OK, I need you to imagine drinking three straight litres of water without a break. Then sitting in a locked room for nine hours. A room with no, um, facilities. Now you’re allowed out of the room but only to jog up and down on the spot for one hour, all while continuing to sip water at regular intervals.
You are then placed in a car and sit in the back seat for four hours as the car travels over bumpy roads, all while listening to a CD: “The magnificent sounds of a trickling stream”.
Finally the car stops at the world’s largest waterfall and you watch the water cascading, streaming down the rocks. You are made to drink another three large glasses of soda water.
Your fingers and toes are placed in warm water.
Get the idea …
Well, now replace the need for a toilet at this time with the need to play ice hockey, and that was me last night. Intermediate, Week One, could not come around quickly enough and there was nothing I could do to fast forward the day leading to 8.45 pm. Sure, Will (aka Kittens) and I got a little excited and turned up at the Icehouse at 6 pm, but it turned out that didn’t make 8.45 pm come any faster. We played pool at the Harbourside (modesty prevents me offering the scoreline [I kicked his arse]) and I ate pizza and drank dry ginger ale because the ice was beckoning, beating out even the desire for alcohol.
And finally it was time. Greeting the other rookies, meeting a few I only knew by facebook profile; strapping into full armour and looking like a sumo on skates as my Grand Rapids Griffins jersey, on Australian debut, ballooned over my gear. And, ready!
Of course, our coaches Army, Lliam and Michael welcomed us back with hardcore skating tests and obligingly sent my group of skaters to outside edge drills as the opening gambit. One of my worst skills. And of course the other three guys I was bracketed with are in the running for Outside Edge Rookies of the Year while I managed not to fall.
Until the second drill when Michael had us attempting to transition at speed from forwards to backwards skating, around a cone. And I found out fast that my new helmet, bought in Chicago, has excellent impact-absorption in the back of the lid when your head smacks hard against the ice during a backward plank.
Then we were doing crossovers and I didn’t suffer any mortal injuries – Army even raised an eyebrow at my improvement – before Lliam gave me some tips at inside edge skating that worked all the way until the fourth cone at which point I tested the ice impact capabilities of my new gloves and my ageing elbow pads, falling heavily while fully committed to one foot inside edge around a cone. At least I was fully committed, right?
All that was left to start the term was a game of two-on-two where my partner and I played the Washington Generals to the other pair’s Harlem Globetrotters, and a bizarre tapdancing crossover drill where the miracle was I didn’t fall.
It was actually an awesome class, finished with four rounds of straight-up tearaway fast sprints up and down the ice. That’s when I’m at my happiest, even if I’m not the fastest rookie out there. I just love seeing how fast I can go, getting that cardio-hit, and then morbidly wondering if I can stop in time as the boards approach. The answer was universally yes last night, which shows my summer of toil wasn’t totally wasted.
But the best was yet to come, because a quick Zamboni run later, I was back on the ice, now in my Zetterberg Wings jersey, as part of the red team in my Development League debut.
I’m not sure I can hope to convey how awesome Dev League was. I could try poetry but after rhyming “ice” with “nice” I start to struggle. “Dice”? “Mice”? “Concise”? “Condoleezza Rice”?
One thing I know: I’m glad I didn’t do Dev League last term, as Will did. I wouldn’t have been ready. But with a summer of skating practice under my belt, and so many supportive, friendly rookie classmates urging me on, it was brilliant, truly brilliant.
For the first time, I felt like a real hockey player, playing an hour of scrimmage, deciding when to end my shifts, powering up and down the ice (mown down on two attempted breakaways, first to the puck on one – shot went wide, dammnit) and just generally deciding that ok, I won’t suck embarrassingly among these players, even if there are clearly superior skaters out there.
The game had one casualty – Ken went down with a nasty split lip and was lucky not to lose teeth – and I had a couple of spills but nothing fatal. On my first shift, I failed to trap a puck along the boards which ended up in a goal at the other end, which had me doing some old fashioned cussing, but I got progressively more comfortable with every following shift and didn’t panic, didn’t just flail, kept an eye on staying onside, didn’t lose my position most of the time and generally felt like the beginnings of an idea of a genuine hockey player in a team.
It felt very good.
The other rookies were awesome in welcoming me to the game and this level. Benched between shifts, Jay and I marvelled at how far some of the skaters who started with us a year ago in Intro have come. Morgan Squires was dominating but then (and don’t take this the wrong way, Morgan) it was just as heartening for me to see him and others occasionally screw up. They’re not all bulletproof and error-free as I blunder along. We’re all still in class, training, getting better, striving. And I can see how this term is going to make me blossom, trying to keep up.
A very very very good night, back on the ice, even if I was home at midnight, accidentally drinking off-milk and unable to consider sleep until much later.
Today, my groin, hips and legs were hurting in the second best way they can and I loved every second of feeling the aches. Next Wednesday, please oh please come around without delay.
I wouldn’t have thought it was possible but hockey just became a whole lot more fun.