2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 44,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 10 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)

So, the world is ending later today, according to the Mayans.

10.11 pm, I think I read, which will come as a real bummer for anybody watching “You Only Live Twice” on Channel Seven, because the film will have about half an hour to run when the Earth implodes. (Bond beats the bad guy, if that helps).

I’m fine with the world ending, by the way, which is a good way to be. I can’t remember if I’ve written about this before (I’m sure I must have), but I have long held the view that we should live our lives hard and for the moment. My cousin, a leading cancer specialist, taught me this, having spent his career treating people who suddenly ran out of time, who suddenly found out life is not an endless resource to be savoured at some point, when they get around to it.

You Only Live Twice: Connery as Bond. Hard not to like.

You Only Live Twice: Connery as Bond. Hard not to like.

The elevator pitch of my life philosophy is this: at your funeral, you don’t want anybody crying and saying, “Oh, poor (insert your name here) … he/she was so young, hadn’t lived yet, had all these things he/she was going to do … what a tragedy.”

You want everybody holding a good old fashioned Irish wake, getting pissed, crying sure but also playing music with a beat, laughing, shaking their heads, telling stories of your escapades. “Well, it’s a shame (insert your name here) got caught up in that bizarre shark versus giant octopus fight but, hell, he/she packed a lot into that life. Here’s to him/her.”

That’s what you want people saying.

I’m aware that age helps, in this situation. I’ve been on Earth for a while now, although not as long as a misunderstood Mayan calendar, and so have had the chance to pack in the adventures. And, oh hells yeah, I have. Not even going to attempt to list them.

But the bottom line is this: if John Cusack runs past my house, looking wild eyed, at 10 pm tonight, and then the buildings inexplicably shake and fall into giant fissures (good word, not often I get to use it, but don’t Google it; Google goes wrong fast on that one) I’ll take one final sip of good whisky, hug my beautiful partner and know that I died after a very satisfying final week of hockey for the year.

Which is all that matters, right?

It all started on Sunday. Big Cat Place and I drove out to Oakleigh, which gave us a lot of time to chat and listen to songs, ad we found ourselves listening to “Thrift Shop” again, by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and I had a bolt of lightning idea out of the blue that I’m excited about.

And then we played the Nite Owls, which was a particular thrill for me because this team is known as the “old men” of Summer League, or of Victorian hockey for that matter. The team is an Over-35s team, which of course makes them ancient in the wider hockey community. One guy had a snowy white beard but mostly they looked disconcertingly younger than me, mostly because they were.

To be clear, I was almost a teenager when most of them were born.

But on Sunday, I was safely hidden among my mostly younger teammates and my trusty red helmet and face cage. One Nite Owl, midway through the second period, was puffing hard and I was cheeky enough to ask him if he was okay, if he was feeling alright with all this exertion? Poor old guy …

The Interceptors ready for a face-off, versus the Nite Owls. Pic: Elizabeth Vine

The Interceptors ready for a face-off, versus the Nite Owls. Pic: Elizabeth Vine

There’s a good chance I will one day limp into the Nite Owls’ club rooms, or nest or tree branch or wherever owls hang out when off the ice, and plead to be allowed to trundle my mediocre hockey wares in their midst, but for now I pretended I was a rookie, a sapling, and skated like a maniac. It was fun. And the Ceptors played our best game maybe ever, playing smart, fast, skilled team hockey, to win 3-1, The Nite Owls’ only goal deflecting off my stick, as I charged a defender driving a shot from the blue line. Beating our goalie, Jay, with the deflection. (Sorry, Jay)

They were a very good team, though. Perfect positioning, tape-to-tape passing, just as we’d been warned. It was a very solid win by us, a brilliant way for the Interceptors to finish the first half of our season, and our calendar year. We now go to a break for a month or so, which is a good thing given my current injury toll, as noted on facebook:
Right hammie undiagnosed habitual tightness.
Left knee dislocation or maybe chipped bone.
Right elbow tendonitis.
Left bicep undiagnosed cramping and muscle strain.
Stomach bruising (from user-error impalement on stick against boards)

Yes, I could do with a break but the season is already a massive win. I stood in front of the team before we even went onto the ice and felt a need to make a speech. The team no doubt rolled their collective eyes but they knew the risks when they gave me that ‘A’ for my chest. There would be speeches.

But all I had to say was this, and I meant it: Playing for the Interceptors is probably the most fun I have EVER had in sports. I’ve played some schoolboy footy (and, of course, The Bang, my Sunday footy zoo, which is amazing in all different ways, but is not technically competitive sport and therefore doesn’t need to be compared), as well as running, cricket, indoor cricket, surfing, boxing, one triathlon … I don’t know what else.

Nothing compares to ice hockey, and to being part of such a fun, got-it-together, love-playing-for-each-other team.

After midnight in a Footscray car wash ...

After midnight in a Footscray car wash …

After the Nite Owls, all that was left was the final night of Wednesday dev league for the year, which always has a carnival atmosphere. Big Cat played four games of scrimmage in five hours (and then lay prone on the couch all Thursday). I played my usual 10 pm then 11.15 pm games, and scored a goal in both, which was a first – a two goal evening. Decent goals too. Anybody would think I’m improving. God knows there’s a long way to go (backward crossovers, anybody?) but four goals in the last three Wednesdays … sweethouse.

At 1.30 am on Thursday, as Melbourne slept, 15 or so hockey players, still smelly and steaming from the game, stood in the traditional, glamorous post-dev league surrounds of a deserted car wash cubicle at a Footscray BP service station, drinking Big Ms or variations thereof, swapping shit, laughing and celebrating the end of another hockey year. Gentle rain fell outside our car wash and a year and maybe the world ticked to its end.

