March 23, 2007
Open Hockey Possibilities

I feel like I'm dying without hockey. I could count on hockey every Monday night at least, plus either Saturday and Sunday, if not both, most weeks. Now that the Freeze season is over, I'm worried that (a) my skills might lapse, (b) my conditioning level will drop, (c) I won't be able to eat whatever I want (as I do now), and (d) I will seriously miss the endorphin/exhiliration rush. Consequently, I've been looking for opportunities to skate. It's Al's turn to play in a league this season (he sat out last season), so I probably won't join a spring league unless I can be sure that it won't conflict with his games.

In addition to the Monday-night women's open hockey that starts in April at NE Skatezone, I've found the following (coed, which means mostly men unless a bunch of us women decide to meet up) open hockey slots in the area:

UPenn - Fridays, 1:15pm - 3:15pm
This would be my first choice, given that I live only a mile from the rink, but sadly I have meetings at 1pm and 2pm on Fridays. Drat. I used to go back before I started working full-time again, and usually there'd be three or four of us skating around and practicing our shots.

NE Skatezone - Monday-Friday, 12pm - 2pm
This rink is too far from my house to make lunchtime sessions, unless I have the day off (as I do on April 23). Hmmm, I should mark that down on my calendar.

NE Skatezone - Friday & Saturday, 10:15pm - 12:15pm *
I could make these sessions most weekends, if anyone wants to go. This weekend my parents are coming to visit, so maybe I'll see if Al wants to go with me while mom, dad, and the Beaner are all home sleeping.

NE Skatezone - Wednesdays, 6am - 8am
Shelly and Meghan tried this one morning, but I believe Shelly got stuck in rush hour traffic on the way back. Probably worth trying if you live or work close to the rink, as Meghan does. Not a possibility for me because I need to get the Beaner to sharecare on Wednesdays.

NE Skatezone - Sundays, 7:15am - 8:45am
Morning sessions are generally harder for me to make than late-night ones, especially on weekends, so I'll probably skip this one.

Pennsauken - Tuesdays & Thursdays, 6am - 8am
Better days for me, but EARLY! Might try it if Al's games end up competing with the nighttime slots.

Pennsauken - Saturday & Sunday, 8am - 10am
(New time starts March 31; this weekend it's still 7am-9am.) A possibility if the Beaner sleeps in.

Pennsauken - Fridays, 10:10pm - 12:10am *
Another promising slot. Basically it's a toss-up between Pennsauken and NE.

Pennsauken - Saturdays, 9:15pm - 11:15pm *
(No session 3/24.) This one seems like it could be fun; it's 14 & over rather than the usual 18 & over, which means getting royally deked by kids half my height and 2/3 my weight. I had a great time shooting against a 7 year-old goalie one night, though (more of the net was open), so it could be a good confidence-builder, too. Angie G., take note!

If you know of other open hockey sessions or want to try to get something going for one session or another, add a comment!

Posted by Lori at 2:15 PM | Comments (1)

The Season That Was, Part 3: Assessment of Skills

Things I can do now that I couldn't do before this season:

