Hockey everywhere

Sydney's temporary ice rink

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:

The Bears: fags hidden.

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.

The F word

Behind you! Behind you!

When were you last truly afraid? Not just worried or disturbed or concerned. I’m talking about Fear. Genuine, immediate fear.
I looked up the definition in, just so you can say the next sentence in one of those raspy movie trailer voices if you feel so inclined:
Do you know the true meaning of fear?
I can tell you. It’s: “A distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc, whether the threat is real or imagined.”
Or, to put it another way, Intermediate Hockey Classes. Along with smatterings of life.
Welcome to my world right now.
I’d always heard that fear was something that kicked in as you aged and, sadly, I’m finding it to be true. As a kid, like most kids, fear was a minor and occasional factor in my adventures – and kind of a thrill if it did turn up. Why else do people go to scary movies, right?
As a teen, I fell off a big cliff because I was climbing it for fun, without any safety gear. A rock broke off in my hand and I bounced hard. Nasty. In my 20s, I surfed Winki Pop, the even more challenging surf break next to Bells Beach, at six-to-eight foot on a Boogie Board; mountainous waves so powerful that one sucked my board from under me as I punched through the lip and snapped my leg rope like it was made of cotton. I had to swim back to shore through the impact zone, getting smashed on the rocks before I made it to safety. I still have scars.
In terms of work, relationships, what was possible in the world, there was little to no fear. Covering police rounds, I would be at murder scenes pre-dawn, chatting with cops about the absolute worst in human behaviour. It was interesting, not frightening; even the Hoddle Street Massacre and the Russell Street bombing didn’t invoke much personal fear that I remember.
But now I’m older and I seem to carry fear in a more central part of my core, and it shits me. It has played havoc with more than one relationship and has definitely made me take short footsteps, to use an AFL expression, where I could have been bold. No more or less than anybody else, I should add. But it’s a prick.
Last week, on Wednesday night, with Lliam and Army coaching, and then on Saturday, with Michael and Shona in the blue instructor fleecies, I began Intermediate Hockey. And the step up from Intro was truly daunting. Army started things off by looking at our group and saying: “OK, looks like everybody is second time around, so we’ll really push things, and get you guys up a few levels in this term.”
My face must have been a picture at that point. There’s no Governors reprieve on the ice: “Um, Army … You might not have noticed but I’m just up from intro …” Skates on, bitches. Seconds later, we were attempting outside edge crossovers, and very tight turns, around and stepping over our sticks, lain on the ice. On Saturday, Michael started things with transitions (front foot to back foot), pivots and backward crossovers as the first drill. I was in a bad place in my head before I skated onto the ice and this didn’t help. It was the first time in 21 weeks of lessons that I considered just skating the fuck off the ice and going home.
But I stuck it out and had a crack and landed hard (bad shoulder hurt but held, Michael was kind as he skated past my body). My stick handling was actually not too bad so at least, wobbly skating aside, I showed some hockey skill, especially as I was partnered with Army for some of it.
I guess the upside is I didn’t quit and thanks to this blog, I can go back and read how equally out of my depth I was at the start of Intro and have faith that somehow I will one day be capable of what is being asked. I suspect I have to resign myself to being the unskilled dunce at the back of the class, fumbling and falling, for this Intermediate term as I grind away at my skills. Does it help that there is some hero in a black skivvy – “The Ninja”, as Hotcakes Gillespie, the celebrated northern skater, sneered – who doesn’t even bother to wear protective armour because he’s so supremely confident in his skills, leading off every drill with an NHL display of skating and looking impatient as the mortals then try to keep up? No, it doesn’t. I was seriously tempted to knock him on his arse just to say, “Shit, sorry. If only you were wearing hockey armour like everybody else that wouldn’t have hurt.” I have no idea why this guy is even in Intermediate class.
I had a general skate on Monday, to work in a more peaceful surrounding on pivots and hockey stops, which I still can’t nail. A skater (“My name is NiSyong … just think of Nice Young Man”) gave me some great tips on starter backward crossover technique and Will was helpful with pivots and backward skating. The work continues. My shoulder holds. The fear lurks, that I will be badly hurt or just simply not good enough. I ignore it. I skate. I try to improve. What else are you going to do? Quit? Fuck that.

I can feel my heart beating

Chris Osgood: will be missed

The blood pumps. I still have a wrecked shoulder but do I care? No, and you know why? Because I’m a hockey player. And tonight, I play hockey. Class One, Intermediate. Bring it.

I even got a couple of general skates in, to get ready, after the inline attempts at Byron. I’ve discovered that early morning sessions are the ones to aim for at The Icehouse. The other day, I kid you not, I was lacing up my skates and looking at a completely empty Bradbury Rink. Ohhhhhh yeah. Will and I had been chatting about my need to skate faster, my feeling that the good skaters are impossibly faster than I could hope to become. His idea was to just hit a general skate, forget about practicing pivots, hockey stops, other moves … just go for it. Skate as fast as I could for lap after lap after lap. So that’s what I did on Tuesday and it was great. Who knows if it helped – I’ll find out tonight, the hard way – but it was so awesome to be out there with only a couple of other learner skaters to act as traffic cones.

