Sunday night I attended my first practice with our new team, the Philadelphia Admirals. I recognized a couple players from the games the Galaxy played against them this summer—most notably Lisa, who I'd spotted early on as the only other regular girl in the league (I never saw the amazingly good UW player and the girl goalie again after our first contest against the Admirals). It turns out that Lisa plays for the Philadelphia Freeze B team and is a certified coach, so she ran the practice.
I can't point to any one drill that was particularly strenous or complicated, but TWO DAYS LATER I AM STILL TIRED. Good lord, I need to get in better hockey shape! There's nothing like three rounds of Russian circles (one forwards, one backwards, and one transitioning), followed by a blueline-and-back, redline-and-back, and goal-line-and-back puck drill, followed by several rounds of skating/racing through cones, followed by a two-man-weave passing drill, followed by a triangle drill, followed by a half-ice 4-on-4 scrimmage to wear you out. (I might have missed something in there; the lack of oxygen and water definitely fogged my brain. For some reason, I never remember that I need *more* water for practices than games, not less.)
Yesterday I was probably more worn out from the 1:30am bedtime/6:30am wakeup and from dehydration than from the skating itself, though today I'm definitely feeling the workout in my hips. Although it made walking around the city with the stroller tough, I actually like the ache—it reminds me that I worked hard, and that I still have a long way to go to be a better hockey player.
Of course, my performance in the drills was an even bigger reminder of how far I have to go than the current ache in my hips. I had this illusion that I could skate backwards...until I had to do those Russian circles. That's when I remembered I'd never really learned how to cross over while going backwards. I can get my feet to *almost* cross, but I can't get them to go all the way. Mostly I just end up wiggling my butt to propel myself. (And when I play D, I usually cheat by turning around and skating forwards most of the time, acting more like a backchecking forward than a proper defenseman. It's why I only play D if no one else can, or if I'm playing down a level.)
Any illusion that I'm speedy also went out the window. By the end of the evening, I felt like I was skating through molasses. Heck, by the *middle* of the evening—when we did the relay race through the cones—I found that I topped out at about third gear. I tried to kick it up a notch for the race back to the goal line, but there was no notch to kick it up to. I realize that I really do need the rest periods between shifts to give my all in a game, and that I could be doing more both on the ice and off to get faster (as well as quicker).
I did the forward Russian circles (our first drill) at a pretty good clip, possibly on the assumption that there would be breaks between the drills where I could catch my breath. With only 9 of us at the practice, though, the breaks were short—there was no line to stand at the back of and whoof air. By the time we got to the cone drills, any speed I'd had was utterly gone. I remarked to Lisa that the cones made good stand-ins for opponents, as I did the same thing when I got near them that I did when I got near other players in a game: namely, slow down to 1/4 speed. She replied, "go full speed! It's practice—don't worry about falling down." Sadly, I was more worried about tripping over the cones because I was too tired to cut than about falling because I'd taken the corners too fast. I kinda wish we'd done that drill when I had more energy, because I would have liked to practice hitting the code course at full speed—and trying to maintain that speed as much as possible. I remember trying this using Al as a cone one time, and it took me several attempts before I could skate at him without slowing down.
The two-man weave drill struck me as really useful, though I only seemed to be able to remember to weave once. After that, I would turn it into a standard skate-down-the-ice-while-passing-back-and-forth drill, to the confusion (and I'm sure dismay) of my passing partner. The first of my two favorite drills was the triangle one, where three of us would take off from the boards in the neutral zone, skate a figure-8 around the cones, and then break into the zone, with the first person going to the left faceoff circle, the second to the right faceoff circle, and the third to the high slot. Lisa would pass to one of us, that person would consider his/her passing options, and the last person to get the puck would shoot on net. (See crappy, self-drawn diagram below.) The hardest part for all of us (except Dan, who got it right away) was figuring out which side of the cones we needed to skate on in order to break into the zone properly. :)
My second favorite drill was the blueline-and-back, redline-and-back, goal-line-and-back puck drill, even though I sucked at the redline-and-back part, which required us to skate backwards with the puck. Actually, that's why I liked it: because it forced me to skate backwards with the puck in a way I'd be likely to do in a game.
