Strange times

It’s always darkest before the dawn, right?

Maybe it’s equally true that it’s always craziest in the days before hockey classes start again, to provide order and release?

Because, believe me, these are strange times, my friends. Oh, what strange times we live in that blue jelly balls can fall as hail from the English sky, and a Lego man can be sent clear into space by a couple of teenage nerds or, while we’re on Lego, that shit, a giant Lego man can wash ashore in Florida and the local police don’t have any better ideas than to arrest him.

Super Kane. Pic: espn

What strange times are these that an NHL star can wear a Superman cape and Clark Kent glasses on the ice, or that the bass player for The Stone Roses can try to withdraw cash to buy milk from an autobank and find two million pounds he wasn’t expecting in the account balance?

Is it any wonder that last Thursday, having decided to spend the Australia Day holiday working on my new novel (Hereby known as “Let It Slide” – thanks for the working title, Mack), I wrote exactly 155 words before realising strange flashes of light were still in my peripheral vision, as they had been the night before. Five hours later, at the Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital, a doctor and I were discussing when I had last eaten, because he was planning an emergency operation, if theatre was set up on the public holiday, and a surgeon was in the house. We discussed the likelihood of my losing the sight in my right eye if the retina fully tore away. As it was, a small retina tear was corralled by “lasers” (Dr Evil air-quote marks there) on the spot and I was sent back into the day, reeling, but allegedly ok.

But not totally ok. It means I am still seeing the world through what looks like a dirty car windscreen and it forced an exercise-free weekend – no running, no boxing last night – when I really needed to bust some stress. It should also mean no hockey tomorrow night but, hey, I’m a hockey player and with some of the stuff that’s been going on in my life, I really need to go play hockey.

Blue jelly rain. Pic: The Guardian

It’s a strange world when you can be bodysurfing at Lorne at 3.30 pm, then ice skating (gently, protecting eye) at the Icehouse by 6 pm. And even stranger when you can sit with your parents, making important decisions about whether they will leave your spiritual home or not, and the decision starts to lean to ‘not’, and you start to breathe again and you look out the window and right then, at that exact moment, no less than five yellow-tailed black cockatoos, your totem bird, do a fly-by, all but winking as they pass, a few metres away. And yet a few hours later, in the remorseless heat of a Melbourne summer night that forgets to cool down, and in the wake of the parts of life that are difficult to understand and after an airport run to collect your teenage son who has wild stories of elephants and being the first westerner in a village for four years, meaning the littlest kids had never seen a white person, you find you cannot sleep because of the way everything is swirling and sneaking up on your brain and conspiring to stop you sleeping. And yet you can’t open your eyes because the flashes are there, hinting that your retina may yet blow a fuse and release your secret fear of blindness, not to mention ending your hockey career right there.

So you lie sweating in the pre-dawn, idly listing all the things you need two eyes to achieve, and trying not to think about much better reasons to be sweaty in the pre-dawn and how far away the prospect of exploring that ever again feels, and whether Jimmy Howard and Pavel Datsyuk will star in the NHL All-Star game later that day (they did pretty well) and eventually you surf Facebook and smile at how stir-crazy the hockey group’s posts are becoming as we all wait for action, sweet action, and you spend the dawn trading emails with a friend just in from skiing in the French Alps, rugged up in a beanie and gloves and scarf as the heat smashes you in your bed.

A strange world in need of another friend, a magician, who is wise beyond his years and sips his cider 12 hours later as a cool breeze finally blows through your town and tells you: “I’ve learned that what people say doesn’t mean what they said and even what people do doesn’t mean that’s what they did.” Or something like that. It doesn’t make sense to me either, now, but magic is about misdirection, I suppose, or maybe I was distracted, as I always am at the Black Cat, by the giant framed tarantulas on the wall, hammered into a wooden vertical map of my suburb; wondering if the people on the corner of Gore and Napier streets realize an arachnid bigger than two houses is right there, hovering over them?

Giant Lego man, before he was locked up. Pic: LA Times

A strange, uncertain world but starting to right itself, if I let it. If I remain open to the fact that the future is full of possibility and adventures, if danger and sadness. But then, isn’t that always the case? Yet again, I repeat the mantra of a wise woman I met, who told me that when heaviness weighed down her world, she reminds herself: “Levity, punk!”

