Just back from a nasty “lower body injury”, Will Ong has found time to give us his hockey origin story. Good to have you back on the ice, Will, and this is a really good piece. I’m learning so much about my fellow hockey travellers through these origin pieces. Might have to get you to talk me through outside edges one more time …
How hockey scratched that itch
By Will Ong
My hockey journey started a few years ago after returning from a working holiday in Canada.
Our band of Aussie and Kiwi travellers lived in Cowtown – home of the Calgary Flames and Stampede. Only a few of us knew anything about hockey. Being poor travellers we couldn’t afford tickets to the Saddledome to see what this “ice hockey” was all about. We had to settle with watching the Flames at the local sports bar while smashing down 50c wings. (Flames smashing Wings?!)
We did manage to scrape together the Toonie charge to get into the local college match though. It was the Mount Royal College Cougars – women’s team. We did Bay 13 proud with our vocal support for the local girls!
Little by little, we were being indoctrinated into the national sport.
But I wasn’t there for the hockey. I was chasing winter round the globe. Chasing fresh pow, skiing pillow lines on bluebird days while working on my goggle tan. You know, all that spiritual stuff that Jonny Moseley talks about in Warren Miller films.
Life was all about hitting up the biggest and baddest resorts in the Rockies. Take your pick from Fernie, Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Sunshine, Castle Mountain… Life as a ski bum was great!
Then after months of living the life, Sunshine Village ended my season. I flew home to Melbourne broke, broken and bummed.
What now? Where’s the next challenge? It should have been hitting that unexplored out-of-bounds chute. But instead I was back home bumming accommodation from old mates, sleeping on a beanbag on the floor, unemployed and un-excited about life.
Do I dust off the in-line skates and head back to my favourite vert ramp in Albert Park? In-line had been my off-season saviour to keep the legs working between winters. Something to keep me challenged. Something to scratch that itch.
“Aggressive” in-line had grown to become as important as skiing in my life. It was frustrating when I couldn’t quite get back to where I was on the ramp. Airs were off, grabs were mis-timed, spins and flips all bailed to knees. Sunday afternoon sessions were never the same. Where did all my balance and confidence go? Left on the slopes of Canada, I bet.
So when a workmate mentioned hockey classes at the Icehouse, I signed up immediately. They were six week programs back then. Most of us were pumped through the system and I found myself playing Winter hockey in no time. Keeping up with the play wasn’t a problem at all. Chasing down the puck like an over-enthusiastic kelpie chasing sheep. A little round black sheep that I didn’t know what to do with once I caught it.
Having so much skiing and skating muscle memory was a big advantage for beginner hockey. Edge control translated verbatim from the mountains. Holding an edge in big GS turns while blasting down a piste and reacting to changes in terrain under foot was a hell of a primer for skating. Pivots and changes of direction translated almost perfectly from in-line. But I had to start from scratch with passing, stick handling, shooting, positioning and teamwork.
Hockey is such a deep sport. I can’t think of anything else that combines so many different attributes into the one activity. Strength, speed, balance, agility, endurance, finess, style, fighting – hockey has it all.
So here I am now, a couple of years into my “hockey career”. I have played a season or two with an awesome club and enjoy hanging out with the Rookies who are making waves in the sport. I find myself in the right position a lot of the time – learning where the puck is going to be and being able to skate there before anyone else. Being quick on your feet gives you just that bit more time to get out of trouble.
My hands are slowly catching up to my legs but I still have a lot learn. That’s a good thing otherwise life would get boring, fast!
The good mountains are a long way away and in-line was what you did back in the 90’s. Thanks to hockey, steeps have been replaced by slapshots and I’ve got a whole new set of skills to master.