Polishing a turd

I’ve always loved the expression “You can’t polish a turd”. I’m assuming any Detroit hockey people reading this get what it means … I have no idea if it’s an Australianism or not. The bottom line is that no matter how hard you try, you can’t turn, umm, human excrement into gold.

Some golden poo today. Pic: deviantart.com

So last night’s second attempt at Dev League was always going to be tricky. Looking vaguely back into the middle-distance of my life, I have a habit of second-time-blues when it comes to fitness and competition. That nasty second run, or that even worse second hit of tennis after a long break … things like that. I’ve always put it down to expectations. When you haven’t hit a tennis ball for months or haven’t played pool, or whatever, you don’t expect much of yourself, are therefore reasonably relaxed and just happy to be back doing something you love, and promptly play like a champ.

Second time out, you’re thinking ‘Man, I was hitting it really well last time … this should be even better now I’ve got my eye back in.’ The words “This should be…” being one of life’s more common but surprisingly effective traps. And you duly stink up the court, or felt, or bowling lane, or Royal Tennis court, or footy oval, or … well, you get the idea. In this case, let’s go with “rink”.

Last night I was slightly off from the start. Sore back, tired, uncertain on my skates. In Intermediate class, I actually felt pretty serviceable, given these things that I couldn’t shake off. At one stage, I said aloud: “C’mon, Nicko, fucking skate!” which drew a look from the chick in front of me. But eve after that eloquent and stirring pep talk, I was only okay.

In Dev League I battled hard, won some pucks, managed to have about five full body collisions (and kept my feet in all but one, which surprised me) but cannot in any reasonable hockey universe be considered to have had a great game. I was slow, not getting to where the puck would be enough … just hacking, basically.

But that’s cool. It was only my second attempt and I have all year to get better, to find the pace, to grow into this. We get a couple of weeks off now because of the world junior skating championships being held at our rink (no, really – the Icehouse techos are even removing all the glass from around the Henke Rink for the event. “That’s why every pane of glass has a number on it,” explained Lliam. “See, you even get some science.”)

I’d love to watch genuine speed skating but don’t know if I’ll get the chance. I’m heading to the Barrier Reef for a second stint of joining Earthwatch to save the manta ray. I did it last September, pre-America, and it totally rocked my world. No phone reception, no wifi … just me, three dives a day, turtles, sharks, rays, fish, corals, a great bunch of scientists and volunteers, fun resort staff at Lady Elliot Island and me, struggling to turn off all my day-to-day issues and live truly in the moment.

I just got a new Mac and celebrated by cutting together a video of my final dive from the last Earthwatch trip. I was surfacing after my final dive of the trip, heavy at heart because I had to return to the real world. As I completed my three minute safety stop at five metres down, I saw some movement near the surface, saw the giant wings flapping, and started to laugh underwater. I raised my trusty GoPro and began to rise, shooting the video below.

Manta rays are known for being incredibly intelligent (their brain is way out whack in being too big for the sort of prehistoric mutated shark that they are, is the scientific way of putting it. Cue Lliam: “It’s like, you know, science!”) and curious. They have an amazing capacity to tell how comfortable you are with them; whether you’re over-excited, scared, tense, or relaxed.

By this dive, on the last day, I was very relaxed – in fact, feeling about as spiritual as I get (Nature is my God. Let’s leave it there) and embraced this manta’s appearance. With a lot of Nicko-free water to feed in, the manta felt the love and returned it, literally grazing me with its wings for close to 10 minutes. I ran out of air (the last part of the video is me on a snorkel) and eventually ran out of GoPro memory.

As the manta finally cruised under our entire group, found me and rose to pass close before swimming away as we climbed on the boat, I raised a hand and waved goodbye.

I can’t believe I land on that tiny, one-end-of-the-island-to-the-other grass landing strip on Saturday and will be in the water by Saturday afternoon. For all the daily soup I spend far too much time living in, my life fucking rocks. There, I said it.

