Welcome to Take the Number 69, a blog by Eric Brook charting his ice hockey journey from being introduced to the sport, volunteering with the Australian men and women’s ice hockey leagues, learning to skate and now playing in the “beer leagues”. This week, Eric went off ice and played a little inline hockey before his next Jets game.
With win number three in the books, I was looking forward to another week of activity on and off the ice before game four against Trash Pandas. That game would be the first time that we have played a team more than once.
One thing that I was looking to work on this week was getting stick and puck time.
On Saturday afternoon, I headed to inner Sydney to meet up with people from the Street Roller Hockey League Sydney. Weather permitting, the group heads to a disused tennis court in Waterloo which is surrounded by concrete walls. The surface is in good condition but it looks like it has been a while since tennis was played there. I knew some people from Ice Zoo, however, there were also new faces also to meet.
In my initial post in this series, you learnt about the first time that I ice skated as a child and as an adult. I have never roller skated or roller bladed or inline anythinged in my life. In fact, I don’t think that inline skating or roller blading was a thing when I was a child. I have ice hockey experience (obviously) and two years of grass hockey experience in high school.
The group was friendly despite my lack of wheels and my lack of interest in obtaining wheels. I know that some people can change between ice and inline hockey but I have enough going through my head and overthinking things without switching styles.
I spent some time before the game passing the puck with other people using my ice hockey stick and a pink puck designed for street use. Already in those few minutes had I had more continuous stick/puck time than in a game for the Jets or in most training sessions on ice.
The group emphasis is on fun and good times while learning in a fun environment. With a small area to play with, there are three people per side on loosely formed teams. There is no dedicated goalie. Teams change over when a goal is scored. The goal on this occasion was a borrowed milk crate at each end from the neighbouring supermarket although I have offered the use of my knee hockey goals the next time I play.
As a newbie to the group, I was advised to watch for a while and play a little bit later on as people got tired. I would have a disadvantage by not having wheels which I actually thought was an advantage considering my lack of previous inline skating. I got to see some interesting play and some nice goals scored.
Eventually, I joined the action for a couple of shifts. In ice hockey, a usual shift on the ice could range from 30 seconds to two minutes if you were really stuck out there. My first street hockey shift seemed like it was around five minutes and I really felt it. Wave after wave of attack at both ends was the order of the day while I elected to hang back on defence for the latter part of the shift.
I remember reading the ESPN Body Issue article about San Jose Sharks players Brent Burns and Joe Thornton (hands up if you read the article like I did! Be honest!) who said that while you can be gym fit, you may not be ice fit or hockey fit if you haven’t had any ice or hockey time recently. I certainly felt that on this occasion because street hockey is a totally different type of hockey altogether. I also had the unusual for me issues of sun in my eyes and shadows until the sun disappeared behind some of the local high rise apartments.
Happy with meeting some more like-minded people, I will certainly return for another session in the very near future. I had a different type of workout and more physical activity while having fun. It also allowed me to work on some hockey skills in a group free of charge without wasting ice time. It would be good to get some of the Beerginners together for a game there by the end of the season!
Sunday saw my first time doing a Beerginners training session at Ice Zoo. I completed a lot of the general session first and then the Beerginners training after that. Due to a lack of numbers, I was able to have some one-on-one coaching. Alex, a member of Wayward Sons and a Friday Night Hockey player, and I worked on various positioning and tactical moves in various situations. His hockey story in some ways is familiar to mine and he has been one of many people giving me advice. Unlike many of the other coaches that have trained with me, we are of a similar body type and are by no means elite level of players. I was able to identify with what I was being told from a person in a similar position to me.
Working one-on-one with various scenarios that I had been placed in during the first three games was handy. It gave me a greater awareness of what I had to do in situations that I would actually find myself in at the same location that we were training and playing at. I also received some good skating tips that I plan to practice on.
Despite effectively two sessions back to back, I was not feeling hungry or tired. I continued this back to back idea on Monday night with a general session and then Monday night development. I was alternating between skating and stretching to ensure that I could last for both sessions. I had a few hockey curious civilians ask me questions including the most common one so far “Are you the goalie?” amongst others. With children especially, I compare the goaltender’s pads with the ones worn by cricket batsmen.
For some time, I have been having a battle with not having my skates tight enough. I did not realise that this was even a problem until it was pointed out to me a while back. I could certainly feel the difference after someone else tightened my skates much more than I ever could. On Monday night I found a solution that on Tuesday, Evan pointed out would only work at Ice Zoo.
Somehow, I had figured out that if I stood up and put one skate onto the bench seat, my covered skate blade could fit in between the wooden slats. With my skate firmly in place, I had more ability to tighten my skate laces. Now to work on a solution that would re-create that feeling at other rinks!
At Monday night development, we usually all skate together to warm up. After about 10 minutes or so of skating drills, we divide ourselves into groups. This can vary spending on the size of the group and the number of coaches available. Usually, I would put myself into the beginner (not Beerginners!) group. Tonight, I promoted myself to the intermediate group. I had noticed in previous weeks that they were doing a lot of stick and puck work which is exactly what I needed and wanted.
