This year's tryouts are not without their fair share of drama. My cell phone has rang non-stop since the teams were posted online. Frustrated parents, heart broken kids, WTF rosters, new players, and league administrators that put their head in the sand until mid-August all mark the end of tryouts. So with the stress of hockey tryouts, I thought going to a Sunday Night Drop-in session would be a good stress reliever. And it's high time that I start skating again.
|Why didn't Billy make your team this year? Is it because he dosn't give a shit or because he bullies his teammates?|
I haven't skated much the past couple years. I'm at the rink at least 4 days a week coaching, so I haven't had much desire to play. I played competitively as a child, teenager, as an overager. I had my chance to be a stud and that's all out of my system. I've made a great friends here in Columbus that always try to get me a roster spot in a repectable league when I'm available to play. So I've found my way on a team for the upcoming beer league session. So I felt it appropriate to try and knock the rust off and try a little drop in hockey tonight at Chiller North to get ready for next sessionn.
Hockey cliques at drop in hockey crack me up. They are typically made up of dudes who learned he game as an adult and are obsessed with having what ever the latest and greatest gear. It was ironic because the Jofa Shinguards I've had for 17 years finally cracked over the winter. I was amazed to find that Reebok bought Jofa and doesn't make anything under the Jofa name any more, or of the old Jofa quality. So, I had to call in about 17 years of favors to order a pair off of a pro-form. I was actually going to order a pair of Jofa elbow pads too, but was told the Reeboks were better as i didn't need to wear slash guards to keep them in place. So, imagine the drop-in lockerroom where everyone knows each other when "a new guy" shows up with shiny new shin guards and elbow pads. I was getting look at the same way folks look at arabian men boarding 757s.
|Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Funeral services will be announced for my old pair of shinguards. They were like family.|
Don't get me wrong, the more people in Columbus that know a little bit about hockey the better. But man, the super-lifers with no athleticism that pick up the game in their 30's must be the same as those racquet ball guys in the 80's. I'm not going to lie, it was a little awkward getting eye-banged in the dressing room putting on my gear. I can usually tell the guys who can't skate because they're checking out other dudes equipment in the dressing room as they get dressed. I scream at them in my head: "Get your butt down and bend those fucking knees! Full extention comes at the end of the stride, not at the begining!"
Anyways, as I learned about all the drama in the Sunday night D-League while putting on my gear, I looked forward to stepping on the ice. Once the Zam Bone Me left the rink and the doors closed, I stepped onto the ice for the all too familiar routine: Groin and Hip Flexor stretch on the ice in front of the bench, halfway between the redline and blue line. Then the shoulder and back stretch done while skating the length of the blue line twice. I noticed a couple guys in Ohio AAA sweaters who were half my age and weight going through their stretching routines. I made the mistake of jokingly suggesting they take it easy on the D-leaguers in the dressing room. I think they thought I asked them to take it easy on me.
Then it was time to warm up the goalies. The guys eye-banging me in the dressing room were warming up the goalies with annoying break-aways in ankle bender skates. So, me and the AAA kids lined up inside the blue line to crank off some slapshots to warm up the goalie. The two young guns cranked out two nice slappers on the goalie and I was up. The puck was a stride in front of me, I stepped up, hands in, puck off the back foot, and BAM, I put a missle in the top right corner. Goalie never had a chance and both AAA kids look over at me. I was staring at my stick. I had a pretty good slapshot playing. Back in the day, it was a Branches Carbon 9900 Square Corner shaft, Mid Flex, with an Easton Graphite blade in a custom curve. I would cut the shafts down an inch from the bottom to move the kick point lower. I could really crank 'em out. Once I started paying for sticks, I bought whatever was on sale. I figured over the years my skills had diminished through the late 20's and early 30's. But tonight it was back, and I figured out why. I had new sticks.
Well, not really new sticks. I've had them for about a year. I walked into Perani's last spring on what happened to be Warrier Hockey Demo day. They were having a huge sale on Warrior sticks as it was demo day. I was with my son so we checked out the sticks. In talking with one of the reps, he asked what sticks I liked. Of course I said the Branches 9900 were my all time favorite,blah blah blah. He handed me two mid flex Warrior Dynasty tapered shafts and the sales rep told me they had a really low kick point. They were on sale, I needed new sticks, so I bought two. I've been using them while coaching, but I never took a shot with them. I coach 2001's, what douche takes hard shots on 11 year-olds? So tonight was the first time I shot with one of those sticks and the best comparison I can make was it was like going out to lunch with a naughy former girlfriend after bumping into her at the grocery store. It was pretty cool. The shot was back and it was fun. Man, I must have looked like a douche out there. New gear in the dressing room, new sticks on the ice. I hate me.
