We had a full bench for the first time in a while for our game against the Stampede on Wednesday night: 15 skaters, which meant three full lines. For the forwards, line 1 was (from left to right) Derek, Murph, and Adam; line 2 was me, Matt Y, and Lee; and line 3 was Doug, Gerry, and Matt Z. Yep, that's right, I was on line 2. It occurred to me when I heard my name read off that our captain might be thinking that Lee's and Matt's superior skills made up for what I lacked, but I chose to be positive (or perhaps delusional) and consider it a compliment.
It was an interesting change to move to a line with extra-strong skaters/players—both Matt and Lee play up a division in the fall league—because it meant a return to my old job of net-crasher (though I did have one or two opportunities to fight for the puck along the boards). It also meant that I went from being able to keep up with my line easily to bringing up the rear on most plays, though I actually think this had as much to do with the net-crashing as with actual speed. If you're down low, you have farther to go when the play turns around. In any case, I thought I did pretty well in covering my checks, getting open for passes, etc., and I even had a shot on goal (plus the rebound when the small hole I was aiming for closed at the last second).
I thought I did a good job of getting open in front of the net, covering the points, and forechecking; I probably could have been a bit better at taking passes (although I caught a few right on the tape, I stupidly tried to take one on my backhand up the boards from behind—no mean feat, I assure you, which is why I was stupid to attempt it—and there was another I just missed entirely and ended up falling on when I lost the puck in my skates). I wish I could have gotten control of the puck I'd knocked a defenseman off of not once but *five times* while forechecking him hard, because Lee was waiting for me to pass to him in front of the net. (Lee remembered from the first game we played together that I said I was good at digging the puck out of corners and flinging it to the middle. I am, if I can just get in front of the defenseman. :)
I still think Lee's probably too good for me as a linemate, but we still managed to work fairly well together; he was the one who passed to me the time I almost scored, and he tried to get the puck to me a few other times as well. (This was not the case, btw, when I ended up on the ice at the same time as a different Center—one who ignored the fact that I was wide open in the slot and BANGING MY STICK for a pass and instead attempted to score himself from slightly behind the net. Lee definitely would have passed; Eric would have, too.) Matt turned out to be pretty fun to play with as well; I think if we were linemates on a regular basis, we could probably work out some cool plays. (A murmured tip-off from Matt that was going to try to win a faceoff in the offensive zone forward reminded me of a similar situation I was in with Fuz once; I mentioned to Matt later on the bench what my strategy would be in that case.)
Overall, I probably was more of an extra appendage than a necessity on line 2, but I worked hard, and my linemates seemed to appreciate what I was doing. At the very least, they didn't seem to think of me as a liability. Our captain apparently did, however, because with one minute to go and the score tied 4-4, he announced that he was moving up from D to take my place on line 2. I was a little annoyed but tried not to look at it as a personal slight; it made sense that the captain would want to play on a strong line, and I was certainly the weakest player on a strong line. On the other hand, our line had never been scored on with me on it.
When the remaining minute of regulation play—during which line 2 was on the ice—did not result in a goal for either team, we went into a five-minute overtime. Our captain sent the first line out again (skipping the third line entirely) and announced that the second line would go out as usual, followed by the third line. I said, "the *real* second line?", though I knew the answer to the question already. "Sorry, the MODIFIED second line will go out next," he replied. This was when I started to get a little angry. I didn't want to stand in the way of my team winning if they could, but even with the captain moving up there was no guarantee we would score—and with me on line 2, there was a good chance the other team wouldn't.
I won't even bother with the argument that I paid as much as everyone else on the bench—and that I paid that amount to play, not to sit—because it should be obvious. Instead, I'll just repeat what one of my linemates said to me after the final buzzer rang: "That was so stupid. You do all the work, and then you have to sit? That's not right." Yep, and it didn't change the score, either: We skated away with a 4-4 tie.
