The Great Escape

Lids and bottles ready: Big Cat and Nicko side-by-side.

Lids and bottles ready: Big Cat and Nicko side-by-side.

I started hockey more than six years ago largely as an act of escapism. There was a woman involved, of course. Or, more specifically, the fading ghost of a woman I’d loved, and taking up hockey, without having ever skated, seemed like a great idea at that moment. Smashing repeatedly and painfully into hard ice is a good, immediate way to take your mind off a bruised heart. For the duration of a hockey class, at least.

Miraculously, it worked and I healed and I got to play hockey with both my boys, if too briefly with Mackqvist. Big Cat and I have been on the adventure together, all the way, and now he’s taken over an official letter in the Cherokees team as a leader, and that makes me smile, watching him grow and walk taller.

When you're on the ice, the rest of the world fades away. Pic: Luke Milkman

When you’re on the ice, the rest of the world fades away. Pic: Luke Milkman

Off the ice, my career fortunes, in fiction and real work, have waxed and waned, dipped, risen and plunged and then risen again. Life’s a rodeo, but I chose that path, away from the 9 to 5, a long time ago. Meanwhile, I met other women and then they became ghosts and I skated hard all over again, and then I met a French beauty who fundamentally rocked my world and so life got better, and through it all I somehow stuck with hockey and the hockey world was generous enough to stick with me.

And here I am.

And here is my crazy little self-indulgent blog, nickdoeshockey, which has recently passed 100,000 views (a lot more than all five of my published novels combined, just quietly) through almost 33,000 individual users, according to the WordPress statistical robots. Viewers officially from every continent, including Antarctica (even if I suspect that turned out to be a hoax from Adelaide. Nevertheless.) Who would have thought?

The proof. Amazeballs, as the kids like to say. Well, used to like to say.

The proof. Amazeballs, as the kids like to say. Well, used to like to say.

I still find those figures hard to believe. But there they are. Thank you to everybody who has spent time in this icy, random corner of the interweb.

My happy place: the spacious, luxuriously appointed expanses of an Oakleigh change room, with the 16/17 incarnation of the Cherokees.

My happy place: the spacious, luxuriously appointed expanses of an Oakleigh change room, with the 16/17 incarnation of the Cherokees.

Six years after my first hockey class, my first suspected broken arm and my first blog post, my life is in a very different place but the world remains a strange, sometimes cruel and frightening place. I generally have a rosy, optimistic view, by nature, but sometimes keeping that up can be difficult. Like when a truly hideous individual somehow gets voted in as US President, or when I sit in front of my laptop and the prospects of ever making a living as an Australian author of fiction seem more remote than ever (not just for me, for the vast majority of us, hacking away), or when I gaze towards Nauru and Manus Island and see my Government continuing to commit crimes against humanity, or when my everyday sources of paying the rent appear worryingly fragile. To make things worse, the Red Wings are going to finally break The Streak this season (I’m calling it now), Richmond seems to be a non-contender, as ever, and I’m currently sporting a truly horrible moustache – although at least that’s for a good cause.

And so hockey still needs to occasionally play the original role I asked of it – as a pure all-senses-engaged escapism from life outside the glass wall.

And it does. Mysteriously, I am currently in what’s probably the best form of my life, feeling confident, fit and even occasionally quite fast on the ice. I’ve been scoring points and goals and causing trouble, and man, oh man, but is hockey a more fun place when you don’t feel like you’re just making up the numbers or not really contributing to your team.

It’s so nice to feel fit, and not be nursing any injuries. To be with teammates you really like and share an instinctive understanding, including trusty Big Cat on the right wing, slotting a dirty, doorstop rooftop goal to give me a not-much-deserved assist on the weekend.

Have bad mo, will travel.

Have bad mo, will travel.

And so we set sail to who knows where, in life, in hockey and in this blog. Whether the blog makes it to 200,000 views or not doesn’t matter to me at all. It’s charted my crazy hockey adventure to here, and that’s fine. It’s introduced me to so many great people, opened unexpected doors into the small but passionate Melbourne hockey world, is currently hopefully raising a bit of money for Movember (oh, I don’t look good at all) and who knows how long it has to run? The last two summers, I’ve finished the season thinking that was it; I’d almost certainly retire. But then a few months later, I think: why would I?

Right now, I’m loving playing and loving the Real Life Shutout that only hockey can provide. Long may it last.



Introducing ‘The Podium Line’

The Podium Line: Big Cat, Nicko and Mackqvist.

You know you’re having a good week of hockey when scoring the Game Winning Goal (GWG) isn’t the highlight of your week.

