It happened right towards the end of Dev League, our second last shift. For the first time, Army and Lliam have split us into distinct teams and are coaching us, like genuine hockey sides, with the aim of more personalised and concentrated coaching mid-game.
It’s fantastic, including the fact that we have defined lines, so I’m skating every shift with Morgan and Josh (which makes me look good), and we have dedicated D behind us.
We score a couple of goals and it’s a close game with lots of good-natured banter, up to and including Lliam throwing a water bottle at Dave the designated ref, as Mike Babcock would no doubt have done without blinking, if he had been there.
So, coming off a fun and challenging Intermediate class, and then feeling like I’ve done enough good things among the many mistakes to consider myself to be having a half-decent game, I’m loving life, up until the second last shift.
Which is when we get a sniff of a breakaway and Josh takes off fast towards our goal. I’m motoring as fast I can to keep up, offering an option from my right wing, and Morgan is flying, as Morgan does, to bring home the attack.
But it’s all about Josh and a couple of back-checking defenders as they duke it out after the puck, with the boards approaching fast.
And it turns out, too fast. Josh is so busy fighting for the puck that he has no opportunity to hit the brakes, loses it and slams into the boards very very hard.
I couldn’t see the collision clearly, because the goal and Mark, the goalie, stood between me and where Josh hit the wall but, oh man, I heard it. And saw the aftermath.
I’ve covered a lot of sports as a reporter and you know when an injury is nasty. There’s that moment, even as an impact happens, when you either instinctively think: “Ouch, that must have hurt” or “Oh fuck.”
Josh hitting the boards was an “Oh fuck“.
Josh writhing on the ice, trying to grab his left shoulder. All of us standing, helplessly.
I was sure it was a broken collarbone, at least, and Josh was in a mountain of pain.
But somehow got to his feet, with some help, and skated off the ice as everybody tapped their sticks on the ice in recognition, in the hockey equivalent of applause, which is one of those moments when the hair stands on your neck and you love being part of a hockey community. Because we all understand the courage, and we all know it could have been us, and we’re all behind Josh every skate of the way back to the bench.
And then we got on with the game, and Morgan and I had to find a replacement Left Wing for our final stanza.
But here’s the thing, Big Cat Place – sitting out, because of a brewing lurgy – said he saw Josh, crashed out at the other end of our bench – notice Morgan and I getting ready for our shift, and tried to put his helmet on.
After the game, I sought Josh out and found him in the change-rooms, ice on the shoulder.
And, I shit you not, he said: “I was going to come back on but I couldn’t move my arm.” Genuinely annoyed.
That, my friends, is a natural-born hockey player.
I can’t wait to suit up with Josh in our Summer League team, assuming all goes to plan (as in, I make the team) later this year.
But I know I won’t have to wait that long. As I type this, Josh had reported on Facebook that he was getting ready to go and see a physio, still unable to use the arm.
Knowing Josh, he’ll be back, playing Dev League, next week, in a plaster cast.