True sports fans understand that the worst moment of the year is not necessarily when you realise your team won’t make the finals, or that gun recruit might not be all he was cracked up to be, or even losing a grand final (although clearly that is up there).
The worst moment is the day after the grand final, when you realize you have just entered the wasteland known as the off-season.
For AFL fans, this runs October through to February, although there is enough cattle trading of players and draft news through the first month or so to feed the cravings. English Premier League fans I know are only just joyously losing sleep to watch the first games of a new season. Golf and tennis pretty much never stop, between official events and meaningless exhibitions, for those 12 people who still care about those sports.
The NHL has been on summer vacation for quite a while now and the absence of meaningful hockey is starting to bite. Even from half a world away, you can feel the stir-crazy. The biggest hockey story running on the Detroit Free Press website, as I type this, is that Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is planning to speak at a luncheon in a few weeks. Also that the Wings have renewed their affiliation with Double A team, Toledo. Wow.
This was after the great bobblehead face-off where the Free Press breathlessly reported on the Red Wings’ official site running a poll for which player fans would most like to have made into a bobblehead figurine. Clearly as bored by the off-season wasteland as the rest of us, several Wings players started campaigning, with Dan Cleary creating a video where he said: ““Hi, this is Dan Cleary. Vote for me for my bobblehead. I really want one. Please. Don’t vote for Bertuzzi — his head is way too big, it won’t even fit on a bobblehead anyway.”
Cleary’s victory led to my favourite headline of the off-season: “Wings’ Cleary gets a bobblehead; Bertuzzi calls shenanigans”.
Given shenanigans remains close to my favourite word in the English language, I was thrilled on many levels, not least that a hockey player for my team could use it and in the right context.
Of course, half a world away, it’s not summer, we’re not running countdown clicks until the first NHL game, the leading local hockey players are not reclining in their summer mansions in Canada or Sweden or Russia. The hockey season is in full swing, with the mighty Melbourne Ice confirmed as minor premiers and all roads leading to the semi-finals and final, on the weekend of September 3-4 at the Icehouse.
At training last Wednesday, somebody pointed out that Lliam’s beard is getting bushy and he confirmed it was a play-off growth, making the point that players have to start early because it’s kind of hard to grow the traditional play-off beard over the single weekend of Australian Ice Hockey League finals. Army is also getting scruffy so the Melbourne Ice players are clearly getting in the zone.
In the locker-room, we’re starting to wonder how to fill the summer, with players considering private lessons or the training programs that run through December and January. This time last year, it hadn’t occurred to me to play hockey so it’s all new to me. How is it possible that I was completely uninvolved in playing this sport nine months ago?
As the great Harry Hoo, off Get Smart, would say: “Amazing.” …
On Saturday, we had our usual intense session, fuelled by all the teammates from dev league, who aren’t shy to tell you if they think you’re not pushing it. I got talking to one guy in a cool jersey who confirmed it was the official jersey of a Kuala Lumpur ex-pats team, with his actual name on the back. So there’s another guy who has played for real. The terms “intermediate” and “learning” are pretty loose at the Icehouse.
But even post-intro hacks like me can have fun. We played a game ‘Scuba’ Edwards introduced, called “boggle”, where it was five-on-five inside the blue line, kind of the hockey equivalent of half-court basketball. If your team got the puck, and you made a pass to a teammate, you could go for goal. The other side switched to defence until they got the puck back. It was fun, even if I did have one embarrassing moment of watching a loose puck too closely while at speed and forgetting to stop until it was too late.
“You boarded yourself,” said the celebrated northern skater, Hotcakes Gillespie, who had been watching from the stands, just above where I slammed into the glass. “Impressive.”
I’m just glad she wasn’t watching the other time it happened.
Yes, managed it twice.