Guest writer: Clayton Powell

Summer League is a week from resuming and so my team, the Interceptors, is tuning up; getting the band back together, as it were.

One of my Interceptor teammates, Clayton Powell, felt moved to write about what being part of a team means to him. This piece really spoke to me and I wish I’d written it. Over to you, Clayton…


By Clayton Powell

A little while ago a friend of mine had a chance to do a ‘come and try’ ice hockey session with her family. She decided to watch while the rest of them skated. I asked her why she passed up the opportunity. She said it looked scary. She thought she would fall over and hurt herself on the hard ice. And to be honest, I had the same thoughts at the start of my ice hockey journey.

The massive bags that fill your typical hockey change room. Pic: Nicko

The massive bags that fill your typical hockey change room. Pic: Nicko

This got me thinking about why I go out there each week and play hockey. How do I make that transition from an ordinary father of two to an ice hockey player each week? For me, it all starts in the change rooms.

Everybody files in with massive bags of gear. Having travelled from all corners of Melbourne. Then it is time to gear up. Everybody has their own routine. Their own order of putting things on. Variations in gear manufacturers and styles. It is amazing the transformation the gear makes to you mentally and physically. You feel like a warrior suiting up for battle. It gives you the confidence to do things you would never even attempt without it.

When you put on the gear you become a hockey player.

I must admit to not being the youngest player out there. And to carrying a growing number of nagging injuries. I’ve found that the gear can help to compensate for some of the injuries. It helps to support and protect joints and limbs that would otherwise hamper me. I actually feel more capable on the ice than off it.

And then you put on the jersey and you become part of a team. You now have other people depending on you. And people to support you. Everyone has the same jersey. All the differences in backgrounds and abilities melt away. You all go out on the ice as one.

Clayton Powell: "When you put on the gear you become a hockey player."

Clayton Powell: “When you put on the gear you become a hockey player.”

The final transformation occurs when you fill the team bench and assemble into your lines. Those two or three people who will spend the next hour watching out for each other, covering each other. This is the tight cadre that will be your backbone throughout the match.

And so, as the game comes to an end, what was it that enabled you to go out on the unforgiving ice and skate hard and fast? What is it that lets you frantically chase a puck through a maze of fast moving bodies? What is it that enables you to put your body on the line week in and week out?

It is the change room transformation. The gear, the camaraderie, the jersey, the team.

You then return to the change rooms to bask in the afterglow of your time on the ice. A time where you were more than individuals. More than the people who walked into the change room 90 minutes earlier. The jersey and gear come off. And as everyone dissolves back into their day to day lives you begin to dream of next week when the transformation begins all over again.

The most beautiful chime in the world

A puck can make many different sounds near the goal. There’s the dull thud of it hitting a goalie’s padding, or the soft thwack of it being swallowed by the goalie’s glove. There’s the clank of the puck bouncing off the goalie’s stick and the heart-stopping ping of it hitting the frame of the goal, usually riccocheting back into play.

But then there’s another sound – a sound that ranks among the best I have heard in my entire life*.

It’s the chime of the puck hitting the bottom metal framework of the goal, at the back of the net, behind the goalie.

Yes, my first goal in Summer League Rec D was a sensory overload.

The big moment. My first Summer League goal (We’re in our cool Arato-designed white-and-red Interceptor “away” jerseys. I was wearing No. 4 instead of my usual 17. Now known as lucky number 4.) Pic: Elizabeth Vine

As I wrote last week, I felt like I just hadn’t had a chance to skate in last week’s game, so I made sure I got three or four general skates in during the week, including a skate on the morning of Sunday’s game against the Jets. Nothing strenuous; just getting the legs moving and enjoying watching Chloé finding her legs on the almost empty ice.

Our coach, Will Ong, had reacted to my frustration, which was cool, and made me Centre, instead of Wing, on a fourth line of forwards, so I got to take face-offs and skate like a maniac from the jump.

