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 a run in with an old friend who has Olympic ties, the competitive nature of hockey and how the Jets are fairing in their first Beerginners season.
On Wednesday night before Pilates, I thought I would drop in and see some local hockey friends at the development session at 5.30pm at Penrith Ice Palace.
I did the sessions the last time I was on holidays. I enjoyed the scrimmages at the end of the sessions but struggled through the more advanced drills. They are ideal though if you are based in western Sydney and can deal with the time and the more advanced drills.
Despite my improvement since my last visit, I still think the drills are beyond me at this point and not for the rookie Beerginners.
Even though I would appreciate the extra ice time, being on ice on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and then Wednesday might be too much for me. I enjoy the Wednesday night wind down at pilates after Tuesday night’s game. I do miss the ice and quiet of the rink and will likely return after I return to work after my extended leave.
A major highlight of the week prior to game six was to head to a local hotel for the streaming of a local to me program called The Sporting Chance. Similar in concept to Grassroots Sports’ podcast but on a less regular basis, there are interviews with sports personalities in the outer west and Blue Mountains areas of Sydney.
I was there to surprise one of the show’s guests. In a previous life, Graham (centre, above) and I were firefighters together fighting the beast of flame. Now, we both have involvement in sport in various ways so we were able to compare notes. Amongst other things, he is a soccer referee and runs the referee association in the local area. If that’s not enough, he is also the manager of local dual Olympian Jessica Fox (canoe slalom).
Mirroring the times where I’ve been following hockey games via social media, it was an experience watching Jessica race via a live timing site during the early stages of a World Championship event in Slovakia. By the end of the weekend, she had won the women’s under-23 K1 championship – one of many of her success stories.
An evening like this reinforced to me that regardless of the level of sport, different sports have similar challenges in terms of participation and awareness. There are so many sports that don’t make the eyes and ears of the public which is why sites such as Grassroots Sports exists. While there may be differences between sports, many shared experiences can be learnt.
I shared my experiences with my two weeks of owning a GoPro camera and the unique point of view these type of cameras can provide. They can be an important tool for officials and players for educational, evidence and entertainment purposes. Already I’ve had some interesting feedback in relation to the GoPro footage that I have facilitated in Beerginners.
Saturday afternoon saw me return to Waterloo for my third street hockey afternoon. This time, I decided to wear my hockey knee/shin pads. Unlike on the ice, I had been hit in the shin by the puck on consecutive weeks while at Waterloo. The pads certainly came in handy even if the puck rebounds off my pads and into the goals at least once!
I was pleased to see one of my Jets teammates come down to play. With a background in inline, it was easy to see that Matt (pictured below in both inline and ice hockey modes) has a lot of inline experience.
Watching me run without skates reminded me a lot of my high school grass hockey days. I played a lot of defense and goalkeeper which I enjoyed. Once again, I played defense here and found myself with a lot of work to do. Channelling some of the goaltenders that I know, I found myself either trying to increase my body size to cut down the free space or I was positioning myself to cut down or remove the 5 hole (between the legs). I think I’ll take it as a compliment that I was advised “don’t goaltend”.
I don’t think I was goal tending in the strictest sense of the word however I know I was doing more defense than a lot of the skaters. That said, I was probably doing better at defense than I can remember doing in high school! Maybe once I can skate backwards on the ice well, defense might become my role?
Even though the street hockey at this venue isn’t super serious, it can get competitive! For the second week in a row, a skater scored a go against me using a distinctive kicking motion – kicking the puck directly into the goal. With no referee, goals can be subjective and can depend on the honesty of the people involved.
I know that at that level with a wide range of ability and no goalies, goals are going to be scored relatively easily. I do object though to illegally scored goals and channelled my inner Schlamp to protest the point loudly and at length. I’m sure the GoPro footage will show that I am correct! I also confirmed that soccering the puck into the net is just as illegal at street/inline hockey as it is in ice hockey.
