Sunday on my mind

So, on Sunday, at 4.15 pm, I officially become a hockey player. I know I’ve argued for 20 months or so that I’m a player but I’ve been a student until now.

On Sunday, I pull on a purple Jets jersey, as Alternate Captain of the Interceptors team, against an Ice Wolves team of mostly strangers at Oakleigh, in Melbourne’s Summer Recreation League, Div 4; the lowest level of competitive hockey for championship points in town.

On Tuesday night, I hung laps at the Icehouse in a happily not-very-crowded general skate. As usual, my skating was so-so. I was gliding gentle outside edge to gentle outside edge, just feeling them. Occasionally I’d head into the centre circle and work on my backward crossovers, batting away other skaters who came to offer the inevitable and necessary advice. Not up for a barrage of well-meaning advice this night. Feeling the same frustrations that have been brewing to the surface over the past few weeks. Noticing the distinct lack of other 40-something rookies wobbling around this ice, instead of being at home with loved ones, nestled in front of a television, on a week night. Heroic or delusional, Place? Such a fine line.

The Power-Hough gals model the new Jets jersey.

Tuesday didn’t solve anything and on Wednesday, back on the Bradbury Rink but now in full hockey gear, warming up for 10 pm development league, I started to think about Sunday. My first official match as a player. A working scoreboard, a league ladder, official hockey rules, everybody needing matching socks, genuine referees who weren’t Melbourne Ice players laughing: Lliam in dev league later that night, after calling a big guy, Charles, for elbowing a little guy, Geoff, in the head: “(Laughter) I’m sorry. I know you didn’t mean it, but I have to call it. You’re just so big and he’s so small. That’s hilarious. I’m sorry … Penalty. Hahahaha.” This is the sort of ref call that’s unlikely on Sunday, where a player actually gets sent to the box instead of awarding a penalty shot for goalie practice in a game where the score is irrelevant.

Plus, we Spitfires face the unknown of whether we’re going to be competitive against other teams, like the Ice Wolves, Demons and Champs.

A lot to think about but then on Wednesday, pre-Dev League, in my gear, on the Bradbury ice, everything suddenly became clear to me; all anxiety dissolved. Just like that.

I thought: You know what, Nicko? Your skating is what it is. It’s actually not terrible (despite all the angst on this blog); you just can’t pull off moves that would make you better. But you’re not going to master transitions or Kutek-level outside edge C-cuts before Sunday. It’s done. And you are a 47-year-old rookie with only limited time to master this sport, among (in no particular order) running a business, falling in love, raising kids, writing novels, scuba diving, having a social life, enjoying street art, books, films, footy, art, waves, sky, whisky. You can only be so good, giving hockey the windows you do, which is as much as you can. And you are giving away 20 or more years to most of these teammates and opponents, but screw that, who cares? You have other strengths.

As I cruised, outside edge to outside edge, my mind travelled back to Lliam Webster’s sage advice when I was in that performance funk, months ago. “When you’re in a funk, concentrate on what you do well. Don’t worry about all the things you can’t do, or think you suck at. Just do the things you do well and the rest will follow.”

Not even realizing at the time, not until I saw the Ice 3-Peat doco, which talked about Lliam’s early season scoring drought, just how much he was also living that reality when he spoke to me.

And finally, as 10 pm ticked closer, as Big Cat Place and the rest of the preceding Intermediate class cleared the Henke Rink and the goalies shoved the goals to the side so the Zamboni could chug its way onto the surface, I felt strangely calm. Shit, I’m going to play recreational  league. We’re all going to go as hard as we can; try our guts out; hurt if we lose; go nuts if we win, but it’s Division 4, it’s the lowest rung of being a competitive player. Just do what you do well, love being in a team, equally share the ice time between the guns and the strugglers, and let the rest happen.

TigerShark and 11.15 pm dev league mate Brendan Parsons seems less stressed about the looming Summer League comp than some.

10 pm arrived and I stepped onto the ice with a clear mind and had my best game in a long time. Didn’t try to skate at warp 10 speeds, instead slowed slightly and moved better, all while controlling and using the puck, doing the slice-through-traffic passes that seem to be my specialty. Was unlucky not to score a few times. Had so much fun that Big Cat and I thought ‘To Hell with Thursday and real world commitments” and stayed around for the 11.15 game, finally getting off the ice at 12.15 am, in bed an hour later, wide awake. I played defence, alongside Wunders, which was a learning experience but just as enjoyable. Even if I did give away a penalty by tangling my stick in Aimee Hough’s legs and headbutting her into the boards. Turns out that’s a penalty …

My teammates good-naturedly gave it to me as I skated sheepishly back to the bench to watch her penalty shot (she missed). I shrugged. Sorry, all … just clumsy.

An NHL player wouldn’t have given away that penalty.

I did.

… Expectations versus Realities.

All leading into Sunday …

This player, this ever-improving, ever-striving rookie will continue to make mistakes. But will also occasionally position himself well, use hand-eye and innate hockey sense to steal pucks and even stone-cold his more talented son, playing for the other team in the 11.15 game, every now and then on a forward rush; will no doubt be part of an Interceptors team that comes up against a more seasoned, experienced unit this season and gets belted, or has that moment when everything clicks as a team and we win large and feel like world beaters.

Play-offs? Maybe. Or not.

