Around the time my spring league with the Puck Buddies (yeah, I don't think I've written about the Puck Buddies at all here yet. sigh.) was ending, I got an email about a coed league that was being formed out at Ice Line in West Chester. Freeze players were being offered a discount to join. Instead of signing up myself, I forwarded the email to Al.
Al broke his leg playing in the house league at the Igloo in Mt. Laurel last October, and he was hoping to return to the ice this summer, perhaps on a different team or in a different league. This seemed perfect (except for the longer drive), as it was being advertised as "weak men's C-league level" and involved several practices with drills & skills plus two pre-season warmup games before the actual season started. I figured the practices would give him a chance to rehab his leg, and he'd have an out if it didn't look like the leg could take it.
While Al was excited to play and indeed loved the practices, we lamented a bit that we couldn't join together, owing to the fact that we had no childcare arrangements for Sunday nights. I finally got to see a pre-season game in June when the Beaner went to grandparent camp, though.
Last Sunday was the first regular-season game, I think, and since it was at 8pm and it's summer now—only summer camp to go to in the morning, not school—I suggested that the Beaner and I come to watch the game. Al agreed but said, "you should bring your bag, just in case we're short and the league director will let you sub." I smiled and said OK, but didn't really expect to play.
The Beaner and I hung out between the rinks while Al went to change, and then he came out and tossed a jersey at me. "Get your bag," he said. "You're in." He wasn't in the locker room when I came in with my bag, and when the other dudes asked, "are you new?" I said yeah, I'm Al's wife. Apparently no one had exchanged names yet, so I clarified, "I think he wears #5?" That's when I discovered that they didn't pay attention to jersey numbers, either. (How do you know what the heck is going on out there if you can't yell for each other by name or at least by number???)
The Beaner was a bit disappointed to be left in the stands alone, but he soon made friends with the son of my linemate (Jack, #8, because I care about these things), so it worked out. Oh, and I scored the first goal (in the third period, I think), which was also worked out for us. :-) It was a weird one, where I didn't give up on the puck even after being knocked on my ass in front of the net and managed to jam it in. My fellow left wing, Alex, scored an insurance goal a few minutes later, and I believe that was the final score: 2-0.
After the game, the league director came by to give me a signup sheet to fill out and to ask if the jersey he'd given me—an XL bearing the number 10—fit (it did, thankfully, as it was the last one he had), and to welcome me to the team. I was truly in! (For the earlier games, at least; I told Al that I'd stay home with the Beaner if there were any late ones remaining.)
Tonight was a 7:30 game; we had 7 forwards and 4 defensemen this time instead of the 6 and 3 of last week, so we decided to go with three centers and two sets of wings. No one volunteered to be the third center, however, so I finally did. I suck at faceoffs, but I'm not bad on breakouts and blocking shots in the slot (though as I was reminded last week, getting in the way of a slapshot from a 200 lb. dude is much more likely to result in injury than getting in the way of a slapshot from UWHL White D3 player—though not more likely than from a UWHL Blue or Silver player, as a purple pinky from a couple years ago will attest).
As predicted, I didn't win a single faceoff—and Al, who I went in for, left me several in the defensive zone—but I got better at fouling up the other center so he couldn't pull the puck back cleanly and at blocking the shot from the guy he won it back to, when he could. I was a little awkward in the defensive zone, too, but I did my best to block shots and push guys out of the slot. Breakouts were my strong suit, and by the end of the game Alex and I had gotten a rhythm of sorts going.
I ended up scoring two goals: The first was a fairly weak back-hander that managed to sneak past the goalie on the left side as she was sliding right; if I'd been a right-handed shot, the puck would have landed squarely on my stick, but she would have had an easier time stopping it. The fact that puck squirted out from behind the net as I was driving in calling for it and came to the wrong side of me meant that a back-hand whack was all I had open to me, and it also meant that the puck would naturally go left, in the opposite direction the goalie was headed. Score.
The second goal I felt a bit guilty about, as it was the 10th... but I couldn't *not* score it. One of my teammates tried to skate in front of the net from the right side and flip it in as he went by, but he was a little too close in, and there was a defenseman in his way. They collided spectacularly and knocked down the goalie, who'd made the save. The puck was just sitting there at the top of the crease, so I shot it over her. I guess I should be proud of that part: that I lifted it over her instead of just jamming it back into her.
Overall I prefer left wing, not least because I get to play with Al instead of going in for him, and hope I get a chance to return to that position next week (when I think the game is again at 7:30). It's fun to play together again, and to talk about the game in the car on the way home. It's just like old times, except I'm better now thanks to my time with the Freeze. It's very exciting to get to use all the skills I've been working on over the past couple years, including looking up before passing, taking a breakout pass in stride, kicking the puck to my stick when the pass is in my skates (all things I did tonight), and adjusting my speed and/or doing a stop-and-turn to give my teammates time to join the play. I'm hoping all this practice will serve me well when the Freeze season starts back up in September—but even if it doesn't, I'm so happy to be back on the ice with Al.
Together again, 5 and 10.