Friday night lights
A social match on a Friday night. A bunch of Rookies making up the numbers against mostly better credentialed players who share a love of IBM computers, or at least a pay cheque from IBM. Several players I would normally be with – especially Jake Adamsons – are wearing opposition jerseys. We grin at one another across the face-off line. Pre-game, Chris Janson, who organised it (and thanks for inviting me, Chris), has a DVD on the main scoreboard with pictures of us and our career highlights. Which, for most of us, is pretty short on reading.
After eight minutes, the Rookies are five goals down. It’s ugly. As captain, I call a time-out. I have no idea what to say. My team looks to me expectantly, except Jay the goalie, who is in his own quite loud self-loathing world of pain off to the side. Goalies do it hard. They can’t ever feel like the buck doesn’t stop with them.
“These guys are really good,” I say. “Forget the scoreboard. It’s a social match. Have fun, don’t panic with the puck, give Jay more support in D, challenge yourself against better players. Who cares about the score?”
In the second period, we roar back to 5-5. We’re skating, Jay has heroically held it together and then started holding his own.
Then we hit the front. My boy, Big Cat, has a couple of goals with his mum in the crowd, which is a nice B-plot. I’m concentrating on trying not to fall into my wide-legged flat-footed trap, instead skating hard off both feet, always moving. I anticipate where the puck will be and sprint end to end, and immediately back, at one point, getting it right both times and with the feeling that I haven’t skated that fast in a game ever. The new stride is working. My legs are screaming as I stagger to the bench. It’s awesome. Meanwhile, I have an assist or two, deliver some passes then get pushed hard in the back and find myself sprawled on the ice near the boards. Things are getting that tense (I received an apology later in the rooms, which was cool). Army, reffing, said he thought about calling it but didn’t. Off the next face-off, I push it to Liam Patrick, Apollo Creed to my Rocky Balboa, who buries the one-timer goal. So sweet. Army skates over to the bench a minute later: “That’s exactly how you answer stuff like that,” he says with something approaching paternal pride.
At the end of the second period, things are level.
“Forget everything I said earlier,” I tell my team. “Let’s kick some arse.”
We get out to an 8-6 lead.
They peg it back. It’s level with three minutes to go. The hockey is furious. Army is grinning like an idiot. We’ve made his night; two social teams of varying degrees of ability playing like our kids are hostages and their survival depends on the result. The Rookies are intent, hoarse from screaming on the bench, skating and playing at a level that, for us, is thrilling.
Having said that, through it all, I’m aware that IBM’s very good players, such as Pete Sav, are rarely moving out of third gear, often coasting in second, which is gallant of him, of them. We’re throwing everything at them but they respect our limited skills and choose not to burn us anywhere near as much as they could. I have no illusions but, in the moment, taking it to them is so much fun.
And then we get a ninth goal, from Aimee “Christmas Angel” Hough, who has never previously scored in any kind of game. Rookies celebrate as though we just won the Goodall Cup. “Game winner! Game winner!” we yell at Aimee as she returns to the bench. Somehow we control the puck for the remaining two minutes and, while it’s unconfirmed, it might just be that Nicko Place gains a small piece of hockey history as the first player ever to captain a Rookies team to victory. (We won a game once before but didn’t have a captain.)
All of us head into the night, buzzing. The IBM team is gracious in defeat. Summer League, and actual competition, is about a month away and none of us can wait. If this was a taste, in a game that actually had nothing on the line, genuine competition is going to be epic.
Ready for take-off
It appears I am officially a Jet. The final step towards “N. Place: hockey player” is right there.
A few months ago, one of the Rookies, Theresa, called for interest in forming a summer team and a bunch of us put our hand up. Now, weeks and weeks of backroom dealing, surfing the politics of local hockey, seeing who was genuinely interested and meeting in McDonalds kid playrooms (no, really) later, we have two teams set for summer league. Under the auspices of the Jets, we will be the Spitfires – split into the Fighters and the Interceptors (I’m an Interceptor, which has pleasing Mad Max connotations).
