I am up faaaaar too late, and I still have some work to do before I can go to bed, but I wanted to get this little lightbulb recorded for posterity before I forget.
Tonight was the first Freeze practice of the season, and it was GREAT. I feel like a wet lasagna noodle with overcooked fusili arms at this point, but as Al noted when I got home, it's only by pushing past the point where you think you can't go any further that you build stamina and skill. (This is true with weightlifting, so it's not surprising that it'd be true with training in general).
After warmups (suicides, circles, and a passing drill), we did the Czechoslovakian drill, and amazingly I did it correctly the first time and with only slight delays to ponder in which direction to skate next on subsequent tries. We then did a couple variations on a drill designed to (a) get us to shoot from farther out, and (b) get us to consider our options when skating into the zone with the puck.
On one of the later variations, Billy challenged the puck carrier as she skated along the boards and behind the net. I got by him the first time I carried the puck, but by the second time, we were into the last 20 minutes of practice, and I was getting tired. I totally let him knock me off the puck without him even trying that hard, and I blamed my noodle arms for not being able to control my stick (and therefore the puck) with enough authority. It was totally like every game I played with the Barons this summer, where I'd have the puck taken away from me the second after I got it.
The third time Billy challenged me, I knew my arms weren't up to the task of fighting him off *and* controlling the puck, so when he came on I stiffened my arms and picked up my speed a bit. I actually ended up picking it up a bit too much, and I didn't make the turn around the net as sharply as I'd intended, so I lost the puck as I tried to pass to the girl in front—but by then I'd left Billy in the dust. Not that he couldn't have caught me if he'd really tried, but that was the "aha!" moment:
It's not my arms, noodle or strong, that make the most difference in maintaining possession of the puck when challenged. It's my legs.
...isn't looking to be as auspicious as last year's, but then, we've only played two games. The first was last Saturday at home against the Wicked; I think we lost 3-1. The second was Sunday night in Hamilton, NJ against Queenston; we lost that one 6-0. In our defense, we have a shorter bench—we lost Ruthann and Cassidy to moves, and Jill, A.T., and Steph Geiger to the former MAWHL C (now UWHL C Blue) team, and I think we only got two new players to replace them—and our overall experience level has dropped a bit with the changes. Oh, and there was one other major change to the roster: Nielle is now skating out (though she didn't this weekend because of a bicycle accident), and Grace, a new player this season, is our goalie (so I guess that's three new players).
I had no goals in the first game (I think Laurie knocked our goal in after a scrum in front of the net), and I obviously had no goals in the second, though I did have at least two breakaways and at least three shots on goal. My shots seemed a bit weak, though, and the puck never left the ice for any of them—a stark contrast to how I've been shooting in practice. Of course, in practice I often have no one on me when I'm shooting, so I can skate into the zone at top speed and let one fly at the optimal distance from the goal. This isn't usually an option in a game. One of my shots in the Queenston game had to be timed to pass through the defenseman's legs (I'm proud of myself for that bit of finesse, but it took any power the shot might have had right off), and another was shot around the same defenseman while another player caught and bumped me on the right.
Midway through the game I was already thinking about asking Billy what I could do to get more oomph on my shot when Billy suddenly had a similar thought. It wasn't so much the weak shots that made him suggest I should start lifting weights, however; it was that I jumped on the ice, grabbed the puck, and skated the wrong way. I had been shooting video when Shelly came off, and since we'd just switched periods, and we were sitting in a weird order on the bench to avoid an offsides when jumping on, I didn't realize at first that Shelly was calling for me to go on. The puck sailed over the blue line just as I cleared the boards, and I looked up and saw Laurie twenty feet behind it but not skating toward me. So I took the puck and made a mad dash for what I thought was the offensive zone.
Luckily I looked up and saw Meghan, who was playing D; I thought, what the heck's Meghan doing in front of me? and then suddenly checked the net to see who was in it. When I saw Grace's green jersey, I quickly turned and went back the right way. (And I used to tease Al about being Wrong-Way Magoo! Sheesh!) Anyway, when I came off from this shift, Billy remarked, "we gotta get you lifting weights or something if your first instict is to give the puck back to your D." He was thinking that since I'd made a couple weak shots, I'd lost my confidence; apparently he didn't realize that it was my sense of direction that I'd lost.
