We played the White Lighting—the team we beat 1-0 before the break—in West Chester on Sunday and again won 1-0. I had a few proud moments, including the two passes from Shelly that I caught while driving into the zone (though both times my shots went wide), as well as a few dorky ones; here I'm thinking mostly of my first shift, in which I didn't seem to know which direction we were headed, and my last, when I tried to be everywhere at once after our opponents pulled their goalie. Both shifts felt unnecessarily chaotic for me. Shelly had our only goal, which she scored in the second period. The scoresheet had me down for the assist, but I never touched the puck on that play; I was fighting for space down low when Shelly's shot whizzed by and caught the back corner of the net.
Anyway, while sitting on the bench between shifts, I started to notice a pattern in our play: Time after time, when challenged, we didn't fight for the puck. If an opponent got the puck away from us, we'd stand up, drop our shoulders in defeat, and let them have it. Yikes! I made a mental note to ask Billy about possibly practicing sticking with the puck and not giving up so easily when we went out to dinner after the game.
Unfortunately, Billy couldn't join us for dinner, and Al and I ended up at the other end of the table from my teammates. I could hear some of the hockey-related conversation, but I couldn't join it because (a) I had a toddler on my lap who needed my attention, and (b) my teammates couldn't hear me when I tried to interject questions anyway. After we'd eaten I ended up taking a chair down to the other end of the table for a few minutes. I mentioned my observation about our lack of sticktoitiveness in the neutral zone especially, but I think Jill misunderstood what I was trying to say; it's true that sticktoitiveness is somewhat backchecking-related, but it doesn't really have anything to do with getting back when the play turns around, as she complained that we Forwards don't do (that's a different problem). Rather than try again with the same point, I followed up with a related point: that it'd be great if we could practice trying to take the puck away from our opponents and then continuing to skate.
She understood this point: "You mean skating through people." Yes, with my follow-up point, that's exactly what I was thinking of. "You can't practice that," she said. "You can't drill for that. That's about being strong enough, and some girls will never be strong enough." There was also some mention of Wanting the Puck, which is also hard to teach. At this point the Beaner (our Beaner, not to be confused with just Beaner of the B team) pulled some of the streamers off a piñata hanging from the ceiling, and we made a rather hasty exit (after dropping our $$ for dinner on the table). As we walked out I repeated the conversation to Al and said, "I agree that it's partly about strength, but I think more than strength, it takes confidence." Plus, I think you *can* drill sticktoitiveness (i.e., my original point), and I think sticktoitiveness leads to winning the battle for the puck, which in turn leads to confidence.
Luck was on my side last night: Al ended up dropping me off at the rink for practice a bit early, so I was dressed before any other players got there. Billy had just arrived when I emerged from the locker room, so I went over to talk to him about my game observation. I mentioned a drill that I remembered doing at the Sharks practice I went to back in 2002, and that I thought the point had been to practice both keeping the puck away from your opponent (if you had the puck) and knocking your opponent off the puck (if you didn't). (In re-reading my entry about it now, I can see that that was, indeed, the point.) Billy said, "yeah, we could do something like that," and started sketching the drill out loud.
When we got on the ice he announced that we'd be doing some drills to give Nielle, our goalie, a workout, and then we'd be doing one "courtesy of Lori." Ack! I hadn't realized he was going to give me credit (or, perhaps as my teammates would see it, blame). The good news is that we ended up doing about three drills before we got to mine, which meant that after a couple, "is this yours?" questions, most people forgot about it. Finally Billy had the D go down to one end of the ice to practice slapshots from the point, and then he brought one puck back to the other end of the ice and told the Forwards his plan: "Ruthann, you line up here next to Shelly. Angie W, next to Lori. Donna, next to Carol. And Angie G, next to Tiff. OK, Shelly, choose a number, 1 or 2." Shelly chose 2. "OK, Ruthann, when I blow the whistle, you skate the puck into the zone and try to keep it away from Shelly. Shelly, you try to steal it from her, but KEEP THE PUCK IN THE ZONE." Shelly replied, "You mean I can't clear it?" Billy said no, and I added, "you can't shoot, either." Right, said Billy. No shooting. "I'll blow the whistle after 40-45 seconds, and whoever has the puck, pass it to the next person in your line, and the next pair will go out. Go!"
I think everyone was a little confused at first, but after the pass to the second pair (me and Angie), the point of the drill became clear. It also became clear why the pros only skate for 40-45 seconds at a time: If you're working that whole time, 40 seconds feels like FOREVER. We were all panting like crazy (I know it wasn't just me, because there's no way I could have fogged up the whole ice surface all by myself, and it *was* completely fogged up), and I, for one, was exhilirated. It was fun and exciting (in addition to tiring) to fight so determinedly for the puck. Tiff remarked in between gasps of air, "It's just like a game!" It was also a revealing drill: it became obvious who was good at guarding and/or stealing the puck, who had strength, who had speed, and who didn't give a shit. I was impressed with Angie W's instict to skate to open ice whenever she got control of the puck (something she does well in games, too), and with Ruthann's amazing ability to guard the puck, for example. The real payoff for me came during the next drill, however.
It was a backchecking drill that we'd practiced before, where one girl starts at the boards near the goal line with a puck. She skates behind the net, looks up as she rounds the far post, and makes a pass to the girl up at the point. The girl at the point then passes to the original skater as she crosses the blueline, and they go into the offensive zone together and try to score. Meanwhile, a third girl—the backchecker—is standing at the inside hashmarks and starts skating as soon as the first skater gets behind the net. She gives chase, taking either the first girl or the second at her discretion. If she's fast enough, she might break up the pass at the blueline. If she's slower, she might take the second girl going into the zone and either break up a pass there or force the first girl to shoot. All three girls are to play until the whistle—until the backchecker clears the puck out of the zone, the goalie covers the puck, or somebody scores.
What was really cool about this drill is that everyone who'd participated in the keepaway drill seemed to fight harder for the puck once she got into the offensive zone—especially Tiff. The difference was amazing, even thrilling. I hope we can carry that sticktoitiveness into our two games this weekend, especially the one on Saturday, which is against the Senators C team that we lost to a couple months ago. I think with three full lines and plenty of want-the-puck fiestiness, we can give them a run for their money. If we do, that'll build our confidence for the league game on Sunday against the Delaware Phoenix down in Newark. Go Freeze! Don't give up!