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”.
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.
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.