What is it that people have against three centers and two sets of wings? Apparently the Galaxy's SOP when there's an extra forward is to have that forward float through one line a period—not one position a period, as the Spitfires did in Vancouver, but one line. This means playing a new position every shift. And of course, either because I'm new or because they think I'm the weakest player, I was asked to be the floater, to start on the second line, and to sit first. I was against the floater scheme, not because I thought it would decrease my ice time, as Fred assumed, but because I think it's confusing. I wasn't able to convince Mattias to go with three centers, however. "If Bill shows up it's a whole different story, because then we can have two centers and three sets of wings," he said, "but if he doesn't, we're going with the floater." Why two centers and three sets of wings is OK, but three centers and two sets of wings is not, I do not understand; if anyone knows, feel free to explain in the comments.
In any case, I got together with the rest of the guys on the second line (Doug at LW, Eric at Center, and Matt at RW) and devised a plan for rotating from left to right. I totally missed the fact that I was supposed to change to the first line in the second period and then back to the second line in the third (I ended up doing second line, second line, first line, though in middle of the third period Matt got tired at RW, and I ended up back on the second line again). The system worked better than I thought it would, and one of the evils I'd anticipated—that I'd be playing with different people every time—turned out to be one of the biggest positives. It gave me a chance to see how well I worked with different guys and at different positions. And, weirdly, I think we weren't getting in each other's way as much in this game as we were in the last game (though Eric and I did actually run into each other at one point).
I had thought I would have trouble remembering which position I was playing each time, but possibly because I was so worried about this I had even less trouble staying in position than usual. It also probably helped that the team we were playing was a better match for us than the Ice Raiders were (although they did have one University of Wisconsin player who manhandled just about every guy on our team—much to our guys' dismay, since the UW player was a woman :). The more even level meant that there was more time for team play, and believe it or not, there actually *was* some team play. I got a pass on my first shift on the ice, in fact, and at the ref's suggestion, there was even some talk about trying out a triangle (Eric in particular was very excited to try it, once I outlined how it worked). We never quite got a real triangle going, but we came close enough a few times; I got two shots on goal from the slot (one my own rebound) off a pass from Eric from behind the net, and Mattias and someone else (can't remember who) actually scored a goal with the same setup.
Although I didn't score any goals, I felt like I skated hard and fast, passed fairly well, and played each position convincingly enough; consequently, I had a great time. I was even specifically called to come out on the ice during a penalty kill, to my complete surprise—I involuntarily did that "you talking to me?" look over my shoulder when I heard my name being shouted from the faceoff circle—and learned later that it was because Matt thought "we should have some more speed on the ice." It was almost flattering. (I say almost because it felt like more of a slight to Doug, whose turn it was to go out, than a compliment to me.) That I fell down while trying to clear the puck during that penalty kill didn't matter much, as I still managed to tie up a couple sticks in the process and leave the puck for one of my teammates to clear.
I enjoyed playing with Lee more this week (the few times we were on the ice at the same time, anyway); he seemed more comfortable at Left Wing, and I had more to do at either Center or RW. Playing with Doug and Eric worked pretty well, too; we were very scrappy down low, and we managed to keep the puck in the offensive zone for quite a while. This week was so different for me puckwise; whereas last week I could count the number of times I touched the puck on one finger, this week I touched it on almost every shift. I loved having an opportunity to pass and shoot and skate. I wish I'd been a little more aggressive with the forechecking, especially against the UW player, but I felt like my backchecking was fairly decent. (I had the sense that I was skating hard when I was on the ice, but I was sure when I got out of the car at home and felt the soreness in my hip muscles.) I remember one play where I had the third man in all the way—I kept my shoulder in his chest, and consequently kept him from getting around me. Though I was sad that the Admirals scored on us anyway, at least it wasn't the guy I was covering who did the shooting.
I noticed that there were a couple breakdowns in team play while I was on the ice toward the end of the game—lots of whacking at the puck with no sense of where we wanted it to go, no looking for passes, etc.—but I was pleasantly surprised by how organized we were most of the time. Not quite as organized as my old Gang Green squad, but close.
