Saturday afternoon in Oakleigh

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It’s been raining for two days and it’s cold.

Winter cold; in the heart of spring. For IHV Summer League div 3 hockey.

Wearing four layers and a beanie, you leave it to your travelling companion to play loud music as you navigate the remorseless bottleneck of Chadstone’s road system. Finally, you pull up in the asphalt car park and lug your giant bag and sticks through the door that is slightly too small, then try to jam them and yourself through the even thinner wedge of metal to avoid the public turnstiles. Hockey players don’t pay at the gate.

Pre-game general skaters.

Pre-game general skaters. (Pic: Nicko)

 

Helpful penguin.

Helpful penguin.  (Pic: Nicko)

 

Dormant goals in the stands.

Dormant goals, waiting for us in the stands. (Pic: Nicko)

Inside, everything is that Oakleigh blue, except the dangling nets, like some demented fisherman’s lair, and the glow of the lights on the scoreboard, reading zero-zero. It’s 50 minutes to the puck drop.

Today is an intra-club grading match, Cherokees v Apaches, so you go say hi to Tony, rugged up and cutting edges in the Next Level shop, then head back down to chat with the ‘opposition’ before heading to your respective rooms. Your team shows up in ones and twos, and suddenly dressing room 3 is packed, strangely warm these days now that an effective heating system has somehow been installed.

Welcome to the shop.

The retail hub of Oakleigh. (Pic: Nicko)

 

Everything you need.

Everything you need. (Pic: Nicko)

 

Branding.

Branding. (Pic: Nicko)

The coaches read the lines one more time and bark instructions as you lace your skates, apply whatever idiosyncratic sock tape pattern you have evolved, give your teammates a grin or a nod, hang shit on the goalie, and then finally stalk your way on thin steel blades through the door, past the ever-dodgy men’s toilets and up the incline towards the rink.

Big crowd in for the Cherokees.

Big crowd in for the Cherokees. (Pic: Nicko)

 

The wait for the gate.

The wait for the gate. (Pic: Nicko)

 

Game time.

Game time. (Pic: Kat Pullin’s dad)

All the figure skaters, families, kids and fake penguins have been removed, Oakleigh’s antique Zamboni has chugged around and at last you step onto the ice, being careful because the drop is always slightly more than you expect, as the refs flip the goals from upside down in the grandstand to upright on the rink.

Water bottles to the narrow shelf behind the bench, a couple of fast laps of the narrow, claustrophobic Olympic rink, so much smaller than Icy O’Briens and with almost non-existent lines. Just as you finish shooting pucks at Stoney the goalie and gently tap all 20 pucks back to the bench, the rain starts in earnest and suddenly you can’t hear the final instructions because of the noise on the tin roof. The captain, Big Cat, shouts: ‘Kees on three. One … two … three!‘

‘KEES!

The crowd is tiny, maybe the occasional partner, family member or two, plus a couple of curious general skaters who have stuck around to see genuine hockey in Melbourne’s last remaining 1970s rink, a long half world away from the true hockey nations of the world.

Oakleigh action. Rain outside.

Oakleigh action. Rain outside. (Pic: Kat Pullin’s dad)

The puck drops and we go at it.

The game is fast and played in good spirit, both teams getting chances but with strong defences mostly choking breakaways and keeping attacks wide. Tommi in net for the Apaches, and Stoney standing on his head for us, as the heavy rain continues to drive hard and loud into the tin above, and sometimes through the roof, dripping onto our bench, and you wonder if this is going to turn into a famous Oakleigh pea-souper.

The Apaches seem to have only two or three players on the bench, while we have three full lines as well as five D. They get the first goal but we get one back and then another, and start to edge further in front.

Kees v Apaches.

‘Kees v Apaches. (Pic: Kat Pullin’s dad)

 

Kat defending. (Pic: her dad)

Kat defending. (Pic: her dad)

 

Some hack heads up ice.

Some hack heads up ice. (Pic: Kat Pullin’s dad)

In the end, we win, and we’re NHL happy but actually it’s a grading game and the start of summer and the Apaches have beaten us too many times for us to get cocky about managing to snag a win.

We do the handshakes, thank the refs, circle around to thank the coaches. We leave the ice, thank the hockey Gods that you’re allowed to have a beer in the change-rooms at good old Oakleigh, take advantage of that miracle as we get changed, then finish the beers outside, four or five Cherokees huddled in the doorway as the rain continues to fall but less so than during the game. We nod or yell goodbyes to various Braves players from both teams as they scuttle through the puddles to their vehicles, the few of us who are left shooting the shit about nothing in particular before we finally drift to our cars.

The post-game glow.

The post-game glow. (Pic: Nicko)

The long drive back to town has good music, and play-by-play breakdowns of the action, as we dissect the game and our form.

Next weekend, we’re back in the glamour of Icy O’Briens, Australia’s shiny and well-appointed official Winter Olympic training facility at Docklands, skating out no doubt to the disappointment of the remaining crowd after an women’s Australian Ice Hockey League game featuring Melbourne Ice has finished.

That’s Sunday afternoon.

But this one was classic Oakleigh. Who would have it any other way?

 

UPDATE: It looks like the crazy weather finally took a toll on Oakleigh’s ice sheet. This was from Facebook, apparently taken tonight, as I was finishing this. No idea how you fix something like this but one thing I do know: the resourceful Victorian hockey community will find a way.

Pic: Bron Bird, Monday.

