Guest writer: Brendan Parsons on scorekeeping

The scorer's box, looking down on the Ghetto's ice. @ Oakleigh.

The scorer’s box, looking down on the Ghetto’s ice. @ Oakleigh.

A change of gear today. Ever wondered who is operating the scoreboard and compiling the teamsheet at any given game? Even in Rec D, summer league, in Melbourne, a bunch of tireless almost-volunteers work to make it happen – and we are damn grateful. (I’ve only been in there long enough to feel sheepish that I don’t help more.)

A big thanks to Brendan Parsons for taking us behind the glass, ice-side, to explain the magic.

Hockey scoring: not for the faint-hearted

By Brendan Parsons

“Shit!”

“What was that?”

“I didn’t see! Get ready whatever it is.”

“What number?”

“Use double zero, just make sure you get the two in right, we can fix it after.”

“I’m on it.”

“Hey can I –“

“Shut up!  Hold on a second – watch the ice – anything coming in on the radio?”

“No…  OK, we’re good.”

“Time?”

“Fourteen twenty seven.”

Radio hisses

“Hey, you there?”

“Yep, what was it?”

“Fourteen, tripping, two minutes.”

“Ok, got it.”

“Sorted – shot on – two shots, home.”

The score box at Oakleigh ice rink is nothing short of parody of a TV newsroom– but without the Sorkinesque hallway walking.  Scraps of paper litter the eagles-nest perched high above the stands.  Aged, yellow control boxes operating the scoreboard and clock flash their analogue red LEDs alarmingly and intrusively.  Only the edges of the vintage, leather stools are used by the scorer and timekeeper; the scorebox is no place to sit in comfort despite its relative warmth.  Snacks and coffee sit safely away from the equipment, but close at hand for the occasional 20 second break.  The computer hums and grinds to process the demands of the byzantine excel spreadsheet.

This isn’t scoring a cricket match – an ice hockey game moves at the speed of the ref’s whistle (which is the speed of sound, so it’s pretty fast.)

With the growth of beer-league hockey in Melbourne, the league should not have been surprised by the massive response to their call for timekeepers and scorekeepers in the summer league.

I answered the call to give back to the league which I have been only taking from so far.  After volunteering, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a (modestly) paid gig. The pay nearly covers the cost of the non-kosher snacks (for wannabe hockey athletes at least) consumed within the box.

Working in the box has given me a new appreciation for the support structure required to play hockey, and the importance of doing things right; like wearing clear and consistent numbers on your uniform, handing in proper team sheets, and only playing registered players.  In a recent game, the numbers on one player’s back, arms and helmet didn’t match – and they wonder (and complain) how the ref may wrongly attribute a goal.

Rookies Rachael Hands and Lliam "Apollo" Patrick man the scorer's box during a Rookies v IBM social game.

Rookies Rachael Hands and Liam “Apollo” Patrick man the scorer’s box during a Rookies v IBM social game.

The box requires two people.  The time keeper is predominantly in charge of keeping the clock running, keeping the scoreboard up to date, displaying penalties and, at Oakleigh, controlling the walkie-talkie which serves as our only link to the ref.  The score keeper operates the flawlessly macro-ed score sheet.  Both need to watch and record all shots on goal – a call requiring consensus, as not every goalie’s ‘save’ is a shot on goal.*

You begin to appreciate the teams that play cleanly – minimizing penalties, playing around the opposition and not through them.  You notice the teams that continually lob pucks to the net, like a prisoner in solitary confinement with only a tennis ball.  You start to feel how each team constructs, and reconstructs, their lines through the game.  You see how goals and assists are not the golden metric against which to measure a player’s skill.

With all the sound and fury of a hockey game below you, from your cloistered, anonymous, impartial isolation, you can see the beauty of the game in its rarer moments. It’s a haven from the regular week; removed from quotidian mediocrity.  A Zen Koan, not requiring anything from you but the application of the rules. No hype, not fans; just the game itself.

But mostly, it’s a pleasing way to spend a Thursday night, or a lazy Sunday afternoon; watching hockey from a heated room.

*A shot is counted only if, with the goalie removed, it would have been a goal.  Brilliantly catching a puck that was not going straight into the net unfortunately does not count.

A final game sheet, as produced by the scorers from every official IHV game. Oh, wait, did I happen to pick one out where No. 4 (Nicko Place) got an assist and an unassisted goal? Wow, what are the odds?

A final game sheet, as produced by the scorers from every official IHV game. Oh, wait, did I happen to pick one out where No. 4 (Nicko Place) got an assist and an unassisted goal for the Interceptors? Wow, what are the odds?

Canada 5, Nicko 0

So, the short story is that the Champs handed the Interceptors our collective arse on Sunday. Strangely, I left the Icehouse feeling much better than after our loss the week before.