On the downside, I was a little appalled by all the snarky comments about the UW player and the female goalie (including a "five hole" remark that seemed in especially poor taste); saying "she's kinda cute" *sounds* like a compliment, but it's not. What the woman behind the face cage looks like is hardly the point when her slap shot is harder than yours, she can take you down with a flick of her hip, and she can skate around you like you're standing still. It's a way of objectifying her, of saying, "she's just a girl, just something to look at." And it's ironic that the same guys who'll remark on her looks will, in the next breath, question whether she's a girl at all. I've got news for you: It doesn't take a Y chromosome to outskate you guys. Interestingly, my teammates don't seem to feel any need to objectify me (at least to my face); I'm assuming that this is because my hockey skills pose no threat to their egos. (I do get teased on the bench—for example, when I was the one player not involved in shouting-and-pushing match in front of the net, I was accused of starting it—but it's kinda sweet rather than offensive. :)
After getting a chance to see me at every position (and in combination with almost every other player), I'm curious to see where Mattias puts me next week. I assume I'll be on the last line, regardless of position... but you never know. If I can get called out on the ice for a penalty kill, anything can happen.
On meeting my new Galaxy teammates last week, many asked how long I've been playing (I assume because I look very much like a beginner). I replied that I started in 2000, but that I've really only been playing for a little over three years, since I played my last league game (prior to last Wednesday's) in September 2003.
I ended up looking at some older posts from this blog as I was writing the post about my first Galaxy game (mainly to remind myself how to handle certain game situations), and I noticed that my very first hockey blog post was five years ago today. Wow. I knew I'd been writing for a while, but I didn't realize it was FIVE YEARS.
On a tangentially-related note, Al and I were at a barbecue last weekend where we met the boyfriend of one of Al's cousins. We were talking about sports, and we mentioned that Al and I were hockey fans... and hockey players. "That's great!" he said. "I have a friend who plays, too"—and here he looked at Al's cousin for confirmation—"what is [name], 32? And he's STILL PLAYING!" I smiled and said, "well, I'm 36, and Al's 37, and we still get around OK." It was only in the car on the way home that Al reminded me that neither of us *started* playing until we were 31.
It occurs to me that we'd both also qualify for the over-35 leagues now, at least age-wise. (Although the players in these leagues often refer to them as the "old and slow" leagues, they're usually populated with former high school and college players. These guys are only older and slower than they used to be, which is still faster than we are.) It also occurs to me that Al's cousin's boyfriend might be shocked to learn that at least half the Galaxy have got to be older than his 32 year-old friend. I'm not sure what the average age of our current roster is (I'm sure Doug, at 70+, skews that a bit), but I do know that at the first practice one of the guys said that he also had a 6 month-old... granddaughter.
Anyway, my point was: Time flies, especially when you're having fun. Happy fifth birthday to this blog!
Played my first game with the Galaxy on Wednesday night in Warminster (damn, that rink is far away!) and got to meet a few new teammates. I also got to re-meet a few whose names hadn't stuck in my mind from Monday. First was Mattias, our captain, whom I knew by sight and voice because I watched him run Al's first Galaxy practice last fall, and because I'd heard him on our answering machine. He seems like the ideal team captain-type: serious about hockey, and organized. He was introducing himself to those he didn't know, donning hockey gear, and handing out jerseys all at the same time when I walked in.
As was the case on Monday, nobody seemed to want to sit next to me (dudes, I'm not going to be trying to sneak a peek, I promise) until Eric came in. He took the spot next to me cheerfully enough, and greeted me with "how's your baby?" I was a little surprised, but I recovered quickly and responded that he was great. It turns out that Eric has a 10 1/2 month-old daughter, so we spent our locker room time comparing notes on napping and pumping and our first Mother's Day and Father's Day. Meanwhile, after a few false starts on the jersey front (we'd been given numbers 1-18 and 22, so my usual #19 wasn't an option, and the 22 I settled for ended up being an XXL that was way too big for me), I ended up with #8, which seems fitting.