Meanwhile, my heart is also beating because Will, Mack and I are seriously planning an American trip. And that includes up to four Red Wings games, three at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and one against the Caps in Washington if we can get tickets.

Osgood with the Cup, 2008

Too good to even contemplate. I’m costing it now (which isn’t pretty) but I think it will happen. We’ll be singing “Don’t Stop Believin'” for real.

And finally, the NHL off-season continues with silly season shenanigans but also the retirement of Wings goalkeeper Chris Osgood, who will hopefully be recognised in the Hall of Fame. It was time for Osgood to hang ’em up but I’m sad. He seems to be an amazingly good person (including having a charity where he hosts kids on his own ice rink in his backyard) and once managed to score a goal against the Whalers. More to the point, Ossie was the brilliant goalie in net when the Wings won the Stanley Cup a few years ago and I first really tuned into the team.

The other star that series was No. 40, Henrik “Hank” Zetterberg, who has that Swedish sense of humour that can’t be beaten. Such as in this NHL advert I found …

and Pavel Datsyuk, who doesn’t even need a script to be funny. Watch what happens when his phone goes off mid-interview.

Commodore 64

New Red Wing Mike Commodore ... no, really.

It might actually happen.

One of the Red Wings’ defence recruits – he of the brilliant Google Image backlog of facial hair and boofy ranga stylings – might really salute an old computer when he skates out as a Red Wing in a few months. For his entire career across several teams, fans have wanted it to happen – Wings fans, bored in the off-season, are demanding it happens.

And money is being raised for charity along the way. Go the Commodore!

Read all about it here.

Byron Bay: hockeytown

Dolphins surfing below the lighthouse.

Things I learned in the past week:

Inline & sunshine @ Byron.

Lesson 1: Inline skating just does not feel the same as ice. No matter how often I hear that a lot of the moves and skills are transferable, it does not feel the same. I want my slide.

Plus, in my one big fall on Friday, onto a concrete basketball court … it hurt. A lot. Give me hockey armour and ice any time. (The first thing I heard, after splattering? My kid, Mack, saying: “Crap, I wasn’t videoing it.”)

We were in Byron for a week of sunshine and diving and non-Melbourne winter and oh boy, it was good. Will and I, being the dedicated hockey players that we are, took our inlines up and found the perfect practice zone: two basketball courts length to length. We even had Hotcakes Gillespie, the celebrated northern skater and a former inline hockey player, on hand to coach us on how to actually stop on inline skates, given snow ploughs or hockey stops would probably snap your ankles, or send you flying in all the wrong ways. Will, of course, is now stopping like a Boss. Me? See previous paragraph about splattering.

Lesson 2: Grey nurse sharks are very cool, when you’re 16 metres underwater and they emerge out of the watery gloom. And no, they’re not scary at all, mainly because I knew going in that they’re harmless.

This was at Julian Rocks, off Byron, and, post-sharks, sitting on the boat, watching whales breach out to sea, one of the local dive guides told me a funny story. Apparently, a few years ago, an instructor was mid-teaching basic skills in an Open Water Diving course when a smallish Great White shark swam serenely past. The instructor freaked, got between the shark and the students and watched it sail by. When they got out of the water, the students were all, like: “Wow, what about that cool Grey

A grey nurse, as distinct from a great white ...

Nurse that swam by! … Hey, why is the instructor puffing Ventolin and twitching…?”

Lesson 3: If you’re yet to decide which NHL team you should barrack for, could I humbly and helpfully suggest the organisation known as the Detroit Red Wings? Not only do the Wings have the coolest logo in sport, and play Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” when victory looms and have a tradition of hurling octopi at the ice for fun and recently drafted The YouTube Kid, Tomas Jurco, as their top draft pick … they also just signed a free agent, Mike Commodore (check the hairstyle and facial hair!), to bolster the team’s defence. Wings fans immediately created an online campaign to assign him the No. 64 jersey, so his back will read “Commodore 64”. It might happen. I love my team.

Lesson 4: Whisky tastes just as good in northern New South Wales as it does in Victoria.

Lesson 5: Hippie drum circles are a lot of fun. Will walked right through the chaos, in his Darren Helm #43 Wings jersey. Unmoved. The hippies let him live.

David Bromley surfboard.

Lesson 6: I am capable of being tempted to pay $7800 for a surfboard that I would never ride … if it has original David Bromley paintings on both sides, under the resin. Wow.

Lesson 7: The run from Byron Bay town to the Lighthouse is longer than I remembered, and uphill a lot of the way.

Lesson 8: My shoulder is still sore and Intermediate Class starts tomorrow week. Uh oh. … Lucky I’m a hockey player or I’d complain.

Lesson 9: Don’t visit the Macadamia Castle unless you’re into mini golf. If you are into mini golf, don’t miss it. Unlimited play included in the entry fee. Hells to the yeah.

Lesson 10: How to make money … the final Harry Potter film comes out tonight at midnight. I’ve put everything I own (not much) on Voldemorte in the showdown. I think he’s got the height and reach advantage.

Will and I rolling at our Byron Bay winter hockey training facility.