Guest writer: Jason Bajada

This is a cracking piece. Who knew a goalie could put words together? Turns out Jason Bajada is that guy. Welcome to life between the posts …

Stay out of my crease and we’ll stay friends

By Jason Bajada

I am a goalie.  And I love it.  And I hate it.  And I hate you all.  And you are my best mates.  And I love it.

Jason Bajada: feeling two metres wide. Pic: Wayne McBride

At any given time, none, some, or all of those feelings are true.  Would be true.  Have been and are true.  Tense doesn’t matter.

There is a common understanding amongst hockey people that goalies are weird.  I’m not going to try to explain why, but I will let you know what it is like being a goalie in a game – you can figure out if we are weird once you have read my story.  There is a lot of swearing in this, because I really don’t know how to efficiently express myself any better.  I understand the theory that “those who swear are less articulate, and therefore less intelligent, than others who do not”, to which I respond: fuck that.

When I am putting my gear on, I feel like I am two metres wide and I am invincible.  During the warm-ups, I concentrate so hard on every single shot coming in, I hold my breath until the last shot is made.  I wear myself out during the warm-ups because I am so wound up I can’t breathe.

And all I keep thinking to myself is that I am better than everyone else on the ice.  And I believe it with every fibre of my body, every hair on my head and every exploding neuron in my brain.  Actually, I don’t just believe it, I know it.  It is a fact, and now I get to prove it to you all.

And that is what I am thinking during warm-ups.  Because if I don’t, I can’t do my job.

And then the game starts, and the only thing I can see is the puck.  Nothing else matters.  Everything else fades into the background.  In my peripheral vision, I see the blur of players in their jerseys, and instantly calculate whether or not they are on my team, and how far away they are from playing the puck, and if they are in a position to put the puck on net, and whether or not it will be a strong shot or not.  And if they pick up the puck and start skating, I’m figuring out whether they are on their forehand or backhand, and whether or not their team-mates are moving into position to take a better shot, and whether my team-mates are moving into a position to help or hinder me.  And if the shot is taken, I work out the trajectory of the puck, and where it has come from, and whether to drop to the ice or not, or whether to stick my arm out or not, and where my stick is, and where the puck could go after I stop it, and whether or not I have the chance to ice the puck, or if I have to move to make a follow-up save from the rebound.

And that entire paragraph takes place in my world in less than a second.  And the next second, it might start again, or maybe it stops.  But I also have to work out whether or not I need to get up or not.  So the next second is always more complicated than the last, because I have to figure out how I am supposed to recover from the previous second.

Above and beyond all of that, every single second of the game I have decisions to make.  And I regret most of them.  I could have done something different, or better, or more efficiently.  Even when I do make a save, I am never satisfied with it.  The next save has to be better.  And I fucking hate that.

Nowhere to hide: Goalie life.

Then I stick a pad out and watch the puck deflect into the corner.  Or make a glove save as I am standing strong in the crease.  Or take the puck off my face and have it land at my feet, so I drop and cover it up.  I have conquered the desires of the opposition, and tamed to rage that fired that puck at me.  I destroyed the dream of the goal, and have forced them to re-think how they play the game.  I have beaten them, I am the victor.  In that second, I have just proven to everyone there that I am the best there is.

And I can’t think of anywhere else I would want to be.  And I love it.

The best part is when one of my team-mates sweeps out to the corner, corrals the puck I just deflected out there, clears it out of the defensive zone and creates a rush out of just one pass.  It is poetry in motion, and everything just flows together like it was meant to be.  The Hockey Gods have looked down on that piece of ice, stroked their beards wisely, and at that specific time, said to themselves, “Let’s make something magical happen.”

And it is at times like those that we are a brotherhood.  A sisterhood.  A hockeyhood.  Time stands still, and everything is easy.  And I love everyone in the building, along with all of those ancient hockey warriors who have fought on that piece of ice in years past.  Everyone should get to feel this, and I feel sorry for those who don’t know what they are missing out on.

But as quickly as it started, the moment is over.  The puck is back at my feet, and everyone – even the refs, it seems – is hacking away at it, forcing me to make save after save after save, never letting me take a breath to figure out what I need to do next.  I see my team-mates – that same hockeyhood from seconds ago – standing in the way of the puck so I can’t see it.  I watch the puck deflect off a team-mate and into the post.  I scream –  scream myself hoarse – at the player on my right to get the puck away from me.  It is within a metre of the goal line and I have no control of it.  It needs to leave, and it needs to leave NOW.  Just fucking move it.  Pass it.  Skate it.  I don’t care what you do, just MAKE IT GO AWAY.

NO!  DON’T PASS IT RIGHT ACROSS THE …

The puck is now behind me.  Players wearing the wrong colours are cheering and hugging each other.  And you are yelling at me.  Telling me I should have done better.  That I should have made that save.  Asking me sarcastically where the hell my stick was.  You make the biggest bone-headed play in the history of hockey, and it’s my fault we are now losing.

And I hate you.  I hate you and I want to hurt you.  I want to hurt you so much you will be scared to play again.  You were my team-mate, but after that play you don’t deserve to even share the ice with me.  I don’t care, I hate you.  Fuck off, and stay the fuck away from me before I rip your face off through that cage.

The very next shift, the centre wins the face-off, tears down the ice and goes top shelf blocker side to get that goal right back.  After the obligatory fist-bumps along the bench, he points his stick right at me and yells “That one’s for you, buddy”.

I am a goalie.  And I fucking love this game.

