Friday on my mind

Ceptors' captain Jake Adamsons fights for the puck on Friday.

Ceptors’ captain Jake Adamsons fights for the puck on Friday.

Four days later and I’m still smiling about Friday’s night’s game. It was the Interceptors versus a scratch Rookie team, containing lots of my hockey mates, and also my younger son, Mackquist, who continues to improve so that he’s able to join in a match like this, and leaves me excited that we’ll probably be able to play in a team together next summer.

Friday was just one of those games that is played in a fantastic spirit, with everybody going as hard as they can but with smiles on the ice. It was only a practice match; all of us trying to get our legs back, our game sense back, our hockey sense back before summer league starts again (10.30 pm, this Thursday, for my team).

I’d put in a big training effort since returning from the summer holiday to Lorne and Tassie, and since I decided my dodgy knee would survive being on the ice. The week before last, I was on the ice, or in off-ice hockey-dedicated training, for at least two hours each night, every night but Tuesday.

I joined a new initiative, the Icehouse Hockey Academy’s summer program where Melbourne Ice star Jason Baclig, and one of my usual coaches, also a Melbourne Ice star, Matt Armstrong, put us through our paces. It was challenging, doing skating drills, having every weakness in our stride and leg muscles pinpointed by Jason, who skates like you can’t believe.

Jason hadn’t coached us before and it was great to get a new take on how to improve. Just little things like getting us to skate blue-line to blue-line on one skate, crouching. Then having us do it again on both skates, which was easier, and felt so much easier after the one-skate. Confidence builds, just like that. Then he and Army took us up to the Icehouse gym for a hockey-specific strength circuit. In the middle of all this, I continued my own return to upper body training at my usual gym in Fitzroy, and had a practice game against an IBM team, and took part in some Jets training sessions – learning new moves from the wider club’s coaches. All in all, the hockey cobwebs were blown away in a big way, to the point that in the final sprint lap of that Jets training session, skating along next to coach Scotte Giroux, my body hit “empty” and I simply lost my ability to skate hard. In the course of half a lap, I went from next to Scotte to barely moving. Petrol… gone.

It led to a quiet week last week, knee hobbling again – Magic Enzo, the osteo, finally doing some magic – until Friday’s game, by which time I was bursting to hit the ice.

Jack Hammet, on the move for the Rookies, as I attempt, probably unsuccessfully, to close him down and Big Cat waits, ready to pounce. Pic: Dave Walker

Jack Hammet, on the move for the Rookies, as I attempt, probably unsuccessfully, to close him down and Big Cat waits, ready to pounce. Pic: Dave Walker

And it was a blast. A total blast. A reminder of everything I love about playing hockey. Early in the first period, Big Cat, at speed, won the puck on the right wing, looked across the width of the ice, saw me charging and dinked a perfect pass through the air and over two opposition sticks so that I skated onto the puck without breaking stride. Through the blue line and clear, although the defenders were closing. Me travelling fast (for me) and winding up the wrist-shot.

That glorious feeling of seeing the puck disappear through the five-hole, as the goalie dropped but a fraction too late (sorry, Stoney). Interceptors whooping and hollering. A glove-pumping celebration glide-by past our bench.

Then marveling, in the second period, as our captain, Jake, got the puck on the defensive side of the red line, out of the corner of his eye saw an Interceptor player coming over the boards, half a rink away, and duly delivered an almost-blind pass right onto the stick of Big Cat, motoring away from the bench. That left Big Cat all alone with the goalie and his finish was clinical (sorry again, Stoney).

The Rookies had many decent players and scored three goals going the other way, but the Interceptors eventually prevailed 4-3, on the back of a second goal from Big Cat and one from our coach, Will Ong.

I don’t mean to give a match report as much as to convey that it was just a fun, end-to-end game, where we Interceptors felt ourselves click as a team, even if we were missing a bunch of players through travel and injury, and had coach Ong and Mark “Happy Feet” Da Costa Caroselli as one-off free agent players. Our defence was calm and measured, working together and playing smart hockey. The forwards, me included, were charging at every opportunity.

Yesterday, at Lorne, Big Cat and I were still grinning about it.

And so I thought I should share that joy on the blog. As a counter to all those posts where I doubt myself and the journey.

It’s good to stop occasionally and just celebrate the joy of playing.