There are different strategies at face-offs; even different stick-grips, depending on the situation. Mostly a Centre is hoping to knock the puck back to a D man, the theory being that that player has more time and space than the Wings and Centre who are all pushing and shoving and tangled with their opposition. The D can see who gets clear and look for a pass.

But we had several face-offs in a row from the face-off spot immediately to the left of the goal we were attacking. The fact it was on the left side was significant for me, because it meant my forehand shot was towards the goal.

I kept hunching over my stick, ready for the puck drop, looking at how close the goal was, only two or three metres away. Sure, there was the goalie, and several defenders between me and it, but if I could win a face-off cleanly… It was like a tee-shot in golf. I knew exactly where the puck would be, and everybody was stopped, flat footed.

Of course, it didn’t work. My opponent won the face-off, clattering the puck to the boards and his defender. The next face-off from that spot saw us tangle sticks, an inconclusive result, and the Jets smacked the puck to the other end for an icing.

Which brought us back to the same spot.

And the most sweetly hit puck of my career so far. My face-off opponent was a fraction early, swinging over the puck, but my blade found it and somehow, against all the odds, the shot was true.

Oh, man.

The visual of seeing the puck vanish through that tiny gap between the goalie’s right leg and the goal. That chime. The ref taking a moment to realise what had happened. The reaction of my teammates.

The goal itself wasn’t that important. I think it made the scoreline 4-0 to us, so it wasn’t some last second game-winner or anything like that.

But I felt this weight lift. That chime meant something else, for me alone.

It sounded a bell that I belong in this competition; that I can genuinely play. I’ve had goal-assists in every game and done some good things, but there was something about scoring that goal, about single-handedly finding the net – the coach called it “audacious” – that confirmed for me, finally, that I wasn’t kidding myself by trying to play Summer League after less than two years on the ice. That I can cut it enough to be there.

I suspect everybody playing Summer League for the first time, or any sport for the first time, carries that fear: will I be good enough? Will I be competitive? Will I be embarrassed?

That chime behind the goalie said: it’s okay. You can turn up and believe you deserve your spot on the team.

Celebration time: Yes, the No. 4 still pumping the air would be me. OK, I probably shouldn’t have kept doing this for 19 minutes … Pic: Elizabeth Vine.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a goal that does that, but we all need to look for that moment. For a goalie, it only takes a genuine, legitimate, stone-cold save. Or so many other moments within moments, which hockey games are full of. One of our team, Clayton, moved to a wing this week, from defence, and won a tough physical battle on the blue line, as well as finding his attacking game. Scarlett, the only woman playing for us on Sunday, tangled with bigger players and won her share of physical battles for the puck. Our most hot-headed defender, Mike Donohue, didn’t take the bait when an opponent tried to go toe-to-toe, a triumph of a whole other kind.

I’ve been determined that this blog won’t turn into a quasi-match report for Summer League. It’s why I haven’t gone blow-by-blow through our games as my team, the Spitfire Interceptors, has made its way to three straight wins to start the season, as has our sister team, the Spitfire Fighters. I’m sure we’re going to hit one of the more experienced, accomplished teams in the coming weeks and find our confidence tested.

But some moments just have to be noted. Ah, that chime. I’m still grinning like a school kid, listening to the ring of that goal over and over in my head. Hell, if they’d given me an assist on Zac Arato’s goal, despite the minor issue of a defender touching it between my shot and Zac’s, I’d have a two point-per-game average right now. Wayne Gretsky finished his career with a 1.921 points-per-game average. Just saying **

Hockey can be sweet.

* Other great sounds, in no particular order: thunder, the clink of glasses, the sound of surf, a Richmond crowd rising to a great goal, certain moans and sighs, a cat purring, child laughter, a guitar played properly, silence after a busy day.