Guest writer (Origin story): Aimee Hough

The pocket rocket, the smiling assassin, the Christmas angel reveals the murderous thoughts underlying her appearance.Figure-skaters everywhere, relax.

“Smart alec man-child” … I got all emotional. In fact, I might get that put on my tombstone.

And for anybody who crosses her path, Hough is Hoff, as in cough, or maybe Hasselhoff. Woe betide those who get it wrong.

The rage behind Aimee Hough

By Aimee Hough

Aimee Hough yesterday.

Okay gang – I guess it’s my turn. My story; My adventure into the wonderful, thrilling, hilarious world that is hockey. The good and well… not so good; But I’ll get to that.

Alrighty. I have always been a team player. I have had sport sewn into every thread of the fabric I’d call my life. It was dancing and netball, but it was being part of the swimming club with my two older sisters, Jess and Kaitlyn that makes up most of my childhood memories. The Wednesday night training, the Sunday night time trials or spring interclub, where we would all pile into the bus and make the loud and laughter infused bus ride to MSAC at Albert Park where we would compete against surrounding clubs. Being the age that I was, would fall asleep on a close friend who, long story short, rescued me from bullies and has since become well…. Mine! This story is constantly remembered as we reminisce over the good old days (she says at 21 years of age). The point of this is the club environment. Engaging in a sport with people who make you feel accepted.

As I got older the amount of swimmers lessened as did the appeal of the club. Thus became a lull in my sporting activities. Netball and dance were always there, as was EVERY sporting event I could get involved in at high school but sadly it just didn’t feel the same. Enter the Icehouse. In 2010 I began Figure skating with Jess and Kaity. 8:45 Saturday morning on the ‘Bradbury Rink’ became our thing to do. We began with swivels, c-cuts and edgework. As we moved up in class we were given sew on patches… awesome *rolls eyes*. Months later I purchased my overpriced (and soon to be irrelevant) figure skates. Although soon after it dawned on me, as much as I loved skating, it just wasn’t enough. I’ve been dancing for as long as I can remember but even as we were taught in skating “arms up – point where you want to go” I was never completely satisfied. A year later, Jess decided to work/live in Canada for seven months: Insert Jess’s absence and Kaitlyn’s demise due to poor knees. This was it – I needed a change. Hockey: Here I come!

Little did the world know …

The first few weeks of intro were monotonous. Then gear, sticks and pucks came along. I’m sold!!! Not to mention the sarcastic antics, movie quotes and shenanigans that I held similar with the coaches, Army and Lliam.

Last September I travelled to Canada and was able to partake in the glorious moment of buying my own gear. The shine of ‘hire gear’ lost its appeal after the first time I put on the cold, wet disgrace that is the shared shoulder pads. When it came to purchasing gear, being small, finally became a benefit. I’ll take my junior $150, Bauer Vapor 3.0’s, any day. Yes, I may be constantly ridiculed for my less than normal sized gloves. The best one from the change room was “are they your gloves? I can hang them from my rear view mirror”…… hilarious…

Here comes the not so good part of my adventure. How many times have any of the males been mistaken for a figure skater?? None I’m guessing. Well for a female, it’s either a hit or miss. I took my skates to be sharpened, where the onset of separation anxiety set in. When I came to collect them the girl took some time. She then called for assistance. Heart rate heightening. They both returned asking what type of skates. I simply said “Bauers”. They both returned with skates in hand, huge smiles and the other guy laughing “that’s what you get for assuming”. This, happy readers, is the downside of being a woman in the hockey world, or as a “blonde Christmas tree angel” as Alex Mcnabb so kindly labelled me, or as my dad seems to think I resemble Lisa Simpson on the ice. I guess I can live with that.

Don’t be fooled. I may be a little blonde, but all I can say is ‘Bring it!’ (I’m looking at you Nicko Place). I like to think I can hold my own. I may be knocked down but watch me smile as I pick myself up and keep on skating. Especially after I’ve taken you down with me.

Since the first day in intro, I haven’t looked back. I’ve been given exactly what was missing and I’m reluctant to let it go now – A club. A family. I’ve met so many genuine people that I’m so happy to know. Yes including the smart alec man-child that is this blogs creator. I’ve been given people who (on more than one occasion) can appreciate a good movie quote… okay…more than one…okay, the entire script. But as long as I can make people smile, I’m happy.

Aimee (in white) about to take out a helpless Rookie.

Hockey has provided me with so much: Great group of people, car park hockey and the ‘trouble station’, general skate, jersey preferences, chilling at the pub – constantly, Goon, Miracle, Young Blood, Mighty Ducks (and allllll the quotes that accompany them), my first Oakleigh experience, Sponsorship, talking for hours – walking back to the car – to continue another hour of talking, ROOKIES, sharing gear when somebody needs it (regardless if it fits, so long as someone can participate), Melbourne Ice games,  the endless sound of Velcro and the unimaginable, yet unexplainable filth that is hockey smell, countless advice, ‘Recovery drinks’, shit stirring anyone and everyone that walks by – especially Army and Lliam, intro, 5 X intermediate, first ever Dev League, the upcoming Ice road trip, the Gala, Summer league and the promise of the future.

To those who’ve joined me on this Journey – Thank you.

Meanwhile, whatever happened to that Nicko guy?

By Nicko

The coldest place on Earth, certainly under an Australian flag, is reputed to be Ridge A, 14,000 metres high on the Antarctic Plateau. The average winter temperature on Ridge A is said to be minus 70 degrees, Celsius, although nobody has ever set foot there.

