So much hockey has happened since I last wrote... and it's only been a week! Our first game was on Saturday, and I think I mentioned that I found out at my first practice that there was also a game on Sunday. I also found out at my first practice about the 20-21 person roster, and that it'd mean having to sit out some games if we wanted to keep the number of lines/people on the bench reasonable. Al and I had already made plans to go apple picking on Sunday, so I said I'd be there on Saturday but not Sunday.
On Wednesday or Thursday, I got an e-mail from the team captain saying that the plan for the weekend was to have the "old" girls play on Saturday, and for the new to watch and see how it's done (positioning, etc.). On Sunday, the new girls would be on the ice, supplemented with as many old girls as needed to fill out the lines. Although in principle this sounded like a fine idea, I couldn't help but be mad. Saturday was the game I COULD come to; Sunday was the game I'd miss. I talked to Al about it after work on Friday, and he said it'd be OK if I wanted to try to play on Sunday—we'd probably get back from apple picking early enough, and he was willing to watch The Beaner.
On Saturday morning I woke up grumpy as hell and couldn't shake the bad mood. I wasn't sure if it was the fact that I'd been letting a bit of sugar creep back into my diet, that I hadn't been getting enough sleep... or that I was just pissed off that I wasn't going to get to play hockey. I ended up packing my hockey bag and putting my stick in the car anyway, just in case there was room for me after all, and at 1:45 Al, The Beaner, and I drove to the rink. I do believe I pouted the whole way. When we got there I went to the locker room to verify with the captain that she really didn't want the new girls to dress (I mean, if the point is to keep the bench from being too crowded, why would we dress?), and after a funny/exasperating exchange and a quick head count, I was told to go get my equipment. It turned out that with me, we only had 13—three lines of forwards and two of D.
I was put on a line with another new girl—Meghan—who'd apparently come ready to play, regardless of any stinkin' e-mail, and Donna, who I think usually plays Wing but who Centered our line. Meghan didn't care which side she played on, so I opted for Left, my usual spot. When I got on the ice for my first shift (we were the third line), I suddenly realized why Lee, my former linemate from the summer Galaxy team last year, had suggested I play on a women's team. I remember being offended at the suggestion—I mean hey, women are just as tough as men, and most of the women I've played with have been just as good as the men on the team, if not better—but Lee had said he thought it would help me build confidence. I think he's right. It's not that I can't play with guys; it's that I tend to go into "oh no, it's ok, YOU take the puck" mode when I play with guys. I'd already known how much it undermined my confidence to have no one pass to me; to feel everyone holding their breath, waiting for me to fuck up; to hear the exaggerated sighs of exasperation when I lost the puck. What I hadn't really realized how much I was deferring to them, how I poured all my aggressiveness into backchecking and forechecking, but almost none into offense. I *should* have realized it; it's the reason I felt like I was on fire in Vancouver, and why I went back to being lukewarm when I returned to the Admirals.
This is not to say that the team we were playing on Saturday was weak; on the contrary, I thought we were pretty evenly matched. It's just that I didn't defer to any other skater, no matter how good she was. Plus, our line ended up working really well together; there's something about cycling and passing well and being consistently first to the puck that makes a line click—and therefore play even better. Early on, Donna scored a goal on a pass from Meghan while I took out the D in the slot, and we had tons of other chances later in the game as well. I had like five breakaways. Yeah, let's pause here and consider that. I either intercepted a bad pass, picked up a loose puck, or just plain took the puck off another girl's stick and skated hard toward the net with it at least five times in the game. I didn't score any goals, but BOY did it help my confidence. (So Lee: you were right.) I talked about these breakaways with Al after the game (he and The Beaner saw only part of the game; a two year old's attention span is not lengthy, unless Elmo is involved), and I said I thought the reason I couldn't score is that I tended to stay on the left side as I skated in. If a defender caught up to me, all she had to do was keep me there—and all the goalie had to do was stand in the corner of the net on that side—to keep me from scoring. I decided that I should go up the middle more and give myself more options.
