May 29, 2006
Game 4: Eugene Xtreme

With our 2 wins and 1 loss, we finished second in our division—meaning we'd play the first place team from the other division on Sunday morning. I didn't sleep well on Saturday night because some girls from another team were out in the hall chatting with the security guard until after 3am, and my leg muscles were sore from the previous two games, so I was a bit worried that I'd be slow and useless on the ice for what we hoped would be our second-to-last (instead of our last) game. I was yawning and rubbing my burning eyes right up until I put my helmet on, and I couldn't seem to lift the puck on my first four or five shots in the warmup, but when I accidentally sent a puck over the glass while attempting to get the lift back, I knew I'd be fine for the game.

Indeed, once the game started, I was back on fire again. I felt like I was skating fast, hard, and with high confidence. One of the first things I noticed when I got on the ice was that #64, a defenseman, was GOOD. She could really skate, and her hockey skills also seemed pretty high. I think it was she who started the game with a four-minute penalty for roughing, however, when a scuffle for the puck at the point sent Michele crashing feet first into the boards. Michele's head hit the ice pretty hard, and her stick flew out into the neutral zone. I'm still not sure whether #64 actually did anything wrong—and I was watching the melee the whole time from the opposite point—but it's possible. All I know is that Michele fell *really* hard, and that we ended up with a 4-minute power play because of it.

I don't think I noticed the other ringer on the Xtreme until I was on the bench after my first shift; I think this is when she scored for the first time, but I'm not sure. I do remember that she was super fast and not shy about running circles around us or her own teammates. (Her after goal celebrations seemed a little over the top, given that her skill level was obviously so much higher than most of the rest of ours.) In any case, we started referring to her as Blue Socks on the bench, since she had no number on her jersey, and she was the only player wearing powder-blue socks.

Even though I was playing Wing and Blue Socks was at Center, I had a few opportunities to defend against her, including one where she'd gotten a breakaway just as I jumped on the ice. I think our D must have pinched in a bit, because I didn't see any red jerseys near her as she streaked down the ice, so I went straight for her on an intercept path. I caught her at the far boards just short of the goal line, and just as I got there she overskated the puck. We bumped into each other—not hard, but enough to tangle us up and keep both of us from getting to the puck, which was now behind us. I can't remember whether it was her teammate or mine who dug it out, but I like to think that I was the reason she overskated it in the first place. I know she was well aware of my approach. Another time I also picked her up when our D were busy elsewhere and prevented her from getting a shot on goal before returning to my regular check at the point.

Louise, who had joined us for games 1 and 3, was back out again (her sister is in the hospital), so we went back to two Centers and three sets of Wings, with Shawna and Marie at Center. I hadn't noticed before Marie mentioned in the locker room that faceoffs were her specialty, but now that I was paying attention, I saw that she did indeed win every faceoff for which I was on the ice. Shawna was also very strong at Center, I thought, and there were several times that she, Michele and I had scoring opportunities because of good passing between us down low. I know Michele had a backhand shot from the slot that almost went in, and Shawna and I were whacking away together down near the crease later in the game, trying to get a bouncing puck to slip through a gap in the goalie's gear.

I also had another scoring chance when we were in the defensive zone and one of the Xtreme passed out to the point. I picked the puck off the D's stick and took off in the other direction. It was so neat—I did the pickoff and go in a single motion, as if I knew all along that the puck was mine. One of their D caught me as I crossed through the left faceoff dot in the offensive zone, but I felt like I could get a decent shot off in spite of her, AND I DID. (Sadly, the goalie pinched it between her leg pads.)

There was one kind of funny moment where an Xtreme player tried to take me out as a passing target (I assume with the intention of then stealing the puck from my teammate, who was now skating up because I'd been taken out), and instead of fighting her off, I just hooked my arm under hers, relaxed, and let her momentum carry us into the boards. Surprise! You're now out of the play, too. :) The added benefit was that since I knew the bump into the boards was going to happen, I was able to untagle myself quicker and jump back into the play.

Oh, and speaking of getting tangled up, two other incidents come to mind: one was in the middle of the first period, when we were at a faceoff dot in the offensive zone. I moved to tie up the opposing Wing so she couldn't get the puck, and my stick blade got caught in her skate. I felt it yank forward as she took a step, and I know I should have let go of it—but I didn't, and she went down like a felled tree. I apologized and waited for the whistle, which I knew would be coming. Indeed it did, and I skated to the box to serve a two-minute penalty for tripping.

