A finals weekend for the ages.

So, in the end, my team lost and I was sad, but if you move past that, the AIHL weekend of finals was pretty remarkable. Two nail-biting semi-finals and then a final, between the Newcastle North Stars and Melbourne Ice, that transcended both of them.

If you wanted to convince people that hockey is a sport worth watching in this footy-obsessed land, then the weekend would have been a great place to start.

Newcastle's moment of victory. Pic: Nicko

Newcastle’s moment of victory. Pic: Nicko

The final was brilliant. I used to be a boxing writer and standing on the glass, at my usual spot just next to the deliberately-punned Bell End, I was mostly struck by the similarities of this match to a great boxing bout.

Melbourne Ice was the complete team: a strong mix of locals and imports, who trust one another, play strong systems and have been at the top of the league for what, in sports terms, is forever. What was always going to be a vacuum after the astonishing Goodall Cup three-peat of 2010-11-12, has been followed by a narrow semi-final loss in 13, and then back to back losing finals in 2014-15. So close and yet not quite.

A former Ice player wrote to me on Friday night, saying he didn’t believe that Ice coach Brent Laver got enough press as one of the best coaches in the land. The former player said Laver was an astonishingly great coach, and should be feted.

I don’t really know Laver, beyond watching his teams, but he has certainly done a great job of nursing the team through the post-Jaffa years; negotiating some changeroom-shaking personality clashes, politics, the inevitable decline of some stars, and the need to blood new players.

Ice captain Lliam Webster shows the joy and relief of beating Perth in Saturday's semi. Pic: Nicko

Ice captain Lliam Webster shows the joy and relief of beating Perth in Saturday’s semi. Pic: Nicko

Last year, the team was smashed in the final by the uppity Melbourne Mustangs, and looked a long way off the pace when it mattered in the season’s finale. But this year, the Ice saddled up again, solidly made the finals, held off a desperate Perth team, 1-0, in a tense semi-final and then shaped up to the undisputed heavyweight champion of the season, Newcastle.

Which, to continue my boxing analogy, is the big puncher, with an anvil in both gloves. Newcastle is a fighter that knocks opponents out. Witness the team’s semi-final when it started slowly and was suddenly down 3-0, on the wrong end of some silky, skilful Brave play. But the slugger wasn’t out and bam bam bam, from late in the second period, Canberra suddenly found itself on the canvas, probably still wondering how. Geordie Wudrick, the NHL-rated Canadian import, who had scored a ridiculous 91 points in 28 games this season, had a third period hat-trick to get Newcastle to Sunday. This was the opponent that the Ice faced in the final: a one-punch knockout machine.

And so it proved. Wudrick inevitably scored the first goal and seemed to be on the ice for 45 of the 60 minutes, as far as I could tell. Alongside him most of the time was another import, defenceman Jan Safar (56 points in 28 games).

The best hair of the final. In fact, nothing short of a skating shampoo commercial. Well played, sir. Well played.

The best hair of the final. In fact, nothing short of a skating shampoo commercial. Well played, sir. Well played. Pic: Nicko

Meanwhile, the Ice also rolled its top two lines, but was the fighter without an obvious knockout punch, relying instead on a strong peekaboo defence and the ability to land regular punches, even if not knockout shots. It seems to me – and I haven’t watched as many games this year as I usually would – that the Ice has maybe lost a percentage of scoring power since the glory days. There was no Wudrick-type in an Ice jersey to have your heart in your mouth every time he was on the ice.

In the end, Newcastle won in overtime, on a penalty shot that I still don’t quite understand, although people who know the game better than me all shrugged was a fair and brave call by the referee. It looked to me like Ice defender Todd Graham just tied up Newcastle’s Brian Bales on a breakaway, stopping Bales from even managing a shot, but the call was apparently tripping.

The beaten Ice team watch Newcastle receive the medals. Pic: Nicko

The beaten Ice team watch Newcastle receive the medals. Pic: Nicko

Any way you cut it, the best team all season won the final, and it was Newcastle’s first for a while so good luck to them.

My take-outs from drinking it all in from among the Ice army? In no particular order:

TOMMY POWELL

I think, as far as the Ice went, Tommy Powell might have been my MVP. I thought his desperation was fantastic and oh, wow, what a goal he scored to level the final after Wudrick had struck. Tommy plucked a high puck from the air, just before it sailed past the blue line, everybody else surging the other way, and suddenly Tommy was one-out against the goalie. It was like watching somebody load a shotgun, rack it and then shoot. Tommy was so calm and sent an absolute exocet past the poor netminder before he could move.

LLIAM WEBSTER

Sure, I’m biased because these guys are my coaches and friends, but I thought Lliam’s opening shift, as captain of the side, was outstanding. He launched off the bench as the second shift, playing wing, and was everywhere, filling the rink and shrinking space for the Newcastle stars. He never stopped all day, even to the point of taking a professional penalty to stop Newcastle scoring deep in the third, only to see them score on the power play. And, as per last year, Webster showed his character by staying on the ice, applauding the victors, beyond requirements. Classy.

OH, THAT LAST ICE GOAL!

A stadium of Ice fans in despair, barely any time left, goalie pulled, a goal down, all hope lost, and then somehow Mitch Humphries was deflecting a shot past the goalie with 31 second left, to tie the game. I don’t think I’ve ever gone so nuts after seeing a puck hit the back of the net – even after one of the very few I’ve scored. Behind the glass was bedlam, and so much fun. Sure, not long after, we were also closest to the goal where Bales put away the penalty shot to win it, but that Humphries goal was an all-time happy memory.

THE OCCASION

Newcastle gear abandoned on the ice, after victory. Pic: Nicko

Newcastle gear abandoned on the ice, after victory. Pic: Nicko

I think the AIHL has to be a little careful with the final weekend. It’s always a great festival, but there is a danger to trying to become too slick, too professional, at the expense of the fans. I’ve seen so many sports go through these growing pains and it’s tricky. A crowd-funding campaign meant the finals were livestreamed, which was good, but I looked at Jaffa the ex-Ice coach dressed in a suit and tie, microphone in hand, and I looked at orange tape along the glass, with ‘media’ scrawled in Texta, where everyday fans have stood all year, and I looked at people with cameras being told that they shouldn’t be shooting because there were official league snappers, and I looked at the fact there were official or unofficial after-parties apparently happening at at least three different venues, instead of everybody coming together, and I just wondered if the organisers aren’t drifting away from the spirit of the event?

