Stop, in the name of love (well, hockey)

The hockey stop. It’s one of those annoying manoeuvres that some people seem to get in their opening five minutes on the ice while others struggle for years.

I guess I’m somewhere in between because I’m closing in on a year, as against years. And I remain determined to master the bastard.

In fact, this move has been my main focus over the past two weeks. Even on Wednesday, when the Icehouse helpfully closed half the public rink so seven people – that number again, seven – could enjoy a curling Christmas party, as everybody else – speed skaters going in second gear, figures skaters having lessons, hockey players cooling down or warming up, general skaters and newbies wobbling around – all crammed into a space smaller than a public swimming pool. But icier.

I found occasional unpopulated corners of ice where I could keep working on kicking my heels, trying to snap my skates around to a sliding, sudden stop; arms held in front, as though holding a stick in front of my chest, so that my shoulders don’t move with the stop, just my hips and legs.

This is just one of the roughly eight million pieces of advice or teachings I have absorbed re the hockey stop. I’ve watched untold videos, spoken to skaters who clearly know their stuff, watched smartarse hockey players stop on one foot, or backward hockey stop or just go from 100 kph-zero in a nano-second, next to the boards.

It’s clearly a matter of feel and I continue to probe away at that sliding, hopefully horizontal, full-skate edge that becomes solid enough that I can dig in, really dig it, and not either feel my skates slide out, or stop dead so that the rest of me keeps going, sans ankles. I just need to dare to fully commit, and I’m determined to hockey stop on both sides. Many players are great on their preferred skating side, but wobbly on the other. I want to Jedi-stop both sides. Aim high, right?

In Chicago, a local player, John, who saved the lives of Will and I by driving us away from the mean streets of west Chicago to Gunzo’s hockey store and then back to where we were staying, admitted he took three or more years as a kid to truly perfect the hockey stop. That gave me hope (apart from the well-established fact that I’m no kid).

Even talking to the coaches, Lliam and Army, has left me strangely confused; as to whether the weight is on the front leg or the back leg, or both legs. It’s a pimped-up snowplough, yet the back leg plays a role. One of my Hockey Rookie mates, Chris, gave me a crucial tip when he managed to convey that I wasn’t getting my front leg perpendicular enough to my body (something Will, admittedly, has been trying to tell me for months), and I definitely need to snap my heels, so I don’t curl into the stop. Or do I?

One thing’s for sure: I need to keep wearing elbow pads and a helmet while I nut this one out. I actually haven’t fallen in two weeks, while working on the hockey stop, which either suggests I am tantalisingly close, or I’m not committing hard enough for death-or-glory stops that will solidify the move. Like the bastard that is the pivot, I certainly still can’t hockey stop at speed. From a cruisy pace, I’m not far away.

I’m close enough that I can feel how much fun it’s going to be when I finally get it. I reckon it’s the coolest move on the ice.

Tonight (Friday), a bunch of us were invited to train with one of the summer league teams, at about 10.30 pm. I am choosing instead to join my band of Giant and ex-Giant desperadoes for a night of drinking and shenanigans, throwing out any chance of Hockey Rookie of the Year. A price has to be paid sometimes.

And what the Hell, in honour of this quasi-Christmas party tonight, let’s get in the mood with the mighty Paul Kelly, and his anthem. Sing along, peoples.

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