Welcome to the first nickdoeshockey entry not by me, Nicko. Instead, Liam takes us through his intro to the non_icehouse world of Joey Hughes. (Liam gets the nod as the first guest because he shamelessly mentioned my goal a week or so ago. Next up: Chris Tran, who doesn’t mention my goal, in a rookie error, but will be published anyway.)
A rookie’s journey to NLHA
By Liam Patrick
Oakleigh. It’s the little rink that is (in many ways) the heartbeat of Victorian hockey. It’s the ugly older brother to the shiny, sexy new Icehouse. Over 30 years old it can be best described as in need of some TLC and at times you cant really see what is going on due to the fog, or being freezing cold when not skating or the delightful “war bunkers” that are the changerooms. However it is where many hockey players can access ice-time – be it for training, games or the NLHA classes.
Next Level Hockey Australia (NLHA or “Next Level” – the constant catch-cry) is lead by Joey Hughes (Melbourne Ice-star, Hockey sensei, all round good guy) with more coaching from Martin Kutek (Melbourne Ice-star, master of the “underpoosh” and another all round good guy). They also do really good pricing on gear – plus the fancy new flat bottomed V skate sharpening. Ok, end plug. NLHA have run boot camps and coaching clinics in the past but this Winter they kicked off a program for adults not dissimilar to the Icehouse’s hockey school.
Now, the famous Rookies group (often mentioned here by Nicko) had began to get involved with NLHA and many, many rookies immediately signed up to these classes and championed them! Unfortunately, I didn’t. Yes – lazy, stupid, slow. I was most jealous when Facebook would become abuzz on a Friday night with excited Rookies extolling the virtues of this great new hockey frontier. I had actually been fortunate enough to get to tag along to summer league team training (they needed numbers and I knew a guy who knew a guy…) taken by Joey way back in January. I knew they would be getting some really good coaching. I looked at my bank account, sighed, and checked what supermarket had baked beans on special…..
I entered the program 3 weeks in. At the Icehouse I was doing intermediate and dev league. Joey said he needed to see if I could skate and asked me to do a beginners class first then he would see where I could fit in. I was a bit miffed “Hang on, I’m doing intermediate, I have some weaknesses, but I can skate” I thought/posted to the Rookies. Anyway I headed down that first Friday night.
After battling a wet Monash Carpark (I refuse to call it a freeway), I wobbled my way through the beginners class feeling like the new kid at school sitting exams on day 1. 5 minutes in Joey called for us to get into “hockey stance” and promptly came and knocked me over onto my arse before pointing out where I was going wrong (feet too wide, knees not bent, head down….) This sums up the whole NLHA experience for me – Joey and Martin can always find something you need to fix up to make yourself a better hockey player and go to the next level no matter how basic it is. I got through the class and Joey agreed I could play game time and that he would happily take me into classes. I was to stay with the beginners and work hard on my basics – particularly my non-existent outside edge!
The weeks went on. I got the chance to try an intermediate class – wow! There was a step up. Filled with IHV players looking for an edge plus a lot of the more skilled Rookies meant the standard was pretty good. My skills got shown up fast. The drive home that night was very sombre as I recounted the number of times I fell on my arse, lost the puck, went the wrong way, got beaten for pace and generally just made myself look like Bambi. In hindsight it was a great reality check and probably stopped me getting too big for my boots! I had been recommended to repeat intro at the end of term 4 at the Icehouse, instead I skated 3-4 hours a week over Christmas and went up to intermediate. Likewise I then went up to Dev the next term after a semi-successful crack at “intermediate dev league”. I think I needed the wake-up call to remind me I was a long way away from being a semi-competent hockey player, take my eye off summer league and worry about getting the basics right, which were starting to get exposed.
The “term” rolled on. I had 4 hours a week of hockey. My non-hockey friends thought I was mad (“But its Friday night!”), my housemate questioned me when I was lying on the couch moaning and sooking the following days (rank hockey gear stinking up the laundry). I was in heaven! I began to see some tiny improvements – I could almost occasionally stay on my outside edge, sometimes. I was focusing a bit more on my basics and almost executing them in Dev and game-time – the downside being I forgot about my positioning, the puck and other things that “occasionally” count in a hockey game. I found a bit of extra time to general skate during the week to work on the latest tips from Martin and Joey. I found having four different coaches (with Lliam and Army contributing from the Icehouse – as helpful as ever) meant I was picking up extra observations and tweaking different things (I even nailed a slapshot in a stick n puck which was exciting, if not entirely useful!). But I still wasn’t nailing my outside edges, my cross-overs were still clunky and generally I lacked any sort of agility – something that was continually being found out in dev and gametime.