Lightness. As any hockey player knows, all you can do is put one skate in front of the other and try to skate to where the puck will be, not where the puck is. One more sleep, heat permitting, until I don my shoulder armour, my padded shorts, my knee guards, elbow guards and gloves, pull my Australian-first Grand Rapids Griffins jersey over my bulky armour and lace up my gorgeous Reeboks. I’ll buckle my helmet (full visor to protect my eye), grab my Crosby stick, watch the Zamboni finish its run, banter with my fellow rookies, feel my heartbeat start to race and finally make my way onto the smooth Icehouse ice.

Let the new term begin. I think you can believe me when I say I can honestly hardly wait.

Playtime is over

The crowd thins out, late in Stick & Puck last night.

Life has been something of an existential struggle lately (which will have my friends asking: what’s new?) and it always amazes me how often what’s going on off the ice is mirrored in my hockey.

But the good news is that, generally, life on the ice is simpler. While the Universe and I may currently disagree on realistic expectations and ambitions in my wider life, the Hockey Gods and I are thankfully on the same page: it’s time for me to lace-up my skates and get back to work.

Thanks to the wild and fun ride of my Detroit News article last week (SEE BELOW) – and the Warhol 15 minutes is officially over, according to this blog’s stats spike that has now returned to normal – as well as a hockey feature still (endlessly) waiting for take-off at The Sunday Age, and the angst over Icehouse ice time, plus other hockey-themed correspondence, there’s been a lot of talking about hockey, writing about hockey and even thinking about hockey recently. There’s even been plenty of general skating.

But playtime is over, as of now.

Last night, I killed myself in the gym then headed to the Icehouse at 8 pm, had a brief general skate and finally donned my armour for the first time in what felt like forever, probably since September. Chest armour, padded shorts, helmet, gloves, shinguards, elbows: the full kit. Which was the whole point.

The occasion was a humble 9.15 pm Stick & Puck session, the ice loaded with mostly intense, serious players working on their stick handling or goal shooting. And me. Hardly anybody wears full armour for these sessions – the people who can really skate often just wear T-shirts, helmets and gloves, but I deliberately waddled onto the ice, wearing everything.

I just wanted to get a feel again for being armoured-up, and for wielding a stick, before official classes start in a week, with me back among the students.

I’m safely signed up for Intermediate, second time around, and my Development League debut, back to back, so Wednesday nights are going to be brutal, physically, but fun.

However, after my self-imposed summer of skating, I feel very rusty when it comes to being a hockey player, to actually playing.

I never did get around to those private skating lessons, even though I have a friend who is a champion figure skater set to give me some tips on Sunday evening, and I’m still talking to Mikey, a musician/ex-pro hockey player about private tutoring. But regardless, the summer has been worthwhile. I feel that I am a lot more solid on my skates, compared to six months ago.

Last night, in full padding, I was pivoting and hockey stopping better than I have all summer. Still not exactly NHL Hall of Fame stuff but a huge improvement on when I last attempted Intermediate. I really hope this translates into a better performance in the new classes. I’m ready to step up from being a wobbly rookie to being a contender for a team by the end of winter. That’s the goal.

As I waited to get onto the ice, a game of drop-in was finishing, and I appraised it, wondering if I’d be killed if I attempted to join one of these at this stage. There has been ongoing debate with the Icehouse folk about this, because as we’ve complained about hockey getting less and less classes and time, they’ve replied that they’ve loaded up the number of drop-in games available. But my point is that for a lot of us, still at Intro or Intermediate level, drop-in as it stands is too frightening and too dangerous, because there might be semi-pro Melbourne Ice players or other established, experienced, highly-skilled players from the various Victorian leagues hurtling around. I’m not about to wobble backwards into a shooting lane while an Ice player is at full pace, getting ready for the season. We’ve been arguing for some time that drop-in games specifically for Intro/Intermediate players, are required, but nothing has happened as yet.

Or maybe this is all a case of slipping on my “Harden the fuck up” bracelet? Maybe I should just get in there and die or not?

As I watched and wondered, a player on the ice gave me a big grin and slammed the glass in front of my face with his stick; a traditional hockey welcome. It was Ray, who started Intro with me a year ago and has rocketed into teams and serious play. After the drop-in finished, he hung around last night for stick & puck, and we spent a while firing passes at one another. Another player, Pete, who I hadn’t met before, gave me some great tips on better pivot technique so the move would hold up at high speed. I told him I understand the theory but really I was just still trying to train my brain not to lurch and have to go through a mental approval process when I try to pivot to the right, as against the more instinctive left. Good tips though.