But I’d challenge the Australian and American scientists, who declared this finding in 2009, after exhaustive satellite probing and climate imaging. I’d say to them: Oh yeah? Try hanging out at the dilapidated Olympic ice rink, in Oakleigh South, deep in the Melburnian suburban tundra, during mid-winter.

That, my whitecoated friends, is fucking cold.

The magnificent if chilly Oakleigh rink.

Wearing four layers, a beanie and gloves, I pushed through the front door a few Fridays ago, ducking the straps of plastic presumably designed to stop some bizarre breed of Ice Age-ready mosquito, with my trusty Reebok stick in one hand, and my bag of gear over my shoulder. I was nervous. It was the second time that week I had strapped on my armour and skates and tested the Oakleigh ice. On the Wednesday night, some Rookie friends and I had hired the ice for a scrimmage, which was a blast, especially for those of us debuting on this particular rink, which is tiny – much smaller than the Henke Rink we’re used to – and has no glass, meaning to be boarded involves being jammed against a fence about waist high. Even better, down the end where an ageing Zamboni creaks out between sessions, the ice dips away and there are holes in the bottom of the boards, so that a puck might disappear in there, mid-battle.

Believe it or not, until the 2009 season, this was home to the Melbourne Ice and it is still the scene for many games of winter and summer season hockey every year. As the only surviving rink in Melbourne, outside of Docklands, there isn’t much choice. It’s actually magnificent in its decay and history and authenticity as the last of the suburban hockey rinks.

On this Friday, I was in Oakleigh to finally come face-to-face with the Cult of Joey.

A while ago, I wrote a blog about how I’d found myself in a hockey funk; feeling like I wasn’t improving, wasn’t pushing myself … basically it was a written rant to kick myself up the arse and work harder, which is what I did almost immediately after writing it.

But an unexpected result of that piece was that I was publicly “called out” on Facebook by Joey Hughes, a star of the Melbourne Ice, to let him train the funk out of me.

It was an unforeseen twist, not least because a) I hadn’t realized this blog was being read by a wider hockey community, including my coaches Lliam and Army, let alone Joey Hughes and his Ice-import coaching partner, Martin Kutek, and b) I had recently raised questions about the violence of Joey’s brother, Ice captain Vinnie’s in an Ice game.

Joey Hughes, in action for the Ice. Pic: Canberra Times

So Joey Facebooking that he challenged me to come to Oakleigh and lose my funk was a shock, yet I had to politely say thanks but no thanks, because I was on a novel deadline, travelling a lot and couldn’t find the time to commit. Joey was having none of that and so, finally, here I was, pushing through the door and watching the fog hang over the ice of this tiny rink.

A couple of hours later, after my first Intro session of Next Level hockey, I sat on the boards with Joey, for a genuine chat. It wasn’t quite so cold that your words froze in front of you so that you had to read what each other was saying, but it wasn’t far off. Put it this way, I had sat, in my armour, for an hour, during the Intermediate class that followed mine, fully intending to play Game Time scrimmage, but was so bone-core frozen, I eventually abandoned the idea. Plus everybody looked too skilled for me, so I decided to watch a scrimmage or two before poking my skate out there.

Joey could pass for Latin, or maybe native American, or Italian. He has dark eyes and hair and carries himself like a dancer, but with an intense, harder edge, which comes out on the ice where he is something of a warrior. According to the NLHA website, he has been skating at Oakleigh since he was 11 years old, just before he took off to North America to chase his hockey dream. He’s been a hockey player all that time, and now he’s back at the Olympic rink, training a new generation of players.

The local hockey community is small and very welcoming, but I feel there has been a shade of Us & Them over the past year or so, where you’re either an Icehouse skater or a member of what I laughingly call The Cult of Joey. Many of the Next Level Hockey devotees have an evangelistic loyalty to their coaches, Joey and Martin, along with Tony Theobold, Vinnie Hughes and no doubt others I don’t know about yet.

Any chance they get, Next Level students will tell you about the personal attention, how their skills have improved dramatically, how Oakleigh is where you become a really good hockey player …

I had no reason to doubt them, I just always felt a loyalty to Lliam and Army, and the other Icehouse coaches, who have patiently watched me stumbling around for a long time now. (I spoke to Lliam about it once, and he shrugged that it was great Joey was doing his thing, just turning out more and better hockey players, which was the whole point.)

Even so, I couldn’t afford to drive out to Oakleigh at least one night a week on top of my Icehouse commitments. Real life didn’t have a window that large, regardless of my worry that I would be left behind in terms of development.

And so I’d hear the Cult of Joey rave about Oakleigh, and wonder. Until now. On this Friday, I joined Intro and quickly had all my usual technical faults identified. Told to bend my knee to 90 degrees, while my non-skating foot was horizontally in front of me, I managed maybe 30 degrees, which had Joey skating along beside me, saying, “You gotta be kidding me?” and me giving him a colourful explanation of my age compared to his and where he could shove his deep knee bend. To which he laughed and explained why I simply have to bend my knees more, even though – like everybody – I totally thought I was already.

And so it went.

Part of the Next Level way is to drive its students to be better, to buy in, to forge together and commit. It’s definitely a more driven, different atmosphere to the Icehouse classes where Lliam and Army push us hard, but in a slightly more casual, shambolic way. Lliam’s description of how to fire a wrist-shot (which in his case, is a bullet) was along the lines of: “Look, I learned this at age four and I can’t really explain it, but it works, so do it like this.”