Obviously, the final shouldn’t be at some Seventies throwback rink with only 200 fans able to fit along the boards, and no technology, and no media coverage. We’re all blessed to have the size and facilities of The Icehouse, but there is a certain charm in the homespun, unpretentious amateur flavour of Australian hockey. I covered AFL for a long time, with its strict media rules and heavy-handed management. Please oh please don’t get suckered into becoming that, AIHL. If nothing else, consider this: why are the commentators on the live stream in snappy suits and ties? Just because ‘that’s what you do’? Why can’t hockey be different? And, more importantly, has the sport moved far enough that enthusiasts should be stopped from taking happy snaps in the stands and posting them on social media? Isn’t any coverage like that still golden for a growing sport looking for oxygen in the Australian sportscape? Food for thought.

IMPORTS

I don’t want to sound like a sore loser, but there is  a danger that winning the Goodall Cup could just become a inter-club arms race regarding who has the most lethal imports. Maybe that horse has already bolted? Seven of the league’s top scorers this season were imports (only Melbourne Ice’s Tommy Powell made the list as an Australian-born player, at #7) with Wudrick dominating everything, and five of the top eight goalies were imports. How do we truly develop local players if they are sitting on the pine, watching ‘amateur’ imports on accommodation/travel/job/I don’t know what else packages log huge minutes? I worry for Australian-born players trying to get elite exposure. And please believe me, none of this is to detract from Newcastle’s win: they just had an amazing roster of imports (three in the league’s top eight), as per the rules, so well done them.

THE CURSE OF THE MOBILES

Mobile phones should be turned off as you walk into the rink. Look, I’m as big a phone fiend as anybody but for some reason, on Sunday, my mobile decided to have one of those days where it overheats and drains its battery for no real reason. Which meant I turned it off for the final, and therefore actually walked around with my head up, looking at the world. But sometimes I felt like I was the only one. Wandering along the back of the stand between periods, all I could see was a sea of bowed heads, and huddled shoulders, intent on mini screens. I felt suddenly sad for days of banter and discussion between the action, especially during such a draining and pulsating game as the final. I don’t know if I can stick to this but I’m going to try to turn my phone off whenever watching major sport from now on.

NOISY VISITORS

A fully committed Newcastle fan. Pic: Nicko

A fully committed Newcastle fan. Pic: Nicko

Man, during play, the Newcastle fans were loud, and enthusiastic. I was standing behind the glass for a lot of the final, at the Zamboni end, but it sounded to me like the local fans were consistently drowned out by the visitors. To try and rectify this, I went up into the stands in the second period, hollered: ‘Come on, Ice, let’s finish these bums!’ and earned a long, hard, sad, shake of the head from a Newcastle man. It was a textbook ‘I’m very disappointed in you’ headshake that my dad would have been proud of in his time. This was a headshake that said I’d let the sport down. I’d let the team down. I’d let my fellow fans down but, most importantly, Nicko, I’d myself down. I was so shaken that at the next face-off, I yelled: ‘Good luck, everybody from both teams’ but he didn’t even look at me.

I was already dead to him. Cold, man. Cold.

I’m in counselling for that but was able to keep track of the  bottom line which is this: amazing finals weekend, everybody. Bad luck, Melbourne, Canberra, and Perth. You all played mightily when it mattered. Newcastle, well done and well deserved.

How good is AIHL hockey?

Now, let’s bring on Spring. Let’s bring on Division 3 summer hockey. And let’s bring on the AFL finals with Richmond in the mix, and let’s bring on the NHL training camps.

Melbourne Ice, take a deep breath. You’ll be back and winning the whole enchilada and soon. You know it, and I know it.

Well played, North Stars. Pic: Nicko

Well played, North Stars. Pic: Nicko

 

A Reality Check, in more ways than one.

This has been a little slow coming because I got distracted by manta rays and sharks, and then by coughing my lungs up for a few weeks. But in the middle of all that, on a remote island way off the coast of Queensland with no WIFI, I had the time and space to finally finish reading Will Brodie’s excellent book, Reality Check.

Will recently wrote for this blog about his two-phase hockey life, and, as you’d probably expect from a long-time mainstream newspaper and online journalist, the guy can really write. His regular AIHL reporting over the past few years was a huge, possibly under-recognised boon for the sport and is sadly missed since he quit Fairfax.

Reality Check, by Will Brodie

Reality Check, by Will Brodie

But his best work was yet to come. Last season, he followed the two Melbourne teams as they navigated their way through the trials, highs and lows of an AIHL season. He lucked out in the sense that the Mustangs came of age, eventually winning the Goodall Cup  over, guess who, the Melbourne Ice (and yes, I realise that is potentially a massive spoiler but then again, if you’re an Australian hockey fan and didn’t know that, then you’ve been off the map in ways I can’t help you with).

So Will got a good yarn, as Melbourne’s fierce-but-sort-of friendly rival teams duked it out all the way to the grand final at the Icehouse, but it’s the wider story and the wider characters of Reality Check that stayed with me. Will’s long history in the sport means he was able to really tap into the people who have kept hockey going in this country for years. Yet he also brought fresh eyes, making him an unlikely and invaluable chronicler. He was able to have detailed, knowledgeable conversations with everybody from new fans to the game, happily getting pissed pre or post-game, through to club presidents and imports, in every hockey-playing city and town in the country. Will sat in team mini-vans, sat up late with coaches and traveled to every AIHL rink and explored the nooks, crannies and idiosyncrasies of those diverse locations. All while throwing in lines like the one about a venue being so cold it offered warnings of future arthritis in his bones.

