Introducing ‘The Podium Line’

The Podium Line: Big Cat, Nicko and Mackqvist.

You know you’re having a good week of hockey when scoring the Game Winning Goal (GWG) isn’t the highlight of your week.

That rare and unlikely event – me scoring a GWG – happened on Wednesday night; my first goal in 10 pm dev league. This will sound strange but as rapt as I was to see my shot from the slot beat a totally-screened goalie, I was most satisfied because the goal came as the result of a classic barely-noticed one-percenter. The opposition defence controlled the puck at our goal line and instead of hanging back, I skated hard to put pressure on the puck-carrier. As a result, his attempt to clear it down the boards was angled too sharply, to get around me, and rebounded to one of our defenders, inside the blue, instead of making it out of the zone. A fight for the puck from there saw it suddenly spill into open ice and onto my stick as I turned, nicely on my forehand. Somehow all the heavy traffic in front of me didn’t get in the way of my shot which went like a slow exocet into the bottom right corner. Remember Luke Skywalker using the Force to shoot a missile into the Death Star’s air conditioning duct? It was pretty much exactly the same thing but at the Icehouse.

Opposition coach Webster wandered into the change rooms after the game and said: “Was that you? I was looking down at the whiteboard and missed it.”

“Yep,” I replied. “It was beautiful. It was like the legs just parted and it went straight in.”

Lliam, Wunders, Kittens and I stopped to reflect briefly on how that statement would sound in any context other than hockey, and then thankfully moved on.

As we changed back into street clothes, Lliam picked up a few pieces of paper that had been left in the room and discovered it was a list of “great lines of NHL” and not-NHL. For non-hockey folk reading, groups of forwards hit the ice during games in lines of three players (Left Wing, Centre and Right Wing), and defenders two at a time (Left Dee, Right Dee). So you have linemates. Sometimes these can shuffle during a season, or even during a game, but all going well, the same three forwards work as a line for a long period of time, to get to know each other’s games and develop understanding and set plays.

In hockey history, there have been occasionally great lines which earn their own nicknames, such as the Red Wings’ famed “Production Line” of Gordie Howe (“Mr Hockey”), Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay. This line was so productive in the late Forties that it dominated the entire competition. Amazingly, in 1950, the three Red Wings finished first, second and third in scoring for the NHL. One line providing the league’s top three scorers. Holy crap. It will stun you to know that the Wings won the Stanley Cup that year.

Detroit’s most famous line: The Production Line of G. Howe, Lindsay and Abel.

So Lliam kicked through the pages of famous lines and I mentioned that Friday night promised history as my younger son, Macklin, joined Will (aka Big Cat) and I in a social match against an IBM team. The first and maybe only time that the three Places would form a line.

We all went to work, throwing names around for the looming Place line. Facebook had been running hot with what would make an appropriate collective noun for a group of Places. I had opted for “a clusterfuck of Places”, but other suggestions had included “a map of Places”, a “postcode of Places”, and a “pose of Places”.

Finally, we arrived on The Podium Line – first Place, second Place and third Place. Bow.

And so it happened. Macka suited up, we posed for photos – Will looking surly because he had ‘game face’ on – and got our arses handed to us by an IBM team that decided the best way to approach a social match was to draft in some Canadians and some guy who allegedly played international junior hockey for Sweden. Turns out he was better than me. And everybody.

Between shifts. Pic: Anna Heywood

But I didn’t care about the lopsided scoreline. The game was played in the usual good spirit, and shit, I got to skate with my boys – even if I didn’t skate particularly well. Macka abused Will for having a shot instead of passing it to him, gave me advice about positioning and then took a hard shot to the ankle in the second game, a friendly fundraiser for the Melbourne Ice, to end up on crutches. Solid night’s work. There’s no need here, in this public forum, to go into who hammered a puck into my young son’s ankle – managing to find the only unprotected spot and seriously injure him. This isn’t about blame, Hodson. Not at all.

The man WHO TRIED TO KILL MY SON!                  Pic: Tarcha Lou

Anyway, Mac was up until well after midnight, texting everybody he’d ever met to boast that he’d suffered the nastiest injury of any Place on a hockey arena – a compliment/observation from Big Cat – and then the next day attempted crutches for as long as it took to realize they are more uncomfortable than just trying to walk on a nasty bruise. He had a top weekend. As did Big Cat, who scored a sublime goal with a shot across the goalie to the top corner in the second game, to make his night.

And my weekend was fun, even if I lacked respect for the first strong sunshine of the season at the famed Bang Superkick on Sunday, suffering a nasty sunburn while finishing decidedly mid-field among hot competition in every sense.

The boys’ mum, Anna, had been on hand on Friday night, armed with a camera, and dropped by with the pics shown on this blog. In almost every action shot, I’m flat-footed, camped on both skates, looking as proppy as I felt on the night. Both boys are moving their feet, moving well – even Mac who has only just started Intermediate. Dammnit. Yet again, I’m battling realistic expectations versus frustrations. But not now, not here.

For now, I’m just saluting the night that Will, Mac and I formed the Podium Line for hockey history. It may happen 1000 times, or never again. But it happened – and that rocks.

History: Mack and I jump the boards together in a game.

Guest writer (origin story): Chris Hodson

WORLD EXCLUSIVE:

Today’s guest writer is Chris Hodson, combining his own personal origin story with a strong description of how damn awesome it is to be on the ice. For some reason, Chris and I rarely end up on the same team in Dev League or in other potential situations, which bites because a) I really like being teammates with him, and b) he can really play, so is a good guy to have onside.

