So, the short story is that the Champs handed the Interceptors our collective arse on Sunday. Strangely, I left the Icehouse feeling much better than after our loss the week before.
Maybe it’s because the penalties seemed about even? Maybe it was because we landed four goals, even if 10 went the other way? Maybe I was just coming off such a clusterfuck of a week in that bastard known as the Real World that a hockey scoreline simply couldn’t rattle me beyond acceptable levels? Who knows?
Or maybe it’s because, in fact, we were beaten by one really good Canadian and his mate.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a rant, or sour grapes. We were beaten fair and square. Well played, Champs.
But five of the Champs’ goals were scored by a guy called Andrew Poss, who carried at least three of them, from memory, end-to-end before casually deeking our goalie to score. Like a Melbourne Ice player in dev league against rookies, a Test cricketer joining a work social match or an NBA basketballer against a weekend amateur team. His mate, Harley Hancock, was also barely breaking a sweat in beating us.
Does it make me feel better or worse to know that Andrew is apparently from Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada, and is a former, or maybe resting, member of a team called the Northstars in the Edmonton Municipal Hockey League? I guess there’s no real shame to being sliced and diced by an experienced Canadian player. But how depressing that I remain so far off the pace. Note to self: DO NOT move to Edmonton and decide to play hockey over there, if Andrew Poss is the average everyday player in that town.
I had a bad game on most levels. I’d been yearning for more skating and more responsibility, the coach gave me both and I didn’t do enough with my moment. Skated hard but ineffectually as this Poss guy and Hancock, in a black jersey with masking tape numbers, carved us up.
The worst moment was after a face-off near our goal in the first period. I was Left Wing and the Champs won the face-off and shot the puck across the slot. It literally grazed my stick. If I’d trapped it, it might have been a fraction of a second of just me and the goalie. Might have been. But instead the puck grazed the toe of my stick, and I realized it was a set play, releasing Poss, lurking behind me, to carry it the length of the ice to score, Interceptors and I trailing helplessly in his wake. It went like that the whole game and Andrew seemed like a decent guy, not celebrating too hard after his fifth.
Hockey in Victoria remains a strange beast. I try to stay well out of politics and all the off-ice theatre that seems to dominate the sport. However, I do think one of the better decisions in recent times was to ban Winter League players from summer comp. Winter League is a much tougher competition, by all accounts. There’s a player draft, so you get chosen by clubs if you’re good enough. It’s intense and the standard is high. Last summer, as these players came back to Recreational League D, which is where I now play, they smashed teams made up of fledgling rookies such as myself. Turning up for training at the Icehouse this time last year, we’d hear horrified accounts of of ugly 20-something-to-zero scorelines. Of demoralized and shattered wannabe players. It was nasty.
IHV reacted, despite the natural grumbling of the winter players who suddenly couldn’t play competition hockey through the summer months, and it’s been brilliant for all of us, starting out. In games where the Interceptors have been against similar players – learning and training for less than two years – the hockey has been even and challenging, yet at a standard where you can feel like you’re part of it, that you can compete, that you’re ready.
Shit, I even managed that goal a few weeks ago.
But every now and then, some players or even a team have snuck through. Hancock’s Facebook page has happy snaps of him lined up for the national anthem just before playing inline hockey for Australia. Presumably Andrew Poss didn’t play last winter, so he is eligible to play for the Champs’ summer team and he is simply three or four levels too good for us. And for pretty much everybody else, going by the league scoring records. He had 13 points in three games before scoring a lazy five goals against us.
For the hundredth time, I’m not whinging. The Champs had other good players too. I was really proud of how we Interceptors kept our heads up, fought hard, never crumpled. Some of my teammates really did skate with Poss, Hancock and the other Champs guns, making a contest of it. Our goalie, Jay, saved some beauties, even if – in true goalie fashion – he slumped into a festival of self-hate for those pucks that got through.
And the Champs aren’t the only team with a few gun players. Our Spitfire sister team, the Fighters, also has several players who are also clearly of winter comp standard, not summer. They beat up on mortals like me every week. I’m only jealous that I can’t skate and shoot like that; dubious that I ever will. I only curse Poss and Hancock for their youth and their endless hours on the ice for years before I discovered this crazy sport. I appreciate it when those players don’t gloat about outclassing P-platers on the ice.
And I’m looking forward to the rematch, to see if I can make a better fist of trying to go with them, to get more than the occasional stick in their way as they charge the blue line. It’s how I’ll improve, how I’ll know that I – and the Interceptors – are still evolving through dev league and summer competition, by matching up against the best.
And secretly, I’ll thank the IHV decision-makers, for making that call that such elite players carving through our defences are the exception this summer, rather than the rule.