Why do I play hockey? Ask the laddergoat.

“Why do you play hockey?”

I get asked that a lot. Why hockey?

Yesterday, I walked blinking into the sun after watching the documentary, Detropia, about the death and potential rebirth of Detroit.

As I left Fed Square, still in that post-cinema zone-out, a woman crossed my path who had blood pouring from both sides of her mouth. Her skin was deathly pale. She had a severed human hand on a chain around her neck. Her partners, also with blood-stained faces, and blood-rimmed eyes, were chatting, waiting for the light to change. Cops directed traffic, not even glancing at the trio.

By Spring Street, the pedestrians had changed into the standard bridal couples near the Parliament House steps, and three people in purple and green costumes, with some kind of flower attachments, including a huge hanging flower suspended from the purple guy’s head.

At the Exhibition Buildings, dozens of the most magnificent vintage and veteran cars were queued up, waiting to hit Nicholson Street. Chargers, Holdens, Porsches, too many brands and shapes and sizes for me to know or care about, but I’d wished I’d been driving the Karmann Ghia, to be briefly among them.


In Detropia, an artist talks about moving to Detroit, because he was able to buy a loft apartment – a really good one – for $25,000, and to keep a studio nearby for his art. He and his girlfriend are pictured, wearing golden spray-painted gas masks, and he in a suit and tie, the tie with a big gold dollar sign, standing by a Detroit freeway with a sign: “Give us all your money $


Motown locals, who tend to be no-bullshit people, are shown frowning and staring out the car windows, and eventually one female passenger yells: “What the fuck? I mean what the fuck?”

It seems a fair question.

Meanwhile, a Detroit opera singer walks through the city’s empty decaying Grand Central station, practicing his vocal range.

Not a single mention of the Red Wings hockey team, which was disappointing. Opera instead of hockey as an expression of Detroit? Even more random. Or maybe just symbolic given the stupid NHL lock-out, a rich people’s game, which is depriving Detroit’s passionate fans of their team, of some escapism from their lives.

On Saturday night, my hockey team won 7-0 over an inexperienced and undermanned Sharks outfit, in Summer League Rec D. I played ok – managed to get two assists while falling back into bad habits like inside edge skating, legs too far apart, and not keeping two hands on my stick. Although, looking at Jess Hough’s pictures from the game, I might be being too harsh … my feet are moving in most shots. Anyway, that’s the great thing about team sport. It’s about something bigger than just you and your form. I walked into our locker room, where the Philadelphia Flyers’ favourite post-victory song, ‘Knock Knock (Let ‘Em In)’, was already pumping. Everybody excited, happy but without the urgency and adrenalin of our first ever game, a 4-2 win over the Ice Wolves team the week before. I felt I had lacked fluency in the game, spending too long between shifts on the bench, not getting my legs moving, but found other ways to contribute, whether delivering my now trademark passes to the slot, or upper-body duke-outs with the goalie and defenders (ended up flat on my back at one point – big defender), and providing a screen to release a teammate for a goal at one stage. Victory was good.

Whipping a pass to the slot, against the Sharks. Pic: Jess PowerHough

I was cheered off the ice by Australia’s No 1 Kylie Minogue impersonator, an unlikely Facebook friend, Red Wing fan and skating enthusiast who’d shown up to watch after reading my many hockey posts on Facebook or the blog. She told me about being in Las Vegas last year, riding a taxi through the desert to an ice rink in Las Vegas – one most of the locals wouldn’t even know existed. In the desert??? Buying skates crazy cheap and zooming around the ice in that mad city. Random.

Reading the paper overnight, two stories caught my eye. One was about a woman who was bludgeoned to death in her own home a while ago; the same house which has now been robbed and her ashes stolen. Her grieving family, not unreasonably, called a press conference to say: WTF? In New York, a cop has been charged with aiming to torture, kill and eat women of that city.

On Saturday night, Big Cat and I walked into Carlton, not known as a sea port, to hockey player and gad about town Brendan Parson’s birthday drinks at a pub with a seafaring theme. Pictures of potential Moby Dick cast members on the wall, guys posing next to massive fish. So random.

