You can’t go back

Police Squad! - In Colour!

Police Squad! – In Colour!

One of the greatest moments of ‘Police Squad!’, one of the greatest (in my humble opinion) American sit-coms – the forerunner to ‘The Naked Gun’* and Leslie Neilsen’s debut as the magnificent Sgt Frank Drebin – is when Drebin and Ed, his offsider, go to Manhattan’s Little Italy district to interview the widow of a recently murdered man. As Ed dutifully interviews her (‘Did your husband have any enemies? ‘Well, the Democrats didn’t like him.’), she wails: ‘Oh, do you know what it’s like to be married to a wonderful man for 14 years?’ and Frank says, no of course not … but I did live with a guy once. He then goes into a long, non-sequitur reminiscence that is just breathtaking scriptwriting, from where I stand. Breaking the fourth wall, he eventually muses that living with the guy’s son just wasn’t the same.

‘You can’t go back,’ he says wistfully, as Ed asks: ‘I know this is a long shot but did he ever eat chop suey? … it was just a hunch’.

Genius. In fact, dammnit, I might have posted this before because I love it so much but what the Hell. Just spend two minutes watching this. Please.

So the hockey relevance of all this? Well, it’s kind of obvious, I would have thought: my stick died recently.

This doesn’t sound like such a big deal. Sticks are plentiful and if you look behind your average NHL bench, there’s a quiver of sticks for each player, to grab if one breaks – which it often does, given how hard those guys are hitting the puck … and each other, and each other’s sticks.

But I loved my stick. I found it in Chicago in 2011, when Big Cat and I travelled to the outer burbs to a huge barn called Total Hockey. (Mackquist being Mackquist, he’d started the day by saying: ‘Oh, I have a friend in Chicago so I’m going to see her today. See ya.’ and caught a train God knows where …) That left Big Cat and I in a dedicated hockey city, and we made it count. For a couple of Australians used to having to choose from a smattering of hockey kit at Bladeworx in Hawthorn, or the tiny shop at Oakleigh’s rink, or the small selection of gear available for purchase at the Icehouse, Total Hockey was basically Gear Porn.

Picture an entire wall of gloves. A. Wall. Picture racks maybe 25 metres long, with sticks, endless sticks, on both sides of the divide. Every curve that had ever been invented, and every flex variation, length, and brand.

The whole store was like that. Basically, if you’re in Australia, imagine a Rebel Sport store, but ALL HOCKEY. Yes, that’s what we were experiencing. Willio and I walked in and just went: ‘ooooooooooooh.’

I was actually pretty happy at the time with the gloves and the stick I was using back home in Australia. It’s funny, now, three years later, to think how unformed I was then as a player. I guess I still am now, but the Nicko Place who used to wobble around the ice in 2011 would (I’m reasonably sure) get mostly smoked by the Nicko Place who wobbles slightly more efficiently around the ice now. Definitely, my passing and shot were nowhere near what they are now, so it didn’t matter as much which stick I was using.

But as Big Cat held and weighed and considered every right hand stick in the barn, I wandered the leftie sticks and poked around. And then happened to pick up a Reebok, 85 flex, Crosby curve.

My beloved 2011 Reebok stick.

My beloved 2011 Reebok stick.

There’s a scene in the first Harry Potter book/film where Harry goes to the wand shop and is told that the wand chooses the wizard, not the other way around. This felt like the hockey equivalent. For some reason, the moment I held this stick, it felt ‘right’. I just knew this was my stick. It had chosen me.

(I then wandered over to the glove wall and tried on a pair of gloves that sucked onto my hand and form-fitted to the degree that I had the same feeling, that I simply couldn’t not buy them. They died recently as well, so I bought some really decent Easton gloves, had hands of stone for a few weeks, then sucked it up and went and bought the new version of those Chicago gloves. (Vapor A2’s, if you’re wondering.) Now my hands are happy once more.)

But back to the stick. I – or it – was totally right. As my hockey improved and I began actually playing competition, my trusty Reebok stick was a constant companion on the journey. We scored goals together. We learned to saucer pass and cross-ice pass to a moving target. We even flirted with lifting shots to the top corner of a goal. It was with this stick that I scored my first-ever official IHV goal, basically golf-shotting a face-off drop straight between the goalie and the left post at Oakleigh. And where I managed to not score a goal through the most unlikely manner of striking a shot too high at the same end of Oakleigh, so that the shot pinged off the top bar and stayed out. That would have been my first goal for the Cherokees, so it still hurts that I somehow overcooked it.

But time and use caught up with my old Reebok. The toe of the stick started to crumble and became jagged. I began taping the end but finally Army, at the Icehouse, ruled that it was pretty dangerous; that you wouldn’t want to catch somebody with this now ragged fiberglass. I knew he was right.

So Big Cat and I headed to Oakleigh and I tried a dozen or more sticks and none of them had that Chicago moment, of the hockey angels singing as I hoisted My Stick. I bought a Nexus which is a perfectly fine stick, and have spent a couple of months getting the hang of it, to the point that I can now trap pucks, shoot, do all my usual things with it, but it’s never felt the same.

And then last week, I was early for a meeting in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, and wandering the strip, happened to cruise into Bladeworx.