Our next practice is next Sunday, and I can't wait. I'm hoping to meet some more players next time, and that Al will be able to come, too. (If he does, we'll probably take turns holding Austen—and as long as we're not working on shooting, we might be able to switch off right out on the ice.) In the meantime, I should probably start working on my stamina. I wonder if vacuuming the house while wearing a 23 lb. toddler on my back, as I did today, will help?
Friday night was the championship game in the Liberty Bell Division (which included the Galaxy, the Stampede, and the Admirals). The Galaxy beat the Admirals in the semi-final on the 9th (which I missed), so we played the Stampede for all the marbles.
I played on the second line with Lee and Matt again; the first line was Derek, Murph, and Adam as usual, and the third line was Doug, Fred, and Matt Z. (Fred and Gerry seemed to have made their O/D switch permanent, and Eric was out.) On my first or second shift out we had several scoring chances, including one where the puck popped out to where I was camped out, on the back door of the crease. I spazzed a little and missed it; I think I was worried that if I took the time to get the puck on my stick securely before trying to push it into the net, the door would close, so instead I tried to one-time it and just plain missed. I chased the puck down at the boards and flung it back into the fray in front of the net, where Matt picked it up and took another shot. I'm still not sure how we didn't manage to score on that shift.
I remember thinking in the first period that our opponents seemed very slow, almost like they were standing still. They certainly weren't moving up and down the ice at top speed, in any case. It was surprising, then, that they went up 2-0 relatively quickly. Maybe we were trying too hard to score? Matt, Lee, and I weren't the only ones keeping the puck in the offensive zone and firing on the net whenever possible; it seemed like on every shift, all five Galaxy players were actively involved in the play, if not taking shots. I know a couple shots from Adam hit the post, a couple slapshots from our D went wide, and even though we knew their goalie went down at the drop of a hat, we seemed to keep hitting him. I'm pretty sure it was Adam who scored our first goal, and based on which end of the ice it happened at, it must have been the end of the first period (or the beginning of the third).
During the second period I had another scoring opportunity when I set up in the high slot and was completely open for the pass Matt gave me from the corner, but even before the pass came I was worrying about how the heck I was going to one-time it backhanded...and I didn't have time to formulate a plan before the pass did come. It was beautiful: right at my stick, perfect speed, no one near me to poke it or my stick away. I realize now what I should have done was turn my body around a bit so I could take the pass on my forehand and then shoot, but of course that's not what I did. Instead I tried what I knew to be the low-probability backhand one-timer, and missed. <sigh> Matt said to me on the bench afterward, "I totally set you up!" Me: "I know! It was to my backhand, though, and I didn't have enough sense to turn my body." Matt said he understood—he also realized that my backhanded one-timer had very little chance of success. (We later saw one of my teammates do the same thing with a pass to his backhand, and with the same results. I guess it takes some practice to be able to run through the various options and probabilities—and then to execute the one most likely to succeed—at game speed.)
In that same period I also had a chance to skate with the puck (not my only chance, but one I remember because I got farther with it than usual). I collected it off the boards very much like the time in our game against the Roadrunners, but this time I didn't lose it two strides later. Instead I skated it into the offensive zone while looking around to see if I had company. I did, in the form of four Stampede players, who all seemed to be standing still in front or just to the left of me. Ordinarily I would have lost confidence—and the puck—right there, but I heard someone (Matt, I think) yell, "keep going!", so I did. I got through three Stampede players before the fourth one stepped in and knocked me off the puck. OK, perhaps he did it a bit too easily, but still! As Matt said later, "it was a 4 on 1!"—or rather, a 1 on 4—so I think I'm probably justified in feeling proud of myself. ;) Next goal: To skate through that forest of players with AUTHORITY!, like Lee does. He manages to fit through spaces that look too tight for a toothpick, mainly because he blows through them at speed. Speed: Gotta remember that.
