The most beautiful chime in the world

A puck can make many different sounds near the goal. There’s the dull thud of it hitting a goalie’s padding, or the soft thwack of it being swallowed by the goalie’s glove. There’s the clank of the puck bouncing off the goalie’s stick and the heart-stopping ping of it hitting the frame of the goal, usually riccocheting back into play.

But then there’s another sound – a sound that ranks among the best I have heard in my entire life*.

It’s the chime of the puck hitting the bottom metal framework of the goal, at the back of the net, behind the goalie.

Yes, my first goal in Summer League Rec D was a sensory overload.

The big moment. My first Summer League goal (We’re in our cool Arato-designed white-and-red Interceptor “away” jerseys. I was wearing No. 4 instead of my usual 17. Now known as lucky number 4.) Pic: Elizabeth Vine

As I wrote last week, I felt like I just hadn’t had a chance to skate in last week’s game, so I made sure I got three or four general skates in during the week, including a skate on the morning of Sunday’s game against the Jets. Nothing strenuous; just getting the legs moving and enjoying watching Chloé finding her legs on the almost empty ice.

Our coach, Will Ong, had reacted to my frustration, which was cool, and made me Centre, instead of Wing, on a fourth line of forwards, so I got to take face-offs and skate like a maniac from the jump.

There are different strategies at face-offs; even different stick-grips, depending on the situation. Mostly a Centre is hoping to knock the puck back to a D man, the theory being that that player has more time and space than the Wings and Centre who are all pushing and shoving and tangled with their opposition. The D can see who gets clear and look for a pass.

But we had several face-offs in a row from the face-off spot immediately to the left of the goal we were attacking. The fact it was on the left side was significant for me, because it meant my forehand shot was towards the goal.

I kept hunching over my stick, ready for the puck drop, looking at how close the goal was, only two or three metres away. Sure, there was the goalie, and several defenders between me and it, but if I could win a face-off cleanly… It was like a tee-shot in golf. I knew exactly where the puck would be, and everybody was stopped, flat footed.

Of course, it didn’t work. My opponent won the face-off, clattering the puck to the boards and his defender. The next face-off from that spot saw us tangle sticks, an inconclusive result, and the Jets smacked the puck to the other end for an icing.

Which brought us back to the same spot.

And the most sweetly hit puck of my career so far. My face-off opponent was a fraction early, swinging over the puck, but my blade found it and somehow, against all the odds, the shot was true.

Oh, man.

The visual of seeing the puck vanish through that tiny gap between the goalie’s right leg and the goal. That chime. The ref taking a moment to realise what had happened. The reaction of my teammates.

The goal itself wasn’t that important. I think it made the scoreline 4-0 to us, so it wasn’t some last second game-winner or anything like that.

But I felt this weight lift. That chime meant something else, for me alone.

It sounded a bell that I belong in this competition; that I can genuinely play. I’ve had goal-assists in every game and done some good things, but there was something about scoring that goal, about single-handedly finding the net – the coach called it “audacious” – that confirmed for me, finally, that I wasn’t kidding myself by trying to play Summer League after less than two years on the ice. That I can cut it enough to be there.

I suspect everybody playing Summer League for the first time, or any sport for the first time, carries that fear: will I be good enough? Will I be competitive? Will I be embarrassed?

That chime behind the goalie said: it’s okay. You can turn up and believe you deserve your spot on the team.

Celebration time: Yes, the No. 4 still pumping the air would be me. OK, I probably shouldn’t have kept doing this for 19 minutes … Pic: Elizabeth Vine.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a goal that does that, but we all need to look for that moment. For a goalie, it only takes a genuine, legitimate, stone-cold save. Or so many other moments within moments, which hockey games are full of. One of our team, Clayton, moved to a wing this week, from defence, and won a tough physical battle on the blue line, as well as finding his attacking game. Scarlett, the only woman playing for us on Sunday, tangled with bigger players and won her share of physical battles for the puck. Our most hot-headed defender, Mike Donohue, didn’t take the bait when an opponent tried to go toe-to-toe, a triumph of a whole other kind.

