It’s kind of a strange time at the moment. The fact is that hockey is not front and centre in my life right now; hence the long break between blogs. An unexpected twist is that, as I write, the Detroit Red Wings are waking up on the other side of the world, preparing for a huge play-off game, just like last time I wrote more than a week ago.
This time it’s against the Chicago Blackhawks, at the Joe – Detroit having not only seen off the Ducks, as per the moment of truth looming in my last post, but then proceeding to play astonishingly great hockey to snatch an unexpected and spectacular 3-1 lead over the President’s Cup winning Hawks. ‘Detroit is like a rash that just won’t go away, boys,’ said one commentator. ‘The Chicago Blackhawks just can’t get rid of it.’
This Red Wings team of kids in rebuild mode is within a win of pushing out the No. 1 seeds and going to the Western Conference Final. And, shit, if you make it that far, having beaten the No. 1 and 2 ranked teams, why not go all the way?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In Game 5, the Hawks came back hard, as you knew they would, in front of a hometown crowd, so now the series is 3-2, and this second chance to put it away at the Joe is fraught. Some of the highly-rated Hawks started to wake up after a shocking series so far. There is still a real chance that Chicago could become the 21st team in something like 220 series to come back with three straight wins to steal it.
But I’m going to be honest: I reckon my Wings will win. Played such brilliant, tough, play-off hockey to take those three wins – especially the last one at the Joe when Chicago threw everything at them. It’s definitely possible to triumph. LGRW, LG! Wish I was in Detroit to be there. The old Joe will be rocking.
(Tuesday update: Well, the Wings got edged, 4-3 at the Joe, after some rookie errors, which leads to a sudden-death Game 7 on Wednesday, Motown time. See below for Mike Babcock’s take on that.)
And all of this points to my conundrum. The Red Wings are on a prolonged and unlikely and thrilling play-off run. I’m playing hockey for two hours very Wednesday (although the last two have been kind of tense, grumpy sessions, unlike our usual laughfests) and supposedly every Sunday – although I’ve had trouble getting to a few of those nights. The Melbourne Ice men’s season is well underway, but I’ve only seen their first game.
There is hockey everywhere but I’m on the fringes and this is made more noticeable by the foaming-at-the-mouth enthusiasm a lot of my fellow rookies have been displaying, mostly all over Facebook.
‘OMG training tonight!’ is a pretty standard post. Or arranging seats, hours early at the Ice game. Or heading down for Sunday night general skating at the Icehouse. Or doing boot camp to train hockey muscles. Some seem to be training or playing at least five nights a week. And these aren’t Melbourne Ice players that I’m talking about.
It’s intense and impressive.
And then there’s me. Driving down to Bairnsdale for a weekend, listening to music, watching the amazing light as storm clouds hit the lower alps to the north, staring at the Yallourn power stations, en route to take part in a panel discussion with a bunch of other authors, discussing writing fact and fiction. Then heading to Sydney, wearing my Giants hat (as against a Giant hat, to be clear), to drink too much coffee with clients and friends, and to walk the streets and stare at the view from the 66th floor of a hotel. Then coming back, now carrying the lurgy everybody seems to have had – I blame Chloe, or Mackquist – and sleeping all day Wednesday instead of working. Then playing dev legue that night to ‘sweat it out’ and feeling awesome about that, despite a mediocre night on the ice. Then throwing up maybe 15 times in the six hours after I got off the ice. Maybe ‘sweating it out’ not such a great idea after all. Bed ridden for two days, then staggering back into the world over the weekend, but with no energy and feeling crap. Meanwhile work and family bushfires, or at least spotfires, spark in different directions, and there’s that next novel sitting there, just waiting for some love – or at least some headspace. So much for catching up with friends, or quality time with anybody in particular. I spread thinner and thinner … Nite Owls play suspended because of illness, bad knee stopping running …
The tension builds.
But you know what? There’s another important life lesson from the Red Wings that I didn’t mention in the last post and it’s one of my favourites.
When under pressure, when facing elimination or a similarly huge game, coach Mike Babcock, captain Henrik Zetterberg and other leading Wings have a habit of saying one thing: “This is fun.”
Such a simple statement, but so powerful.
Take these quotes from Babs last week before the crucial third game against the Blackhawks: “It’s fun, it’s the most fun I’ve had coaching in a couple of years, by far.”
“At the start of the year, we weren’t a good team, but we understand that. We buckled down and we got better. The coaching staff is fun, the players are fun, it’s been a fun year for us.”
It’s something you hear a lot from the Wings. Intimidated? Nope. Season on the brink? Well, that’s what you play for – the fun of those moments.
Sure, it’s sport. Sure, these guys get paid millions, win tomorrow or not. Sure, they’ve already pretty much over-achieved this season so the pressure is off.
But I really like this take on the world. (Tuesday update) In fact, watch his presser after today’s loss. The “fun stuff” kicks in about midway through.
Same as before. The reporters are all gloomy that Detroit didn’t close it out. Babs is already anticipating how awesome Game 7 will be.
Life gets difficult, stakes get high, shit gets real … it’s okay. That’s fun. That’s the fun of living. To perform under pressure. Or at least have a crack. We’re not here for all the boring moments where nothing much is happening, are we?
And so hockey can float for me, for a while, while I have fun dealing with the things that need dealing with right now. Yes, I’ll probably embarrass myself in my office tomorrow, screeching if the Wings get a big goal, as I sneakily watch Gamecenter on my iPad. Then I’ll be off to see the physio yet again tomorrow afternoon, about my knee and maybe my shoulder. I’ll wade through mud professionally. I’ll battle sinus pain.
But I’ll smile because life is about the challenges, and those changes of gear.
I just rediscovered one of my favourite CDs: Mambo Surfwear’s “Not with that clown. (Great songs of sexual jealousy)” (circa 1997, when Mambo was cool) and so ‘I was checkin’ out, she was checkin’ in’ by Don Covay can once again become my soundtrack as I travel around Melbourne, doing what needs to be done. Maybe occasionally even managing to tune back into my hockey world.
I’ll just try not to think about the future games where I’m going to find myself hunkering over my stick to face all the rookies who are currently training five nights a week to get better, better, better, while I’m not.
That’s going to be a tough game when that happens. It will be fun.