The Quadrella: Part IV

The Fourth and Final Leg: Wednesday hockey double-time.

Some guy on top of Mt Everest. Yeah, yeah, yeah ... but could he have survived The Quadrella?

That’s right. Intermediate class, followed immediately by Intermediate Dev League. Starting at 8.45, walking out of the Icehouse on the wrong side of 11.30 pm. The Hillary Step of my Quadrella, but here’s the strange thing: I felt great.

Stepped onto the ice for Intermediate and was right there, from the opening skating. We had to do all kinds of skating drills, from pivots to knee bends to 360s and supermans. I was having the most trouble with wrong-way crossovers at the end of each pass, but wasn’t even struggling with pivots. Like a boss.

Of course, Army then stepped things up by making us do a don’t-lose-speed crossover/transition/loop-de-loop drill which almost killed me. Didn’t fall over but didn’t exactly skate as smoothly, forward to back, back to forward, as I would have liked. I really need to work on transitions.

But then, thankfully, we were into puck-handling and I simply enjoyed myself, skating well enough to keep up while learning wrist-shots, honing my backhand passes and other such party tricks. Too much fun.

My body was barely hurting at all and I didn’t even feel tired, to the point that when the puck dropped in Intermediate Dev League, at 10 pm, I was raring to go and slightly annoyed that we had so many people it usually took two shifts on the bench to get back on the ice. That’s, like, three whole minutes between 1.30 shifts.

I was stick handling pretty well, for me, and got on the end of a simply perfect, right-onto-my-stick pass from Morgan, flying behind the goal, to have my most genuine shot at a real goalie in Dev League. I aimed for the bottom corner and even first-timed the shot, but it turns out real goalies can move, unlike the imitation Goalie, and the shot was blocked. Dammnit. Such a great pass from Morgan.

I ended up having four or five shots, but didn’t nail any of them, which sucked but was probably about Par, given the step up from Intro Dev League and my two goals the day before.

Army coaches Dev League.

I was just happy to be getting into the right place to take actual shots, and not sucking at any of them, even if they didn’t beat the goalie.

With every shift, we are developing fun rivalries between the mixed-up teams each week, and bonding heavily as potential future teammates. A couple of teammates complimented me on my improvement, although, to be fair, one had been drinking heavily after an art exhibition went horribly, horribly wrong before he came to the rink.

All in all, a very fun night and a really good Dev League game.

Sure, today, I feel like I’ve been hit by three buses and creak out of my office chair. My shoulder is hurting badly as I type this, and I’m very glad I don’t have physical plans this evening, apart from leaping and screaming at the MCG and then belting out the theme song after my Tigers thrash the Blues to start the 2012 AFL season. Almost certainly a bike ride to and from the MCG too, to stretch my aching legs one more time.

But why not? I’m feeling smug. After weeks of talking about The Quadrella, where something always seemed to get in the way of one or more of the legs, I finally did it, and went as hard as I physically could in every leg, and survived.

And it’s all leading to me feeling more and more like a genuine hockey player, as the Rookies start to mull entering a team in next summer’s league, which means I have until about September to be worthy and ready. Gotta keep working on my pure skating … and my puck-handling … oh, and my positioning … oh, and my hockey strategy … and my fitness … and … well, otherwise, I’m totally good to go.

At least, for this week. The Quadrella starts again on Sunday … Giddyup!

The Quadrella, Part III

Dev League, Tuesday night, in full flight. Pic: by me, on iPhone, on the bench. Cool or dweeb? Such a fine line.

The Third Leg, Tuesday: 5 pm and we’re in the Icehouse change-rooms and it’s silent. Everybody’s lost in thought, shifting gears from work, uni, relationships and whatever else is swirling in real life, as they strap on armour, tape socks, yank skate laces and move into a hockey head space.