We played another upper-division team this week: The Firebirds. We were a bit short, with Mattias, Gerry, Mike, and a few others out; Fred was the only regular Defenseman in the locker room, so Bill and Eric dropped back, and the remaining six of us played O. I'd been thinking for a while that I wanted to try being on a line with Matt Z at Right Wing and me at Left, and I almost got my wish this week... except that I played Right Wing and Matt Z played Center. I don't think the fact that it didn't work out so well—we got in each other's way a lot, unfortunately—is necessarily a reflection on how we might work as a Wing pair; I still think I'd like to try that. I think we really might be able to get something going by playing dump and chase, and we might even be able to hit each other with passes.
Speaking of hitting each other with passes, Adam and Derek turned out to be really good at that, though I suppose it's not too surprising given that they've been playing street hockey together for like 15 years. This was our first chance to see them in action, though, since I think it was their first time playing on a line together. Adam and Derek (together with Murph at Center) were definitely the scoring line in this game; Doug, Matt Z, and I made up the checking line.
Much as I'd love to score a goal, I have to say that I get a total thrill out of being an effective checker. I felt like my job was to tire and frustrate the Firebirds, and, if possible, prevent them from scoring. (Oh, and to give Adam a rest so that he could score next time he came on the ice—he had both of our two goals :). I knew I was doing my job effectively when the Firebirds started hitting and hooking me; it meant that I was at least an annoyance if not a threat. (That's totally better than being insignificant!) I have a lovely (and painful) bruise on my upper arm where one of the Firebirds hit me with his stick, lacrosse-style, though I honestly can't remember whether he was trying to push me out of the slot in the offensive zone, or to get me off him in the defensive end. Either is equally likely.
five days after the check
Speaking of defensive forwards, Eric was excellent on D. He took his job very seriously and ALWAYS got back, even if he'd just been inside the blueline in the offensive zone. I was kind of amazed at his energy level, given that there were only three D; I don't think I ever saw him coast. I think it helped that Eric takes his defensive responsibilities as seriously as his offensive ones when he plays Center; when Centers do that, it's not such a shock to move back to D. (Eric would probably not be too thrilled to know that I'm extolling his virtues as a defenseman given that he prefers to play up, but I wanted to give him props for a great game. And I hope to see him back at Center next time!)
The title of this post is what the announcer at NHL games in San Jose would say (with a growl in his voice) when the visiting team was called for a penalty. It's what keeps running through my head as I think about our game against the Sharks on the 26th (mainly because of their name, rather than the number of penalties that were called on us... though if I remember correctly, there were a few).
I was supposed to be the floater in this game, but Derek volunteered to float instead. That left me, Doug, and Gerry for the second line. Since Doug likes Left Wing and Gerry likes Right, I said to Doug while Gerry was out on the ice warming up, "I guess I'll play Center." I don't win many faceoffs at Center, but I'm fairly decent at standing the other guy up (leaving the puck for one of the Wings), and I'm actually very good at skating end to end—going in strong on O and getting back on D—as Centers should. When Gerry came to the bench, I leaned over to tell him my faceoff strategy so he'd know that the puck would often just be sitting there, but before I could open my mouth, Gerry said, "I'll Center this line," and Doug replied, "I should hope so!" With that settled, I moved to Right Wing.
The Sharks are in the upper division, and playing them reminded me of playing the Toasters in the Monday night league at Ice Oasis (well, if the Toasters had ever had a full bench). They were fast and good and really knew how to use their points—which meant that I actually had something useful to do as a winger when we were on defense. I think on the Galaxy there's a bias towards having the wings drop down low to help out the D, but since the teams I played on in Calfornia preferred a zone defense (and an unclogged slot), I'm more used to staying between the blue line and the hash marks when we're in the defensive zone. If the D I'm covering dashes in, I follow him only up to a point—the point at which our D picks him up—and then I get back up high to cover the forward who's taken his place. The score might not have reflected it, but I felt like I disrupted a lot of plays and challenged the Sharks a bit when they were on O, especially in the second and third periods. (Except for a goal that was scored in the first 30 seconds, the second period was scoreless.) The Sharks seemed to expect that someone would cover them on the points and didn't make me feel like I was irrelevant, which was another confirmation that I was doing the right thing (and doing it at least middling-well).