After an hour, I peeled off my dripping armour and marveled at how time on the ice clears your head of everything – all the way to the car park anyway. And savoured how good it felt to be back in a hockey changing room, with my bulging bag of kit, and needing new tape on my stick because it had finally had a work-out. I’m ready to be a hockey player again. The new round of classes can’t come quickly enough.

Jimmy Howard takes on pretty much the entire St Louis team yesterday. (Pic: Detroit News)

POSTSCRIPT: The Red Wings won again at home yesterday – the streak is now up to 17, wiping records. Pavel Datsyuk scored on a very Datsyukesque deke and backhand, and our goaltender, Jimmy Howard, stopped almost everything and took on four Blues players who he felt had cannoned into him once too often (it happens to him pretty much every game, without any referee action). Go those Wings.

 

 

THE DETROIT NEWS ARTICLE (Now off line)

Wednesday, January 18

(Tuesday, Detroit time)

Just call me Mr Streak …

By Nick Place

Melbourne, Australia

Red Wings fans marvelling at the astonishing, historic home winning streak currently being enjoyed by their team are probably wondering who to thank. Jimmy? Lids? Pav? Babcock?

Well, no. Actually, you have to thank me.

You’re welcome. But I should probably explain.

As the Wings set the home streak record today against the Sabres, I was unable to ignore the fact that every one of those wins has come since my two sons and I left Detroit.

Seriously. Since the day that we left Detroit.

But it’s worse than that. You see, I live in Melbourne, Australia. Almost exactly half a world away; about as close to Antarctica as Detroit is to the Arctic. Right now, we’re enduring 100 degree-plus days in the height of summer, as Detroit shivers through winter. In other words, I am a long way from Motor City.

Which is great for Detroit because when my sons and I travelled to Hockeytown to achieve a life-list ambition of watching our beloved Red Wings in action, the team went straight to Hell.

Don’t believe me? Get this. Our first ever Wings game was on Saturday, October 22, in Washington against the Caps. We’d been in America for a month, on a trip of a lifetime that was carefully orchestrated to ensure we hit Washington at the same time as that game.

Reading this in America’s hockey homeland, you probably can’t imagine what it’s like being a Wings fan half a world away. For the small but passionate hockey community here in Australia, seeing an actual NHL game live is a distant dream, so picture our excitement as we made our way into the Verizon Centre, surprised by how many other Wings fans were also in the capital. I’d paid a fortune for decent seats, wanting to make our Wings debut memorable. The Wings were 6-0 coming into the game and the Capitals were 7-0. We were there to salute Nick Lidstrom’s milestone 1500th regular season game. Everything was perfect.

Until the Capitals beat us, 7-1.

Hey ho. We travelled to Detroit for an even bigger life-highlight: our first visit to the Joe Louis Arena, as the Sharks skated onto the ice on October 28. I met Gordie Howe, which had me floating, and we drank in being among the Wings family of fans, at the historic Joe, having walked the decaying but magnificent beauty of Detroit downtown.

And lost, 4-2.

Then read about the Wings failing to even score in losing 1-0 to the Wild away, and then we were back at the Joe for that OT daylight robbery against the Wild on October 29.

We had one more game to see before we had to fly back around the globe to the real world. The Flames at the Joe. By now the media was obsessed by the Red Wings’ complete inability to score more than one goal per game. Zee, Pav, everybody in attack was not so much off the boil as frozen. Jimmy was being heroic but didn’t have enough goals stacking at the other end to ward off the losses.

I was resplendent in my new Lidstrom jersey, Will was now in Bert’s #44 and Macklin, my 16-year-old, had celebrated Nyquist’s Wings debut by having his jersey made up – surely the only Nyquist-flavoured winged wheel going around in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Red Wings organization generously acknowledged our trek by giving us a tour of the Joe, watching the warm-ups from the zamboni race, and we sat right on the glass for the Calgary game.

And lost 4-1; the worst Wings performance of our trip.

The good news for all of you is that we finally had to leave. We flew to LA for a connecting flight, just as the Ducks passed us in the air, and got belted at the Joe, 5-0, the day after we’d left town.

Which, of course, was the start of The Streak, including an avalanche of goals, outscoring opponents 68-21 at the Joe, including today’s game, since being pathologically unable to hit the back of the net the entire time we were in residence. Commentators now get all nostalgic about the October days when the Wings couldn’t score. I laugh bitterly.