As you know by now, I love these classes and have improved more than I ever could have imagined over 18 months of training and lessons.

Talking to Joey, on the boards after my class, he explained that he had read my “funk” blog and felt a genuine desire to help. He said he read about a passionate rookie who’d hit a wall, and rode in to help if he could. Fresh eyes, is all he thought. Even as an elite international player, Joey said he benefits hugely from new ideas, new voices, different slants on the same technical or fitness issues. So he wanted me to come along and hear something new.

And he’s been totally right. Martin has already given me some amazing tips about outside edge work, everything Joey has said has been useful. It’s great.

And on Wednesdays, Lliam and Army have begun the long road of Intermediate classes again, with encouragement and enthusiasm for our improvement.

I’ve relaxed and can feel improvement happening, even in Dev League where I’ve been in the thick of things. We’re in good hands at both venues, and talking to Joey, just like Lliam, that’s the whole point. There’s an excitement about how many rookies are swelling the ranks of the playing numbers in Victoria; a genuine problem at Ice Hockey Victoria level of how the Hell to accommodate so many people who want ice time.

The Cult of Joey might exist in the enthusiasm of NLHA skaters, but not among the coaches. Joey and Lliam, as Victorian born and bred stars, are mutually enjoying the ride as hockey surges in Australia.

As am I, now savouring personal, friendly, expert teaching from so many Melbourne Ice stars, and with my rookie mates both encouraging me and hanging shit at me at every turn.

Life’s good and the funk is gone.

Guest writer (Origin story): Jack Hammet

WORLD EXCLUSIVE

Today’s guest writer is Jack Hammet and I feel a need to explain how we came to know each other.

He’s more or less the same age as Will (AKA BIg Cat). In fact, Jack went to school with Will and his wider circle of mates, which is where I first heard about him. What I heard wasn’t always great. From all accounts, Jack was a little more wild than the others; more prepared to really push boundaries and potentially get into trouble. I’ve always been a big believer that teenagers should get into some trouble (ask my younger son, Mack – AKA Wookie, AKA Mackquist – for an account of The Ferret Incident sometime and you’ll hear an outstanding story of the kind of trouble kids should get into).

Teenagers should push things a bit, but not so much that you worry for them, that you’re scared. I heard rumours of this kid who played it harder and faster than the rest of the school crowd, and I’d seen guys like that in my generation, especially in journalism, where some cadets couldn’t handle the hard-drinking, hard-living, dick-swinging world that was daily papers. Some spun out badly and were alcoholics or fuck-ups by their mid-20s. Others swam on, survived and matured.

So, I finally got to meet Jack when I ventured down to the Icehouse. He and Big Cat had been skating most of the summer, in fact from the moment VCE exams ended, if not before. They were getting good as I literally staggered onto the ice, barely vertical.

And here’s the thing, this manchild instantly struck me as an outstanding person. I was ready for some punk Hellraiser (and he still loves that profile, as you will read between the lines below – he’s a happy Goon) but damn, if Jack, big bad Jack, wasn’t a man I could look in the eye and just know that he was a good one. He wasn’t always a genius – he hurt Will one day, needlessly slamming him during a Stick & Puck session – but he travelled for a while, then came back and you could see him growing into himself, losing the anger that (until the piece below) I had never understood, and had really only heard about.

Here we are,  a whole – what? 12 or 18 months later, and Jack is a lock for a leadership role in whichever team he lands on; he’s helping rookie defenders know where to position themselves, what not to do; he’s endlessly there for people.

Rock on, Jack, and thanks for this piece. It’s from the heart and honest and for that, respect.

Nicko

Does blood bounce on ice?

By Jack Hammet

I hate to start this on a depressing note but bear with me, it’s not all sad, and I think it’s important in explaining my story and unwavering love for hockey…

When I was 7, my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a long and hard road that unfortunately ended five years later with her passing away when I was about to hit 13. I never knew my dad and for a lot of my childhood it was just my mum and I. As you would expect, this formed a strong connection between us and she was my rock. When she passed away, everything changed for me. I found myself dealing with a step dad trying to drown his sorrows in beer (and doing well at it) and a little brother who was still far too young to look after himself. This left me, just entering my teenage years, trying to balance looking after my brother, school (which I hated) and the anger/confusion/sadness and everything else that resided within me as a result of my mum’s death.

“What? Who? Me?” Jack (standing) in his element.

But I feel in a lot of ways, that sport was my saviour. I know other people that have been through similar things and become drug dealers, criminals and all kinds of things and I honestly think that sport has kept me grounded and given me something to focus on and provided an outlet for all the anger I had.

(No more depressing stuff, I promise.)

I always loved sport and had played football (Aussie Rules) since I was old enough to run, I loved the contact and was always good at dropping (and sometimes injuring) other players. For this reason, I played full back. I played full back for the Fitzroy Lions for about eight years before I made the switch to basketball.

Immediately I missed the contact and got fouled out most games for my first season and occasionally ejected (kicked out of the stadium). In both basketball and football, I found myself getting in trouble due to fights. I went to a pretty rough school for most of high school and needed to be able to look after myself. I was pretty big in comparison to most people my age but decided I better learn how to fight anyway so I started doing MMA/ judo/ karate/ jujitsu/ boxing and a whole bunch of other fighting styles as well as my personal favourite, sporting brawls!