I was fully dressed and starting to wonder what position I'd be playing when Mattias finally read off the lines... after first making an appeal for two people to play D. We had 15 skaters but only 4 confirmed D, and nobody seemed eager to move back, so Mattias had to "volunteer" a couple people. Luckily, I wasn't one of those volunteered, and the guys who were didn't protest. I was put on the third forward line with Doug (the "old guy", as some of the players refer to him, though I swear when he puts on his gear you'd never guess him to be anything over 45) and Lee, whom I hadn't met. When we got out on the ice Doug and I tracked down Lee; it was Doug's plan that Lee should play Center, since that position involves more skating than Doug felt equal to. I had no objections; although I enjoy Center, I prefer Left Wing, and I figured I probably wouldn't be strong enough to be a Center in this league anyway if the other team was anything to go by. Doug also preferred Left Wing, it turned out, but though he was willing to play Right, I volunteered to move mainly because Al also usually plays Right, and I figured it would be convenient if we ever wanted to split a roster spot.
It was clear from the warmup that (a) the other team was packed with Monday/Tuesday-level players (on the Ice Oasis scale), and (b) Lee was Tuesday all the way. This was confirmed our first time out on the ice together, and every time subsequently as well. Though I formulated a plan at every faceoff for what I would do with the puck if it came to me (pass back to the D, pass up to Lee, shoot on goal, whatever), I never had to implement any of them. Every faceoff Lee won (and he won most of them), he managed to win by keeping the puck himself and blowing by the other Center—and sometimes both Defensemen. More often both Defensemen would converge on him, and he'd be fighting them both off all the way into the zone, with me streaking in on the right side a few strides behind. One time, I think on a breakout rather than a faceoff, I apparently came in so fast it actually looked like a 2-on-1, and I paid for my speedy skating with a shoulder check to the chest from the even-speedier trailing Defenseman.
The funny thing about that is that although I was surprised (and a bit sore—when you're breastfeeding, the last place you want to take a hit is in the chest), I wasn't really mad. This was a theme throughout the game, actually. I barely noticed when I was tripped without getting a whistle (the lack of whistle was probably due to the lack of dive on my part), and I don't think I yelled once (except to say, "yay, Gerry!", "nice shot, Adam!", or "good job, Gavin!"). I couldn't even work up any animosity in what would otherwise have been called an argument with Matt over what he thought was a bad play, and I thought was a good mistake. During a breakout Bill was skating toward the bench side of the ice when he spotted another Galaxy player ahead of him, and I saw him try to line up a pass to the other player's stick. In the process, two opponents converged on him, and he lost the puck. Matt started screaming at him from the bench. I said, rather easily, "oh, c'mon. He was trying to make a nice pass." Matt responded somewhat vehemently that he'd rather have him dump the puck than lose it at the blueline. I shrugged, smiled, and said, "me, I'd rather have the nice pass."
I can't remember if it was at this point that Derek remarked to me, "that's because you have a kid"—again to my complete surprise—or whether it was when I expressed some confusion that Matt would want to go straight from the penalty box to the ice when (a) he'd already skated a full shift when he'd gotten the penalty, and (b) his line wasn't out. It might have been when I wondered aloud about the seriousness of Mattias' between-period pep talks. In any case, Derek's point was that with a child comes perspective. "You know what's important," he said, "and what isn't worth wasting energy on." I was surprised because I was just exploring this idea internally (and in my last post here) and thought it was a novel concept; I didn't realize it was a well-known and universally-accepted maxim.
Anyway, back to my line... It didn't take long to realize that Lee was really too good for me; I probably would have been more useful to someone less skilled. I don't think I touched the puck more than once in the game, so I never got a chance to pass to someone in the slot at all, much less to get an assist. The one time I did touch it was after Lee crashed into the boards behind the goal line, the victim of a "fucking tackle," as the ref called it. I tried to do *something* with the puck, but with Lee still down, Doug on the other side of the ice, and the Defensemen waiting for possession to change so we'd get a whistle, I didn't have anyone to pass to, and I didn't have enough skill or strength to turn and shoot from the board-side hashmarks. With gray jerseys swarming around me, my stint with the puck was short-lived.