But you know what? The good news is that despite the remorseless scoreboards, my boys and I had the time of our lives in Detroit and at the Joe. The welcome of the Wings fans, who universally embraced three Australian wannabe hockey players from Down Under (yes, we play – that’s another story) plus the warmth of the Wings staff, and the wider people of Detroit was unforgettable. Hockeytown rocks.

All the losses? They just mean I still have to see a Wings win at the Joe, which means I’m going to have to find my way to Midwest winter at least one more time.

I promise it won’t be during the 2012 play-offs. I want us to win the Cup as well.

Nick Place is an Australian author, former sports writer, mid-40s hockey rookie and passionate Wings fan. (nickdoeshockey.com)

 

 

Overwhelming … in a great way

Since my article appeared on the Detroit News website about 36 hours ago, I’ve been truly overwhelmed by the warmth and kinship flowing from Wings fans and Detroit people all over the world. The blog alone has had close to 2000 individual views in two days (not exactly espn figures but consider that a good day previously was maybe 50 views. Previous record: 198 – when I accidentally upset fans of the Gold Coast ice hockey team here in Australia. Yesterday: 1006 views. Hello Detroit!).

It’s been so powerful that my attempt to individually answer every comment has become difficult – especially with a real job and travelling north today and other pesky real world considerations.

I will try to write back to you, if I get a moment, but can’t promise. Trust that I am reading every message and smiling from ear-to-ear.

This has been the greatest experience. It’s like hooking into the mainframe of Wings Passion. From this far away, in this far-flung Wings outpost, that’s quite a heady experience. I feel very honoured.

So thank you, Detroit locals, and Detroit people who have moved but still see themselves through and through as Detroit, and all those Wings fans of every flavour and nationality.

Don’t stop believin’ and, even more importantly, respect the octopus!

Nicko

Remembering Detroit

Us at the Joe Louis Arena.

Yesterday’s ‘Enrolmentgate’ (which led to a very entertaining 400 comments between the hockey rookies on Facebook) has been followed by the publication of a piece I wrote for the Detroit News (Now off line: SEE BELOW), explaining that my boys and I were personally responsible for the Red Wings’ now franchise-best ever home winning streak.

Believe it or not, the team has not lost a single game at the Joe Louis Arena since we left Detroit – and oh man, that was so long ago.

The response to the piece, reprinted at the end of this post, has been fantastic – and it hasn’t even been printed yet; this is just the online version. An out-pouring of enthusiasm and sympathy and humour from Detroit people and Wings fans, celebrating our trip and laughing at the story.

It took me right back to the warmth of the locals when we were in Detroit itself, in late October and early November last year. Starting with the taxi driver who picked us up from what is now Detroit’s main station (basically the equivalent of any old suburban station – because Detroit’s once-magnificent Grand Central Station is rotting away (the first picture of this still astonishing photo essay by two French photograhers), like so many other landmark buildings in that city. The driver laughed a wheezing laugh at these Australian hockey fans all wide-eyed as we drove past Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, and the Hockeytown Cafe, which is more or less the equivalent of a Hard Rock cafe exclusively for Wings fans. He started pointing out the landmarks, dropped us at the best door of the MotorCity Casino for all our copious amounts of luggage (Will and I had loaded up on hockey gear in Chicago, so we were groaning under the weight of everything) and arranged to pick us up at a crazy-early time in a few days, to get us safely to the airport – which is miles away, and which he did.

This was the kind of friendly, helpful, genuine engagement that shone through the entire stay. Sure, other cities were just as friendly; just as welcoming, but Detroit has an honesty and a no bullshit air that really adds something I loved.

Other taxi drivers yarned about the Wings’ lack of good fortune and scoring ability right then, and grilled us for our story. One drove us way out to 16 Mile (yes, 8 Mile x 2) to check out another hockey store, and waited, having an early lunch, so he could drive us back, rather than leave us marooned way way way out there.

Always, there was the common theme: “Why are you in Detroit?”

Everybody told us the city wasn’t as dangerous as it’s made out to be; just don’t stand on a downtown corner counting your money, or flashing expensive technology. So, be a smart tourist, like you would be in any other city, in other words. And mostly they were right. There were a few moments where we were approached by vagrants or found ourselves on worryingly deserted downtown side streets, but nothing more nervous than I’ve encountered in other cities, including Melbourne.