Then the next day, I found myself literally walking on street art bees scattered on the tarmac of the Fed Square car park. That night I surfed Foxtel’s random selection of shows about people hunting pigs, or killer tuna, or running a Detroit pawn broking shop (“Hardcore Pawn” – look it up. Oh boy) or being judged for their looks or dancing or singing or anything else that can potentially humiliate them for other people’s entertainment. As I channel surfed, a couple of kilometers away, at the top of Brunswick Street, in the secret, secure part of St Vincent’s hospital, reached via a tunnel, in the specialist ward for hardcore prisoners, the guy accused of killing a young Irish woman in Brunswick recently was being treated after reportedly trying to take his own life. I tried to imagine the weeks so far in his jail cell. Faced with the randomness and pointlessness and horror of the crime? Nowhere to hide. On the news, it was mentioned that a strange multi-murder in Switzerland had finally been found to have links to Saddam Hussein. Say, huh? As I type, a super storm is moving in on New York City, for the second time in two years and this one is looking to be even bigger and faster and nastier. My friend, Chelsea, having just arrived there in time to meet a hurricane.

Randomness swirling all around me. So many angles to the world.

Chloé and I ride our bikes down Brunswick Street on a Sunday night and a woman rides the other way, in a pink dress, with leaves and jewels and I can’t work out if her painted face is supposed to be fairy or Halloween, hippie or just because? On Facebook, a friend Jay is despondent because he didn’t shoot well over the weekend, dressed in full armour and charging around a semi-pro paintball arena. Fake killing anything that moved. Something he is very good at. Another random way to spend a weekend.

So many threads and interests and people doing crazy shit or following strange passions and urges and needs and thrills and causes and strands.

And I walk among it all, watching, laughing, sighing, horrified, ecstatic, unmoved and delighted.

You ask why do I play hockey, here in Melbourne, half a world away from anything resembling frozen lakes and Canadian winter?

Well, shit, it’s a random world.

Why the hell not?

(Anybody wondering what the laddergoat had to do with this post should watch the first four minutes of this video.)

Guest writer: Liam Patrick on life and hockey

I know, right? You not unreasonably assumed this blog would be devoted (possibly at 7 pm Sunday, minutes after stepping off the ice) to long, glorious, over-written accounts of my first ever official hockey game, as a Spitfire Interceptor … an endless narrative of our 4-2 win over an Ice Wolves team, including my first official hockey ‘point’, for an assist on a Jimmy Smith goal, with Big Cat also picking up his first Ice Hockey Victoria point for a second-assist.

But no. I’m far too humble for such self-indulgences *

Instead, my longtime foe-friend Liam “Apollo Creed” Patrick bobbed up with a piece about where his head’s been at after making his debut on Sunday in the Spitfire Fighters’ 11-1 win over the Jets.

So over to guest writer, Liam (who scored a sweet goal, btw, in that win)  …

Hockey within the jigsaw

By Liam Patrick

So no need to admit I’m an “Ice” addict right?  I stunned myself the other week adding up my hockey costs; suffice to say I stopped and decided just to start cutting back (hence my emotional retirement from Dev league *waves to equally devastated fans*).  But lately I’ve been wondering – just what it is that I want out of playing hockey?

Liam Patrick (No. 28) in action for the Spitfire Fighters on Sunday. Pic: Nicko

I have played team sports all my life (some would argue I am no good at solo sports as there is nobody there to carry me). I love the camaraderie of a strong team, however, I am deeply entrenched with many close friends at my cricket club.  So that fills that need – hockey is the icing on the cake in terms of that (but cake NEEDS icing and I wouldn’t want to give up my newly found hockey family).  I hardly skate very fast, handle the puck like it has a mind of its own and shoot like I’m on my 5th hip replacement.  So it’s not a sense of being excellent at something.

I believe it’s more of the challenge.

A peak to scale.

People to prove wrong.   People to prove right…

The ability to surprise myself.

Combine this with the camaraderie and mateship I have found, plus the joy I get when I finally nail something on the ice and that is why I am hooked into hockey.  Ok, so that’s why I love the sport.  It brings me a lot of enjoyment.  Whether I hit the ice Friday night at NLHA, in my number 28 Jets jersey or just hanging laps of the Bradbury with my mates (tweeting love song dedications or accidently punching Wunders in the mouth while proving I can figure skate with the worst of them) I love being there.  I love watching the Ice boys play their physical, fast and awesome brand of hockey.  I love tuning in to the radio or stream of a Pens game (no lockout commentary) or extolling the virtues of S Crosby, E Malkin & Co to anybody who will listen.  The game brings me a lot of happiness (as do the friendships I have formed from it).  That’s the base level of what I want from hockey.  To play (or watch) and enjoy myself with friends.