The other tangle came when I was skating the puck into the offensive zone with a backchecker hard on my right, and she stepped on my skate just as we got to the blueline, sending us both flying forward. I looked back and saw one of my teammates pick up the puck just behind the line, and as I wasn't sure whether the puck was *touching* the line or not, I started screaming "I'm offsides! I'm offsides!" as I scrambled to get up and get clear. Either I got a leg over the line just as Marie came in with the puck, or the puck never completely crossed the blueline, because we weren't whistled for offsides.

I think it was Lolly who scored our only goal in this game, to the Xtreme's three. We were tied at 1-1 for quite a while, but once the Xtreme scored their second goal, it was like they smelled blood in the water—and they really kicked up the intensity. "Nothing we wouldn't have done," said Rachel when I made the blood-in-the-water remark to her on the bench. "I rather think we would have backed up," I replied. She laughed and agreed I was probably right. As we were having this exchange, #64 had control of the puck in our defensive zone. Someone tried to knock her off it and ended up knocking her down instead—and that's when I think *everyone* realized how good she really was. She kept control of the puck while she was on her knees, sprang back up, skated down a bit lower, and took a shot (which was blocked by one of our D, I believe). Oh, to have mad hockey skillz like that!

It wasn't until Michele, Leslie, Shawna, Marcus and I were out at dinner later that night that I realized that I'd had *absolutely nothing to complain about* this year. There were no ugly hits, no trips, no injuries, no uncalled penalties, and—aside from the aforementioned dive into the offensive zone—no falls of any kind. (Which is good, because if anybody had knocked me on my back, the black-and-blue surrounded knob on my butt would have had me screaming in agony. I couldn't even drive without a pillow behind my lower back to keep my butt away from the seat back.) I don't know whether my high confidence and the fact that some as-yet-unseen hockey instincts kicked in had anything to do with the lack of incidents, but I suspect so.

Despite the tournament-ending loss, I felt great about how I played and how the team played. (You'd never have known that we don't usually play together.) Al remarked when I was talking to him on the phone after the game that it was good to hear me talking about hockey with excitement and enthusiasm again. I couldn't agree more; this tournament really brought the joy back for me, and I now want to play hockey hockey hockey all the time again. I'm hoping that I can bring some of these new-found skills and the higher confidence level back to my games with the Admirals, but if not, I'll look forward to playing with the Spitfires again soon. I think the rest of the girls felt the same, because the talk in the locker room after the game was all about which tournaments would be good to go to next.


Posted by Lori at 4:00 PM | Comments (3)

May 28, 2006
Game 3: Vixens

Four hours and 15 minutes between game starts sounds like a lot of time, but it isn't. I'd been thinking that I'd have time to go back to the hotel and rest between games, but all I really had time for was a veggie burger and fries in the lounge above the rink before I had to get dressed for our game against the Vixens at 9:30. I could totally feel the effects of the last game—whereas I'd been on fire in game 2, in game 3 I was just burned out. I still think I did lots of good things; it's just that my legs were burning so much that occasionally they didn't respond to commands like "SKATE!", and I know at one point late in the third period I stayed camped out on the back door of the crease much longer than I should have because I just couldn't move.

Aside from being tired, we played a pretty good game; the only thing I really noticed that I wish we'd done better was getting control of the puck. Both teams were pretty chippy: them with their hits and their mouths, and us with our sticks. It seemed like we were always chipping it out, chipping it forward, chipping it past the D... only to put it right back on an opponent's stick (I know I did this many, many times myself). We didn't control the puck in this game as much as we did in the last. On the bright side, by the third period we seemed to have their number, and we intercepted as many—or more—of their passes as they did of ours.

spitfires bench first faceoff, game 3 first faceoff, game 3 looking for a passing target double-teamed holding the boards everybody down low still scrummin' watching the fight along the boards

The Vixens were definitely a better team than the Cross Chix, but I think if we'd played them in the first game on Saturday, when we were fresher, instead of in the second, we could have beaten them. (But then would we have beaten the Cross Chix in the second game? Hard to say, but I think we would have.) They were bigger and faster, for two things, and they didn't back up like the Chix had. I'm also not sure we were using all our assets as well as we could have. It turned out that Marie is amazing at winning faceoffs (something that we didn't realize until this morning), so we probably should have had her playing Center—or at least taking faceoffs—in this game, as she did in the previous two.