Anyway, if I recall correctly, neither team scored in the second period, but Gavin dropped down low and scored from just outside the crease not long into the third period. Derek, who'd been working down low all night after passing to Adam and then following him in, finally put us up 3-2 with only a few minutes left in the game. It was now up to everyone to play defensively, which is something I actually feel very confident doing (as a forward; as a D, I'm less secure). Penalties don't scare me, and I take great pride in killing them off—Lee and I had already killed one earlier in the game—and protecting a lead late in the game is just like killing a penalty. You forecheck as hard as you can while not getting beat, look for opportunities to get possession of the puck, and get in the way of the puck and the passers as much as possible at all other times. No problem.
I'd gone out with my line as usual with about two minutes left in the game and was forechecking and fouling up the passing lanes with gusto when I heard someone SCREAMING my name from the bench, like I'd done something wrong. We were in the defensive zone at the time—I might have even been on the puck carrier—and I remember my first thought was, "how could I be on the ice at the wrong time? I know I came out with Lee and Matt." My next thought, as I looked up and saw our captain continuing to scream my name and waving me violently off the ice, was "have we been out here that long? Is my line changing already?" I did the only thing that made sense in the face of all that screaming and waving: I skated to the bench as quickly as possible... and as I got there, I heard someone say, "not while we're on D!" while our captain yelled, "they put an extra man on the ice!" by way of explanation. At that point I lost it, and started screaming myself. "Are you fucking KIDDING ME???" I was so angry I'm amazed I didn't burst into tears or impale the captain with my stick. Meanwhile, everyone else was muttering, "why did you come off? Why didn't you just ignore him?", which only made me madder.
I managed to grit my teeth and keep from both crying in frustration and shoving my stick where it might get messy and said to Adam, "geez, an empty net's when I'm at my best! It's only when the goalie's in there that I spaz and miss the puck." :) Instead I watched from the bench as Murph put the puck in the empty net for our fourth goal of the evening.
Matt (or maybe Lee?) said to me after the final buzzer that he'd been excited when they pulled the goalie, because he figured they'd finally get me a goal... and that I should have ignored the screaming from the bench. I guess with more time on this team I might learn to ignore any efforts to get me off the ice whenever the game was on the line, but my default setting is to be a team player and, for better or worse, to assume that someone screaming from the bench has a better view of the situation than I do. At least, I don't doubt that it's easier to see the whole ice—to see potential threats and opportunities, open passing targets and unguarded opponents—from the bench. I know I have an easier time seeing plays develop (or fall apart) from over there. I'd like to also assume that anyone yelling something negative from the bench would never do so lightly, that they'd weigh any potential benefit to the team against the certain confusion and possible damage to an individual player's confidence and enjoyment of the game. I'm not sure in this case that those assumptions were correct.
In any case, our team won the game, and thus the championship. [Click the image below to go to the larger version on the HNA Philly website, if you want a better view of the faces.] I stood in the back row for the team photo because I think of myself as being tall—and downright huge with all my hockey gear on. As you can see, however, I'm smaller than most of the guys in the back row by quite a bit (although the contrast might seem even bigger because I'm standing next to Matt, who was easily the tallest guy on our squad this summer. If I were standing between Mattias and Doug, I probably wouldn't look so puny. :)
As my teammates have pointed out to me repeatedly, I'm way behind in writing about Galaxy games. Herewith, the little I remember about each game:
August 17 vs. Stampede
Lee, Matt, and I remained linemates, and we played really well together, in my opinion (except for the time I slammed into Matt and knocked him down in the neutral zone—oops!). I remember skating really hard, cycling a lot (it only seemed to matter which position each of us was playing for the faceoffs; after that, whoever got to the puck first skated where there was room, and the other two went to whatever part of the ice was open), and being tired but exhilarated after every shift. The only bummer was that we got scored on (once). Hoche used to say that the +/- was really a stat for the D, but I found out after the game that knowing we were scored on bugged Lee as much as it bugged me. This makes sense, because Lee takes his defensive responsibilities as seriously as Eric does (and I do).