So this is a salute to the sheer joy of playing with mates and against friends.

The fun of good-naturedly bantering with an opponent who has just scored a great goal; both of you hunkering down for the next face-off.

The fun of skating as hard as you can to try and go with somebody who is better on their legs than you are.

The satisfaction of scoring a goal, or of nailing a good pass to a teammate’s stick.

All those little one-percenters, all that sweat, all that effort. The satisfaction of an intense, hectic, brilliant hour.

Icehouse classes (dev league and power-skating) start again on Wednesday night. Thursday, we play the Champs, who smashed us last time.

I play hockey. For a team. Like I dreamed of, crazy dream that it was, two and a bit years ago.

I’m definitely getting better as a player and a skater, bit by bit, skate by skate, game by game.

And I love being a part of it, win or lose.

How fucking awesome is that?

Friday's winning Interceptors line-up. I was so happy with the win and the game that I didn't even care my post-helmet hair looked like Milton the Monster. So there. Pic: Dave Walker.

Friday’s winning Interceptors line-up. I was so happy with the win and the game that I didn’t even care my post-helmet hair looked like Milton the Monster. So there. Pic: Dave Walker.

Guest writer (Origin story): Jack Hammet


Today’s guest writer is Jack Hammet and I feel a need to explain how we came to know each other.

He’s more or less the same age as Will (AKA BIg Cat). In fact, Jack went to school with Will and his wider circle of mates, which is where I first heard about him. What I heard wasn’t always great. From all accounts, Jack was a little more wild than the others; more prepared to really push boundaries and potentially get into trouble. I’ve always been a big believer that teenagers should get into some trouble (ask my younger son, Mack – AKA Wookie, AKA Mackquist – for an account of The Ferret Incident sometime and you’ll hear an outstanding story of the kind of trouble kids should get into).

Teenagers should push things a bit, but not so much that you worry for them, that you’re scared. I heard rumours of this kid who played it harder and faster than the rest of the school crowd, and I’d seen guys like that in my generation, especially in journalism, where some cadets couldn’t handle the hard-drinking, hard-living, dick-swinging world that was daily papers. Some spun out badly and were alcoholics or fuck-ups by their mid-20s. Others swam on, survived and matured.

So, I finally got to meet Jack when I ventured down to the Icehouse. He and Big Cat had been skating most of the summer, in fact from the moment VCE exams ended, if not before. They were getting good as I literally staggered onto the ice, barely vertical.

And here’s the thing, this manchild instantly struck me as an outstanding person. I was ready for some punk Hellraiser (and he still loves that profile, as you will read between the lines below – he’s a happy Goon) but damn, if Jack, big bad Jack, wasn’t a man I could look in the eye and just know that he was a good one. He wasn’t always a genius – he hurt Will one day, needlessly slamming him during a Stick & Puck session – but he travelled for a while, then came back and you could see him growing into himself, losing the anger that (until the piece below) I had never understood, and had really only heard about.

Here we are,  a whole – what? 12 or 18 months later, and Jack is a lock for a leadership role in whichever team he lands on; he’s helping rookie defenders know where to position themselves, what not to do; he’s endlessly there for people.

Rock on, Jack, and thanks for this piece. It’s from the heart and honest and for that, respect.


Does blood bounce on ice?

By Jack Hammet

I hate to start this on a depressing note but bear with me, it’s not all sad, and I think it’s important in explaining my story and unwavering love for hockey…

When I was 7, my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a long and hard road that unfortunately ended five years later with her passing away when I was about to hit 13. I never knew my dad and for a lot of my childhood it was just my mum and I. As you would expect, this formed a strong connection between us and she was my rock. When she passed away, everything changed for me. I found myself dealing with a step dad trying to drown his sorrows in beer (and doing well at it) and a little brother who was still far too young to look after himself. This left me, just entering my teenage years, trying to balance looking after my brother, school (which I hated) and the anger/confusion/sadness and everything else that resided within me as a result of my mum’s death.

“What? Who? Me?” Jack (standing) in his element.

But I feel in a lot of ways, that sport was my saviour. I know other people that have been through similar things and become drug dealers, criminals and all kinds of things and I honestly think that sport has kept me grounded and given me something to focus on and provided an outlet for all the anger I had.