A Song of Ice and Fire

Chris Hodson in flight. Pic: Jason Bajada

By Chris Hodson

Silence. Tension. The moment stretches out for almost an eternity. Everything else melts away. The puck drops – it’s on.

You chase the puck down, the world rapidly contracts to contain only you and your opponent, the scrape of his/her skates behind you a reminder that they’re but a single stride away, their stick biting at your heels. The pure exhilaration of the contest, the desperate battle to come out on top, the intensity, the fire of the moment – these are some of the things that hockey means to me.

Like many hockey players here in Australia, my interest in hockey had its beginnings in the 90s, when the Mighty Ducks movies hit our shores. At this time, being maybe nine years old, I somehow convinced my mother to drive me out to Oakleigh, where we sat half-frozen, and watched several games in a row. I remember two things from that night – hockey was fast, and ice rinks were cold.

After that evening, nothing happened on the hockey front for many years, until I somehow obtained a copy of NHL ’98 on the PC. I booted it up and played as the Mighty Ducks (of course!), but I recall that the season schedule always involved an early game against the Calgary Flames, where the AI-controlled Theoren Fleury would consistently put pucks past my hapless goalie. When I first explored the NHL years later, I discovered that the Mighty Ducks were now just the Ducks, and wore drab black jerseys. Bah! Boyhood dreams shattered! Calgary was the only other team I remembered, and so they were the natural choice for a team to support. And I’m pretty Flames-crazy now… But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

I used to be quite the sportsman when I was younger – tennis year round, with cricket and footy filling out the other free day on the weekend – but this was unsustainable for me through the final years of high school. I focused on my studies, and I did miss my sport, though at the time I didn’t realise how much.

When I finally decided that I needed to get back into something, anything, I was faced with a bit of a dilemma. The guys my age now had several years of experience on me, not even considering the deterioration of my own skills over that time. This led me to consider pursuing something new. Enter the Icehouse – the final coat of paint barely dry, ice freshly frozen.

I decided what the hell, let’s go totally left field and sign up for some skating lessons. Could be fun.  Could be disastrous… As it turns out, I was hooked after a mere 60 minutes on the ice.

I’m proud to say that I’ve done an Icehouse program every single term since it opened over two years ago (except one, where the popularity really spiked and all the classes were full – I just general skated instead and ruefully watched my class happening without me from the other rink), beginning with Aussie Skates 1, 2 and 3; two Intro Hockey classes; one Intermediate and one 5-day intensive over Christmas; and four Development League terms. And it’s been a blast!

Now I’m not the most nimble or co-ordinated of folk (far from it, in fact), and, as some of you may know, skating is not very forgiving when it comes to the lack of these sorts of traits. So what I did was buy myself a pair of $15 rollerblades from Cash Converters, and skated for about two hours a day at the local netball courts.

The day that I bought the skates, it was raining, but I could not wait another instant to try them out. So I went and skated in the rain. I strode very gingerly away from the fence, managed to roll to the centre of the court, stop, fall down in a comical fashion, and fail to get back up. To the great mirth of any onlookers.

But after much perseverance, this became the scene of success – forward and backward crossovers were learnt here (although with a complete lack of “hockey stance,” or knee-bend :P), and many sessions extended past sundown. These were some of my favourite sessions, skating alone through the dying embers of evening into the cool of the night.

My love for hockey is rooted in my love for skating. There’s nothing like it. Going far faster under your own power than nature ever intended you to go, coupled with the carving of skates and the spray of ice – bliss.

Hodson: natural born goalscorer.

When the Icehouse initiated “Skate all Day!”, I went and did just that, chalking up 8 continuous hours on the ice.  Even during my Masters exams, I was there for my hockey class – literally the only time I left my study-cave, barring actually going to my exams. Once I passed through those doors and strapped on my skates, nothing else mattered, there was no world outside of the rink, no troubles other than how to deke that defenseman into next week. As soon as you hit the ice, you slam those engines into afterburner and never look back.

One particular semester, early on in my hockey development, I had an irritatingly large gap in my uni classes on Tuesdays. As luck would have it, it synchronised with a session at the icehouse – naturally, I headed down, and almost broke into hysterics – there was no one else there when I arrived. My jaw hit the floor – all that ice was for me? I have never lost this feeling of giddiness when it comes to ice, my heart rate still increases measurably on the short walk from the carpark to the front door of the rink.

And then there’s hockey on top of all this. For me it’s like going to war. You strap on your armour. You unsheathe your sword. You and your fellow warriors stand as one to face the opposing legions. Especially at the development level, I’m certain it’s just as hectic/disorganised as a real battle would be anyway!

But after the battles have been waged and wars have been won and lost, there’s the flagon of beer/chocolate milk shared amongst friends at yonder tavern/7-11. These people share my fiery passion for the ice. I’m privileged to be a part of a rapidly growing hockey community here in Melbourne that’s forcing the existing status quo to undergo radical change. The most exciting part is being part of the change, and seeing our own hand present and prominent in the forging of hockey’s identity and place in Melbourne and Australia.

Others sometimes gawk and gasp at the revelation that we play ice hockey here, or perhaps cringe at the description of our latest hockey injury. Sometimes they say “But hockey is crazy! You’re crazy!” or “What? Hockey againtonight?” – I just reply with a cheeky grin, and tell them yep, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chris, face to face with goalie Jay Hellis. Pic: Jason Bajada.