I went back to my first nickdoeshockey blog post of 2012 to see what I’d written. The key words were these:

I feel confident that the goal a group of us have, of forming a team ready to join summer league next September, is very achievable. And I should be proficient enough to play by then, or something has gone horribly wrong.

Nothing did go horribly wrong. We did it, through the hard backroom work of Theresa Neate, and then the ongoing work of Chris Janson and a bunch of other rookies. We got some teams together and we have proven to be competitive, in summer league Rec D. Who knows where it goes from here, where I go from here? Some or many of our team will go into winter competition, which is harder and has a player draft, while others will aim for next summer, once this competition is over. Mackquist, now 17 and skating better every day, could well be ready to join me in summer in 2013-14. It would rock to play a season with him, or even Big Cat and Mackquist.

Dev league bench shenanigans. Pic: Brendan Parsons

Dev league bench shenanigans. Pic: Brendan Parsons

See, that’s the thing that should never be confused about my life philosophy. Even though you want to rack up the adventures, and the moments, and the achievements, and feeling loved and loving, and the travels, and the sensations of miracles and wonder and enduring sorrow and heartbreak and everything else life has to offer and hit you with … you never want to stop looking ahead, and wondering where next to gallop.

If the Mayans are right and it all ends at 10.11 pm, then so be it. It’s been a turbulent year in many ways, full of disappointment but also revelations (I almost physically died twice, that I can count), and 2013 may be more of the same but, in hockey, I’ve improved more than I ever could have hoped for and am playing at a level I would have shaken my head at in January.

If by some non-Mayan quirk of fate, I happen to wake up tomorrow, my skates will be sharp, my keyboard will be ready, my heart and eyes will be open and my legs are strong.

Have a great Christmas and New Year, hockey fans. Skate to where the puck will be, not where the puck is.

Giddyup.

Nicko

Monkey bombs

The simple joys of life: passing pucks with fellow Ceptor-Jet Dan Byrne.

The simple joys of life: passing pucks with fellow Ceptor-Jet Dan Byrne.

Heat grips Melbourne. The Icehouse is refreshingly cold. I score a goal, crashing the slot, just like Coach Dave asked me to. The clock ticks past midnight on a Wednesday and our happy dev league crew is skating, happy, competing, living in our hockey world.

Real world issues recede. Meetings with lawyers, demons, clients, expectations, publishers, reality fall away in the first moments of a Thursday morning, as you chase a puck. Think of nothing but chasing a puck.

On Sunday, in the late afternoon, I came gasping desperately to the surface of Port Phillip Bay after a dive gone wrong (I haven’t told my mother about this yet). Mortality confronting me in the cold water and a suspected rogue upward current. It’s not often that we are truly frightened, lose our shit, fight to control panic on an uncontrolled ascent, and find ourselves breathing pure oxygen from an emergency supply on the dive boat in lurching waves, wondering if, instead of Wednesday hockey, a long stint in a recompression tank at Alfred Hospital awaits.

Happily, it didn’t. Instead, I cautiously played defence in the first game on Wednesday night, just to let the game come to me and see how my body felt. Felt fine. Second game, back to forward and skating hard. Relief and joy in my legs moving, my lungs working. Strange that, almost two years in, hockey can feel like a comfort zone.

And this Sunday, late afternoon, I can feel less fear in the prospect of trucking out to Oakleigh, tackling a team called the Nite Owls.

But now it’s Thursday. Reality is everywhere. Life swirls. Friends rise. Others close doors. I wave goodbye. It’s hot and windy outside. Feels turbulent. Unsettled. Life in the wings of fate and maybe the Mayans.

What are you going to do? Shrug, think about being where the puck will be, not where the puck is. Or was. Dive into your life and love those who love you. Find meaning in the way roads have twisted, or at least work to accept the journey.

And if all else fails, smile at the monkeys, doing excellent cannonball bombs. And head to the Fitzroy Back Beach or, whoa, watch an unexpected thunderstorm roll in, and let the thunder vibrate through your body, still breathing, still here, heart beating; not in ways you thought it might, but still beating.

You close your eyes and have the sudden memory of seeing lightning from a high point, under a towel, drinking beers and feeling unexpected worlds open up. Feel your pulse. Think about a new team waiting on Sunday. And you go with that. And you let life happen.

Wonders of the world

An unlikely scenario

A puck spills free. Holy crap, it’s me, face to face with Nate, the goalie. Everybody else’s momentum taking them the other way. Like a penalty shot in a game situation, and this is a fraction of a moment of a second. I need to swing.

Nate knows, from us playing against or near each other for a long time, that I have no ability to shoot high, to raise the puck to the top corner. He must know he only has to drop to his pads to put up a solid wall for my inevitably feeble shot.

So I go high. Rip it into the air. Beat him clean, but hear the heartbreaking ping as it carooms off the top of the cross bar. And stays out.

The odds of me shooting over the top crossbar? Roughly the same as Bettman winning NHLPA Personality of the Year.

I’m calling it a moral victory, Nate. (Sadly, he gets to call it a no-goal. Dammnit)

I’m not making this up:

From ahl.com (yes, I am trawling the American Hockey League website, and following the Grand Rapid Griffins while the endless lock-out ruins everybody’s year):

(Consolidated Press) Jason Zucker tied an American Hockey League record for the fastest overtime goal, scoring just five seconds into the extra period as the Houston Aeros edged the visiting Abbotsford Heat, 3-2, on Sunday evening.

 … Zucker’s goal tied the record set by Dave Saatzer of the Nova Scotia Voyageurs in 1980, and tied by Chris Corrinet of the Portland Pirates in 2002.”

 

So that’s happened three times? A goal in the first five seconds of overtime? When Alex McNab heard about my infamous/famous face-off goal at Oakleigh, she wrongly assumed I’d smacked the shot from the drop at centre ice and was deeply impressed, at least until she learned the truth.