Speaking of faceoffs, in the middle of the first period, something I hadn't even noticed became obvious to Lolly: namely, that two of the Vixens' three Centers could win the faceoff back every time. When she came back from one of her D shifts she begged some paper and a pen from the scorekeeper and dashed off a tiny little diagram that boiled down to this:

Lolly's faceoff strategy
A plan for getting the puck out of the defensive zone
when it's very likely that the opposing Center will win the faceoff.

The plan involved having the Left Wing straddle the circle on the RIGHT, with the Right D and the Right Wing to her right, and the idea behind it was to get the Left Wing to her check (the Right D) without being impeded by the opposing Right Wing. It works like this: The second the puck is dropped, the Left Wing skates straight to the Right D. If the opposing Center wins the faceoff back to the Left D, the Left Wing will intercept the puck and can either carry it or chip it out of the zone. If the opposing Center wins the faceoff back to the Right D, the Left Wing is there to clog the shooting lane. If the opposing Center wins the faceoff forward or if our Center wins it back, our Left D wings the puck around the boards to the right, where the Right Wing goes to pick it up. (Obviously the whole diagram reverses if the faceoff is to the right of the goalie.)

I was a little nervous about executing this plan properly, but I got a chance to try it on my first shift out after Lolly's explanation. And gosh darn it if it didn't work! The Center won the faceoff back to the Left D, and I intercepted the pass cleanly. I think if I'd had fresher legs, I could have broken through and skated it out myself, but with both D converging on me, my first instict was to pop it up and over to another winger. I'd gotten a jump on everyone, however, so there was no one to pass up to. We did eventually get the puck out of the zone, and we tried this play two more times that I was on the ice, with great success. I wonder if I can convince my Admirals teammates to try it? I think it'd be something worth trying in one of the games against the beginner team, which actually has a strong Center.

Anyway, between Lolly's coaching and our perserverence, we kept the game very close; in fact, the score was tied at 1-1 for most of the game. Sadly, in the end we lost 2-1. I was so exhausted after the game that when the inevitable funny stories started flying around the locker room, I laughed until I was on the verge of tears. (That's happened to me before: when I'm wiped-out tired, if something hilarious happens, chances are I'll be sobbing in seconds.) The two things that nearly sent me over the edge? (1) A story about a game that got so ugly the Spitfires ended up walking off the ice, after which the opposing players all banged their sticks on the Spitfires' locker room door, yelling, "yeah, we'll see you at the potluck!" I gotta use that one sometime. (2) Beth tossing her skate towel to J-W just as Michele walked out of the bathroom. There's nothing like someone getting beaned in the head with a towel for high hilarity.

Posted by Lori at 11:36 PM

Game 2: Cross Chix

Oh my god, Power: ON! I felt like I was ON FIRE in this game. I don't know where it came from, because I remember saying to J-W and Michele in the hotel lobby before the game that I felt like my skills had *dropped* over the past year, but I felt so confident on the ice it was scary. I skated as if no one was going to stop me, and often, nobody did; several times I thought, about the D, "why aren't you stepping up? there's a puck lying right there, and if you don't step up, I'm going to get it!"

I fought for the puck along the boards and actually got possession several times, which built my confidence up even more. I actually had SHOTS ON GOAL, none of which went in, but all of which were decent (the goalie actually had to make saves, not just flick the puck away with her stick). And THEN! after one shot, I got my own rebound, skated around the net, and TRIED FOR THE WRAPAROUND. I have never done that in my life, as far as I can recall, and it felt so natural and authoritative I even shocked myself. The shot went across the crease, behind the goalie (I'd shot very hard, but didn't curl my stick around quite enough), but man was it a thrill to make an advanced hockey move like that.

As for goals actually scored by us, there were two: I didn't see the first one because it was on the far end of the ice, but apparently Leslie passed to Marie and then went for the slot; Marie noticed that Lolly was open at the point and passed to her. Lolly took a shot, more to throw the puck in front of the net than to try to score, but Leslie was screening the goalie, and the puck went in. Lolly didn't even realize it until she got to the bench.

spitfires bench spitfires bench spitfires bench spitfires bench spitfires bench spitfires bench

The second goal was scored by Deanna, who'd set up in the midde of the slot. I don't remember where the pass came from, but I suspect it was from Shawna, who I think was out there at Center at the time (we had two Centers and three sets of Wings). Deanna was open and in exactly the right spot, and it was a good reminder to me to stay up higher in the slot instead of always standing practically in the crease. You have more room to manuever up there, and you're more likely to stay open (the D often forget about you if you're not standing directly in front of their goalie). The Cross Chix only ended up getting one goal (I was also on the bench for that one, so I was even in the sense that I wasn't on the ice for *any* of the goals :), so we won the game 2-1.