** Career stats for further analysis:  N. Place: three games (Melbourne Summer Recreational League D).  Goals: 1. Assists: 3. Hat tricks: 0.
W. Gretsky: 1487 games (NHL). Career regular season goals (894), assists (1,963), points (2,857), and hat tricks (50). The next closest player in total points for the regular season is sometime teammate Mark Messier at 1,887 – thus Gretzky had more career assists than any other player has total points. Gretzky’s point total including regular season and playoffs stands at an imposing 3,239. (Wikipedia)

Guest writer: Clayton Powell


Today’s guest columnist is brave. I’ll let his writing speak for itself, however, Clayton, I will say a) I have absolutely felt the same way, especially when there are people around the  hockey circles we share who seem to never actually leave the rink at any point in their lives, and b) I’m jealous as hell that you scored a game-winner. I had my first ever penalty shot last Wednesday and couldn’t quite sneak it through the five-hole. Dammnit.

Other than that, thanks for providing a different perspective for the blog. See you on the ice. Nicko

The Ice Hockey Imposter

By Clayton Powell

I don’t love hockey.

Clayton Powell: part-timer made good.

I can feel the boos and hisses raining down on me already. Perhaps I better go back to the beginning to explain.

One of my friends told me that he was taking ice hockey classes. At first I thought he was pulling my leg. I didn’t even know that ice hockey was played in Australia, let alone that ordinary folk like us could play it. I was quite intrigued by this and after asking a few more questions decided to give this exotic sport a go. So I signed for a term of introductory hockey school.

I really enjoyed the challenge of learning to skate and learning how to play the sport. But at the end of that first term I had a choice to make. Hockey was fun but I wasn’t going to progress much further using the hire skates. They were just too uncomfortable and felt different every week. So either I gave it all away or got my own skates. I decided I would probably never be any good at it but was enjoying it too much to stop. So I bought some decent skates. I then got a little impulsive and within a few weeks I had my full kit.

Walking in to intermediate hockey school at the start of next term with a full kit of my own hockey gear felt really weird. I felt like an imposter. I was a barely adequate skater with poor puck handling skills. I had never played a real game of hockey and felt it unlikely that I ever would. I felt very self-conscious wheeling that bag in and tried very hard to put all the gear on correctly without asking any questions.

The turning point for me came in the last week of the term. Our scrimmage game ended as a tie. So we had a shoot out. I was near the front of the bench at the time the game ended. The first five shots on goal were blocked and it all came down to the last shot. Me. I thought very seriously about letting somebody else take it. Who was I kidding? I’m not a hockey player. I decided I couldn’t do any worse than the five guys who preceded me so out on the ice I went. One on one. Face to face with the goalie.

My main concern was not to lose the handle on the puck. After that it didn’t really matter. I couldn’t lift the puck and had no power in my shots so there was no way it was going in the net. I did a bit of a loop to get some angle and pushed the puck. By some miracle it went through the goalie’s legs.

I was in a daze as I skated back to the bench with my arms in the air. My wife and two young children were outside the rink screaming and my teammates were skating towards me for high fives. And I began to think.

I was really enjoying learning and playing but felt out of place. Maybe I’m not that good? Maybe I never will be great? But maybe, just maybe, there is a place here for me too? Some really good players took shots before me but I was the one who managed to get it done. In a team sport, everybody has something to contribute, no matter how small.

Clayton on the ice: Army’s support was vital.

A little while after this, while doing a general skating session, I bumped into Matt Armstrong. I began chatting with him about the different skating courses. I said I would probably be doing intermediate the rest of my life. There was no way I’d ever be good enough for dev league. Let alone an actual hockey club. He told me not to sell myself short. It was just a matter of keeping on trying and I’d get there. To be told that by one of the stars of the Melbourne Ice was a real shot in the arm. And the way he was completely approachable helped to bring down the barriers in my mind between us ordinary folk and the hockey players.

After reading the other guest articles on this blog, I feel like an imposter all over again. Hockey has not changed my life. It has not saved me. I really enjoy playing hockey but it has not taken over my life. Having a young family and a mortgage means I have very limited time and money to devote to hockey.

So, is their room for a part-timer among all the true believers? I sure hope so. With the rookies/spitfires making the prospect of playing on a real team a reality, I’m really looking forward to what this summer holds for all of us. Bring it on.