This Zucker guy might actually have done it … turns out five seconds is a long time in hockey.

The three-peat doco: centre stage

At the Icehouse last night, I noticed there is finally a stand of the Ice 3-peat doco, with a small screen even showing scenes from it, which is bold, given some of Jaffa’s more colourful moments within the series. I had heard of some eye-rolling shenanigans on the part of hockey administrators, like shunning the doco makers because a ref took umbrage to one of the funniest coach’s speeches, and some shot of a player pissing outdoors on the Gold Coast (at a rink now deemed unsuitable for AIHL play).

So it’s great that the doco is front and centre in the pro shop and hockey fans looking for Christmas presents can do the logical thing.

(This is not a paid announcement – just enthusiasm)

Wednesday nights at the House

God, I still love dev league Wednesdays. Cracking group of people, excellent spirit, no-tomorrow skating.

Highlights from classes/dev league last night (aside from my almost goal – as above – and an actual goal I fluked off skates and sticks, plus the fact I might finally have my head and muscle-memory around the fast feet conundrum that has held back my skating for months):

1. Mackquist Place, the youngest, totally acing his Intro assessment, while fully aware that more than a dozen of the Rookies were watching his every move on the ice. Mack always feels the pressure when that happens, assuming that shit will be hung on him, instead of support. (I have no idea why my son is so paranoid about being laughed at. Sheesh) … Anyway, last night, far from being ridiculed, when he performed a copybook pivot towards the end of the assessment, the roar and glass-banging was worthy of an AIHL-winning goal. Army and the other coaches cracked up. Mack is headed to Intermediate and well on the way to passing his old man in skill and skating much faster than I would like.

2. There was a golden moment in the 10 pm scrimmage when coach/ref Lliam Webster laughed hard at a player’s protestations that a goal shouldn’t have counted because it had hit the frame and bounced back into play before the goal was scored. “Well, um, yeah … that’s hockey,” Lliam said, then yelled back over his shoulder to the players on the ice: “… Play until the whistle, idiots!”

He remains an inspiring and motivational coach.

3. I was skating behind the net, wondering if I could attempt a wraparound goal, when suddenly a stick from behind stole the puck. I was somehow pretty much unaware the defender was there, and lost my skates in suprise, mid-turn. Sliding on my knees, I took a while to get back up and Lliam called from the bench with genuine concern to check I was alright.

Sure, I replied, to which he yelled: “You’re getting old!”

“Getting?” I answered. “What getting? I already was, and am.”

We laughed.

Actually the truth was that I took so long to get up because a) I’d skated super hard for almost two hours and was feeling it, and b) I was having a minor self-hating episode that I hadn’t tuned into the defender sneaking up on me and been ready for it. A lot of internal bad language. Grandmothers would have blushed. Note to self: less self-hate while still on the ice, more getting back to feet and chasing puck.

The eye of a blogger

The lock-out is getting to everybody. Linked from Winging It In Motown, one Californian piece made me laugh.

Bloggers should never be confused with journos, but they can put good spin on stuff.

Trusting Steve Burton. Click here for the piece.

Canada 5, Nicko 0

So, the short story is that the Champs handed the Interceptors our collective arse on Sunday. Strangely, I left the Icehouse feeling much better than after our loss the week before.

Maybe it’s because the penalties seemed about even? Maybe it was because we landed four goals, even if 10 went the other way? Maybe I was just coming off such a clusterfuck of a week in that bastard known as the Real World that a hockey scoreline simply couldn’t rattle me beyond acceptable levels? Who knows?

Or maybe it’s because, in fact, we were beaten by one really good Canadian and his mate.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a rant, or sour grapes. We were beaten fair and square. Well played, Champs.

Andrew Poss playing for the Champs. I mostly watched his back as he skated away from me. Pic: Facebook

Andrew Poss playing for the Champs. I mostly watched his back as he skated away from me. Pic: Facebook

But five of the Champs’ goals were scored by a guy called Andrew Poss, who carried at least three of them, from memory, end-to-end before casually deeking our goalie to score. Like a Melbourne Ice player in dev league against rookies, a Test cricketer joining a work social match or an NBA basketballer against a weekend amateur team. His mate, Harley Hancock, was also barely breaking a sweat in beating us.

Does it make me feel better or worse to know that Andrew is apparently from Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada, and is a former, or maybe resting, member of a team called the Northstars in the Edmonton Municipal Hockey League? I guess there’s no real shame to being sliced and diced by an experienced Canadian player. But how depressing that I remain so far off the pace. Note to self: DO NOT move to Edmonton and decide to play hockey over there, if Andrew Poss is the average everyday player in that town.

I had a bad game on most levels. I’d been yearning for more skating and more responsibility, the coach gave me both and I didn’t do enough with my moment. Skated hard but ineffectually as this Poss guy and Hancock, in a black jersey with masking tape numbers, carved us up.

The worst moment was after a face-off near our goal in the first period. I was Left Wing and the Champs won the face-off and shot the puck across the slot. It literally grazed my stick. If I’d trapped it, it might have been a fraction of a second of just me and the goalie. Might have been. But instead the puck grazed the toe of my stick, and I realized it was a set play, releasing Poss, lurking behind me, to carry it the length of the ice to score, Interceptors and I trailing helplessly in his wake. It went like that the whole game and Andrew seemed like a decent guy, not celebrating too hard after his fifth.

Hockey in Victoria remains a strange beast. I try to stay well out of politics and all the off-ice theatre that seems to dominate the sport. However, I do think one of the better decisions in recent times was to ban Winter League players from summer comp. Winter League is a much tougher competition, by all accounts. There’s a player draft, so you get chosen by clubs if you’re good enough. It’s intense and the standard is high. Last summer, as these players came back to Recreational League D, which is where I now play, they smashed teams made up of fledgling rookies such as myself. Turning up for training at the Icehouse this time last year, we’d hear horrified accounts of of ugly 20-something-to-zero scorelines. Of demoralized and shattered wannabe players. It was nasty.

