, including the most ambitious and magnificent group artwork in the suburb, on the side wall of The Night Cat (pictured).

So it was a surprise to be walking to Little Big Shots, our kids’ film festival at ACMI in Fed Square on the weekend, and find the Everfresh crew had set up studio in a fishbowl gallery space attached to the Ian Potter gallery.

It was kind of nuts. Here was Phibs, Rone, maybe Makatron talking passionately to punters about their artwork, which was spread across the walls, from major pieces to a montage of influences and bite-sized arty chunks. A gallery security guard hovered, protecting the art.

And yet, directly across Flinders Street, a few metres west from Hosier Lane, a high rise car park features a bland, slightly grubby white wall and I couldn’t help but think that the Everfreshers would be arrested and fined thousands of dollars if they attempted to decorate that wall with their distinctive art.

This is a city where a kid can be fined $550 just for carrying a spray can, without any evidence that he or she intended to use it to spray a wall. A city where graffiti artists can face two years’ jail and a fine of up to $24,000, no matter how brilliant their creation. As The Age reported when laws were stiffened (2008): “Superintendent Sheridan said police did not make a distinction between artistic graffiti and other forms of graffiti, such as tagging, saying it all constituted vandalism and was therefore illegal.”

Yet here was Everfresh on Saturday, being feted by the establishment, while Melbourne Street Tours (highly recommended btw) quietly show off the remaining Banksys in town and tourism advertisements regularly feature the artwork of our lanes.

Makatron's giant fish. Smith St, Collingwood.

Melbourne has always been about juxtapositions, which I usually love (anti-graffiti laws excepted). The diversity and willingness of locals to wear more than one hat is one of the reasons I adore my city. On Saturday night, the celebrated northern skater, Hotcakes Gillespie, and I went along to a class at the Chez Regine bar, on one of my favorite subjects: whisky. It was a cracking hour: learning all about the malting process and peat and the island of Islay (pronounced Eye-lie) and Tasmanian whisky and American rye. We sampled some very fine and occasionally rare international whiskies and learned plenty. Alongside us were some guys in Hawthorn scarves, on their way to the Hawks-Cats game. I loved that in Melbourne you could attend a serious, intense whisky tutorial while en route to the MCG for the footy and nobody blinks.

It was that kind of week for me too. Mixing art and sport, hockey training and the gym with a fantastic Little Big Shots festival, loaded with great kids films and sold out sessions. It meant I haven’t skated much (so much for getting ready for Judgement Day), apart from Wednesday, which was, as previously mentioned, a solid if unremarkable session for me.

But sometimes you need to let creativity and art dominate. I’ve never understood Melburnians who sneer at our football culture, who write off the sport because of a few misbehaving knuckle-draggers who dominate tabloid headlines. To me, to truly live in this city, you need to embrace Melbourne’s sporting passion and artistic culture. You don’t have to barrack for a team; you just have to respect the passion running through the town. I would no sooner give up wandering the various galleries, give up Heide and the NGV and McCubbin, Mueck and Brack, than I would turn my back on being at the G among 60,000 people, stirring as one as Richmond builds off half-back, Deledio finding Dusty Martin who wheels around and now the Tiger forwards are scattering and we are all looking for Jack Riewoldt as he sets himself to fly.

Be Free.

Or than I would give up the crazy, insular but friendly world of Melbourne Ice and the wider Icehouse community, devoted to a northern hemisphere winter world in a city that can hit 40 degrees in summer.

Or than I would give up smiling as I walk along Smith Street, Collingwood, and see the latest, huge, colourful Makatron fish (took him two and a half hours early on a Sunday morning apparently … cops missed it. Hilarious) or greet the little Be Free card girl who is popping up around town.

So, long live Everfresh, as an accepted and loved part of my city! Let them paint that bland white car park wall without fear of arrest. Then let’s all cross the road to see Little Big Shots or the looming Animation Festival. Then let’s all go to the footy. Then let’s go hit some pucks.

Which is mightier out of the pen and the sword? Who cares. We don’t have to choose. Carry your sketchpad and your hockey stick, your Sherrin and your novel draft. This is Melbourne.

Bones can break.

"Hi everybody ..."

