So wrong it was totally right.

So my half-arsed theory was totally right, which always rocks.

Nicko (in white), Will (in dark), ever ready to go head-to-head, mid-game. Photo: Mack Place

All logic told me not to even attempt to contest our final lesson scrimmage on Wednesday night.

Hadn’t skated for two weeks (apart from one very brief wobble around the Bradbury Rink on Tuesday to see if I could remain vertical after my manta ray lay-off).

A shocking head cold, moving towards flu, moving towards pneumonia or whooping cough. Or straight to death, the way I felt/feel.

Stressed and a heavy heart.

And this was the final hockey date before getting on a plane for a five week USA adventure, which would not be a good time to fall and hurt myself. (A big shout out to my San Jose doppelganger and her partner, who are both nursing broken legs from their Over 40 hockey start-up … hope you’re skating again soon, guys.)

So everything said: take the night off and go to bed. And so, of course, I did what any good hockey player should do and declared: “I’m a hockey player. I need to go play hockey now.”

And I did and it rocked. With low expectations of myself, I had a ball. In fact, if I wasn’t just a dumb hockey player, I could be forgiven for thinking there was a clear lesson there somewhere, like: stop judging myself so harshly on the ice as a rule, and just skate.

It worked on Wednesday. I loved every second of it, and could even breathe one my heart-rate was up, and didn’t need windscreen wipers on my visor for the expected snot. All good.

I think everybody had a ball (except maybe Will who was gutted that he didn’t score, as he usually does). We had white and blue jerseys, and an actual scoreboard and a clock. Our White team won, for the grand prize of a bag of lolly snakes, but nobody was too fussed about the scoreline beyond mindless competing for fun.

I was struck by how different the Intermediate Final Class game was, compared to the last game I’d played (where I’d massively sucked) at the end of my second Intro stint.

In this Intermediate game, everybody was thinking; including me. Gone were the days of seeing the puck in front of you and panicking, swishing indiscriminately.

Instead players were trapping the puck, looking for options. Others were skating to position. Defenders were guarding lanes. There were some really good goals; clean hitting from angles, or from genuine passes.

(Having said that, one of the other team’s goals was clearly offside. At the face-off, I said to coach Lliam, who was ref: “How about off-side?”

He replied sweetly: “How about shut up?”

I love hockey.)

The bottom line was that, for the first time, it felt like I was in an actual hockey game and most surprising of all was that I felt like I was keeping up. I had several moments where I controlled the puck, even in traffic. Won a couple of face-offs, won a puck in defence, trapped it and safely got it outside the blue line to stifle the attack.

Sure, these are all minor moments, but big for me, and sure, I fell over more than most people in the game (this is me we’re talking about), and I totally botched two or three potential goal-scoring opportunities, but even those I feel good about: suddenly finding myself in front of the goal, with the puck, I didn’t swipe it or just blindly shoot. I worked really hard to control it, to guide it home.

Yes, I fell over on one attempt, blowing it. Yes, a defender cleared it just as I thought I was going to score. But I was thinking; I was working the puck, not flapping stupidly. So that’s a big improvement.

It actually gives me a lot of hope for the next phase of all this: dev league or drop-in hockey, when Melbourne Ice players among other much more accomplished players can turn up. As I get more used to being out there in game conditions, and I can see others are playing Thinking Hockey, I reckon I’ll find life easier than Intro, where we were all still mostly flailing.

Oh, and I tried to give Josh, in the blue team, a shove, just because we were playing hockey and so I should try to shove him, right? I only half got him and duly fell over. Jay, a good friend of Josh’s, got into him as well and said, as we headed back to the bench at the end of our shift: “I’ve got your back, Nicko.”

“Thanks,” I replied, “but I should point out that I started it.”

(Hearing us discussing this later, coach Lliam said: “That doesn’t matter. You’re on the same team…”

Lliam had also warned me during the game for trying to Board an opponent, which I took as a win. Happy days.)

And so now, to America, hopefully sans this lurgy. In less than one month my boys and I will be at an NHL stadium in Washington, five rows from the glass, watching the Red Wings live.

God knows how this self-indulgent blog will mutate while I’m away. The NHL teams are playing pre-season games now, so we’re hitting the States at exactly the right time. Maybe this will become a blog about NHL official merchandise retailing?

When I get back, I start following my plan to get private skating lessons and become a much better skater, before tackling Intermediate again with more sure footing on blades.

It’s a good plan. But only after some major adventuring.

Bring it.

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