Guest writer: Michael Coulter at The Crossroads


Although, as the article below suggests, Michael Coulter is somewhat bewildered by the turn of events, he is a regular face among the Melbourne hockey community, doing Icehouse classes and playing Summer League. He also works for The Age, which explains why this piece is so well written.

The line I’m most jealous of is: “At times playing hockey feels like repeatedly drinking glasses of kerosene in the hope that one of them will turn out to be champagne.”

Damn, wish I’d written that. Well played, Coulter.

And who are you kidding? See you on the ice. Nicko

Where to from here?

By Michael Coulter

Hockey and I have a complicated relationship.

I grew up in Queensland, where real men played rugby league and winter was a word in the dictionary, but one of my first memories is of watching hockey on a black and white TV in a Winnipeg apartment. My father spent many patient hours with me in the nets, but the stories of his own youth were all about outdoor rinks and wrist shots, of 90-second shifts and the perfect hip-check. Over the years hockey became an impossible ideal, a perfect blend of speed, skill, toughness and agility, playable only by iron-hard Canucks who’d been raised with skates on their baby bootees and pucks as teething rings.

Oh Hells, yeah! Hockey, 1980 Winnipeg Jets style. How could Coulter not fall in love?

Oh Hells, yeah! Hockey, 1980 Winnipeg Jets style. How could Coulter not fall in love?

My first NHL game did nothing to dispel that impression. It was on a visit to the Peg in the early 80s, when the original incarnation of the Jets were sucking just as hard as they do today. The details are fuzzy, but I think they were getting beaten up by some long-gone franchise – perhaps the Hartford Whalers or the Quebec Nordiques. But I remember as if yesterday the feral crowd, the whack of stick on puck, the hissing crackle of skates slicing the ice, and the unbelievable speed. If it wasn’t sorcery, it was the next best thing.

Back in Australia, of course, there was no way to repeat the experience. Besides which, my one experience of actual skating was somewhat traumatic, ending with a bemused local having to rescue me from an impatient Zamboni driver. But if my conscious mind had developed an abiding suspicion of any body of frozen water that couldn’t fit into a glass, the subconscious was still intrigued. Every four years, come the winter Olympics, I’d feel a restless urge to skate. (Lillehammer got me into a pair of in-lines; maybe if they hadn’t been a size too small, and therefore agonisingly painful, I wouldn’t still be trying to perfect a hockey stop 19 years later.) But it wasn’t until 2010 that a combination of the Olympics, a knee that could no longer stand indoor soccer, and the opening of the Icehouse tipped me over the edge.

From there it’s a familiar tale, except that at no stage did I ever admit to myself what I was up to. At first all I wanted was to skate backwards, which led to a basic class. When I bought my own skates, it was simply to avoid the hassle of renting (or so I told myself), but the fact they were hockey skates dictated the next move: Intro. When I bought a helmet and gloves it was simply to avoid the stinky hire gear (yeah right), but it then made sense to do Intermediate to get some use out of them. When I bought the rest of the gear, it was just to avoid the search for matching elbow pads, but once I had the armour, Dev League seemed only logical …

And so, by a process of incremental self-deception, I’ve now finished a season of Summer League. But there’s been a price. As my 42nd birthday recedes in the rearview mirror, I have a shoulder that hasn’t felt right since last November, kids who see the game as a form of mental illness, and a spare room that smells, in the words of a fellow Shark, of hockey arse.

Michael Coulter tearing it up for the Sharks.

Michael Coulter tearing it up for the Sharks.

Logically, I should give it away. The mortgage means I don’t properly have the money to play, job and family mean I don’t have the time (even with the somewhat amused support of the spouse). There’s no mystery about what I need to do to get better, but in a packed schedule ice-time is always the first thing to go. I love to skate – honestly love it – but improvement is agonisingly slow, and each game brings its fresh crop of humiliating blunders (and for someone more used to individual sports, it’s truly painful to let teammates down). At times playing hockey feels like repeatedly drinking glasses of kerosene in the hope that one of them will turn out to be champagne.

But every so often there’s a fleeting taste of the good stuff. Like the day when it all clicks and a previously impossible technique is suddenly easy, or the golden shift where you’re always first to the puck.  Those are the moments when I think that maybe this game that seems to hate me might one day repay some of the love I’ve shown it. It shouldn’t be enough to keep me coming back, but so far it has been. One day I’ll come to my senses, but until then there’s hockey.

Like I said, it’s complicated.