Here’s a Life Tip for free, from me to you: Don’t embark on a First Aid Level 2 course while training to become a hockey player.

As the final part of achieving my Stress & Rescue certificate in scuba (meaning I’m the guy you want in the water if you lose consciousness and need to be brought safely to the surface, and then dragged back to the boat/shore, while receiving mouth-to-mouth mid-swim … well, ok, let’s just say you want me ahead of that American bloke who, umm, ignored his wife drowning mid-dive off the Queensland coast that time) … Anyway, to qualify, I just spent two days at the St John’s training centre on Queen Street, learning CPR, bandages, and other basic first aid.

An ex-girlfriend did this course while we were together and I’d always found it hilarious that she spent a week or so afterwards secretly hoping somebody would grab their chest and keel over in front of us, so she could leap into action. Now I kind of get it. Turning up at hockey training last night, I had a First Aid kit in the car and a head full of swirling new medical knowledge. (“Hi Dr Nick!” … “Hi, everybody!”)

But I also had a whole new appreciation of how nasty and painful some of the potential hockey injuries could be. I’ve been pretty lucky so far (touch lots of wood). An almost-broken arm in Class One of pre-hockey skating lessons, a bruise here or there, but nothing major. Hockey is safer than it looks, huh? … Well, no. The worst part of the St John’s course was when we got to impact injuries (as against heat stroke, hearts, poisons, etc). Broken collar bones, snapped arms, bones protruding from the skin … we covered it all and I felt progressively more squeamish because just about every one of the nasty scenarios was directly applicable to something going horribly wrong on the ice.

I think, at last count, the casualty rate of Will’s and my classmates stands at three broken collar bones in the 17 weeks or so since we started this nutso hockey adventure. Arms thrown out in front can do it, or hitting the boards in an uncontrolled manner. It’s actually not that difficult. The ice is hard and bones can snap.

Stupidly, in full hockey kit, sitting on the bench and waiting for the Ice Cat zamboni to smooth down the ice for our lesson, I got talking to a couple of classmates last night about the St John’s course and, sure enough, one had a wife who is a nurse. And so the horror stories began. Of hockey injuries we’ve heard of, witnessed. Of other nasty collision/impact injuries. Of life gone wrong among apparently fit, healthy, if ageing, guys like us.

The nurse’s husband actually made a cameo in this blog, as the guy who careered into the boards and KOed himself, also nastily cutting his chin so that he ended up needing stitches. That was in my first ever hockey lesson, and a horrified group of Intro players, about to attempt their first lesson after us, were scarred for life by him being helped off the ice by Lliam, blood everywhere. He proudly told me last night that five of that second group never came back.

About then, we headed onto the ice and I noticed that Jill was missing. She’s a tall, lean skater who landed badly on her chest during supermans two weeks ago. I’m not sure I’ve seen her since. (Supermans, where you throw yourself onto the ice, chest-armour first, must be a bastard for women … like guys landing balls-first. Thanks anyway.) And then another guy was on the bench, holding his knee, as I briefly returned to tighten my skates.

Cross-control puck-handling, Like a Boss.

The wear and tear, the impacts, the physicality of hockey was everywhere … or maybe it was just because I’d done the First Aid course and was more acutely aware of it than usual.

Despite all this, I somehow made it through the lesson alive, if a little frustrated. I’m tracking okay – trapping, controlling and passing the puck well – but feel my skating has flatlined a little. I’m doing fine, keeping up, but assessment is in two weeks and I don’t feel like my actual skating is improving at the moment. I need to get to some general skate sessions over the next fortnight, to just really work crossovers, outside and inside edges … one-foot balance. It’s still the most basic, grassroots stuff that lets us all down at this level and I want to try to get on top of it. I’m going to Intermediate next time around, no matter what. So I have to be up to it.

It’s going to mean ice time among the general population, without my full protective gear, pushing my limits, trying to improve. What could go wrong?

The real thing: Melbourne Ice in flight

Army winds up, versus Adelaide. (All pics this post by Nicko)

Along the way in this blog, I’ve talked about the people who have been so supportive at the Icehouse. Like our coaches, Lliam, Army and Michael.  Jason, Shona and Tommy Powell have made cameos. Reading back, I make it sound like they’re everyday people … working as mild-mannered hockey coaches, or Icehouse staff, when they’re not being bike couriers (Lliam), graphic designers (Michael), rock stars (Mikey), proshop staff (Jason) and so on.