That’s all it ever will be.  The only time I will wear an Ice jersey is from behind the glass cheering.  My only NHL experiences will be as a fan.  I know that.  I know that Prem A is never going to happen for me.  At 22 I’m relatively young by Rookies standards, but I’ve only just gone 12 months in the game and I’m not naturally talented at any facet (other than annoying both teammates and opposition alike).

But I’m a person who needs goals, otherwise I fade off.  12 months ago that goal was to make a summer team.  6 months ago that was to make what was newly christened as the “Spitfires”.  Sunday afternoon I ticked that goal off.

What is the next thing I needed to work towards to stay motivated?  It needed to be something that provided mutual benefits for where I was at now.  It needed to force me to become a better player.  Logically it’s making a Prem C team sometime down the track.  Is that next season? Not sure.  Is it five years from now? Maybe.  There’s another reason for why I consider this an end goal.  My cricket season clashes horrifically with summer.  I’m giving both sports 80% of the attention they deserve.   It feels like in many ways I’m letting all my teammates and club mates down.  Quitting cricket was never an option to play hockey.  The only option is to get good enough to play during winter.

So, whilst I play for the love of the game, and I know I’m never going to go very far (maybe playing checking hockey, one day down the track) I need to commit to my development.  Who better to ask for help than NLHA Sensei – Joey Hughes.

I chewed the fat with Joey (pardon the pun) before bootcamp.  We covered off points such as my fitness, my skating and some stupid habits I’m developing, my thought process, where I was playing on my summer team and how to become better, my diet and even my sleeping patterns (10pm hockey and 7am work just do not work out well unfortunately!).  Anybody who knows me would know I’m not the smallest guy.  I eat a lot of crap.  I work in the alcohol industry and get lots of samples and allocations.  Coca Cola is my favourite drink however, followed by Solo.  Both can be consumed en masse whilst sitting on my couch.  Finely tuned athlete right here.  If it weren’t for the 6-plus days per week of sport or training I undertake I would most likely be on one of those TV shows unable to get out my house without the jaws of life.

Guess who just scored? Oh yeah! Pic: Nicko

I walked away from our chat feeling positive as I inevitably do after a chat with Joey (seriously if we went to war tomorrow can he give us the speech before we go over the trenches?).  But then questioned myself.  I’ve done the whole “lets get fit, eat right, lose weight” etc before.  Both my grandfathers died of heart attacks, one in his 50’s.  Yet I still haven’t been motivated enough to eat well.  The sleep thing is hard to fix even with a few ideas Joey gave me.  Cricket hasn’t motivated me.  What makes hockey different? As I said – I’m not on the road to be a super star.  I play for the love and enjoyment.

On the flipside I enjoy improving at hockey and think I have lots more in me and my fitness is holding me back from some of it.  I definitely need to lose some kg’s.  My family history in the health department needs considering.  Can hockey provide me more than just enjoyment?  Can it provide the basic components to improve my health – fitness, supportive people around me and the advice of people such as Joey or Martin Kutek?

I don’t know the answer.  It’s easy to focus on my sport as an outlet socially.  It’s where my friends are, I’m single with no kids and outside of work and my deferred bachelor’s degree I have no responsibilities.  Perhaps it will prove the motivation and means I need and in addition to giving me an enjoyable outlet it will improve my wider life (again, no pun intended).

Maybe it won’t.  Hockey is just a puzzle piece in a wider jigsaw that is yet to be completed.  Maybe I’m unique? Or maybe there are others wondering where this addiction fits into their lives?  Maybe some people know exactly what hockey means to them, where the lines and drawn and where it sits in the scheme of their lives?

But like all things in life – I’ll never know if I don’t try it myself.

* Nicko’s assist on Jimmy’s goal? Video available on Facebook.

Sunday on my mind

So, on Sunday, at 4.15 pm, I officially become a hockey player. I know I’ve argued for 20 months or so that I’m a player but I’ve been a student until now.

On Sunday, I pull on a purple Jets jersey, as Alternate Captain of the Interceptors team, against an Ice Wolves team of mostly strangers at Oakleigh, in Melbourne’s Summer Recreation League, Div 4; the lowest level of competitive hockey for championship points in town.

