I've now played two games with the Admirals, and we may not be winning, but we are all learning—and BOY, AM I HAVING A GOOD TIME. The enthusiasm of my early hockey career is totally back. It's fun to be figuring out the fundamentals on the one hand, and playing all-out and feeling like I'm contributing on the other. I've yet to score any goals, but I feel like I *could*; in Saturday's game against the Moose, for example, I had a couple shots on goal and at least two passes through the crease. The speed of the game was also totally within my limits (my three-line limits, anyway—too bad we only had two :).
Some highlights from our first two games:
Some thoughts for next time:
Performed fairly crappily in the Admirals practice on Sunday night; for some reason, I couldn't take a pass to save my life. I'd lose sight of the puck every time it got near me, and it would end up going between the heel of my stick and my feet. Fart.
On a positive note, I was able to get some good advice from Jeff (who hurt his back in last week's post-practice scrimmage, which we didn't stay for, and who came to watch this week's practice). After practicing my passing at open hockey last week using his method of turning my stick over to keep the puck flat on the ice, I found I was having trouble lifting the puck on shots. Of course, I'd never really understood what I was doing to lift the puck in the first place; it just happened randomly about 30% of the time (usually during warmups rather than in games). So I asked Jeff if he could tell me what I needed to do to lift the puck. He said something that I'd heard before—namely, that I should point my stick where I wanted the puck to go—but something about the way he phrased it, and the way he demonstrated it, seemed to click this time. I was able to lift the puck immediately and consistently while we stood there shooting against the boards.
Of course, when I got back on the open ice and tried my new technique in front of the net, I couldn't lift consistently (or even regularly). I started to think that my problem wasn't so much in the actual shooting technique, but in the fact that I was slowing down and overthinking my shot. I tested this theory by skating as hard as I could at the net and then, without stopping to think about the puck or the net or the shot, I just let loose in stride. Damned if that puck didn't find the back crossbar of the net, high up. It was also the hardest shot I think I've ever made. So there's something to practice when I go back to UPenn on Friday: shooting with authority, and at speed.
The other thing I learned from Jeff that night came after a shift in our scrimmage with the Galaxy. He leaned down from his seat above the bench and said, "after you make the pass, skate hard and get back in the play!" I guess I hadn't realized it, but I tend to wait and watch things develop for a second or two before kicking it, especially on faceoffs and when passing from the boards. Here's a photo of me doing it in a Galaxy game against the Admirals this summer:
after winning a battle for the puck along the boards, I flip it to Matt Z, who's in motion; I actually remember waiting for a second to see if he'd catch the pass (he did) before I took off myself.
On faceoffs I mainly stand there for a sec to see which way the puck is going to go before committing; I'm still not sure this is a bad thing, but it certainly looks that way in the photos.
the first photo is just before the puck drops; the second photo is just after. notice that the Admirals (I think that's Dan next to me) are in motion already, and I've just made a slight glide backwards.
Ironically, I did the opposite of waiting to see which way the puck would go when I was playing Center for our breakout drills early in the practice. That is, I curled too soon to one side or the other. (We three forwards were lined up at the blueline, with the two D at the goal line. Lisa would pass to one of the D, and we'd skate in, with the Wingers going to the hashmarks along the boards, and the Center curling to whichever side the D passed to.) I thought I was going straight and deep and watching to see which way the play would go, but Lisa said I wasn't; after telling me not to commit so soon a couple times, she finally halted the drill and demonstrated for me. I had thought I was doing what she demonstrated already, but I guess not.
The only way I could think to change what I was doing was to skate in slower, so the D would have time to figure out what they wanted to do, and to make sure I stayed between the two faceoff circles. When it was our turn again, I took off slower from the blueline and skated MUCH deeper into the zone than I thought I should really go (almost into the crease), but it seemed to produce the desired effect: I curled around parallel with the Winger just as the pass came to him. So there you go—I guess there was room for improvement.