So anyway, after long stretches where the game was tied at 1-1 and then 2-2, our team ended up scoring two more goals, and we won 4-2. I left feeling exhilirated, my bad mood banished. All afternoon Al and I talked about what had worked, which plays I'd blown (e.g., stick-checking my opponent when the puck came to me off the faceoff in the defensive zone, rather than just going for the puck), the small moments I was really proud of (e.g., line changes, especially the one where I dumped the puck hard into the far corner after crossing the redline; I was skating hard, and I don't think my opponents had any idea I'd planned to dump and change), what I planned to try next time. We also agreed that having a coach (Bill) on the bench to draw diagrams of what we should be doing in different situations between periods was absolute gold. I think it made Al happy to see me so excited, and it's probably why he didn't object when I asked to play again on Sunday even though I'd played on Saturday after all.
Sunday's game was at Iceworks in Aston, PA (very close to where we went apple picking, atually, though we went home in between so Al and The Beaner could take naps) against the Flames. Our captain said that the Flames had several squads, and she wasn't sure which one we'd be playing against—it might be their C team, their D team, their developmental team, or a combination. I think it turned out to be their developmental team, as they weren't nearly as fast, as confident, or as skilled as the team we played on Saturday. They also seemed pretty young, though as an old geezer who's about to turn 38, I'm not that great at distinguishing between 15 and 25. (When I remarked to Meghan that the other team seemed much younger than us, she shrugged and looked puzzled. That's when I said, "wait, how old are you?" The answer was 23. So there you go—not all of us are pushing 40.)
Meghan and I formed a wing pair again, this time on the second line and with Shelly (who wasn't there on Saturday) as our Center. I thought we worked just as well, if not better, as a line than we had on Saturday. It didn't hurt that we were almost never in our defensive zone, and that we could knock our opponents off the puck so easily. (At one point I reminded myself of Leslie, my teammate from the Spitfire, who often manages to foul up a breakout by sweeping her stick behind her with one hand while clogging up the lane with her body. I must've done that at least 10 times in this game.) Oh, but before I really got started, I got a penalty. I almost forgot about that, since it happened about 20 seconds into my first shift. An opponent and I both went into the corner for the puck, and she tripped over my leg and fell on my stick. She was still trying to get the puck up to a teammate, so I continued to try to dig it out, too, despite the fact that she was draped across my stick. When the puck finally came out, I turned and saw the ref with his arm up, and a second later he blew the whistle. "10 teal, [something inaudible]!" It wasn't too surprising; I figured I'd been called for tripping. As the ref escorted me to the box, however, he said, "you can't do that with your stick anymore." I said, "did you say 'do that with your stick'?" and then realized that we'd been warned not to talk to the refs per new USA Hockey rules. "10 teal, hooking," he told the scorekeeper, and then skated to our bench to tell Jill and Billy that we weren't allowed to bring a player down with our sticks. Or something; I'm dying to know whether I was called for bringing the girl down with a hook (which I didn't do), or for hooking her while she was down and we were fighting for the puck (which I did).
I think it was my second shift where I got a breakaway, and I thought to myself as I crossed the blueline, "skate to the middle! Don't stay on the outside!" I looked up and saw two defenders near the insides of the faceoff circles, but they seemed to be standing still (it's possible they were moving, and only *looked* like they were standing still; I can't say for sure). I cut hard right as I neared the one closest to me, skated between them, brought the puck to my backhad, and shot. I don't actually remember how I got to my backhand, but I know I did because there's no way I couldn't have shot from my forehad at that angle. Plus, it's a shot I practice all the time during skate-and-shoots and warmups, so I suspect I did it without thinking. I peeled off to the right to avoid skating into the goalie, and then did a hard turn to jump back in the play. The puck was out in the slot, and I started to shout, "rebound! Somebody get the rebound!" when I realized that people were coming toward me instead of toward the puck. Meghan said, "nice one!" and held out her fist for a glove shake. "Did it go in?" I asked. "Yeah!" she replied. "It went in and came back out so fast the goalie didn't even see it."