Later, all. Have a great week, enjoy the Wings playing some games at home and let’s hope Jimmy Howard’s finger heals fast.

See you on the other side, when my hair is wet.

Strange times

It’s always darkest before the dawn, right?

Maybe it’s equally true that it’s always craziest in the days before hockey classes start again, to provide order and release?

Because, believe me, these are strange times, my friends. Oh, what strange times we live in that blue jelly balls can fall as hail from the English sky, and a Lego man can be sent clear into space by a couple of teenage nerds or, while we’re on Lego, that shit, a giant Lego man can wash ashore in Florida and the local police don’t have any better ideas than to arrest him.

Super Kane. Pic: espn

What strange times are these that an NHL star can wear a Superman cape and Clark Kent glasses on the ice, or that the bass player for The Stone Roses can try to withdraw cash to buy milk from an autobank and find two million pounds he wasn’t expecting in the account balance?

Is it any wonder that last Thursday, having decided to spend the Australia Day holiday working on my new novel (Hereby known as “Let It Slide” – thanks for the working title, Mack), I wrote exactly 155 words before realising strange flashes of light were still in my peripheral vision, as they had been the night before. Five hours later, at the Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital, a doctor and I were discussing when I had last eaten, because he was planning an emergency operation, if theatre was set up on the public holiday, and a surgeon was in the house. We discussed the likelihood of my losing the sight in my right eye if the retina fully tore away. As it was, a small retina tear was corralled by “lasers” (Dr Evil air-quote marks there) on the spot and I was sent back into the day, reeling, but allegedly ok.

But not totally ok. It means I am still seeing the world through what looks like a dirty car windscreen and it forced an exercise-free weekend – no running, no boxing last night – when I really needed to bust some stress. It should also mean no hockey tomorrow night but, hey, I’m a hockey player and with some of the stuff that’s been going on in my life, I really need to go play hockey.

Blue jelly rain. Pic: The Guardian

It’s a strange world when you can be bodysurfing at Lorne at 3.30 pm, then ice skating (gently, protecting eye) at the Icehouse by 6 pm. And even stranger when you can sit with your parents, making important decisions about whether they will leave your spiritual home or not, and the decision starts to lean to ‘not’, and you start to breathe again and you look out the window and right then, at that exact moment, no less than five yellow-tailed black cockatoos, your totem bird, do a fly-by, all but winking as they pass, a few metres away. And yet a few hours later, in the remorseless heat of a Melbourne summer night that forgets to cool down, and in the wake of the parts of life that are difficult to understand and after an airport run to collect your teenage son who has wild stories of elephants and being the first westerner in a village for four years, meaning the littlest kids had never seen a white person, you find you cannot sleep because of the way everything is swirling and sneaking up on your brain and conspiring to stop you sleeping. And yet you can’t open your eyes because the flashes are there, hinting that your retina may yet blow a fuse and release your secret fear of blindness, not to mention ending your hockey career right there.

So you lie sweating in the pre-dawn, idly listing all the things you need two eyes to achieve, and trying not to think about much better reasons to be sweaty in the pre-dawn and how far away the prospect of exploring that ever again feels, and whether Jimmy Howard and Pavel Datsyuk will star in the NHL All-Star game later that day (they did pretty well) and eventually you surf Facebook and smile at how stir-crazy the hockey group’s posts are becoming as we all wait for action, sweet action, and you spend the dawn trading emails with a friend just in from skiing in the French Alps, rugged up in a beanie and gloves and scarf as the heat smashes you in your bed.

A strange world in need of another friend, a magician, who is wise beyond his years and sips his cider 12 hours later as a cool breeze finally blows through your town and tells you: “I’ve learned that what people say doesn’t mean what they said and even what people do doesn’t mean that’s what they did.” Or something like that. It doesn’t make sense to me either, now, but magic is about misdirection, I suppose, or maybe I was distracted, as I always am at the Black Cat, by the giant framed tarantulas on the wall, hammered into a wooden vertical map of my suburb; wondering if the people on the corner of Gore and Napier streets realize an arachnid bigger than two houses is right there, hovering over them?

