Ah, the glamour of hockey.
Last night’s session saw us trying to master the following skill: skate as fast as you could to the boards, spin and hit the wall with your arse, while the puck came screeching along the boards from Lliam’s stick behind the goals, like something out of Rollerball.
Now you’re planting your skate so that the puck ricochets off it, neatly stopping on the ice at the end of your stick, as you take off, passing to a teammate gliding past.
That was the theory anyway.
Of course, I got maybe one out of six attempts right, but the puck only clean-bowled me once, which I took as a minor victory.
Heady with this newfound skill, we even extended it to a more involved drill where one skater did the arse-to-wall-ricochet thing while another received the pass, they both skated hard down the rink, the puck-holder did a tight turn and passed to the original arse-waller* to have a shot.
I was okay at all this. But not great. I’d received a very bad email, from my day job perspective, literally as I was getting in my car to drive to the Icehouse and I found it, and some wider Life stuff going on, hard to shake out of my head while on the ice.
This is a very rare occurrence. In fact, one of the things I most love about hockey is that I tend to leave the rest of my brain at the gate as I step onto the ice.
From my very first skating lesson, where I thought I’d broken my arm about two minutes in, I learned to be in the moment while on the ice. And generally I am.
While skating, I feel all sorts of emotions; including exhilaration and excitement, but also frustration at not being better, anger when my skills let me down, determination, fear … the list goes on, but that’s the point.
I usually also end up laughing, and often because of Lliam and Army’s way of teaching. They’ll explain something to us and we’ll all stare, silently processing, taking it in.
And they’ll say: “We all good with that?”
“… OK … (under breath:) Good talk.”
We get “OK, good talk” a lot. And Lliam’s other favourite, when explaining why a puck bounces a certain way off the boards, or why your front foot needs to be just so during a tight turn – which is tough for him because skating is like breathing for these guys and they don’t think at all, they just auto-skill/muscle memory this stuff – so he often ends up shrugging and saying: “It’s … you know, science.”
Hockey player science. There’s a reality show waiting to happen.
So I’m always engaged and very alive when on the ice. In fact, off the top, I can only think of twice where I have caught myself staring into the middle distance, thinking of non-hockey matters.
So last night had a touch of that and my skating wasn’t great. I was a step slow, lacking the confidence, or at least the who-gives-a-shit?-have-a-crack attitude that can improve your skating, and I think it showed.
Happily, you can rely on your teammates. For the last five minutes or so, we played Russian roulette again (see last week’s blog) although, this time, Will and I were both in dark/red jerseys so we were on the same team and couldn’t be set up for a one-on-one Placefest, luckily for me.
In the first shift, five-on-five, I had my finest moment of the night. Skated to a loose puck on the boards, controlled it, kept my head among swarming opponents, spotted a teammate free and clear and passed it right in front of him, so he could skate onto it and cruise to goal … except that as I skated hard to provide emergency back-up, he turned and almost collided with me, heading the other way. Turns out we were shooting to the other end. Oops. I decided instead it was a mature look-for-your-defender-behind-the-play kind of pass.
And then, in my final shift, I was chasing the puck and a classmate, Aimee, still sporting an impressive technicolour bruise from last Wednesday’s smash-up-derby session, came hard the other way and collided front-on, helmet-to-helmet, like two steam trains at full speed. Go helmets! And armour! And go Aimee, who had no intention of doing anything but taking me out. (She fessed up later it was premeditated revenge for the Mighty Ducks Incident.)
So I crashed and landed on my knees and, for the first time that session, all non-hockey thoughts were definitely nowhere in my head. We looked at each other in surprise, post-crash, and I instinctively called her a motherfucker, which I suspect shocked Aimee more than the crash. But I said it fondly.
And we were grinning. Especially me. That full body collision was just what I needed. It was a great way to finish the hour because, amen, I was a hockey player again. (Thanks, Aimee.)
At least for those next last few minutes, before the Real World came calling again. But you know what? Bring it.
… Good talk.
(* technical hockey term)