I got more congrats on the bench, and Meghan informed me that the goalie was totally swearing after the goal. I tried to see it from her point of view: An opponent comes flying into the zone, cuts through her D like butter, and scores on her before she has time to react. It must've seemed like I was showing off or something, but really, I wasn't. I was just doing what I *should* have been doing for the past four years (which I think is the amount of time that passed between this goal and my last one). A shift or two later I got the puck again and had started to skate hard through the neutral zone with it when an opponent (I think it was the girl I'd been facing off against) came at me at an angle, dropped her shoulder, and nailed me in the chest. She definitely hit me hard enough to knock me down, but as I had my head up when she hit me, I saw her coming out of the corner of my eye and probably saved myself serious injury as a result. As I was getting up the ref skated by and said, "you OK?" without turning his head toward me. "Ah... yep." I replied, remembering the rule about talking to the refs. When I skated to the bench, Billy said, "I don't know how they could call you for hooking and then not call that! She definitely put her shoulder into it." I said, "yep, that was definitely a check. Thank god for chest protectors."
I can't remember whether my goal was the second or the third, but it was definitely early; after four Billy told us we should start working on our passing rather than our shooting. If we had a golden opportunity, we could take it, but our main goal should be to pass at least four times before taking a shot, and if that shot didn't go in, to make four more passes before taking another shot. At that point I slowed down to about 1/2 to 1/4 speed, just keeping up enough with my opponents so that they didn't feel alone on the ice, but not really challenging them. It takes more skill than I have to play down without playing sloppily/badly—Rob from Coastside was a master at it, and Big John was pretty good—but I think I acquitted myself fairly well. Meghan and Shelly and I really worked on passing, and we were still agressive about skating it in, going for it in the corner, etc. (Well, most of the time. There was one player who was pretty good, and she got between me and the puck in the corner. I still had a chance for it and started to get into digging position, but then I thought, "eh, let her have it." I stopped fighting, and let her bounce me off the boards with her hip and take the puck. When I looked up to see the ref standing right in front of us, I knew I'd made the right decision. (Laura asked me on the bench afterwards, "were you trying for the puck at all there in the corner?" Me: "No." A: "That's what I thought. :) "
I think the score was 5 or 6-0 when my line and Canadian Adrienne (we have lots of duplicates on the team: two Loris/Lauries, two Adriennes, and two Allisons, and two Angies, just off the top of my head), who plays D, ended up on the ice at the same time. I don't know if she's ever played hockey before, but she's played ringette since she was little, so she can really skate. At one point the puck came back to the D, and instead of just popping it forward while standing at the blueline, she skated it back into our zone, looked up to see where the forwards were, and started a breakout. We came out of our own zone with so much speed that when Shelly got the puck (either on a pass from Adrienne or from one of us, I can't remember), she skated it down the ice and took a shot on goal without passing. I saw the "oops" look on her face immediately after scoring and said to her, "that was just instinct, wasn't it?" She admitted it was; in the heat of a great breakout, she forgot we weren't supposed to just score like that.
When our line came off, Shelly suggested that we hang back and not go for the puck. Meghan and I agreed, and the next time we went on we hung back at the blueline and let them break out whenever they got the puck in their own zone. If we got possession, we totally worked on passing, and we didn't let our opponents take the puck up the ice while standing still, but we didn't actively try to knock them off the puck. After about a minute and a half of this, the puck came loose in the neutral zone, and it seemed to me like a good time to change. I got near the red line and dumped the puck hard into the zone, just like I had on Saturday. A second or two later I heard the ref blow the whistle and thought, "oh crap, I didn't get over the line." I figured we'd been called for icing. Laura skated to the bench and shouted, "WHO SHOT THAT?" I said, "I did." Laura: "It went in!" Me: "Oh, sorry!" Billy said, "Don't apologize, you just scored a goal!" Me: "I know, but we weren't supposed to, and I wasn't trying to. I was just trying to dump and change!" My accidental goal was #7 or #8, and we ended up winning 8-0.
It's funny, but the scoring, though nice, didn't make me feel exceptionally proud or anything. It was more about the move I made while *trying* to score, and about being confident on the ice. What a difference between playing with the Freeze and playing with the HNA!