Pic: Bron Bird, Monday.

Cracked ice on Monday night.

Cracked ice on Monday night.

The flow of the ice …

Another summer season starts tonight. The plucky Cherokees, full of old and new faces, take on an apparently highly-rated Demons team in a grading game.

It got me to thinking about the summers past, and all the people I’ve played with, as I prepare to step out for my fifth summer of competitive hockey.

A new season begins ...

A new season begins …

Life flows, within and beyond hockey. Years and years now of development league, classes at Icy O’Briens and, briefly, Next Level, of playing for the Nite Owls, Friday night social games, and official IHV comp for the Interceptors and then the Cherokees. All those bench partners, and line partners, and changing room banter partners, and coaches.

I haven’t been writing much on this blog because really it’s been the same story as years past and I haven’t wanted to write for the sake of writing … I’ve been playing dev league, attending occasional team trainings, plus kicking a footy once or twice a week, as well as hitting the gym, boxing, and oh yeah, work and family. In the AFL, Richmond sucked again, while in the about-to-start NHL, the Red Wings are again skating under a question mark, with a bunch of new faces, but the fading Datsyuk gone.

On Monday, I returned to work after a week at Heron Island, doing the Queensland tropical sun-and-beach thing with Chloe and Cassius, as well as scuba diving with one of my French brother-in-laws, Brendan, and a lot of turtles and nudibranchs.

A nudibranch, somewhere underwater just off Heron Island, Qld. (about two centimetres long, for context). Pic: Nicko

A nudibranch, somewhere underwater just off Heron Island, Qld. (about two centimetres long, for context). Pic: Nicko

The first thing I did when I got back to work was grab a coffee with Pete Savvides, one of my Interceptor teammates five years ago. We talked about all sorts of stuff, only a fraction of which was hockey. Pete married now, with a baby, and a senior job and a new summer team as he tries to help enthusiastic rookies get into the sport.

Some of the other Interceptors aren’t even in hockey any more, as far as I know. Others have scattered to different teams or clubs. It’s the way of the hockey world; not many teams are able to stay together, season to season.

Last year’s Cherokees were different to the ‘Kees before that. This year’s team is different again. Players head to the winter draft, or push up to new grades. I still consider my watermark to be solidly Division 3, meaning Cherokee life suits me fine, but others are more ambitious or have actual skills that demand an upgrade in standard.

My first summer team, the Interceptors (missing: Alex McNab)

My first summer team, the Interceptors (missing: Alex McNab). Damn, I look younger.

It’s okay. There are members of the about-to-launch 2016/17 Cherokees team that I barely know yet, but I know we’ll be friends by March, when we hopefully play finals, or wet our disappointment at not making the four. I’ve met all kind of people through hockey and it’s one of the parts of the crazy adventure that I love. Doctors and political analysts, fellow journalists, and plumbers, dog groomers, IT consultants, building workers and yoga instructors … every team is a wild mix of personalities, skills and interests. Coming together for the grand adventure of a 10.30 pm IHV-scheduled game, or a more casual Oakleigh training session.

One of the Cherokee incarnations. I just noticed that I seem to always kneel in the same spot for team photos. Weird.

One of the Cherokee incarnations. I just noticed that I seem to always kneel in the same spot for team photos. Weird.

Tonight, we suit up for real; Big Cat Place and I slated for second-line duties, skating together as the only constant in five years of competition; still the reason I do it. The new look Cherokees beginning our summer journey against a mysterious opponent, but with several of my long-time friends now added to the team as an unexpected bonus.

People rise in your life, people fall out of your life. Friends, lovers, workmates, clients, family. People you wish you’d spent more time with, others you’re pretty happy to see the back of. Hockey is a microcosm of the wider universe, and I embrace the new, while remembering the old.

So, here’s a pre-game toast to teammates past and present.

See you somewhere along the icy way. For the Cherokees, that means 8 pm tonight. Bring it.

An important announcement

Melbourne, Tuesday, June 21 (AP): The Braves Hockey Club and management for Nick Place were pleased to announce today that they have agreed to terms for the upcoming 2016-17 Ice Hockey Victoria summer season.

‘We think it’s a great deal for everybody,’ said Braves President Liam Patrick. ‘If Place pays his fees in full and on time, buys a new jersey, drives himself to trainings and games, doesn’t open his mouth in the changerooms, and doesn’t get in anybody’s way, we might let him play very limited fifth line minutes for the Cherokees in Division 3.’

Place managing to stay vertical in a previous summer. Pic: Luke Milkman

Place managing to stay vertical in a previous summer. Pic: Luke Milkman

Place’s manager, Nick Place, said: ‘I, I mean my client is thrilled that the Braves have agreed to let me, I mean him, don the famous black and yellow for the forthcoming season. I think there’s definitely a role for older, wise veterans in today’s hockey world. When I think of Jaromir Jág-‘

He was then cut off by President Patrick, who whispered: ‘Stick to the agreed script or it’s over.’

President Patrick told reporters, ‘There had been some hope-I mean thought that Nick might consider retirement at the age of 67 but, trooper that he is, and photos of me that he has, he’ll be allowed to go around this summer. What I need the hockey world, especially the Braves family, to understand is that legally we can’t stop him. If he pays his fees, there’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.’

The news of Place’s resigning was greeted with universal joy across the league with opposition teams admitting to being rapt with the development. ‘Place’s son, Will – AKA Kittens – AKA Big Cat – would be a huge offensive threat under most circumstances,’ said one coach. ‘So the fact he’ll be totally hamstrung by having to put up with his dad’s ineffectual skating and passing on the left wing should cut his point production in half at least, and is a boon for all of us.’