Comerica Park tigers lurk

I loved Comerica Park, as a Richmond Tigers fan – my Tigers should SO copy the massive tigers that hulk over the grandstands, scoreboard and entrance of that stadium. Your heart beats fast just looking at them.

And Will and I wandered past the Fox Theatre and into the Hockeytown Cafe. Again, there was no need for us to be remarkable, or given any special treatment, as we sat and ate the world’s biggest plate of nachos, but people were watching. Tourists in town. And saw the way we were gazing in wonder at old sepia photos of Stanley Cup-winning Wings teams; players with names like Honey Walker, Ebbie Goodfellow, Art Giloux, Wilf Starr, Gunzo Humeniuk (the name behind Gunzo hockey stores in Chicago), Lefty Wilson and Enio Sclisizzi.

Our waitress, smiling, said to follow her and took us upstairs to a private room decorated in the really great Wings stuff, where functions are held after Stanley Cup wins and the like. She left us there to enjoy it and we did. Photos of Wings teams with the Cup, players with no teeth, grinning like idiots with the silverware, and a magnificent photo of hats and streamers and objects raining onto the ice of the Joe Louis Arena, post victory. The carpet was inset with the famous winged wheel. We grinned like idiots as well, albeit with more teeth.

The Hockeytown Cafe’s awesome photo.

And so it went. Phil Pierce, an executive with the actual Red Wings organisation, took time out of his crazy-busy schedule on a game day to show us around the Joe, give us souvenirs, to let us watch the warm-ups from the Zamboni race, to explain that the practice nets for the warm-ups are the actual goals from Stanley Cup victories. I gently touched the goals that were on the ice when the Wings won in 2008, the year I fell for the team in a big way.

I haven’t even got to the reaction of those around us in the stands, who were so inclusive and generous. So much enthusiasm and support for these random Australian hockey fans, a long way from home.

Why am I writing this now, instead of last November when I got home? Probably just because the Detroit News piece has brought it all back, and it’s 100 degrees F outside my office most days this week, and close to freezing in Detroit (in fact, snow is falling, according to an email I received today from Jonathon, a guy we bonded with at our final game at the Joe, who keeps in touch).

I was full of the whole trip back then, of all our destinations and adventures – and man, Will, Mack and I had adventures. But now, months later, Detroit has stayed with me and I feel the pull of that city and its people as strongly as ever.

I’m very glad I wrote that feature and that the Detroit News ran it. It’s been nice to wave hello and to celebrate this incredible Wings run with the people of Motown. Long may that city shine and even rise again.

 

THE DETROIT NEWS ARTICLE (Now off line)

Wednesday, January 18

(Tuesday, Detroit time)

Just call me Mr Streak …

By Nick Place

Melbourne, Australia

Red Wings fans marvelling at the astonishing, historic home winning streak currently being enjoyed by their team are probably wondering who to thank. Jimmy? Lids? Pav? Babcock?

Well, no. Actually, you have to thank me.

You’re welcome. But I should probably explain.

As the Wings set the home streak record today against the Sabres, I was unable to ignore the fact that every one of those wins has come since my two sons and I left Detroit.

Seriously. Since the day that we left Detroit.

But it’s worse than that. You see, I live in Melbourne, Australia. Almost exactly half a world away; about as close to Antarctica as Detroit is to the Arctic. Right now, we’re enduring 100 degree-plus days in the height of summer, as Detroit shivers through winter. In other words, I am a long way from Motor City.

Which is great for Detroit because when my sons and I travelled to Hockeytown to achieve a life-list ambition of watching our beloved Red Wings in action, the team went straight to Hell.

Don’t believe me? Get this. Our first ever Wings game was on Saturday, October 22, in Washington against the Caps. We’d been in America for a month, on a trip of a lifetime that was carefully orchestrated to ensure we hit Washington at the same time as that game.

Reading this in America’s hockey homeland, you probably can’t imagine what it’s like being a Wings fan half a world away. For the small but passionate hockey community here in Australia, seeing an actual NHL game live is a distant dream, so picture our excitement as we made our way into the Verizon Centre, surprised by how many other Wings fans were also in the capital. I’d paid a fortune for decent seats, wanting to make our Wings debut memorable. The Wings were 6-0 coming into the game and the Capitals were 7-0. We were there to salute Nick Lidstrom’s milestone 1500th regular season game. Everything was perfect.

Until the Capitals beat us, 7-1.