Giant Lego man, before he was locked up. Pic: LA Times

A strange, uncertain world but starting to right itself, if I let it. If I remain open to the fact that the future is full of possibility and adventures, if danger and sadness. But then, isn’t that always the case? Yet again, I repeat the mantra of a wise woman I met, who told me that when heaviness weighed down her world, she reminds herself: “Levity, punk!”

Lightness. As any hockey player knows, all you can do is put one skate in front of the other and try to skate to where the puck will be, not where the puck is. One more sleep, heat permitting, until I don my shoulder armour, my padded shorts, my knee guards, elbow guards and gloves, pull my Australian-first Grand Rapids Griffins jersey over my bulky armour and lace up my gorgeous Reeboks. I’ll buckle my helmet (full visor to protect my eye), grab my Crosby stick, watch the Zamboni finish its run, banter with my fellow rookies, feel my heartbeat start to race and finally make my way onto the smooth Icehouse ice.

Let the new term begin. I think you can believe me when I say I can honestly hardly wait.

Playtime is over

The crowd thins out, late in Stick & Puck last night.

Life has been something of an existential struggle lately (which will have my friends asking: what’s new?) and it always amazes me how often what’s going on off the ice is mirrored in my hockey.

But the good news is that, generally, life on the ice is simpler. While the Universe and I may currently disagree on realistic expectations and ambitions in my wider life, the Hockey Gods and I are thankfully on the same page: it’s time for me to lace-up my skates and get back to work.

Thanks to the wild and fun ride of my Detroit News article last week (SEE BELOW) – and the Warhol 15 minutes is officially over, according to this blog’s stats spike that has now returned to normal – as well as a hockey feature still (endlessly) waiting for take-off at The Sunday Age, and the angst over Icehouse ice time, plus other hockey-themed correspondence, there’s been a lot of talking about hockey, writing about hockey and even thinking about hockey recently. There’s even been plenty of general skating.

But playtime is over, as of now.

Last night, I killed myself in the gym then headed to the Icehouse at 8 pm, had a brief general skate and finally donned my armour for the first time in what felt like forever, probably since September. Chest armour, padded shorts, helmet, gloves, shinguards, elbows: the full kit. Which was the whole point.

The occasion was a humble 9.15 pm Stick & Puck session, the ice loaded with mostly intense, serious players working on their stick handling or goal shooting. And me. Hardly anybody wears full armour for these sessions – the people who can really skate often just wear T-shirts, helmets and gloves, but I deliberately waddled onto the ice, wearing everything.

I just wanted to get a feel again for being armoured-up, and for wielding a stick, before official classes start in a week, with me back among the students.

I’m safely signed up for Intermediate, second time around, and my Development League debut, back to back, so Wednesday nights are going to be brutal, physically, but fun.

However, after my self-imposed summer of skating, I feel very rusty when it comes to being a hockey player, to actually playing.

I never did get around to those private skating lessons, even though I have a friend who is a champion figure skater set to give me some tips on Sunday evening, and I’m still talking to Mikey, a musician/ex-pro hockey player about private tutoring. But regardless, the summer has been worthwhile. I feel that I am a lot more solid on my skates, compared to six months ago.

Last night, in full padding, I was pivoting and hockey stopping better than I have all summer. Still not exactly NHL Hall of Fame stuff but a huge improvement on when I last attempted Intermediate. I really hope this translates into a better performance in the new classes. I’m ready to step up from being a wobbly rookie to being a contender for a team by the end of winter. That’s the goal.

