Surviving the hockey hangover

I’m glad my legs can’t talk, at least this morning.

‘You’re kidding, right?’

‘No f***ing way.’

I click my cleats into the pedals and the bike begins to roll, aching muscles protesting hard as they pull and push the pedals and I gain momentum. It’s only eight hours since I walked through the door of my apartment, post intermediate class and development league. Six hours, maybe, of fitful sleep. And now I’m riding across the inner city, which is mercifully flat, to work.

Suffering what we all know as the Hockey Hangover.

Thursday survival strategy: coffee.

Thursday survival strategy: coffee.

You know what I’m talking about.

This is a phenomenon familiar to pretty much anybody playing hockey, at least here in Melbourne. If you’re reading this in America, or Canada, or even Sydney with its handful of rinks, feel blessed.

We have two rinks for our city of 4.25 million people. Two.

In case you’re calculating, it works out at one rink per 2,125,000 residents.

There’s the palatial Icehouse at Docklands, and the slightly sub-palatial Olympic rink at Oakleigh.

The IHV summer comp has 25 teams across four divisions.

Plus the Melbourne Ice women’s team in mid-season.

Plus the Ice Academy, developing rookies and elite players..

Plus hockey school at the Icehouse.

Plus Nite Owls on Sundays.

Plus all the Next Level stuff and scrimmages at Oakleigh.

Plus winter players wanting ice time to keep their eye in.

Plus team training sessions.

This all equals a lot of teams and a lot of players. All wanting ice time. All wanting those two rinks. There are only so many hours in a day …

… you can see that some hockey players somewhere are having a late night. Every night.

My guaranteed late night is Wednesday, when development league steps off the ice at the not-so-bad hour of 11 pm. But it means at least a 1 am sleep time and on Thursday, that hurts.

I actually kind of like the late night cruise home from dev. It takes me back to my mis-spent youth as a police reporter for The Herald newspaper. A photographer and I would start work at 2 am, and sit in police headquarters, getting the nods, or cruise the empty streets, heading to murder scenes or fatal car accidents. Maybe a fire. Sometimes just driving to stay awake, police scanner static and rego checks in our ears. The whole city asleep, apart from this undercurrent, these ripples of evil, ripples of good, and somewhere the insomniacs staring into the dark.

Late night in the hood. Empty streets, apart from shiftworkers, emergency workers, desperadoes and hockey players.

Late night in the hood. Empty streets, apart from shiftworkers, emergency workers, desperadoes and hockey players.

We’d cruise Lygon Street, grabbing 4 am coffees at all night cafes that I now know had illegal gambling happening upstairs; the downstairs wait staff eyeing us warily in case we were cops, not bleary-eyed journos.

Sometimes, post-crazy hour hockey feels like that. Last night, at 11.30 pm, Big Cat and I driving home, with music playing, discussing the game we’d just played (a 7-0 loss: ugly, yet four-on-four hockey all night: fun!)

As we turn into Brunswick Street, police blue and red lights are flashing towards the city. The street otherwise winding down with a few stragglers walking home or waving for taxis. In the open doors of a few cafes and bars, chairs are on tables, music playing as staff toil to clean up and get out of there.

Having dropped Big Cat off, I turn the car towards Fitzroy North, and click my iTunes over to ‘Breakfast at Sweethearts’, Cold Chisel’s mighty effort to capture that feeling of the end of a long, long night of work and/or play.

When I get home, the house is silent. My cat, Lady Byng, greets me with bumps. The dog is on a sleepover and so is not there tonight, no thumping wag of the tail from the top of the stairs to wake up Chloé, as I creep towards bed. But I’m wide awake, still wired. I spend an hour surfing the net, catching up on the Red Wings news, the Age, Guardian, New York Times, LA Times, and however many other reads I can manage before the adrenalin finally sags and my eyelids close.

And then, before I know it, there’s an alarm blaring and Oh God, seriously? Already?

I haven’t had nearly enough sleep, and my eyes look like baggy, bleary crap, but this is Thursday, every Thursday, and so I reach for caffeine and try to giddyup. My bike finds its way to work. My tired legs find their way to my office. My brain tries to kick in, and I drink more and more coffee and just want to curl up and sleep on the floor under my desk.

Like I said, we all know this feeling.

And it’s going to happen again next week. It’s going to happen the week after that.

Because what’s the alternative? Not play hockey?

Yeah, right.

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