Everything old is new again ... the 2014 Reebok.

Everything old is new again … the 2014 Reebok.

There, sandwiched between a bunch of sticks, was a left-handed Reebok, 85 flex, Crosby curve.

Ermergerd!

It’s not exactly my old stick: I think it’s actually a level or two below the technology in the original, but I bought it – $79 off the listed price: thank you, Bladeworx – and used it last night in dev league and it felt great.

I still like the Nexus and it’s cool that I have a couple of sticks to use now, if one breaks. But I suspect I’m going to find myself more and more using the Reebok.

There’s just something about that stick. Sorry Frank Drebin, but you were wrong: when the stars align, you actually can go back.

* NOTE: Police Squad’ is available on DVD and, I think, on AppleTV. It only ran for six episodes in 1982 (two years after ‘Airplane / Flying High’ had hit movie screens) because the American audience simply didn’t get it. Six years later, the Zucker brothers revived Neilsen as Drebin for ‘The Naked Gun’ on the big screen and the concept clicked. The movies are good, but this TV series was amazing. Now I think of it, you can probably watch the whole thing, or close to it, on Youtube… enjoy.

I’ve made a huge mistake.

So, I arrived back in Melbourne mid-morning on Monday on the red-eye from LA. Feeling strangely not too bad.

Went for a run at about 5 pm, to keep creeping tiredness at bay until a decent sleep hour. Also drank some wines at dinner, which was a rookie error or a veteran sleep-well move, depending on your take. I slept.
Ran again in the heat on Tuesday, to start warding off those American carbohydrate extra pounds.

Testing my new Reeboks at a General Skate in Chicago, October, 2011.

And then it was Wednesday.
And pretty quickly, I realised I’d made a huge mistake.
A Biblical storm was closing in on Melbourne and I could have so easily scrambled for home, a couch, some whisky, the ever-loving smooches from my faithful hound, and some TV and early sleep.
Instead I turned my car west and headed for the Icehouse, marvelling at the cloudscape as I descended on Docklands from the Goalpost Bridge freeway (no traffic and a rockstar park at the Icehouse front door, because of said storm: awesome).
And that’s when I realised my mistake. You see, for most of this year, Wednesday has meant hockey class: Intro for two terms, and then Intermediate last term. As previously discussed, this term I decided not to enrol in Intermediate again because of my frank assessment that my skating isn’t good enough to progress to Dev League. So I’ve decided to spend the summer having private skating lessons, and/or just hanging endless laps and trying hockey moves on the Bradbury Rink.
Which is all fine and remains an excellent plan. Except that I have to walk past the Heinke Rink and see classes in full flight. The intermediate classes I should be part of, with my usual classmates out there, chasing pucks.
Everybody was super friendly and glad to see me back. It’s very cool what a strong ice family we have built in less than a year, from our ever-expanding Facebook Icehouse Rookies group to just random banter at the venue. The McNab girls, friends of mine, are in Intro and were wearing armour for the first time last night, enjoying the wonders of Supermans and the other rookie moves that made me nostalgic for, what? April?
But then I felt like a loner as I turned my back on all my classmates and headed to the public rink; to toil on my pivots and backward skating and other moves in gloves, helmet and basic padding, but not in the usual class environment.
This term has about five weeks to go and it’s going to be difficult.
There is plenty of upside though. Wednesday night turns out to be a good one for general skating, with very few people there, whether it’s because they thought Melbourne was going to be levelled by the storm and had loved ones to spend their final moments with, or 7 pm Wednesday just isn’t a time people usually skate.
I was on my beautiful new Reebox 11s – as worn by Pavel Datsyuk among others – and they are definitely superior to my old Bauer Vapors. Much more comfortable and fit better (a whole size smaller). I feel more in control even now, when they’re new and the cut is fresh. I read a book recently that discussed hockey skates and said: “A hockey stick is like a date. They come and go. Your skates are your wife.” You do get attached to them, and need to trust them as you perform ridiculous moves that are going to hurt if they go wrong. I feel better in these ones.
Plus even Lliam was impressed by my new wheels, so they have the Cool factor. Pumped up kicks.


Out on the ice, I realised I hadn’t skated at all for something like nine weeks, apart from a cameo appearance in the final scrimmage class of Intermediate (between mantas and American adventures) and one test-the-skates session in Chicago, where Will and I joined locals on an indoor rink, surrounded by Blackhawks of all shapes and sizes, for five bucks a skate.
But even that was more than two weeks ago.
At the Icehouse I took a while to find my legs, then skated fast, zipping around the track, and tried some slow pivots, hockey stops … all my usual foes. I even did 360 spins – as in, pivot and keep pivoting – just to see how long I could balance while turning like an idiot. I figure to get better,I need to conquer balance. Once or twice, at high speed (for me), I almost lost it and had to recover through sheer arse and hammie work. I stayed up. Felt good. Skated for almost three hours.
It was so nice to be back on the ice. Even if I was deliberately ignoring Will and the others, enjoying intermediate followed by dev league. I hope I can catch up when I return from this self-imposed exile.

* A tip of the hat, yet again, to Arrested Development.