We get our pucks on the coast

I’m typing this after attempting some puck-handling practice at Lorne, on a netball court at the poetically named Stribling Reserve. It was about 30 degrees (Celsius, for any Detroit folk reading – as in, 100 degrees F; hot!) but the view is spectacular, down the hill to crashing surf and the Lorne pier. I maintain that the adjacent footy oval, home to the mighty Lorne Dolphins (“We get our kicks on the coast”) is the most scenic place to watch Aussie Rules in Australia. But I might be wrong. I haven’t been to every oval, as a mate, Matt Zurbo, is currently attempting.

Hockey training at Lorne. Bad skills. Good view.

So I half-heartedly tried to learn how to roll my wrist to make wrist shots fly, rather than fizzle along the ground. Big Cat Place (the artist formerly known as Kittens) patiently instructed me on the various elements required to make this shot and none of them came together as I became more dehydrated and warm, the puck rolling ever more slowly. Down below, waves crashed and looked inviting. Been a while since I surfed …

All this is on Good Friday after a typically eventful hockey week. The Red Wings beat the Blues in a thriller, away, then lost what should have been an easy win at home. No idea if they’ll switch on in time for the looming play-offs. Meanwhile, in my hockey world,  Tuesday Dev League was the worst game I’ve been part of.

Tuesday’s crew seems to divide into established, well skilled players who can really skate, and people like me just finding their way at a Dev League level. Tuesday is supposed to be “intro dev league” after all. Usually, we’re all mixed together so the game is pretty even (last week, I scored two goals, so that gives you an idea of the level) but somehow, on Tuesday, all the good players got together on the dark team, against the P-Platers in white.

And it was ugly. You suddenly had guys who play for real teams, like the Ice Wolves, and play together, full-ice passing to one another, operating with teammate understanding and stripping our team of the puck if we got halfway own the ice towards our net. Plus we lost two guys off our bench – one to a strained stomach muscle, the other to a nasty cut to the bone, when a skate sliced his forearm as a player jumped the boards between shifts. I think the final score would have been something like 25-4. And of course, it was the first game that a French girl I’d like to impress had come to see what all the hockey fuss is about. So much for that plan.

Wednesday was a lot more fun. Midway through Tuesday’s debacle, while I was on the bench, muttering darkly to Army the coach that it was great to play against the Red Wings’ dev team, he said my skating needed work. I resisted the urge to say: “No, shit, Sherlock” and instead asked what specifically he saw as the problem. He said my legs are too far apart when I glide, so that I end up camped on my inside edges – which I totally agreed, but had no real idea how to fix.

So Wednesday, Army grinned and said: “Because it’s your birthday, we’re going to devote the class to your skating.” And pretty much did – nothing but remorseless and difficult outside edges/inside edges/pivots/transitions. Scuba, a former Melbourne Ice player and one of our coaches, who had been missing for months, setting up a new business, turned up because Lliam and Tommy are overseas with the national team, so it was great to see him, and to watch how well he skates.

So we stumbled and fumbled and looked for outside edges. Army dragged Big Cat and then me aside for specific pointers, and it turns out he was telling us exactly the same thing, for the same foot, which was kind of weird.

Hereditary skating issues?

The cool thing was that in one of the final drills with Scuba, where we had to skate around traffic cones quite fast in a square, front foot on an outside edge taking us around the corner, I started to “feel it” for the first time. As in, I genuinely found the outside edge and turned sharply, weight on the leg, just like you’re supposed to. Everybody has been telling me (especially coach Michael) that once you commit, lean, and feel it once or twice, it gets easier and maybe that’s true? I hope so because for the first time, I feel like I know what it should feel like and maybe I can get my legs and weight in the right place to make it happen. Easter Monday has a Come & Try session in the afternoon, where the search shall resume. Possibly painfully.

Wednesday’s 10 pm Intermediate Dev League was fun, although I was mediocre. Heavy legged, for no real reason. Just not skating like I know I can, even with the flaws Army is onto. Pre-game, everybody had been promising to gift me a birthday goal and I’d vowed that I didn’t want charity … then spent the game, hoping they’d give me charity. But no. This is hockey.

I actually had a decent shot early in the game but my attempt diverted off a skate, so no joy. I was better in defence, even stopping a shot by Big Cat Place, who hit it straight into my chest, above the heart. Good way to test if my birthday-aged heart is still up to such shenanigans. I caught it off my chest in my glove and calmly cleared the puck from our defensive blue line, unfazed.

Not dead yet.

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