Our victory against the Cross Chix last night put us in 2nd place in the Koho division, so this morning we played the 1st place team from the Jofa division, with the winner moving on to the finals. When I woke up with Austen's feet in my back at 5:30am, I found that my hip, knee, back, and even my tailbone (which I'd fallen on twice—I forgot to mention that I took a shot on goal with my weight on the wrong foot in Game 2, causing me to fall hard on my butt) hurt less than I'd expected them to. What hurt worse were my hands. I'd forgotten how 3 games in 24 hours can make one's hands stiff and sore. Of course, I then made the ache worse by blogging from Al's Blackberry for a couple hours while Austen and Al slept in.
I discovered when I went to lift Austen out of the bed prior to leaving for the rink that my arms were also very sore, but I can't really complain; the soreness makes me feel like I've *done* something, like I'm stronger and tougher for the effort. I feel athletic for the first time in months (and I now can't wait for the summer hockey season to start!). But before we move on to the summer season, I need to write about Game 4...
me trying to cut off a passing lane
When I watched the Vixens during the warmup, my impression was that they were a pretty good match for us; number 14 had a slapshot, but other than that we seemed about even. This impression was strengthened a few shifts into the game, when I noticed that they were making all the same mistakes we were making (bunching up, losing the puck in their skates, not passing well, etc.). I figured we could take them, even if I personally felt slower and less coordinated than I had in the previous three games. (I also felt like I had no edges, which might have been true.)
Al's impression was that I looked about the same as I had in yesterday's game against the Flying Beavers, but I was pretty sure I hadn't lost nearly as many pucks between my legs as I did in this game. At least one time this lack of coordination worked to my advantage, however: I was playing Right Wing (which I'm less comfortable at than Left or Center), and I'd positioned myself against the boards for a breakout pass. When the puck got to me, I guess I moved to skate with it before it actually hit my stick, and it zoomed between my legs and continued up the boards. The two opponents who jumped on me were just as surprised by this development as I was, and the puck cleared the blueline untouched by any of us. "I guess my fuckup fucked us all up," I said cheerfully. "I thought you had that!" said one woman. "So did I!" I replied.
It wasn't all friendliness. I heard from Jess and Kelly that some of the Vixens were complaining about their skill level. "And we're even playing wrong-handed," said Kelly. "Yeah," said Jess, grinning. "We switched sticks." That explained why they weren't breaking out as quickly as in previous games. :) A couple shifts later, however, after a harrowing near-goal when the two of them lost the puck repeatedly in our zone, Kelly held her stick out to Jess and said, "OK, switch back."
I chase the puck into the corner, while Rachel sets up in the slot,
Kelly patrols the blueline, and Michele hangs out just outside the zone
Whether they were playing wrong-handed or not, Kelly and Jess managed to give us forwards some nice passes, and a few times we even managed to pass among ourselves. I know I felt like Donna (RW), Rachel (C), and I (LW) made a good line; we were on the verge of scoring several times, but never seemed to be able to get the puck in. This was most likely due to the yellow goalie, whom we'd laughed at prior to the game; it turned out that while she looked like a canary in a cage from the bench, from the slot she just looked like a big yellow target. Seriously, it was virtually impossible to aim at anything but the yellow, which meant that we were constantly hitting her pads.
Deanna camps out near the crease
while I try to make something happen in the slot
Actually, now that I think of it, the Big Yellow Blob probably impeded Donna more than the rest of us—if I remember correctly, Donna scored every one of the Spitfire goals in this tournament, and it was she who had the most promising shots in this game. My shots were most likely stopped because they weren't very hard, and Rachel's... I have no idea why Rachel never got the puck past this goalie. It certainly wasn't for lack of trying, because this was probably Rachel's best game of the four. She skated hard, worked her tail off in the slot, and had more shots on net than in the previous games.
Sadly, all that work was for naught, literally: We didn't manage to score a single goal. The Vixens, meanwhile, scored three. I was on the ice for one of them; both D were scrabbling with one or more Vixens on Rocky's right side, so I went down low to cover the back door. I figured I was in the zone anyway, I might as well make sure no one could doink it in easily from behind Rocky, and maybe even clear the puck if it skidded across the crease. What I didn't want to do was "help" the D by jumping into the scrum in front of Rocky, as this almost always results in further confusion. It didn't much matter where I went, though—there was enough confusion with the two D, the one or two Vixens, and Rocky that the puck went in from that side.