On Tuesday night, I hung laps at the Icehouse in a happily not-very-crowded general skate. As usual, my skating was so-so. I was gliding gentle outside edge to gentle outside edge, just feeling them. Occasionally I’d head into the centre circle and work on my backward crossovers, batting away other skaters who came to offer the inevitable and necessary advice. Not up for a barrage of well-meaning advice this night. Feeling the same frustrations that have been brewing to the surface over the past few weeks. Noticing the distinct lack of other 40-something rookies wobbling around this ice, instead of being at home with loved ones, nestled in front of a television, on a week night. Heroic or delusional, Place? Such a fine line.

The Power-Hough gals model the new Jets jersey.

Tuesday didn’t solve anything and on Wednesday, back on the Bradbury Rink but now in full hockey gear, warming up for 10 pm development league, I started to think about Sunday. My first official match as a player. A working scoreboard, a league ladder, official hockey rules, everybody needing matching socks, genuine referees who weren’t Melbourne Ice players laughing: Lliam in dev league later that night, after calling a big guy, Charles, for elbowing a little guy, Geoff, in the head: “(Laughter) I’m sorry. I know you didn’t mean it, but I have to call it. You’re just so big and he’s so small. That’s hilarious. I’m sorry … Penalty. Hahahaha.” This is the sort of ref call that’s unlikely on Sunday, where a player actually gets sent to the box instead of awarding a penalty shot for goalie practice in a game where the score is irrelevant.

Plus, we Spitfires face the unknown of whether we’re going to be competitive against other teams, like the Ice Wolves, Demons and Champs.

A lot to think about but then on Wednesday, pre-Dev League, in my gear, on the Bradbury ice, everything suddenly became clear to me; all anxiety dissolved. Just like that.

I thought: You know what, Nicko? Your skating is what it is. It’s actually not terrible (despite all the angst on this blog); you just can’t pull off moves that would make you better. But you’re not going to master transitions or Kutek-level outside edge C-cuts before Sunday. It’s done. And you are a 47-year-old rookie with only limited time to master this sport, among (in no particular order) running a business, falling in love, raising kids, writing novels, scuba diving, having a social life, enjoying street art, books, films, footy, art, waves, sky, whisky. You can only be so good, giving hockey the windows you do, which is as much as you can. And you are giving away 20 or more years to most of these teammates and opponents, but screw that, who cares? You have other strengths.

As I cruised, outside edge to outside edge, my mind travelled back to Lliam Webster’s sage advice when I was in that performance funk, months ago. “When you’re in a funk, concentrate on what you do well. Don’t worry about all the things you can’t do, or think you suck at. Just do the things you do well and the rest will follow.”

Not even realizing at the time, not until I saw the Ice 3-Peat doco, which talked about Lliam’s early season scoring drought, just how much he was also living that reality when he spoke to me.

And finally, as 10 pm ticked closer, as Big Cat Place and the rest of the preceding Intermediate class cleared the Henke Rink and the goalies shoved the goals to the side so the Zamboni could chug its way onto the surface, I felt strangely calm. Shit, I’m going to play recreational  league. We’re all going to go as hard as we can; try our guts out; hurt if we lose; go nuts if we win, but it’s Division 4, it’s the lowest rung of being a competitive player. Just do what you do well, love being in a team, equally share the ice time between the guns and the strugglers, and let the rest happen.

TigerShark and 11.15 pm dev league mate Brendan Parsons seems less stressed about the looming Summer League comp than some.

10 pm arrived and I stepped onto the ice with a clear mind and had my best game in a long time. Didn’t try to skate at warp 10 speeds, instead slowed slightly and moved better, all while controlling and using the puck, doing the slice-through-traffic passes that seem to be my specialty. Was unlucky not to score a few times. Had so much fun that Big Cat and I thought ‘To Hell with Thursday and real world commitments” and stayed around for the 11.15 game, finally getting off the ice at 12.15 am, in bed an hour later, wide awake. I played defence, alongside Wunders, which was a learning experience but just as enjoyable. Even if I did give away a penalty by tangling my stick in Aimee Hough’s legs and headbutting her into the boards. Turns out that’s a penalty …

My teammates good-naturedly gave it to me as I skated sheepishly back to the bench to watch her penalty shot (she missed). I shrugged. Sorry, all … just clumsy.