We hit the ice and I snowplough hard on my right leg and my quadriceps in that limb aren’t even close to happy. I have a half-hearted shot at the empty net and skate straight to the centre circle for some serious stretching. Oh, that’s right … it’s less than 24 hours since all that skipping and moving and boxing with Mischa. Something is rebelling deep under my left shoulder blade too. Two legs of the quadrella to go and the pain is rising. But I’m a hockey player, right? And I’m loving being back on the ice after almost a week. It’s time to play hockey. I snarl and grin and head to the bench, resplendent in my Slap Slot “Chiefs” jersey (Hanson 17).

Bring it.

And the game is a cracker. This is Intro Dev League and I’m starting to be able to keep up, even if there is one uy, on the other team, who is about three levels above us. Luckily he is generous and doesn’t totally dominate, looking to pass off, reather than just charge the net every time.

The rest of us scramble and try to hold our positions and work on clean passing, battling for the puck against the boards and finding teammates in space. I feel like I’m skating okay.

In fact, after several shifts, a miracle happens. Brendan is near the boards and we’re in attack. He passes in-board to another teammate who swipes towards goal. It beats everybody but skims across the front of the goal and guess who is right there, miraculously all alone and in the perfect spot to trap and tap the puck through the vacant bottom hole in the imitation goalie’s defence?

Uh huh. You know it. IN YOUR FACE, IMITATION GOALIE!

N. Place scores his first ever genuine matchplay goal in Dev League. Oh yeah.

And while we’re on miracles on ice (good film, btw) … in the very next shift, I’m mid-ice as two or three white team opponents move forward. One loses control of the puck for a moment, I snipe it and suddenly I’m clear on a breakaway.

And I don’t even panic and close to within 6-8 metres and shoot and score! Iin the same slot.

Truth be told, this shot may have grazed the imitation goalie fabric (Big Cat Place, The Artist Formerly Known As Kittens*, ever supportive, remains adamant it wasn’t a goal), but Army as ref signalled goal, and Tommy Powell, the other ref, congratulated me later on the snipe and counter attack goal. I grudgingly admitted I thought it might not have been clean but he said it looked fine to him.

“So you reckon it was good, and Army signalled goal. Good enough for me,” I said. “I’m claiming it.”

Ice star Tommy Powell is all-business, reffing our game.

Two goals in two shifts.Wow.

In Tuesday Dev League, it’s shift on, shift off (1 min, 15 sec each time) so I had more than a minute to patiently explain to my teammates on the bench how brilliant each goal was before the next shift. Which was awesome for them.

In fact, on the shift after my second goal, I was designated for D (defence) and jumped the wall, saying loudly: “Well, I am the premier goalscorer but for the good of the team, I guess I’ll shore up the defence as well.” … all of which I thought was funny until I saw Tommy’s face as he overheard this. “Jokes, Tommy, jokes,” I gasped, hustling to pick up some pace, the puck already in play.

All in all, had a blast. By now, as you can imagine, any aches and pains were a distant memory. I was floating. I went over a couple of times, as you do, but was reasonably solid on my skates and my puck-handling is definitely improving every game.

The best thing about finishing a game at 6.30 pm is that you’re home, with take-away food, at a decent time to watch the highlights of the Red Wings’ 7-2 smashing of Columbus (Oh yeah! Found our mojo right before the play-offs – Mack, Will and I are more in man-love with the rookie, Nyquist, than ever), plus Robot Chicken and Sherlock before bed … still arguing with your oldest son over whether fabric moving matters if two Melbourne Ice stars have agreed it’s a goal.

Bloody kids.

(* Big Cat scored two goals as well. And, because I’m a lot more fucking gracious than he is, it should be recorded that one was a sizzling shot from near the boards. Zetterberg, eat your heart out.)

The Quadrella, Part II

Mischa and Zoe hang out pre-training at the nerve-centre of the Kensington fight scene.

Second Leg, Monday: Boxing has been part of my life for a long time and I love Mondays with Mischa. 7.30 pm on the third floor of an old warehouse in Kensington, now converted into boutique and diverse creative endeavours. Apart from the top floor which is dedicated to multi-discipline fighting.

