And so, here we all sit (again) …

Bring back the Glaciarium, at Southbank, Melbourne. And 12 more rinks, while we’re at it.

And so here we all sit, trembling and sweating over our computer keyboards … which is not what you’re thinking.

It’s ticking towards 10.40 am on Enrolment Day and all over Melbourne, hockey rookies are terrified they won’t get into the Icehouse classes.

The fact is that the system is horrible, even if the Icehouse staff are endlessly friendly and try their best. Every term, we all spend this day not getting any work done, wondering what the ominous words: “Waiting lists are now full for this class” mean, and terrified that we’ll miss the magical moment when the Icehouse website clicks over to “click here to enrol“.

Ice hockey in Victoria has a fantastic problem, when it comes down to it. It is becoming far too popular for its own good. Big Cat and I seem to have hooked into the sport, right in line with the zeitgeist, when a whole bunch of other people also tuned into the brand new Icehouse, and the success of a crack Melbourne Ice unit, and whatever other factors have pushed the sport to this tipping point where too many people want to learn, compared to the amount of class time available.

The big question: who will win the lotto and click their way into Dev League for the next term?

Joey Hughes has set up Next Level Hockey at the old Oakleigh rink, in an attempt to offer other opportunities, but how the sport’s officials must wish rinks in Footscray, Ringwood, and even Bendigo, hadn’t closed down over the past couple of decades. I say we knock down the ABC Studios at Southbank and go back to the days when the magnificently ornate Glaciarium stood there. But this time with glass boards around the rink, so we can karoom each other off them in Dev League.

I once bought a magazine for a joke in one of those Smith Street flea market stores that all seem to have disappeared lately. It was a “Man” magazine from the 1950s; an Australian forerunner to Playboy, as far as I could tell. I gave it to Jay, one of Big Cat’s mates, for his eighteenth birthday, because he’d become a man now, and was ready to look at racy photos of women in pre-Sixties bikinis and one-pieces that left a great deal to the imagination, covering most of the torso.

Of course, I bought it for the articles and was stunned when one turned out to be fascinating. It was a story about the growth of ice hockey in Australia – yes, way back then. Even more amazingly, the writer concluded the piece by declaring that ice hockey could be a successful minor sport in Australia if it could build stadiums seating about 3000 people in each city. You know what? Sixty or so years later, he remains completely correct. On Sunday, Melbourne Ice will play the Sydney Ice Dogs in front of a sold out crowd of 1500 or so at the Icehouse; with all 1000 seats packed in the one grandstand facing the Henke Rink. In those stands, hockey students will ask one another: Did you get in? Which class? Did you have to sign up for the death shift of 11.15 pm-12.15 am Dev League, just to get a spot?

To be fair, it looks as though the ice was pretty crowded at the Glaciarium, back in the day.

So much wild enthusiasm, so many rookies wanting to learn, to skate, to join summer league teams, to become hockey players … and all of three blocks of ice in all of Melbourne. And a great chunk of that rink time devoted to speed skating and figure skating and curling and general skating.

Open for registration already (as I endlessly hit refresh on the Icehouse store) are 15 categories of speed skating classes. Intermediate 1, to choose one at random, has nine separate classes within it.

I love watching the speed skaters and am on friendly nodding turns with the ones who are always present at general skate, looping lazily around the ice like the giant bull rays that circle endlessly under the Lorne pier, or along the Queenscliff dock when I go diving.

But really, how many speed skaters are there in Victoria?

We are loaded to the gills with 30 or more participants in every hockey class (except the 11.15 pm Dev League which is a career-killer for anybody with a job).

Figure skating too, although I concede there are an awful lot of girls doing that instead of ballet.

I guess the stronger Olympic disciplines get some kind of priority at the Icehouse, which is technically Australia’s winter Olympic training venue.

But it’s a shame, for us hockey rinkrats, us rookies who want to play for fun and laughter and competition and fitness and the social circles and all the other reasons that those not aspiring to unlikely Olympic success play for. We remain on the borders of the Icehouse thinking, no matter how many stick& puck sessions and drop-in scrimmages they schedule, usually at 6 am or during office hours.

Damn, I wish I’d discovered this sport when I was a uni student – except that I never was; I started full time as a copyboy at The Herald newspaper at the age of 17 and worked full time ever since.

Damn, I wish I’d discovered this sport during my childhood in Canada, where frozen lakes and rinks in every suburb would have fed my young craving. Except that I was born in Melbourne’s suburbs and Burwood wasn’t known for its quality ice in Gardiners Creek.

Sigh, I guess, like the other rookies, I just have to fight for whatever ice-time I can get.

10.54 am …

Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.

UPDATE: The site finally opened for registrations at about 11.44 am. We all pounced. It crashed. No idea if I’m sitting out next term or not. This is truly pathetic, Icehouse. For the record.