Hey ho. We travelled to Detroit for an even bigger life-highlight: our first visit to the Joe Louis Arena, as the Sharks skated onto the ice on October 28. I met Gordie Howe, which had me floating, and we drank in being among the Wings family of fans, at the historic Joe, having walked the decaying but magnificent beauty of Detroit downtown.

And lost, 4-2.

Then read about the Wings failing to even score in losing 1-0 to the Wild away, and then we were back at the Joe for that OT daylight robbery against the Wild on October 29.

We had one more game to see before we had to fly back around the globe to the real world. The Flames at the Joe. By now the media was obsessed by the Red Wings’ complete inability to score more than one goal per game. Zee, Pav, everybody in attack was not so much off the boil as frozen. Jimmy was being heroic but didn’t have enough goals stacking at the other end to ward off the losses.

I was resplendent in my new Lidstrom jersey, Will was now in Bert’s #44 and Macklin, my 16-year-old, had celebrated Nyquist’s Wings debut by having his jersey made up – surely the only Nyquist-flavoured winged wheel going around in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Red Wings organization generously acknowledged our trek by giving us a tour of the Joe, watching the warm-ups from the zamboni race, and we sat right on the glass for the Calgary game.

And lost 4-1; the worst Wings performance of our trip.

The good news for all of you is that we finally had to leave. We flew to LA for a connecting flight, just as the Ducks passed us in the air, and got belted at the Joe, 5-0, the day after we’d left town.

Which, of course, was the start of The Streak, including an avalanche of goals, outscoring opponents 68-21 at the Joe, including today’s game, since being pathologically unable to hit the back of the net the entire time we were in residence. Commentators now get all nostalgic about the October days when the Wings couldn’t score. I laugh bitterly.

But you know what? The good news is that despite the remorseless scoreboards, my boys and I had the time of our lives in Detroit and at the Joe. The welcome of the Wings fans, who universally embraced three Australian wannabe hockey players from Down Under (yes, we play – that’s another story) plus the warmth of the Wings staff, and the wider people of Detroit was unforgettable. Hockeytown rocks.

All the losses? They just mean I still have to see a Wings win at the Joe, which means I’m going to have to find my way to Midwest winter at least one more time.

I promise it won’t be during the 2012 play-offs. I want us to win the Cup as well.

Nick Place is an Australian author, former sports writer, mid-40s hockey rookie and passionate Wings fan. (nickdoeshockey.com)

 

Dangling by a thread …

My hockey career ...

As I sit here, typing this, my hockey career, such as it is, is dangling by the proverbial thread.

Since 9 am, I have only left my desk for one daring coffee run. Otherwise, I have been hitting refresh on Firefox over and over and over again: the target being the Ice Hockey enrolment page on the Icehouse website.

In fact, let’s call it by its full name for once: The Medibank Icehouse, because our home of hockey is performing in such an underwhelming manner right now that its sponsor should know about it.

The tension started a week or so ago when an email went out, alerting Melbourne’s ever-growing army of hockey players in training that the number of classes for Term One of this year had been slashed. No more Tuesday or Saturday classes. Huh? What?

Only one Intro for Adults on Wednesday night, plus one Intermediate, and then a couple of development league hours (the last of which starts at the helpful time of 11.15 pm, running until 12.15 am).

So basically, the several hundred hockey students are now fighting for one of maybe 30 spots in each of one Intro and one Intermediate class, and then one worknight-friendly Dev league timeslot.

Nice work, Medibank Icehouse. Way to try and kill the sport just as it gains momentum.

But now it gets better, because Monday (as in two days ago) was enrolment day, then that got pushed to yesterday and then to today. Which meant I, and most of my Hockey Rookie friends (going by the very entertaining and robust Facebook discussion that has been occurring for the past two hours) were at our desks or poised over other mobile devices, ready to hit ENROL at 9.00 am and one second.

Except that the Icehouse site didn’t change.

And then a message went up saying please don’t refresh the Hockey School page until after 10 am because of technical issues. And so we all bantered and sweated and hit Refresh endlessly until a new message went up at 10.30 am, saying please don’t hit refresh for 30 minutes.

And that was 10 minutes ago, and now I’m considering re-starting nail-biting, or taking up smoking, or sniffing glue or whatever else I need to do to ease this tension.

What if I’m not one of the 30 to hit ENROL in time to make it into Intermediate, or Dev League?

What if all my Rookie mates, in Intro and higher levels, are frozen out of the classes by this Icehouse dickheadness?

