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 talks about his new toy and what life is like playing in the beer leagues – fun, but there are some challenges.
Despite the loss to the Trash Pandas in game four I was feeling okay after the loss, the first loss of the Jets season. Thanks to the coaching by Sydney Ice Dogs captain Scott Stephenson and words from our more experienced players, we had something to work with going forward. We also had the advantage of studying my GoPro footage even if it made some people feel like they were suffering from motion sickness. I hope that’s not a comment about my skating!
I spent many hours on Wednesday reviewing and editing footage from the game. With me being new to the GoPro universe, I had to learn how their systems and software worked. Straight out of the box, the footage was pretty good. Unlike other devices that I had used before, the numbering of GoPro files was seemingly random. Once I worked out that all the files ending in six was the Jets/Pandas game and all the footage from the Drunks/Wayward games ended in seven, things were easier.
I worked out on average, the GoPro creates a new file every 12 minutes if it continues to record continuously. A Beerginners period runs for 15 minutes of mainly running time with very short intermissions with three periods of play. That’s a lot of footage to put together!
For later use, I decided to split the Jets game into shifts. I wanted to separate my shifts on ice from the time that I was off ice. Shifts tended to last for around 90 seconds each however this changed according to game role, fitness and game situation. Sometimes we would change together but sometimes we changed on the fly.
I worked out that there were around 24 shifts during the 45 minutes of game play. Out of those 24 shifts, I completed eight shifts. I was on the ice every second shift which turned into every third shift once an additional forward arrived during the first intermission.
Once the videos were done, I made a couple of videos with tactics for Jets teammates to work on for the next game complete with a coaches whiteboard. We’ll be using it during intermissions to illustrate tactics. A side use will be for me keeping score during AIHL commentary duties.
Saturday’s street hockey afternoon was excellent. Like the previous week, I was mostly spending my time in defence which worked out well for my aim of getting more stick and puck time. I was battling hard and defending well. It reminded me of my field hockey days during high school. While it might seem like the opposite of Tuesday nights with the Jets, I do spend a lot of time attempting to battle and defend even if I am a forward.
Like Tuesday night, I wore my GoPro during the street hockey session. I also gave the GoPro to one of the other players which allowed a different point of view. There is a difference between me running with a GoPro attached compared to me ice skating and compared to someone else roller blading.
I am continuing to meet nice people on a Saturday afternoon in a relaxed setting. After play, the group often heads to a nearby hotel. At that point, I usually head across town to Macquarie Ice Rink for my AIHL commitments.
I also learnt that hugging or chest bumping someone wearing a chest mounted GoPro can hurt but I didn’t learn that lesson first hand. It also gave me an idea about an alternative plan for wearing the GoPro on Tuesday night.
On Saturday, I had a discussion with a hockey colleague. Interestingly, he thought that I had lost a lot of weight via surgery. Several of my colleagues have had similar surgeries however any weight loss I have had – not that I have measured because numbers can be inaccurate – has come through exercise and nutrition. I certainly feel a lot better and my general and hockey fitness is certainly improving. I do enjoy hearing good feedback, especially from people who have been following my journey for a while.
A few days later, I weighed myself out of curiosity. It turns out that my weight is roughly the same that it was when I started skating in October 2015. Clearly, my fitness and endurance have improved since then. My weight distribution and body composition may have changed since then. To use a hockey clichè, I’m happy enough with my upper and lower body but not my trunk. I also know that weight is only one of several ways of measuring health and body statistics.
Monday night was interesting. I did some of the general session before Monday night’s development session. This session has seen me come full circle. In the opening post of this series, I shared the story of my first time ice skating as a child which involved being led around the rink by a figure skater in my primary school class.
This time, many many years later, I took the hand of a figure skater and we went for a skate. I skated forwards while she skated backwards. It was cute for a few laps and then somehow I decided that she needed to do a figure skating type twirl. This failed after we ended up bumping into each other. Next week, we should skate together again.
I continued to progress in the intermediate section of Monday night development. Again, I wore my GoPro. In between dealing with an eye irritation, I did some puck work and stickhandling along with passing and battling for possession. Somehow, I think I was even doing a toe drag while turning. Lucky for me, I have GoPro footage which should illustrate this perfectly. I can’t remember being taught how to do this myself. I have found that in the intermediate class, there is more focus on stick and puck work compared to skating. This is why skating in general sessions and additional play during street hockey is important to me compared to expecting to do all my skating at Monday night development class.
What I didn’t remember until seeing the footage from the GoPro is that Monday night’s development session was done with the disco lights on. I hate skating with the disco lights and on my website Harbour City Hockey, I specifically make a point of not including disco sessions for that very reason. I must have been focused on what I was doing without remembering that important detail. The session before Development was a general session which is sometimes conducted under those less than optimal lighting conditions. On the GoPro, there is a massive difference between even low levels of disco lighting compared to full lighting that is normally the case.
The only disadvantage of me wearing a GoPro is that I can only see a little bit of what I am actually doing and can’t see what other people can see. After last Tuesday’s games, our referee noticed that I was wearing a GoPro and we had a brief discussion about it. Before the next games, I will ask him if he is prepared to wear the GoPro for both games. It will give us tremendous footage, talking points for penalties and tactics plus I can see what I am doing and check my technique. Also, it will be better goal scoring footage rather than being from a distance.
