You’ve got to earn your pancakes

By Nicko

Bavarian apple pancakes with ice cream. Chocolate Swiss Mountain malt shake. Never can these things taste as brilliant as at midnight, in a 24-hour Pancake Parlour on Warrigal Road, Chadstone, metres from the South Eastern Arterial freeway whooshing by overhead.

Bavarian apple pancakes with ice cream. Oh yeah!

Even better, Jason Bajada, goalie to the stars (well, the Blackhawks), has shouted me these pancakes, in honour of me beating him for the first time ever in a scrimmage; the only question being whether it was my one-time slapshot from the slot that genuinely beat him, after a beautiful pass off the boards from Liam Patrick, or whether Jason was simply so stunned that I didn’t fresh-air the slapshot that he was swooning as it found the net?

Certainly, my coach for this late night Next Level Hockey Game Time scrimmage, Scott Corbett, reportedly reacted to the goal with, “Shit, he one-timed it,” and head coach Joey Hughes looked equally startled. But nobody more than me. My goal followed a couple of goal assists, in a pretty serious level of hockey for me, and so I tried to overlook the moment where I’d been knocked over, lost my stick and spent what felt like 15 minutes scrambling around on the ice, trying to get myself back together as my teammates peered with amused curiosity over the boards at my sprawled frame, listening to my feeble calls of “Change! Change!”

That was the one moment where my night got the better of me, and my legs decided not to work for a minute or so, but it was fair enough. I had been skating for close to three hours by that point. I’d known it was a potential epic from the moment I’d turned up for the NLHA Intro class at 7.30 pm and Joey had asked: “Do you have plans tonight?”

How much do you love Australian hockey that a leading member of the Melbourne Ice – even one who is currently unhappily on the outer for a minor recent incident where Joey took on the entire opposition bench after some extreme aggravation and what sounded like a pretty worrying lack of referee support – will still be actively wanting you to give him your Friday night so he can do everything he can think of to make you a better hockey player? Not just me, obviously: everybody walking through those awkward double-doors into the refrigerator that is the Olympic ice rink in Oakleigh.

Next Level Hockey Australia students wait to take the ice at Oakleigh. The camera didn’t catch the fog in the air.

But such urging doesn’t mean you’re in for an easy night. In fact, I endured a really difficult Intro session, full of transitions and pivots (including leaping into the air and turning in the air, forward-to-back, back-to-forward, landing on your skates – another genuinely-surprised “Good job!” from Corbie) as well as my first experience of the infamous “under-poosh” skating technique from Martin Kutek, where you crossover in a certain way to try and drive with the backward skate. It feels extremely unnatural. Lots of backward stepping, C-cuts, all the technical skating moves that push me to the limit and that I wrestle with. Joey wasn’t happy, saying my improvement hasn’t been as great as he would like – mostly because I can only get there every other week and can’t make it to general skates at the Icehouse often enough to drive home the improvements.

But even so, he, like my other Melbourne Ice mentors, Lliam and Army on a Wednesday night, patiently persists in trying to make me into a hockey player.

By the end of the Intro hour, I was warming up. “Can I stay on for Intermediate?” I asked Joey. “Sure,” he said and once we were on the ice pulled me aside for a 10 minute one-on-one session, working on my pesky stride; giving me training drills to eradicate that feet-splayed inside-edge habit I’ve written about before. Taking Army’s mantle of trying to teach me how to click my heels together at the end of each stride, under my hockey stance. The new stride felt awesome; a tinker but an important one. We both grinned as I was clearly going faster, and all the nutso drills of Intro had shaken down to make your standard crossover seem much more achievable. Life was good.

Watching the Zamboni chug across the Olympic Rink’s surface yet again, between classes.

“Can I stay on for Game Time?” I asked Joey. “Sure,” he said, “if there’s room.” A few minutes later, he threw me a yellow jersey and I joined a bunch of my Rookie mates in a furious scrimmage, most of which was four-on-four and was also my first experience of playing short-handed with penalties in play (Liam Patrick being benched twice for questionable on-ice atrocities). Finding myself on the wrong end of a five-on-three line-up was a hockey lesson all on its own and I was patchy throughout the game. But hey, two assists and a goal on debut? I’ll take it.