The six sticky notes pasted to my monitor, the Outlook alert, Jess (our sharecare nanny), and Al all reminded me to go to hockey practice last night; if they hadn't, I probably would have missed it again. Truly, Monday evenings are chaotic around here, and it's easy to forget which way is up when everyone comes crashing through the door at 6pm and I'm not yet done fixing a bug. At the last minute Al and The Beaner decided to come with me, and when The Beaner realized he was invited, he said, "mommy daddy play hockey!" I was so surprised; I don't think I've ever heard him say that before. I replied, "well, mommy's going to play hockey." He just kept repeating "mommy daddy play hockey!" until about an hour later, when he and Al were sitting in the stands eating dinner while I practiced. At that point he switched to "mommy play hockey! daddy eat pizza!"
I realized as I was getting dressed that I last played hockey in June. Wow, long time. Would I remember what the hell I was doing? Would I fall down as soon as I got on the ice? (Luckily I double-checked for skate guards before leaving the locker room, as I'd left one on.) It turned out that I did remember (mostly) what I was doing, and that I could get around OK. My shot seems weaker, despite all the bicep-boosting Boopster carrying, and I found I got winded easily, but the biggest problem I had was with the drills, which are still quite unfamiliar to me.
We ended up doing that two-man-weave passing drill that Lisa showed us, and I still couldn't get it right. I usually pass and then forget to cross, or I try to pass and cross at the same time, or both. I got paired with a girl who seemed incredibly exasperated with my ineptitude, which didn't help. There's nothing like being written off as an idiot at your first practice to build your confidence. I also fell once during the skate to the redline, stop, skate to the blueline, stop, skate to the...[you get the idea] drill, when I couldn't decide which side I wanted to stop on until it was too late. I'm actually lucky I didn't break my ankle on that one. (Afterwards Bill told me we always stop facing the clock. He might have said it in the original instructions; his accent is a bit hard to parse in the echo of an empty ice arena, so I missed a lot of what he said.)
I had much better luck with the forechecking drill (which is really just like a game situation, and I love forechecking anyway) and the two-on-one drill that was designed to help a defensive player (not necessarily the D) read the play in order to stop a rush. In both drills I got to skate flat out, carry the puck, pass, and shoot, and I learned a lot about what I need to work on most: namely, Hockey Head. I use this term to describe what many coaches would call "heads-up hockey", where you're skating with your head up, looking for passing targets, reading the play, and making quick decisions. It turns out that I'm not very good at this. I'm not so bad physically, but my decisionmaking is, in my opinion, poor. I don't always look before I pass. I pass when I should skate and shoot, and I skate when I really should pass. I'll definitely go after a player and forecheck/backcheck like a fiend if I see signs of weakness, but I take too long to read those signs and then act on them. I shouldn't be starting from a dead standstill when I decide to attack.
So I realize that everything I just said sounds quite negative, but really, the practice was not bad for my first time on the ice in 4 months. Most of the women I met seemed friendly and nice, and I can already tell that having coached practices is going to help my game. It'll also be nice to practice and play regularly. Oh, and I seemed to be about middle-of-the-pack skillwise, so this is the right level for me. Our first game is this Saturday (it turns out there's also one on Sunday that I didn't know about and will therefore miss, but since the large roster will necessitate some of us sitting out games anyway, it's not a big deal).
Finally, on an unrelated note, Al has been unable to find a team to play on this season. If your Philadelphia/South Jersey-area team needs a C-level guy who can play D or Forward, let me know!
Posted by Lori at 2:56 PM
Posted by Lori at 2:01 PM
Tonight was supposed to be my first practice with the Philadelphia Freeze D team at UPenn, and I totally forgot. I'd been looking forward to it all day long, and then at 6pm the nanny came in with The Beaner, and Al came home, and the "mommy, mommy, mommy!" started, and I had to demand a moment to finish a freaking thought... and hockey went out of my head. I can't believe it.
And I can't even tell you how upset I am right now.