An NHL player wouldn’t have given away that penalty.

I did.

… Expectations versus Realities.

All leading into Sunday …

This player, this ever-improving, ever-striving rookie will continue to make mistakes. But will also occasionally position himself well, use hand-eye and innate hockey sense to steal pucks and even stone-cold his more talented son, playing for the other team in the 11.15 game, every now and then on a forward rush; will no doubt be part of an Interceptors team that comes up against a more seasoned, experienced unit this season and gets belted, or has that moment when everything clicks as a team and we win large and feel like world beaters.

Play-offs? Maybe. Or not.

It’s all to come and I’m in for the ride; warts and all, age and all, faults and all, strengths and learnings and wisdoms and laughter and friends and all.

Can’t wait. Roll on, Sunday. I’m good to go.

Introducing ‘The Podium Line’

The Podium Line: Big Cat, Nicko and Mackqvist.

You know you’re having a good week of hockey when scoring the Game Winning Goal (GWG) isn’t the highlight of your week.

That rare and unlikely event – me scoring a GWG – happened on Wednesday night; my first goal in 10 pm dev league. This will sound strange but as rapt as I was to see my shot from the slot beat a totally-screened goalie, I was most satisfied because the goal came as the result of a classic barely-noticed one-percenter. The opposition defence controlled the puck at our goal line and instead of hanging back, I skated hard to put pressure on the puck-carrier. As a result, his attempt to clear it down the boards was angled too sharply, to get around me, and rebounded to one of our defenders, inside the blue, instead of making it out of the zone. A fight for the puck from there saw it suddenly spill into open ice and onto my stick as I turned, nicely on my forehand. Somehow all the heavy traffic in front of me didn’t get in the way of my shot which went like a slow exocet into the bottom right corner. Remember Luke Skywalker using the Force to shoot a missile into the Death Star’s air conditioning duct? It was pretty much exactly the same thing but at the Icehouse.

Opposition coach Webster wandered into the change rooms after the game and said: “Was that you? I was looking down at the whiteboard and missed it.”

“Yep,” I replied. “It was beautiful. It was like the legs just parted and it went straight in.”

Lliam, Wunders, Kittens and I stopped to reflect briefly on how that statement would sound in any context other than hockey, and then thankfully moved on.

As we changed back into street clothes, Lliam picked up a few pieces of paper that had been left in the room and discovered it was a list of “great lines of NHL” and not-NHL. For non-hockey folk reading, groups of forwards hit the ice during games in lines of three players (Left Wing, Centre and Right Wing), and defenders two at a time (Left Dee, Right Dee). So you have linemates. Sometimes these can shuffle during a season, or even during a game, but all going well, the same three forwards work as a line for a long period of time, to get to know each other’s games and develop understanding and set plays.

In hockey history, there have been occasionally great lines which earn their own nicknames, such as the Red Wings’ famed “Production Line” of Gordie Howe (“Mr Hockey”), Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay. This line was so productive in the late Forties that it dominated the entire competition. Amazingly, in 1950, the three Red Wings finished first, second and third in scoring for the NHL. One line providing the league’s top three scorers. Holy crap. It will stun you to know that the Wings won the Stanley Cup that year.

Detroit’s most famous line: The Production Line of G. Howe, Lindsay and Abel.

So Lliam kicked through the pages of famous lines and I mentioned that Friday night promised history as my younger son, Macklin, joined Will (aka Big Cat) and I in a social match against an IBM team. The first and maybe only time that the three Places would form a line.

We all went to work, throwing names around for the looming Place line. Facebook had been running hot with what would make an appropriate collective noun for a group of Places. I had opted for “a clusterfuck of Places”, but other suggestions had included “a map of Places”, a “postcode of Places”, and a “pose of Places”.

Finally, we arrived on The Podium Line – first Place, second Place and third Place. Bow.

And so it happened. Macka suited up, we posed for photos – Will looking surly because he had ‘game face’ on – and got our arses handed to us by an IBM team that decided the best way to approach a social match was to draft in some Canadians and some guy who allegedly played international junior hockey for Sweden. Turns out he was better than me. And everybody.