Although everyone played really well, and I had so many confidence breakthroughs, the game was not without downsides/room for improvement. We played the entire third period on D, even when we were on the power play, which didn't seem like a good idea. I know NHL teams like the Mighty Ducks and the Wild are known for defensive games and neutral zone traps, but our version of a defensive game mostly consisted of backing up until our opponents were in our zone and then trying to chip the puck out. We totally looked like we were penalty killing the one time in the third when we were on the power play.

Two things I personally want to work on are staying up and open for a pass rather than coming back so close to the D—there were several times that Lolly got possession and tried to pass to me, but I was coming back to help her out rather than looking to move the puck up—and jumping into the play sooner. I was working on the latter specifically in this game and getting better at not standing around after I made a pass or chipped the puck forward, but I still caught myself standing still a few times.

So, final outcome: we won, and I felt GREAT. Oh, and it wouldn't be a Vancouver Tournament without a little hilarity in the locker room after the game:

Beth, with her hockey jock on backwards.
This also happens to be my 1000th photo posted to Flickr!

Posted by Lori at 12:23 PM

May 27, 2006
Game 1: Flying Beavers

We noticed when we got the schedule this year that three out of the four teams we played last year were on it, though of course there'd be no guarantee that the same girls would be on those teams. First up were the Flying Beavers, the team we beat 3-0 last year. Of course I missed this game due to all my flight troubles (see previous entry and a whole string of entries on avocado8), but Michele and Leslie gave me the updates.

Michele said that the two teams were pretty evenly matched, although the final score, 3-0 us, didn't really reflect that. (Funny, we won 3-0 last year as well, and I had the same impression, that we were evenly matched.) Shawna scored a goal on a breakaway, and Lolly and Rachel each had one as well. Michele said the team played pretty well together, which is nice. It's also nice to win the first game of the tournament—it helps you feel competent and confident about winning again.

Posted by Lori at 6:45 PM

May 26, 2006
Not Going to Make It

I'm on my way to Vancouver for the annual women's hockey tournament—yay! That's the good news. The bad news is that my flight to Chicago got cancelled, so I had to get re-booked on a different airline through Denver, and I'm not going to make it to YVR in time for the first game, which is at 6:15.

Posted by Lori at 9:21 AM

May 25, 2006
All The Posts I Haven't Written

I have composed SO MANY hockey blog entries in my head over the past few months, and I've written exactly 0 of them. What the heck is my problem? I honestly had *tons* of observations to make about my skills (which seem to be declining rather than improving), my attitude, the attitudes of my teammates (and how those were affecting my play and my enthusiasm for the game), and the differences between playing here in Philadelphia vs. playing in Northern California.

Here are a few brief summaries of things I'd planned to write about:

The Joy is Back!
Sadly, it only lasted for one game, but on Feb. 4, I came home EXCITED and gabbling about everything that had happened on the ice that night. I felt like I'd really made a difference in the game—even if no one else noticed, *I* knew I'd contributed—and I couldn't wait to tell Al about it. I remember literally jumping up and down as I related the following accomplishments (which I happened to write down):

  • preventing a slapshot and then clearing the puck
    I'd gotten beat on the backcheck, but I'd realized I still had time to disrupt the play when my guy foolishly stopped and wound up for a slapshot.
  • tying up opponent on faceoff -> Kimberg goal
    When we're in the offensive zone, my policy is to get the puck to the D if it comes to me, and to tie up my opponent so the D has a clear shot if the puck goes straight to one of them. The latter happened in this case, and because I effectively tied up my guy, Kimberg got a shot off—and scored.
  • forechecking/backchecking
    I was a maniac on the ice when it came to attempting to disrupt my opponents. I swear I get more of a thrill from disruption than from shooting or scoring.
  • almost tip-in from Mifflin
    This was pretty cool: I'd set up in front of the net, as usual, when Mifflin let a slapshot fly from the point. For the first time ever, I *saw the shot the whole way in* and managed to get my stick on it. The shot went a little wide, but it was totally an advanced move for me.
  • causing offsides even when I couldn't get control of the puck
    Another benefit of agressive backchecking. Just by being there and not giving my opponents a clear lane, I caused them to go offsides. Yay!
  • Flip accusing me of being on his side all the time
    This one kinda cracked me up, because DeFillipo was the one on *my* side. He just figured that since we were next to each other, I must have it wrong. :)