Since Billy had mentioned weight lifting—something I did quite a bit of at the gym this summer before aggravating my Computer Shoulder with some lat pull-downs—I asked him in the lobby after the game what I could do to make my shot more powerful. Lifting weights was a good start, he said (basically working all the muscles of the upper body), but the best thing I could do was start my shot from farther back (that is, start with the puck and my stick behind me, and transfer my weight forward as I brought the puck forward for the shot).
I mentioned that I was able to do it in practice, but that I had a harder time during the games, when the D and the backcheckers were covering me. "You're not going to get good at shooting practicing an hour a week," Billy replied.
He suggested that I shoot pucks against the wall in the park to get stronger, to work on the motion, to figure out my timing. (Allison also gave me a tip about strengthening my wrists, which I'll mention in another post.) So to that end, this is what I did last night and tonight in the alley behind our house:
Excuse the loud sniffle before this one; it was kind of chilly out, and I think I instinctively sniffled before each round of shooting so that snot wouldn't fly along with the puck.
I think I'm still not starting the shot back far enough, but the longer piece of cardboard Al found me (I'd been shooting with one about half as long before I got out the video camera) helped my timing a bit. I didn't expect to get it in two sessions anyway, though. I'll keep at it until I can shoot like Shelly—or better.
On Sunday we played our fourth game of the season at The Pond in Newark, Delaware. Like us, the Delaware Bobcats went into the game 0-3, and also like us, they've lost players to the upper division, and they're rebuilding this year.
At the beginning of the game it seemed like we'd be able to beat them easily, but I think instead of picking up the pace and skating right past them, we slowed down to their speed. We had more trouble breaking out of our defensive zone than we should have, too. And as for me personally... well, things were going well until the middle of the second period, went suddenly everything went to hell.
We were up 2-1, and the play that set the awfulness in motion was a breakout. Laura got the puck near the bottom of the faceoff circle on the far side, and I skated to the top of the slot, stopped, and called for the pass. As I was waiting to make sure it got to me—I didn't want to leave the zone and have the puck left there in the middle of the ice—I heard Billy scream my name from the bench and looked up, right between the words "LORI!" and "SKATE!—and just as the puck got to me. Since my attention was now on the bench and not on the ice, the puck went under my stick. I heard Billy yell "AWW!", and that's when my annoyance started to rise.
I wasn't mad at Billy, but I *was* wondering what the heck was supposed to happen there. Yes, I understand that skating and not just standing still for the pass is a good thing, but breakouts in general weren't working well for us, and long passes in particular are not our strong suit. Anyway, this is going through my head as I chase after the lost pass (which obviously did make it to me and then some) and pick it up just outside the blueline near the boards. At this point the D is coming on hard, so I go in hard too, dig the puck out, and pop it out to where my Center should be, and go down under the weight of the D. From the ice I see an opponent pick up the puck because my Center, it turns out, hadn't been coming up into the neutral zone beside me; instead, she was behind me on the boards. *That's* when I got mad.
I pulled myself up off the ice and tried to jump into the play, but my head was roiling with the whole series of events that had just happened, and I couldn't think straight about what was happening RIGHT THEN. The puck came out to the point on the right side, and no one was on her, so I skated over in that direction. She shot it back in, and I drifted back to the middle. I saw someone down low pass back up to the left side point... and it was at that moment that I realized where I should be—namely, right in front of that point, who was now taking the pass smoothly on her stick. I thought to myself as I rushed to get over there, "if they score now, it's on me." A few seconds later, they did. (Not directly from the point, but the goal was a result of the point being able to throw the puck back in cleanly.)
I came off saying "I know, I know!", and Billy and I ended up yelling at each other a bit over the whole mess. (Again, I wasn't angry at Billy so much as at myself and at the situation, and I think Billy felt the same way. Billy never stays mad for long, anyway.) It turned out that he'd been telling the D to wing passes out to the red line rather than trying to break out properly, so that's why he was yelling at me to skate. We never really got into why my pass out from the boards wasn't successful, but that bugged me for a while longer. What bugged me even more was that I'd let my anger get to me on the ice, and it made me play stupidly. The game ended in a 2-2 tie, and I had neither of the goals. (Angie had the first one, and Meghan scored the second with authori-TAY.)
The next night we had practice for the first time in two weeks (we had last Monday off). I looked forward to it all day, and on the drive to the rink I resolved to skate as hard as I possibly could, to work as hard as I possibly could, to not whine or complain or make excuses for bad execution. I suspect Billy was on a similar wavelength, because he had us work on making breakout passes; making long, hard passes from the goal line to the point; and skating with the puck with pressure. (I had asked him after our third loss if we could practice passing with pressure, and he said, "Allow me to be blunt. You guys can't pass WITHOUT pressure." Point taken. I suggested instead that we just work on *skating* with pressure, and I think he remembered.)