During the next 45 minutes or so, we worked on stick handling, stickhandling, puck control, passes and battling for possession. I was given some handy hints about all of these things which was effectively new to me so it was greatly welcomed. Then I was asked to skate across the ice backwards. Backwards. Ugh. Even so, my backwards skating has been improving, especially with stick in hand. This was especially so after the previous night’s training.
After practicing skating backwards for a few minutes, my next task was to skate backwards while passing a puck! This could take a while, I explained. I would have been just happy enough to practice some more skating backwards without a puck. What happened next surprised me greatly.
Before I knew it – and I still don’t know how – I was skating across the ice backwards while making and receiving passes. I did it one way across the ice and I did it back (pun not intended) the other way. I was pleased that the person on the other end of my passes has been with me since the start of my skating and hockey playing journey. Sydney Sirens and Australian player and (one of several of my coaches) Remi Harvey was on the other end of those passes and it was cool that she was on the other end of the passes and could see with her own eyes this massive for me achievement. We then went on to battle with the puck which was a lot of fun but also very educational.
To say that I was buzzing after that achievement was an understatement. It showed what other people have told me that I overthink things and that sometimes, doing two things at once can mean that I stop overthinking the one thing I am concentrating on. Maybe I need a JFK motivational speech in his own words orally rather than on a screen…
Game day Tuesday for week four saw two new additions. The first was a new GoPro camera which I wore before, during and after the game against the Trash Pandas. The second was Sydney Ice Dogs AIHL captain Scott Stephenson who had come down to encourage and coach the teams on a Tuesday night off from Ice Dogs training. Scott started out coaching the Jets during game one while he geared up and played for the Mighty Drunks in game two.
You may remember a couple of incidents where our goalie, Denis, had placed himself in some unusual situations during previous games. During one game, he took a defensive zone faceoff and last week, he joined us in the offensive zone during a Jets attacking wave. On game day, we found out that Denis’ intention on joining the league was to join the league as a skater despite being a goalie with some experience. Some goalies never want to be a skater while Denis clearly does want to at least experience it.
But sadly, we didn’t see Denis along with some other players which meant that we were running short of key personnel.
Thankfully for us, Wayward Sons goalie Jen came to our rescue and pulled a double shift. She played in net for the Jets before going into net for her own team. I joked that we should keep Jen and trade her for Denis. Wearing a rather appropriate Superman jersey during her Jets game and her regular Wayward Sons jersey during her game, Jen really saved our game.
Tonight wasn’t the Jets night. With a short bench and despite a superhero goalie, it was a tough night in the office for the Jets. I was really pleased with the effort of the team against the tough Trash Pandas however we could not dirty their net. Our line changes were improving as was our teamwork and positional play. We were taking advice from our guest coach and applying it. The first Jets loss of the season (2-0) was hard but we also knew how hard we had fought in a really tough battle. Without quality goaltending behind us, I hate to imagine what the score could have been. We also had chances however beating the Pandas goalie was just beyond the Jets this time.
Personally, I was happy with my performance. I was skating well and got myself involved in the play at several key stages. My positional play is improving which I am pleased about. Our centres and defence seem to be dominating puck possession which is a by-product of their great experience. I mainly seem to be getting puck touches in the defensive or neutral zones. I did not seem to get a lot of time to screen the goalie during the game. I did not really come close to scoring but was close enough to the Pandas goalie for one shot at net. And here’s a photo that shows me doing something on the ice other than skating!
You can see the chest harness from the rear that keeps the GoPro camera I was using in place. I am thinking of sharing the GoPro around to people in both games including other Jets so you might be able to see me in action rather than a first person view from my chest.
The Drunks celebrated on the ice at the end of the game almost like they had won the championship but their first win was a long time coming. I captured game action on my new GoPro while standing at both periods during the last two periods of play.
All teams have won at least one game now. and the overall standard and gameplay impressed special guest Scott Stephenson. He was a good sport on and off the ice and showed genuine interest and insight into a new generation of hockey players. He didn’t hog the puck or showboat but he did manage to become the first AIHL player with an assist in Beerginners.
Post-game drinks followed which was a nice way to wind down and receive some more positive feedback from fellow Beerginners.
Progress by the end of game four:
Skating forwards: Good. Must remember that yes, I am allowed to glide. Would like to be faster in game.
Skating turns: Good. Better in games than in training.
Skating backwards: I can’t believe that I can skate backwards while passing the puck during training. Not up to game standard yet.
Stopping: Needs improvement. Can stop using the right blade only. Usually prefer to decelerate or turn to change direction, especially in game situations.
Passing the puck: Have practiced while stationary and moving, forwards & backwards. Little experience during game play.
Shooting the puck: Hit the iron after re-directing a pass from a fair distance out.
Stickhandling: Not a lot in game situations. Working on it during training sessions.
Positioning/tactics: Excellent improvement. Had some good instruction in current week
Penalty Minutes: 0
Week 4 Results:
7pm: Trash Pandas def Mascot Jets 2-0
8pm: Mighty Drunks def Wayward Sons 4-2
Week 5 Schedule:
7pm: Wayward Sons v Trash Pandas
8pm: Mighty Drunks v Mascot Jets