As those of you who have spent time with me will know, I like to have a laugh and do stupid shit but once the game starts, whatever that sport may be, I get much more serious! I’m not one to go looking for a fight but if people mess with my teammates, I’ll be coming for them. This attitude was appreciated by my teammates but not so much by refs, parents etc… Due to this, basketball just didn’t quite fit my style. But that all changed when I discovered ice hockey!

When I was nearing the end of year 12, I saw a family friend who was managing the Icehouse at the time. Once I told him I had never skated before, he told me I had to go down and give it a go. I made a day of it and brought a few friends down with me (one of them being Will “Kittens” Place). Will and I immediately fell in love and came back later that night for a pond hockey session, I came back the next day and bought my first pair of hockey skates. To say I was hooked is an understatement! It was then that I started watching the NHL and AIHL and started following the greatest hockey teams on the planet, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Melbourne Ice!

It was not long after this that I met Joey Hughes (of Melbourne Ice and NLHA fame) at a party. We got talking (and drinking). He encouraged me to keep up the hockey and to come down and get trained by him. The fact that even the top level players in Australia are so chilled out and happy to talk to newbies made me feel right at home and seeing his passion for hockey only made my love for it stronger.

I felt straight away that I had found a sport that I truly clicked with. The parts I was most fond of were the contact, the team (family like) oriented mentality and of course, the fighting. I had to pinch myself, I had finally found a sport where I wouldn’t get in trouble (well not too much) for fighting!

From the day of that first skate, hockey became a big part of my life. And has become more and more so as time has passed, to the point

The only pic I could find of Jack in a Washington Capitals jersey, instead of his Penguins kit. He remains fun to annoy. … oh, wait. I’ve made a huge mistake. – Nicko

where I now even work at the Icehouse. It is safe to say that I bleed hockey!

Throughout all of the year 12 exam period, I didn’t study, well not biology and business management anyway, I studied hockey! I spent the better part of every day down at the Icehouse. Even on days I had exams, I would skate in the morning, rush to my exam, do it as quickly as possible, then go back to the Icehouse to practice my crossovers and hockey stops, the important stuff, not stupid school work.

It wasn’t long before I joined classes and Lliam and Army became my mentors, I skipped intro and went straight to intermediate classes … a term of that and I was on to dev league. As with past sports, it was clear that defence was where I belonged and I couldn’t have been happier!

I got my first hockey injury at around the same time at a stick and puck session.  Being a male, I thought the helmet cage made me look soft, so naturally, I put a screwdriver to it and went without. I was on the ice for no longer than 20 seconds before I realized my mistake, I took a slap shot to the face and got knocked out. As I woke in a pool of blood, I realized that cage was probably there for a reason… I made the trip to the hospital in my full gear (minus skates, gloves and helmet) and once I was recommended for plastic surgery (no scar) but also had the option of stitches (scar) to get my lip put back together, I took the stitches. It was then, sitting in the car in my gear, going home with a mouth full of stitches, that I felt like a real hockey player and I have never looked back.

This is only the beginning of my hockey journey, I’m 19 years young and I’ve got a lot to learn (I now wear a cage and just deal with looking stupid) plenty of time to work on my skating, shooting, dangles and all the rest of it. I’ve met some awesome people through hockey and I know I’ll continue to meet more. Thank you to those of you who have been there with me so far, I look forward to skating alongside you for years to come.

I am eagerly waiting to play my first season of summer hockey this year and I can’t wait to play my first game, score my first goal, get my first check (even if summer is non contact) but more than anything… I can’t wait to drop the gloves!

Guest writer: Jess 2

Jess had such a great response to her first post, she’s saddled up again. So over to her …

Cluelessness and contusions

By Jess

So, Oakleigh. People seem to have mixed opinions on it but when I walked (ok more like crept) in on Tuesday night to get fitted for skates I fell in love. I love the fog hanging in the air adding a ‘sacred’ feel to the place, like the ghosts of players past still haunting the ice. I love the ‘used’ feel of the place – shit has happened here. Players that I will probably never fully appreciate have trained and played here. The scars of long forgotten games are etched in the bones of this great shed. It makes me think of the stories old men tell, stoic warriors going forth to do battle in the name of pride and honor. And sitting above it all like the silent sentinel watching over its domain, Next Level Hockey.

When I first started looking at skates I asked a few people where they had gotten theirs and what they thought of them. A friend that plays for the Alberta Pandas (Brandi Buss #2 defense WHOOP WHOOP), sorry, said that she skates in Bauer Vapors as they run slightly narrower than other skates and suit her feet better. “but you’re better off just finding somewhere that has a shitload of skates and trying everything on to find what suits you.” Awesome advice, if I was in Canada and could go to one of the bazillions of hockey pro shops they have. In Melbourne, we’re kind of limited. On the local side the advice I was getting was “Go see Joey at Oakleigh”. This kept coming up a lot, always in a tone that assumed I knew what people were on about. I didn’t. I’M NEW PEOPLE! If I haven’t been introduced to you at a game or met you in the bar before or after a game I DON’T KNOW YOU! Hell, there’s still some of our own players I don’t know which ones are which, so if I’ve met you and I haven’t seemed suitably in awe, feel free to point out why I should be. It’s not arrogant if you’re just teaching the new chick. I’m not one of those people who has memorized every player in the league – if I’ve met you, I know you. If I haven’t, I’m sure I will eventually. We’re not a super huge community and we’re pretty close knit. Everyone seems to be involved on multiple levels which is what makes this sport great; guys that play AIHL play and coach in the Vic league and lower club hockey and also rock in to drop in sessions so you can find yourself facing off against a guy you watch routinely smash players much better than yourself, both terrifying and exciting at the same time. But this means there is a huge amount of people to meet and I’m sorry but I just haven’t got around to it yet which led to this embarrassing conversation.