By the time we’d eaten the pancakes (me saying way too late to Bajada: “Just to check, this doesn’t mean I have to buy you pancakes every time you stop a shot, right? Because that’s a bad deal for me if I do.”), everybody shaking their heads that the “old man” had survived three straight hours and still scored, and I’d made the long trek home from Oakleigh, it was 2 am, just like a Wednesday, and so on Saturday morning, as I joined my gal, Chloe, and her family, who are out from France, at a farmer’s market, I was walking in slow motion – not actually sore as much as pure bone-tired.

Three coffees down, I left there to catch up with some Rookies, before the Melbourne Ice-Newcastle game at the Icehouse.

“To be clear,” said Chloe, “You played hockey all Wednesday night, went to a Melbourne Ice game on Thursday night, played three hours of hockey last night, and are now going to drink with hockey friends, and then go to another Melbourne Ice game…”

“Um,” I said, wondering if this was a good time to mention that I planned to be at The Bang the next morning, playing footy on a wet track.

The waterlogged Wattie Oval turf, mid-Bang. My legs are still feeling it.

In fact, playing footy on a track that was a mudder’s dream; down by Elwood beach but very heavy underfoot in one forward line and across a wing. Running through ankle deep mud, chasing a heavy Sherrin, my legs were screaming and today I’m genuinely hobbling. I still find it interesting that when people say: “Doesn’t hockey knock you around/do you get injured?” the honest reply is that I pull up much better from three tough hours on the ice than I do from 90 minutes of hard running and kicking with my Banger mates.

So, fun weekend, finished off by a Richmond 70 point win while a Tiger friend and I sat and chatted about life, family and European trips, all the while clapping an expected Richmond victory (when did the world tilt, that this became possible?) and another trip to the Icehouse VIP Balcony, to watch a disappointing Melbourne Ice loss. (They won the game I didn’t go to, on Sunday, in a shoot out; Big Cat Place representing the family on that occasion.)

What’s the saying? That too much sport can never be enough? My body isn’t sure about that. Usually, French relatives not in town, I choose to spend more time with my amour. Given how I feel today, I’m starting to think that non-hockey/footy time might be saving my life.

Then again, I also plan to hit general skating at least twice this week, aside from Wednesday night icehouse training/dev league, and I’ve already booked scuba diving for this weekend …

Which leads to another saying: “Sleep when you’re dead.”

Guest writer: Jason Bajada

This is a cracking piece. Who knew a goalie could put words together? Turns out Jason Bajada is that guy. Welcome to life between the posts …

Stay out of my crease and we’ll stay friends

By Jason Bajada

I am a goalie.  And I love it.  And I hate it.  And I hate you all.  And you are my best mates.  And I love it.

Jason Bajada: feeling two metres wide. Pic: Wayne McBride

At any given time, none, some, or all of those feelings are true.  Would be true.  Have been and are true.  Tense doesn’t matter.

There is a common understanding amongst hockey people that goalies are weird.  I’m not going to try to explain why, but I will let you know what it is like being a goalie in a game – you can figure out if we are weird once you have read my story.  There is a lot of swearing in this, because I really don’t know how to efficiently express myself any better.  I understand the theory that “those who swear are less articulate, and therefore less intelligent, than others who do not”, to which I respond: fuck that.

When I am putting my gear on, I feel like I am two metres wide and I am invincible.  During the warm-ups, I concentrate so hard on every single shot coming in, I hold my breath until the last shot is made.  I wear myself out during the warm-ups because I am so wound up I can’t breathe.

And all I keep thinking to myself is that I am better than everyone else on the ice.  And I believe it with every fibre of my body, every hair on my head and every exploding neuron in my brain.  Actually, I don’t just believe it, I know it.  It is a fact, and now I get to prove it to you all.

And that is what I am thinking during warm-ups.  Because if I don’t, I can’t do my job.