On Mondays, about a dozen of us share the space with a bunch of wrestlers, or “grapplers” as Mischa calls them. They grunt and writhe, snaking limbs around each other’s bodies in a way that makes you go straight back to Roy & HG setting the whole thing to a Barry White soundtrack at the Sydney Olympics. Ohhhh, baby.

Last night, as we skipped (the first two rounds are skipping. Death to calves after The Bang) a pretty big kickboxer also wandered in and spent some time pounding into the heavy bag with his legs, threatening to shake the floor under us. It’s never a boring setting.

Mischa, AKA “The Sweetest Thing”, is an old journo friend of mine who got into boxing quite a few years ago, which gave us a whole new level of conversation because she was now training with boxing identities I’d written about for years in one of my many incarnations (boxing writer for The Herald newspaper, and briefly, freelancing, for the Sunday Age).

Then Mischa got further into it, and won an Australian title and fought overseas, training at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, NY (of which I’m endlessly jealous), and has written several excellent books on the subject of being a female fighter. These days, she mixes her time between training fighters, running boxing fitness classes like the one I attend, and journalism.

Our group is pretty diverse. There’s Zoe, who is in training for an actual fight, even though she might have broken a rib sparring last week. And there are a range of guys and women of varying motivation, fitness and skills. On Monday, I paired up with Bree, who works in a fabrics shop and told me she has a side business involving Eighties sewing machines or something. She told me all this while throwing left and right combinations at my padded hands, centimetres from my face, so it was hard to pay full attention.

After the skipping, we split into groups and either move and throw combinations at the air, or run and do mounting numbers of push-ups, which is where the day before’s Bang session starts to hurt before I’ve even started. I hadn’t realised how many Bang punishment push-ups I’d obviously done because my shoulders and chest almost immediately complain about raising and carrying my weight. I sprint 10 times, then push-ups, which means 55 push-ups spread out, and I’m wondering if I’ll survive the hour.

But then thankfully we’re on the matts, throwing combinations, left jab, straight right, left hook, straight right, then step under phantom blows and countering with straight right, left hook, straight right. A cheer goes up from the Grapplers. Maybe somebody finally scored? We pair up and move onto pads and gloves, throwing combinations into the pads, dancing around one another, changing direction, changing direction, footwork, footwork, then a two punch combo, or an eight punch combo, or a six punch combo, and move, and change and change and change and one jab, and move and change …

Taped up and ready.

By now, I’m sweating hard but my body has loosened and The Bang is behind me. As I wail into the heavy bag with jabs and hooks, and the occasional uppercut combo, my shoulders are working hard but my legs feel good and all the dancing and directional changing will channel directly into my skating, once I’m back on the ice.

The session finishes with a gruelling abs workout, with a bunch of crunches and other stomach-busters.

And we drift into the night. I’d felt seriously stressed and heavy when I arrived. Now I feel fantastic.

Monday (and Wednesday), 7.30 pm, 10 bucks for the session.

Seriously, hockey people, you can’t go past it. You might even get to punch me. What’s not to like?

Address: Level 3, 10 Elizabeth Street, Kensington.

(Facebook: ‘like’ Mischa’s Boxing Central)

The Quadrella. Part I

Tiger Mick (not me) goes the big roost at the Sunday Bang.

The first leg: the Sunday Bang.

A bunch of mostly guys, aged anywhere from 30 to 60. United in the chase of leather, the perfect pass to a running lead, the clean grab, the running-past handball. To fluid, beautiful football, for no other purpose than the moment itself. A team that in something like 20 years of existence has never played a game. Just endless circle work between an ever-shifting cast savouring the magic of the Sherrin.

And the friendship that comes from the common cause. So much laughter, coaxing, urging, shit-hanging, understanding and bonding.

For our purposes on this blog: Two hours of hard running, kicking, handballing, stretching high for marks, creaking low for pick-ups. No physical contact – that’s not how The Bang rolls, unless you feel like it.