As I waited to get onto the ice, a game of drop-in was finishing, and I appraised it, wondering if I’d be killed if I attempted to join one of these at this stage. There has been ongoing debate with the Icehouse folk about this, because as we’ve complained about hockey getting less and less classes and time, they’ve replied that they’ve loaded up the number of drop-in games available. But my point is that for a lot of us, still at Intro or Intermediate level, drop-in as it stands is too frightening and too dangerous, because there might be semi-pro Melbourne Ice players or other established, experienced, highly-skilled players from the various Victorian leagues hurtling around. I’m not about to wobble backwards into a shooting lane while an Ice player is at full pace, getting ready for the season. We’ve been arguing for some time that drop-in games specifically for Intro/Intermediate players, are required, but nothing has happened as yet.

Or maybe this is all a case of slipping on my “Harden the fuck up” bracelet? Maybe I should just get in there and die or not?

As I watched and wondered, a player on the ice gave me a big grin and slammed the glass in front of my face with his stick; a traditional hockey welcome. It was Ray, who started Intro with me a year ago and has rocketed into teams and serious play. After the drop-in finished, he hung around last night for stick & puck, and we spent a while firing passes at one another. Another player, Pete, who I hadn’t met before, gave me some great tips on better pivot technique so the move would hold up at high speed. I told him I understand the theory but really I was just still trying to train my brain not to lurch and have to go through a mental approval process when I try to pivot to the right, as against the more instinctive left. Good tips though.

After an hour, I peeled off my dripping armour and marveled at how time on the ice clears your head of everything – all the way to the car park anyway. And savoured how good it felt to be back in a hockey changing room, with my bulging bag of kit, and needing new tape on my stick because it had finally had a work-out. I’m ready to be a hockey player again. The new round of classes can’t come quickly enough.

Jimmy Howard takes on pretty much the entire St Louis team yesterday. (Pic: Detroit News)

POSTSCRIPT: The Red Wings won again at home yesterday – the streak is now up to 17, wiping records. Pavel Datsyuk scored on a very Datsyukesque deke and backhand, and our goaltender, Jimmy Howard, stopped almost everything and took on four Blues players who he felt had cannoned into him once too often (it happens to him pretty much every game, without any referee action). Go those Wings.




Wednesday, January 18

(Tuesday, Detroit time)

Just call me Mr Streak …

By Nick Place

Melbourne, Australia

Red Wings fans marvelling at the astonishing, historic home winning streak currently being enjoyed by their team are probably wondering who to thank. Jimmy? Lids? Pav? Babcock?

Well, no. Actually, you have to thank me.

You’re welcome. But I should probably explain.

As the Wings set the home streak record today against the Sabres, I was unable to ignore the fact that every one of those wins has come since my two sons and I left Detroit.

Seriously. Since the day that we left Detroit.

But it’s worse than that. You see, I live in Melbourne, Australia. Almost exactly half a world away; about as close to Antarctica as Detroit is to the Arctic. Right now, we’re enduring 100 degree-plus days in the height of summer, as Detroit shivers through winter. In other words, I am a long way from Motor City.

Which is great for Detroit because when my sons and I travelled to Hockeytown to achieve a life-list ambition of watching our beloved Red Wings in action, the team went straight to Hell.

Don’t believe me? Get this. Our first ever Wings game was on Saturday, October 22, in Washington against the Caps. We’d been in America for a month, on a trip of a lifetime that was carefully orchestrated to ensure we hit Washington at the same time as that game.

Reading this in America’s hockey homeland, you probably can’t imagine what it’s like being a Wings fan half a world away. For the small but passionate hockey community here in Australia, seeing an actual NHL game live is a distant dream, so picture our excitement as we made our way into the Verizon Centre, surprised by how many other Wings fans were also in the capital. I’d paid a fortune for decent seats, wanting to make our Wings debut memorable. The Wings were 6-0 coming into the game and the Capitals were 7-0. We were there to salute Nick Lidstrom’s milestone 1500th regular season game. Everything was perfect.

Until the Capitals beat us, 7-1.

Hey ho. We travelled to Detroit for an even bigger life-highlight: our first visit to the Joe Louis Arena, as the Sharks skated onto the ice on October 28. I met Gordie Howe, which had me floating, and we drank in being among the Wings family of fans, at the historic Joe, having walked the decaying but magnificent beauty of Detroit downtown.