It all made for a cracking read, and I found myself emerging with three major takeouts:

  1. We need more rinks. A lot of people have been saying this for a long time but Reality Check emphasises the point over and over again. Hockey has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity over the past five years or so, in terms of AIHL fan numbers but maybe even more so in terms of newbies taking up the sport (like the guy typing these words, for example). Already, there is a crush of new players on waiting lists to play the looming IHV summer season that starts in September or so. Winter lists in Melbourne are pretty much full. Throw in training times, for clubs from the lowest social hockey levels to AIHL sessions, Next Level classes at Oakleigh, and Hockey Academy classes at the Icehouse (both at or near capacity), drop-in, and stick-n-pucks or skating sessions, and Melbourne’s two hockey rinks are loaded beyond capacity. I haven’t even mentioned speed skaters, figure skaters or other groups who also want the ice.
    Everybody knows the lack of rinks is an issue – and across Australia, not just Melbourne. There are endless plans, endless rumours of new rinks being developed, waiting for council approval, waiting for finance … but I remain worried that by the time new ice actually happens, if it does, all those wildly enthusiastic new players currently flooding the sport will have drifted away, frustrated by their inability to join a team and play. (Or by the secondary, related problem: that because two rinks can only host so many teams and therefore so many levels of competition, wildly varied levels of skill end up in the same divisions, leading to less-accomplished players feeling overwhelmed by playing hockey against skaters who should really be a division or two higher, if only there was room.)
  2. God, there’s a lot of love behind the momentum of an amateur sport like ice hockey. Time and again, through Will’s book, I was struck by the sheer commitment and dedication and hours of work being poured into the sport by people who have kids, real jobs, need sleep, have other things they could be doing. Again, just by kicking around Victorian hockey at the low level I do, I’m aware of how much work is required and is done by friends who are on committees, or within club management teams, or chasing sponsors, or scoring games, or doing the million other jobs. It’s really humbling and those of us who are not devoting themselves to helping hockey grow in such a grassroots, practical, time-consuming way, should at the very least take a moment to respect those who are. I know I do, and even more so after reading Will’s book, with his eye for those toiling glory-free behind the scenes. In fact, next time there’s a petty squabble about whatever the tempest of the moment is, wouldn’t it be cool if everybody could step back and consider how many unpaid hours the person they’re attacking, or who is attacking them, has put in? Breathe, respect one another, sort out whatever the issue of the moment is. And move on, brothers and sisters in hockey
    … (I know, I know: us idealists have no clue.)
  3. Us Newbies should remember we are Newbies. I’ve been around local hockey since 2010, having ‘discovered’ hockey, through somehow tuning into the Detroit Red Wings, in 2008. It feels like a long time, but it really isn’t. I feel like I know a lot of people in the community now and feel blessed that I happened to start this blog, on January 19, 2011, by chance at the exact moment a whole bunch of others were also discovering AIHL competition and the then fairly new Icehouse facility. Just as the early classes run by Army, Lliam, Tommy and co were taking off. And just as the Ice went on its three-peat run, the grandstands swelling, and the Mustangs arrived. And just as Next Level Hockey was gaining momentum at about the same time. Watching some of the rookies I started with kick on, even now making it to the AIHL rosters.

    The Melbourne Ice players salute the fans after a recent win at the Icehouse. Pic: Nicko

    The Melbourne Ice players salute the fans after a recent win at the Icehouse. Pic: Nicko

I feel like I’ve seen it all but reading Reality Check, I was struck by how people like me are still newcomers to the ranks. There are many people in Australian hockey who have invested decades into the sport they love. In Nite Owls competition, I once had the joy of skating with a bloke who captained Australia’s hockey team 50 years ago, and is still out there, on a Sunday night, effortlessly gliding past a flailing hack like me. But there are also so many others, such as, in my immediate orbit, the Webster family, driving the Ice team and club, on the ice and off, and the Hughes brothers, with their Oakleigh dream and Joey’s intensity and passion that inspires so many rising players, from L-platers to accomplished skaters. Next Level has evolved to the point of having its ‘Next Generation’ program, with a lot of thought and structure behind it. Meanwhile, at the Icehouse, the classes have become more and more sophisticated so that academy students can work specifically on high level skating skills or puck-handling, or game play, or pure shooting. It’s really exciting and it’s impressive, and it all happens because of the long-term and tireless commitment of actually only a few people. Will’s book did a brilliant job of shaking so many of these decades-of-service servants of the game into the spotlight for a brief moment, while never also losing sight of the fact that the sport needs to embrace the new arrivals, the fresh-thinkers, the left-field recent converts who might just take the sport to places it hasn’t been.
This has been a rambling piece. The only point of this particular blog is to add my voice to Will Brodie’s and salute the people who have made our sport rise in Australia and are now working equally hard to accommodate the growing numbers and logistical nightmares of its popularity.
And to say to Will, congrats: he has written one of the best hockey books you or I will ever read, and tied up in a bow everything that is great and worrying and awesome and frustrating about chasing a puck across a block of ice half a world away from the hockey heartlands.
If you haven’t bought Reality Check and read it, I really recommend that you do.

 

 

 

Splattered

Driving to hockey training on Wednesday, it crossed my mind: is this a good idea?

On Tuesday, I head to one of my favourite places in the world, Lady Elliot Island, a tiny speck off the coast of Queensland at the southern base of the Barrier Reef. Mackquist and I are going to dive for a week with the manta rays, and hopefully a whale or two if one passes while we’re underwater (which can happen at this time of year).

Lady Elliot Island - so small that the strip across the middle is the runway.

Lady Elliot Island – so small that the strip across the middle is the runway.

It’s peak manta season and I can’t wait to get on the plane, to see if you can really leave Victorian winter and be in the warm Queensland waters with up to 30 or more mantas at a time.

So, driving to training, the thought strayed into my brain that this would not be a good night to hurt myself. But just as quickly, I dismissed it, thinking: you can’t live like that. I’ve skated constantly now for more than four years and have mostly been okay. Why should a standard Wednesday Intermediate class be any different?

And so yes, you know what happened. About ten minutes in, Tommy Powell calls for two quick laps and off I go, skating as fast as I can. I actually love those fast laps: they kill your legs and lungs, but in a good way. It’s the best cardio workout I get all week. And so I throw myself at them. If I’m not the fastest skater out there, and invariably I’m not, at least I’m working hard.

Right up until a goalie was stretching near where I had to turn left, to pass behind the goals, and that made my turn a little sharper than I had planned, especially at speed, and before I could process it, I’d lost an edge on my skate and I was down, bouncing off the ice and careering, completely out of control towards the boards, less than two metres away and closing fast.

This is NOT how you want to hit the boards. Somehow, Ranger Brad Richards came out of this okay.  Pic: Getty.

This is NOT how you want to hit the boards. Somehow, New York Ranger Brad Richards came out of this okay. Pic: Getty.

Without trying I can think of five cases where I’ve witnessed a hockey player in this situation end up with a broken leg or collar bone. I can think of other lesser injuries, but still significant ones from uncontrolled slides into the wall.

I’ve had it happen a couple of times and had a badly hurt shoulder/upper neck from one of them.

All of this somehow had time to pass through my mind in the micro-seconds before I hit the boards.

I’m sure I’ve written in this blog before about once doing laps with Bathurst-winning racing car driver Jim Richards. I asked him: what’s it like when you go sideways and you know you’re going to hit the wall? What passes through your mind?