I think with about 6 or 8 minutes to go in the third period (and with the Vixens up 2-0), Michele said to me on the bench, "Time out at a minute and a half?" Me: "What for?" Michele: "Um, to try to send in a power line?" Me: "I don't think it'll make a difference." I don't think we've ever managed to score a goal with a last-minute "power line" in any tournament I've ever been to, so there were hard feelings (about missing a shift or not being considered a "power" player) for nothing. Plus I had a feeling there'd be complaints from at least one quarter, and personally, I didn't want to hear them. I was happy with the hockey I'd played so far, and I didn't want to end this game with both a loss *and* an argument.
In the end, Donna got the MVP award again but gave it to Rachel; I guess Donna saw what I saw in Rachel's game. Because we lost this semi-final the tournament was over for us, but I can't say I was sad. (I don't think I've ever been sad about not getting to the final on Sunday; by that time, I've usually had plenty of hockey, and I'm happy to have time to myself/my family for exploring or relaxing. The same was true on this trip.) I *was* sad to say goodbye to J-W (also known as the other Michelle), whom I'd spent quite a bit of time chatting with in the locker room, at the hotel, and in the car between the hotel and the rink. Michele, J-W, Donna, Deanna, Rachel, and I (all of us Spitfires of one sort or another ;) talked about possibly going to another tournament together in the future, with LA or Las Vegas being the most likely candidates. Sounds like a great idea to me.
OK, I used to think some of the girlie team names were cute, but I'm a little tired of the "chix" monikers now. Tonight's game was against our second "chix" team of the tournament—the Cross Chix. They beat the Flying Beavers on Friday, but they seemed about the same level as both the FBs and us. (This means that our division was pretty well organized; only the Lunachix were noticeably better than the rest of us, and even so, I'm not sure they were *so* much better that they should have been in a higher division.)
If the Cross Chix had an advantage, it was that their bench was deep (I think they had three lines of every position). If they had a disadvantage, it was that their coaches yelled at them constantly. Actually, the latter made us all wonder why any rec player would put up with such rude treatment, but the Cross Chix seemed to soak it in and take the rudeness to heart. I was a bit surprised, for example, when I greeted my opponent at wing with a hearty "hi!" and got a "get your stick on the other side of the line" in return. Uh, right. I *do* know about the line; did you, by any chance, hear me say "hi"?
It's funny, because all this rudeness and outright hostility are the things I remember most about this game; even my notes, written directly after the game, mention only negative vibes, penalties not called, and injuries sustained rather than positive plays. If there was a positive, it was that I remember thinking to myself on the bench, "we can beat this team", "this blister solution [two layers of New Skin, an Elastoplast blister bandage, and a topper of moleskin] is kinda working", and "I can get a goal." In fact, Donna and I made a pact that she wouldn't score until I did. (Unfortunately, I didn't hold up my end, and Donna had to go ahead and score without me; her goal was the only one of the game, and therefore our margin of victory.)
I think the thing that colored my personal experience of the game most was when an opponent and I were both scrabbling for the puck in the corner, and I got control of it—and my opponent promptly switched her focus from the puck to my feet. I felt her lift her stick, wrap it around my ankles, and yank. I went down hard on my face cage first, followed by my hip and knee. It took me a second to even look up, and I did mainly to see why there was no whistle yet (I figured we had possession). When I saw that *they* did, I tried to get up as fast as possible, though I was stiff from the collision with the ice. I was stunned that there'd been no whistle. How could the ref have missed it? We were *on the puck*! He was standing up the boards! Was it the other ref's call? Was her vision obstructed? I couldn't figure it out, and neither could anyone on my bench when I managed to get off.
Unfortunately, I couldn't let it go, and when I went out to the faceoff (at left wing) next time around, I said to the ref, "I was tripped in the corner last time, by the way." "No," he replied, "you fell over her stick. That's why I didn't call it." I was like, FELL OVER HER STICK? ARE YOU KIDDING? "I went down on my face cage!" I said, incredulous. "Well, don't do that," he replied over his shoulder. I was still standing there gaping at his back when he dropped the puck... and my opponent either was incredibly opportunistic or, more likely, was used to trying to tie up the person on the other side of the redline by throwing her body at said person, because that's what she did—knocking me right onto my butt. I felt a few vertebrae bang against each other painfully, and my face burn with shame. I'd just proved the ref's point: I was obviously someone who fell as soon as I got near an opponent.