Between shifts. Pic: Anna Heywood

But I didn’t care about the lopsided scoreline. The game was played in the usual good spirit, and shit, I got to skate with my boys – even if I didn’t skate particularly well. Macka abused Will for having a shot instead of passing it to him, gave me advice about positioning and then took a hard shot to the ankle in the second game, a friendly fundraiser for the Melbourne Ice, to end up on crutches. Solid night’s work. There’s no need here, in this public forum, to go into who hammered a puck into my young son’s ankle – managing to find the only unprotected spot and seriously injure him. This isn’t about blame, Hodson. Not at all.

The man WHO TRIED TO KILL MY SON!                  Pic: Tarcha Lou

Anyway, Mac was up until well after midnight, texting everybody he’d ever met to boast that he’d suffered the nastiest injury of any Place on a hockey arena – a compliment/observation from Big Cat – and then the next day attempted crutches for as long as it took to realize they are more uncomfortable than just trying to walk on a nasty bruise. He had a top weekend. As did Big Cat, who scored a sublime goal with a shot across the goalie to the top corner in the second game, to make his night.

And my weekend was fun, even if I lacked respect for the first strong sunshine of the season at the famed Bang Superkick on Sunday, suffering a nasty sunburn while finishing decidedly mid-field among hot competition in every sense.

The boys’ mum, Anna, had been on hand on Friday night, armed with a camera, and dropped by with the pics shown on this blog. In almost every action shot, I’m flat-footed, camped on both skates, looking as proppy as I felt on the night. Both boys are moving their feet, moving well – even Mac who has only just started Intermediate. Dammnit. Yet again, I’m battling realistic expectations versus frustrations. But not now, not here.

For now, I’m just saluting the night that Will, Mac and I formed the Podium Line for hockey history. It may happen 1000 times, or never again. But it happened – and that rocks.

History: Mack and I jump the boards together in a game.

The calm before the lull before the storm

So, what is it about hockey?

I mean beyond the miracle that this time two years ago, I would have stared at a large block of ice with something between bemusement and terror, whereas now I see it as a playground to glide on, sometimes even without falling over.

Is it the sheer act of pushing myself at my advanced age? Is it learning entirely new skills? Is it the many new friendships? Is it the fact that Mack and Will, my boys, can play alongside me (briefly, before they leave my crappy skills behind)? Is it the chance to wear beanies around all year at the rink? Is it a mixture of everything?

This is the kind of deep philosophy we all have time for as we experience a brief gap between Icehouse classes, or official summer league play, which is a fortnight away. Lots of Rookies are doing fitness boot camp on a Monday night, or Next Level classes at Oakleigh. Me? I spent last night eating a big steak and drinking red wine with Chloe, then downed a choc top while watching a simply awesome film at the Nova, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”.

Who I spent my Monday night with: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”.

Summer League, I’m, like, so totally ready.

In fact, anticipation is definitely growing.

I was chatting with the captain of my summer league team, the Interceptors (part of the Spitfires subdivision of the Jets organization – yes, that really is how popular hockey is becoming in Victoria) and we were chatting about how excited we are about the looming first round of actual competition.

Then Jake wrote: ‘Can’t actually believe it’s here. Never thought I would be playing hockey!’

Which kind of floored me because I’d forgotten that Jake, like all of us in the Spitfires camp, is pretty much a newbie. He skates so well, naturally leads, scores goals in such a way that I’d sort of lost the fact that he probably didn’t start much before I did, 19 months ago and counting.

Jake had put in a few years of martial arts and other individual sports before hooking into hockey and said he is loving the team aspect. I know how he feels, having embraced the crazy, supportive, shit-hanging world of The Bang footy over the last few years. Hockey has the same thing, but with happily intense actual competition thrown in.

Jake Adamsons in flight.

The official line-up of potential teams has shaken down pre-summer league; a couple merging or falling over because of, I guess, a lack of numbers and with the remaining 24 or so being split into two divisions because some are seriously good while others, like ours, are full of first-time summer leaguers. I’m really happy to be in the Interceptors because we all have a sense of being new, of understanding if a teammate has a bad shift or a bad day, loses his or her feet at a crucial moment. Not to say we’re not all going to be trying our guts out and working hard not to fail, but the reality is that it’s a recreational league, not the NHL, and we’re all feeling our way.

The stage is set. Round One against the Ice Wolves. Wow. What Jake said: I can’t believe I’m actually going to be playing competitive hockey.