Why is it harder for us to pay good money to the Icehouse – allegedly the home of Australia’s winter Olympic sports – to keep learning our sport than it is to get falls Festival tickets?

We’ve all noticed for a while that hockey is taking a pounding by unsubtle must-try-to-make-money Icehouse initiatives. Something is clearly going on in the finance department there that has nothing to do with a commitment to the sport or the students who have swollen the Icehouse hockey classes over the last 12 months.

The word on the street is that Government funding has been withdrawn and the Icehouse owners (a Grollo company) are all-systems-go to raise revenue, not grow ice-based sports. Hence broomball, and ice tubing, and other novelty ice events, ahead of ice time for serious athletes (Yes, I’m including us in that category. Bite me.)

And so in half an hour, because of this crap management and decision-making at the venue, I might be frozen out of classes (pun intended). Or headed to Melbourne’s only other rink, at Oakleigh, to train with Melbourne Ice player Joey Hughes. Or charging Grollo HQ, covered in chicken blood and armed with a butter knife.

Anything is possible at this point.

I’m writing this post now, before I either get in, or don’t get in, to remember how freaked out everybody, including me, was as the wait continued (and a working day evaporated … and yes, I do actually have a lot to do. Thanks, Icehouse.)

The good news in all this? The Facebook banter between the brotherhood and sisterhood has been golden.

The bad news? The people in charge of providing rinks and education for us seem hell bent on ensuring we can’t take that bond onto the ice, where it belongs.

OK. Back to the Refresh …

 

The Red Wings hear that Kittens and I got into our chosen classes ...

LATE BREAKING NEWS: Finally got into the Icehouse system and booked my spots, and Will’s (aka Kittens). Intermediate and Dev League (unless somebody misses out and needs a spot). Crazy morning. Stupid Icehouse. But huzzah, we’re in! This blog will definitely benefit from not having me sitting on the sidelines, with no hockey.

 

 

 

Cyclops on Ice, and other lessons

Things I have learned over the past 24 hours:

If you have a strange incident where your left eye goes totally nuts, waters profusely, then becomes blurry and scratchy for hours, for unknown reasons, this is an excellent time to go skating in a big, unruly General Skate crowd, to test how good your one-eyed-reaction-skating is under pressure.

If you’re not at Mamasita, the brilliant Mexican restaurant tucked away at the top of Collins Street, but arrogant enough not to take bookings, by 6.15 pm, you either have to suck it up in a long queue down the street, or not.

“Not” can be a good option.

Pelligrini’s back room remains a lot of fun and with excellent pasta, if the Italian Waiter’s Club is also full (What’s going on with all the CBD dining, peoples? It’s early January?)

Pelligrini's, Bourke St. Sit out the back.

Falling backwards, mid-pivot on your wrong side, hurts as much as it ever did.

My wrists remain unthrilled with landing hard on ice. But thankfully are strong enough to escape only mildly strained.

Blood & Sand has definitely moved into First Place in the Nicko Place List of Excellent Cocktails. It’s Scotch whisky-based, with blood orange mixed in, and I’ve had it at two venues now (CollingwoodWorld and Lily Black’s) and both were awesome. (The Flaming Lamborghini remains my popular favourite for potentially dying while attempting to drink a cocktail for the entertainment of a crowd).

The Latin for “I will be on my portable communication device” is “Ego meum consilium Donec vulputate“.

Some people don’t like General Skating sessions when there are seemingly hundreds of kids on the ice, all strapped into rental skates and yellow bibs, with no idea of how to skate or which direction to even attempt to go. Me? I love it … working on your tight turns can be helped by weaving through witches hats, right? Well, imagine how good for your on-ice reflexes are metre-high witches hats that move, flail their arms, lurch in random directions and often splatter onto the ice right in front of you. Nothing but fun.

Non-skating witches hats.

My dog has a much higher pain threshold than I do. Her stoic acceptance of a Big Achilles has been an inspiration.

Icehouse staff who stand at the goalline, looking terminally bored, while learner skaters go in all directions, as against the one direction, and then make a point of coming over to growl at you for leaving the ice by the gate nearest the lockers, instead of the gate with 600 people trying to squeeze through? … Well, let’s just say you’ve got a great career as a petty bureaucrat coming up, dude.

Bike couriers have an entire world and culture that I was unaware of, but is actually cool in many ways.I now just have to work out how to weave this knowledge into my new novel.

