Monday, February 17, 2014

The Hockey Equivalent of '70s Disco Hot Pants - Old Man Learns Hockey - Game #14

So there was a hockey game last night, and I'll get to that in good time. Jeff, Sheq and I hit the clinic in the morning because once you're over age 40 you really should make sure to schedule two strenuous activities in the same day. We were waiting for the Zamboni to finish up when one of the other guys, who had called my Not-Flight-to-Denver story the worst story ever (it kinda is, from a 'why the hell didn't I do that' standpoint), asked me why I was wearing goalie pants.

Now my hockey pants are hand-me-downs from my brother-in-law and they has always seems normal to me. Looking around, I noticed for the first time that everyone else's pants were streamlined and didn't look like a giant black diaper. We quickly determined that A) they weren't goalie pants at all but just really old, bulky pants, and B) they were short. Like, really short. Hockey equipment works like a big puzzle, with parts of one piece covering gaps left by another. I had a noticeable gap between the lowest pad on the pants and the top of my shinguards, but even with all the pucks I've blocked it hadn't been an issue. I laughed ruefully at my mawashi (look it up) and made a comment about how unlikely it would be for me to be hit in that small a space.

So, are you aware of my superpower? I feel that if I ever go Evil Villain it'll make me quite terrible, but for now I seem content using it to submarine myself. We call it 'Kitastrophying' and basically if I comment on something that's going well, it'll cease to do so. Hey, we haven't hit any traffic today. Boom. Bumper to bumper within minutes. Wow, doing this plumbing job has been easy so far! Boom. 2 inches of water on the bathroom floor. I do my best to use it for good, and woo boy you should see the glare I get when I accidentally Kitastrophe Laura.

So, superpower. I have worn the same hockey gear, including my short-shorts, through 14 full games and at least as many hour long clinics. I have blocked more shots than I can count and not once did I take a puck in the exposed area on my thigh.

Until last night. With great power comes great responsibility. Also, evidently, the ability to guide a hockey puck into unprotected flesh. There's a lump right now, with expectations of a truly spectacular bruise. I have ordered pants so that I can retire my relics and only be mocked for my lousy play. Speaking of which . . .

It was a scary match up on paper. The Rebels are tied for first and averaging a little over 6 goals a game, and the first time we played they beat us 7-1 and that was after they let up after punching in 5 goals in the first. We had a good number of players - 13 - and I was happy to volunteer to be one of the four defensemen. I'm not going to lie - I enjoy playing half the game as opposed to a third, and right now my body seems content to give me the energy to try to mask my lack of ability with extreme effort. And so I flung myself all over the ice, using diving as a way to try to counteract the other team skating circles around me. It was belly flop central but it worked to some degree, i think. It was a 1-0 after one, with the goal coming off a blown assignment and a deflection on an overlong shift. We just couldn't get off the ice. They got another goal in the second when their guy came out of the corner and roofed a shot - damn nice. In the third they added one off a scramble in front of the net and the last goal on a blistering wrist shot from the dot that got through Alex's five hole. And that was it. We took a team tied for first and only lost 4-0. Believe me, they didn't let up. Also believe me, while our team defense continues to improve much of the closeness of the game is because Alex is quite an excellent goalie. I can only imagine the offers he's getting from other teams trying to poach him. Let me put it this way - at one point, after a crazy ass clusterfuck in front of the net that saw Alex out of position and my defensive partner sprawled on the goalline with the puck under him, the other team was awarded a penalty shot. I dd not doubt, for a second, that Alex was going to stop him cold. Which he did. Not only is he good at his position, he's got great advice. I just try to keep learning. I handled some of the odd man rushes well, some not so well, and made some mistakes as usual. At least one bad clearing attempt, a missed pass, running into my teammate, that sort of stuff. No penalties, although I did some hooking and waged a constant war to shove their cadre of 225+ pound forwards out of the crease. As a whole we made strides - much better overall defensive play, although still some missed assignments. More confidence with the puck. Shifts are still too long in some cases, and at least one guy still doesn't seem to grasp how offsides works. We need to find the open players with passes more often, get the puck back to the point, develop an organized forecheck . . . the same problems every other team has. We're getting there, although the clock is ticking on the season. Two more games left before our playoff game, with a preview of whom we're playing coming this week. The goals will come in time as we sharpen up the other aspects of our game. I only wish we were playing a 60 game season instead of a 16 game one.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Following in the Footsteps of Nick Fotiu - Old Man Learns Hockey - Game #13

I hit the clinic Sunday morning - the HOCKEY clinic - and spent every chance I could either playing defense or honing my backward skating skills. The drills we did lent to that, and even before our game I had extra ice time to practice my forward to back spin, clearing the puck, and all sorts of important defenseman things.

Then I was told I was playing forward.

Which was fine, really. I don't care where I play and as we had a short bench - seven forwards, four defensemen - there was still plenty of ice time. We were playing a not-great team, carried by two excellent skaters and a couple of decent ones. I stepped on the ice for the first time just as they converted a two-on-one for a goal. Wonderful. Later in the period their big gun sped in and scored on a breakway, but that was it. In the second we had a few defensive breakdowns, and their 3rd and 4th goals came off rebound scrambles in front of our net. It felt weird to be sticking up by the blue line instead of shoving people away, but the defenseman was the aforementioned big gun and I wasn't leaving him alone. They punched another one in before the horn, but there was a lot more give and take - we were getting some chances and offensive pressure. In the third period, for whatever reason, we started to have more success. I was out there for a minute-long shift that was entirely in their zone - we stopped clearing attempts a few times, which was a nice reversal. I had not one but two shots on goal - a one-timer that he stonedwalled me on, and then the rebound that I lifted with a backhand hit the bottom of his glove, the top of his pad . . . and fell out. Rats.

I also tore the feet out from under someone and had the good graces not to even try to protest when the ref blew the play dead and sent me off. My first trip to the sin bin! Well, first to a hockey sin bin. I'm acquainted with the rugby version as well. Anyway, I now have an official stat.We killed off the penalty and a few minutes later, after more pressure, punched in a goal. Of course that annoyed the other team so their superstar skated through everyone and, although Charlie stopped the first shot, one of his teammates put back the rebound. 6-1 final. Not too bad.

As for me, I was my usual menagerie of hustle, mistakes, and so on. I wiped out and took out the net, I dug the puck off the boards and made a perfect, perfect cross-ice pass that should have been a one-timer but was muffed, and I yelled at one of my teammates for lining up for a faceoff after taking a two minute shift. Don't tell me you're 'okay.' The pros only take 45 second shifts, plus you're being a selfish tool to your teammates. If I have to be That Guy, I'll be That Guy.  Otherwise, playing forward is fun and even if I was making a goal-causing mistake, it's not as obvious as when I bone it as a defenseman. The season is winding down - only four games left, unless we win our first playoff game. Stranger things could happen.