I’ve been determined that this blog won’t turn into a quasi-match report for Summer League. It’s why I haven’t gone blow-by-blow through our games as my team, the Spitfire Interceptors, has made its way to three straight wins to start the season, as has our sister team, the Spitfire Fighters. I’m sure we’re going to hit one of the more experienced, accomplished teams in the coming weeks and find our confidence tested.

But some moments just have to be noted. Ah, that chime. I’m still grinning like a school kid, listening to the ring of that goal over and over in my head. Hell, if they’d given me an assist on Zac Arato’s goal, despite the minor issue of a defender touching it between my shot and Zac’s, I’d have a two point-per-game average right now. Wayne Gretsky finished his career with a 1.921 points-per-game average. Just saying **

Hockey can be sweet.

* Other great sounds, in no particular order: thunder, the clink of glasses, the sound of surf, a Richmond crowd rising to a great goal, certain moans and sighs, a cat purring, child laughter, a guitar played properly, silence after a busy day.

** Career stats for further analysis:  N. Place: three games (Melbourne Summer Recreational League D).  Goals: 1. Assists: 3. Hat tricks: 0.
W. Gretsky: 1487 games (NHL). Career regular season goals (894), assists (1,963), points (2,857), and hat tricks (50). The next closest player in total points for the regular season is sometime teammate Mark Messier at 1,887 – thus Gretzky had more career assists than any other player has total points. Gretzky’s point total including regular season and playoffs stands at an imposing 3,239. (Wikipedia)

Down with the Hockey Temperance League!

Look, I don’t see it as my job to be socially responsible. I never asked to be a role model, as other maligned celebrities such as footballers, Natalie Portman and Jessica Rabbit have long maintained.

So here’s the thing: I want all you Melbourne hockey players to drink more on a Saturday night.

I want you guys who can really play to spend more time getting maggoted of a Saturday evening, truly donning those beer goggles, so that you’re in absolutely no fit state to, say, as a completely random example, attend an 8.30 am Stick & Puck session on a Sunday morning.

Is that too much to ask? I’ll even buy the first beer … before slipping away like smoke into a flame, as Paul Kelly sang (“Jundamarra“), to ensure I get a good night’s sleep, ready for, say, as a random idea, a Sunday morning Stick & Puck session.

How the rink was supposed to look when we arrived on Sunday morning.

As you may have guessed by now, my Sunday didn’t go according to plan. Showing admirable dedication to the sport, my puck buddy (yes, that was a ‘p’) Alex McNab vowed she was attending the 8.30 am Stick & Puck, pre-starting Intermediate tomorrow night. Her sister, Scarlett, declared that she was also in and, damn it, so was I. (Big Cat Place’s reply: “You’ve got to be kidding?”)

What the McNabs and I hadn’t counted on was turning up to find the Henke Rink logjam full of players, many of whom were clearly advanced players using the session for intense one-on-one defending/attacking drills, end-to-end skating and other high-standard drills; stuff that left us Rookies with very little clear ice on which to practice passes or, in my case, fall over. (Right-foot front-foot outside-edge turn getting ever closer.)

I’d gotten home at about 1.30 am the night before, after making the ill-advised decision that riding my pushbike to a party in Reservoir wouldn’t be much of a ride from my place. Ten mostly uphill kilometres later, I was ready for a drink and several whiskies later, I made the excellent decision to escape before the karaoke machine in the front room claimed my soul, or at least my dignity.

The ride home contained a whole bevy of adventures not related to a hockey blog, but the bottom line is that the alarm sounding at 7.30 am was a shock. Undaunted, I vaulted out of bed. The dream of clear ice, of an empty training session where I could skate free, the breeze in my helmeted hair, was too inviting.

How hockey players should spend Saturday nights ...

Right up until we walked in and saw the ice was packed.

So, I mean, really, hockey players. Get it together. Do I need to spell this out to you?

Hockey is a working class, blue-collar, hard-drinking, fighting, cussing, rough-and-ready sport. There is no place in the game for disciplined trainers who are clear-eyed and ready to skate just after dawn on a Sunday. OK?

Glad we’re clear on that. Enjoy your Sunday sleep-in. Or else.