He stopped, squinted, thought about it and said, surprisingly, that he’d never been in that situation.

I said: you’ve never hit a wall?

And, to paraphrase, he said: no, I’ve hit plenty of walls, but here’s the thing … a racing car is an incredible piece of machinery. It can do things that a normal car simply can’t do. And I am a highly trained, expert driver, so I can drive that car in a way people normally can’t. So, if things have gone pear-shaped, I am doing everything I possibly can not to hit the wall … right up until the actual moment that I hit the wall. If I think about it, it’s always a bit of a surprise to hit the wall, because I was concentrating, working so hard not to, and then oh wow, I hit the wall.

Another nasty board collision. You do not want to lose an edge while heading towards the wall.

Another nasty board collision. You do not want to lose an edge while heading towards the wall.

Richards’ answer has become one of my central pieces of life philosophy: until you hit a wall, do everything you possibly can not to hit that wall. (Even if you end up crashing into whatever the wall is – and believe me, in life, I have hit my share of walls – you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that you did everything humanely possible not to, despite the fact you failed.)

But on Wednesday night, this all went out the window. Skates off the ice, 85 kilos of full body momentum sliding across the surface, at velocity, with two metres or less to stop, and no way to brake, I had no hope.

Time did helpfully slow down enough for me to think: Oh shit, Lady Elliot! Oh crap, mantas! Oh fuck, Macklin will kill me …

And I also somehow had time to think: do NOT stick out an arm or a leg to take the hit. I was a relaxed ironing board in armour when I collided – and it was a beauty. I hit the boards hard. Helmet took it. Right shoulder took it. Knee took it.

But a miracle. No joint got bent the wrong way; my helmet did its job. Two days later, I’m completely fine; a vague dull ache in my shoulder but nothing to stop me boarding a plane and diving.

Such a relief.

Later in the session, I went for a puck from one direction as a classmate came fast the other way. Again, the collision was a big one. Again, I skated away, intact.

Double sigh of relief.

Today I got an email from one of my brothers at the Bang, our social footy group. He wanted to know if anybody wanted to play in a real game of Aussie Rules, to help a team he knows make up numbers, this Saturday only.

No, I wrote back, as quickly as I could type. No, I will not be putting my body in line to twang a hammie or do a big knee. Not with Tuesday’s flight looming.

For once, just this once, I am letting myself be grateful I survived Wednesday’s big hits and I’m voluntarily putting myself in cotton wool between now and Tuesday. It’s all about Mackquist, the mantas and me.

My final dive, with a manta on the surface, at Lady Elliot, a few years ago:

 

Guest blog: Author Will Brodie’s two hockey lives

WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Nicko writes: I met Will Brodie through mutual writing/journalism friends quite a few years ago, and before my hockey adventure began, so the fact that he’d played as a kid didn’t resonate with me at the time, as it does now. However, as he’s rediscovered his love of the sport, and played a vital role in getting media oxygen for the AIHL at The Age Online, and now through his excellent book, ‘Reality Check‘, it’s been fun to see him reestablish himself in our crazy world. A while ago, I invited hockey players to write for the blog and had a series of guest writer ‘origin stories’ as a result. That offer has always remained open (and remains open, for anybody who wants to tell their story). Will found time, between marketing and selling ‘Reality Check’, to tell his yarn. Here it is:

A tale of two hockey lives

By Will Brodie When I chatted to Nick Place about his hockey journey, he remarked that the experience of those who first played in the 1970s was unknown to many of those who have taken to the sport since the advent of the Icehouse. He suggested I write about my origins in hockey and what it was like back then, and I was keen to share reminiscences of a formative, fondly remembered era.

Will Brodie, centre, as a young Blackhawk in 1977. With his best mates, Glenn and Tim.

Will Brodie, centre, as a young Blackhawk in 1977. With his best mates, Glenn and Tim.

I have had two hockey lives. My first began when I was a young child in the early 1970s, when I used a sawn-off stick as I mucked about with mates including Glenn and Tim Grandy at our Dads’ senior Blackhawks practices early on Sunday mornings. When senior scrimmage took over the entire ice surface, we repaired to the worn floorboards of St Moritz to improvise endless games with pucks made from balled-up discarded stick tape (suspiciously like electrical tape in those days). If we bribed our fathers at the right moment we would get cokes in small bottles, a style revived decades later as a ‘retro’ marketing/packaging ploy. Later we all played together in the Blackhawks juniors, starting as 10-year-olds playing under-16s. When I was 14, playing a game of footy and two games of hockey each Sunday, I hurt a knee, perhaps inevitably. The initial niggle came in a way unique to rough rinks in those days – condensation or leakage from the roof dripping down and forming nasty little yellow stalagmites which rose off the ice surface. I skated over one, felt a twinge and a later tackle from behind in a footy game finished my cartilage off well enough for me to spend weeks on crutches. Living on the suburban/urban fringe, I had started attending school in the city and, when I recovered, the prospect of training at midnight Friday – with a merged team which included members of our previous arch-rivals – was not enough to bring me back. I never made a decision to never again play, merely not to play that year, then the usual adolescent distractions intervened and by the time I was into young adulthood, the five-rink league of my youth had shrunk to just Oakleigh. As I write in Reality Check: “I meant to get back to hockey but never did”.

All hail the 1977 junior Blackhawks.

All hail the 1977 junior Blackhawks.

This first age of hockey of mine was blessed by a golden age of rinks in Melbourne. Like visiting VFL home grounds, playing at Footscray, Ringwood, St Moritz and Oakleigh was exciting and fascinating, each rink possessing a unique atmosphere. Dandenong was a good size, but felt like the converted factory it was; St Moritz was a magnificent faded relic, all art deco timber, and all too vulnerable to a cynical match; Footscray was always wet and less scary than you thought it would be; Ringwood was like the MCG of the sport, housing the slick Rangers and home to the brief incursion of the sport on to ABC TV; Oakleigh was the tiny, combative rink where they played stirring American marching band anthems ahead of senior finals games.

The old Ringwood rink. Man, couldn't we use that now!

The old Ringwood rink, ‘The MCG of the sport’. Man, couldn’t we use that now!