Cherokees coach Georgia Carson was not available for comment. Friends say she was enjoying a quiet night yesterday evening when she received a txt that appeared to horrify her. ‘They promised! They promised he was gone! They told me it was over!’ she screamed before storming out of the house to a nearby speakeasy bar. She has not been seen since.

Place left immediately after the press conference, telling reporters he was heading to a secret training camp to prepare for September’s action. However, Braves officials confirmed he actually just went to work.

 

Preparing for a vintage summer

Summer hockey is serious business these days. With so many players flowing into the local sport and so few rinks (see several hundred previous posts on that topic) getting your first taste of competitive hockey is tricky.

My club, the Braves, had grading skates over the past two weekends. They weren’t so much try-out skates as working out in which division new Braves should play, with the idea that the teams should be evenly spread with talent and, most importantly, new skaters shouldn’t be blown away by experienced, more accomplished hockey players. As any reader of this blog will know, that remains one of my biggest issues in Ice Hockey Victoria competition – that too often there has been one or two players on a team in say Div 4 or Div 3 who simply shouldn’t be there, who should be playing several grades higher. Watching an opponent skate effortlessly around your entire team and then score top shelf, backhand, over their shoulder, while waving to the crowd, gets old after a while.

But it’s pretty much an honour system. These players are always there because they reportedly ‘want to play with their mates’, and I suppose I get that. I want to skate with my son, Big Cat Place, and then work things out from there. Happily I think we both fit the Div 3 profile without terrorising the opposition. In fact, I wish.

Being the dedicated professional hockey player that I am, I missed both the grading skates. I felt like Kevin Costner’s greatest ever character, ‘Crash’ Davis, in the Hall of Fame baseball film, Bull Durham, explaining that he doesn’t ‘try out’. (One of my favourite movie monologues ever.)

Actually, I had non-hockey alibis. In week one, I was at the world premiere of a friend’s film (Sucker, by one of my magic crowd mates, Lawrence Leung – I heartily recommend it: coming to cinemas soon) and then this weekend I was in Sydney, watching a legendary French dancer, Sylvie Guillem, take her final bows in Australia at the end of a glorious career.

Sylvie Guillem in flight. Amazing. I feel honoured that I got to witness her dancing, live, before she bows out.

Sylvie Guillem in flight. Amazing. I feel honoured that I got to witness her dancing, live, before she bows out.

Guillem is about six weeks older than me and has decided to call her career while she’s still on top of her game and, oh man, she is. Her dancing was unbelievable, especially her final solo piece, ‘Bye’. Astonishing.

Even better, her goodbye tour is titled: ‘A life in progress’. No ‘best of’ dancing for her; instead she’s still pushing herself, exploring, until the moment she steps off the stage. Even then, Guillem’s mantra is that she will no longer be starring in international productions, as she has been since Rudolf Nureyev strode onto the stage after her debut in Swan Lake, and announced she was now the French company’s étiole (top dancer) when she was at the absurdly young age of 19. But she’s not disappearing either. Her take is that it’s time for the next thing, whatever that is, and her life in arts will continue somehow.

Plus she’s a massive supporter of the Sea Shepherd and had Shepherd supporters selling merchandise at the Opera House, which was an unlikely scene. I bought a beanie I didn’t need, just because. She rocks.

Sylvie Guillem. This, peoples, is elite fitness. Pic: Balletoman.

Sylvie Guillem. This, peoples, is elite fitness. Pic: Balletoman.

Over cocktails at Palmer & Co, post-performance, Chloé and I chatted about Life After. I wondered how Guillem will eventually cope with not being so outrageously fit, flexible and just physically incredible, once she retires and drops at least a level or two in training and physical commitment. I think anybody who has worked hard enough to be elite fit, as in really fit, understands what it’s like to drop back to ‘pretty fit’ or even ‘very fit’. Let alone, ‘yeah, kind of fit’.

Guillem has been training remorselessly since she was 11. Thirty-nine years of being at the top of her game. It will take an adjustment, when she realises she can’t just do a vertical split without thinking about it.

The Large No. 12s, at the Labour In Vain, with Tiger Mick on guitar (in the back, far right) and a lead singer with a working back.

The Large No. 12s, at the Labour In Vain, with Tiger Mick on guitar (in the back, far right) and a lead singer with a working back.

But all manner of levels of fitness after 50 can be done and there are many inspirations around me. Tiger Mick is one of my Bang footy brothers. He’s well over 60 (I’m too polite to ask exactly how far) and recently lost a year of Bang action to an infected toe. There are infected toes and infected toes and my understanding is Mick almost lost his, the big toe on his right foot (kicking foot). He’s finally back, running and racing around like a maniac, as always, even tackling much bigger guys, against the Bang rules, and mostly kicking left foot. I watch him and think: if I was 60+ and lost a year of muscle in my legs (i.e. most of the muscle mass) I can’t see myself just jumping straight back in and running running running once given a half-all clear by a doctor. On weekends, Tiger Mick and a bunch of his mates play music in pubs across the town. We went and saw them recently at the Standard in Fitzroy and the lead singer was playing guitar and singing, while sitting down, with his back against the back-wall of the stage. ‘Is that some kind of rockstar affectation?’ I asked Tiger Mick. “Nah, he’s done his back but if he didn’t turn up, we don’t get paid,’ Mick shrugged. These guys are unstoppable.

