So I found myself on the wireless yesterday. Richard Stubbs, on 774, was having Lliam Webster (currently in the role of Australian men’s team captain) as a guest and asked if I’d come in as his ‘hockey expert’, which is a pretty loose definition of that job description.
Richard and I have been mates since we worked together on some TV shows at Channel Seven a long time ago, and in fact he is responsible for this blog. When I mentioned over coffee more than three years ago that I was intending to take up hockey, it was he who asked: ‘Can you skate?’
‘Never been on skates,’ I said.
We quietly sipped our coffee. His partner used to play and so he has some idea of the realities of hockey, and knowing Kim, she would have been a bad-ass player, desperate to play checking league only. In the silence, Richard must have been mentally framing what I can only imagine he saw as his last words of advice before the inevitable visit to my hospital bed.
‘You simply have to blog this,’ he finally said, and I almost gasped. It hadn’t occurred to me at all to chart the journey, but within a month I had not only started my first skating lessons, but had registered the name, nickdoeshockey, and started this whole thing up. (See blog post No. 1: ‘Setting the scene’, Jan 2011* where I honestly wonder if the entire adventure will last days or weeks?)
The rest, as they say, is:
b) a giant time waste?
d) all of the above?
So, anyway, Richard has not unreasonably derived a great deal of enjoyment ever since in following my injuries, my inability to skate, my occasional successes, and so on.
Yesterday, I found myself hustled into my headphones and thrown on air before Lliam had even turned up, and it was to discuss parenthood. Richard didn’t want to talk hockey at all, really. Instead, he was running a conversation about how to stay in touch with your kids after they leave school and start to naturally kick away from you, into their own independent lives. He was asking how people retain meaningful relationships with these 20-something no-longer-children, aside from the occasional dinner together? Some idiot non-skater taking up hockey in his mid-40s, along with a teenage son, illustrated either how to do it or not to do it, depending on your survival instincts.
It was a great discussion and really brought me back to the point of my whole hockey adventure – well, a big part of it. (Let’s be honest: I do, selfishly, play for the sheer fucking fun of it, as well. As I should. Because it’s the most enjoyable sport I’ve ever participated in.)
But lately I’ve been dealing with a nasty neck injury, which I have barely mentioned on the blog because I was so sick of whingeing about my busted knee for months. I went and saw the osteo, Magic Enzo, yesterday, armed with some MRI results, and he said the good news was that I didn’t have a tumor messing things up in the nerves around my spine, but it did look a lot like I’d hurt my neck in a car crash. Except I don’t think I’ve been in a car crash severe enough to cause that damage, or a hockey collision huge enough to compare. But apparently, somewhere along the way, I have hurt myself that badly without noticing.
Either way, the neck has been nasty painful, and so it’s been easy to lose sight of the bigger picture: that my eldest son, Will (aka Big Cat or Kittens), and I have now spent years mutually savouring and sharing our love of hockey; be it the Red Wings plugging away in Detroit (and breathtakingly still in the playoff race right now for a 23rd straight year, despite EVERYTHING that has happened to them this season), or watching the Melbourne Ice’s three-peat, or all the endless shared general skates, training sessions, dev league games, summer league games and other on-ice shenanigans, and off-ice adventures, like visiting the Joe Louis Arena. Amen.
People comment all the time about how well Kittens and I work together on the ice, with that tuned knowledge of where the other will be. His broken ankle meant we barely skated together for the Cherokees over summer, and I loved that he was just as keen as I was to play again next summer and have at least one last season of tearing up the ice as teammates. … before he heads off to be a real player in winter or whatever, and I find out if I’m like the Bluesmobile when Jake and Elwood finally get to Chicago. (This clip, 53 seconds in.)
Yesterday’s radio discussion got me thinking about how much Kittens’ off-ice life has shifted in that time. He’s started to shift emotionally and physically since we huddled around pre-NHL Gamecenter online feeds of Wings games six years or more ago. Back then, he was a school kid. Now, he’s at uni, and doesn’t live at my house much anymore, and has different groups of friends, and is listening to different music to me (not always – happily, our tastes still cross) and is struggling to balance all the demands of uni, work for money, work for passion, hockey, hockey, hockey, friends, etc.
This is also true of my younger son, Mackquist, who finished school last year and is now 18 and therefore discovering establishments that will serve you beer and other wickedness. Mack is thrashing his way into the real world, into life beyond school; learning to swim in the waters of job-finding, and job-keeping, and tax file numbers, and so on. I think we have lost him to the world of playing hockey, meaning the famous Podium Line of Places will most likely never again leap over the boards to terrify an opposition defence, but that’s ok. He and I love scuba diving together, among other things, and can hang out together in that world, as well as the more day-to-day.
My life has shifted too. When we all started watching the Wings, I was living alone, but now I’m not, and there’s a crazy, intense five-year-old boy in my life, as well as a beautiful partner who rocks my world, and a cat we rescued and, of course, beautiful, ageing Fly Dog The Magnificent who struggles to walk sometimes in a mirror of my struggle to skate. Away from the ice, I’m under the pressure to follow up my novel, ‘Roll With It’, with a sequel that isn’t a pale imitation and my actual work life remains stressful, and there are all the other adult things that occupy your mind and energy, like the welfare of my parents, struggling or soaring friends, and so on. I celebrate all of this: it’s living. It’s the adventure. But it would be easy to realize the boys and I haven’t gotten around to actually crossing paths much, all unconsciously running wide of one another.
I’m so grateful to Richard for bringing me back to a deliberate consideration of Will and my relationship, through hockey. I haven’t physically seen Will since mid-last week, but there have been endless texts, celebrating the Wings and the continuing hot streak of Gus Nyquist, and discussion of video games, and other matters. It occurred to me that we have been in tune despite physical distance. And usually are.
I’m incredibly lucky that we, and Macka, retain such a close link, despite all our individual waters of life that don’t necessarily run in the same direction from here. Or maybe it’s not luck. Maybe this is what the whole hockey adventure has been about, away from the sheer fun and frustration of trying to sprint on thin blades of steel, reaching with an elongated piece of taped-carbon fibre for that small circle of rubber scooting, bouncing and gliding across the ice.
My sons and I are more than just occasional dinner companions, struggling to find conversation. Richard Stubbs was right: that is a major gift at this stage of things.
A creaky knee, a car crash neck and a continuing inability to find a reliable outside edge are but a small price to pay.
PS: Richard Stubbs’ main guest on yesterday’s show, the bearded wonder, Lliam Webster, is an even better example of what I’m talking about, with both his parents deeply involved in hockey and the Melbourne Ice teams. Lliam is playing for Australia in exhibition games against the Mustangs on Thursday night at the Icehouse, and then against his own team, the Ice (which will be kind of weird) on Saturday. If you’re kicking around, try to get down there to lend support.
PPS: * Post 5 of nickdoeshockey featured a current pic, back then, of a clean-shaven Lliam Webster. Time has certainly passed since I dived into this crazy world.