We played the Monarchs, Pirates, Hakoah, Rangers … Many of the clubs familiar to players these days are unfamiliar to me. Jets? Sharks? They are long-established but they were the product of mergers or changes which came long after my playing career. When we weren’t playing, we were often forming a very small, shrill cheer squad for the seniors, banging on the hoardings at the Dandenong Coliseum. When I walk through the Icehouse’s St Moritz bar these days, many of the names on the trophies are those of friends of my Dad that we cheered for, friendly hockey types who held court at the backyard barbecues where Glenn and I played hockey with fallen lemons. My Dad and his hockey friends consistently lunched long on Fridays, bottled wine to raise funds for the club and the Australian national team and went on holidays with their families together. They eventually all bought a property together, in the glorious bush of the Victorian Great Dividing Range. I still camp on that property with my family. Old hockey sticks were redeployed alongside our tents as prospective ‘bong-bong’ sticks in case errant snakes strayed too close to habitation. My brother still has a relic of one of those sticks, a shrunken red Titan. To me, Titan sticks were the fancy newcomer – I had grown up accustomed to KOHO and Sherwood, but such is the foreshadowing of memory; Titans were probably around for most of my childhood. The first impressions remain the strongest.

Hockey as Will Brodie used to know it: The 1977 Australian team that played West Germany.

Hockey as Will Brodie used to know it: The 1977 Australian team that played West Germany.

My second hockey life began in 2010 when my brother Craig took me to a game at the recently opened Icehouse. I fell back in love with the game instantly, amazed at the venue – the seemingly grandiose, unrealistic dream of decades previous made real – and the remarkable crowds, but mostly just the game itself, better than it had ever been played in Australia, and presented so much more ‘professionally’, with music and announcers. My hockey renaissance via the Icehouse came at around the same time Nick and so many others were taking their newfound enthusiasm to the next level by buying skates, taking lessons and learning how to play. Nick is a wholehearted sort of hockey lover – he had to play, not just watch. For those of us who have played but been away for a long time – the itch to play again never goes away. There is nothing like playing hockey. If you don’t play for a long time, it seeps into your dreams. I had my first skate in 30 years in mid 2012 and did my (other) knee (on terra firma) a week later. I don’t drive, I am not wealthy and my lower limbs are faulty – returning to playing hockey is not an easy choice to make at 48, especially when I have such vivid memories of being a competent junior. But the more I watched, the closer I got to the players and the ice surfaces by writing my book about the AIHL in 2014, the more the hockey dreams returned. The smell of sweat in the cold. The smell of lacerated rubber matting, decades old. The clacking sound of sticks, skates, pucks, boards. It is little wonder that the subconscious is activated by hockey – while one is sleeping, the most affecting sensations have their run of the mind and soul. Asleep, there is no rational mind saying ‘you’re too old/hurt/poor to play again’. My hockey dreams bring back very specific moments and sensations. I remember the jelly-legged fear and excitement when pulling up at a foreign rink ahead of a game. I remember the intoxicating odour drift of exhaust in the pre-dawn fog at Sunday morning practices as a diesel-powered tractor with chains on its tyres trudged up and down to clean the ice. The same tractors I would see in the fields near our camping getaway; Massey Fergusons rolled through my childhood like pets. I remember the forbidding holes at the corners of some rinks where snow was shoved down by flat, wide person-powered shovels. The red digital scoreboards which glowed either warmly or tauntingly depending on the numbers they exhibited.

1980 Blackhawks, featuring Will Brodie. You can tell they're hockey players because nobody is looking at the right camera.

1980 Blackhawks, featuring Will Brodie. You can tell they’re hockey players because nobody is looking at the right camera.

I recall the completion of pulling a jersey over your gear before a game, and suddenly being transformed into a player; the perfect satisfaction of a pass setting up a goal-scoring mate; the oxygenated agony of stops and starts; the post-practice glow, with all of Sunday still stretching ahead; ignominious losses that taught me that teams beat talent; the sensation of gliding a circle after having hustled for speed; the sensation of beating a goalie, sometimes a mystery worthy of In Search Of investigation, sometimes as simple as just being there in the slot. The game gets brutal at about the point I left it as a teenager – the need for elite physical conditioning and mental and physical toughness kicks in and angsty veins pump anger around the rinks. I may not have been tough enough to go far in hockey, and I was certainly not a good enough skater to end up playing for Australia like Glenn did. But if I had learned how to handle myself, I would have enjoyed that rush and slide of hockey for a lot longer. Truth is, when the game shrank to just Oakleigh, it took rare dedication to keep rocking up, travelling long distances, putting up with yet another year of the cold. You had to be a complete hockey tragic, and thank god there were enough of those wonderful beasts to keep the sport going. And thank god for the Icehouse, which gave the softer hockey lovers like me somewhere to reignite our passion for the game. If I was to play again, I would want to start by marching from Huntingdale station to brave frigid old Oakleigh. For the first time with a stick in my hands at least, I would have to reconnect with the rough charms of my childhood hockey, where everything is reduced to your skates, your stick, the ice and your teammates. Then I would accept the luxury of the Icehouse without shame, and maybe pull some strings to get them to put on that John Phillip Sousa marching music so I could imagine I was about to play a senior final. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * THE PLUG: Will Brodie’s new book, Reality Check, is a personal account of following the Melbourne Mustangs and the Melbourne Ice through the 2014 AIHL season. Will went on all the road trips with the teams and hung out behind the scenes at the Icehouse. It’s a beautifully crafted and fascinating account of an exciting year in the AIHL, and the players, coaches and volunteers who make hockey happen in this country. I fully recommend it, and not just because Will is a mate. It’s a cracking read! CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE REALITY CHECK.

Ho Ho Ho Homiliation!

The player skates fast, flying on edges, behind my net and I move to block the space where he has to come out. He flicks the puck straight over my stick, catches it and then taps it between my legs. As I try to process this, which has happened inside less than a second, he’s gone, like smoke into a flame, and by the time I turn around he’s skating through the blue line.

‘Goddamn it, Army,’ I call when I’ve skated to a point where I can yell at him. ‘You could at least try to pretend like that was difficult.’

Lliam Webster moving at maybe 50 per cent capacity during the coach scrimmage. Pic: Nicko

Lliam Webster moving at maybe 50 per cent capacity during the coach scrimmage. Pic: Nicko

Matt Armstrong, Melbourne Ice star, Canadian and former European pro, just laughs and apes my habitual legs-too-far-apart stance and cruises effortlessly away, faster than my fastest skating. I cuss quietly to myself and go chase the puck, because now Shona, captain of Melbourne Ice and Australia, is streaming through the middle and I know a pass will be coming if I can get to the right spot.

