Just a quick update from Philadelphia: We found a rink at which to play pickup back in October, and we also found a league with its fall/winter season already in progress. In the end, we opted to take a season off—partly because we didn't want to force ourselves on an existing team, and partly because we had a bunch of travel and family gatherings planned through February.
We've gone to a few pickup (or "open hockey", as they're called here) sessions, where we've worked on our skills and tried to keep up with the 22 year-old hotshots. My backhand is getting damn good, and Al has finally figured out how to hit me with a pass. (He's always been able to pass to everyone else, but I've presented a problem. We decided it was because I tend to "kick it" when I see the puck carrier notice that I'm open... which means that the pass is often behind me.)
I think both of us prefer the warm-up period, when we work on individual skills and 1-on-1 drills, to the actual pickup. The skill levels are a bit too varied to make it competitive, and of course there's no such thing as team play—and often no such thing as an assist—in pickup. As a defensive forward/assist machine playing with/against semi-pro and college players, it often means I'm nothing more than a pylon. The one positive is that pickup does teach me to be more selfish with the puck (a good thing, in my case) and to shoot more often.
During our last pickup session I boosted my shooting confidence by going against a 7 year-old goalie; he was good, but not very big, so I wasn't as intimidated as I usually am by the monster in the net. I got a few backhanders in against him, as well as a couple five-holes and one over his shoulder. By the time the other goalie, a rather tall guy in his 20s got suited up, I was ready to take on anyone standing between me and the net. My first shot against him turned out to be my most amazing ever—I managed to fake him out and lift a backhander over his shoulder. The fact that he had to make an amazing save to stop it was almost as gratifying as if it had actually gone in.