In the first passing drill, a D and a Forward started at the boards and skated on parallel tracks, the D behind the net, and the F in front of it. At the far post the F was supposed to turn up ice and skate, and the D was supposed to bank a pass off the boards. The first few times we ran it, either the F didn't turn up ice and skate as she should have, or the D didn't pass up the boards hard enough, or both. Billy encouraged the D to pass harder up the boards... and of course the puck often blew by the Forwards, especially if they weren't skating hard. For my part, I had to come back to get a couple passes that went behind me, and there were a couple that I had to skate hard to catch.
Several people complained when the passes got away from them, but Billy blew the whistle for the next pair to go. No second chances. I must say, I LOVED THIS. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I love Billy because he's helpful and patient and supportive, but on this night I was hoping for a little tough love, and I got it. Do we get second chances in games? No. When we miss pucks do we pay for it? YES. I was thrilled to not only be practicing a skill, but having the consequences of getting it wrong be real.
By the time Billy put a second Forward into the drill (to backstop the puck if it missed the first girl for the purposes of the drill, but also to back the D up in a game situation), I was waggling with excitement like a Labrador retriever waiting for its owner to throw the ball. I skated hard. I caught pucks. I occasionally made mistakes and resolved to fix them on the next run-through. I SCORED GOALS. It was thrilling, I tell you. I'm getting all waggly again just thinking about it.
Hopefully I can bring that excitement and AW YEAH enthusiasm to our game against the Wicked in Bethlehem on Saturday. I'm ready to WIN ONE!!
Posted by Lori at 11:04 PM | Link to This Entry
Man, I hate that I had a crappy practice before I had a chance to write about Saturday's pretty decent game against the Wicked in Bethlehem. This practice, for me at least, SUCKED.
I tried to maintain the positive attitude I'd had last week and on Saturday, but I felt it slipping after the first set of stopping drills. I was slow and tentative (due to still-oversharp skates, which I'll hopefully get around to explaining at some point) and couldn't keep up with my line. It got worse with the three-man weave, which was sloppy for everyone.
I don't even feel like elaborating on all that went wrong, lest in my demoralized state I start pointing fingers at others and regret it tomorrow. All I know is that by the time we got to the scrimmage, I was having flashbacks to playing with the men—lots of passes behind me or to my feet, lots of looping around trying to get open, lots busting down the ice for nothing. It's tiring mentally and physically.
For all that, I think I'd get back on the ice right now if we were going to run some drills where if the drill failed, that group would just clear the ice immediately and the next group would go. Complicated rotating drills are good for variety, but if one part of the drill fails, we can't just let it die and move on. I think we need that (or at least, our team needs that; perhaps the Blue squad, with whom we were practicing tonight, does not). I know I need to do something over and over until I get it right, until it feels natural. And I need to stop when things are so far wrong that my head is too busy trying to untangle the mess for my body to perform.
I'm bummed to be going into two off-weeks (no games this weekend or next, and no practice in between) with such a negative hockey experience, too. Although... maybe a break is what I need.
Posted by Lori at 09:56 PM | Link to This Entry
I've been working on my backhanded shot for a while now (maybe two years?), but more earnestly over the past few weeks. There are two main scenarios in which I want to use it: (1) on breakaways, where I come down the left side, cross in front of the crease, and flip the puck into the net (I'm a left-handed shot playing Left Wing), and (2) on faceoffs in the offensive zone when I'm lined up on the goal-side hashmarks. The idea in scenario #2 is to grab the puck and flip it into the net from a standstill.
I've had some success with both scenarios—but especially #1—while practicing by myself during warm-ups, and a couple times while skating against goalies during practice or pickups, but I haven't gotten a good backhander off in a game. (I did score a goal in an almost #1 scenario when I first joined the Freeze in 2006, but if I remember correctly, I just knocked it in five-hole rather than trying to lift the puck over a sliding goalie.)
Part of the reason I hadn't really tried it is that I haven't had that many opportunities, and also because I'm somewhat inconsistent with this shot. I probably fling half my shots hard and high into the back of the net; about a third of them never leave the ice or only come up a few inches; and the remainder fly over the crossbar and into the glass.