And lost, 4-2.

Then read about the Wings failing to even score in losing 1-0 to the Wild away, and then we were back at the Joe for that OT daylight robbery against the Wild on October 29.

We had one more game to see before we had to fly back around the globe to the real world. The Flames at the Joe. By now the media was obsessed by the Red Wings’ complete inability to score more than one goal per game. Zee, Pav, everybody in attack was not so much off the boil as frozen. Jimmy was being heroic but didn’t have enough goals stacking at the other end to ward off the losses.

I was resplendent in my new Lidstrom jersey, Will was now in Bert’s #44 and Macklin, my 16-year-old, had celebrated Nyquist’s Wings debut by having his jersey made up – surely the only Nyquist-flavoured winged wheel going around in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Red Wings organization generously acknowledged our trek by giving us a tour of the Joe, watching the warm-ups from the zamboni race, and we sat right on the glass for the Calgary game.

And lost 4-1; the worst Wings performance of our trip.

The good news for all of you is that we finally had to leave. We flew to LA for a connecting flight, just as the Ducks passed us in the air, and got belted at the Joe, 5-0, the day after we’d left town.

Which, of course, was the start of The Streak, including an avalanche of goals, outscoring opponents 68-21 at the Joe, including today’s game, since being pathologically unable to hit the back of the net the entire time we were in residence. Commentators now get all nostalgic about the October days when the Wings couldn’t score. I laugh bitterly.

But you know what? The good news is that despite the remorseless scoreboards, my boys and I had the time of our lives in Detroit and at the Joe. The welcome of the Wings fans, who universally embraced three Australian wannabe hockey players from Down Under (yes, we play – that’s another story) plus the warmth of the Wings staff, and the wider people of Detroit was unforgettable. Hockeytown rocks.

All the losses? They just mean I still have to see a Wings win at the Joe, which means I’m going to have to find my way to Midwest winter at least one more time.

I promise it won’t be during the 2012 play-offs. I want us to win the Cup as well.

Nick Place is an Australian author, former sports writer, mid-40s hockey rookie and passionate Wings fan. (nickdoeshockey.com)



Once more with feeling …

Nicko (right) and a manta friend.

So, I have a game of ice hockey tomorrow night. Turns out I’m in town, back from crazy manta ray adventures, for the final class of Wednesday night lessons. And that means scrimmages.

Having not been on the ice for a couple of weeks, and having been in a different universe (see picture) and now caught in the quicksand of life and labouring under a heavy head cold … well, what could go wrong?

Weirdly, this could be just what I need. I can hit the ice tomorrow with no real expectation of performing at a high standard. I should just get out there, crash into people and have fun. Given that I don’t plan to take formal classes next term (Will and many others are doing Intermediate again, and Dev League, so I’m very worried about being left behind, but I think I need to follow my plan to become a better pure skater) … this could be my last real game for a long time, unless I take the plunge into Drop-In hockey when I’m back from America.

The last scrimmage session I attempted was at the end of my second stint of Intro and it was an absolute shocker. My dodgy shoulder exploded very early in the piece after a nasty fall, confidence ebbed with every shift and I was terrible all night.

I’m pretty sure the whole experience was made worse because I was dumb enough to carry expectations onto the ice. I hadn’t played so badly in my first end-of-Intro scrimmage and it made sense that, 10 weeks of refining and underlining skills later, I should be an infinitely better player, right?

Wrong. When I was clearly fumbling and bumbling like your standard end-of-Intro beginner, I unravelled.

Happily, in Intermediate, I’ve known all term that I’m at the lower end of skills among the class, so I can just embrace that and do what I can. The others have been in hockey mode right through, whereas I blew off to Lady Elliot Island to dive with Project Manta, and you can’t believe what an awesome/foreign headspace that was.

hockey sledging in the Tropics.

