The Quadrella, Part III

Dev League, Tuesday night, in full flight. Pic: by me, on iPhone, on the bench. Cool or dweeb? Such a fine line.

The Third Leg, Tuesday: 5 pm and we’re in the Icehouse change-rooms and it’s silent. Everybody’s lost in thought, shifting gears from work, uni, relationships and whatever else is swirling in real life, as they strap on armour, tape socks, yank skate laces and move into a hockey head space.

We hit the ice and I snowplough hard on my right leg and my quadriceps in that limb aren’t even close to happy. I have a half-hearted shot at the empty net and skate straight to the centre circle for some serious stretching. Oh, that’s right … it’s less than 24 hours since all that skipping and moving and boxing with Mischa. Something is rebelling deep under my left shoulder blade too. Two legs of the quadrella to go and the pain is rising. But I’m a hockey player, right? And I’m loving being back on the ice after almost a week. It’s time to play hockey. I snarl and grin and head to the bench, resplendent in my Slap Slot “Chiefs” jersey (Hanson 17).

Bring it.

And the game is a cracker. This is Intro Dev League and I’m starting to be able to keep up, even if there is one uy, on the other team, who is about three levels above us. Luckily he is generous and doesn’t totally dominate, looking to pass off, reather than just charge the net every time.

The rest of us scramble and try to hold our positions and work on clean passing, battling for the puck against the boards and finding teammates in space. I feel like I’m skating okay.

In fact, after several shifts, a miracle happens. Brendan is near the boards and we’re in attack. He passes in-board to another teammate who swipes towards goal. It beats everybody but skims across the front of the goal and guess who is right there, miraculously all alone and in the perfect spot to trap and tap the puck through the vacant bottom hole in the imitation goalie’s defence?

Uh huh. You know it. IN YOUR FACE, IMITATION GOALIE!

N. Place scores his first ever genuine matchplay goal in Dev League. Oh yeah.

And while we’re on miracles on ice (good film, btw) … in the very next shift, I’m mid-ice as two or three white team opponents move forward. One loses control of the puck for a moment, I snipe it and suddenly I’m clear on a breakaway.

And I don’t even panic and close to within 6-8 metres and shoot and score! Iin the same slot.

Truth be told, this shot may have grazed the imitation goalie fabric (Big Cat Place, The Artist Formerly Known As Kittens*, ever supportive, remains adamant it wasn’t a goal), but Army as ref signalled goal, and Tommy Powell, the other ref, congratulated me later on the snipe and counter attack goal. I grudgingly admitted I thought it might not have been clean but he said it looked fine to him.

“So you reckon it was good, and Army signalled goal. Good enough for me,” I said. “I’m claiming it.”

Ice star Tommy Powell is all-business, reffing our game.

Two goals in two shifts.Wow.

In Tuesday Dev League, it’s shift on, shift off (1 min, 15 sec each time) so I had more than a minute to patiently explain to my teammates on the bench how brilliant each goal was before the next shift. Which was awesome for them.

In fact, on the shift after my second goal, I was designated for D (defence) and jumped the wall, saying loudly: “Well, I am the premier goalscorer but for the good of the team, I guess I’ll shore up the defence as well.” … all of which I thought was funny until I saw Tommy’s face as he overheard this. “Jokes, Tommy, jokes,” I gasped, hustling to pick up some pace, the puck already in play.

All in all, had a blast. By now, as you can imagine, any aches and pains were a distant memory. I was floating. I went over a couple of times, as you do, but was reasonably solid on my skates and my puck-handling is definitely improving every game.

The best thing about finishing a game at 6.30 pm is that you’re home, with take-away food, at a decent time to watch the highlights of the Red Wings’ 7-2 smashing of Columbus (Oh yeah! Found our mojo right before the play-offs – Mack, Will and I are more in man-love with the rookie, Nyquist, than ever), plus Robot Chicken and Sherlock before bed … still arguing with your oldest son over whether fabric moving matters if two Melbourne Ice stars have agreed it’s a goal.

Bloody kids.

(* Big Cat scored two goals as well. And, because I’m a lot more fucking gracious than he is, it should be recorded that one was a sizzling shot from near the boards. Zetterberg, eat your heart out.)

Supermans, Russian roulette & a hip-hopper called G-Storm

“So,” said Magic Enzo, the osteo, on Monday. “How’s that shoulder? Have you been looking after it.”

“You bet,” I said.

“What did you do on the weekend.”

“Um, played hockey, then watched hockey, then got wildly drunk, then played footy, then watched footy. Rode my bike around.”

“Did you land on your shoulder at all?”

“In hockey or footy?”

“Either.”

“Actually both. Why? What’s your point?”