In our last game (or my last game, I should say, since I missed the team's last game due to a sick Beaner), I spent several minutes during the warmup working on the backhander with about the same success percentage as usual. Without a goalie in the net, however, I wasn't sure how successful those shots would really be in a game. I decided that if I had a chance in this game, I'd find out.
Answer: Not very—at least in this case, where I didn't get the shot nearly high enough. I'd totally try it again, though (and I'll also keep the fake-deke in my mental toolbox, since a last-minute decision *not* to cross over and backhand the puck worked against a guy goalie in a pickup game this past summer—probably because the backhander had worked the first time. :-).
Posted by Lori at 06:29 PM | Link to This Entry
In general, I'm a fan of staying up at my point. I can cycle*, sort of, but I'm totally fine with staying high most of the time in the defensive zone. I'm not great at getting control of the puck when it comes out to the point, but I'm fairly decent defensively and can usually block a shot or keep my check from doing much other than popping the puck forward blindly.
More importantly, by staying high I'm not clogging up the slot and causing confusion, and I'm backing up the opposing D if we get control of the puck. (This is something Billy taught us; by moving out of the defensive zone aggressively, we force the D to back up instead of trying to hold the blue line.)
It also happens that I'm a fan of forechecking. I've forced lots of turnovers by forechecking in the offensive zone, some of which have even resulted in goals. I usually *don't* forecheck in the defensive zone, for the reason stated above: namely, I'm covering the point and trying to avoid clogging up the slot and confusing our D. There are exceptions, however, and this is one:
The girl carrying the puck was their slowest, most tentative player, and yet we kept backing up whenever she got the puck. Maybe it was her strange skating style that froze us all (we tended to stop and stare at her, slack-jawed), but whatever it was, I finally got sick of just letting her walk around unchallenged. I left my point and and skated straight at her, offensive-zone forechecking-style... and she passed to Carol. :-)
*Incidentally, this video also shows me cycling a bit; Carol had come up to the point at the beginning of the clip, so I'd covered the slot. We switched when the D sent the puck around the boards.
Posted by Lori at 10:47 AM | Link to This Entry
I find that the longer I'm away from this blog, the harder it is to get back to writing, probably because it's difficult to know where to pick up again. It's like scrapbooking: the further behind you get, the less likely you are to resume. Rather than fretting about it for much longer, I decided to just post some observations and hope that these kick-start some more regular posting over here, since now's a good time for me to write—I'm in the process of finding a new job, and in the meantime I have more time to write about (and play) hockey.
This past Freeze season was a bit of an off (I originally said odd, and that would probably apply too) one for us, especially after winning the championship last year; as I mentioned in earlier posts, we lost several players at the top end and and gained a few from the D team, so it was really a rebuilding year.
I was disappointed to finish the season with NO GOALS (arrgh!), but I did make some progress skillwise. My shot got harder and higher, for one thing—although knowing that I have a decent shot now just made the no goals thing all the more frustrating.
I think Billy knew it, and noticed that the shot I have in practice (which is usually executed at full speed or nearly so) is not the shot I get a chance to use in games. In games I'm usually camped out down low, staying 1-5 feet outside the crease until the puck is definitely over the blue line. (I'm still not fast, exactly, but I can clear the zone quickly when necessary, and I feel like it's a good idea to stay in front of the net until I'm forced to leave it.)
Staying down low until the last second gotten me lots of chances, but most of them went right into the goalie's pads or glove. Billy had a solution though: He said that since I was down low so often, I needed to master a kind of snap shot that goes high, fast, so I'm shooting over a goalie who's dropped to cover the crease.
It took a bit of practice, but I can now execute it pretty reliably both on and off the ice. I actually miss *over* the net more often than not now; I've lost a few pucks over the glass, and two over the chain link fence I shoot against behind my house. (I have no idea what the neighbors did with them.) I'm looking forward to trying the shot in actual games now, since I only learned it with a couple games to go at the end of the season.
The other big thing I learned this season (and to many it will seem like a little thing, but to me it's a milestone) is how to kick the puck onto my stick and keep going. I can't do it every time, but to my shock, I can do it fairly regularly. It makes a huge difference in my puck handling in that I'm able to recover from bad passes or my own mistakes.
Oh, and can I just say that it was nice to be the good example a few times this season (as in "next time, do what Lori did and cut across the ice to shorten the pass") instead of the bad one ("STAY AT YOUR POINT!")? Yay me! Looking forward to mixed-level, refereed pickup this summer, and especially to the regular Freeze season in the fall!
Posted by Lori at 12:19 PM | Link to This Entry