  • Lift the puck reliably. I think the breakthrough on this front came in the warm-up before a practice (maybe the one where we had the intersquad scrimmage?), when I top-shelfed the puck *five times in a row*, at speed. I think sometimes I'm still scooping the puck instead of lifting it as part of a hard shot, but if it goes past the goalie—as it did in the first round of the playoffs—who cares?
  • Sprint. Nielle actually saw me do it in the championship game. Afterwards she gave a wonderfully (or embarrassingly, depending on how you look at it) realistic imitation of my usual skating style, and then marvelled at how surprising it was to see me actually bend my knees, shorten my stride, and flat-out sprint. I felt the difference, too, and I'll be doing it more often from now on.
  • Skate with the puck. I don't always do it (see: any game where I'm playing Right Wing), but I'm much more inclined to do it now than I ever have been before.
  • Skate through people. My default mode now: keep going. Don't stop for anyone. (I had to modify this strategy a bit during the championship game, when I didn't always have complete control of the puck when I got within range of an opponent. In that case, I learned to knock the puck away from both of us and then chase it down. I figured I could go faster forwards than any defender could go backwards—especially if she was skating towards me to begin with—and the couple times I tried it, I was right.)
  • Play with confidence 95% of the time. I think this is partly due to the general increase in my skill level, and partly due to the supportive atmosphere. Again I must give credit to Lee, who was right that playing with women would build my confidence. I originally thought he meant because women weren't as good, and thus would make softer opponents—and maybe that is what he meant—but I now understand that it's more that none of the women I play with think they should be in the NHL. Whereas men at the lower levels tend to have delusions of grandeur, the women tend to be self-deprecating and encouraging of others. This makes the game more fun for everyone, and, I think for me at least, it provides a safe environment in which to fail—and thus to improve. Specific shout-outs to Nielle for wonderfully constructive criticism, Sionain for being calm and commonsensical (if that's a word) when I got frustrated with drills, Shelly for reminding me to have fun, and Meghan for making me laugh at myself.
  • Move to the middle instead of staying on the outside. This is somewhat related to skating through people, and, now that I think about it, also related to another new ability: dekeing. Others on the team do it much better (Laurie Narciso comes to mind), but I'm thrilled that I can do it at all—and that I don't panic when it looks like someone's between me and the goal. As one of the Hull brothers recommended in a shooting video Al has, you should "look where the goalie is not", and then shoot there. I can now do this on the ice as well: look where my opponents are not, and point my body toward those gaps.
  • Score. I think I officially had 3 goals and 6 assists in league games, but I had two or three goals in non-league games as well. I obviously don't score every game, but I start every game knowing that I *can* score. That's huge.

Things I still can't do:

  • Look up before passing more than half the time. I still rely far too often on assumptions about where people are likely to be, rather than looking up to see where they actually ARE. I'm getting better at this, but I'm still not there yet.
  • Move from #3 position to #2 position when doing the Czechoslovakian Drill. I always go back to position #4. [NB: I redid the video in the linked post, making it larger and using Flash Video instead of QuickTime, so more people could see it.] I also often forget to go from position #1 to position #4. Until I get this right, I'll never be able to do this drill at speed, as it should be done.
  • Break out when I'm at Right Wing. Gah! Luckily I usually play left wing, but honestly, I should work at getting better at this. Meghan mentioned that she usually plays D at the summer open hockey sessions just to improve her skills at that position; I'm thinking I should resist the urge to jump into my comfort spot at Left Wing and try my hand at Right as much as possible this summer, for the same reason.
  • Get off a slapshot. I've been practicing these against the boards, and thanks to some advice from Linda Widdop, I can now hit the puck—as opposed to whiffing—about 80% of the time, and I can actually get some air about 10% of the time. What I have a harder time with is figuring out when to wind up while actually skating, and I don't have enough confidence in this area to try one of these in a game. I'd much rather try to score with a more reliable wrister or backhander.
  • Keep my emotions in check. I still get frustrated and angry FAR too easily, making me play worse and my teammates hate me. An old boss once told me in an annual review that I needed to develop a poker face for work, and I think that advice would apply well to other parts of my life as well. "When you're happy," she said, "everybody knows it. And when you're unhappy, EVERYBODY KNOWS IT. It shouldn't be that way." I need to find ways modulate my emotions, so that I'm cheerful (but not manic) most of the time, and just quiet/determined when I can't be cheerful.