Magnificently vintage Shonko battles the red dust of central Australia last week.

Magnificently vintage Shonko battles the red dust of central Australia last week.

Likewise, my friend Shonko has just got back from racing mountain bikes at Alice Springs. He finished about 30th overall and second in his division, which was, hilariously, titled: ‘Vintage’. Shonko a few years ago was riding in the age group 24-hour off-road mountain bike titles in Banff, Canada, where you ride and ride and ride for 24-hours around a 13 kilometre course, and he was so fit it was just ridiculous. We actually stopped going bush together because I felt bad that all super-rider Shonko did was wait for huffing puffing me to catch up. He always said that didn’t bother him. These days, he’s stepped it back to shorter races and to more fun challenges and doesn’t seem the worse for it. In fact, he has a better life balance while still being fitter than most 50-year-olds could dream of.

Giddyup. Pic: Luke Milkovic

Giddyup. Pic: Luke Milkovic

Me? I’m a few steps behind him, feeling my way back towards the level of fitness I want, which enables me to compete at hockey and to live my life. My problem/joy has always been that I have too many irons in my far too many fires. It’s impossible to be super-crazy-fit while also running a company, raising kids, writing novels, being social, embracing art and culture, writing for TV, and all the other stuff I do. But after a much-needed break after last summer’s season, I’m starting to build my lungs, legs and momentum towards this season, and it feels good. I’m nowhere near my version of peak fitness yet but I can feel it getting closer. Footy on Sundays, Inter and maybe Dev League on a Wednesday night (even though I was straight-out appalling last Wednesday: one of those nights. Yeesh) as well as occasional gym, running sessions, 50 push-ups and 100 sit-ups (minimum) per day, and riding my new mountain bike. This morning, spring in the air, I rode this incredible machine through the streets of inner Melbourne, past the MCG and Punt Road Oval (Go Tigers!) and then wound through the back streets of Cremorne to the Giants HQ. My hands were freezing in the morning wind but my legs felt good, pumping the pedals towards another summer and another Cherokee adventure. It’s going to be a different season: several of the old Cherokees have moved up to Division 2, pushing onward, higher, but enough of the old ‘Kees still around to make our changeroom the fun, slander-filled space that I love. Can’t wait to pull No. 17 over my head, clip my battered red helmet to my head and go chase the puck.

Sylvie Guillem might feel it’s the right time to go, but I sure don’t. I’m sticking with Tiger Mick and Shonko, in the Old Enough To Know Better division, also known as Vintage.

Bring it.

 

 

Kettlebells, rubber bands, Icelandic horse sex and me.

I’ve been going to a lot of Melbourne International Film Festival screenings over the past week. French films about relationships, relationships or, maybe, relationships. A strange Icelandic film about horse sex and people who are slightly mad. A beautiful but strangely emotionless Japanese animation. Robert Connolly’s fantastic new live-action kids film, Paper Planes. Between sessions, we walk from the Forum to the Capitol or maybe Hoyts at Melbourne Central, rugged up in puffy jackets and beanies, huddled against the biting breeze.

The Podium Line does the red carpet, at the world premiere of 'Paper Planes'.

The Podium Line does the red carpet, at the world premiere of ‘Paper Planes’.

But then, on Facebook yesterday, somebody posted: ‘Only six weeks until daylight savings.’ I blinked. Really?

Meanwhile, in the AFL, it’s coming down to the wire with less than a month to the finals, which means two things: Richmond will finish ninth and the sun will start to shine and the grounds will become less muddy.

At the Bang, my footy brothers and I will stop and sniff the Spring in the air and start to lairize even more than we do now, with one handed marks, drop-kick attempts and other shenanigans we’re too old and only occasionally skilled enough to attempt.

And, most importantly of all, Ice Hockey Victoria’s summer season will loom and my team, the Cherokees, will again continue our quest to be competitive in Division 3.

Just like all the other summer players, we’re busy getting ready, doing the training, hoping we’re better than last season.

I can hardly wait for the competition to start. Last summer was pretty much blown out for me by the much-chronicled Year of the Knee, as I could hardly skate or, when the knee finally repaired, didn’t have enough legs to feel like I was at my best.

Even, so, I unfortunately did better than Big Cat Place who broke his ankle before the season had found full stride and barely played from that point until the last few games months later.

Big Cat and I committed there and then to play at least one more summer together, both fit, both able to be true teammates, before the inevitable happens and he gets too good to play on the same team as me, and so the summer of 2014/15 is shaping as a critical time of my hockey life.

I haven’t written much here lately because, as always, I don’t want the blog to just repeat the same old stuff and I would get as bored writing it as you would reading about every development league game or Red Wings playoff blowout.

Plus I had a manuscript to finish, which I just have, and so all my writing hours were taken up with that 135,000 word-mountain.

But between my real job and the novel draft, I have been training hard, getting ready for summer. I’m currently heavier on the scales than I have been for a while but feel fitter than I have been for a long time, which either means I’m delusional or I’ve gained extra (heavier than fat) muscle where I need it. Maybe those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

Fluid Health: just a few of the tools of happy torture.

Fluid Health: just a few of the tools of happy torture.