IHV reacted, despite the natural grumbling of the winter players who suddenly couldn’t play competition hockey through the summer months, and it’s been brilliant for all of us, starting out. In games where the Interceptors have been against similar players – learning and training for less than two years – the hockey has been even and challenging, yet at a standard where you can feel like you’re part of it, that you can compete, that you’re ready.

Shit, I even managed that goal a few weeks ago.

hancock

Hancock in Australian colours: he’s also a better player than me. Pic: facebook

But every now and then, some players or even a team have snuck through. Hancock’s Facebook page has happy snaps of him lined up for the national anthem just before playing inline hockey for Australia. Presumably Andrew Poss didn’t play last winter, so he is eligible to play for the Champs’ summer team and he is simply three or four levels too good for us. And for pretty much everybody else, going by the league scoring records. He had 13 points in three games before scoring a lazy five goals against us.

For the hundredth time, I’m not whinging. The Champs had other good players too. I was really proud of how we Interceptors kept our heads up, fought hard, never crumpled. Some of my teammates really did skate with Poss, Hancock and the other Champs guns, making a contest of it. Our goalie, Jay, saved some beauties, even if – in true goalie fashion – he slumped into a festival of self-hate for those pucks that got through.

And the Champs aren’t the only team with a few gun players. Our Spitfire sister team, the Fighters, also has several players who are also clearly of winter comp standard, not summer. They beat up on mortals like me every week. I’m only jealous that I can’t skate and shoot like that; dubious that I ever will. I only curse Poss and Hancock for their youth and their endless hours on the ice for years before I discovered this crazy sport. I appreciate it when those players don’t gloat about outclassing P-platers on the ice.

And I’m looking forward to the rematch, to see if I can make a better fist of trying to go with them, to get more than the occasional stick in their way as they charge the blue line. It’s how I’ll improve, how I’ll know that I – and the Interceptors – are still evolving through dev league and summer competition, by matching up against the best.

And secretly, I’ll thank the IHV decision-makers, for making that call that such elite players carving through our defences are the exception this summer, rather than the rule.

Sometimes you need context

Me, battling it out against an Ice Wolf, as Kittens supports. Pic: Elizabeth Vine

So, I had a shitty weekend of hockey. My first loss as a member of the Interceptors and the game went pear-shaped, from pretty early on. We didn’t play well, as a team, for the first time in my experience, just couldn’t get any magic happening, and the other team played really well. We copped a bunch of penalties, not all of which felt justified, so that the game felt like an endless penalty kill and we fourth liners sat and sat and sat. I’m not whingeing (no really, coach, I’m not). Just saying it was a crappy game, as far as a hockey game can ever be sub-awesome.*

The game put me in a foul mood through to Monday, which surprised me, because I try not to take hockey that seriously. I am, after all, playing in the lowest level of social amateur hockey in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; a long way from Canada or the American Original Six cities.

But I’ve played enough sport to know there are bad weeks along with the great weeks. That self-doubts and demons are lurking as soon as things don’t go well. That all you can do is front up again and improve, work on your game, get better.

And yet … Sunday sat in my stomach like a badly digested hamburger.

The Victorian Supreme Court: where the nasty side of real life gets judged. Pic: Herald Sun.

Happily I spent Monday afternoon at the Supreme Court, being grilled by barristers, and context was very quickly restored. I wrote a university thesis a million years ago about whether journalists should get psychological debriefing after covering trauma, and every now and then it bobs back up in my life as an important document in that area of the world (which is lucky, because in my professional career, nobody, as in NOBODY, has ever asked if I have a BA in Journalism. Nine years of night school and it’s the most irrelevant piece of paper in the world, other than maybe a document outlining a Dedication of Goodwill & Respect  between the NHL executives and the NHL Players Association, if such a thing attempts to exist.)

Revisiting my thesis was a trip and a disturbing one. I read it carefully for the first time in a few years. Journalists talking about covering murder scenes and fatal car accidents, getting home and looking at their children and struggling not to cry, having spent the entire night reporting on the rape-murder of a six-year-old girl found in a gutter (no really, that’s one of the stories). Detailed eye-witness accounts of the senseless Hoddle Street shooting, the Australia Post mass shooting, the Russell Street police bomb. Bringing up my own memories of my time on the “Graveyard Shift”, covering murders and fatals. One anecdote I’d forgotten in the thesis was of two cops who were feeling around under an overturned car in a massive puddle. They felt something and pulled from opposite sides of the car until the object gave and one cop suddenly found himself sitting up, holding a human leg. They laughed their arses off. He ended up needing intense counseling.

The Supreme Court case is about potential damage done to media workers, or one in particular, and I was a witness and it was draining, being cross-examined and all. I got home to hear that my sister’s cat, one of my top five cats ever, had died that day. My partner was stressed about some real life problems. A schoolie had died an unnecessary death on the Gold Coast. The NHL lock-out parties weren’t talking again. Storm clouds were literally gathering over Melbourne as we got home from dinner in the city, and by 1.30 am, I was unexpectedly awake and alert, thanks to thunder claps, and out in the backyard, dragging hockey gear off the line as the rain pelted down. (It was pretty awesome lightning, actually. I love storms.) My brain turned to all of the above and I couldn’t sleep until near-dawn. My old life, as an insomniac, revisited.

Just another week.

Of real life.

Of reminders that some people have much more difficult lives than I do.

Of the occasional struggle to go on. To literally go on. To process life as we choose to live it, and as it sometimes rises up against us.

That real grief is a lot different to a shitty hockey game.

Like I said, context.