It’s all to come and I’m in for the ride; warts and all, age and all, faults and all, strengths and learnings and wisdoms and laughter and friends and all.

Can’t wait. Roll on, Sunday. I’m good to go.

Guest writer (Origin story): Aimee Hough

The pocket rocket, the smiling assassin, the Christmas angel reveals the murderous thoughts underlying her appearance.Figure-skaters everywhere, relax.

“Smart alec man-child” … I got all emotional. In fact, I might get that put on my tombstone.

And for anybody who crosses her path, Hough is Hoff, as in cough, or maybe Hasselhoff. Woe betide those who get it wrong.

The rage behind Aimee Hough

By Aimee Hough

Aimee Hough yesterday.

Okay gang – I guess it’s my turn. My story; My adventure into the wonderful, thrilling, hilarious world that is hockey. The good and well… not so good; But I’ll get to that.

Alrighty. I have always been a team player. I have had sport sewn into every thread of the fabric I’d call my life. It was dancing and netball, but it was being part of the swimming club with my two older sisters, Jess and Kaitlyn that makes up most of my childhood memories. The Wednesday night training, the Sunday night time trials or spring interclub, where we would all pile into the bus and make the loud and laughter infused bus ride to MSAC at Albert Park where we would compete against surrounding clubs. Being the age that I was, would fall asleep on a close friend who, long story short, rescued me from bullies and has since become well…. Mine! This story is constantly remembered as we reminisce over the good old days (she says at 21 years of age). The point of this is the club environment. Engaging in a sport with people who make you feel accepted.

As I got older the amount of swimmers lessened as did the appeal of the club. Thus became a lull in my sporting activities. Netball and dance were always there, as was EVERY sporting event I could get involved in at high school but sadly it just didn’t feel the same. Enter the Icehouse. In 2010 I began Figure skating with Jess and Kaity. 8:45 Saturday morning on the ‘Bradbury Rink’ became our thing to do. We began with swivels, c-cuts and edgework. As we moved up in class we were given sew on patches… awesome *rolls eyes*. Months later I purchased my overpriced (and soon to be irrelevant) figure skates. Although soon after it dawned on me, as much as I loved skating, it just wasn’t enough. I’ve been dancing for as long as I can remember but even as we were taught in skating “arms up – point where you want to go” I was never completely satisfied. A year later, Jess decided to work/live in Canada for seven months: Insert Jess’s absence and Kaitlyn’s demise due to poor knees. This was it – I needed a change. Hockey: Here I come!

Little did the world know …

The first few weeks of intro were monotonous. Then gear, sticks and pucks came along. I’m sold!!! Not to mention the sarcastic antics, movie quotes and shenanigans that I held similar with the coaches, Army and Lliam.

Last September I travelled to Canada and was able to partake in the glorious moment of buying my own gear. The shine of ‘hire gear’ lost its appeal after the first time I put on the cold, wet disgrace that is the shared shoulder pads. When it came to purchasing gear, being small, finally became a benefit. I’ll take my junior $150, Bauer Vapor 3.0’s, any day. Yes, I may be constantly ridiculed for my less than normal sized gloves. The best one from the change room was “are they your gloves? I can hang them from my rear view mirror”…… hilarious…

Here comes the not so good part of my adventure. How many times have any of the males been mistaken for a figure skater?? None I’m guessing. Well for a female, it’s either a hit or miss. I took my skates to be sharpened, where the onset of separation anxiety set in. When I came to collect them the girl took some time. She then called for assistance. Heart rate heightening. They both returned asking what type of skates. I simply said “Bauers”. They both returned with skates in hand, huge smiles and the other guy laughing “that’s what you get for assuming”. This, happy readers, is the downside of being a woman in the hockey world, or as a “blonde Christmas tree angel” as Alex Mcnabb so kindly labelled me, or as my dad seems to think I resemble Lisa Simpson on the ice. I guess I can live with that.

Don’t be fooled. I may be a little blonde, but all I can say is ‘Bring it!’ (I’m looking at you Nicko Place). I like to think I can hold my own. I may be knocked down but watch me smile as I pick myself up and keep on skating. Especially after I’ve taken you down with me.

Since the first day in intro, I haven’t looked back. I’ve been given exactly what was missing and I’m reluctant to let it go now – A club. A family. I’ve met so many genuine people that I’m so happy to know. Yes including the smart alec man-child that is this blogs creator. I’ve been given people who (on more than one occasion) can appreciate a good movie quote… okay…more than one…okay, the entire script. But as long as I can make people smile, I’m happy.

Aimee (in white) about to take out a helpless Rookie.

Hockey has provided me with so much: Great group of people, car park hockey and the ‘trouble station’, general skate, jersey preferences, chilling at the pub – constantly, Goon, Miracle, Young Blood, Mighty Ducks (and allllll the quotes that accompany them), my first Oakleigh experience, Sponsorship, talking for hours – walking back to the car – to continue another hour of talking, ROOKIES, sharing gear when somebody needs it (regardless if it fits, so long as someone can participate), Melbourne Ice games,  the endless sound of Velcro and the unimaginable, yet unexplainable filth that is hockey smell, countless advice, ‘Recovery drinks’, shit stirring anyone and everyone that walks by – especially Army and Lliam, intro, 5 X intermediate, first ever Dev League, the upcoming Ice road trip, the Gala, Summer league and the promise of the future.

To those who’ve joined me on this Journey – Thank you.