That rare and unlikely event – me scoring a GWG – happened on Wednesday night; my first goal in 10 pm dev league. This will sound strange but as rapt as I was to see my shot from the slot beat a totally-screened goalie, I was most satisfied because the goal came as the result of a classic barely-noticed one-percenter. The opposition defence controlled the puck at our goal line and instead of hanging back, I skated hard to put pressure on the puck-carrier. As a result, his attempt to clear it down the boards was angled too sharply, to get around me, and rebounded to one of our defenders, inside the blue, instead of making it out of the zone. A fight for the puck from there saw it suddenly spill into open ice and onto my stick as I turned, nicely on my forehand. Somehow all the heavy traffic in front of me didn’t get in the way of my shot which went like a slow exocet into the bottom right corner. Remember Luke Skywalker using the Force to shoot a missile into the Death Star’s air conditioning duct? It was pretty much exactly the same thing but at the Icehouse.

Opposition coach Webster wandered into the change rooms after the game and said: “Was that you? I was looking down at the whiteboard and missed it.”

“Yep,” I replied. “It was beautiful. It was like the legs just parted and it went straight in.”

Lliam, Wunders, Kittens and I stopped to reflect briefly on how that statement would sound in any context other than hockey, and then thankfully moved on.

As we changed back into street clothes, Lliam picked up a few pieces of paper that had been left in the room and discovered it was a list of “great lines of NHL” and not-NHL. For non-hockey folk reading, groups of forwards hit the ice during games in lines of three players (Left Wing, Centre and Right Wing), and defenders two at a time (Left Dee, Right Dee). So you have linemates. Sometimes these can shuffle during a season, or even during a game, but all going well, the same three forwards work as a line for a long period of time, to get to know each other’s games and develop understanding and set plays.

In hockey history, there have been occasionally great lines which earn their own nicknames, such as the Red Wings’ famed “Production Line” of Gordie Howe (“Mr Hockey”), Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay. This line was so productive in the late Forties that it dominated the entire competition. Amazingly, in 1950, the three Red Wings finished first, second and third in scoring for the NHL. One line providing the league’s top three scorers. Holy crap. It will stun you to know that the Wings won the Stanley Cup that year.

Detroit’s most famous line: The Production Line of G. Howe, Lindsay and Abel.

So Lliam kicked through the pages of famous lines and I mentioned that Friday night promised history as my younger son, Macklin, joined Will (aka Big Cat) and I in a social match against an IBM team. The first and maybe only time that the three Places would form a line.

We all went to work, throwing names around for the looming Place line. Facebook had been running hot with what would make an appropriate collective noun for a group of Places. I had opted for “a clusterfuck of Places”, but other suggestions had included “a map of Places”, a “postcode of Places”, and a “pose of Places”.

Finally, we arrived on The Podium Line – first Place, second Place and third Place. Bow.

And so it happened. Macka suited up, we posed for photos – Will looking surly because he had ‘game face’ on – and got our arses handed to us by an IBM team that decided the best way to approach a social match was to draft in some Canadians and some guy who allegedly played international junior hockey for Sweden. Turns out he was better than me. And everybody.

Between shifts. Pic: Anna Heywood

But I didn’t care about the lopsided scoreline. The game was played in the usual good spirit, and shit, I got to skate with my boys – even if I didn’t skate particularly well. Macka abused Will for having a shot instead of passing it to him, gave me advice about positioning and then took a hard shot to the ankle in the second game, a friendly fundraiser for the Melbourne Ice, to end up on crutches. Solid night’s work. There’s no need here, in this public forum, to go into who hammered a puck into my young son’s ankle – managing to find the only unprotected spot and seriously injure him. This isn’t about blame, Hodson. Not at all.

The man WHO TRIED TO KILL MY SON!                  Pic: Tarcha Lou

Anyway, Mac was up until well after midnight, texting everybody he’d ever met to boast that he’d suffered the nastiest injury of any Place on a hockey arena – a compliment/observation from Big Cat – and then the next day attempted crutches for as long as it took to realize they are more uncomfortable than just trying to walk on a nasty bruise. He had a top weekend. As did Big Cat, who scored a sublime goal with a shot across the goalie to the top corner in the second game, to make his night.

And my weekend was fun, even if I lacked respect for the first strong sunshine of the season at the famed Bang Superkick on Sunday, suffering a nasty sunburn while finishing decidedly mid-field among hot competition in every sense.

The boys’ mum, Anna, had been on hand on Friday night, armed with a camera, and dropped by with the pics shown on this blog. In almost every action shot, I’m flat-footed, camped on both skates, looking as proppy as I felt on the night. Both boys are moving their feet, moving well – even Mac who has only just started Intermediate. Dammnit. Yet again, I’m battling realistic expectations versus frustrations. But not now, not here.

For now, I’m just saluting the night that Will, Mac and I formed the Podium Line for hockey history. It may happen 1000 times, or never again. But it happened – and that rocks.

History: Mack and I jump the boards together in a game.