“So, Will”, I said to Will Ong, usually of my Wednesday night development league crew but notably absent on Wednesday this week, for the final night of scrimmaging. “Are you hurt?”
Being a highly trained investigative journalist, I miss nothing, and on this occasion the give-away clue was leaning next to Will in the LuWow tiki bar on Johnston Street in the form of a pair of crutches. Turns out he did his medial ligament in last week’s late shift scrimmage and is off the ice for three months, a disaster I’d caught hints of in snatches of conversation this week, between games on Wednesday, without ever quite hearing the full story.
Will said he had a reasonably innocuous fall while playing, limped off at the end of his shift and thought he was fine right up until he jumped the boards, from the bench, to start his next shift and his right knee said: “Um, no.”
Then the knee cooled down and really screamed. Ouch. This is on top of a broken leg for Dan, another local player, stitches for a skate-slashed arm for goalie Mark Stone and other assorted ailments eating into our Rookie crew. Anybody would think hockey is a potentially dangerous sport, I thought as Will discussed his physio regime and knee brace.
As is standard for hockey players, Will and I had this conversation at a tiki bar between sets of burlesque dancers stripping down to undies and pasties over their nipples to such songs as The Lion Sleeps Tonight*, and Jungle Boogie.
Fellow Icehouse Rookie Brendan Parsons, Melbourne’s recognized pimp of burlesque – I’m sorry, I meant to say costume co-ordinator and producer to burlesque – had invited us along for opening night of Amazon Cabaret, knowing that any Melbourne International Comedy Festival show is going to struggle unless it can claim to have at least three leading Melbourne ice hockey players in attendance.
A burlesque show was more or less the perfect end to a packed week for me, not least because I’m a big fan of hot women dressed as lions or Tahiti Princesses stripping down until they’re swinging their tits in pasties, but because I was destroyed from a threatening lurgy as well as a huge hockey week and just needed to rest, drink tiki cocktails, listen to music and well, watch hot women dressed as lions or Tahiti Princesses stripping down until they’re swinging their tits in pasties.
On Monday, Big Cat (the artist formerly known as Kittens), Mack and I had come back from a beautiful easter break at Lorne in time for Big Cat and I to hit a Come & Try session at the Icehouse. This was amusing because a joyless easter staff at the Icehouse decided it was wrong and horrific and disastrous that a bunch of Icehouse Rookies should dare to show up and pay honest money to attend the session. “This is supposed to be for learners, for first timers,” we were lectured. “You shouldn’t be skating or wearing your armour.”
I pointed out that I was only wearing armour because I really wanted to work on a front-foot outside-edge turn that my coach, Army, had workshopped with me last week, and I knew I would be hitting the ice repeatedly, if practising this move was to happen. Anyway, there were about three people for the actual L-Plate part of the session, so … what? It was worse to have 10 or so ice hockey students practicing moves at one end of the Henke Rink than to only have $75 worth of newbies (3) stinking up the ice?
The bottom line was that shock, horror, nobody died, we Rookies all had enough sense not to barrel through a seven-year-old kid holding a hockey stick for the first time, or to hit head high slapshots into the intro crowd (3).
Instead, it was a lot of fun. There were a bunch of Rookies there, including Big Cat, the Hough gals, Wayne, Happy Feet and Alex (sicker than eight dogs but heroically present – even if snot did fly through her face grill after a hard landing on her butt). We all practiced tricky moves, passed pucks around, and played a spirited game of half-rink hockey (the terrified, intimidated newbies having cleared the ice for the last 10 minutes of the session). I scored the game winner, when Big Cat somehow hit a shot over everybody’s heads, including the goal, so that it bounced off the glass and landed at my feet, as I happened to be standing next to the goal. Fun.
But not as much fun as Wednesday. It was end-of-term night, which means scrimmages. We arrived early, to watch the 7.30 Intro class actually play a scrimmage for the first time. Then revealed to Army and Martin, a new import for the Melbourne Ice who coaches at Oakleigh, that the Rookies were sponsoring them this year. Then suited up and played two furious hours of hockey – Intermediate class scrimmage and then the usual 10 pm dev league.
Hockey heaven. In fact, put it this way: at the start of my last shift of the night, I jumped the boards, found myself next to Army, who was refereeing, grinned and spontaneously said: “Army, how much fun is hockey?” to which he smiled, laughed and replied: “Oh, it’s outstanding!”
And it simply is. I’ve finally hit a level where I feel I can mostly compete, and so I enjoy hitting the ice, trying to carry the puck to the goal, actually having shots, battling for it against the boards, standing my ground in defence, competing. Sure, I can be beaten badly by better players, and the puck can bounce the wrong way to leave me stranded, but I don’t care. Every week gets more fun as I get better. Increments of improvement, sure, but improvement and I have definitely crossed a line from newbie wobbling around to dev league journeyman.
On Wednesday night, I had a break-away where I hit my shot cleanly and in the air, even if the goalie gloved it to deny a goal. I had another moment where I controlled the puck from the defence blue line to a shot on goal, holding all opponents at bay for the duration. I had a genuine assist where I won the puck in defence, in a “stone cold steal”, and passed it along the boards to a teammate who scored.
OK, sure … I also got beaten pointless by Morgan, one-on-one and watched him goal as he left me in his wake. I fell over repeatedly. I got out of position as a defender more than once. And, most memorably, I tried to change direction at pace near my own goal, lost it, cannoned into the goal with my stomach, landed hard on my back, taking out the goalie, and took seemingly minutes to flail and roll and climb back to my skates. Everybody got a laugh out of that one. Including me. As stated: even when you fuck up, hockey is outstanding.
Tragically, Wednesday night’s action was the end of term.
Miraculously, a whole new term of 8.45 pm Intermediate class and 10 pm Dev League starts next Wednesday.
Amen. I can’t wait.
* Pro Karaoke Tip: Never attempt this song at karaoke. Slightly drunk, in the mood for a sing, flicking through the song catalogue, it’s easy to only think of the easy “a-whim-a-way, a-whim-a-way” part of it, and completely forget all the super-high almost-yodelling bits. A friend of mine, Katey, once fell into this trap and has never recovered. In fact, she left the country not long after to try and establish a new non-karaoke-haunted life in France. Stay safe out there, kids.