The walking wounded

A huge Oakleigh crowd watches the dying seconds of the Ceptors' win; Jay Hellis in perfect pose, mid shut-out. (Pic: Elizabeth Vine)

A huge Oakleigh crowd watches the last seconds of the Ceptors’ win; Jay Hellis in perfect pose, mid shut-out. (Pic: Elizabeth Vine)

“So, let’s get this straight,” I said, looking around the purple haze of Interceptor jerseys in the Oakleigh rink’s tiniest change-room. Pointing, and ticking off our players.

Two bad knees: one for the season, the other almost certainly for the season.

Next player: a suspected broken toe.

Next along: a badly swollen puck-hammered thumb.

Next along: separated shoulder, now strapped up and on a prayer to survive the game about to start.

Next to me, on the right: painful back that hurts badly after every game.

Me: dubious knee that is refusing to heal.

Next to me, on the left: another strained and painful lower back.

And so it went. Around the room.

“You know what?” I said, thinking aloud. “We’re a real hockey team now.”

Mid-season, winning some, losing some. Just about everybody carrying something; maybe major, maybe not. At the bare minimum number of players without forfeiting, because Interceptors were away or on hens’ nights or sick or elsewhere.

And about to face a bunch of our friends in the TigerSharks, who had played the night before and were also only just able to scrape a healthy team together on a Saturday evening for this clash.

It’s 30 degree C-plus almost every day outside at the moment in Melbourne, but in the magnificently dilapidated surrounds of the Olympic Ice Rink, sliding and scrapping across a block of freshly-laid ice, or at the Icehouse, the war of attrition between Summer Rec D teams continues.

Maybe this is not mid-season as much as just hockey. After the endless NHL lockout, the Red Wings returned to find they were alrady in disarray with a bunch of injuries that have stopped coach Babcock fielding what he would regard as his best team at any stage so far, a quarter of the way into the season. Heroically, my winged wheel team keeps finding ways to win, more than they lose, although there have been a few meek days. This photo from the game against the Oilers on the weekend is one of the best hockey shots I’ve seen (and well found, James Smith).

Red Wings v Oilers. Pic: NHL (I think) via Facebook.

Red Wings v Oilers. Pic: NHL (I think) via Facebook.

The staggering Ceptors managed a win, with my boy, Big Cat, scoring a hat-trick and his old man, camped in the slot at the moment that counted, managing to swipe a rebound through the goalie’s five-hole for our other goal. Unfortunately the refs didn’t see it like that, giving one of Big Cat’s goals to somebody else, and mine to the assist before it. But gave me the assist. Weird. If I had one take-out of my first summer league competition, it would be to politely suggest to Ice Hockey Victoria that the official scorers consult the coach and captain of each team before officially signing off on the score sheet. Nobody is about to deliberately steal somebody else’s goal, and it would be nice to have them right when they’re lodged. Every time I talk to players from other teams, they have stories of wrongly-attributed goals but I don’t blame the refs at all – they have a million other things to think about mid-game. We should just be able to correct mistakes before we leave the rooms. Then again, Pete Sav got the goal for his shot, which deflected off Big Cat’s leg. Does it change anything? All that really matters is that the goal went in. It counted.

So we had a win – goalie Jay having a kick-arse shut-out that I was crazy-excited about, for him, after all his hard work, over the last couple of years – and we shared our post-game beer with the TigerSharks, before I limped off into the dusk, my stupid knee still giving me grief. Don’t know right now if it’s going to last the season or not. Strangely, it is least troublesome when skating, but I pulled out of Powerskating with Zac, at the Icehouse last Wednesday (it is an intense class – everything I hate, but NEED to do, from intensive crossover work to outside edge work) because I wanted to make sure I made it safely to Saturday’s game where we were so short of numbers. The injury feels like a timebomb, yet hasn’t collapsed yet.

Nicko, v Champs at the Icehouse. Lots to work on, including not looking at the puck while skating, apparently. (Pic Elizabeth Vine)

Nicko, v Champs at the Icehouse. Lots to work on to improve, including not looking at the puck while skating, apparently. (Pic Elizabeth Vine)

I think this week I’ll play Dev League. And power-skating. No tomorrow; suffering in the interests of improving my ever-not-good-enough skating. If my knee folds, it folds.

It was strange to score a goal but leave the game feeling unsatisfied, knowing that I hadn’t skated well enough and feeling like I hadn’t put skating skills I know I have into practice during the actual games. Why don’t I do crossovers when carrying the puck? Why don’t I carry the puck more? Things to work on this Wednesday at Dev. If I can walk.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m whinging by the way. I loved our win and had an awesome weekend on and off the ice, even if painful when I walk or ride my bike. Then again, when I show up on Wednesday night and look around the change room, the chances are that everybody else at Dev League will  also be carrying a wound or strain or bruise or knee or back or something at this stage of things.

So giddyup, Nicko.

We’re hockey players. We need to go play hockey now.

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.”