The final night of Hockey Academy at the Icehouse is always a lot of fun. Our coaches throw away any pretense of teaching – apart from schooling us in real time on the ice – and jump onto the ice for a scrimmage.

It’s actually not humiliating at all – I just really wanted to use that headline. It’s a night of miracles and wonder, although not in the Paul Simon kind of way. It’s a night where you can battle your way to the far goalpost and pretty much know that Tommy Powell (Australia and Melbourne Ice) will somehow weave the puck through eight legs and four sticks and a goalie, to land it right on your tape for the tap-in goal. It’s a night where Lliam Webster (captain, Melbourne Ice and Australia) will calmly stick-handle for what seems like an eternity, all within half a metre of his body, as hockey students flail and fail to steal the puck. It’s a night where goalies have nightmares, watching giant Melbourne Ice defender Todd Graham wind up from the blue line or watching Matt Armstrong come swinging in, deeking and curving, all angles and power, winding up and then last-second passing off to a player they hadn’t noticed to their left who has an open net. Or where Shona will just skate alongside a player, gently separating him or her from the puck without them quite realising until it’s too late.

It’s so much fun. And it reminds you how good the best actually are.

I’ve been really lucky to experience this moment across several sports, from my time as a sports writer. I once drove laps of a raceway with Bathurst veteran Jim Richards in his Targa Rally 4WD Porsche. It had rained – real Queensland rain – for an entire day beforehand and the track, on the outskirts of Brisbane, was underwater. Richards drove at roughly 200 kph around wide corners and faster down the straight, hurtling past smaller, hard-revving cars before jamming the brakes, screw the weather, to take a sharp right hander. Then flooring it, going through gears back to 200 or so. While doing this, casually chatting with me – I was surprised how easily we could hold a conversation given the screaming engine and the fact we were both wearing race helmets.

shona coach scrimmage‘So, what do you think?’ he asked me, looking across to the passenger seat and grinning as the car sliced impossibly fast through water and revs and blurred landscape.

‘You’ve got the best fucking job in the world,’ I said, meaning it, and he laughed, shoulders shaking, even as his hands and legs worked the car down through gears and brakes for a corner coming up, like, NOW.

People asked me later if I was scared but I wasn’t at all. In fact, what struck me more than anything was that this was Richards driving at a sponsor open day, giving supporters (and one feature writer) laps in the car. He was probably driving at 70 per cent of capacity, not about to push the car anywhere near its limits with passengers alongside. The speed and torque and thrill weren’t even at maximum revs, which had me wondering what it must be like when he really turns it on.

I had the same thought once in my tennis writing days. I can’t remember if I’ve written about this before but I used to play a lot of tennis and I hit possibly the best serve I can ever remember hitting in my life to Jason Stoltenberg, then a top player, at a Tennis Australia media open day. I decided, on a big point in a friendly doubles match, that there was no point playing for percentages. Stolts had been chirping me mercilessly as I bounced the balls at the baseline, preparing to serve, and so I wound up, swung from the ankles and somehow, against all the odds, absolutely creamed it. I swear I could not hit a tennis ball any better than that and my serve was the best part of my game. This one was aimed at the sideline of the backhand court and it hit the outside edge of that tramline, skidded off the paint and was gone, man, gone.

I barely had time to register the extent of how legendary I was, before a green blur passed my feet as it landed just inside the baseline and disappeared. Stolts had taken maybe half a step to his left and effortlessly backhanded the return past me before I finished my follow-through.

Lliam at full capacity during the coach scrimmage. Pic: Nicko

Lliam at full capacity during the coach scrimmage. Pic: Nicko

I couldn’t disguise how absolutely gutted I was (yes, my partner and I lost the set), and he almost died laughing, but later I told him it was instructive. Hanging out on the tennis tour, and hitting a few balls here and there, reporters would start to think it doesn’t look so hard, maybe with the right practice I could get out there and aim for Wimbledon … some even entered qualifying for the satellite tour, the lowest rung, and got found out quickly.

But Stolts’ almost-yawning return of my absolutely best ‘100 per cent can’t hit it better’ serve ensured I never had those delusions. (My dad was a genuinely competitive Australian tennis player and thought about going on the world tour when it was ‘shamateur’, but then one day he had to return serve to Neale Fraser at training and Fraser broke 13 strings on dad’s racquet. Dad became an engineer.)

It runs through all sports: think how bloody good at football all those kids who don‘t get drafted into the AFL are. Think how impossibly good Test batsmen are, or bowlers.

So last night, I was there again, being reminded of just how impossibly vast the gap is between those at the top and us everyday mortals. And this is with Tommy, Lliam, Army, Todd and Shone operating at maybe 50 per cent capacity if we students were lucky. And without taking anything away from our coaches, it needs to be remembered that there are then clear levels above them before you get to the rarified air of the AHL and elite Canadian or European leagues, not to mention the NHL. Just how fucking good must Pavel Datsyuk be? Or a younger Wings lesser light like, say, Tomas Jurco, for that matter? Not that either of them are scoring any goals just now, but that’s another story.

Dev League has had a very high standard this term. It’s full of winter players keeping sharp and summer Div 2 players, which means they can play. But the coaches last night made everybody look like P-platers without really breaking a sweat. Not bothering with much armour, getting a puck back if they lost it, just having fun as we worked as hard as we could.

At one point in Dev, Tommy drifted past me as we all set up for a face-off in our defensive end. He said: ‘When the puck drops, just go.’

He nodded towards our goal at the other end. ‘Go.’

As left wing, I huddled over my stick as usual and as Lliam, as ref, dropped the puck, I did as instructed and took off. Didn’t even see who won the face-off. Just skated.

Sure enough, out of the sky comes a puck. Tommy had got it, as he knew he would, and lobbed it high into the air from deep in defence to the red line, the puck landing about a metre in front of me and dying as it bounced so that I could scoop it with my stick and charge the goalie. I have no idea how far behind me the White team opponents were but it felt like I had three quarters of the ice to myself. Of course, I overthought it and tried to go high and the goalie got a glove on it to stop the goal. Dammit. But what a move by Tommy.

Imagine being able to do that. Imagine being able to be like Army who tossed the puck from behind the net over the goal frame and into the goalie’s back and then the goal. Imagine being able to be Shona, not bothering with armour, as she sweeps the puck even off the Melbourne Ice men, turns on the burners and then stick-handles for as long as she needs to before one of us eventually arrives for a pass and maybe even a shot.

