Hi! This is a series about my journey into the world of men’s league/rec league hockey in southeastern Virginia. Having never played before at the age of 24 I decided I wanted to, and thought I’d share my thoughts along the journey. Is it great? Am I an idiot? Have tips? Feel free to let me know!
I’ve been working with a coach for a while now. Every Monday night I get 50 minutes on ice instruction with a coach from the local junior team, the Hampton Roads Whalers. Incase you’re wondering, yes they do have the same logo of the now defunct NHL team and I have no idea why. Possibly because the Hurricanes seem to sponsor some youth hockey in the area. Not sure why they’d reach out so far from their own town seeing as Raleigh is about 4 hours away give or take. Maybe that Jim Rutherford is just crazy about hockey development. Anyway, back to me…
This coach works with us once a week and I’ve gotten a lot of tips from him. For example, did you know that bending your knees is apparently really important? Apparently if you turn your upper body in a general direction, the rest of the body follows! I’m picking up a lot of things that seem like they’d be common sense but I’d never figure out on my own. Although it would be far more effective if I didn’t have to share this coach with 20 other guys, having someone there who actually knows what he’s doing is an invaluable resource for the still wet-behind-the-ears beginner such as myself.
The group of guys at Chilled Ponds couldn’t be friendlier. Everyone taps their sticks on the ice when I fall, rather than laugh and attempt to humiliate. No one gets upset when I make a crummy pass. I just about ran a guy over during a drill a few weeks ago and he wasn’t the least bit upset about it. Couldn’t ask for a nicer group of guys to learn the game with honestly.
I wish we’d go over fighting. I have no desire to hurt anyone (hell I feel bad when I take away the puck from a guy) but I want to get it out of my system. Just something to have done once. So I can be like “yeah, I did it once, what of it?” Somehow I don’t think fighting will come up in sessions with our coach though. And I’d bet money that if I did actually fight someone there’d be zero sense of ‘the code’ or any form of chivalrous combat. And even if there was I’d still get my ass kicked I’m sure. Like many things I may want, actually trying to accomplish this seems like a bad idea.
Tonight was a particularly helpful session. I’m really starting to get crossovers down. I’m not entirely sure how to apply them in an actual game but I can say I’ve figured them out. Going on the right leg at least. Everything seems very foreign on the left still but I understand it’s important to get it up to snuff. Putting all my weight on my left foot still feels freaky. It was also recommended to me that I start putting my weight on my toes instead of my heels. This will definitely take some getting used to. But it also will help me learn a hockey stop instead of just digging a foot into the ice. My right foot of course, if I go to dig my left it feels like it’s just gliding into me losing balance instead of stopping. Which is a way to stop I suppose…
Halfway through tonight’s session the coach set up a three-on-three scrimmage. We used the ice from the blue line to the boards and had two nets positioned. The Objective was to try to get the puck to hit the posts since we had no goalie. I decided to play further back in a defensive role. I have a hard enough time skating; puck handling is a bit beyond me. In fact, half the drills we end up doing I lose the puck and I’m content to just keep working on skating without having to worry about a puck staying ahead of me.
In this defensive role I picked up on something- I might actually be good at positioning. Albeit this is a small sample size against a rather unskilled group, there’s a chance I found something I can do without much thinking. That or I’m desperate to have all my time playing EA Sports NHL series pay off somehow. Ellen Etchingham wrote a fantastic piece on the Backhand Shelf about puck memorization, and how a new player can have a tendency to follow the puck rather than play the appropriate position. Again, small sample size, but this didn’t seem like much of a problem. I found myself following the puck and thinking, “where do I need to be?” Perhaps I have her to thank for this, maybe also I played so many hours as a defenseman in the NHL series I got used to following the puck with my eyes and finding the right place to go to react defensively. Perhaps both. Maybe neither.
I found myself acting without even thinking on some parts of it. “Stay at the top and open but don’t’ demand the puck, let the forwards do it.” “Cover the open man and take away the passing lane.” “Lift the stick.” “Don’t get down and block a shot, are you crazy?!?” By no means was I perfect or elite or any other highflying positive adjective, but I felt like I could hang.
My moment of glory came in a race for a puck along the boards. I got to the puck first, but rather than immediately go for it, my first instinct was to lift the other guy’s stick and turn my back so he would be blocked away from the puck. I’m not a particularly in shape individual but I don’t think I’m huge. The pads add a lot though and I was able to sufficiently keep him from the puck. Way to go! Until a guy from the opposing team, the third man in came after the puck. I lifted his stick and cleared the puck away. Sure I cleared it towards my net, probably not the best practice, but still! Fighting off two guys have having neither of them come away with the puck makes you feel as though there’s a possibility you’re doing something right.
I still felt bad for doing it. I lack the “killer instinct” that most players seem to have regarding how they play the game. Perhaps this is simply because I’m terrified of hurting or offending someone and will subside in time. I also need to pay close attention that I’m not causing penalties. I’m not sure when lifting a stick becomes holding or smart positioning becomes obstruction. For right now everything is still a fantastic escape. It’s like I get to take an hour off from the rest of the world. Woman trouble? Stress from work? Test tomorrow? Screw it all, I’m playing the game!
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