All I can do is the work. Twice a week I trek to Port Melbourne to meet with the bearded one, Melbourne Ice and Australian captain Lliam Webster, to toil on improving my functional body movement, core strength and explosive power. This training remains the best and most entertaining I have done after years in gyms, lugging weights. It involves everything from Spiderman crawling along the floor to carrying barbells as far and as fast as I can while a giant rubber band threatens to twang me through the opposite wall. Some days I’m pushing a sled loaded with weights across the room, or deadlifting a barbell, other days I’m sliding on the slide board while Lliam has fun frisbeeing plastic cones at me to swat away as I glide.

The muscles being worked are all core hockey muscles and I can feel the extra balance and strength through my deep stomach muscles, glutes and hamstrings. As a happy aside, my dodgy lower back is better than it’s ever been, I have shaken off a shoulder that was hurting me for months and The Knee is now strong enough that I’m hopping onto platforms or over distances and landing on the same left leg.

In other words, for the first time in at least 18 months, I am pain free. Amen.

This has all been a long process involving Fluid Health, acupuncture needles, Enzo the magic osteo and a lot of damage to my credit card, but it feels fine to sit here and be able to write that I am pain free and feeling fit, with a couple of months to go before I skate out in the Braves jersey for a new season.

On days I’m not at Fluid, I hit the gym near my work in Richmond, lifting weights and building upper body strength.

The weights room at my local gym. Every now and then, I actually turn up there.

The weights room at my local gym. Every now and then, I actually turn up there.

On Wednesday nights, I have signed up for power skating, which is an hour of pure Hell – well, actually, that’s not strictly true: the bag skating and explosive speed stuff I quite like. The outside edge work, not so much, because I remain so shit at it.

But I made a conscious decision – with much support from hockey friends: ‘Do power skating. You need to. You NEED to.’ – to spend at least one term of Wednesday nights working specifically on my still dubious skating, instead of playing dev league.

Getting better on skates is such a slow, gradual thing that it is difficult to chart progression. Some games, friends/opponents vow that they were astonished at how much faster I have become. Other times I know that I sucked dogs balls, as an old girlfriend used to say. Wobbling around like an Intro Class rookie.

One thing, though: I’ve actually reached a significant point in my skating, where I don’t mostly think about it during games. I see the puck and go to get the puck, or make position. I don’t have to think abut my legs or where my feet are moving.

It’s like learning a language where they say you have truly made progress when you think in that language. At some point, skating stopped being something I had to concentrate on and became something happening while I was playing hockey, so that’s an improvement.

But then come those moments where I get run down from behind on a breakaway because I’m not fast enough, or I have to turn fast, clockwise (my “bad side”) and I curse that I’m less nimble. Or I just watch others who I started with, several years ago, who now skate like a dream. Or I realize that there are entire moves, like backward crossovers, that I simply don’t ever attempt under pressure in a game.

The beauty and balance of an Icehouse power-skating class. (Ten bucks says one of us, probably me, was on his arse within 30 seconds of this being taken.) Pic: Macklin Place

The beauty and balance of an Icehouse power-skating class. (Ten bucks says one of us, probably me, was on his arse within 30 seconds of this being taken.) Pic: Macklin Place

And so I trudge off to the Bradbury Rink for skating lessons with Zac, not the Henke Rink for the fun of playing actual games.

Today, I’m hitting the gym at lunchtime for some weights. Tonight I have power skating. Tomorrow, Fluid with Lliam. Friday? Maybe the gym again, if I don’t have a social game of hockey with or against the IBM team. Sunday: the Bang.

This is not to brag. I need to do this to even attempt to keep up with those young’uns I’ll be skating with and against this summer.

I need to do this anyway. I long ago realised how important regular exercise is to maintaining my potentially fragile mental health. I also long ago realised how draining on my emotional and mental health writing fiction can be. So it’s no coincidence that I’m on a big fitness campaign while driving a draft to the line.

Anyway you look at it, I believe that’s known as win-win. My body is coping. I have miles in my legs. Spring is in the air. My book first draft is done. The Cherokees are starting to get excited.

Bring on the summer.

What to wear?

The Falcon: if he wasn't so well loved, he'd be worth serious money in America.

The Falcon: if he wasn’t so well loved, he’d be worth serious money in America.

I have been accused of being a hoarder. I prefer the word ‘collector’. I definitely get interested in something and start gathering. It all started when I was very young and somebody gave me a Superman figurine. It turns out you could also get Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Spider-man … I got them all. And Davy Crockett, Dracula, even The Falcon (pictured, who turned out to be the first black super hero and is now highly collectable). I still have them all. In a suitcase, stashed under the stairs at my house, but still there. Bashed to within an inch of their lives, through endless play in my pre-teen years. (The hilarious thing is that the made-up stories, my imagination roaming, with those figurines playing out the storylines? Years later, I’d write The OK Team and OK Team 2, and get that same imaginary roaming published.)

Later came my Mr Potato Head obsession, which started in a church hall in Hawthorn, accompanying my future business partner, Michael, to a

My Sixties Potato Head collection: now showing in my office. How do you like them apples of the earth, MisterSpud?

My Sixties Potato Head collection: now showing in my office. How do you like them apples of the earth, MisterSpud?

collectables auction where he was chasing Collingwood memorabilia. I wandered along the stalls and found Oscar the Orange, a Mr Potato Head character who took me straight back to my childhood. Bidding sensibly stopped for Oscar at $100 or so. I realised my hand was in the air. Now I owned Oscar, it seemed crazy not to start hunting all the other 1960s potato people: Katie Carrot, Cookie Cucumber, Pete Pepper … and wow, in America, there were ones I’d never heard of: Willy Burger, Frenchy Fry. And English ones: Mr Egg Bod and Katie Pear. This was when eBay was just finding its feet and suddenly it was possible to bid furiously for a potato-based character in Cincinnati or Seattle. I had some epic duels with my nemesis, a collector called MisterSpud. I finally got the entire set of Sixties spuds and retired from competition.