As the score ran up (it was 5-0 when Bill lost the puck at the blueline—and I ask you, what better time to try to make a nice pass than when it's unlikely that dumping the puck will get us a goal or prevent the other team from scoring one?), things got a little chippy in front of our net. Still I couldn't engage the part of my brain that would have joined in the screaming at the refs and the dorks from the other team in seasons past. I watched the scuffles with interest, but that's about it. (I happened to be watching one in front of our opponents' net when Adam scored our one and only goal, so I missed the shot. He said afterwards that it was a slow rebound that came right onto his forehand side, which gave me hope that all my net-crashing—which was about the only useful thing I could do on my line—might result in a goal someday.)
As the game went on and I had a chance to talk to more players on the bench, I realized that most of us were on the same page about skating well, playing as well as we could, and if possible, winning. Or not—whatever, as long as we had fun. However, I couldn't help murmuring to a teammate, somewhat tentatively, that our team seemed to be one of... individual efforts. (Actually, this was somewhat true of the opposing team as well, though since their skill level seemed to be higher than ours, individual efforts still amounted to team play sometimes.) He concurred, and said out loud what was on my mind: that while there's plenty of team spirit, there doesn't seem to be much understanding of what it is to play a "team game." I bet if we had a practice with a real coach, like the first one I had with the Spitfire, people would be just as puzzled as I had been about what we were doing with each drill and why. (I wonder if they'd find Hoche's incredibly-detailed e-mails about Gang Green strategy interesting?)
In any case, we lost our first game 7-1 or 8-1 (I can't remember, and couldn't care less). I discovered in the locker room after the game that the team we'd played was in an upper division, which makes sense; apparently there are only three teams in our division, so there's some cross-division play. Next week's game (at the same night and time, and at the same rink) is against a team from our division. (Mattias cautioned us not to be overconfident; apparently the team we're playing isn't very good, but overconfidence bit the Galaxy last season when they lost to this team by three goals.)
I was unusually quick getting out of the locker room, perhaps because Al was waiting for me at home rather than sitting on the bench next to me. I called him from the parking lot to tell him that I'd had fun playing hockey and that I was on my way home, and in return, he gave me the news that Austen had gone to bed without a struggle at 8:45. If we can say the same next week, it'll be a victory no matter what the score.
I went to my first practice with the Galaxy last night out in Oaks. (Did I mention that the league director placed me on the Galaxy, which is Al's team in the Fall/Winter?) Weirdly, I wasn't particularly nervous; now that I think of it, I wasn't nervous (for perhaps the first time ever) in Vancouver, either, so it's not just that I got the jitters out of my system up in Canada. Maybe it's that after taking so much time off, I'm more relaxed on the ice? Maybe motherhood has mellowed me? I'm not sure.
Anyway, I skated fine. Didn't do anything hugely impressive, and only had a few minor embarrassments. Since our captain, Mattias, couldn't make it, Fred (the assistant captain) ran the practice. We did two drills, horseshoe and 2-on-1, and then scrimmaged "to get used to playing like a team." The horseshoe drill went pretty well, but the 2-on-1 was pretty half-hearted (or maybe that was just me); I got the feeling nobody really knew what we were doing (or rather, why we were doing it).
The scrimmage was fun, though I'm not sure it really got us used to playing like a team. I made a mental note halfway through it that "drills are no indication of skills." What I meant was that the very players who weren't very good at either drill were actually much better when it came to playing. I then realized that what these guys were good at were two things that I suck at—namely, protecting the puck and dekeing (how do you spell deke-ing, anyway?)—which are more individual skills than team skills. So this should be an interesting season... I wonder if anyone will pass?
Speaking of passing, I had one nice moment when I managed to knock Fred off the puck (perhaps because he was tired or because I'd lulled him into complacency with my hitherto underwhelming puck-stealing skills) with a good forecheck, and then managed to pass to the fellow (Alan, I think) I saw streaking into the zone out of the corner of my eye. He caught the puck as he came through the slot, shot, and scored. I heard someone whoop, "THAT'S how it's done!" I said to Alan afterwards, "that's what I'm *always* looking for: someone coming through the slot." Seriously guys, I'm an assist machine. I love nothing better than to dig the puck out of the corner and zing it into the slot. Be there or be square. :)
Some more thoughts on passing before I move on to shooting: I noticed that the player I think is probably the strongest among us passed a little softly to me, as most strong players do. If I miss a pass from a stronger player once, he seems to think I can't catch passes at all—and he'll pass softer and softer until I have no chance of *ever* catching one because I have to keep slowing down. Pass harder, please—I'd rather try to work up to your level than have you come down to mine (and pass me on the way down, so to speak, in the process). Meanwhile, just about everyone else who passed to me passed off the boards rather than to my stick. My first choice would be tape to tape, but failing that, a pass to the boards in front of me is much better than one to my skates, so I'll take it. I don't think I ever had any trouble getting the puck off the boards.