Strangely, for all this anticipation, I had a hockey-free weekend, which was a shock, not least because I finally made it to the Bang and am consequently walking like a creaky robot. I had managed a skate last Wednesday (one of my hockey class mates, TC, who I had noted on the night was skating well, told me that he has knocked himself out cold three times in General Skate, working on his moves) but somehow the days since have built up yet again without me making it onto the general skate rink. I need those hours, those endless hours of incremental improvement, but I’ve also told myself to relax and just let summer league happen, without beating myself up all the time because I can’t skate like Jason Baclig and Martin Kutek rolled into one.

I think there’s a fundamental reality, if I’m honest, that I don’t enjoy skating, per se. Endless laps and technically tricky skating moves at General Skate, wearing dorky protective gear when nobody else is, are only a means to an end, not my idea of a truly fun time. But hopefully I’ll get there tonight, putting in my hours.

Given the NHL lock-out has just seen regular season games cancelled, with more cancellations to come*, the world is suddenly low on hockey for a brief moment.

Sure, last Thursday night, Big Cat and I got to join the Melbourne Ice team and management in a theatrette in Richmond, downing beers and watching the 3-peat documentary on a big screen (the Ice players went nuts, loving it) and sure, I heard all about Mackqvist, my 16-year-old son, joining some of my Rookie mates for a game on Friday when I couldn’t play, but otherwise, hockey is off the radar.

But a new term of Dev League looms and, this Friday, there is a chance that Mack will play again in a social match I’m planning on suiting up for. It could be the first time that the Places make up an entire line of forwards. History. I hope the Icehouse has organized security for the inevitable crowd.

From there, all roads lead to summer.

* How fricking lucky that the boys and I hit the Red Wings games last year and not this season? I would have been in Manhattan this day last year, cursing loudly or possibly charging NHL headquarters with a borrowed hockey stick and two gloves to drop.

3-Peat sneak peek

The Road to 3-Peat doco is getting close. Pre-order it. You won’t regret your decision.

(Try saying that headline, five times and fast)

I had one of the cooler phone calls I’ve had in a while last week. It was Jason McFadyen, one of the creators of the “The Ice – Road to 3-Peat” documentary … a 24/7-style fly-on-the-wall doco about the Melbourne Ice’s campaign for an unlikely third championship in a row. Jason and Shannon Swan spent the entire season following the Ice around Australia, to training, to team meetings, to the players’ outside-hockey lives, you name it.

Jason asked me to have a look at the script before they went to final voiceover, and so I spent AFL Grand Final weekend mostly getting a sneak preview of the six part doco.

No spoilers, but holy crap. You want to watch this series. It’s amazing on so many fronts.

And I would say (*and this is a totally unpaid, unsolicited, purely personal view), I would recommend buying the DVD set, ahead of waiting for Fox Sports to show its broadcast-friendly version. My understanding is that Fox Sport will be beeping out the unsavoury language, of which it may surprise you to know there is quite a bit behind the closed doors of a hockey team. The DVD version will be a “cleanskin”, no making it family friendly.

You want to see that version. (I always grit my teeth when 24/7 blanks out swearing, as well … I mean, come on. It’s hockey.)

Plus, if you buy the DVDs, the Resolution Media guys get some kind of return on months and months of work and commitment.  In my former life as a sports writer, I covered a lot of international sport, hung out in lots of sporting team change rooms, but some of the footage Jason and Shannon managed to capture is like nothing I’ve seen before.

Here’s a link to pre-order the series. Like I said, and to emphasise, I’m not on commission and have received no payment from these guys.  … I helped out the script thing as a favour and because I was excited to be able to see a rough cut of the series after hearing about it for so long.

I love what they’ve done and seeing the close to final edit was brilliant. Thanks, Jason and Shannon.

Hockey fans, either in Melbourne or lock-out starved American fans … this is a cracker of a hockey fix. Get on it.

Sub-standard skating in context

Spitfires v Tigersharks. Waiting for a whistle to start things off. Pic: Zac Arato.

Quite the weekend. In Melbourne, a classic AFL grand final took everybody’s mind off the unspeakably horrific murder of Jill Meagher, although in her local hood, Brunswick, they did what Brunswick people do and discussed “yarn-bombing a tree” as a tribute to her. Well played, Swans, and thank you for the distraction.