I kind of got away with Saturday’s hockey training, not nailing the shoulder even in tricky, nasty backward skating defence drills, where I’m never at my peak. Then at The Bang, my Sunday footy, I did my usual quota of 10x push-ups for skill errors, but laughed as a couple of rising Timorese hip-hop artists, Fabrice and G-Storm, ran around like giant puppies, learning AFL. Until recently they were in a detention camp for seven years, an old mate of mine, who’d brought them down for the kick, told me. Even that guy, Paulie, had been so sick a couple of years ago that he was literally given the Last Rites. I was trying to get my head around such life swings but was probably too hungover for such ponderings. Damn vodka. It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp Sunday morning and, going by their attitude, Fabrice, G-Storm and Paulie aren’t unhappy with their change in fortunes, By the end of the session, they were leading and yelling like old-time Bangers.

The Superman. Getting up is the hard bit.

Suddenly my dodgy shoulder didn’t seem so bad. I landed on it again five or six more times last night at hockey training, and several were enforced. Lliam decided it was time we became Jedis at Supermans (where you throw yourself full length at the ice then get back to your skates – last night in a very short distance, between the blue and red line). If one skater failed, we were all punished with laps or skating drills. Supermans are a good time to be wearing armour and I wince in sympathy for the women in our class, landing six or seven times on their chest. I’m reliably informed it’s like men being kicked in the balls.

After that drill, though, last night’s session took off. One drill, for example, had us taking a puck the length of the rink, being chased by a back-checker (defender hunting you down from behind). Then, after you took a shot, you tapped the left goal post with your stick, which was the signal for another skater to take off with the puck and you became the back checker. It meant sprinting as fast as you possibly could down the rink and, even if I didn’t catch many of the others, I can’t remember just out-and-out sprinting on my skates with such intensity. I was even able to snowplough stop at the end before I slammed into the boards, which helped.

We also had two-on-two drills, with pairs trying to score goals, alternating from defence to attack depending on who had the puck. My puck-handling actually stood up, so that I controlled it repeatedly, made passes, scored two or three goals. One was a sneaky backhand slide from a tight angle between three flailing sticks. Army had a lot of trouble hiding his astonishment that I made the shot, but that was okay. I was right with him in the open-mouthed stakes.

And then we played Russian roulette scrimmage, where we were divided into two teams, on the benches, and Lliam or Army would yell a number between one and five, and that many skaters would hit the ice, chasing a puck, tossed randomly onto the rink. I was part of a four-on-four, and then a three-on-three. Scored a goal on that one. And then was next skater on as I waited my next turn. I should have known from Lliam’s sneaky look what was coming. “Nicko, make sure the gate’s open,” he said. “ONE!!!” (The only “one” for the night.)

Will getting ready.

I charge onto the ice as Lliam and Army woop, and of course it’s Will flying out of the other gate. Place v Place; always entertaining. (Will told me later that he was at the other end, last to go, and they called him to the front, so they could set it up.)

I wasn’t too far behind Will when we got to the puck, guessed right that he would turn left, clashed sticks, SO close to stealing it, and lost my legs, crashing hard (Hello, shoulder. Sorry, Enzo). I figure Will was long gone, but then saw over my screaming shoulder that he was also in a pile of armour on the ice. Apparently he’d hurt a knee earlier in the session and it buckled as he tried to take off. He still had the advantage though, and by the time we found our feet, he was in shape to goal, and did.

Back on the bench, as Will explained the knee thing, Army just gave it to him about excuses, laughing his arse off. I love the merciless nature of hockey players in hanging shit.

“I still got the goal,” Will said.

“At least I hurt him, right, Army?” I said.

Everyone was happy.

In the rooms, we were all buzzing. We all agreed that was the most intense, full-on session we’d had, at least on a Wednesday. People were bruised and battered. All grinning like maniacs. I definitely skated better because I was so pushed for speed and need.

Up until last night, it felt like I’d had a low-key hockey week, more interested in my AFL team,

Saturday whiteboard: Us (11.30 am), minor leagues, Melbourne Ice and Blue Tongues all represented.

Richmond, actually winning a game and some life matters swirling around me. But now I think about it, I’ve read the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News at least twice a day, hunting Red Wings news (as well as noticing there were no less than 28 shootings in Detroit last weekend, including seven dead. We’re there in November … there goes Father of the Year), watched Melbourne Ice wrap up the minor premiership for finishing top of the ladder, started trying to write a commissioned feature for The Age about being a 40-something hockey rookie, and spent a couple of hours looking up hockey gear warehouses in America, for our looming trip. I might be more hooked than I thought. Then again, who am I kidding?

Gotta love hockey.