Tonight I have dev league, to hang with the hockey crowd, to skate my legs off, to sharpen up for the weekend.

Then a game against the highly-rated Champs on Sunday.

Maybe we’ll win, maybe we’ll lose. Maybe I’ll play well and get heaps of ice time. Maybe I’ll stink up the Henke Rink.

Who can say?

The key is to care intensely and yet only to a certain point. Act like hockey is life and death, but know deep down that it actually isn’t.

That’s the trick. I just have to remember that. We all do.

(*This blog is going to get tough from here, because I don’t want it to turn into Interceptor Weekly, good or bad. I’ve thought about whether it’s actually time to shut it down, now that my journey to trying to be a hockey player – even if a crappy fourth liner in a low team – is presumably through the major learning curve, but I may still have things hopefully worth saying. I don’t think I’ll be posting as regularly, to try and keep it fresh. For anybody still turning up to read it, thank you. I appreciate it.)

Pucks, like life, can bounce randomly. Ask Rodriguez

It’s been a patchy couple of weeks, in terms of hockey. The NHL lock-out rolls endlessly on, with occasional flares of optimism that a deal will get done and hockey will be played but then, no, everybody walks off in a huff, like schoolkids fighting over marbles.

I’ve been reduced to watching documentaries about Detroit. A few weeks ago, I watched the mesmeric Detropia, and last night Chloe and I finally hit the Nova to see Searching for Sugar Man, an astonishing and moving documentary about Rodriguez, who you, like the rest of the world, had probably never heard of before this film. Strangely, I had, because of one of my more ridiculous little-known hobbies. It goes like this: sometimes, on a whim, I march into Polyester or one of my other favourite music stores, on a mission. The challenge is to choose a CD or vinyl album that I have never heard of, that purely attracts me on the day. It might be cover art or the name of the band or who knows what “Use the Force, Luke” factor that draws me to it.

I can only choose one.

I can never have heard of the band.

It’s a hobby that has clearly led to some horrible mistakes. There are definitely vinyl albums and CDs sitting on my shelf that have had only earned one or maybe two optimistic listens. (A copy of Fourtet’s “There is love in you” double vinyl album is going way cheap if anybody is interested) but not as many disasters as you’d think, and the wins can be huge. The Herbaliser’s “Same As It Never Was” CD probably remains my single greatest triumph of this game, although local artist Matt Bailey’s first album “The Three I’s” is a rival for Best Ever. (A graphic designer friend of mine, who turned out to have designed the art for a Bailey follow-up album, when I looked at the liner notes, said to me, in amazement: “How did you discover Matt Bailey??” Hopefully sales have picked up. For a down low night at home, it’s up there with Massive Attack.) Other honourable mentions go to The Two Things In One (Together Forever – The Music City Sessions; back cover pic won me) and Delta Swamp Rock (vinyl – the sheer name and the photo of two dweebs sitting awkwardly in a picnic area as the cover shot. How could I not?)

Yes, this back cover photo convinced me to buy an album. I never said the game was smart, or sophisticated. But really, how could you not want to hear this band?

So one day, playing this game, I wandered around a shop on the corner of Gertrude and George Street and stumbled upon a CD, “Cold Fact” by some guy called Rodriguez. It was clearly very old … late Sixties or Seventies old. He was pictured, cross-legged, in big dark glasses and a hat, as though floating.

Dunno. Looking at it now it’s an unremarkable cover. One track, “Sugar Man”, rang a bell but not one that I could isolate and identify. I honestly don’t know why I chose it. There’s every chance it was the title of a song more often known as “The Establishment Blues”. Its full title is: “This Is Not A Song, It’s An Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues”.

Yeah, actually, that would have won me for sure. Where’s my wallet?

Back in the car, I slotted the CD and Sugar Man, and The Establishment Blues justified the money on their own. Rodriguez went into rotation on my iPad and life moved along. You know, the usual … I worked, I fell in and out of love, I bought other CDs with varying degrees of success, my dog and I grew older, I started playing hockey, I finished a novel, I swam with manta rays, I went to America with my boys, I saw the Red Wings live (but not win). I fell in love again … Rodriguez was part of the soundtrack.

And then this doco came out and the story is mind-blowing. Go see it. I openly cried. If you’re a creative type, it’s the ultimate bittersweet fairytale. Which is quite an achievement for a film that explains before the opening credits that Rodriguez, a commercial musical failure, reportedly died when he poured petrol on himself, on stage, and set himself alight.

But guess where the mystery man, Rodriguez, came from? Yep, good old Detroit. Straight out of the opening credits, I’m looking at a helicopter shot of the city, and having been there a year ago, I was easily able to spot the unglamorous blocky shape of the Joe Louis Arena by the Detroit River. Even better, Chloe (who a year ago may never have heard of ice hockey) squeezed my hand when somebody walked past a shop window with a poster celebrating various Red Wing Stanley Cup championships.

Even if you’re not a Wings fan or an increasingly passionate Detroitophile like me, it’s a brilliant doco.

But that’s as close to the Red Wings as I’ve been able to get lately. Detroit stars are scattered across Europe or training listlessly at minor rinks, waiting for the lock-out to end. The 2012-13 season shrinks and is probably gone. No Datsyuk magic in the winged wheel for another year? Fuck. Although Dats is having fun, making the best players in the top professional league in Russia look like development leaguers up against Lliam Webster:

(Thanks to Zak Wookie for that link)

Luckily, half a world away, on Melbourne ice rinks, hockey is being played, and sometimes by me.

In Rec D, my team lost 7-1 but then won 2-0 over the past fortnight. I missed the loss, because I was making sandcastles at Lorne, which might possibly endanger my claims for Devoted Team Player of the Year.