In fact, just about all of the Icehouse community are hockey stars in their own right. When not patiently watching hacks like me wobble around the ice (apart from when they decide to use such hacks for sledging practice – see last post), these people armour up, lace up skates, grab sticks and play hockey like you couldn’t believe. No matter how good-humoured and enthusiastic they are on non-match days, whenever I see them in action, I’m reminded of horses set free from a small paddock. Now they can show their stuff and you get a sense of why they’re so passionate about hockey.

Some are from Canada – which basically means, by Canadian law, they are world-class hockey players – or others have played there. When Will and I first turned up in our Medicine Hat Tigers jerseys, imported from Medicine Hat‘s incredulous front office after a series of emails, Lliam was stunned, because he had actually played against the Tigers while living over there.

Lliam swings from the ankles, shooting for goal.

On Saturday night, Will and I bundled up Bella, my niece, and headed to the Icehouse to watch Melbourne Ice take on the Adelaide Adrenalin, a team which Will pointed out has a huge AA on the players’ chests, which could be taken the wrong way – like the Ice are beating up on a bunch of recovering alcoholics.

I love taking people to the hockey for the first time. Like most people, Bella was keen but not wildly so; happy enough to join us but clearly not with massive expectations. Going along as a curiosity, I guess. And by the end was raving about hockey; how fast, how skillful, how bite-sized (in the Australian League, a game lasts only three x 15 minute periods, plus a shoot-out if required), how much fun in the crowd.

Lliam introduces an Adelaide player to the Ice bench (note horizontal Adelaide sock)

Will and I already know all this. I love going along. And suddenly there is Lliam, as a physically-imposing No. 2 for the Ice, moving between defence and attack, pushing an Adelaide guy over the bench into the Ice box (who me? says Lliam … see photographic evidence, left) and shooting the Ice’s first goal of the night with a bullet from the blue line. There’s Army, in No. 16, and Tommy, in No. 12, all over the place and mixing it up with the opposition, between passes and shots. And there’s Jason, in No. 57, one of the smallest guys on the ice but so fast and skillful. When Will first bought an Ice jersey, he asked for No. 57 on the back and went to the pro shop to pick it up. “Who’s your favourite player?” asked the guy behind the counter. “Jason Baclig,” Will said. The guy laughed. Yes, it was Jason, in his day job. Will blushed. They’re now good friends.

Jason and Army are both Import players, two of five on the Ice roster. An emerging cult favourite among the imports is Obi Aduba (mainly because his surname is fun to say, drawn out, whenever he does something good, which seems to be often) and forward Andrew Erzen has a strong fan base after mistakenly admitting to a couple of supporters that he once worked at Safeway, but don’t tell anyone. A group of fans behind the goal worked hard to get exactly the right fonts for their giant banner: “The Fresh Food Forward … Andrew ‘Safeway’ Erzen”

Ice fans respecting Andrew Erzen's hidden secret.

Of course, after the game, we simply had to take part in Pond Hockey, where wannabes like us take over Henke Rink and blaze away. It was fun, with Will’s old ice comrade Jack back from Italy, along with his mate, Tristan, and a few of our fellow hockey classmates on the ice. I skated around, lacking mojo – which was wildly frustrating after such a great class on the Wednesday. Maybe it’s just not a good idea to practice your skills straight after watching the pros effortlessly skate in tight curves with their bodies at a 30 degree angle to the ice, or racing backwards twice as fast I could hope to skate forwards? They’re very good. You have to see it for yourself.

I took a bunch of photos on Saturday (the Ice lost in a shoot-out but kicked the Adelaide Alcoholics the next night). Here’s a few of them. For the rest, click here.

Jason holds off a couple of Alcoholics.

Tommy and Aduuuuuuba in the clinches.

Shoot-out: Jason about to hand the Adelaide goalie his arse.

Boarded: The Fresh Food forward gets introduced to the glass.

The loneliness of a goalie...

Celebration: the Ice enjoy a goal.

Life, death, hockey and the whole damn thing

Driving the Ghia.

