There are many things in hockey, and in life, that I do not understand.
Off the ice, the list is probably too long to attempt; certainly on a blog that at least pretends to be about hockey. Life decisions people make, randomness of life and death, how the Kings and Devils have ended up contesting the NHL Stanley Cup final, why some relationships work and others don’t, laughter and exploration versus the daily grind, contractual discussions instead of pure creativity, whether the Melbourne Mustangs’ mascot thinks he’s a real horse?, choosing to live within tramlines versus leaping into the jungle … yes, be afraid, I’m in one of those moods.
On the ice is, as usual, simpler. I know the things I don’t know, if that makes any kind of sense.
Better, hockey players who do know what they’re doing can spot what I don’t know from 40 skating paces. At a recent stick & puck session on the Henke Rink, a Canadian called Brian skated over and gave me a bunch of tips. They were all gratefully received. They were all brilliant. They were generously offered.
Reflecting on one tiny piece of advice that immediate helped my backward skating in ways Big Cat had been trying to tell me for months (another thing I don’t know: why is it easier to receive observational criticism from strangers than family?), it occurred to me that I remain so green; the sheer mechanics of skating are not yet mastered, more than 16 months – and 100 blog posts – into the adventure. Will they ever be learned? Will I ever step onto a rink and skate with muscle memory, with instinct? I still feel like a P-plate driver, having to consciously concentrate to change gears or work out when to merge lanes.
My lack of knowledge and lack of success in certain areas has played on my mind a bit this week, and tested my self-confidence on and off the ice. I went for a general skate yesterday and was okay; trucking around a happily mostly-empty Bradbury Rink for half an hour or so in a hastily-snared gap between real world commitments. As I moved, I felt underwhelmed by my skating and it occurred to me that hockey-me is flat-lining a little at the moment, just getting through Intermediate class in a serviceable manner, and being respectable in Dev League without doing much that is startling.
At our last Dev League, almost a week ago, my most notable contributions were a solid collision with another skater as we both went for the puck and smacked heavily, and me being the only person on the ice who apparently saw an opposition goal go into the net, hit the back of the net and stop well inside the net, until I fished it out and passed it to a teammate so we could skate back to the middle for the face-off. Instead that teammate took off, thinking it was an attack, and the game continued with only me and a couple of others – no doubt, whoever scored the goal – saying: Huh? Worse, our guys got a goal at the other end, before Dave, the ref, asked me point blank: “Did that go in?” and I answered well, um, yes.
My teammates hated me for being the only witness for the goal, I could tell, but I wasn’t about to try and pull off a sporting robbery in 10 pm Dev League among friends and anyway, I’ve always been in the Adam Gilchrist camp of play sport as you play life, with honesty and honour. Sometimes, honesty is even better if you know you could have gotten away with something.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to sound all lofty. I can be as big an arsehole as the next bloke (unless that bloke is Tony Abbott) and have done my share of dodgy acts. But when Dave asked me, straight up, did I see the puck in the net, I wasn’t going to lie. My coach on the night, Army, only half-heartedly berated me, and on the other bench, coach Lliam could be heard haranguing his players for not celebrating a goal to the point that the ref knew it was a goal.
Which brings a side note: we all remain very quiet on the ice. I’m always struck by how little our players yell at one another or try to get the energy up and communicate by voice. It’s like we’re in a maths exam, while earnestly skating around. Apart from at face offs, where you might find yourself opposed to a mate, on the black team, who you didn’t see, pre-game, so you smile, say hi, ask how their week was going, then smash into them, sticks flying, as the puck shoots towards you. I love hockey.
The good news is that the goal didn’t affect our red team winning, which rocked because I have yet to be on a losing team in five weeks of Dev League being organised into distinct, competing teams. I’m the talisman, if not particularly effective on the ice itself.
And if you think I’m being unnecessarily harsh on myself for last week, let me say this: I wasn’t particularly tired after two hours of hockey, and wasn’t sore the next day, which can only mean one thing: I didn’t go hard enough. I’m not writing this blog to bullshit myself. Most Thursdays I can hardly walk, in a great way. Hopefully, tomorrow night when we armour up, I can leave it all on the ice as I should.
I made it to a fair chunk of the Melbourne Ice action on Saturday and Sunday (two emphatic wins) between also attending my first-ever NRL game, watching the Melbourne Storm win, and heading along to the MCG with my oldest friend and his son, and Big Cat, to watch Richmond somehow beat Hawthorn by 10 goals. Plus we fitted in “This American Life” at the Cinema Nova – on again this weekend and really good, if there are any tickets left – and ate out several times and had Blood & Sand cocktails at Collingwoodworld, which is always a good thing, and got to the gym, and spent time with my girl and her son, and more. No wonder my novel isn’t getting written and I’m not getting time on skates or inlines to master backward crossovers.
Something I don’t know? How to fit all the elements and emotions of my life into, well, my life. I guess that’s a good problem to have, in a lot of ways. I’m not bored.