It took me a while to get over my anger, but I knew I had to if I wanted to function. If I spend my time on the ice and the bench feeling angry and ill-used, I take myself out of the play and out of the game. Luckily my teammates are good-natured and supportive (example: Deanna made Jell-O shooters for us—in three different tropical flavors!—to snack on before and after the games), so I did manage to get it back together. Not enough to score, as I mentioned, but enough to get a couple shots off, anyway.
This time Kelly got the MVP Starbucks card, which came as no suprise; she was obviously the one who confounded the Chix the most. I mentioned my lack of suprise to her in the locker room after the game, but she expressed hers: Apparently the Chix had been complaining about her (and to her) while on the ice, making comments like, "playing a bit below your level, don't you think?" and "stop being so fancy." OK, yes, she and Jess are fantastic skaters (oh, how I wish I could stop and turn on a dime and protect the puck the way they do!), but once again, they never took a shot, even when the score was 0-0 with only 3 minutes left—and after Michele had assured them that she wouldn't mind if they were to score. They insisted that if they entered the offensive zone, somebody had to come with them and be ready to take a pass because there would be no shooting on the net from them. (I loved this idea, because I like assists; usually I'm the passer, not the passee, but I was more than willing to try to score.)
Anyway, hearing about the hard time the Chix had given Kelly sort of cemented my negative impression of the game, and I left the rink feeling the opposite of the "hockey high" Al often refers to. I couldn't wait to get back to the hotel so I could hug my baby and talk to my husband. Thus I was not sorry when we woke Austen by chatting in the room after the game (in fact, it's why I didn't make an attempt to lower my voice); I got a chance to snuggle him, and the conversation helped remove some of the poison festering in my heart. I said to Al that as much as I was enjoying the tournament in general and playing hockey in particular, what really made the weekend special (and any blows to body or psyche bearable) was knowing that I had a family to share it with. So cool.
Our first game of the day was at 2pm against the Flying Beavers, who lost their first game to the Cross Chix (our 8:15pm opponent). Al and Austen were able to make it to this game, unlike last night's, which was past Austen's bedtime.
The two locals, Kelly and Jess, were also able to make it (and to play D, thank god), though we got a little nervous when Jess pulled her shirt off and revealed the number 43 written on her shoulder. "Did you run a triathalon recently?" I asked. She looked a bit sheepish. "Uh, yeah. This morning," she replied, adding, "But it was a short one!"
With D covered, I asked to play forward and proposed that we go with 3 centers and 2 sets of wings. Natalie (a center) said she didn't think we needed 3 centers, and couldn't we just have 5 D? Michele said, "Are you volunteering to play D? Because Lori's saying that she wants to play up." She wasn't.
Her next proposal was that I float through all the lines, taking a different position on each shift. This made my hair stand on end; I'd rather play D than switch positions every shift and argue over who was going to sit every 90 seconds... which may have been the goal of the proposal.
Long story short: Rachel, the other center, wanted 3 centers, but as Natalie was very much against it, the rest of the team voted to have me float through one line a period. That sounded like a good plan to me. As we readied to leave the locker room, Natalie announced, "Let's all remember what we learned last night: The boards are really springy, and Ds, don't pinch in." I muttered to Michele, "Oh, is that what we learned?"
During the warmup Al brought Austen down to the bench so he could see me; he looked at my face cage blankly until I said, "Hey Austen, it's mommy!", and then he lit up with smiles. :) Jess took a family photo of us, and then I took the ice. My blisters were still very sore, but a thick layer of moleskin helped protect them a bit.
The actual game went pretty well. I liked being the third line much better than being the third D, and since I usually play forward, I got a good sense of my current skill level. (Al observed that for the most part, it hadn't dropped off that much—and not at all when I was at left wing, my favorite spot.)
The Flying Beavers were much more our level than the Lunachix, though we were also more equipped to compete thanks to Kelly and Jess. It was obvious from the get-go that they were several levels above us skillwise, but they used that skill to make *us* better rather than stealing the show themselves. Whereas there was virtually no passing in the first game (just lots of dumping), Jess and Kelly passed all the time. (In fact, they never took a shot—instead, they waited for one of us to get open so *we* could shoot. I got no less than 3 shots on goal this way.) They were also brilliant at keeping the puck in the offensive zone and were not afraid of any stinking blueline. :)
I was a little disappointed in myself for not skating with the puck enough, so when it popped out to me at left wing toward the end of the game, I thought, "now's my chance for a breakaway, and I'm going to take it!" I managed to get a shot off, but I think it went wide.