An Overdose of Exasperation
This post was going to be about how one of my linemates (who isn't particularly talented either) kept getting *extremely* exasperated every time I flubbed a play or didn't do what he wanted me to do, even if what I *did* do was perfectly reasonable. It was so wearing on my psyche that I eventually just stopped doing anything. I would literally stand still while the puck went by me, sometimes even with a flourish of the hand. Of course my passive-agressive point was lost on him; he just assumed I *couldn't* do anything, not that I just wouldn't. He also seemed completely unaware of [a] his own ineptitude, and [b] how much his annoyance was ruining the game for me. [I finally called him on it during the last game of the season—in a rather dramatic fashion—but I'm still not sure he understood why I was so freakin' mad.]

Collision -> Concussion
In a game against the Shock, I had just executed a nice breakout pass and was turning up ice to follow my teammates when I saw an opponent barrelling toward me along the boards. EVERYONE else (except our goalie) was now skating in the opposite direction this guy was, so all of my teammates and the two referees had their backs to us when this speeding hulk of an idiot crashed into me. He knocked me sideways, into the boards, and then kept coming—could he really not stop???—hitting me again in the chest as I fell. (He must have brought his arms up or something.)

In any case, the back of my head hit the boards on the way down. I didn't hit the actual ice very hard, probably because I was still somewhat entangled with the big goon, and I sat up immediately. I had an instant headache, and I couldn't see straight. The goon said, "Are you OK?", and I replied with an emphatic "NO." When I still couldn't see straight after a couple seconds, panic took over and I started to cry. My head hurt SO MUCH, and something was obviously wrong. Finally the refs realized I was down and blew the whistle, and everyone came back to see why I was sitting on the ice.

Everyone had a theory about what had happened, but since none of them had seen the collision or my head hit the boards, only I and the goon knew for sure what had gone down. What *was* clear was that I had a minor concussion. I ended up sitting out the rest of the first period and all of the second, but I skated the third because—and I know this sounds completely illogical—the nausea was so bad that I needed some cool air in my face to keep from barfing. I obviously didn't go full-steam out there, but the cool breeze *was* soothing.

The next morning I woke up with only a slight headache and some stiffness, but otherwise I was OK.

Fight Night
My parents were in town for this game, so they, Austen, and Al all came, and Al videotaped some of the game. I still haven't watched the tape, actually, and I'm not sure I really want to. We were playing the Galaxy, and not one but two fights broke out. Lisa, for some reason, took offense to the usually-inoffensive Gavin, and she ended up jumping on his chest and swinging freely at his (caged) face. WTF? She got ejected, of course, and then a couple plays later, Watson attacked the often-offensive Derek for something I didn't see. Watson then got ejected, and I think we were down to 7 or 8 skaters. Stupid.

Together Again
Al and I splurged on a sitter (Hannah came for about 6 hours) and participated in an open hockey session at the Igloo in Mt. Laurel a few Saturdays ago. It was SO GREAT, not just because we got to play together, but also because we ended up talking about hockey for the rest of the weekend. We each made observations about our own play and each other's, and we made a few connections we hadn't made before. For example, I noticed that Al was always a little ahead of the person with the puck and going full-speed when looking for a pass. He said he'd been working on kicking it as soon as a pass was in progress—either from himself to a teammate, or between two other teammates.

I realized that this was the reason for the problem I have with everyone always passing behind me: We'd always known that it happened because I kick it, and the passer passes to where I *was*, not to where I'm going. What I didn't realize until I saw Al's moves and discussed the pickup with him afterwards was that I wasn't kicking it until after the passer looked up and saw me, whereas Al kicked it as soon as the puck got to the now-passer. We talked about it for a while, and I also realized *why* I don't kick it until the passer sees me: It's because I'm not used to being passed to. I've been hung out to dry at the blueline so many times that I don't really start skating until [a] the passer decides *not* to pass and takes off up-ice; or [b] I see the passer's clear intention to pass to me. Why bother skating full speed if I just going to have to come to a screeching halt at the blueline anyway?

I realized that Al wasn't the only one kicking it immediately; it's what I see the pros do, other players at pickups do... in short, men do. I think playing with guys who don't pass could have fucked up my timing a little, and that it's time to take charge of the situation. I should be kicking it right away, and making it obvious that I'm OPEN and READY and ALREADY AT SPEED. If the goobers *still* don't pass to me, at some point hopefully it'll become obvious to everyone else as well, and I won't be the only one complaining.

Posted by Lori at 10:35 AM | Comments (2)