Game day arrived and yes, our referee agreed to wear the GoPro for both matches. It seemed to go well until late in the second period of game two where the tell-tale red flashing light wasn’t flashing any more. I later found out that this was due to the memory card being full – a good lesson to learn! Players from all teams are looking forward to seeing the images from a unique point of view that could only really be had in a beer league such as Beerginners.
Watching the GoPro footage of the Pandas/Sons game showed me how fast the games were becoming. I believe that hockey looks faster live compared to being captured on a screen or a camera. Being a part of the action then seeing yourself via a camera are two different types of flying altogether. It also shows anyone watching how much an on-ice official (in Beerginners case, one solo referee) needs to watch out for while watching the play, the safety of the players and the safety of the official.
Having refereed junior rugby league myself in a previous life many years ago, I can sympathise with the zebras to a degree. While the players change often, the zebras are always on the move. At least at higher levels, there are multiple zebras. We at Beerginners have one.
Watching the game GoPro footage back was interesting. We now have access to interesting, funny or strange things that have been said or seen that otherwise may not have been captured. A classic example is the referee pointing out to the centres a puck mark inside a faceoff dot from a previous faceoff.
The opening game saw the Trash Pandas race out to a 3-0 lead against Wayward Sons. This game had lots of action, hard skating, some hits and falls (mostly unintentional) and even a penalty shot! With very few penalties ever called in this competition, the awarding of a penalty shot – which missed, by the way – was a surprise. As I found out later, the penalty shot was because a defending player threw their stick in the offensive zone.
Wayward Sons fought back hard however Trash Pandas held on to win 3-2. To the Pandas credit, there wasn’t many Pandas around. This would be something that both the Mighty Drunks and my Jets would find out later. A mixture of injury, unavailability and people just not showing up has led to most teams running two lines at best.
Watching the footage back, I was keen to listen to some of the interactions between players and also between the referee and the players. I get the feeling that if I had the skill to be a hockey zebra, I’d be talking to the players so much that they’d always know what is going on but hopefully not to the point that they would want me to shut up!
No that’s not a caged Panda, in case you were wondering. It is a screen capture of a conversation between player and referee about players standing in the goalie’s crease. This discussion was educational for what players can and can’t do in the crease.
I had a feeling all day that I was going to score a goal that day. I simply did not realise that this goal would be in warmup against my own goalie! I did do well though on the horseshoe drill to gain possession of the moving puck as I was moving and then shoot the puck past my goalie. A minor victory as I have not done that before. It’s not normally something that’s mentioned or remembered. But to me, it was important.
Luckily, my Jets weren’t relying on me to score goals. We scored first relatively quickly before a seesawing game against Mighty Drunks. They have shown great improvement since the Jets 5-2 win against them on night one. Even though Jets won game five by 4-2, the battle was a lot tighter. The Drunks worked really hard and were more physical and were impressive to watch.
My Jets were also firing well with sustained waves of attack towards the purple and green target in net. Although there were four goals scored by Jets players, there could have been a few more if the missiles were more on target. Fair credit to the Drunks goalie and defence, though. I was having a tough game physically. I was skating and battling hard but bumped hard into two of my team mates during the game – sorry Max and Ash! Sometimes it is not always the lighter of the two objects that has the most damage or is the one to fall. No harm was done – both guys and I played on. There was also a lot more incidental contact on and off the puck too.
Unfortunately due to a technical issue (also known as Blue 69 not clearing out the memory card) there was not much footage of the Jets/ Drunks game. Next week we might be able to see me do something useful on the ice rather than just standing there or falling over. Thanks to the GoPro’s zebracam though, I was able to see a lot more action than I would have seen if I was on the ice or if I was wearing the GoPro myself. I hope this can continue!
There was one stage where near my defensive blueline, I could see the puck at my feet but I was in so much traffic that I could not do anything about it as my teammates worked around me. It was at this point that I realised that I was partially tangled up with an opposition player. At the pub later, I explained that I thought I was tangled with his stick around my shin pad. He thought his stick was tangled with my skate blade. Either way, not ideal.
I was really happy with my teammates teamwork and positional play. The boys in blue really seem to be paying attention to the positioning coaching that they have had. My teammates and several opponents commented that my positional play was good and that I had a good game. Effectively, I might have touched the puck twice but my work contributed in other ways and I played my part.
Overall, we executed our game plan well after we had a pre-game briefing with my coaches whiteboard. While we changed tactics on the fly during the latter stages of the game, I was impressed that we did change tactics and that overall, we followed the new game plan. Of course, continual improvement will happen as the team develops together. I have noticed personally that I now need less direction on the ice compared to earlier games because we have planned roles and objectives before the game as part of our preparation. From what I have heard elsewhere – and it is truly hard to know for people who haven’t been near some of the other benches like I have – the Jets are the best drilled team in the competition in my opinion.
Progress by the end of game five:
Skating forwards: Good. Would like to be faster in game.
Skating turns: Good. Better in games than in training. Training turns with puck improving.
Skating backwards: Not up to game standard yet. Didn’t get to practice it under supervision this week.
Stopping: No change from previous weeks. 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 on ice.
Shooting the puck: Managed to get the puck past our goalie during warmup!
Stickhandling: Not a lot in game situations. Working on it during training sessions which is improving. Did I do a toe drag on Monday night?
Positioning/tactics: Excellent work.
Penalty Minutes: 0
Week 5 Results:
Trash Pandas def Wayward Sons 3-2
Mascot Jets def Mighty Drunks 4-2
Week 6 schedule:
7pm: Mascot Jets v Wayward Sons
8pm: Mighty Drunks v Trash Pandas