Maybe it’s because the penalties seemed about even? Maybe it was because we landed four goals, even if 10 went the other way? Maybe I was just coming off such a clusterfuck of a week in that bastard known as the Real World that a hockey scoreline simply couldn’t rattle me beyond acceptable levels? Who knows?

Or maybe it’s because, in fact, we were beaten by one really good Canadian and his mate.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a rant, or sour grapes. We were beaten fair and square. Well played, Champs.

Andrew Poss playing for the Champs. I mostly watched his back as he skated away from me. Pic: Facebook

Andrew Poss playing for the Champs. I mostly watched his back as he skated away from me. Pic: Facebook

But five of the Champs’ goals were scored by a guy called Andrew Poss, who carried at least three of them, from memory, end-to-end before casually deeking our goalie to score. Like a Melbourne Ice player in dev league against rookies, a Test cricketer joining a work social match or an NBA basketballer against a weekend amateur team. His mate, Harley Hancock, was also barely breaking a sweat in beating us.

Does it make me feel better or worse to know that Andrew is apparently from Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada, and is a former, or maybe resting, member of a team called the Northstars in the Edmonton Municipal Hockey League? I guess there’s no real shame to being sliced and diced by an experienced Canadian player. But how depressing that I remain so far off the pace. Note to self: DO NOT move to Edmonton and decide to play hockey over there, if Andrew Poss is the average everyday player in that town.

I had a bad game on most levels. I’d been yearning for more skating and more responsibility, the coach gave me both and I didn’t do enough with my moment. Skated hard but ineffectually as this Poss guy and Hancock, in a black jersey with masking tape numbers, carved us up.

The worst moment was after a face-off near our goal in the first period. I was Left Wing and the Champs won the face-off and shot the puck across the slot. It literally grazed my stick. If I’d trapped it, it might have been a fraction of a second of just me and the goalie. Might have been. But instead the puck grazed the toe of my stick, and I realized it was a set play, releasing Poss, lurking behind me, to carry it the length of the ice to score, Interceptors and I trailing helplessly in his wake. It went like that the whole game and Andrew seemed like a decent guy, not celebrating too hard after his fifth.

Hockey in Victoria remains a strange beast. I try to stay well out of politics and all the off-ice theatre that seems to dominate the sport. However, I do think one of the better decisions in recent times was to ban Winter League players from summer comp. Winter League is a much tougher competition, by all accounts. There’s a player draft, so you get chosen by clubs if you’re good enough. It’s intense and the standard is high. Last summer, as these players came back to Recreational League D, which is where I now play, they smashed teams made up of fledgling rookies such as myself. Turning up for training at the Icehouse this time last year, we’d hear horrified accounts of of ugly 20-something-to-zero scorelines. Of demoralized and shattered wannabe players. It was nasty.

IHV reacted, despite the natural grumbling of the winter players who suddenly couldn’t play competition hockey through the summer months, and it’s been brilliant for all of us, starting out. In games where the Interceptors have been against similar players – learning and training for less than two years – the hockey has been even and challenging, yet at a standard where you can feel like you’re part of it, that you can compete, that you’re ready.

Shit, I even managed that goal a few weeks ago.

hancock

Hancock in Australian colours: he’s also a better player than me. Pic: facebook

But every now and then, some players or even a team have snuck through. Hancock’s Facebook page has happy snaps of him lined up for the national anthem just before playing inline hockey for Australia. Presumably Andrew Poss didn’t play last winter, so he is eligible to play for the Champs’ summer team and he is simply three or four levels too good for us. And for pretty much everybody else, going by the league scoring records. He had 13 points in three games before scoring a lazy five goals against us.

For the hundredth time, I’m not whinging. The Champs had other good players too. I was really proud of how we Interceptors kept our heads up, fought hard, never crumpled. Some of my teammates really did skate with Poss, Hancock and the other Champs guns, making a contest of it. Our goalie, Jay, saved some beauties, even if – in true goalie fashion – he slumped into a festival of self-hate for those pucks that got through.

And the Champs aren’t the only team with a few gun players. Our Spitfire sister team, the Fighters, also has several players who are also clearly of winter comp standard, not summer. They beat up on mortals like me every week. I’m only jealous that I can’t skate and shoot like that; dubious that I ever will. I only curse Poss and Hancock for their youth and their endless hours on the ice for years before I discovered this crazy sport. I appreciate it when those players don’t gloat about outclassing P-platers on the ice.

And I’m looking forward to the rematch, to see if I can make a better fist of trying to go with them, to get more than the occasional stick in their way as they charge the blue line. It’s how I’ll improve, how I’ll know that I – and the Interceptors – are still evolving through dev league and summer competition, by matching up against the best.

And secretly, I’ll thank the IHV decision-makers, for making that call that such elite players carving through our defences are the exception this summer, rather than the rule.