Why I am where I am today:

  • Billy. As I've said here before, having a coach was GOLDEN. He kept order on the bench, provided excellent advice during practices, really helped all of us improve, and was amazingly good-natured throughout the season. And he does this for *free*. I was frustrated with many drills at first, but I actually have favorites now—and, more importantly, I understand how those drills relate to game situations. Billy's responsible for that.
  • Meghan and Shelly. Best linemates ever. I aspire to be as fast and confident and driven as Shelly is, and as good-natured and athletic as Meghan. No doubt that they make me look good, but they also make me a better player.
  • Nielle. She reminds me of that Bigelow tea, Constant Comment. :) Lucky for me, she's chock full of useful information, from how use each goalie's tendencies against them to where everyone is—and should be—on the ice. She's also cheerful and supportive and fun to be around, as well as generous with her Yuengling. Thanks for all the great advice and observations, Nielle.
  • Alison and Jill. They welcomed me to the team, wrote encouraging e-mails, and kept me laughing throughout the season. (A weird observation: Jill in e-mail is more like Alison in person, and vice versa. :)

I could go on and on here, about how Steph and Ruthann inspire me to be better and faster, how Donna never ceases to CRACK ME UP, and so on, but I'm mainly focusing on skills in this post and not just how much I enjoyed myself this season. That last is probably worth calling out, though: This is the most fun I've had playing hockey since the last Vancouver Tournament and my season with Gang Green. After two dispiriting seasons in the NHA, it was so refreshing to have the joy back. Thanks to EVERYONE on the Freeze for that.

Posted by Lori at 1:15 PM | Comments (3)

March 21, 2007
The Season That Was, Part 2: Playoff Recap

I missed the last two games of the season due to a family vacation, but I returned to find that we won both of them—meaning that we finished in first place, with a record of 11-0-1. There was some drama while the fourth playoff spot was determined (different combinations of outcomes would mean different teams in the fourth spot), but it was eventually determined that we'd be playing the White Lightning in the first round on Saturday the 17th. The White Lighting are the team that we only managed to beat 1-0 in our two regular-season meetings.

Everyone got to the rink early on Saturday, but Angie Wong was missing because she had to work, and Jo was traveling for a wedding. A.T. didn't qualify for the playoffs because she hadn't played enough regular-season games with us, but she came anyway to cheer us on and work the doors on the bench (totally necessary, given the bench configuration). With both A.T. and Jo out, that left us a bit short on D, and with Angie gone, that meant a total of 15 skaters. To make the lines even, Meghan moved back to D. (Wah!) Instead of Meghan, Shelly and I had Angie G. (Little Angie) at Right Wing.

This turned out to be a great thing for us, because Angie G. was on freakin' FIRE. She came out smokin', scored a goal as I was coming off the ice on our first or second shift, and was all over our opponents. She even passed well, for goodness sake. I believe it was Angie who passed to me instead of shooting herself when we were both down low on our next shift out, and I took a shot. The goalie was down and covering the net pretty well, but with her weight shifted toward Angie. I'm still not quite sure how I did it—I'm guessing all the practicing and the visualization really helped—but I buried the puck in the far top corner of the net, behind the goalie's head. Shelly said I tilted my head back and closed my eyes after the shot, like I was either giving thanks or expressing extreme relief, but I don't remember it. I just remember thinking, "wow, that worked!"

I believe it was Ruthann who scored the next goal, but it was a bit hard to see from my spot on the bench. And sadly, there's not much else I remember from this game aside from a quite good penalty kill that Alison, Shelly, and I participated in (who was the 4th person, Meghan? I can't remember). It sticks in my mind because we did a good job of sending one person in to attack (either Shelly or Alison), and always making sure someone got back (a couple times that was me). At one point during this penalty kill I basically just stood at the blueline while Shelly singlehandedly kept at least two opponents plus the goalie busy in the offensive zone. She had at least two shots on goal and probably killed about 20 or 30 seconds before the Lightning were able to clear the puck back to the neutral zone.

We ended up winning the game 5-1, with additional goals by Shelly (again while I was in the process of leaving the ice—who needs me, anyway?) and Steph.