my chance to skate it into the zone
In the end, we won 3-0 thanks to a hat trick by Donna, great passing by Kelly and Jess, and strong play by the rest of us. Donna got the MVP Starbucks card again but gave it to Rocky (in a nod as much to Friday night's performance as to this afternoon's shutout, kinda like how the Oscars often work).
story of the game: me overskating the puck
So it turns out that Michele and I are the only players from the San Jose Spitfire team that we formed back in 2001 to make it to the tournament this year, and Michele's the only one from San Jose. :) The rest of the team is made up of some players from Victoria Island (who also play on a team called the Spitfires, coincidentally), three girls from Seattle, and two locals.
The locals couldn't make it tonight, so we took the ice against the Lunachix with only 9 skaters. Since only two of us played D, and no one else seemed excited about dropping back, I said I would be the third D. (What a welcome back to hockey, eh?)
I think I really just wanted to be a forward, because I played more like a defensive forward than an actual defenseman. It didn't seem to hurt us that badly, though; at the end of the first period, the score was either 1-1 or 1-0 us—I can't remember.
One of the centers remarked at the break that the D should stop pinching in because with only 9 skaters, no one had the energy to get back. She also told us that the boards were really springy, and to use that to our advantage. Um, OK.
So the next period, we three D took that "stay back" advice to heart and never even approached the offensive blueline. Meanwhile, the forwards also seemed to think that *they* had to stay back, too, with the following results: (1) I ended up covering my own teammates about a third of the time, (2) we almost never skated out of our own zone, and (3) the score ran up to 5-1 them.
During that second period, I had two moments when I wanted to stop playing and call it a night. The first was when the winger I was covering managed to score a goal despite the fact that I was stick-checking the heck out of her. The second was more of a series of moments; I'd forgotten that I needed to wear bandaids on my heels, and I was sporting two enormous blisters that hurt more and more with each stride. I couldn't wait to get my skates off.
Anyway, I mentioned to my teammates at the second period break that not enough D was no longer our problem: we now had too many people playing D, and not enough playing O. The other team had noticed that we were popping the puck out instead of breaking it out, and had stopped bothering to leave anyone back. All 5 of their skaters were always inside the redline.
Although we didn't score any more goals in the third period (and they scored one more on us), we played much better. There were more breakouts, less pinching and collapsing. I made at least two stupid line changes, one of which resulted in that final goal against, I think, but in those last few minutes all I could think about was how quickly I could get my skates off.
I was surprised at the MVP presentation at the end of the game that the other team didn't choose Rocky (our goalie); maybe it was the 6-1 score that made them think she didn't deserve it, but if they'd been paying attention, they'd have noticed that she was making some amazing saves. It'd probably have been 12-1 or more if we'd had someone less fearless (and more easily flustered) in net. Instead, Donna (who scored our only goal) got the CN$5 Starbucks card. (Which wasn't an entirely illogical choice, mind you; Donna's a strong skater and a natural goal-scorer, so it's not surprising they identified her as their biggest challenge—and thus our best asset.)
The 2005 Vancouver women's hockey tournament is less than two weeks away, and I'm starting to panic. Up 'til now I've been 98% excited, 2% nervous, but now I'm finding that nervous is now running closer to 68% or so. I'm still thrilled to be returning to my favorite tournament (not to mention the Holiday Inn North Vancouver, which is such a nice place to stay), but I'm a little worried about being completely rusty hockeywise.
I've only been on the ice twice since I got pregnant over a year ago, and both times were at public skates (and only for about 15 minutes each time). What if I can't remember how to set up a triangle or break out? What if I can't pass worth a damn? What if I'm a total spaz and forget to play position, go offsides constantly, or line up on the wrong side at the faceoff circle?
GOOD LORD, WHAT IF I CAN'T REMEMBER HOW TO PUT ON MY GEAR???
OK, I think chances are good that I'll remember how to put on my gear. (I always have my old instructions about how to put on hockey gear to use as a reference, if I forget.) I do worry a bit about things not fitting, however; even though I've lost the last bit of baby weight that I mentioned in my March 15 post, my body shape *is* a bit different than it was pre-pregnancy.
Other things I'm worried about include:
The above list would make you think that the nervous percentage is a bit higher than the previous estimate of 68... but I'm finding that just writing about hockey makes me remember things I thought I'd forgotten (not least being how much fun it is). Call it excited: 54%, nervous: 46%. Good enough to play, I'd say.