My pivots and hockey stops are definitely coming along, but I have – dammnit! – somehow become that thing I didn’t want to be: a one-way turner. Turning left, right foot in front, hockey-stops and pivots are getting there. Going the other way? Not so good. Yet I feel like I’ve worked on both equally and tirelessly. How did this happen? Sigh. More ice will be eaten before this one is done.

I need to get to more Come & Try and Stick & Puck sessions so I can skate in full gear and have less fear of damage. Bowing to peer group

The Blood & Sand cocktail. Photo by me. Arty, huh?

pressure, and the fact I don’t actually fall very often any more and can’t remember when I last whacked my head, I’m now hitting General Skates in only elbow pads and hockey gloves (gotta write a novel by October = can’t afford a broken arm just now; uncool fashion or not). But to really step up pivots, and to attempt hockey stops at speed, I’m going to need to have the full armour, so when I splatter, it’s the gear that takes the brunt. Maybe I should sell tickets? Hand out Blood & Sands while the crowd watches me fall? This could be an earner …

The Icehouse hasn’t scheduled anywhere near enough classes for First Term this year, and is squeezing all of it into a Wednesday night. I’m going to have to fight harder than for Falls or Big Day Out tickets, just to get a berth in Intermediate and Dev League. You’d swear they don’t want this sport to take off the way it is. Which would mean I’d need to instead write a blog about Tennis. Nobody wants that. Least of all, me.

Things you might not know about hockey …

1. Hockey stick tape is a perfect way to strap on a plastic bag to protect plaster on a wounded dog’s leg, when storms sweep into town as you’re about to go to work.

Fly Dog shows off quality stick-tape veterinary work.

Kittens and I travelled bravely to the far outskirts of Chicago to buy hockey gear, back in October, and went nuts on the multi-coloured tape, buying red, green, blue and yellow, because our hockey styling simply can’t be constrained in the Icehouse’s options of black tape, or white (and now pink).

Fly Dog the Wounded But Still Magnificent (snapped Achilles tendon on Christmas day; at least six weeks off the ice) thinks the leg looks cool. Everybody’s happy.

 2. Hockey players are dumb.

As it stands, seven members of the Detroit Red Wings roster have suffered serious facial injuries this year, mostly from pucks hitting them in the unprotected face.

There have been plenty of facial stitches, but also a broken cheekbone to defenceman Ian White and a broken jaw to Patrick Eaves, who, at last report, was still sipping food through a straw, his entire jaw wired shut.

The latest victim is an 18-year-old prospect, Ryan Spoule, who took a deflected puck to the face in an Ontario Hockey League game and has now had plates inserted into his jaw.

And yet pretty much every NHL player, apart from the goalies, continues to play without a Perspex or wire face guard. The most they’ll wear is a small Perspex visor vaguely covering their eyes and there’s even debate about that, because, you know, it’s kind of sissy. (Although at least things have moved on from the bad old – read, fucking crazy – days where even goalies didn’t have face guards, back when the world was in black and white.)

Back in the day: goalies with no face protection.

Hear me say, here and now, that I will not be seen in a game situation without a full face mask. I’m far too pretty to take a rubber puck to the face at speed, and anyway, eating through a straw for weeks would get in the way of my biscuit consumption.

3. The Winter Classic has a precedent

Over the past few years, the NHL’s signature Winter Classic game – where two top teams play an official match outdoors, usually at a baseball stadium (The Wings kicked the Blackhawks at Wrigley Field a few years ago: oh yeah!) is gaining momentum every year, with huge coverage of the Rangers victory over the Flyers yesterday.

But there is a precedent to this whole thing. Apparently, in February, 1954, the Detroit Red Wings played an exhibition match outdoors against inmates from the Marquette Branch prison. I shit you not. Red Wings v Jailbirds.

So how did that go? The Wings led 18-0 at the end of the first period and graciously everybody forgot to keep an ongoing score for the remaining two periods.

Which makes the prisoners luckier than Australia’s first ever team to contest the Winter Olympics, back in 1960. Our heroes scored nine goals in the Olympic tournament, at Squaw Valley. They conceded 83 goals in six games. When five rings are involved, everybody keeps score.

4. The Hockey Gods are bastards

Let it be known that the Red Wings have not lost a single game at home since Will, Mack and I sat through three straight losses at the Joe, in late October/early November. The team has now won 12 straight games at home, raining goals. During the stretch where we watched them stink things up, they averaged one goal per game.