If it wasn’t for the fact that the lead scientist, Kathy, is a Canadian who wore her Canadian hockey jersey around between dives, and one of the dive masters, Alesh, was a Czech who gave Kathy anti-Canada hockey shit at every turn, well, hockey would have been another planet.

Canadian Kathy.

Even stranger than spending seven days underwater with giant mantas was having no phone or internet access for a week. You tried that lately? It’s freaky, if you’re as connected as most people who would bother to read a blog. I had no idea Sam Stosur had won the US Open, only sketchy details of the footy finals and missed a whole week of friends’ lives on facebook. Very unusual.

Since I got back to Melbourne, I’ve been absorbing the trusty Detroit Free Press and Detroit News sites, to see what’s been happening at the Red Wings. Informal training has now ended and the team is in Traverse City, holding formal pre-season training. Pavel Datsyuk is wearing No. 24 instead of his usual No. 13 for the entire pre-season, as a tribute to the Wings’ previous 24, the late Ruslan Salei, killed in that plane crash a week or so ago.

Me at Earthwatch's Project Manta.

My last blog stands, about not knowing where life is going to take you; allowing those Wings of Fate to flap. For good and bad, and often at the same time.

Right now, I need to concentrate on the good, because there’s a lot of it if I tune in. I can’t believe last week I was swimming with manta rays, with up to a five-metre wingspan. I can’t believe in two and a half weeks, I’ll be in Manhattan, skating at Central Park. I can’t believe in a month and a bit, we’ll be watching the Wings live, in Washington and then Detroit. I even have tickets, stashed among my luggage. As long as online booking across two countries works, we’re there. Or very unhappy.

But first I need to survive tomorrow night, including coming up with a way to handle mass snot under a glass visor. I never said this hockey adventure would be pretty.

The F word

Behind you! Behind you!

When were you last truly afraid? Not just worried or disturbed or concerned. I’m talking about Fear. Genuine, immediate fear.
I looked up the definition in dictionary.com, just so you can say the next sentence in one of those raspy movie trailer voices if you feel so inclined:
Do you know the true meaning of fear?
I can tell you. It’s: “A distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc, whether the threat is real or imagined.”
Or, to put it another way, Intermediate Hockey Classes. Along with smatterings of life.
Welcome to my world right now.
I’d always heard that fear was something that kicked in as you aged and, sadly, I’m finding it to be true. As a kid, like most kids, fear was a minor and occasional factor in my adventures – and kind of a thrill if it did turn up. Why else do people go to scary movies, right?
As a teen, I fell off a big cliff because I was climbing it for fun, without any safety gear. A rock broke off in my hand and I bounced hard. Nasty. In my 20s, I surfed Winki Pop, the even more challenging surf break next to Bells Beach, at six-to-eight foot on a Boogie Board; mountainous waves so powerful that one sucked my board from under me as I punched through the lip and snapped my leg rope like it was made of cotton. I had to swim back to shore through the impact zone, getting smashed on the rocks before I made it to safety. I still have scars.
In terms of work, relationships, what was possible in the world, there was little to no fear. Covering police rounds, I would be at murder scenes pre-dawn, chatting with cops about the absolute worst in human behaviour. It was interesting, not frightening; even the Hoddle Street Massacre and the Russell Street bombing didn’t invoke much personal fear that I remember.
But now I’m older and I seem to carry fear in a more central part of my core, and it shits me. It has played havoc with more than one relationship and has definitely made me take short footsteps, to use an AFL expression, where I could have been bold. No more or less than anybody else, I should add. But it’s a prick.
Last week, on Wednesday night, with Lliam and Army coaching, and then on Saturday, with Michael and Shona in the blue instructor fleecies, I began Intermediate Hockey. And the step up from Intro was truly daunting. Army started things off by looking at our group and saying: “OK, looks like everybody is second time around, so we’ll really push things, and get you guys up a few levels in this term.”
My face must have been a picture at that point. There’s no Governors reprieve on the ice: “Um, Army … You might not have noticed but I’m just up from intro …” Skates on, bitches. Seconds later, we were attempting outside edge crossovers, and very tight turns, around and stepping over our sticks, lain on the ice. On Saturday, Michael started things with transitions (front foot to back foot), pivots and backward crossovers as the first drill. I was in a bad place in my head before I skated onto the ice and this didn’t help. It was the first time in 21 weeks of lessons that I considered just skating the fuck off the ice and going home.
But I stuck it out and had a crack and landed hard (bad shoulder hurt but held, Michael was kind as he skated past my body). My stick handling was actually not too bad so at least, wobbly skating aside, I showed some hockey skill, especially as I was partnered with Army for some of it.
I guess the upside is I didn’t quit and thanks to this blog, I can go back and read how equally out of my depth I was at the start of Intro and have faith that somehow I will one day be capable of what is being asked. I suspect I have to resign myself to being the unskilled dunce at the back of the class, fumbling and falling, for this Intermediate term as I grind away at my skills. Does it help that there is some hero in a black skivvy – “The Ninja”, as Hotcakes Gillespie, the celebrated northern skater, sneered – who doesn’t even bother to wear protective armour because he’s so supremely confident in his skills, leading off every drill with an NHL display of skating and looking impatient as the mortals then try to keep up? No, it doesn’t. I was seriously tempted to knock him on his arse just to say, “Shit, sorry. If only you were wearing hockey armour like everybody else that wouldn’t have hurt.” I have no idea why this guy is even in Intermediate class.
I had a general skate on Monday, to work in a more peaceful surrounding on pivots and hockey stops, which I still can’t nail. A skater (“My name is NiSyong … just think of Nice Young Man”) gave me some great tips on starter backward crossover technique and Will was helpful with pivots and backward skating. The work continues. My shoulder holds. The fear lurks, that I will be badly hurt or just simply not good enough. I ignore it. I skate. I try to improve. What else are you going to do? Quit? Fuck that.