Unfortunately, now my mind is back on passing. I was hoping to send this post in a positive direction, but I can't stop thinking about the hole in my stick. Why oh why was I missing so many passes on Sunday? Why did so many passes go between my stick and my feet, or require me to skate over to the boards to pick up the puck? Why can I not vary my speed properly so as to take the puck on my stick every time, regardless of how accurately it was passed? (I know it can be done: I've seen not only the pros do it, but the Drexel men's hockey team do it, too.) <sigh>
At last Sunday's practice Lisa had mentioned that she'd seen the Flyers do that breakout drill that we'd found so confusing, and a lightbulb went off in my head: Flyers practices are OPEN. I've been to a Kings practice, and I'd always wanted to go to a Sharks practice, but I had a full-time job when we were living in the Bay Area and could never make the Sharks' practice times. At the moment I'm a stay-at-home mom looking for fun, inexpensive ways to break up my (and Austen's day), and what better way than to go watch an NHL practice? I figured Austen might get a kick out of it, and I might learn something, so on Monday we drove over to the Flyers Skate Zone in Vorhees, NJ and watched about an hour and fifteen minutes of a fairly intense practice session.
The very first drill the Flyers did was the aforementioned breakout drill, so I got to see how it really worked. I think it would have been helpful for the Admirals if we'd done the basic breakout drill first, because that's what this one was based on. The first part of the drill should not have been executed from a standstill, as I assumed (and as we did it); instead, it was a standard, D passes to D, who passes to Wing, who passes to Center (who was curling down towards the D and then up alongside the Wing) breakout, with everyone moving. The second part involved the forwards turning the play around *as soon as they entered the offensive zone* and passing back to the D, who were not back at the goal line anymore, as I'd assumed they should be, but up between the hash marks and the tops of the faceoff circles. This meant that the second breakout/regroup happened roughly between the faceoff circles and the blueline, depending on which set of forwards and defensemen happened to be doing it.
Anyway, that was about the only drill I immediately recognized and parsed; the rest were a bit too complicated for me to follow, mainly because they were being started from both ends of the ice and then crossing in the middle. For example, there was one drill where the forwards lined up along the boards (i.e., on both sides, making two lines of forwards), and the D lined up in the middle. I could see each end of the D line starting the drill by skating backwards into the closest zone and taking a pass from an assistant coach, but I never did manage to track the forwards. At any point in time there were 6 players skating, two assistant coaches passing, the head coach blowing the whistle to send the next two lines, and the each group of three passing the other in the neutral zone. I think. What I ended up paying attention to instead of the paths of the drills were individual player efforts: The way one guy stickhandled, or shot, or skated. That's when I noticed Forsberg.
Somehow I'd missed the news that the Flyers had acquired Peter Forsberg, but his face and style were unmistakable. It was amazing to see how hard he worked during practice—like every drill was an actual game situation. Very inspiring. It made me want to practice more myself, enough that I went out and hired a new babysitter on Wednesday so I'd have time to go to open hockey sessions at Penn once a week.
I went to another Flyers practice on Thursday, but this one appeared to be optional; the first and second lines weren't there, and neither was the head coach. It looked more like a skate-n-shoot session than an actual practice, though that was educational, too: I got to watch a few of the D practice their slapshots (something I'd like to learn to do properly), as well as a few of the forwards work on faceoffs.
On Friday the new babysitter started, and after a few hours of hanging out with her and Austen, I drove over to the Penn ice rink for the open hockey session. Only four of us showed up (none goalies), which is what I'd expected, and why I'd brought four pucks with me. I dumped all four pucks on the ice, adding to the two that were out there, and mostly worked on skating as hard as I could up and down the ice and around the faceoff circles while carrying a puck. I also passed to myself off the boards both forehand and backhand, only shooting on the goal after I'd done a complete loop.
It was HOT in the rink—basically the same temperature as it was outdoors, 75°—and there was a layer of fog covering the ice. It probably would have been perfect for an Ice Capades performance (no fog machine necessary), but for someone doing skating and shooting drills, it was decidedly too warm. I was sweating like crazy, I could feel my face burning, and (probably due more to the cold I acquired recently than the air temperature) my breathing was a bit labored. I ended up passing for a few minutes with one of the two guys who were there and working on my slapshot as well (still feeble, but better than it used to be), but mostly I worked on skating, puckhandling, and shooting on the move. After about 45 minutes I recognized that I could no longer skate at full speed for more than a second or two and decided to quit. Better to quit than to coast.