In between, we had a strangely listless two hours of dev league on the Wednesday night; one of those nights where players were flat-footed, waiting for the puck to come to them, not powering up and down the ice. I was probably as guilty as anybody, it was just a night where mojo was missing, although I did wake up sore the next day, which is always a good sign I’ve skated hard, and I did manage a goal – my third in four games.

The best thing was that when I woke the next morning with my usual Thursday morning hockey hangover, I was unexpectedly aware that I had made a surprise breakthrough in my hockey learning.

I had spent the night, especially the second game, determined to “own the puck”. As in, if it was there on my wing, I was going to win it. There are many better skaters than me in dev league; many better puck-handlers or more experienced players. But that’s what is great about dev league. It’s training, it’s learning, it’s not entirely about the scoreboard, even if we pretend it is. So I  didn’t back off when I would normally think, ‘Oh, that guy’s good; he’ll beat me to it/win it,’; I better go into defensive mode early. Instead, I kept charging. And the shock was that I won a share of pucks. Not always, obviously, but enough that it reminded me all over again how much easier hockey is and how the puck comes to you, when you take this attitude, instead of feeling, in the back of your mind, that you’re somehow making up the numbers. It’s the same in footy, probably the same in most sports. Confidence and commitment leads to good results.

Maybe it’s the fact I’ve managed a few goals lately? Maybe it’s false confidence? Maybe I’m delusional?

I don’t care. It’s been working and tomorrow night, when dev league cranks up again, and this weekend, against the Ice Wolves, I’m looking for that puck.

And after that? As Rodriguez sang, I’ll slip away.

The most beautiful chime in the world

A puck can make many different sounds near the goal. There’s the dull thud of it hitting a goalie’s padding, or the soft thwack of it being swallowed by the goalie’s glove. There’s the clank of the puck bouncing off the goalie’s stick and the heart-stopping ping of it hitting the frame of the goal, usually riccocheting back into play.

But then there’s another sound – a sound that ranks among the best I have heard in my entire life*.

It’s the chime of the puck hitting the bottom metal framework of the goal, at the back of the net, behind the goalie.

Yes, my first goal in Summer League Rec D was a sensory overload.

The big moment. My first Summer League goal (We’re in our cool Arato-designed white-and-red Interceptor “away” jerseys. I was wearing No. 4 instead of my usual 17. Now known as lucky number 4.) Pic: Elizabeth Vine

As I wrote last week, I felt like I just hadn’t had a chance to skate in last week’s game, so I made sure I got three or four general skates in during the week, including a skate on the morning of Sunday’s game against the Jets. Nothing strenuous; just getting the legs moving and enjoying watching Chloé finding her legs on the almost empty ice.

Our coach, Will Ong, had reacted to my frustration, which was cool, and made me Centre, instead of Wing, on a fourth line of forwards, so I got to take face-offs and skate like a maniac from the jump.

There are different strategies at face-offs; even different stick-grips, depending on the situation. Mostly a Centre is hoping to knock the puck back to a D man, the theory being that that player has more time and space than the Wings and Centre who are all pushing and shoving and tangled with their opposition. The D can see who gets clear and look for a pass.

But we had several face-offs in a row from the face-off spot immediately to the left of the goal we were attacking. The fact it was on the left side was significant for me, because it meant my forehand shot was towards the goal.

I kept hunching over my stick, ready for the puck drop, looking at how close the goal was, only two or three metres away. Sure, there was the goalie, and several defenders between me and it, but if I could win a face-off cleanly… It was like a tee-shot in golf. I knew exactly where the puck would be, and everybody was stopped, flat footed.

Of course, it didn’t work. My opponent won the face-off, clattering the puck to the boards and his defender. The next face-off from that spot saw us tangle sticks, an inconclusive result, and the Jets smacked the puck to the other end for an icing.

Which brought us back to the same spot.

And the most sweetly hit puck of my career so far. My face-off opponent was a fraction early, swinging over the puck, but my blade found it and somehow, against all the odds, the shot was true.

Oh, man.

The visual of seeing the puck vanish through that tiny gap between the goalie’s right leg and the goal. That chime. The ref taking a moment to realise what had happened. The reaction of my teammates.

The goal itself wasn’t that important. I think it made the scoreline 4-0 to us, so it wasn’t some last second game-winner or anything like that.

But I felt this weight lift. That chime meant something else, for me alone.

It sounded a bell that I belong in this competition; that I can genuinely play. I’ve had goal-assists in every game and done some good things, but there was something about scoring that goal, about single-handedly finding the net – the coach called it “audacious” – that confirmed for me, finally, that I wasn’t kidding myself by trying to play Summer League after less than two years on the ice. That I can cut it enough to be there.

I suspect everybody playing Summer League for the first time, or any sport for the first time, carries that fear: will I be good enough? Will I be competitive? Will I be embarrassed?

That chime behind the goalie said: it’s okay. You can turn up and believe you deserve your spot on the team.

Celebration time: Yes, the No. 4 still pumping the air would be me. OK, I probably shouldn’t have kept doing this for 19 minutes … Pic: Elizabeth Vine.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a goal that does that, but we all need to look for that moment. For a goalie, it only takes a genuine, legitimate, stone-cold save. Or so many other moments within moments, which hockey games are full of. One of our team, Clayton, moved to a wing this week, from defence, and won a tough physical battle on the blue line, as well as finding his attacking game. Scarlett, the only woman playing for us on Sunday, tangled with bigger players and won her share of physical battles for the puck. Our most hot-headed defender, Mike Donohue, didn’t take the bait when an opponent tried to go toe-to-toe, a triumph of a whole other kind.

I’ve been determined that this blog won’t turn into a quasi-match report for Summer League. It’s why I haven’t gone blow-by-blow through our games as my team, the Spitfire Interceptors, has made its way to three straight wins to start the season, as has our sister team, the Spitfire Fighters. I’m sure we’re going to hit one of the more experienced, accomplished teams in the coming weeks and find our confidence tested.