In Sydney, fuckwit shock jock Alan Jones said Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s father had “died of shame” when he passed away a few weeks ago, because his daughter was such a liar. A paid-up dinner of Young Liberals chortled and applauded. Sponsors are now pulling out of his radio show but what’s the bet he isn’t even sacked?

Big Cat Place prepares for a face-off against the Tigersharks.

Overseas, things were even stranger. American being America, there was a report of a man in a black ski mask being spotted near a window and so a neighbor strode out, invoking his goddamn Constitutional Right to bear arms and to defend property, and shot the intruder dead. Then took off the balaclava and found out it was his 15-year-old son.  This was on the same day that Fox News America was busy following a police car chase in Arizona after some guy had carjacked a vehicle and taken off. The coverage was being enjoyed by the Fox audience right up until the bad guy stopped his car, got out and shot himself in the head, live on national TV. “We really messed up,” a Fox spokesman said.  Meanwhile in Manchester, Britain, two female police – unarmed because that’s how the Brits roll – were shot down by a psycho who had phoned in his own burglary to attract them, and then turned himself into the local police station. In one report on that story, it was pointed out that five British police have been killed by gunfire in the past decade. In the same period, 544 American police have been slain. Over the weekend, of course, in Tennessee, in the USA, there was also a conference of those opposed to gun control. “In a perfect world, without carry permits, anybody ought to be able to own a gun and anybody ought to be able to carry a gun,” said enthusiast Mike Crow.

The point of all this is to provide context to my hockey battles of the weekend. I played twice and was mildly frustrated both times at how my skating is going, or not going, depending on how you look at it. In both games, I was serviceable, didn’t suck – and in the first game, on Friday night, my passing, especially to Big Cat in the forward line, was really happening.

Several of my hockey mates on the move in Spitfires v Tigersharks action. Pic: Zac Arato.

But I still need to work on moving my feet. I still need to get those first few quick steps to put distance between me and back-checkers on a breakaway.

Even so, driving home on Sunday night, I was very aware that my world and the wider world had bigger issues than whether I can train myself to have faster wheels by the time summer league starts in a fortnight. Context can be a good thing sometimes.

On Sunday, a bunch of our new summer team, The Spitfires, took on another actual team, the TigerSharks. This was my first time playing against players I didn’t really know, against genuine opposition.

Sure, I skated onto the ice to take a face-off and said, “Oh, hi, Brendan,” to Brendan Parsons, facing me across the red dot (he duly kicked my arse in getting the puck away) and then said, “Oh hi, Georgia,” to Georgia Giblin, the TigerSharks’ other centre I faced. And said hi to Dan and Mark and others I knew on that team … but honestly, really, there were people playing who I didn’t know, and therefore it was a good test of where our team was at, and where I was at.

Short answer: still not a good enough skater to play centre now we’re playing for real. On a wing, I’m okay, and I’m getting better, but I have to get to more general sessions, just to keep my legs getting faster.

The Spitfires team listen to our coach for the day, Melbourne Ice player Austin McKenzie. It’s quite possible he was saying: “Kittens? Really? Kittens? Was that to get the chicks?” Pic: Zac Arato

Hockey remains a lot of fun though. It was a very clean game on Sunday; hard-fought but with great spirit. Just the way it should be. I got to share a line with Liam Patrick,  my friendly rival, Apollo Creed to my Rocky,  who excelled by yelling the opposition team’s name instead of our own as we did a group gloves-together-inspirational-yell thing at the start of the third period. “I honestly didn’t mean that,” he said as we prepared for the face-off. I told Georgia, newly named among the Melbourne Ice women’s team and now an intimidating presence staring at me across the face-off dot. “For real?” she asked, wondering what she was up against. My distraction didn’t work; I think she won that one.

Even so, the Spitfires won the day. We somehow jumped to a three goal lead in the opening few minutes (it turned out the TigerSharks hadn’t really been together, as a team, on the ice at all since last summer season and had a lot of ring rust, as boxers call it). Once they woke up, it was a nil-all draw, but we had lots of chances and played well.

Can’t wait for the actual season to start now, in two weeks.

But in the meantime, I’ll distract myself by watching the wider world and scratching my head about bigger issues. Like how Melbourne is mourning Jill Meagher’s murder, or how Alan Jones can be such a dickhead after so many years on Earth, or even what the business plan is behind opening a Victoria’s Secret store at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium? Life is never boring.