It’s June. How is it June already? The Canucks are about to take on the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup play-offs, playing even as I type this. Winter sun is flittering across cold Melbourne. There was dew and fog on the windows of the Karmann Ghia this morning, but Atomica Caffé was warm and the toast was crisp. The New Yorker isn’t as good as Wiredmagazine on an

iPad and I drove along listening to “Long Live The Duke And The King” by, umm, The Duke & The King and singing.

It was nice to feel happy. My cat died two days ago and there’s been a lot of crying. I’ve always been a total sook when pets die – especially long-term much-loved pets, like Choo Choo, our beautiful 20-year-old Burmese. She was a rocking cat, right up there alongside my childhood ginger moggie, Orlando, and my long-haired German Sherpherd, Tessa, as the best and most-loved pets I’ve ever mourned. Happily, Fly Dog The Magnificent is as alive as ever, but oh, it was rough to say goodbye to dottering, failing Chooey, even if I haven’t lived under the same roof as her for three years or so.

Brought up all kinds of stuff I won’t go into here, about Loss, about marriage break-ups, about my boys losing a pet they’d known all their lives, about other deaths, about relationship deaths, about wishes never realised, dreams shattered, friendships that failed … you might get the sense that I managed to spiral a fair way from the actual sad event of Choo Choo’s passing. But that’s what can happen, I guess. Pets are so universally about pure

love, about unconditional love, about adoration … all the things we love to receive and love to give. But so few people are capable of it, and that’s the bastard. So to kiss a grey-brown furry head, with slightly glazed eyes, and say goodbye to pure love. How could you not cry a river?

In other words, damn, was I ready for some hockey last night?! Last week’s session was a beauty. We were learning crossovers, pivots, all my old enemies but I had a genuine crack. Sure, I probably wasn’t leaning on an outside edge like an Olympic speed skater on a bend but I was trying, and only occasionally crashing in the attempt. Coach Lliam urged me on, and I could feel some respect for not staying in my safety zone, even if the results didn’t always get there. I definitely landed some perfect pivots, which rocked.

RIP Choo Choo

It was our first class in full armour, which is always fun, especially for the first-timer Intro students. We did Supermans, where you throw yourself at the ice, stomach first, slide along and then try to stand without losing all your momentum. I was nailing it.

But then hadn’t done any exercise since. Thanks to a fun few days with some northern visitors, I’d rediscovered the zoo, and then had to help out on the less enjoyable task of assisting my sister and her daughters move out of their home, I hadn’t got to the gym, or run or anything for a week.

So I turned up for last night’s class feeling a bit rusty, but I needn’t have worried. My skates found the ice straight away and I felt good, pivoting, skating backwards, gently hockey stopping even during the warm-up.

And last night, we had sticks and pucks which makes everything fun.

Lliam and Army clearly had decided I was Victim Of The Night. Every time I took off on a drill they were whacking my armour with their sticks, or trying to slash my stick as I controlled the puck.

Me being a hockey player and all, I smiled and muttered some gentle curses that would make Premier Ted send the cops straight to the Icehouse, and kept on going. Premier Ted would definitely have an issue with your average night’s hockey language.

And then, towards the end, I managed my greatest hockey career highlight since I broke my stick smacking a powerful goal in training.

Lliam set himself, legs planted, muscles bulging, right in front of me, five metres ahead, and snarled: “C’mon Place, get past me!” and then relaxed, joke over … so that he wasn’t ready for me to pass the puck neatly between his legs, and dart by. I heard Army cracking up behind me as I skated desperately away, retrieving the puck. Lliam yelled: “Yeah, but where’s the puck now?” … given this drill was all about controlling the puck on your stick at all times.

“Not with you,” I yelled back over my shoulder.

I was sniggering right up until I reached the other end of the rink, at which point I sagged and said, in my best Gob Bluth voice: “I’ve made a huge mistake.”

Because, yes, I had just cheekily flicked a puck through the legs of Melbourne Ice’s former captain, star player and occasional enforcer. This could come back to bite me.

Made me smile though and, after the week so far, I was all for that. Thanks Lliam and Army.

In fact, let’s keep smiling … Please welcome to the stage … Gob Bluth!