Grand finals are a bittersweet time. It signals the end of a season, but also highlights how far you have come. During the past 10 weeks Eric Brook has worked hard to move from standing and commentating rink side, to skating and playing in an ice hockey league. This week Eric regales us with his grand final tales, and how he’s feeling at the end of the Beer League season.
Happy to be in the Tuesday Night Hockey grand final, I was determined to have a good week without changing anything just because it was grand final week.
On Wednesday, I had the idea that we needed to mark the end of the Beerginners debut season with some thing that a couple of players had asked about but most people may not expect from a beer league – medals for players and a Cup for the champion team.
a couple of hours of searching online and I had placed an order to be picked up just before the grand final.
Wednesday night pilates saw the room almost dark. This would be much better on my eyes! I wondered if I was not the only person with issues with those lights. Just in case, I had purchased an eye mask, which was a lot better. Problem solved.
Inline on Thursday night was a lot better this week now that I had one drop in game under my belt. I decided to forgo training and hockey development and concentrate on the drop in session. I enjoyed the game and noticed an increase in speed from the previous week. A player who had seen me a couple of weeks ago commented that he has also noticed a marked increase in my speed.
I now have an almost complete set of protective gear specifically for inline after I upgraded my ice hockey gear. Now, the only pieces of common protective gear between ice and inline for the moment at least is my helmet. This way, I won’t have to continually switch gear between the two bags. I also get the benefit of better gear for ice.
Sunday and Monday training continued with a theme of physicality and puck work. Sunday night included a run through a gauntlet of players standing near the boards. It was partly aimed to be fun and partly aimed at helping us feel what heavier body contact can feel like under semi controlled conditions. Being against the boards is a location where more contact may happen as people compete for the puck.
Finally, it was game day. I picked up the Beerginners Cup and a number of players medals. I had severely under estimated the number of players who would turn up for grand final night. Sadly, some players would miss out on medals, me included. The Cup and medals were a surprise for many of the players. Especially for the newer players, I hope their medal is a positive and happy reminder of their debut season.
The first game of the evening was the preliminary final between Mighty Drunks and Wayward Sons. Both teams have been a joy to watch and play against all season. Having the teams competing against each other for third place was fitting.
There was something different about this game. Wayward were scoring and scoring often, taking the win 5-1. It was like someone had flicked a switch and the Wayward lamp was lit. Talking to some players after the game, Wayward players are gaining confidence in playing with each other.
As for the Drunks, they compete hard as always. With a higher rookie ratio than other teams, the team are keen to chug chug chug together in season two but would not say no to another more experienced player or two.
There was even a fight and an ejection however it was mainly for fun and in the spirit of the competition. However, not everyone not directy involved got the memo and thought that it was for real. I’d like to describe the fight more however I was talking tactics with fellow Jets so missed the whole thing. First I knew about it was when a player went to the penalty box via our player area to serve one of the penalties.
Before the night, we had arranged for all the players to come onto the ice for a massive group photo before the grand final. Looking at the number of players on the ice, no wonder I under estimated the number of medals.
Apart from the players photographed here, each team had several players who did not make it to the end of the season for various reasons. It was great to see everyone out on the ice at the one time.
Finally, it was game time. Weeks of training and effort came down to this game. On the Jets bench, we were upvibe and determined to enjoy the night whatever happened with the same lineup as the previous week.
As always, the Pandas were out to play hard. There had been some one sided online and in person trash talk but actions on the ice would be the ultimate decider.
Early in period one, a distant shot found the back of the Jets net. If a wake up call was needed by the Jets, this was it. It was game on.
Jets hockey has always been about working as a team and competing hard but fair. Whatever the Pandas were going to throw at us, we needed to respond in our way and play our brand of hockey. Both teams have shown that they have some potent attacking weapons.
Both sets of defence and both goalies were working extremely hard to keep the puck out of the net. Jets were dominating possession but Pandas held strong after wave after wave of attack.