Apparently those 45 minutes of skating hard were good enough, because I could feel the workout in my butt and legs all day on Saturday, and I can still feel the slapshot work in the crook of my left elbow (I shoot left-handed). There's another Admirals practice tonight, at which we will be scrimmaging against my old team, the Galaxy; hopefully the practices I saw this week and the one I did on my own will inspire me to skate hard, pass hard, and shoot hard—in short, to work hard—just like Forsberg.
Al, Austen, and I went to the second Admirals practice last night. The hopeful (or hopelessly unrealistic) part of me was thinking that Al would start a drill while I held Austen, and then we'd switch in time for me to finish the drill. The pessimistic (or depressingly realistic) part of me was worried all day about how we were going to pull it off.
The answer was, we didn't. We kind of ended up alternating drills and sitting with/holding Austen, which made for a choppy, crappy practice for both of us. After hurrying back to the stroller after my first drill—backwards Russian circles, during which I fell no less than three times—I was angry, but when I realized I was not going to get the idealized version of the practice that I'd been hoping for, I chilled out and tried to look on the bright side: At least I'd done the Russian circles at speed without worrying about falling. I also got to do one breakout drill, although there was some confusion about how it was supposed to work, and it took several tries to get it right. I'm pretty sure the purpose of the drill was to practice breaking out from a standstill, and then in motion/transition. It involved one set of D on the goal line passing to the Wingers on the boards, who then passed to the Center. The whole forward line would come out together and skate down to the other end, where they would then fling the puck back to the D that broke them out and skate back into the defensive zone for a second breakout. This second breakout would be taken all the way down to the other end, where a second set of defensemen would try to keep the forwards from scoring.
Al got to do the rest of the breakout drills, which was good for him; although it would have been nice to practice breakouts with my new teammates, I understood the mechanics of the drills, having done them several times with the Spitfire. I stood on the bench holding Austen while the drills went on so I could hear what Lisa and Jeff (who was helping Lisa run the practice) were telling everyone about what was going right and what was going wrong. Jeff made the point that one of the biggest mistakes you can make (and one I'm usually guilty of) is to try to make the breakout pass too quickly, before you have control of the puck, because it usually results in a turnover. He then mentioned that to make really hard, flat-on-the-ice passes, you should roll your stick over as you release the puck. It was something I'd noticed long ago but forgotten, so it was a good tip.
At a break between drills, I said to Jeff, "you're not going to be playing with us this season, are you?" Lisa responded, "I wish! He could be our ringer." Jeff then said, "I think you'd want someone better than me for your ringer." Um, no, actually, we wouldn't. Or at least, I wouldn't. In my opinion, a ringer doesn't do a team any real good unless s/he can play well with others on the team—and that means s/he has to be only slightly better than the rest of the players, really good at adjusting his/her level of play (like Rob Genovese was), or willing to pass rather than shoot. Either way, the goal of a ringer should be to make his/her teammates better, not just to score. (Again, this is only my opinion, but I've played with many upper level players, and I know which ones made the game more fun and which ones made it less. Winning, IMHO, isn't everything.)
I spent a lot of time holding Austen in the second half of the practice (and consequently got to say hello to several of my former Galaxy teammates as they filed past on their way to the locker room—their practice was scheduled directly after ours); the few times I did get back on the ice, I could hear him wailing on the bench, and when I returned his face was all tear-streaked and sad. Needless to say, it was a good hour past his bedtime, and he wanted Mommy.
I got to work on a shooting drill at the end, though by that time my practice flow was so gone—"what flow? there is no flow!"—that I didn't get much out of it. Jeff tried to squeeze in one more shooting tip before the Zamboni came out: namely, to try to get the goalie moving and then tip the puck in on the side that she can't get back to. No need to shoot hard—or even really to shoot at all—just guide the puck in the direction the goalie is moving away from. I actually did this twice against the other goalie, once during the warmup and once during one of the drills, but I found when I tried to do it as a drill, I couldn't make it work. I think it was partly the change in speed, partly the change in goalie, partly some overthinking... and partly that I could hear Austen crying.
In the end, the practice was too short (though it was the same length as last week's), and the only reason I broke a sweat was because I was standing around holding a hot baby in 20 lbs. of hockey gear. As I said to Al in the locker room afterwards, the experiment of parenting while playing hockey was, on the whole, unsuccessful. Hopefully next week we'll either be able to get a babysitter, or I'll go alone.