Meanwhile, our captain (who plays D) set a new record for getting behind the net in the offensive zone: he was fighting for the puck back there 16 seconds into the first period. I can't remember whether it was Lee or Matt who remarked after the game that it was the fact that we brought the fight to our opponents early and often that made the difference (I think we won 5-2), nor whether it was this game or the next one in which our captain scored our only goals, but I do remember wondering why the captain doesn't just play forward.
I have nothing against the D trying to score; in fact, the D on Gang Green were "very aggro," as Hoche once said, and they scored often. They'd let loose from the point off a pass from one of the forwards, or they'd carry the puck in past one of the forwards (who would drop back to cover), take the shot, and get back to the point. It's the difference in method that made it work: in short, they were D first, and scoring machines second. I'm aware that some would say, "what does it matter who scores as long as you win?", and that's a valid point. I think the reason it bothers me when the D goes in deep and stays there is that it means you can never really trust that they'll get back—and for me personally, that often translates into worrying perhaps too much about staying back to cover and not enough about going in on O.
August 22 vs. Admirals
Lee was out for this one, but Matt and I stayed on the second line together as a wing pair, while Eric and Murph alternated at Center. I have the sense that this was the game in which our captain scored our only two goals, but I could be wrong about that. If he did, then it was either the previous game or the next one in which Derek flipped a pass from our defensive zone over the heads of two defensemen and onto the stick of Adam, who was cherrypicking up near the offensive blueline, and who went on to score. I can't remember what scores happened when, obviously, but I wanted to acknowledge both accomplishments, whenever they happened.
What I do recall about this game was falling in the corner near the Zamboni door while trying to dig the puck out (if I remember correctly, I *did* get the puck to a teammate before going down), and then either on the same shift or the next one, going down in exactly the same spot—only this time as a result of taking what was meant to be a hard clear up the boards to my left instep. The puck's velocity literally knocked my foot out from under me, and it hurt like hell to boot. I think everyone thought I was just uncoordinated and had fallen again, but I was busy wondering whether I'd broken any bones. (I don't think I did; it hurt to walk around barefoot for a couple days, but after that it was fine.)
September 1 vs. Roadrunners
This was our lone 7:15 game of the summer season, and Al and I decided that it wouldn't be too much of a hardship for Austen to stay up until 9:30 or so to see it. I didn't bring the camera because I figured Al would be too busy watching Austen to take pictures, but I kicked myself for not bringing it 'just in case' when I saw Austen in an old, infant-sized fleece hat with flaps (which didn't really fit him anymore) and the new L.L. Bean sweater Valerie got him. He looked absolutely adorable, and seeing him and Al watching the game from the stands and from behind the glass made any on-ice (or locker room) angst melt away.
Adam, Derek, and Alan were MIA when the lines were read out in the locker room before the game, and my usual linemate Matt was out, which left us with (I think) 3 D and 7 forwards. I don't remember who the two forward lines were, but I know I was asked to float. I shrugged and went over to get my stick from the rack when I heard Fred say, "why not go with three Centers and two sets of wings?" I looked up in time to see our captain stare at Fred as if Fred were crazy, shake his head, and say, with what sounded like incredulity in his voice, "No." I smiled and muttered, "because why would you do that?" to Eric, who responded by poking me in the shoulder and telling me to get out in the hall before I caused trouble. :)
During the warmup Fred approached me and said he had good news and bad news: The good news was I didn't have to float. The bad news was that I'd be the third Right Wing. It honestly didn't matter much to me; I'd never assumed that I'd have been the third Center had we gone that route anyway. Again I shrugged. It seemed silly to tire two Centers and rest a Wing, but I had no other objections. In any case, Adam, Derek, and Alan arrived a few minutes later, and the refs extended the warmup to give them time to get dressed, so we ended up having three complete forward lines after all. I ended up on the third line with Fred at Center and Doug at Left Wing.
