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.

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