I do remember picking up the puck in the neutral zone once, however (I'm not sure if it was from a pass, or from someone losing/abandoning the puck), and immediately being confronted by an opposing player. Having no moves with which to deke him, and not wishing to get the worst of a collision, I put my shoulder down and managed to take us both out. (I'm not sure who ended up with the puck, but it was neither one of us.) It was only as we were going down that I realized it was Doug, who's over 70 (seriously!). Matt gave me shit for it when I came off the ice several minutes later: "So you took out the old guy. Nice going." (I apologized to Doug later, but he said it was no problem; he recognized that I was just trying to protect myself.)
Now, to shooting. I had some fairly decent shots during the warm-up, two 5-hole goals during the horseshoe drill, and fart all the rest of the time. I really need to relax and take my time in order to shoot well, and if there's a goalie in the net and defenders advancing from all sides, I tend to spaz rather than relax. Luckily just about everyone else on the team seems to shoot well, so if all goes well I can just rack up points from assists, as usual, rather than from goals.
If there's one player whom I expect to score on a regular basis, it's the super-nice guy I think of as Happy Gilmore (although his personality is more happy than Happy's, and I think his name is Derek :). His skating style is... well, it reminds me of those car-chase scenes from the 70s where one of the vehicles would invariably go up on two wheels. But man, he's got a great shot—and it's all the more surprising because he can make it from off balance on the wrong foot. No one on an opposing team will expect it, but I bet he'll top-shelf the puck at least once a game.
I'm not sure what position I'll be playing in our first game (which is tomorrow night in Warminster), but I hope it isn't D. I also don't know what number I'll be, or even how to get to the rink (I suppose I should look that up on Mapquest). I think it probably is motherhood that's chilling me out, because I'm more worried about getting Austen to go to sleep before I leave for the game than about how well I'll play in the game itself. I do hope I do well, though. My goal is to be playing as well as Inga (from Gang Green) by the end of the year, and if I'm going to accomplish that, I'd better buckle down and skate hard.
Apologies for the sometimes crappy quality. Because Al had the baby with him, he couldn't stand behind the bench as usual. Instead, he had to shoot through glass and protective netting.
waiting to pass during the warmup horseshoe drill
Rachel (11) and I turn to go on O
and now, we bow
(and lose the puck)
Kelly gets the puck, and I try to get open for a pass
(Al remarked to me after the game, "you're not as open as you think you are")
I pick up the puck at the blueline with the intention of skating it in
Erin passes to Donna, who's wide open at the blueline
I lift an opponent's stick while looking back for the puck
Rachel and I turn to go back on D when possession changes
chaos in front of the Beavers' net
me taking a shot (the goalie blocked it with her stick)
Donna charges toward the zone, and I turn to follow
it looks like this player's shooting on her own goal,
but I think she's trying to help the goalie cover the puck
(counterclockwise from left: Donna, Rachel, me)
Donna, Rachel, and I work to get a goal
(I believe Donna succeeded)
J-W (foreground) and Jess (top) shift on their skates as possession changes,
but I (center) am slower to react
Donna, me (C), and Deanna at a faceoff in the offensive zone
Kelly, Rocky, and J-W at a faceoff in the defensive zone
the puck drops, and everybody springs into action
I clear the puck instead of skating with it (duh)
a blurry shot of Michele, Michelle (J-W), Kelly, Rocky, and me amid the Vixens
Jess passed to me up the boards, but as I was stationary and a defender was approaching,
I passed along the blueline to the red figure I saw skating through the neutral zone
(who turned out to be Michele)
Jess takes two Vixens while Kelly (off-camera) tracks the puck carrier
(and I do nothing useful in the neutral zone)
Rocky catches a shot in her glove while Kelly covers the other Vixen
(and I arrive on the scene, too late)