Or Lliam who seems to love the crazy stick-handling as mentioned and then the blind pass or the skate-kick pass.

We all struggle to keep up, occasionally feel our hearts soar if we actually manage to poke-check a puck away from one of the coaches, and enjoy receiving their silky passes.

It always means it’s the end of term when we have these games. This time, it’s the end of another hockey year. Every year ticking over gets closer to when playing competitive hockey will get beyond me and so I tend to get melancholy as I drive home through the night. Big Cat wasn’t there tonight either, which felt weird, but I love the hockey community so much that there were endless people to chat with and laugh with and commiserate with after another coach had skated around them, barely breaking a sweat.

After such a shitty week for everybody, with the Sydney siege by that mentally ill crackpot, it was beautiful to be out on the ice, eyes and mind for nothing but the puck. I missed a lot of sweet coach-delivered chances, but I also buried a couple, so it was a good night for me.

Now the skates are drying and my gear is hanging for the final time this year, I’d imagine.

Roll on 2015 and whatever the next hockey adventures are going to be. I can’t wait.

Have a great Christmas and see you all in new year. Let’s Go Red Wings.

Alter egos.

I turned up for work today in what Cassius, our six-year-old, calls ‘a handsome dress’, which is Cassius-speak for a suit and tie.

Less than 12 hours ago, I was wearing my hockey armour, flailing around on the Henke Rink as my dev league team got smashed in the second last go-around of the year.

Next Wednesday will be an even more dramatic change-of-gear (literally) as I have to somehow not drink (much) at a State Library Christmas party before heading to the Icehouse rink for the final Intermediate and Dev classes of 2014. Straight from Christmas formal wear to armour and skates. Can’t wait. I might even see if I can leave my smelly giant hockey bag in the foyer to really make people do double-takes.

One way by day ...

One way by day …

Of course, we’re all living this crazy double life. One thing by day, another by night (or wait, was that Princess Fiona in Shrek? Yes, I think it was).

In my time in hockey (coming up on five years), I’ve played on teams with political advisers, rocket scientists, musicians, an air conditioning repairman, cops, surveyers, lawyers, a doctor (well, he actually never turns up for my team, so I’m not sure I should count him), a video game architect, an editor, nurses, teachers, an alcohol salesman (clearly one of my better friends), engineers, a crazy R&D genius, computer programmers, developers, a landscape gardener, a mad chef, a priest and so many more.

In fact, to write this blog, I asked a Facebook hockey group what people did for jobs away from hockey? In no particular order, hockey players replied:
Electrician, surveyer, project manager, warehouse manager (alcohol – another friend!), engineer, IT managing director, events and communications for a not-for-profit, client relations – finance, NHL professional (sure, Will Ong, sure – I actually have that on my LinkedIn profile. Not much sense of humour on LinkedIn, I’ve since discovered), chief executive officer, IT guy, IT architect, IT analyst, techer/musician/retail manager, admin officer, mechanic (in fact, wind tunnel technician) (!!), myotherapist, sales, senior systems admin, teacher, occupational health and safety manager, IT network engineer, arborist, builder, graphic designer, landscape designer, another electrician, financial planner, logistics manager, unemployed, haematology clinical trial corordinator, hospitality, financial planner, AV technical director, media and journalism student/dental nurse, political and economic researcher/analyst for the Japanese Government (I can verify this – legit), cabinet maker, window cleaner, furniture upholsterer/cabinet maker, computer science student (with ambitions to be a pool boy in ‘one of those movies’), builder, documentation control officer working to be a sports therapist, pharmacy assistant, and finance and operations manager.

That was the response within an hour and, as was debated hotly on the thread, didn’t take into account all the ‘tradies’ who probably aren’t on Facebook at 10 am because they’re actually busy working and stuff … so we can safely throw a bunch of tradies onto that list, guaranteed.

FRIDAY UPDATE: Add to that list: IT, developer, sparkie, sparkie, metal tradie, baker, software engineer, arbourist, air traffic control (Pushing Tin – one of my favourite movies) , brain surgeon, student, lollishop worker, home duties (aka looking after kids), logistics, ‘pro gamer and porn star’ (AKA: the goalie is unemployed, mostly), accountant, public servant, clinical researcher making sure drugs are safe for use (assuming legal drugs here but this is Renee, so…), sparkie, teacher, forklift operator/storeman/shitkicker, cabinet making DJ, concreter, draftsman, physiotherapist, retail therapist, environmental engineer, financial controller, illegitimate businessman (by which Ray means: painter – finest ute in hockey by the way), more IT, business banker, more sparkies, nurse, hand model (made me laugh, Matthew – Seinfeld reference, or Zoolander, or both?),  ‘Build live size animatronic creatures like dinosaurs and dragons. For real(Nerissa Box may win the whole enchilada for that job), mental health worker and IT software developer. Phew.

AAAAAAND, BACK TO THE BLOG:
How cool is that list? I’m sure all hockey players know the moment where you tell people about your sport/passion and get the response: ‘Oh, isn’t that a violent sport for meatheads?’

... another by night.

… another by night.

It’s so not the case. Personally, I think nothing looks hotter than a woman dressed in full executive kit and high heels, carrying a giant hockey bag and sticks along Pearl River Road to the Icehouse. And it’s always entertaining when a player shows up in suit and tie, then yanks all that off to drag chest and elbow guards on. The list of occupations is so wildly diverse and interesting. And it explains why a hockey change-room is such a vibrant, fun place to hang out (except for after a 6-1 loss).

It also means that no matter what your need, from better wiring at your house to requiring an international spy to steal secrets from Luxembourg, you can probably tap into that skill set somewhere among the small but tight hockey community. I was talking to Lliam Webster who said he broke his arm badly, during a game at Oakleigh, as a 14-year-old and ended up at a local medical centre where they did a dubious job of fixing it, and so he ended up at the Royal Childrens where, lo and behold, a senior member of the Nite Owls (Sunday night and social comp ‘veterans’ hockey – see previous blogs) happened to be the main bone guy. Problem solved. Once in the hands of a hockey guy, all due care and consideration was taken and the teenager with the crooked mended bone is now captain of Melbourne Ice and Australia.

To me, this is part of the joy of hockey – that we come from all directions for the one love. Whether in the stands, cheering, or on the ice, skating, it’s a very multi-cultural, multi-class, multi-everything group of people.

I have my usual hockey hangover today, despite the unlikely suit and tie, and a big networking lunch this afternoon. But I know that all over town, others wearing whatever their daytime ‘alter ego’ disguise happens to be, are nursing similar hockey bags under their eyes. That rocks.