“Why does everyone tell me to go see Joey like I should know who Joey is? Should I know who Joey is?”

“Uh yeah, Joey Hughes, plays for the Ice … brother of Vinnie……”

FML, of course I had heard of Joey, it had just never occurred to me he was that Joey but as I said: small community.

So after basking in the glorious stupidity of my cluelessness I wandered down to Oakleigh after work. There was a kids class on when I got there so I stood and watched  for a while. Big mistake. Highly depressing knowing a twelve year old kid is better than you’re ever going to be. But I stayed. I don’t know if it’s because I’m starting to develop that ‘suck it up’ hockey player attitude or because I was a little in awe, both of my surroundings and the kids on the ice; regardless, I stayed. At this point I REALLY need to thank Martin and Tony, who missed the start of an Ice Academy training session he was running with Joey to help fit me out. I watched those kids before I left, they can afford to miss a session. Fitting beginner skaters must be the most irritating thing in the world. I don’t know if the way I answered any of the questions was helpful or just plain irrelevant and to be honest a lot of my answers were “I don’t know” accompanied with an apologetic shrug but we got there in the end. I am now the proud owner of a set of Bauer Vapor X3.0 skates! They are even the limited edition ones I was lusting over on the internet (I like the color better, I’m shallow, whatever). And they are AWESOME!  I suck, but the skates are awesome! Since getting them I’ve done a minimum of two hours a night on the ice, except Friday as I had to work late but no excuses I know. And to my great astonishment and relief I didn’t die! I’m nowhere near as good as I’d like to be but I’m not as god awful as I feared I would be. I stacked out twice on the first night, once on the second and got taken out by a “friend” Saturday night (you’ll get yours, don’t you worry about that!) On a side note to the guys at Next Level be bloody proud of your students, had three of them helping me out my first night on the ice while working on their own skating and their help was invaluable. Also to Martin who asked me when I would be joining Next Level when I saw him at the Icehouse only to have me laugh and say “Sorry, I’d prefer not to die”, I don’t think any of you would deliberately kill me with hockey drills but after hearing about the steps up students have had to make in skill, intensity and fitness I know I’m not ready for that. Maybe when I reach Base Level I’ll look at Next Level but for now I’m going to settle for getting on the ice as much as I can and maybe beginner skate school when the new term starts and possibly work on how to throw a punch without loosing my footing, for the next time I go skating with my so called friend.

Post script: Feeling epically ripped of that I didn’t bruise after being taken out Saturday night. What’s the point in being sore if you have nothing to show for it!? Maybe it’s my pole dance side coming out too much, bruises and pole burn compared amongst the class at the end of each lesson has become a bit of a tradition; one I’m sure I’ll carry on through my hockey adventure.

Guest writer (Origin story): Brendan Parsons

WORLD EXCLUSIVE

Today’s guest writer is Brendan Parsons, one of the free-thinkers of the rookies I train and play with, and a Facebook star. I knew if he wrote for this blog, it would be more than worth reading, and I was right. Thanks, Brendan.

(btw, I’m out of submissions … you had better all keep writing or you’ll be subjected to my ramblings again. You’ve been warned. Nicko)

Owning the ice

By Brendan Parsons

It’s a mid-Thursday morning in October at the Icehouse, the rink is empty save for two figure skaters lazily carving spirals on the centre circle.  A scruffy guy in his late twenties steps onto the ice, his legs seem to be bitching about the lack of sleep evident on his face, be he acts like he’s here to work.  A few tightened laces later a younger guy joins him; similar, but skinnier, fresher looking and with some unscuffed Reebok skates.  After a few cold-laps, they start skating together and chatting.  They start to break into the familiar call and repeat dance steps that those of us without toe picks recognise.  One semi-steady Mohawk turn, echoed by a fainter one in reply. An outside-edge glide turn, closely followed by an outside edge fall.  Both attempt to shoot-the-duck, but no one is filling their pot tonight.

After a few more laps they’re chatting again, now arguing the difference between Shona’s explanation of crossover vs Scuba’s explanation of crossovers; the guys are in different hockey school classes – Shona and Scuba don’t teach together. You could tell that the weight transfer in these moves was a long debated topic. You can hear that the older one is between jobs and icing his free days, while the younger just graduated uni and is killing time before he heads overseas.   You can also hear the tension in the discussion.

Brendan Parsons in action for the Tigersharks.

The younger one abruptly disengages from the conversation and peels off in skating’s equivalent of a huff; a slow glide turn against the rotation of the Burberry rink.  From this faintly competitive exchange, it’s clear that they are brothers.  People with brothers recognize this interaction well – me especially, because I’m the older one.

My brother Aric and I always got on well growing up here in Melbourne but rarely had anything in common.  From our early years we were quite different people.  Maybe it was our savvy personal marketing, but people found it easy to categorise me as the smart one, and Aric as the sporty one. There was no competition in either field. We both notably exceled in our chosen exploits, and stayed off the other’s turf (in my case, literally off his soccer pitch). As we grew up, and it became less necessary to label yourself as ‘smart’ or ‘sporty’, we found we were more similar that we’d thought, but you could never call us friends. He remains six years younger than me, and with an age gap that large, we were always in different life stages: when I graduated high-school, he started there; when he started uni, I was already out working full time, and when I started playing ice hockey, I kept it a secret from him…

If I’m being kind, I couldn’t explain why I didn’t tell him – he loves watching NHL, went to games in the US and was complaining of being bored with soccer and futbol – but if I’m being honest I know exactly why I didn’t tell him. For the first time in my life, I was actually not completely useless at a sport.

