So I’m in Sydney for my kids film festival, and it’s a Wednesday so I’m a little bummed because I’m missing hockey class (despite my last blog’s exploration of fear in Intermediate hockey). I screw up on the local train system and end up blundering back into the night at St James station, near Hyde Park, not very far at all from where I’d boarded a train at Circular Quay, and decide to walk back to my hotel. Which means I cross a road and find myself staring at a temporary outdoor ice rink. It was like a movie set: people skating in strange fluoro orange rental skates, marquees everywhere selling German sausage or beer or Dutch pancakes. Chicks in that slightly kinky Swiss/German outfit with the white blouse and the skirt and the long socks. And a bunch of hockey players aimlessly skating around between the punters, or sucking on cigarettes and drinking beer; probably not coincidentally perched right near the gorgeous Heidi chicks.
I went over and said hi and found out they were a local team, the Sydney Bears, presumably hired by the Winter Festival organisers to add some colour to the event. It turns out there are five or so regular rinks in Sydney (as against Melbourne’s two, that I know of). The Bears carefully hid their fags while posing for my photo. I wished them well, as fellow ice warriors.
It should have surprised me to find ice skating in the heart of Sydney. But it didn’t. For some reason, here in Australia, deep in the southern Hemisphere, about as far from Canada as you can get, ice hockey turns up much more than it rightfully should.
Getting a haircut at Dr Follicles, it turns out the dude cutting my locks as I sip my beer ($28 the lot:
great deal) is from Canada and plays a level or so below Melbourne Ice in the local leagues. (I’ve since seen him in action at Stick & Puck sessions: he’s amazing.) When my boys and I had a Thai exchange student stay with us earlier in the year and suggested hockey as a bizarre treat, she sniffed that her dad used to play. Say what? In Thailand? He studied in America and got a taste for it. She admitted she had played back home, and the subtle hint she was too polite to spell out was that she would kick Will and my arses all around the ice if it came down to it. A mate from journalism turns out to have played for years.
And so it goes. If you raise this crazy sport in conversation, almost everybody has a story, or a friend who plays, or some connection. I wonder if I still had my now-defunct Yarraville connection and had therefore become obsessed by, say, Trugo, if I would be having the same experience of constant connection with strangers? Is hockey on the rise as a Melbourne pastime and phenomenon, or am I just more aware of it when it crosses my path?
The good news is that I got back to Melbourne in time for Saturday’s class, led by Steve “Scuba” Edwards (No. 17 for the Ice) and Shona. This week, to my undying relief, the class was almost entirely skating and passing and shooting. I still sucked compared to some, but my stick handling is actually okay so I was able to keep up and it was a lot more fun than the pivots and transitions and other fancy skating that had unraveled me last time.
The skating Ninja, who chooses to partake in the classes without armour, was unexpectedly sent on his way, presumably for health and safety reasons, and Will was laid up after an operation on his toe, which left me and almost the entire team from the Ice Dogs, a Development League team who all seem to be using this class as practice and hunt in packs. They’re welcoming though, if tough on the ice.
We did a heap of drills and the sweat was pouring as we came off, in a good way. A genuine workout.
And for the first time, I had a genuine goalie in net, a woman who effortlessly stopped every one of my shots. Added to my list of skills to be worked on is a more powerful shot. I once broke a stick, cracking hard at the goal. I seem to have lost that power when it matters, which means I need to hit some Stick & Puck sessions to keep swinging until I can trouble a goalie.
But this week it all feels achievable again. Difficult, yes. Daunting, yes. A long road to be travelled, sure. But doable. What a difference a week makes – even if I did finally get around to watching “The Mighty Ducks”, a compulsory rite of passage for any hockey player, only to discover it was predictable early Nineties pap. (“What?” Will sneered at me. “You were expecting M. Night Shyamalan twists?”)
Even that couldn’t throw me off my stride this week. I have whisky, chocolate and True Blood following “send” on this post. I still have a functioning shoulder, after lots of hockey and a spirited footy hitout in today’s brilliant sunshine. Plus Melbourne Ice won in a shoot out last night against the Gold Coast Blue Tongues (who had an excellent goalie), with Jason Baclig and Army sealing the goals to win it. And I have my official Census forms, with the only question being what joke religion I’m going to go with on August 9? I’m thinking “Red Wing”, ahead of Jedi or Pastafarian.
Life is good.