On Sunday, those of us who didn't stay to watch the Delaware Phoenix play the Lehigh Valley Wicked awoke to find that the Phoenix had come out on top, 5-2. Personally, I'd kinda hoped to play the Wicked, since I'd missed both of the regular-season games against them, and I wanted to see what they were like. We were 2-0 against the Phoenix, though (vs. 1-0-1 against the Wicked), so the Phoenix seemed like a good opponent to draw.

EXCEPT THEY WEREN'T. Oh, they were good opponents in the sense that they played really fairly—no dirtiness, no nastiness, etc.—and in the sense that they played really well. They just weren't so great if you consider that we wanted to WIN.

On my first shift out on the ice I had my legs accidentally taken out from under me by an opponent who fell. I tucked as best I could—funnily enough, my upper abs are still sore from the speed and violence of that tuck—but I still hit the back of my head on the ice, resulting in an instant headache and whiplash-related neck pain for the past few days. The game went pretty much downhill from there for me; it felt like I could never really get it together. Not because of the fall, which I forgot about a shift later, but because I got confused... and as anyone who's ever practiced with me knows, if I get confused, I get frustrated, and if I get frustrated, it's a short hop to angry.

The confusion started when Tiff went down with an injury to her left leg and had to sit out for the rest of the first period. We ended up changing the lines on every shift, with Billy letting us know which three forwards were going out next. (This is how I ended up at right wing for a couple shifts.) It became obvious to me that while my speed, confidence, and shooting ability have all improved this year, much of my success with the Freeze is due to the rhythym I've developed with my linemates. I usually know where Shelly and Meghan are going to be, and both of them are really good at catching my sometimes off-target passes. (Meghan is especially easy to hit with cross-ice passes; all you have to do is fling it hard to a space about 5-15 feet in front of where she is now, and she'll get to it.) I didn't have this rhythym with other players, and the Phoenix were so good at getting to the puck, blocking passing lanes, and just generally being in the way that even when I looked up, I often couldn't find any teal jerseys. I also could have skated more with the puck, especially when breaking out at right wing, which I didn't do.

We ended up losing 6-3, with me being on the ice for two of the goals scored against us and for none of the ones we scored against them. Steph had the first goal for the Freeze; she just kept working, as she usually does (see the video of her from our last game against the Phoneix, and you'll get the idea), until she finally got a shot to go in. Laurie Narciso had the last two in her last shift on the ice. The second one went in from an impossible angle—she was standing at about the goal line at the time—with three seconds left, interrupting the Phoenix bench's countdown to victory. :) I screamed "HAAAAT TRIIIIIICK!" when they returned to the faceoff circle, but three goals in 56 seconds is a lot to ask of one person.

The two quick goals reminded me of why I'd wanted to score early and often against this team: To take the goalie out of it. Even really good goalies can get flustered when scored upon, which is probably how Meghan and Shelly managed to score on this goalie in quick succession the last time we played them (because Donna had softened her up on the previous shift, I think). Anyway, it wasn't in the cards this day, but it was still an amazing season. I loved playing with this team—I had so much more fun than I ever expected, and improved my skills to boot—and now I can't wait for September! Many thanks to all my teammates and especially to Billy for making it fun and educational.

nielle, meghan, and shelly again

Posted by Lori at 5:57 PM | Comments (4)

March 19, 2007
The Season That Was, Part 1: Regrets

I'll write a separate post that goes into more detail about what actually happened at the playoffs this weekend later; for now I need to address the depression that hit me like a heavy curtain while we were eating dinner after yesterday's game. I realized that the season was over, that there'd be no practice on Monday, that there would be no chance to improve my skills (both hockey and interpersonal) within the context of the team until September, and I suddenly had that horrible feeling I used to get the day after spending a night out drinking with friends. (Do you get that feeling? The one where you're feeling physically hungover, emotionally abandoned, and slightly worried about anything really stupid or offensive you might have done the night before? It's led to many a temporary depression for me, which is one of the reasons I don't go out drinking anymore.)