Icehouse hockey school finished. I engaged in a great “battle” with Nicko on the ice. It was bloody brilliant to see him score his goal. As a reader of his blog for 6 months it was great to see him finally get a chance and he finished the job (would have loved to have seen that rodeo celebration though….), we all know how much he loves hitting the ice and how hard he works – even if we were on the opposing teams. I managed to snag a goal myself which improved my hockey spirits somewhat. At least I wasn’t totally useless on the ice. I found myself skating a tiny better with the upbeat frame of mind.
Friday night at gametime was a different story. I nearly always played D because my lack of agility wasn’t exposed as much, if anything it made attacking forwards skate out to the boards as I clogged up the “guts”. But I still l didn’t handle the puck cleanly, regularly turned it over in our zone, fell over (including bruising my shoulder and tailbone in one night which really concerned me as to what damage I may have done once I cooled down and was shovelling Nurofen whilst sitting on my couch) and generally didn’t contribute much more than another body on the ice. Yet for some bizarre reason I still enjoyed every second and was busting to get back over the boards. Hockey is a strange drug.
Finally it was graduation night. I’d had a long day of personal disputes, girl problems, Icehouse registrations going into meltdown and then
work being well, work. I found myself wearily driving down “the carpark” to the rink not even considering, let alone focused on what I needed to do. Joey agreed to change the sharpen on my skates as I tried a new tactic to find this mysterious outside edge and I hit the ice for beginners. Whoops. So now stopping was hard, I was slower, my legs hurt, my pivots were worse than my stopping and I barely felt any improvement in tracking my outside edge. Oh and we are being assessed tonight? Good call Liam, good time to experiment – idiot. Even by my standards I skated badly. Maybe the distraction of cursing my own stupidity didn’t help.
After a class photo I had an hour before game-time (while the intermediate superstars strutted their stuff, I usually spent this time consuming Masterchef Hands’ latest culinary delight). I grabbed Joey and asked for the feedback. “So do you want honesty or me to blow smoke up your arse” to which I replied “Bullshit, give me honesty, I’m a big boy….”Again I thought the conversation defined Joey as a coach. I had my strong points (apparently) – I could participate in game-time ok, I could pass, I could read the play and position myself accordingly – but my skating was letting me down. I couldn’t get to where I needed to be, I was running into people, I had no agility. But, if I wanted to I could join intermediate, he was going to push me and expected me to work harder on that outside edge.
I walked away feeling positive – for mine, the sign of a good coach. I knew skating was always my weakness. I secretly knew at times I was biting off more than I could chew and pretending I could get by. But it also felt good to know that I didn’t totally suck at everything, that somebody I hold with a lot of respect thought that I was capable of hitting “the next level”. Game-time that night was fun, I even ventured up to a wing and put a shot on goal against people who play Prem C and A reserve hockey. Good players, who cares if they weren’t going 100%. I think the positive frame of mind helped.
So where does that leave me? That was Friday night just gone. The new term starts this Friday night. Good, no lay off. I am putting my finances, time and energy towards skating now. Hockey specific skills (i.e. stick n puck and drop in) can wait. I’m going to own this outside edge. I’m going to become a more competent skater. I’m going to keep up with the better players. Ok. that’s enough self-indulgence of telling my story (Nicko, you did ask for it!).
So NLHA. Get to it. Please trust me, the above reads like a 15 year old emo kids diary, I know. But at the end of the day Joey and Martin have started improving my skating and have made me really focus on it and be aware of it rather than my previous “go get puck” type of attitude (merely hoping my skating would improve over time). I can’t speak highly enough of them (even if Joey seems to make it his mission to make me hit the ice once per class while fixing my hockey stance, knee bend or whatever other lazy habit I have that night). Even if I stop improving now (which I hope I don’t!) the time, money and effort have been worth it thus far and I can only hope I can turn this into real improvement.
Please don’t think this means I don’t like or respect the Icehouse and in particular Army and Lliam. Most certainly NOT the case. Every time I’m there I learn something from them as well, they taught me the foundations I am building on and they are always great fun to be around. They are also both generous with their time and advice to improve people’s game. I intend to participate in both as long as I have the time and money to do so!
Like all the rookies, my gratitude to all four of our coaches is limitless and we cannot thank them enough for their effort and energy!
My perfect week of hockey – some time at the Icehouse, some time with NLHA, nail my outside edges and maybe even find the back of the net. Oh and another big win to the mighty Melbourne Ice…..