Tuesday, December 24, 2013

At Least There's Not a Siren - Old Man Learns Hockey - Game 9

Some cold, hard facts:
- we're 0-9.
- we've been outscored 72-3. Seventy-two to three. That means on average we lose 8 to 0.3 each time.
- we've never had a lead.
- we've scored zero power play goals. In fact, last game when we had a power play it was a moral victory that we didn't give up any shorthanded goals.
- while some of us are definitely improving individually, it's harder to see how we're playing better as a team.

The last bit is the most troubling of all. We don't really have any sort of system in place knowing who's playing where - we still gather and figure it out 30 seconds before the game starts. When I decided to start playing I figured I'd be eons behind other players in both skill and knowledge. The former has proven true, but the latter doesn't appear to be the case. There are definitely people who don't really know their assignment in the defensive zone.  I like to use this as a reference point. The problem is, if one person out of the five on the ice doesn't pick up his or her responsibility, it all falls to shit. Which is what happens to us.

As if a 10:30 scheduled start time wasn't late enough, the game before us both was delayed by a clock problem and then ended in a tie that went into a shootout. We don't start until late, and our usual minimal four minutes of warm-up is cut to one. I don't even touch a puck before we're at our bench, belatedly figuring out who is going to play where. Jeff hasn't shown (home sick) and with others missing we have twelve skaters. There's a whole story about goalies and last minute cancellations and me scrambling like hell, but we end up with Old Bob in goal and despite the lopsided final, he wasn't the problem and actually had a pretty good game. We decide to start with six forwards (two lines) and 6 defense (three pairs). I'm on D, paired with Stephanie.  I see exactly how the night is going to go as I head out for my first shift. It's a live change, and the vastly better team we're playing has missed a long pass that's heading for the boards near me. I have plenty of time to scoop it up and possibly even head up ice - expect that it hits the skate of one of the players I've replaced, who isn't over the boards yet. Technically it's a 'too many men' penalty, but I don't have to worry if it gets called or not because the puck ricochets away from me, directly to one of their guys who comes in two on one and buries the goal. Five seconds out and I'm already a -1. Ugh.

At the end of the first Steph and Rudy both say they want to move up to forward. Since none of the forwards are interested in moving back to D, we run with just the four of us for the rest of the game. I'm not going to complain about the extra ice time, but against a team this good it's a rough outing. I'm embracing a concept a friend of mine has called 'failing faster.' It states that in a situation like this, where me making a mistake and giving up a goal in a blowout of a beer league game is really not the end of the world, I should take chances and learn from my mistakes instead of being conservative. I'm definitely getting the fail faster part down, as I spend a little more time skating backwards during actual play when I'm under pressure. The other team swarms the net, and I spend most of my time either shoving guys away, lifting their sticks, or being stickhandled around when I challenge the puckcarrier. This is a top team and they play like it, and I get juked out of my hockey pants numerous times. It's always frustrating, but especially so when the obvious solution would be to smear the guy against the boards. For example, one guy was behind our goal and when I went to cover him he passed the puck off the back of the net to himself as he went by. What I wanted to do was just drive right at his body and check him - dodge that, jerkweed - but I can't in this league. I more or less accidentally tore a guy's skates out and still didn't get a tripping call. I guess the refs don't want to pile on when it's already 7-0. In fact they asked if we wanted to play the 3rd period with a running clock so we 'wouldn't feel humiliated,' to which we politely told them to go screw themselves. We were having issues with guys taking shifts that were way too long. One guy had an absurdly long shift in the second that was at least 3+ minutes. They had multiple opportunities to either ice the puck or just dump it and come over for a change, but didn't. If you've been out there for two+ minutes and have dead legs but somehow manage to make it to their blue line, you should be dumping the puck into the far corner and getting to the bench, especially when that's what your bench is screaming at you to do. Sheq was frothing at the mouth. After splitting the first period with only one other line, he only managed five total shifts the rest of the way. To say he was pissed would be an understatement. Also, pregame he gave me a Hansons jersey AND a Rangers practice jersey. I'm not sure I'm allowed to wear it. It was a damn nice thing of him to do and it kind of stunned me at the time. Thanks again, brother.

Between the 2nd and 3rd period one of the forwards made a suggestion that the forwards stay up near the blue line and not really help out as much on D, so they could get some more opportunities for offense. We shared one of those, 'Is he kidding?' looks between us before realizing that no, he wasn't kidding, and then informed him that wasn't a very good idea. We still managed to generate some chances - in one of my few good passes of the game I sprung Tom on a breakaway and could see the assist on my scoresheet, but he didn't beat the bear of a goalie they had. My performance was about what I'd expect - a rookie learning a new position in a new game, making a slew of mistakes but playing every shift like it's game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. 

I guess the important question is, Am I still having fun? I am. It's nerve-wracking playing defense when my skating is not wonderful - like playing basketball with a foot cast on - but the fact we're so awful lessens the pressure. We're not tied at 2-2 with 30 seconds left, which means if I screw up it's not going to cost us the game. I pinch a little. I try to cut off passes, maybe jump in a rush. We're heading down the back of our schedule now - six or seven games left, most against good teams - but all I can do is improve, right? We're off for the next three weeks but I plan on joining Jeff and Sheq at the brutal clinic they've been doing, so there might be more folly to follow.

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