But some moments just have to be noted. Ah, that chime. I’m still grinning like a school kid, listening to the ring of that goal over and over in my head. Hell, if they’d given me an assist on Zac Arato’s goal, despite the minor issue of a defender touching it between my shot and Zac’s, I’d have a two point-per-game average right now. Wayne Gretsky finished his career with a 1.921 points-per-game average. Just saying **

Hockey can be sweet.

* Other great sounds, in no particular order: thunder, the clink of glasses, the sound of surf, a Richmond crowd rising to a great goal, certain moans and sighs, a cat purring, child laughter, a guitar played properly, silence after a busy day.

** Career stats for further analysis:  N. Place: three games (Melbourne Summer Recreational League D).  Goals: 1. Assists: 3. Hat tricks: 0.
W. Gretsky: 1487 games (NHL). Career regular season goals (894), assists (1,963), points (2,857), and hat tricks (50). The next closest player in total points for the regular season is sometime teammate Mark Messier at 1,887 – thus Gretzky had more career assists than any other player has total points. Gretzky’s point total including regular season and playoffs stands at an imposing 3,239. (Wikipedia)

Signs the NHL lock-out is starting to bite

The 2009 Winter Classic: New Year’s Day’s planned Classic, hosted by Detroit, ain’t gonna happen.

So, as sure as the weather is shitty in New York right now, on Friday (American time)/Saturday (Australian time), the NHL will announce that the Winter Classic is cancelled for New Year’s Day, 2013. This is a crappy development, on many levels, except for the fact that it gives me another year to save up and try to get there in 2014, assuming Detroit still gets to host the Classic, if and when the NHL lock-out finally ends.

But the Winter Classic was always a signature event in terms of the lock-out, as it provides so much in terms of TV ratings, revenue and interest. Letting it slide away without doing a deal means the NHL owners and the players can now drift for the rest of the fast evaporating northern winter without doing a deal and playing some hockey. Yes, I’m calling it: season gone.

So at a time where Red Wings fans like me should be debating how our team is looking deep into the season, post-Lidstrom (The Perfect Human), whether Patrick Eaves will ever come back from concussion, what a genius Datsyuk is, and so on, the Joe Louis Arena is hosting public skating days and gathering cobwebs.

It sucks, and there are signs that the world is starting to unravel without the best hockey league in the world. Such as:

1. Vancouver shooting fans have embraced an offer to have NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman as a target at a shooting range.

2. NHL.com is reduced to reviewing hockey films from two decades ago.

3. Starved of hockey, Manhattan folk have lost their minds as Hurricane Sandy blows out of town.

4. Some idiot decided to close the Elwood RSL Club, one of the better memories I have of hanging out in that suburb.

5. The Grand Rapids Griffins continue to attract a surprising amount of interest, as they head to Texas for a road trip. The Wings have just swapped out starting goalie Jordan Pearce for wunderkind Petr Mrazek, which is interesting in terms of Detroit’s future development.

6. Detroit Tigers fans, still hurting from being swept in the World Series, at least got to snigger when the parade for their conquerers, the San Francisco Giants, went horribly, horribly wrong. Like the manager’s car in the parade running out of petrol. No, really. It didn’t occur to the parade organisers to make sure cars had enough petrol to make it down a street?

7. People are doing weird things with pumpkins, in the name of Halloween.

I could go on … we really need to start watching some hockey. Damn you, NHL and, for the sake of fairness, NHLPA.

Me? I missed my Wednesday night dev league hit last night, to go and watch the Black Keys at the Myer Music Bowl. I loved it; partly because I’m just really into their music and have been from their first album, and secondly because I was pumped that they stripped back their sound, instead of adding 10 band members for a bigger sound. Big Cat being Big Cat, he spent the last few songs looking at his watch, calculating whether he could get home to grab his gear and still make the 11.15 pm dev league.

The Black Keys: a fine way to fill in those lock-out hours. Pic: Brisbane Times.

We didn’t and it was strange to wake on a Thursday morning without that post-dev league hockey hangover. I’m used to creaking around and lacking sleep on a Thursday. I’m not sure I like this don’t-actually-need-coffee-to-survive feeling.

To compensate for no dev league, I went for a skate yesterday afternoon, sneaking onto the smooth ice of the Henke Rink because the Bradbury Rink is being relaid. It was just me and eight or 10 skaters who looked to be total newbies, so I was able to really let myself go, skating as hard and fast as I could for 40 minutes. I felt fantastic; really concentrating on correct form, bending my knees, lower centre of gravity, pushing all the way with my stride. That pleasing crunch that digging a skate in provides. After feeling, post last weekend’s game, that I hadn’t moved well enough, hadn’t been mobile, I was intent on just trying to fly, and to skate sprints up and down the ice. I even found a few minutes at the end for backward crossover toiling, seeing as to how I wasn’t in the usual crowded general skate environment.

My slates are being sharpened today and I plan to get out there at least once more before Sunday’s game against a Jets team, to keep working my legs and feel comfortable on my blades when it matters. I think I need to hit Sunday’s game in a puck-hungry mood. Ready to hustle.

If only Bettman and his cronies had the same sense of urgency.

Oh well … crank the Black Keys on iTunes, and fill the non-Red Wings time with crappy internet reads like this. Nothing personal, Cindy, but I’d rather be reading about Zetterberg and Dats destroying defences.

Why do I play hockey? Ask the laddergoat.

“Why do you play hockey?”

I get asked that a lot. Why hockey?

Yesterday, I walked blinking into the sun after watching the documentary, Detropia, about the death and potential rebirth of Detroit.