Let’s keep it as our little secret, here in this hockey outpost. The non-skaters never need to know.

You can’t go back

Police Squad! - In Colour!

Police Squad! – In Colour!

One of the greatest moments of ‘Police Squad!’, one of the greatest (in my humble opinion) American sit-coms – the forerunner to ‘The Naked Gun’* and Leslie Neilsen’s debut as the magnificent Sgt Frank Drebin – is when Drebin and Ed, his offsider, go to Manhattan’s Little Italy district to interview the widow of a recently murdered man. As Ed dutifully interviews her (‘Did your husband have any enemies? ‘Well, the Democrats didn’t like him.’), she wails: ‘Oh, do you know what it’s like to be married to a wonderful man for 14 years?’ and Frank says, no of course not … but I did live with a guy once. He then goes into a long, non-sequitur reminiscence that is just breathtaking scriptwriting, from where I stand. Breaking the fourth wall, he eventually muses that living with the guy’s son just wasn’t the same.

‘You can’t go back,’ he says wistfully, as Ed asks: ‘I know this is a long shot but did he ever eat chop suey? … it was just a hunch’.

Genius. In fact, dammnit, I might have posted this before because I love it so much but what the Hell. Just spend two minutes watching this. Please.

So the hockey relevance of all this? Well, it’s kind of obvious, I would have thought: my stick died recently.

This doesn’t sound like such a big deal. Sticks are plentiful and if you look behind your average NHL bench, there’s a quiver of sticks for each player, to grab if one breaks – which it often does, given how hard those guys are hitting the puck … and each other, and each other’s sticks.

But I loved my stick. I found it in Chicago in 2011, when Big Cat and I travelled to the outer burbs to a huge barn called Total Hockey. (Mackquist being Mackquist, he’d started the day by saying: ‘Oh, I have a friend in Chicago so I’m going to see her today. See ya.’ and caught a train God knows where …) That left Big Cat and I in a dedicated hockey city, and we made it count. For a couple of Australians used to having to choose from a smattering of hockey kit at Bladeworx in Hawthorn, or the tiny shop at Oakleigh’s rink, or the small selection of gear available for purchase at the Icehouse, Total Hockey was basically Gear Porn.

Picture an entire wall of gloves. A. Wall. Picture racks maybe 25 metres long, with sticks, endless sticks, on both sides of the divide. Every curve that had ever been invented, and every flex variation, length, and brand.

The whole store was like that. Basically, if you’re in Australia, imagine a Rebel Sport store, but ALL HOCKEY. Yes, that’s what we were experiencing. Willio and I walked in and just went: ‘ooooooooooooh.’

I was actually pretty happy at the time with the gloves and the stick I was using back home in Australia. It’s funny, now, three years later, to think how unformed I was then as a player. I guess I still am now, but the Nicko Place who used to wobble around the ice in 2011 would (I’m reasonably sure) get mostly smoked by the Nicko Place who wobbles slightly more efficiently around the ice now. Definitely, my passing and shot were nowhere near what they are now, so it didn’t matter as much which stick I was using.

But as Big Cat held and weighed and considered every right hand stick in the barn, I wandered the leftie sticks and poked around. And then happened to pick up a Reebok, 85 flex, Crosby curve.

My beloved 2011 Reebok stick.

My beloved 2011 Reebok stick.

There’s a scene in the first Harry Potter book/film where Harry goes to the wand shop and is told that the wand chooses the wizard, not the other way around. This felt like the hockey equivalent. For some reason, the moment I held this stick, it felt ‘right’. I just knew this was my stick. It had chosen me.

(I then wandered over to the glove wall and tried on a pair of gloves that sucked onto my hand and form-fitted to the degree that I had the same feeling, that I simply couldn’t not buy them. They died recently as well, so I bought some really decent Easton gloves, had hands of stone for a few weeks, then sucked it up and went and bought the new version of those Chicago gloves. (Vapor A2’s, if you’re wondering.) Now my hands are happy once more.)

But back to the stick. I – or it – was totally right. As my hockey improved and I began actually playing competition, my trusty Reebok stick was a constant companion on the journey. We scored goals together. We learned to saucer pass and cross-ice pass to a moving target. We even flirted with lifting shots to the top corner of a goal. It was with this stick that I scored my first-ever official IHV goal, basically golf-shotting a face-off drop straight between the goalie and the left post at Oakleigh. And where I managed to not score a goal through the most unlikely manner of striking a shot too high at the same end of Oakleigh, so that the shot pinged off the top bar and stayed out. That would have been my first goal for the Cherokees, so it still hurts that I somehow overcooked it.

But time and use caught up with my old Reebok. The toe of the stick started to crumble and became jagged. I began taping the end but finally Army, at the Icehouse, ruled that it was pretty dangerous; that you wouldn’t want to catch somebody with this now ragged fiberglass. I knew he was right.

So Big Cat and I headed to Oakleigh and I tried a dozen or more sticks and none of them had that Chicago moment, of the hockey angels singing as I hoisted My Stick. I bought a Nexus which is a perfectly fine stick, and have spent a couple of months getting the hang of it, to the point that I can now trap pucks, shoot, do all my usual things with it, but it’s never felt the same.

And then last week, I was early for a meeting in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, and wandering the strip, happened to cruise into Bladeworx.

Everything old is new again ... the 2014 Reebok.

Everything old is new again … the 2014 Reebok.

There, sandwiched between a bunch of sticks, was a left-handed Reebok, 85 flex, Crosby curve.

Ermergerd!

It’s not exactly my old stick: I think it’s actually a level or two below the technology in the original, but I bought it – $79 off the listed price: thank you, Bladeworx – and used it last night in dev league and it felt great.

I still like the Nexus and it’s cool that I have a couple of sticks to use now, if one breaks. But I suspect I’m going to find myself more and more using the Reebok.

There’s just something about that stick. Sorry Frank Drebin, but you were wrong: when the stars align, you actually can go back.

* NOTE: Police Squad’ is available on DVD and, I think, on AppleTV. It only ran for six episodes in 1982 (two years after ‘Airplane / Flying High’ had hit movie screens) because the American audience simply didn’t get it. Six years later, the Zucker brothers revived Neilsen as Drebin for ‘The Naked Gun’ on the big screen and the concept clicked. The movies are good, but this TV series was amazing. Now I think of it, you can probably watch the whole thing, or close to it, on Youtube… enjoy.