Saturday night, pre-Christmas. Melbourne is a cauldron of parties and celebrations and socialising. Anybody who’s anybody is drinking Yuletide cocktails, dancing, laughing loud at great jokes over the noise of a cool stereo.
Naturally, winner that I am, I am not at any of these fabulous parties. Instead, I’m at the Icehouse, wearing full hockey gear, sans shoulder armour. It’s only because I’m accompanied by the socially in-demand Kittens Place that I can hold my head up.
And we are not alone. In fact, the Henke Rink is busy with a swarm of hockey players, most in full kit except for shoulder pads, some just in jeans and a T-shirt, gloves and a helmet, all zooming across the ice at speed, practicing their moves or slapshotting at the empty net goal.
It’s basically an expression session for everybody from Intermediate players like Kittens and I through to vastly experienced players looking to hone their craft.
Hilariously, the title of this Saturday night hockeyfest is the increasingly inaccurately named “Come & Try!” session.
Starting at 9 pm and running until 10.30, these sessions were designed by the Icehouse to give people who had never tried ice hockey a chance to wobble around in a helmet, gloves and with a stick, discovering just how difficult it is to hit a puck with a long hockey stick while skating. Imagine a large car park cleared out for only learner drivers to hesitantly drive around …
… which is hijacked by V8 Supercar drivers for high speed practice sessions.
“Come & Die” * would be a better name for anybody wanting to use this time to take their first step into the hockey world.
Because here’s the thing; a swarm of hockey players around Melbourne, forever starved of quality ice time, realised that anybody can pay $25 and hit the ice during these sessions. In an early blog on this site, I talked about showing up for a Come & Try and being asked seriously by the Icehouse staff not to wear my full hockey kit because I might terrify the newbies out there, which I thought was pretty funny given I could barely skate at the time.
These days, all such considerations have been swept away and the “rink rats” have taken over completely. A true newcomer to the sport would have to be made of stern stuff to even attempt to step onto the ice.
The session is only one referee and a hint of organization from becoming a full-tilt Drop-In hockey game. In fact, as Kittens commented to me, there were the same number of players on Saturday as at an Intermediate class, or a Dev League game, but without any order.
Near-collisions are regular, pucks are hit hard as players practice smacking the rubber disc into the boards and skaters go in all directions, often backwards and fast.
Good luck, newbies. What could go wrong?
By the way, have a great Christmas and New Year, everybody. See you on the ice or in this virtual world in 2012.
Cheers, and thanks for reading this self-indulgent hockey diary. It’s almost one year old!
(*See what I did there? Professional writer at his peak.)