I think being on the third line again discombobulated me a bit, especially after four weeks in a row of following Adam (who plays on the first line) onto the ice. With 28 seconds to go in the first period, the first line suddenly came off...just as the play turned around. I said, "oh my god, are they coming off?" and jumped on as soon as Adam got near the bench. I hit the neutral zone just in time to intercept, with authority, a pass from one of the Roadrunners, though I immediately had my stick lifted by the guy the pass was intended for as well as one of his linemates. (I have enough trouble fighting off one stick check; two is quite beyond my abilities. I also think the quickness that Al says I lack would have helped in this situation, as it would have allowed me to turn the play around rather than leaving me standing there with the puck long enough to get stick-checked in the first place.) Anyway, despite doing my best to foul up the barely-interrupted offensive charge and to stick with the madly cycling Roadrunners, they scored on us before the buzzer rang. It was only as I was skating dejectedly back to the faceoff circle that I realized I was out with the wrong line, and that Fred and Matt Z were calling my name from the bench. Good thing Matt Z had counted heads when he jumped on, realized I was the player who shouldn't be there—and that I had touched the puck—and quickly got back off. I apologized profusely and promised I would pay more attention to who I was following (namely, Matt Z).
I had a couple more opportunities to touch the puck in this game—and to actually skate with it. In one case I picked the puck up off the boards in our defensive zone and tried to skate up ice with it, but I lost it near our bench when I looked up for a passing target, the puck hit a divot and popped over my stick, and I overskated it. The second time reminded me of the Spitfire practice where we'd learned how to break out. At the practice, the coach had made us try over and over again to pass up the boards to a winger at the hashmarks, pass again to the center who would be coming up hard through the slot, and then come out of the zone together as a line, crossing the blueline at roughly the same time. We never seemed to get it right: Either I'd be way ahead of the rest of the line, or one of us would fumble the pass up the boards and the Center would have to circle around again, or the pass would hit the Center's skates instead of her stick. After about five or six tries, we finally executed both passes *and* crossed the blueline roughly together.
We only got three tries to get it right in this case, but that still seems a shockingly large number in a single shift—especially given that we did it the same way each time, as if it were a drill. All three times the puck came around to Doug on the boards, and I broke through the high slot and looked for a pass. (I'm not sure why it was me who did this; as the RW, I probably should have been trailing Fred as *he* looked for the pass, but I guess I was taking a page out of Lee's book.) The first time Doug passed behind me, and I had to loop back around and fight, with Fred and the D, to keep the puck out of our opponents' possession. The second time Doug hit my skates, and a similar fracas ensued. The third time, Doug apparently figured out that I'm a little faster than I look (Al says I look incredibly slow because I take a few long strides rather than several short ones) and passed in front of me. He didn't hit my stick, but for once I was able to skate up to the puck instead of back to it. I remember getting into the offensive zone, at which point I think I tried to pass to Fred, but I forget what happened after that.
After the game, Al brought Austen out on the ice for a few seconds, where he tried to walk around before we were chased off by the Zamboni. Did I mention how damn cute he looked in that hat and sweater? :)
I think it was a few days before this game that we'd been told there would be an extra playoff game added to the season. Instead of the first and second place teams in our division playing for the championship on the 9th, the second (us) and third place teams would play each other, with the winner of that game playing the first place team on the 16th for the trophies. I was trying to decide whether to stay in town for the first round of the playoffs or to make a family vacation out of a business trip to Boston, and up until this game staying in town to play hockey had the edge. After enduring a monologue on limited roster spots, the seriousness of the fall season, and the possibility of tryouts to determine who would make the team in response to our announcement that Al and I planned to split the fall/winter season, however, I decided it was a no-brainer: we'd be Boston-bound on the 7th (and probably looking for a new team for the fall).