As I left Fed Square, still in that post-cinema zone-out, a woman crossed my path who had blood pouring from both sides of her mouth. Her skin was deathly pale. She had a severed human hand on a chain around her neck. Her partners, also with blood-stained faces, and blood-rimmed eyes, were chatting, waiting for the light to change. Cops directed traffic, not even glancing at the trio.

By Spring Street, the pedestrians had changed into the standard bridal couples near the Parliament House steps, and three people in purple and green costumes, with some kind of flower attachments, including a huge hanging flower suspended from the purple guy’s head.

At the Exhibition Buildings, dozens of the most magnificent vintage and veteran cars were queued up, waiting to hit Nicholson Street. Chargers, Holdens, Porsches, too many brands and shapes and sizes for me to know or care about, but I’d wished I’d been driving the Karmann Ghia, to be briefly among them.

Detropia.

In Detropia, an artist talks about moving to Detroit, because he was able to buy a loft apartment – a really good one – for $25,000, and to keep a studio nearby for his art. He and his girlfriend are pictured, wearing golden spray-painted gas masks, and he in a suit and tie, the tie with a big gold dollar sign, standing by a Detroit freeway with a sign: “Give us all your money $

Random.

Motown locals, who tend to be no-bullshit people, are shown frowning and staring out the car windows, and eventually one female passenger yells: “What the fuck? I mean what the fuck?”

It seems a fair question.

Meanwhile, a Detroit opera singer walks through the city’s empty decaying Grand Central station, practicing his vocal range.

Not a single mention of the Red Wings hockey team, which was disappointing. Opera instead of hockey as an expression of Detroit? Even more random. Or maybe just symbolic given the stupid NHL lock-out, a rich people’s game, which is depriving Detroit’s passionate fans of their team, of some escapism from their lives.

On Saturday night, my hockey team won 7-0 over an inexperienced and undermanned Sharks outfit, in Summer League Rec D. I played ok – managed to get two assists while falling back into bad habits like inside edge skating, legs too far apart, and not keeping two hands on my stick. Although, looking at Jess Hough’s pictures from the game, I might be being too harsh … my feet are moving in most shots. Anyway, that’s the great thing about team sport. It’s about something bigger than just you and your form. I walked into our locker room, where the Philadelphia Flyers’ favourite post-victory song, ‘Knock Knock (Let ‘Em In)’, was already pumping. Everybody excited, happy but without the urgency and adrenalin of our first ever game, a 4-2 win over the Ice Wolves team the week before. I felt I had lacked fluency in the game, spending too long between shifts on the bench, not getting my legs moving, but found other ways to contribute, whether delivering my now trademark passes to the slot, or upper-body duke-outs with the goalie and defenders (ended up flat on my back at one point – big defender), and providing a screen to release a teammate for a goal at one stage. Victory was good.

Whipping a pass to the slot, against the Sharks. Pic: Jess PowerHough

I was cheered off the ice by Australia’s No 1 Kylie Minogue impersonator, an unlikely Facebook friend, Red Wing fan and skating enthusiast who’d shown up to watch after reading my many hockey posts on Facebook or the blog. She told me about being in Las Vegas last year, riding a taxi through the desert to an ice rink in Las Vegas – one most of the locals wouldn’t even know existed. In the desert??? Buying skates crazy cheap and zooming around the ice in that mad city. Random.

Reading the paper overnight, two stories caught my eye. One was about a woman who was bludgeoned to death in her own home a while ago; the same house which has now been robbed and her ashes stolen. Her grieving family, not unreasonably, called a press conference to say: WTF? In New York, a cop has been charged with aiming to torture, kill and eat women of that city.

On Saturday night, Big Cat and I walked into Carlton, not known as a sea port, to hockey player and gad about town Brendan Parson’s birthday drinks at a pub with a seafaring theme. Pictures of potential Moby Dick cast members on the wall, guys posing next to massive fish. So random.

Then the next day, I found myself literally walking on street art bees scattered on the tarmac of the Fed Square car park. That night I surfed Foxtel’s random selection of shows about people hunting pigs, or killer tuna, or running a Detroit pawn broking shop (“Hardcore Pawn” – look it up. Oh boy) or being judged for their looks or dancing or singing or anything else that can potentially humiliate them for other people’s entertainment. As I channel surfed, a couple of kilometers away, at the top of Brunswick Street, in the secret, secure part of St Vincent’s hospital, reached via a tunnel, in the specialist ward for hardcore prisoners, the guy accused of killing a young Irish woman in Brunswick recently was being treated after reportedly trying to take his own life. I tried to imagine the weeks so far in his jail cell. Faced with the randomness and pointlessness and horror of the crime? Nowhere to hide. On the news, it was mentioned that a strange multi-murder in Switzerland had finally been found to have links to Saddam Hussein. Say, huh? As I type, a super storm is moving in on New York City, for the second time in two years and this one is looking to be even bigger and faster and nastier. My friend, Chelsea, having just arrived there in time to meet a hurricane.

Randomness swirling all around me. So many angles to the world.

Chloé and I ride our bikes down Brunswick Street on a Sunday night and a woman rides the other way, in a pink dress, with leaves and jewels and I can’t work out if her painted face is supposed to be fairy or Halloween, hippie or just because? On Facebook, a friend Jay is despondent because he didn’t shoot well over the weekend, dressed in full armour and charging around a semi-pro paintball arena. Fake killing anything that moved. Something he is very good at. Another random way to spend a weekend.

So many threads and interests and people doing crazy shit or following strange passions and urges and needs and thrills and causes and strands.

And I walk among it all, watching, laughing, sighing, horrified, ecstatic, unmoved and delighted.

You ask why do I play hockey, here in Melbourne, half a world away from anything resembling frozen lakes and Canadian winter?

Well, shit, it’s a random world.

Why the hell not?

(Anybody wondering what the laddergoat had to do with this post should watch the first four minutes of this video.)