Then came magic and treasures like first editions of Robert-Houdin‘s landmark ‘autobiography’ (this French magician was a father of the Golden Age of magic and remains, as far as I know, the only magician to single-handedly use magic to stop an African revolution), or Howard Thurston magic coins. That cost me a lot of money.

And then came hockey. And more specifically, hockey jerseys.

My first one was a Zetterberg #40. Detroit Red Wings, of course. When I first started seriously following the Wings. But then I started playing and my jersey fetish blossomed, grew and mutated, to incorporate the Icehouse Rookies, the Wings’ AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins, and even an obscure Canadian team, the Medicine Hat Tigers, where Wings stars like Darren Helm and Chris Osgood had started out (and it turned out, a team that my coach, Lliam Webster, played against. He got a decent shock when Big Cat and I wandered into the Icehouse wearing Medicine Hat jerseys one day). With many training sessions, dev league (before the dedicated jerseys), skating sessions and just walking around, there has been no shortage of opportunity to strut my many jerseys.

Here’s where the collection stands, three years in:

My first hockey jersey: Hank Zetterberg, 2009.

My first hockey jersey: Hank Zetterberg, 2009. When we went to Detroit in 2011, I didn’t take it, because I KNEW I’d be buying another one, and I did: a signed Nick Lidstrom jersey, which I occasionally wear around, like to a Melbourne Ice game, horrifying potential collectors. I’m, like, what? Lidstrom never signed another jersey? I prefer enjoying it, to framing it. I still love my Zetterberg first-ever, and sometimes still wear it on the ice.

The signed Lidstrom No. 5, bought at the Joe Louis Arena. It went 'straight to the Pool Room.' But occasionally gets broken out for everyday wear, to the horror of collectors.

The signed Lidstrom No. 5, bought at the Joe Louis Arena. It went ‘straight to the Pool Room.’ But occasionally gets broken out for everyday wear, to the horror of collectors. (And, by the way, it cost me $125 or something … a Kyle Quincey jersey at that USA v Canada extravaganza in Melbourne earlier this year, went for upwards of $400 … sacrilege. )

This is the jersey I was wearing in the first ever wobbly-skating shot on this blog. Medicine hat white: a cool early Richmond Tigers-hockey-obscure Wings crossover. Big Cat shamelessly stole the black version, which is cooler, damn him.

This is the jersey I was wearing in the first ever wobbly-skating shot on this blog. Medicine hat white: a cool early Richmond Tigers-hockey-obscure Wings crossover. Big Cat shamelessly stole the black version, which is cooler, damn him.

Our Icehouse class of 2011 became the self-titled Rookies, with Aimee Hough, Theresa Neate, Jay Hellis, Big Cat and a few others as founders. Big Cat designed the first Rookies jersey: a simple, classic design.

Our Icehouse class of 2011 became the self-titled Rookies, with Aimee Hough, Theresa Neate, Jay Hellis, Big Cat and a few others as founders. Big Cat designed the first Rookies jersey: a simple, classic design.

About to jump the boards in the Rookies white.

About to jump the boards in the Rookies white.

Second generation Rookies jersey: as the Rookies started playing games, against teams like an IBM line-up, we needed different coloured jerseys. This black one was a beauty. I captained my first ever hockey win - and I think the first official Rookies victory of any description - wearing this jersey; an epic comeback. A meaningless social match on a Friday night but we were floating in victory.

Second generation Rookies jersey: as the Rookies started playing games, against teams like an IBM line-up, we needed different coloured jerseys. This black one was a beauty, and is probably the jersey I have worn the most on-ice. I captained my first ever hockey win – and I think the first official Rookies victory of any description – wearing this jersey; an epic comeback. A meaningless social match on a Friday night but we were floating in victory.

Wearing the Rookies black, in action against IBM at the Icehouse.

Wearing the Rookies black, in action against IBM at the Icehouse.

The red version of the Rookie jersey. Recently a new group, formed by the following wave of skaters, has formed with a kcikarse jersey. I love how the sport is growing and evolving in Melbourne.

The red version of the Rookie jersey. Recently a new group, formed by the following wave of skaters, has formed with a kickarse jersey. I love how the sport is growing and evolving in Melbourne.

Grand Rapids is Detroit's feeder team, in the AHL. We follow it closely, watching guys like Nyquist, Tatar, Jurco, and more, get better and closer to Red Wings action. I decided it would be a cool, obscure jersey to wear to training ...

Grand Rapids is Detroit’s feeder team, in the AHL. We follow it closely, watching guys like Nyquist, Tatar, Jurco, and more, get better and closer to Red Wings action. I decided it would be a cool, obscure jersey to wear to training …

... and it was, right up until the Griffins produced this more modern red alternate strip.

… and it was, right up until the Griffins produced this even more awesome red alternate strip.

Maybe my favourite jersey of all time, because it was my first official jersey as a member of an actual team, in IHV competition. As part of the Jets, I played with the Interceptors, as logged in the blog, and even got to put a big white A on my breast, which was one of the best moments of the crazy hockey adventure so far. Loved, and continued, to love  the Ceptors.