Personally, I was trying to keep busy and keep moving on the ice. I was looking to get involved any way I can. I was loving the atmosphere in the rink with noisy cheering from spectators and the other teams. I was loving the pressure. But what I would do next would be a sign of putting the name on the front of the jersey before the name on the back.
My grand final on the ice effectively ended when the Jets went on the powerplay late in period two. I know that I’m not a part of the powerplay unit as I’m not a potent weapon in attack. This powerplay was either side of the second intermission.
Soon after the powerplay ended, we would have to defend as the Pandas had a powerplay. On the penalty kill, we stack the available spots with two way players – not a role that I can do at this point in my career.
With two stints for special teams without result, time was winding down. The score was still locked at 1-0 Pandas despite my Jets peppering their goalie with shots. This was not the time for me to get on the ice just because it was my turn to. This was time to put the team first. It was time for the weapons to fire.
No one told me to effectively ground myself. The other Jets were flying well without me. If I was needed somehow, I would be fresh. I was quite happy to let other team members try to break the deadline. I was actively juggling the lines and getting more skilled players onto the ice quicker and out of sequence.
While the Pandas could not penetrate Fortress Deano, we could not break the deadlock. Towards the end of the final period, we called a time out to discuss final tactics. It was also a tactical move to focus the troops and to try to break up the flow of the game.
I have watched enough higher level games to know that we needed something different to change the game. I can’t remember if we specifically mentioned this in the time out or not but the unspoken message from the back was clear. When the time was right, we were going to pull the goalie for the extra attacker.
On the door, I had to explain the concept on the fly to some of our less tactically inexperienced Jets. I’d leave the exact moment to Dean however, it really worked out well. Dean off, potent weapon Colton on.
The mission was in a critical stage. We fought so hard. We never gave up. I was still looking forward to celebrating a sweet victory. The sweet victory was not ours that night, though. The Jets were firing however failed to score. Pandas were the champions after the tightest game in Beerginners history.
Congratualting each other after a fantastic season, this was the end of something special. It was the end of my debut season. It was the end of this Jets lineup as we know it. It was a shared experience which we could reflect on forever regardless of what happens in the future.
Pandas were celebrating their win as they should. We stood in the background as they posed for photos before joining them for a finallsts photo. Regardless of the result, it was a fantastic game and season. It is often said that experiencing a win after a hard defeat is even sweeter. I look forward to that night in the future.
After the group photo, Jets players were leaving the ice. I called them back together for one last group photo together on the ice. Keeping in with the Jets and Top Gun themes that had been in the background all season, Ash commanded a right handed salute at the camera. As you can see below, we haven’t been working on our saluting, nor was it pre-arranged.
Leaving the ice as a unit for the last time, we headed off to get changed as we reflected on the game and our efforts. I was feeling a little sombre and deflated but also very proud of our efforts.
Normally, I have an hour’s drive ahead of me at this point. Not tonight. Tonight was special. Not only was it grand final night, it was also my birthday. This usual non-drinker in a beer league was going out to have a drink with many of his new Beerginners friends, starting at the rink.
Surprisingly joined by some Pandas in addition to the usual Mighty Drunks, Wayward Sons and the occasional Jet, quite a few drinks, laughs and memories were shared over the next few hours.
Wisely, I used alternative transport and had booked a hotel room in the inner west. After a nice sleep, I headed back to Ice Zoo to have breakfast and to pick up my car. As it turned out, the day after the night before would also be my third anniversary of my first skate as an adult.
Next week, I share my future plans to follow on from my rookie season as I reflect on the season just completed in the final Take The Number 69 post. Beerginners season two is coming but this time, I will have to juggle my day job with hockey like most other players in Australia already do. The season went mostly to plan and was an overall win for all concerned.
Preliminary final: Wayward Sons def Mighty Drunks 5-1
Grand final: Trash Pandas def Mascot Jets 1-0