Sore legs. Sore chest from push-up punishments for missed passes or skill errors.

And on to Monday …

The Seinfeld entry: a blog about nothing

I plan to spend the weekend acquainting myself with some single malt whisky, some magician friends, maybe some underwater fish friends (weather permitting) and my fictional friends within the new novel. It’s been a tough week so this will be short and hopefully not too black.

Intermediate class was actually a lot of fun this week, with puck-handling drills, which I enjoy so much more than skating drills (probably, I guess, because I suck less at puck-handling) and I even scored a genuine goal; stealing a puck, turning away from an opponent, stick-handling to the front of the net and stuffing it past a real live goalie. The only person looking more surprised than me was Army, the coach.

Dev League also rocked. It was one of those nights where I very much needed to skate, get hit, smash into the boards, get among it. Oh, it was sweet. I even controlled the puck a few times and did other actual hockey moves. Slowly, ever so slowly, I am creeping up to the standard. It feels good. And last night, I lay in bed thinking about last March and where I was at … not even through my first round of Intro probably. Wow. I have come a long way, post-to-post from March 23, 2011-March 23, 2012.

Anyway, that will do for now. I hate writing flat posts.

I’ll pick myself up and hopefully the Detroit Red Wings can do their bit by actually winning a game or two, pre-play-offs, to consolidate some kind of home-ice advantage in the first round and to pull out of the funk they’ve landed in. Man, that record home-winning streak, and being top of the entire League, feels a long time ago. Hang in there, Wings, and get some healthy stars back. Soon. Please.

Respect the octopus and I’m going to put one skate in front of the other and make it to Monday. See you there.

The Rookies versus IBM, night fevers and other stories

A member of Friday's IBM team.

On Friday, a somewhat bizarre ice hockey match took place at the Icehouse. One of the Rookies, Chris Janson, had asked if anybody wanted to make up the numbers in an IBM social event: a game of scrimmage on the Henke Rink on Friday, after work.

“So, to be clear,” I said to Chris, in the change room on Wednesday night, dripping in sweat, post-dev league, “you’re inviting us to step onto the ice against a bunch of IBM employees in an actual scrimmage, as a social bonding exercise for IBM?”

I had visions of a bunch of weedy computer geeks in Hanson Brother glasses, being boarded by Big Cat Place (the artist formerly known as “Kittens”) and other monsters of the local ice scene.

“That’s right,” said Chris. He reeled off a bunch of hockey player names, some from the higher divisions of local competition, such as the Melbourne Ice Wolves’ Pete Savvides (who has since told me he’s Division 4, not Division 2, and not the old TV show) – very accomplished players. “They’re all IBM guys.”

Oh …

It turned out to be a lot of fun. Several players, like the McNab girls, playing their first-ever real game of scrimmage, several of us, like Jess Hough, Big Cat and I simply enjoying ice time, while others, such as Wayne and Savvides showed us up but no doubt with just enough of a handbrake on their talent and superior skating to not make us look like total muppets.

The best thing, for me, was that one way or another, this game was played at a more gentle pace than Tuesday or Wednesday Dev League, and I was able to actually skate at a pace that kept up. I hadn’t realized how much time I spend on the weeknights, leaning forward too far and almost toppling, because I’m hustling too fast, trying to push myself too fast, just to keep up. I’m not sure how to use this new knowledge yet, but it’s something to ponder.

The miracle was that I was even in the IBM bloodbath, I mean, social event, given how I’d felt less than 48 hours earlier. Arriving home from Wednesday night’s hockey, I shivered uncontrollably in my bed, with what felt like a raging fever. Huddled under my doona, wide awake at 3 am but shaking wildly, in total physical meltdown, it occurred to me: “Oh, this isn’t good.”

A few hours earlier, in full armour, mid-Intermediate class, as my head pounded and my stomach churned, on the brink of something nameless and undefined but potentially nasty, I pondered that I had never before been on the ice, feeling crook. I’ve played hurt, in terms of a few bangs here or there and especially, the very sore neck/shoulder that killed me for a couple of months last year. But I hadn’t felt sick.