Maybe my favourite jersey of all time, because it was my first official jersey as a member of an actual team, in IHV competition. As part of the Jets, I played with the Interceptors, as logged in the blog, and even got to put a big white A on my breast, which was one of the best moments of the crazy hockey adventure so far. Loved, and continued, to love the Ceptors.

The back of the Jets jersey, with the crazy numbering font.

The back of the Jets jersey, with the crazy numbering font.

Working hard for the Ceptors, in my beloved Jets purple  (in an IBM practice match) last summer.

Working hard for the ‘Ceptors, in my beloved Jets purple (in an IBM practice match) last summer.

The Interceptors jersey that caused all the trouble ... the Jets told us, before last summer's comp, that the white alternate jersey might not be available in time for a game where we needed it, so could we come up with another white option? Zac, one of the Ceptors, is a graphic designer and drew up this baby, and we had them made, fast. Weonly wore them a coupleof times in official comp but Jets officials went nuts, saying we were disloyal, not part of the club etc. Was awkward. I scored my only official summer league goal, swinging from a faceoff drop, straight into the net, wearing this (I scored three, but the other two weren't officially tallied). Pre-season I had toyed with being No. 4 instead of No. 17, which is why this pre-order had that number.

The Interceptors jersey that caused all the trouble … the Jets told us, before last summer’s comp, that the white alternate jersey might not be available in time for a game where we needed it, so could we come up with another white option? I guess they meant whatever white jerseys we could all find … but the Interceptors were motivated and committed. One of our team, Zac, is a graphic designer and drew up this baby, and we loved them, got approval and had them made, fast. We only wore them a couple of times in official comp but a couple of  Jets officials went nuts, saying we were disloyal, not part of the club etc, because we weren’t wearing the usual jersey. It was awkward. I scored my only official summer league goal, swinging from a face-off drop, straight into the net, wearing this (I scored three, but the other two weren’t officially tallied). Pre-season I had toyed with being No. 4 instead of No. 17, which is why this pre-order had that number.

This is a recreation jersey of an early Detroit on-ice fashion statement, from when the team was the Cougars in the late 1920s/early 30s. It's so old skool. I love it.

This is a recreation jersey of an early Detroit on-ice fashion statement, from when the team was the Cougars in the late 1920s/early 30s. It’s so old skool. I love it.

If you've seen 'Slap Shot', you know this jersey. If you haven't, go watch 'Slap Shot'.

If you’ve seen ‘Slap Shot’, you know this jersey. If you haven’t, go watch ‘Slap Shot’.

Or Hell, just watch this:

And for the record, of course I'm Hanson brother, no. 17. Big Cat and Macquist have the other two Hanson jerseys, so we can form the entire line if required.

And for the record, of course I’m Hanson brother, no. 17, who was definitely the best, as that clip showed. Big Cat and Macquist have the other two Hanson jerseys, so we can form the entire line if required.

A recent pick-up: a genuine Red Wings practice jersey, as worn by the players at pre-season training camp. Got my name and #17 on the back. I rock this one out for Braves training and it has a lot of movement, lightness, which is good to skate in. I like it a lot.

A recent pick-up: a genuine Red Wings practice jersey, as worn by the players at pre-season training camp. Got my name and #17 on the back. I rock this one out for Braves training and it has a lot of movement, lightness, which is good to skate in. I like it a lot.

My new world: I'm playing for the Cherokees, part of the Braves, in Div 3 this summer and I frickin' love the jersey. Not just because it's Richmond colours. But that helps. I'm loving life as a Brave.

My new world: I’m playing for the Cherokees, part of the Braves, in Div 3 this summer and I frickin’ love the jersey. Not just because it’s Richmond colours. But that helps. I’m loving life as a Brave.

Whoever made the Braves jerseys didn't know about punctuation, so I've become kind of Czechoslovakian. The N in Place is silent.

Whoever made the Braves jerseys didn’t know about punctuation, so I’ve become kind of Czechoslovakian. The N in Place is silent.

Doing my best to look bad-ass in my Braves jersey. Summer 2013-14 season. Go Braves!

Doing my best to look bad-ass in my Braves jersey. Summer 2013-14 season. Go Braves!

Big Cat and I before our first (and only, so far) game together. He then fell over on cowboy boots and broke his anhkle, so who knows if and when we'll get to suit up together once more.

Big Cat and I before our first (and only, so far) game together in the Braves colours. He then fell over on cowboy boots and broke his ankle, so who knows if and when we’ll get to suit up together once more.

Pick a card, any card

I got asked to do some card tricks on the weekend. We’d gone to lunch at a friend’s place and he revealed that he’d pumped me up as a ‘magician’, which is almost as big a lie as telling people I’m an NHL player.

The thing is, I used to be pretty decent at some illusions. I have a close friend, Simon Coronel, who is world class, performs at the Magic Castle in LA, basically rocks after a lifetime, well, half-lifetime of training. I was his first student at his debut CAE close-up magic course years ago, and so we bonded. Worked on moves out of hours and learned that we both like drinking alcohol and talking about women and other subjects. I started carrying at least one deck of Bicycle cards (the magician’s air-cushioned card of choice) around all the time. I worked super hard at lots of complicated and difficult card manoeuvres, and would like to think I definitely rose abovethe standard of  ‘sad uncle at kid party’.