I had lamented the sorry state of the ice (apparently caused by the high temperatures outside) in the middle of the first period, mainly because I couldn't seem to get any momentum going in the slush, but Derek said he thought it would hurt the Sharks more than us. By the middle of the second period I knew he was right—the slow, slushy, deeply-rutted ice frustrated them to a greater degree than it did us. As Derek described it, it was like the Celtics installing new nets to throw off the timing of teams known for their fast breaks (because the ball would drop through the new net more slowly). The slower ice definitely seemed to be interfering with the Sharks' timing; forechecking really started working in the second period, and we were able to break up several passes. Eric (who was playing Left Wing on the first line and whom I ended up on the ice with due to a weird line change) even got a scoring chance from a successful forecheck of ours.
No matter how right Derek was, by the third period I was back to lamenting the condition of the ice. In that period I found myself melting an indentation in it twice—once because I was tripped (but didn't get a call), and once because I was so aggressive on the forecheck that I collided with the guy whose pass I was trying to break up—and I couldn't get up because my socks stuck instead of sliding. Talk about throwing off your timing! I ended up causing a teammate to go offsides when it took me several seconds to get back on my skates.
Even the velcro ice and the 9-0 loss couldn't dampen my good mood at the end of the game, however. There's something about feeling like you're just a half-step behind a faster, more skilled team that's exhilarating rather than defeating—for me at least, and apparently for a few others who also said they had fun and thought we'd played well. It really did remind me of playing in the Monday night league at Ice Oasis, where I certainly was one of the less-skilled players, but where I felt like just playing against better players raised the level of my game, too.
I can't remember much about our game against the Stampede last month, except that I felt good about the way I played (aside from one incident, which I'll describe in a minute). Here's what I do remember:
Mattias paired me up with Gerry, mainly because I like Left Wing, and Gerry likes Right. (Up until this game, Gerry'd been stuck playing D.) Gerry and I have very different skating styles, but I think if we were to race, we'd be about the same speed. We also have one other thing in common: we both tend to look for the pass when we get the puck rather than skating with it ourselves. I'm not sure that's the best trait to have in common with a linemate, but at least we weren't running into each other most of the time. :) I honestly can't remember who our Center was; I think I remember being on the ice with Murph a couple times, but I could be getting this game mixed up with the next one (when I also played with Gerry).
It struck me in this game that our offense and defense seemed to be somewhat reversed—and not just because one of the guys who usually plays forward was playing D. (Though he did tend to play it the way I did in Vancouver: namely, by poke-checking at the blueline and often getting beat.) There was one play where either (a) I had forgotten that this usually-forward was playing D, (b) I wasn't paying quite enough attention to the whole play, or (c) both. As I entered the defensive zone I looked down by the net and saw two blue jerseys scuffling with two Stampede players, figured the D had the situation well in hand, and turned toward the high slot to cover the third man in. It turned out that (a) the second blue jersey wasn't a defenseman, it was our goalie (who'd stood up at the side of the net), (b) the "third guy in" wasn't a Stampede player, but the usually-forward playing D, (c) we got scored on about a second later, and (d) I got screamed at by that usually-forward for not getting back.
Other than that, everything was great!
rink diagram courtesy of LifeTime Hockey
OK, there are probably several things wrong, but the one I'm thinking of involves the whistle that's about to be blown.
I kept thinking that I would post about our July 11th game against the Stampede before the one on the 26th against the Sharks, given that there were two weeks between them... but as is probably obvious by now, that didn't happen. In fact, I didn't even write about the Sharks game before last night's game against the Firebirds. Sheesh! With any luck, Austen will nap for at least an hour, and there will be a flurry of posts about my recent hockey adventures. Stay tuned.