The stroll down memory lane ended after my first shift. V-start, cross-over start, C-cut crossover start. It didn't matter what starting technique I used my feet felt like bricks. It was weird. It was like I pressed the garage door opener and the garage door wasn't going up. I beat everyone to the puck, what's wrong with my feet? Even in the 15 years I've been out and in the beer leagues, I was strong to the puck. Now, I'm getting beat to the puck by these young kids. I went back to the bench completely gassed after my 73 second shift. There were about 400 people at drop-in, so it was at least 12 minutes until my next shift. I figured the next shift I would get my legs and feet back, then I thought I would get them back on the third shift. It was my fourth shift 45 minutes into the session that my legs felt good, but starts and stops where still exhausting, if not still anemic. I went to the bench, sucked on some water, and started to think as I had at least 10 minutes until my next shift. My grandfather retired from professional baseball at 29, he just walked away from it. My father played ball for a PAC-10 college and walked away from a very promising baseball career for an exciting life in counter-intellegence and broadcasting after returning from a three year tour in Viet Nam (weird combination, but it somehow worked out). One of my dearest friends dad is a HOF goalie, I think he's skated twice since retiring and has never put on pads to play since.
I can remember asking them all the same question, why did you retire? They all had left on their terms and they all said the same thing: "I couldn't play the game the way I wanted to play any more and I don't know how to play it any other way." And none of them have played in so much an alumni game since. I'm not going to lie, I got a little depressed sitting their waiting for the 10 guys ahead of me to take their 4 minute shifts. My father has always commented on how happy he is that I still play hockey. I apologize to him constantly for the sacrifices he and my mom made for me to play competitively. If you've even taken a whiff of AAA hockey, you know how expensive it its. I did it for 5 years. They wasted tens of thoudands of dollars. Dad could have bought the cabin when aunt gussie passed away. But no, he paid over 50 grand for his kid to be done with competitive hockey at age 20. Holy shit, this is not what you're supposed to be thinking on the bench during pick up hockey! That was over 15 years ago. Damn you, all 390 mouth breathers that came to pick up hockey tonight and take 4 minutes shifts. You other 10 dudes with skill are ok by me though. Slipping into soggy mid-section hockey depression, I looked for some redemtion.
But why was I here? Was I here to tryout new gear? Was I here to see if I still had the spunk of a 20 year-old trying to impress scouts/coaches in the stands? No, I was out here trying to get back in shape because my friends had found me a spot on a team that could use a little firepower. Soon, I'll be back in the groove of 36 minutes of hockey followed by 120 minutes of drinking beer. And while those father figures in my life had a shot their shot, while they walked away on their own terms happy, they never had the opportunity to enjoy their sports for recreation. They have their friends form the sport, but all their stories have been told. I still have plenty of dumb stories yet to author.
As the rest of drop in went on, I knew I was playing ok because guys of lesser skill were apologizing to me for missing passes I gave them, or missing me with passes. Teammates of mine will tell you, I pass the puck hard and get pissed when you miss a good pass. So, with the compliments coming in the form of embarrassment from d-leaguers, I slowly realize things aren't all that bad. The Sarah McLaughlin music had finally stopped playing in the back ground of my mind. But the south lost the war, and I'm not playing the game with quickness anymore. One is worse news in Atlanta than the other.
|"You're Skating Sucks, you're getting fat. They wasted all that moneeeey" were the lyrics on the 'Have a good cry' EP.|
I left the ice after about an hour, because really 10 shifts in 70 minutes time is pretty lame, but I broke a good sweat. Each shift I got my legs and speed back, but my starts and stops were plebian. I'm playing in a C league so I think I'll be ok. I'm not going to lie, realizing that your quickness is fading, or has faded, is not all that fun. The good news is my shot is back and my hands were working good. Hockey is three parts: Legs, feet, and hands. All-in-all despite the "inside the actors studio" moment I had after the fifth shift, I still had fun. I get back to the dressing room and start taking off my gear. I put my pants back on and check my phone. I have two texts and seven missed calls. Ugh, hockey parents - leave me no peace? Seven calls? I check the texts on my phone. One from a hockey buddy who's golfing badly , and the other text is from my dad. It simply asks, "How'd it go." It was tough to hold back the tears, but I made to the car without sobbing.