But then I realized that, while I adore magic and the paradigm shift that a truly great trick gives the audience, I was mostly working so hard on my card handling to avoid the deeper issue of a novel that I didn’t know how to finish. And so, regretfully, I put my Bicycle decks away, and swore that I couldn’t work on magic until I’d finished the manuscript. Once I finally did (‘The OK Team‘), I broke out the cards but finally realized that I simply didn’t have the time or dedication to put in the Gladwell 10,000 hours required to become a Jedi.

And so I sank to the level of amateur enthusiast (a group that, to be fair, has included names like Cary Grant and Johnny Carson, and still includes Steve Martin, Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Alexander – all active members of the Magic Castle), collected some cool old magic artifacts and then took up ice hockey, and became obsessed.

But I stay in touch with the magic crowd and they make me laugh as well as teach me things. In fact, I think the biggest lesson I learned out of my time as a wannabe purveyor of truly kick-arse card tricks was that you have to really, really want it, and you have to work at it. Magic is the ultimate example of 1 per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration.

Performing a trick for friends on Sunset Strip, LA, in 2011. Oh yeah.

Performing a trick for friends on Sunset Strip, LA, in 2011. Oh yeah. (Note: brand new Jimmy Hendricks recreation shirt)

I am endlessly impressed by the sheer dedication of my magician friends. The untold hours of experimenting, practising, sessioning, building, wondering, and then repeating and repeating and repeating the moves or the entire trick, to a bedroom mirror or an empty room or, occasionally, to a confederate, until it is ready to go public. And even then, working on it endlessly, to improve it, sharpen it, refine it.

If you can’t commit to that level, then you become like me; a keen enthusiast. With enough cool card tricks to please a Sunday lunch (yes, I survived) but that’s all. The deeper waters of illusion are too hard to swim.

But that’s okay. In life, sometimes, something has to give. Lately for me, hockey has edged into that territory. I worked out recently that I now have five main streams of work happening, three of which could pretty easily be full time employment if I let them, and two of which are unpaid for not-for-profits – actually, three, if you include the pissy money you get from writing a novel, which I’ve included in the first three paid gigs. Plus I have the happy job of building my relationship with Chloe, and melding my old family and my new family. And seeing wider family and friends. And getting stuff done, whether housework or shopping or just … stuff. Walking the dog. Checking my new cat is surviving. The list is a long one. Throw in Tuesday early morning pilates, and Lliam Webster work-out sessions at Fluid, both of which are finally enabling me to skate pain-free in my left knee (Oh, Thank God, less whinging! yells the crowd) and life is pretty busy. As I’m sure yours is. I’m not claiming special status here; just actually did an inventory.

Summer League threw a whole new level of hockey onto the hockey that was already there. For example, team training is on tonight, at 9 pm, but then there’s the usual Wednesday night dev league to think about – I signed for 8.45 pm and 10 pm to get skating miles into my knee, and then low player numbers meant awesome winter players have been allowed to drop into the 10 pm, which raises the standard hugely, and makes me skate like a motherfucker: it’s great – and then my team, the Cherokees, has a game on Thursday night this week. You can see the logjam already, huh? If I go to all three of those nights, when do I catch up with my son, Mackquist, who is deep in the Hell that is the end of Year 12? Or hang out with my partner and a crazy fun five-year-old?

I’d love to make some stick-n-puck or drop-in sessions to work on my skating which, as ever, needs a lot of work, but it’s just impossible.

So I’ve been forced to let go of some of the potential stress. Because I think I’m okay with stepping back a little. It’s social fucking hockey, right, at one of the lowest competitive levels you can play, even if we do all try our hardest. Happily, most weeks, team training isn’t bookending Wednesday night dev, so that eases the pressure straight away. If i make team training or dev,  I’m hitting the ice at least twice a week, which is realistically enough to not be trying to remember which end to hold the stick each time I step into my skates. My broken toe almost fell off after two hours of intense skating last Wednesday, so I need to nurse that too, to ensure I even make it to Cherokee games in one piece.

That’s about as much as I can hope for right now. Maybe when I finish the new manuscript I’ll have more elbow room? Maybe my NFP committees will go into summer recess and I’ll have breathing space? Maybe once Mack and Big Cat finish school and uni, we can more easily find time to mooch around together?

For now, it is what it is, as the entire AFL world took to saying this year for no apparent reason.

Yes, life is crazy busy, but almost universally in awesome ways. I’m flying in as many if not more directions than normal, and things like boxing and scuba have floated into the background for now, like magic, and like hockey could so easily if I chose to let it go.

Fly Girl gives my new #17 Braves jersey plenty of respect.

Fly Girl gives my new #17 Braves jersey plenty of respect.

But I’m not. I can’t wait for tonight. I can’t wait, even more, to don my own personal Braves jersey for the first time on Thursday and partner Big Cat, my son, for our first official outing as Cherokees. That’s going to rock. I can’t wait to score my first summer league goal of the season (this could take months, if ever) and I can’t wait for that unbeatable feeling of keeping your head in the frenzy of an opposition attack to angle the puck off the boards and safely outside the blue or, better, skating with the puck and managing to pass sweetly to a teammate’s stick, as they charge through our blue line and opposition defenders scramble and the goalie crouches, getting ready, and you charge for The Slot, searching rebounds.

Hockey rocks as much as it ever has. My love remains pure.

I just need to understand that it is one beautiful part of a large, complex jigsaw.

And I need to get back to carrying a deck of Bicycle cards around. Pulling off those tricks on Sunday felt good.