DOC – OAK (aka The Double)

I’d never had to do The Double. I’d seen plenty do it, including my Cherokees teammate, Burty, earlier this season when he went to the wrong rink and had to race to Oakleigh. Even better, I once sat laughing as a goalie arrived triumphantly mid-warm-up, in full kit, to the undying relief of his teammates, as he desperately Doubled (see video at bottom).

Through the Goalposts: Driving across the Bolte Bridge, en route from Docklands to Oakleigh

Through the Goalposts: Driving across the Bolte Bridge, en route from Docklands to Oakleigh. Pic: Big Cat Place

But I’d never before found myself with a hockey schedule that demanded attendance at both of Melbourne’s rinks, Icy O’Briens and Oakleigh, on the same night.

Until Tuesday.

Dev league was at 6.45 pm at Docklands, and ‘Kees team training was at Oakleigh at 10.15 pm. Yes, mid-week life as a Victorian hockey player yet again meant crazy ice times and diminished sleep, but shit, it’s what we do, right? … Big Cat and I decided to embrace the adventure and go for it.

At least we had a gap between sessions. I’ve seen players almost run from Icy O’Briens change rooms because they have to be on the Oakleigh ice within an hour, or so, which, given the standard gridlock of the South-Eastern Freeway and especially Warrigal Road through Oakleigh, is hoping for some kind of Road God miracle. On Tuesday, we almost had too much time between sessions and at least could mosey across Bolte Bridge, through the tunnel and out to the southeast. Of course, we had the greatest run ever because we weren’t in a hurry.

Skating destination two: the magnificent ice skating stadium in Oakleigh

Skating destination two: the magnificent ice skating stadium in Oakleigh

But even then, The Double leaves all kinds of questions for the modern hockey player: do you stay dressed in your hockey gear, probably sans actual skates, for the drive between the rinks? Do you strip off wet post-dev league gear and then re-dress once the gear is two hours’ colder and already festering?

What do you eat between sessions? How much should you eat? And, even more pointedly, where can you eat? Exactly which top restaurants in Melbourne embrace unshowered between-sessions ice hockey players? Or might accept Big Cat in hockey shorts and leg armour, complete with Doc Martens? These are questions The Age Good Food Guide seems to ignore, edition after edition.

On Tuesday, I chose to step out of all my gear, except compression tights, which are always an attractive social look, under running shorts. Big Cat stayed pretty much completely armoured up, with Doc Martens, as stated.

Of course, we ended up at the McDonald’s Drive-Thru; the secret shame – or complete non-shame – of Doubling hockey players for years. We ate in the aesthetically stunning surrounds of the Oakleigh Maccas car park, before trucking the last 500 metres or so to the rink.

Big Cat Place, sporting the latest in Double fashion: Doc Martens and leg armour.

Big Cat Place, sporting the latest in Double fashion: Doc Martens and leg armour.

And then, at about 10 pm, stomach still regretting what in Pulp Fiction parlance is a Royale with cheese, I stepped back into now horrendous pre-worn gear, reminiscent of putting on a wet wetsuit for a winter surf in my youth, and stepped onto the ice once more.

And this is where the biggest learning of my first Double kicked in. I’d always known the ice at Icy O’Briens and Oakleigh were different, but when you try to skate on both on the same night, the difference is profound. Not saying one is better than the other; they’re just wildly diverse underfoot. I’d just had my edges cut, picking up my skates before dev league, and felt fine on the ice during that scrimmage. Yet at Oakleigh, I could barely skate for the first couple of laps, and throughout our training session I never felt solid on my skates. The ice at Oakleigh is softer, often slightly wet, especially on a hot night like Tuesday, but somehow the ice felt ‘hard’, like I wasn’t getting the same grip as I had at Docklands.

The fact is that no two rinks are the same. Recently, after a Red Wings home game in Detroit, a visiting team complained about the ice at the Joe Louis Arena, with players saying it was so bad that it made it hard to display NHL-standard skills. Skating two rinks on one night shows how dramatically different the feel of ice can be under your skates. It’s wild.

The Oakleigh ice surface. I've never been able to skate as well there as I do at Docklands.

The Oakleigh ice surface. I’ve never been able to skate as well there as I do at Docklands.

But we had fun. Only a handful of ‘Kees had managed to make yet another workday-unfriendly training time but we had a good session, with strong spirit. The fog that had suspended games on the weekend at Oakleigh hung in the air but never badly enough to make the hockey difficult. As we left the building, just before midnight, the fog was thickening over the ice.

We got back in the car, drove through the empty night streets across the city, legs tired, brains tired, hockey sated. Wednesday morning was rough, as it always is after late night hockey, but that’s ok. I’d ticked off another item on my hockey bucket list: The Double.

Now I just need to find a frozen pond on which to play genuine pond hockey. I suspect, in the current high-30s heat wave gripping Australia, that’s not going to happen any time soon.




Over to you …

OK, so I’ve come up with a cunning plan.

I WANT YOU! Nobody wants this to be “The face” of Australian hockey. Do your bit …

I have a lot of fun writing this blog, and I remain humbled and stunned by how many people have tuned into it. But, here’s the thing, I’m not the only guy learning hockey in Melbourne.

This may come as a shock, given the self-indulgent nature of many of the nickdoeshockey posts, but I am one of maybe hundreds of rookies feeling their way into the sport.

So I’m throwing open this space to you.

