“So,” said Magic Enzo, the osteo, on Monday. “How’s that shoulder? Have you been looking after it.”
“You bet,” I said.
“What did you do on the weekend.”
“Um, played hockey, then watched hockey, then got wildly drunk, then played footy, then watched footy. Rode my bike around.”
“Did you land on your shoulder at all?”
“In hockey or footy?”
“Actually both. Why? What’s your point?”
I kind of got away with Saturday’s hockey training, not nailing the shoulder even in tricky, nasty backward skating defence drills, where I’m never at my peak. Then at The Bang, my Sunday footy, I did my usual quota of 10x push-ups for skill errors, but laughed as a couple of rising Timorese hip-hop artists, Fabrice and G-Storm, ran around like giant puppies, learning AFL. Until recently they were in a detention camp for seven years, an old mate of mine, who’d brought them down for the kick, told me. Even that guy, Paulie, had been so sick a couple of years ago that he was literally given the Last Rites. I was trying to get my head around such life swings but was probably too hungover for such ponderings. Damn vodka. It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp Sunday morning and, going by their attitude, Fabrice, G-Storm and Paulie aren’t unhappy with their change in fortunes, By the end of the session, they were leading and yelling like old-time Bangers.
Suddenly my dodgy shoulder didn’t seem so bad. I landed on it again five or six more times last night at hockey training, and several were enforced. Lliam decided it was time we became Jedis at Supermans (where you throw yourself full length at the ice then get back to your skates – last night in a very short distance, between the blue and red line). If one skater failed, we were all punished with laps or skating drills. Supermans are a good time to be wearing armour and I wince in sympathy for the women in our class, landing six or seven times on their chest. I’m reliably informed it’s like men being kicked in the balls.
After that drill, though, last night’s session took off. One drill, for example, had us taking a puck the length of the rink, being chased by a back-checker (defender hunting you down from behind). Then, after you took a shot, you tapped the left goal post with your stick, which was the signal for another skater to take off with the puck and you became the back checker. It meant sprinting as fast as you possibly could down the rink and, even if I didn’t catch many of the others, I can’t remember just out-and-out sprinting on my skates with such intensity. I was even able to snowplough stop at the end before I slammed into the boards, which helped.
We also had two-on-two drills, with pairs trying to score goals, alternating from defence to attack depending on who had the puck. My puck-handling actually stood up, so that I controlled it repeatedly, made passes, scored two or three goals. One was a sneaky backhand slide from a tight angle between three flailing sticks. Army had a lot of trouble hiding his astonishment that I made the shot, but that was okay. I was right with him in the open-mouthed stakes.
And then we played Russian roulette scrimmage, where we were divided into two teams, on the benches, and Lliam or Army would yell a number between one and five, and that many skaters would hit the ice, chasing a puck, tossed randomly onto the rink. I was part of a four-on-four, and then a three-on-three. Scored a goal on that one. And then was next skater on as I waited my next turn. I should have known from Lliam’s sneaky look what was coming. “Nicko, make sure the gate’s open,” he said. “ONE!!!” (The only “one” for the night.)
I charge onto the ice as Lliam and Army woop, and of course it’s Will flying out of the other gate. Place v Place; always entertaining. (Will told me later that he was at the other end, last to go, and they called him to the front, so they could set it up.)
I wasn’t too far behind Will when we got to the puck, guessed right that he would turn left, clashed sticks, SO close to stealing it, and lost my legs, crashing hard (Hello, shoulder. Sorry, Enzo). I figure Will was long gone, but then saw over my screaming shoulder that he was also in a pile of armour on the ice. Apparently he’d hurt a knee earlier in the session and it buckled as he tried to take off. He still had the advantage though, and by the time we found our feet, he was in shape to goal, and did.
Back on the bench, as Will explained the knee thing, Army just gave it to him about excuses, laughing his arse off. I love the merciless nature of hockey players in hanging shit.
“I still got the goal,” Will said.
“At least I hurt him, right, Army?” I said.
Everyone was happy.
In the rooms, we were all buzzing. We all agreed that was the most intense, full-on session we’d had, at least on a Wednesday. People were bruised and battered. All grinning like maniacs. I definitely skated better because I was so pushed for speed and need.
Up until last night, it felt like I’d had a low-key hockey week, more interested in my AFL team,
Richmond, actually winning a game and some life matters swirling around me. But now I think about it, I’ve read the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News at least twice a day, hunting Red Wings news (as well as noticing there were no less than 28 shootings in Detroit last weekend, including seven dead. We’re there in November … there goes Father of the Year), watched Melbourne Ice wrap up the minor premiership for finishing top of the ladder, started trying to write a commissioned feature for The Age about being a 40-something hockey rookie, and spent a couple of hours looking up hockey gear warehouses in America, for our looming trip. I might be more hooked than I thought. Then again, who am I kidding?
Gotta love hockey.