I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping ever since we came back from Hawaii nine days ago, but it was specifically these feelings of sadness and regret that kept me restless, sweaty, and wide awake last night. The short list of what I couldn't stop agonizing over:

  • How much I annoyed my teammates by screaming "LEEEEEEEEEEFT!" at the top of my fucking lungs every time I made a not-at-a-whistle line change. It's something I've been doing for years in cases where I can't lock eyes with the person who's coming on for me (and in Sunday's game, I could almost never find that person on the bench due to a couple factors—one being that the lines kept changing, and another being that the configuration of the bench made it hard to either go over the boards OR get in and out of the doors), so it was a hard habit to break anyway, but it got harder the more frustrated I got over the course of the game. I finally did break it, but by that time I think everyone had totally shunned me.
  • The fact that I couldn't adapt to right wing. I've never minded changing sides on the fly during a play, but sticking at right wing seems to be a problem for me—and everything I thought I'd learned during the last game I played at right wing did not apply here because I was playing with different linemates (and with a coach this time). Instead of just popping the puck off the boards every time as I did against the Senators, this time I actually looked in the space between me and the high slot for a breaking teammate. Not finding anyone the first time (and seeing a Phoenix player standing at a spot where I'd be more likely to pass to her than pop it past her), I tried to pass up to the neutral zone through that space in hopes that the Center or Left Wing were just farther up than I could see. I ended up passing to another Phoenix player, to my horror. The second time this happened (on the same shift), I finally spotted a teal jersey in the middle up near the blue line... and ended up passing to Laura, who plays D. She seemed very surprised, to say the least, and Billy did some yelling about "ALWAYS USE THE BOARDS! NEVER GO UP THE MIDDLE!" when I came off. So I was extremely frustrated AND extremely disappointed in myself after that one.
  • The trip south that my attitude took the more frustrated I got, and the more frustrated my teammates got with me for being such a negative Nelly.
  • Billy joking (I think) about having to stand between the two people who gave him the hardest time (me and Sionain, the latter being a mystery to both of us, judging by the look on Sionain's face when he said it) during the team photo. Gads, was I also annoying the crap out of Billy?

So in addition to being sad that there's just no Freeze hockey anymore for the next six months, I'm sadder still that I won't have an opportunity to turn things around. In the past when I've had a particularly bad pratice, especially one where I felt like I was so frustrated that I was radiating negativity at everyone else, I was always able to redeem myself at the next game or practice with a fresh attitude and a new chance for par, to use my standard golf analogy (as in, shake off the 10 on the last hole; each tee box represents a new chance for par).

There are several things that have given me cause for cheer in the past 24 hours, though, and I'm clinging to those in the hopes that they'll drag me up out of this stupid depression and allow me to sleep—finally!—tonight, namely:

  • Shelly reminding us (and me in particular) that the reason we were playing poorly is that we were frustrated, and that our team had always been about the FUN. If we weren't having fun, we weren't playing our game. Thank you, Shelly, for making my last shift or two much more enjoyable than all the previous ones by helping me refocus on the FUN.
  • A nice e-mail exchange with Alison today, in which we looked forward to the Monday night open women's hockey at NE Skatezone this spring and summer (first session is at 7:30pm on April 16; next after that is April 30, continuing through August).
  • Knowing that the Vancouver tournament is only two months away. (Man, I wish Shelly and Meghan and several other of my Freeze teammates could come, tho. It's too bad my favorite tournament is so expensive to get to from Philadelphia!)
  • Looking at the photos I took after Sunday's game.
  • Watching the video of the post-game pep talk Jill gave in the locker room.

"There is no I in team. But there is a Me."

Next up will either be a recap of the weekend's games as best I can remember them (and chances are, unfortunately, that I won't remember much, given my sleep-deprived brain and the fact that I was two hyped up to take any photos or video) or an assessment of the state of my skills after my first season with the Freeze (the first season in a long time where I felt like I actually improved), depending on which I feel more equipped to write about first.

Posted by Lori at 5:27 PM