The years of doing weekly ‘sport-ed’ in high school led me to believe that I hated sports.  Sport-ed was an internment class for people not chosen for interschool matches, but who were legally obligated to be detained during school hours. This often involved diversionary sports like going to the gym, bowling, playing t-ball (we were not capable of baseball) or sometimes just sitting in the sun (think Bad News Bears crossed with the Breakfast Club).  Now I see that what I hated was not sport, but the sports on offer; cricket (four hours after school, not thanks), football (no chance unless you started in utero), tennis & table tennis (all that bending to get missed balls was a pain in the abs), and field hockey (I was, and remain, a dangerous menace with a stick which spent little time in my hands).

I had always wanted to try hockey, and about once a year I would Google it at work, send an e-mail, make a phone call and get zilch, until I remembered it a year later and repeated the fruitless endeavor.  Then Icehouse opened. They said “Sure! But our next beginner class starts in 9 months.” I waited. I pined. I dreamt.

Us in last year’s Ice Blitz at the Winter festival (me, centre in orange, Aric to the left in orange) also, Dan Dixon, Todd Harbor, Will Ong, Emma Poyton, Chris Lourie) – this is where I first met all these people who are now all close hockey associates.

I picked up ice hockey quickly.  It utilised my natural skills; balance, agility, and predicting elastic collision trajectories. I was also easily distracted in other sports when balls would go out-of-bounds, so it was perfect. Moreover, I was meeting new people, keeping fit and having fun. The last thing I needed was my kid brother hanging around eclipsing my meagre progress. I just wanted a sport of my own.

Aric eventually found out, though I carefully hid it until I knew he couldn’t join me in term 1 (yes, agreed, I am a monster), but he was mad-keen and started Beginner in term 2.  On reflection, it was his progress close on my heel that pushed me forward; to go to general skate, to practice my hockey stops, and to ignore Army and Matt’s advice to redo the beginner class that Aric would be in…

Our sibling rivalry did get me thinking though; is sibling rivalry sometimes a good thing?  Would the Sedin twins be as quick if they weren’t racing each other? Would Gretsky have practiced 4-5 hours a day in his backyard rink if his brothers weren’t his lines-mates? Have the Wong brothers made each other what they are, for the Ice? Would Joey Hughes have started playing if he hadn’t seen his brother score a goal after watching the Mighty Ducks (this possibly apocryphal account comes via the internet – seeking conformation)? Perhaps not.

I am starting to believe that hockey isn’t just a game; it’s a lifestyle, a family. And since my brother is skating on distant ice rinks from Iran to Kiev, I have actually missed the time we spent together skating. I don’t regret starting hockey on my own, but one day I may.  I’m thankful that he had the tenacity to follow me and is now here so we can share this sport as friends.

If we do play on a team together in the future (with jerseys broadcasting A.Parsons and B.Parsons), I hope that we continue to push each other forward and when he comes back, we continue skating together. Now when people meet the two of us, they no longer say he’s the sporty one, or that I’m the intellectual one, they comment on how similar we are and how committed we are to our common, unreasonable obsession.

And despite him hating all my hockey-related posts on Facebook, he even said I could use his skates while he’s away. Now that’s brotherly love.

 

This blog post goes out to all the hockey siblings; the Daws, the McNabs, the Places, the Houghs, and any others whom I’m yet to meet.

Guest writer (Origin story): Theresa

WORLD EXCLUSIVE

Today’s guest writer is Theresa, a dynamo of organisation and hockey passion who has become a leading figure in the self-proclaimed Rookies and our dreams of forming a summer team. Well, actually, it simply wouldn’t happen, or have a chance of happening, without her drive.

Here, she explains how her hockey obsession began and how it survived so many false starts.

My hockey addiction: a love story

By Theresa

Theresa, about to tear it up at the Icehouse. Pic: Wayne McBride

Hi, my name is Theresa, and I am addicted to hockey.

First a bit of background info:

I grew up in South Africa. I found hockey at age 13 when I went general skating to go look at some handsome hockey boys.  I happily general-skated once a week for a few years, gaping from afar at these boys.  By age 16 I was a real “rink rat” and running the rink cafeteria. By age 18 I was dating one of these boys, and tried to play a bit of hockey myself for a half season.  My prized birthday gift was a pair of Graf hockey skates.

But I was talked out of playing hockey by the boy I was dating, because he and his friends felt it was “unladylike”.  I was impressionable back then; I listened to him.

I moved continents to North America (L.A.), and while I only took one suitcase, they contained my skates. In my year in L.A., I bought everything Kings and Gretzky at the time, though I never skated.

At age 19, I presented myself to the Canadian consulate in South Africa and filled in all the paperwork they could give me for immigration. The Canadians are pretty strict about who they let in, and who they don’t. This 19-year old upstart with no qualifications to speak of, no hockey skills, on her own dime, was hardly given a glance.  I was told in no uncertain terms that I didn’t qualify.