Well played, Theresa.
I haven’t written about any of this on the blog because I wasn’t sure it would happen; as in, we’d actually be given a place in the competition, but now it’s looking likely. The chances are that Jake Adamsons will captain the Interceptors, with me as an AC, which will be a challenge. God knows how I ended up in a captain’s role, given I still spend time trying to remain vertical on the ice.
A few hockey friends are in different teams or have splintered off, which is sad. But I will be playing with a bunch of mates, which rocks. The only unsettling angle is that everything feels more serious as summer looms. Joey at Next Level has ramped up his offerings of classes, and so a heap of Rookies will be training at Oakleigh instead of at Docklands, and everything is starting to focus on competition, instead of the previous journey to simply master a bloody outside edge.
In a way, for me, this is great because I just love playing, I’m competitive now and my skating has to step up when under pressure. Then again, my coaches Lliam, Army and Joey – especially Joey – believe that playing endless dev league might not be great for me as I fall back into my bad habits instead of working on the fundamentals.
I honestly don’t think I can do another term of Intermediate at the Icehouse – if nothing else, I should clear out a space for somebody coming out of Intro, having done something like four tours of Intermediate duty.
But I simply can’t make it to Oakleigh every Friday night, despite Joey’s endless patience and generosity, so I’ll have to work out how to keep my quest for better skating skills alive around team training, dev league and then Spitfires game play once it happens. A good problem to have but I’m hoping the fun aspect of hockey remains, and my sense of being on a longer journey, once weekly VHL points are on the line.
NHL lock-out looks likely
Every day, it appears less likely that the NHL season will start on time, because of the Owners v Players dispute. The Wings players put their chances of getting onto the ice at 50-50, which isn’t a good sign. September 15 is the day that the current agreement runs out and the owners don’t seem to be particularly worried about that imposed deadline sliding by, meaning no hockey.
I had pretty much given up on being able to make it to Detroit for the Winter Classic, but now there might not even be a Winter Classic to yearn for. It all seems kind of dumb. The game is healthier than ever, lock-outs in the NFL and NBA have pretty much set the bar of where player earnings as a percentage of the game should sit … get on with it, negotiators.
Monday question: Do Wolverine claws beat harsh advice?
Potentially Earth-shattering realisations over the weekend as I pondered whether Eric Millikin is now my favourite non-hockey columnist at the Detroit Free Press? Consider this sample:
Man uses Wolverine claws to attack roommate who is dating his mom
KSL Utah says: “He is accused of using a knife and a replica of the claws associated with the Marvel Comics character Wolverine in his Aug. 8 attack on his 20-year-old roommate. … [His] mother was also stabbed in the left arm during the incident as she tried to pull him off his roommate. [His] mother is dating his roommate, the sergeant said, noting that the two men have been ‘best friends since they were younger.'”
Eric says: I don’t care how many “yo mama” jokes you’ve endured or what kind of mutant super hero you think you are, a Wolverine-claw stabbing is no way to treat your best childhood friend and/or future stepfather.
Until I discovered gems like that from Eric, I’d been loyally devoted to relationships consultant Carolyn (“Also, remember, even a ‘happily married woman’ is just a couple of turns of fate away from an emotional abyss. Puts smugness right back in the bottle.”) Hax. Technically she writes for the Washington Post and gets syndicated, so maybe there’s room for both in my life?
Hax has no hesitation telling those writing for advice if they’re an idiot, selfish, or worse. If only more relationship columnists in Australia had her frankness: Hey, dickhead, stop being a dickhead.
Check out her reply to this guy who worried his ex writing negative things online would damage his reputation:
Brought to you by the letter S, for Snap!
FINAL NOTE: Big ups to the Melbourne Ice – including Lliam, Army, Joey, Tommy Powell, Martin Kutek and Jason Baclig – as they chase their third straight Goodall Cup, skating in Newcastle this weekend. Big Cat and a bunch of hockey fans are going to watch. I couldn’t make it. But I’ll be cheering from the south. Good luck and Go Ice Go.