I can feel my heart beating

Chris Osgood: will be missed

The blood pumps. I still have a wrecked shoulder but do I care? No, and you know why? Because I’m a hockey player. And tonight, I play hockey. Class One, Intermediate. Bring it.

I even got a couple of general skates in, to get ready, after the inline attempts at Byron. I’ve discovered that early morning sessions are the ones to aim for at The Icehouse. The other day, I kid you not, I was lacing up my skates and looking at a completely empty Bradbury Rink. Ohhhhhh yeah. Will and I had been chatting about my need to skate faster, my feeling that the good skaters are impossibly faster than I could hope to become. His idea was to just hit a general skate, forget about practicing pivots, hockey stops, other moves … just go for it. Skate as fast as I could for lap after lap after lap. So that’s what I did on Tuesday and it was great. Who knows if it helped – I’ll find out tonight, the hard way – but it was so awesome to be out there with only a couple of other learner skaters to act as traffic cones.

Meanwhile, my heart is also beating because Will, Mack and I are seriously planning an American trip. And that includes up to four Red Wings games, three at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and one against the Caps in Washington if we can get tickets.

Osgood with the Cup, 2008

Too good to even contemplate. I’m costing it now (which isn’t pretty) but I think it will happen. We’ll be singing “Don’t Stop Believin'” for real.

And finally, the NHL off-season continues with silly season shenanigans but also the retirement of Wings goalkeeper Chris Osgood, who will hopefully be recognised in the Hall of Fame. It was time for Osgood to hang ’em up but I’m sad. He seems to be an amazingly good person (including having a charity where he hosts kids on his own ice rink in his backyard) and once managed to score a goal against the Whalers. More to the point, Ossie was the brilliant goalie in net when the Wings won the Stanley Cup a few years ago and I first really tuned into the team.

The other star that series was No. 40, Henrik “Hank” Zetterberg, who has that Swedish sense of humour that can’t be beaten. Such as in this NHL advert I found …

and Pavel Datsyuk, who doesn’t even need a script to be funny. Watch what happens when his phone goes off mid-interview.