(No more depressing stuff, I promise.)

I always loved sport and had played football (Aussie Rules) since I was old enough to run, I loved the contact and was always good at dropping (and sometimes injuring) other players. For this reason, I played full back. I played full back for the Fitzroy Lions for about eight years before I made the switch to basketball.

Immediately I missed the contact and got fouled out most games for my first season and occasionally ejected (kicked out of the stadium). In both basketball and football, I found myself getting in trouble due to fights. I went to a pretty rough school for most of high school and needed to be able to look after myself. I was pretty big in comparison to most people my age but decided I better learn how to fight anyway so I started doing MMA/ judo/ karate/ jujitsu/ boxing and a whole bunch of other fighting styles as well as my personal favourite, sporting brawls!

As those of you who have spent time with me will know, I like to have a laugh and do stupid shit but once the game starts, whatever that sport may be, I get much more serious! I’m not one to go looking for a fight but if people mess with my teammates, I’ll be coming for them. This attitude was appreciated by my teammates but not so much by refs, parents etc… Due to this, basketball just didn’t quite fit my style. But that all changed when I discovered ice hockey!

When I was nearing the end of year 12, I saw a family friend who was managing the Icehouse at the time. Once I told him I had never skated before, he told me I had to go down and give it a go. I made a day of it and brought a few friends down with me (one of them being Will “Kittens” Place). Will and I immediately fell in love and came back later that night for a pond hockey session, I came back the next day and bought my first pair of hockey skates. To say I was hooked is an understatement! It was then that I started watching the NHL and AIHL and started following the greatest hockey teams on the planet, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Melbourne Ice!

It was not long after this that I met Joey Hughes (of Melbourne Ice and NLHA fame) at a party. We got talking (and drinking). He encouraged me to keep up the hockey and to come down and get trained by him. The fact that even the top level players in Australia are so chilled out and happy to talk to newbies made me feel right at home and seeing his passion for hockey only made my love for it stronger.

I felt straight away that I had found a sport that I truly clicked with. The parts I was most fond of were the contact, the team (family like) oriented mentality and of course, the fighting. I had to pinch myself, I had finally found a sport where I wouldn’t get in trouble (well not too much) for fighting!

From the day of that first skate, hockey became a big part of my life. And has become more and more so as time has passed, to the point

The only pic I could find of Jack in a Washington Capitals jersey, instead of his Penguins kit. He remains fun to annoy. … oh, wait. I’ve made a huge mistake. – Nicko

where I now even work at the Icehouse. It is safe to say that I bleed hockey!

Throughout all of the year 12 exam period, I didn’t study, well not biology and business management anyway, I studied hockey! I spent the better part of every day down at the Icehouse. Even on days I had exams, I would skate in the morning, rush to my exam, do it as quickly as possible, then go back to the Icehouse to practice my crossovers and hockey stops, the important stuff, not stupid school work.

It wasn’t long before I joined classes and Lliam and Army became my mentors, I skipped intro and went straight to intermediate classes … a term of that and I was on to dev league. As with past sports, it was clear that defence was where I belonged and I couldn’t have been happier!

I got my first hockey injury at around the same time at a stick and puck session.  Being a male, I thought the helmet cage made me look soft, so naturally, I put a screwdriver to it and went without. I was on the ice for no longer than 20 seconds before I realized my mistake, I took a slap shot to the face and got knocked out. As I woke in a pool of blood, I realized that cage was probably there for a reason… I made the trip to the hospital in my full gear (minus skates, gloves and helmet) and once I was recommended for plastic surgery (no scar) but also had the option of stitches (scar) to get my lip put back together, I took the stitches. It was then, sitting in the car in my gear, going home with a mouth full of stitches, that I felt like a real hockey player and I have never looked back.

This is only the beginning of my hockey journey, I’m 19 years young and I’ve got a lot to learn (I now wear a cage and just deal with looking stupid) plenty of time to work on my skating, shooting, dangles and all the rest of it. I’ve met some awesome people through hockey and I know I’ll continue to meet more. Thank you to those of you who have been there with me so far, I look forward to skating alongside you for years to come.

I am eagerly waiting to play my first season of summer hockey this year and I can’t wait to play my first game, score my first goal, get my first check (even if summer is non contact) but more than anything… I can’t wait to drop the gloves!