I still plan to write for the blog, as usual, but I’m inviting anybody within the hockey world – from Melbourne Ice players to an intro newbie – to contribute. Because of some boring but real logistical issues, I have yet to be able to dive into Joey Hughes’ Oakleigh crew, although he has kindly invited me along, so maybe some of the NLHA rookies could bring us a taste of that world? I’d love to include footage or thoughts on a road trip with a professional team. Playing amateur hockey in Canada, compared to Australia? Being a woman in a mostly male world, especially in the locker-room? Playing or watching hockey in other Australian states? Somebody who’s broken a collarbone, talk us through that journey … the list of possibilities is endless.

My only demand is that you buy into the wider-life feel that I mostly try to include. Be creative and use this platform to express yourself. God knows, I’m usually too open about emotions, fears etc, so don’t be shy. Ideally, I’d also prefer you don’t rant about elements of the sport you hate, or people you dislike…unless it’s funny. This is a forum to celebrate hockey, after all.

But I’d love to include a wider array of voices than my own.

A while ago, one of the rookies, Daniel Mellios, created a video around one night of Dev League, and it was fantastic. See it here.

Keep it coming … you can provide words, video, poetry, photography: whatever medium best works for you to express your take on our sport and our collective pursuit of the puck.

If nobody responds, then I’ll just keep doing what I do, but I reckon there’s room in this crazy world of ours for more voices than Nicko Place. Let’s hear them.

Email any contributions to

(The fine print: There’s not much and it’s obvious: no racism, sexism or other nasty -isms. I reserve the right to publish or not publish material.)

The Avengers: a hockey team waiting to happen

My hockey team: Ironman takes Centre. Hulk. you're in goal, big guy.

Well, damn. Having Wednesdays off is something I could get used to. Crawled out of bed at midday, went to a movie, snoozed on the couch then wandered down to Docklands for the usual game of pool at the Harbourside followed by two hours of hockey. That’s my kind of day.

I took a few moments to consider the sacrifice of the ANZACs and to savour Australia’s freedom, but mostly I spent the day thinking that The Avengers would make a damn good hockey combo. Watching the new movie (which rocks) had taken all afternoon, 3D glasses on, and I emerged, blinking, already trying to work out positions for the super-heroes in my new Avengers hockey team.

I’m assuming Hawkeye and Black Widow would take the wings. Hawkeye’s whole thing is that he cannot miss, at least with a bow and arrow, so he’s a handy guy to have in attack. Black Widow is a Russian spy with ninja moves and acrobatic flair, so she’s definitely going to be an asset causing chaos as we head through our blue line. Plus, you know … Scarlett Johanssen. I mean, what? I need to draw you a map?

Centre is a key role but again, it’s an easy fit. Ironman. The guy is the ultimate forward-and-back player, with agility, lightning moves, the ability to fly, strength, great hockey armour built in … he rivals Datsyuk as the perfect centre man, depending on whether Tony Stark can deke. Getting skates on Ironman’s feet might be tricky, given the jetpacks and all, but I’m sure Stark industries, or Bauer, can come up with something.

Plus, Stark is equally famous as a billionaire playboy, so he can be the money behind the team as well. Nice to have you aboard, Tony.

Defence? Captain America picks himself as Right D. Nowhere near enough creativity for a forward role and a possibly too rigid team-first player but solid, always making the right decisions, a big body and shining with leadership. He’s the Lidstrom of the team. And I’d definitely pair him with Thor on the Left D. Not only does the Norse God come from Sweden, a renowned source of hockey talent (just look at my Red Wings) but he can bring lightning to the defence, which will scare the crap out of other teams. It might be tricky to get Thor to part with his hammer so that he can hold a hockey stick, but maybe we can just extend the handle on the hammer and kill two birds with one stone?

Which only leaves a goalie …yes, the big green guy. Hulk.

Hulk as Goalie: penalty-minute concerns ...

One, he’s enormous, completely filling the goalface, two, he’s finally awesome in the new film (after a couple of dubious movie attempts beforehand) and three, nobody’s about to rush the crease while he’s in goal. True, there’s a chance, the big green giant will give up a lot of penalty minutes for over-aggression on the ice, but I think the intimidation factor is high enough to counteract that.

Team assembled, with Big Cat Place, me and the other Icehouse Rookies on the bench and ready to sub in, as required.

Oh yeah, Nick Fury giving the Babcock Glare as coach/GM from the bench, with SHIELD agent Maria Hill as his assistant, just because she’s played by that hot chick from “How I Met Your Mother”. (see Scarlett Johanssen logic, above.)

Who’s up for playing us?

Speaking of playing, we had class/dev league last night.

I’d planned to skate all week but hadn’t actually made it, so I was scratchy in Intermediate; never quite having my skates under me (although, thankfully, I landed several crossovers while all the coaches were looking at me and barracking/sledging, so I dodged a bullet there).

Dev League was okay but again not amazing, for me.

Big Cat Place scored a goal with the most clinical opposite-corner finish I’ve seen from him, which was cool (plus I was on the ice, so technically went to +1 on that play).

My campaign to become known as “Huge Cat Place” failed to gain traction

I was involved in a huge collision with James, which saw him end up on his back and me standing over him yelling: “Mother-fucker! … You ok?” (Yes, I’ve learned to do it in that order, as against earlier hits.)

I attempted and failed a wrap-around goal, which was fun.

But I caught myself being a total spectator a couple of times, was sluggish in my skating and only managed a few genuinely nice plays, so I scored myself harshly on the night, especially after playing my best game last week. Hey ho. Onward to next Wednesday.

… assuming I’m not required by the Avengers team.