By age 21, I was on my way to Sydney, Australia.  In my two suitcases, was one suitcase of shoes (what else??), and one of clothing and again my prized Graf skates. I worked crazy hours and hardly skated. I can count on one hand how many times I skated in many years. I lost most of the ability to skate.

Fast forward to the near-present, when I settled in Melbourne a few years ago. That’s where I met Adam McGuinness of (among others) Nite Owls fame, who encouraged me to come back to hockey.  He didn’t seem to think it was unseemly for me to play – in fact he encouraged it!

For a work social outing, Adam suggested we all go watch a hockey game, and so I was introduced to the Melbourne Ice. And here my resistance to being involved in hockey crumbled.

In my head went around a myriad of thoughts, among others: “Wow the standards in Australia are high!  The Icehouse is amazing! I am mesmerised! I am in LOVE!!”

I knew that in all my years out of hockey, I was still madly in love with it. All of it. Perhaps it was self-preservation that kept me away from it. I could feel the pull back into it, magnetic and irresistible. I remember saying to my sister at the time: “This is going to suck me in, it’s a bit scary”.

And so it sucked me in.

I enrolled in beginner hockey school at the Icehouse, and started over again.  Imagine my awe when I found out that the Melbourne Ice captain, Lliam Webster, was also my coach! Talk about weak knees! And this other guy called Army, whom I couldn’t understand at the time because of his thick Canadian accent, also from the Melbourne Ice, was coaching me!  Army is the guy who skates over opposition defence men like a tank and scores multiple goals! Wow, I was in the company of hockey royalty!!

I went to all the Melbourne Ice games in the remainder of 2010 and in 2011. In 2012 I bought a Melbourne Ice membership and went on a road trip to Adelaide and the Gold Coast as a MI “groupie”. I will be going to Perth for the MI games in August, and of course to the finals in Newcastle in September. I have become a “one-eyed” MI fan (as fellow Rookie Wayne McBride calls me).

I attended all the IIHF world championship games in Melbourne in February 2011. It was there that I really noticed the hockey marvel called Joey Hughes, awarded the top forward for the tournament. I remember Googling him at the time and not only discovering his business NLHA, but also seeing more about his international career. I mistakenly thought at first: “Wow, there is another Joey Hughes who plays professional hockey in North America, also with a brother Vinnie Hughes!” – only to realise it was this very same person I was seeing in action in front of me.

I vowed to be trained by him, and after emailing him a few times, but not getting enough people to join me to help cover the cost of private lessons, I didn’t make it to NLHA in 2011.

In June that year, some of us started a Facebook group called “The Rookies“. We have grown from a five-person group of hockey school friends, to several hundred. We are intensely enthusiastic, intensely vocal, intensely passionate about hockey.  We are all, to a greater or lesser degree, addicted to hockey. I am one of its five “admins” who monitor and steer the group direction and activities.

At the end of 2011, I enthusiastically bought my first full kit and another pair of Grafs online, which (due to being very ill-fitting) regressed my skating noticeably.

It was in these ill-fitting Grafs that I presented myself to Joey for my first NLHA camp in January 2012. It was a group bootcamp, and more affordable than private lessons. Joey was diplomatically horrified with my skating abilities.  But he and Czech legend Martin Kutek and local hard man Tony Theobald (and guest instructors like Vinnie), persisted with me and patiently got me to skate better and faster and harder, despite my feet aching almost every time I skated. They truly took me to my next level – many of them. I love every camp and every individual class with NLHA. I get better and better and better. I even deferred my part-time degree for one semester, to be able to fit in all the NLHA camps. (Now of course, I am going to buy new skates from them, after NLHA sized me up for the right fit!)

I almost went to Poland to support the Mighty Roos in April this year, but I couldn’t get anyone to come with me! Even my husband, who has reluctantly but obligingly been dragged along to all my hockey excursions and activities, wasn’t up for this one.

Earlier this year, The Rookies secretly raised funds within our group, and surprised our coaches and heroes (and now our friends) Joey, Army and Martin, each with full 2012 Melbourne Ice player sponsorship. If we had more money we would have sponsored Lliam and Tommy and Shona too!

The Rookies are also doing volunteer work for The Melbourne Mustangs, particularly in supporting their imports. For instance this Saturday just past, we had an off-ice training day and fundraiser with three of the imports (and with import Martin Kutek from the Melbourne Ice).

We vocally and enthusiastically support anything that is Melbourne hockey and hockey school, in either of its two rinks.  We believe in “Hockey Karma” and in paying it forward.

And now we are starting to look at putting some IHV 2012/2013 summer league teams on the ice for the Rookies, with at least two clubs so far expressing an interest in assisting us, and at least two or three teams’ worth of Rookies ready and willing to commit.

Theresa where she’s happiest: on the ice with a bunch of Rookies.

We believe that while we are working hard at opening up avenues for our own development and involvement in hockey, we also try to give back as much as (and more, if possible) than we have received.  I look forward to seeing more individuals and more clubs join hands in this cause.

My renewed dreams of “making the big time” in hockey, will of course never be realised.  I have a full time job, which pays my mortgage and limits my hockey practise time.  Besides, I am now *cough* a bit older, and not really able to compete against 20-year olds anymore. And yes, I am getting back to that degree next semester because I like to finish what I started; which means I consciously have to cut back a bit on hockey.

But that does not alter my love of (read: passion for, addiction to) the sport.

I still have dreams of going on an extended leave/sabbatical/whatever to Canada. I might do a short one, a teaser, at the end of this year.

But the longer one will also still happen…

One day.