I’m not sure, in all 250-plus blog posts, that I’ve ever adequately addressed the delicate subject of Hockey Smell.
Put it this way: it’s fucking appalling.
Or to put it another way: things that probably smell better than sweaty hockey gear:
– an animal carcass in the hot sun,
– a municipal tip,
– off eggs that are, like, two weeks ‘off’,
– the Werribee sewerage farm on a bad day.
Or to put it another way: I was lucky enough to play in a social game on Sunday, to celebrate the engagement of two local hockey stars, Christine Cockerell and Nate Pedretti. He’s a goalie, but is somehow a good bloke, regardless. Yes, most people have a party to mark an engagement: these guys hired a rink for an hour. The teams were a mixed bag of friends and teammates from their years in Melbourne hockey and so a bunch of us started climbing into our gear in the Melbourne Ice rooms at Icy O’Briens, which was ironic because Nate has represented the Mustangs, and Chris (whose team was changing in the Clippyclops room down the corridor) plays for the Ice.
Anyway, those of us on Nate’s team were busy lacing on skates and pulling on armour when Veronica Ryan, from the Jets, wandered in with a toddler, and said something like: ‘Here you go, son. Breathe it in! Breathe in the hockey smell! Better get used to it.’
And we all laughed because this is the eternal truth of hockey: you will learn to live with an unfathomable stench. Like veteran cops attending yet another decomposing body. Or garbologists who seem to develop an impervious nose while running along the street, emptying garbage bins that have been fermenting for a week in 35 degree heat. It goes with the job.
My wife tolerates my hockey obsessions in many ways, but one iron-clad rule is that I have to have showered thoroughly, washed my hair and washed my hands, with soap, at least three times before attempting to climb into bed after a game (this is a rule that sucks, if I’m staggering home from a 10.30 pm or 11 pm puck drop). It’s the smell of gloves on the skin of my hands that is Chloé’s breaking point, which I regard as completely fair enough. I think if you gathered all the hockey gloves of Melbourne’s active players and put them in the middle of the MCG, it would be declared a potentially lethal biohazard disaster zone within seconds.
On Saturday, I took the concept of odour as a tactical weapon to a whole new level. We’d been camping down at Wilsons Promontory, and it had rained hard on Friday, mixed occasionally with strong grit-carrying winds. By the time I drove the 220 kilometres back to Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, I hadn’t had a surf, swim or proper shower for a couple of days. I’d hiked, worked up a sweat packing up the tent, and done other exercise. Dirt was caked onto my legs, and black soil was under my fingernails. It’s as straight-out filthy as I can remember being. Even when I clambered around for a night in the illegal catacombs of Paris a couple of years ago, and got caked head-to-toe in the yellow mud of those tunnels, it was a clean mud, and the water was part of the Parisian drinking system. Unlike camping filthy, which is the real thing.
And so I headed to Icy O’Briens, to take on the Mako Sharks team, straight from the drive and still unshowered. That’s right, I donned my stinky hockey gear over the top of camping stench, and headed out to play, working on the theory that none of the opposition would want to come within five metres of me all night.
It sort of worked. We had an entertaining, if chippy, two-all draw.
But I wasn’t finished. Sweating hard from the game, I got straight back into my grubby shorts and T-shirt, and headed home. Chloé had had hours to return to her usual highly hygienic state of cleanliness. I walked in like some kind of swamp creature from the living dead. But finally, at around 10.45 pm, I had the luxury of a shower in my home shower, not a dodgy campground shower, and shampooed and soaped myself almost out of existence.
Of course, it meant my gear had less than 24 hours to air before the engagement game, and so I was back in a world of dodgy hockey hygiene by mid-afternoon on Sunday, wearing an actual Australian team training jersey for what will certainly be the only time in my skating life. The engagement game featured a lot of veteran players, Australian women’s players, and skaters from divisions way above mine, and I felt well out of my depth. Luckily it was a social match. There was at least one moment where I tore down my left wing, pushing the puck, and eventually letting loose a shot (unsuccessful) on Stoney the goalie (normally a Cherokee team-mate) where I’m certain the opposition defender was just skating politely backward, giving me room and deciding not to a) kill me, or b) strip me unceremoniously of the puck through the entire sequence.
But I was on a line with Will Ong, who’s a mate and, more importantly, can really play, and I got some decent passes away and had some shots on goal. I love playing among players of such skill and experience. Passes are so crisp, positioning is so perfect, and man, some of them can skate! Oh, to have those wheels.
The game ended with the bride, Christine, taking a penalty shot on Nate, the groom. (This is the hockey world at its finest.) She skated in, deeked, beat him, and hit the sidebar. The puck stayed out, but Chris knocked the rebound in and celebrated wildly, even though, technically, that would be an illegal goal.
Care factor, zero. There’s no day-to-day, moment-to-moment referee to enforce the rules in marriage, my friends.
Suck it up, Natester.
Yes, the entire institution of matrimony summed up in one penalty shot. Yet another reason to love hockey, even if it smells like a bastard.