And then the game starts, and the only thing I can see is the puck.  Nothing else matters.  Everything else fades into the background.  In my peripheral vision, I see the blur of players in their jerseys, and instantly calculate whether or not they are on my team, and how far away they are from playing the puck, and if they are in a position to put the puck on net, and whether or not it will be a strong shot or not.  And if they pick up the puck and start skating, I’m figuring out whether they are on their forehand or backhand, and whether or not their team-mates are moving into position to take a better shot, and whether my team-mates are moving into a position to help or hinder me.  And if the shot is taken, I work out the trajectory of the puck, and where it has come from, and whether to drop to the ice or not, or whether to stick my arm out or not, and where my stick is, and where the puck could go after I stop it, and whether or not I have the chance to ice the puck, or if I have to move to make a follow-up save from the rebound.

And that entire paragraph takes place in my world in less than a second.  And the next second, it might start again, or maybe it stops.  But I also have to work out whether or not I need to get up or not.  So the next second is always more complicated than the last, because I have to figure out how I am supposed to recover from the previous second.

Above and beyond all of that, every single second of the game I have decisions to make.  And I regret most of them.  I could have done something different, or better, or more efficiently.  Even when I do make a save, I am never satisfied with it.  The next save has to be better.  And I fucking hate that.

Nowhere to hide: Goalie life.

Then I stick a pad out and watch the puck deflect into the corner.  Or make a glove save as I am standing strong in the crease.  Or take the puck off my face and have it land at my feet, so I drop and cover it up.  I have conquered the desires of the opposition, and tamed to rage that fired that puck at me.  I destroyed the dream of the goal, and have forced them to re-think how they play the game.  I have beaten them, I am the victor.  In that second, I have just proven to everyone there that I am the best there is.

And I can’t think of anywhere else I would want to be.  And I love it.

The best part is when one of my team-mates sweeps out to the corner, corrals the puck I just deflected out there, clears it out of the defensive zone and creates a rush out of just one pass.  It is poetry in motion, and everything just flows together like it was meant to be.  The Hockey Gods have looked down on that piece of ice, stroked their beards wisely, and at that specific time, said to themselves, “Let’s make something magical happen.”

And it is at times like those that we are a brotherhood.  A sisterhood.  A hockeyhood.  Time stands still, and everything is easy.  And I love everyone in the building, along with all of those ancient hockey warriors who have fought on that piece of ice in years past.  Everyone should get to feel this, and I feel sorry for those who don’t know what they are missing out on.

But as quickly as it started, the moment is over.  The puck is back at my feet, and everyone – even the refs, it seems – is hacking away at it, forcing me to make save after save after save, never letting me take a breath to figure out what I need to do next.  I see my team-mates – that same hockeyhood from seconds ago – standing in the way of the puck so I can’t see it.  I watch the puck deflect off a team-mate and into the post.  I scream –  scream myself hoarse – at the player on my right to get the puck away from me.  It is within a metre of the goal line and I have no control of it.  It needs to leave, and it needs to leave NOW.  Just fucking move it.  Pass it.  Skate it.  I don’t care what you do, just MAKE IT GO AWAY.

NO!  DON’T PASS IT RIGHT ACROSS THE …

The puck is now behind me.  Players wearing the wrong colours are cheering and hugging each other.  And you are yelling at me.  Telling me I should have done better.  That I should have made that save.  Asking me sarcastically where the hell my stick was.  You make the biggest bone-headed play in the history of hockey, and it’s my fault we are now losing.

And I hate you.  I hate you and I want to hurt you.  I want to hurt you so much you will be scared to play again.  You were my team-mate, but after that play you don’t deserve to even share the ice with me.  I don’t care, I hate you.  Fuck off, and stay the fuck away from me before I rip your face off through that cage.

The very next shift, the centre wins the face-off, tears down the ice and goes top shelf blocker side to get that goal right back.  After the obligatory fist-bumps along the bench, he points his stick right at me and yells “That one’s for you, buddy”.

I am a goalie.  And I fucking love this game.