Another member of the IBM social hockey team.

This whole experience was a surprise because I’m feeling as fit as I’ve felt for a long time at the moment. This potentially weekly regime of Sunday footy, Monday (boxing), Tuesday (intro dev league), Wed (intermediate class, then harder dev league), Thursday (collapse) has definitely been pushing me physically and I feel great for it.

Well, most of the time. On Wednesday, it, or life, or a combination of both caught up with me big-time and unexpectedly mid-way through Intermediate. Maybe it was lugging office junk downstairs to a skip for four or five hours on the Tuesday that strained my stomach? Who knows? The fact was I felt terrible and it was a different struggle to the week before, where my legs had simply been fried, full of lactic acid build-up or whatever the, you know, science is from backing-up dev league as well as flying to Brisbane and back. This week, I was feeling off-colour, although it’s possible the highly intricate skating skills of this particular Intermediate class could have made me feel sick all on their own.

Transitions, stepping over sticks, inside and outside edge work, more transitions (every bit as big a bastard as the pivot, in my humble opinion); it was Hell. Somehow I survived Dev League, which was even more intense than the week before.

I’d really enjoyed Tuesday’s scrimmage; feeling for the first time that I was genuinely performing to the standard required with some decent puck work, including stealing it off other players, accurate passing and other miracles. I appear to be more willing than most to throw my body on the line, which often means I end up on my knees or arse, still fighting for the puck. Sure, it could be argued that this is also a lack of ability to keep my skates when it matters – which is why other players don’t end up in collisions or life-and-death situations, flying towards the boards. … because they can skate out of such danger zones. I like to think of it as plucky ahead of incompetent.

Wednesday dev league includes several players who, frankly, probably have no right to be there; as in, they’re playing for teams and are clearly several levels above P-Plate skaters like me. But it’s cool to pit yourself against them: to hopefully not get pwned every time you battle for a puck or try to backcheck. Headachy or not, I threw myself into it, and sat on the bench between shifts, smiling at people I now regard as friends, who have been playing against one another, or on the same team on other weeks, went toe-to-toe. Brendan versus Chris, battling hard to the blue line, Lee versus Kevin, Todd versus Kittens, Morgan versus Theresa … these are battles that shift and rotate every week, every session, as we all push ourselves and try to improve.

And then backing up again on the Friday, fever and lack of energy or not. Even playing the gentler IBM scrimmage finished me for the weekend, I decided, despite a very tempting offer to join Joey Hughes’ outfit for a shooting tutorial all weekend at the magnificent Oakleigh rink.

Rest, I decided, Wednesday night shaking session still fresh in my mind and internal batteries on low. A novel needs to be plotted and written, and there are so many more intermediate classes and dev league hours to be skated. With a dive course cancelled, I had a totally free weekend and used it to drink far too much coffee and alcohol with friends.

Except that it’s now lunchtime on Sunday … and I have a free afternoon … and General Skating might not be crowded, given the Grand Prix is on and all.

…. Hmmm. Tempting.

Rookies on film …

So, on Wednesday night, one of the Icehouse Rookies, Daniel Mellios (looking resplendent in a black Red Wings hoodie), turned up with a camera, and quietly shot the lights out of our entire Dev League session. Then produced a music clip the next day.

In the interests of as many eyeballs as possible seeing his excellent work, I thought I’d link to it here.

It really captures arriving at the Icehouse, getting ready, camaraderie, and where we’re at in terms of game play and skills of various levels We remain such a small cult of hockey diehards, within a larger, mostly-disinterested city, so far from the NHL action … I love this video for celebrating our world.

Kittens and I were both on the Red team and therefore got to wear our Wings jerseys. I’m in the #40 Zetterberg with a red helmet and red socks. Will aka Kittens, who features more in this clip, including landing on his butt, is in the #44 Bertuzzi jersey, with black helmet and white socks.

Nice work, Mr Mellios. Nice work …