One of the interesting experiences being involved in an AIHL team is seeing players develop as they get older. A classic example is Sydney Bears goalie James Downie (pictured below). At 17 years old, James plays for the Sydney Bears in the Australian winter. During the North American winter, he goes to school and a hockey academy in Canada. He is also the current Australian men’s under-18 goalie who won a gold medal earlier in the year. But when he’s on the ice, it’s easy to forget that he is 17.
Max, my Jets captain/coach, is even younger still. Recently, he represented NSW in his age group in a tournament in Melbourne. These players are amongst several that I wish that I had half the talent of while being double their age. Like many talented hockey players, they often modestly downplay their skills and abilities. There are juniors throughout Sydney who have way more hockey ability than me and they are amazing to watch. During the week, I also watched the NSA Hockey school holiday games which were played at the end of a week long camp. To think that if circumstances were different, I could have been at that camp!
On Sunday night, I headed back to Ice Zoo for a general session followed by an extra Beerginners training session. While the general session was good and a lot of the following session was good, I did have a confidence and coaching related frustrating experience. A temporary meltdown ensued which released some frustration. Let’s just say that an incident like this confirms how much I care about my progress and how coaching can affect a session.
What I do have to remember is how far that I have come which is part of why I am writing this series. I also have to remember how hard hockey is despite how easy my more experienced friends make it seem. Overall, my experiences have been good despite my very occasional frustration.
On Monday night, I did not head to Ice Zoo but I headed to Liverpool for their late night Stick and Puck session. This session unfortunately clashes with my usual Monday night development class however I needed a different environment and a little more room on the ice to get the previous day out of my head.
Before the session, I rode a static bike 3km while riding through some streets in a French city. Imagine riding an exercise bike with changing Google Earth images as you ride and you’ll get the idea. In addition, the screen had historical areas I was riding through in addition to the usual statistics.
It had been a while since I’ve skated on any ice apart from at Ice Zoo. The ice and surroundings at Liverpool was a nice change. With around 16 people starting the 90 minute session and 6 people finishing, there was plenty of ice for everyone.
I did some stick and puck work, fired some shots at a Peewee goalie and worked on my goalie screening. I spent a lot of the session skating hard including lots of turns. I also felt my stopping improving with more stopping with the right foot.
Towards the end of the session, my left foot decided that it wanted to do some stopping as well at lower speed.
With a faster paced skating session over, I was certainly happier with my Monday night compared to my Sunday night. The session is a good one if you can make it even if it is later at night (9.15pm start) and need minimal coaching. It was nice to practice some of the things I had learnt over the last few weeks.
Game day arrived with my Jets playing Wayward Sons at 7pm. Normally, I allow a lot of extra time because of the traffic. However, I was travelling half the distance of my normal drive but took a lot longer! Gearing up and warming up was rushed and I wasn’t the only one that had issues with the traffic. I only had time to do a quick warm up skate and none of my normal stretches. I later found out that I was by no means the latest player on the ice for the first game! I did not like missing that warm up time and would like that to be the last time that it happens.
Before the game and during the intermissions, I was pleased to be able to lead the team in their last minute battle cry at the bench. There was no team meeting to decide that it was my job this week, it just happened. While we have stuck with the traditional “JETS ON THREE! ONE, TWO, THREE, JETS!”, the Mighty Drunks now start their battle cry – at least that’s what I think it is called – with “CHUG! CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!”.
Wayward Sons got the opening goal however Jets equalised before the end of the first period. It was a hard match for both teams however two further goals – including a shorthanded goal – for the Jets gave us a 3-1 win. It was our fifth win from six games.
The rotation of Jets players continued with some players playing some weeks and not others. We have been working out our lines and strategy when players arrive for the evening but most weeks have been running two complete lines. The winger pairings have been fairly fluid with most wingers playing on either wing if required.
Tonight, we were using our third goalie of the season. Our original goalie, Denis, can’t make 7pm starts. This game and the following two games are at 7pm. So we needed a Plan B. We couldn’t borrow our second goalie, Jen, as she was at the other end of the ice playing for Wayward Sons.
Plan C was an SOS call with our third goalie for the season, Dean, between the pipes. He came highly recommended from other people – hopefully we can keep him! With a new to him team in front of him and not a lot of notice, he played well for his first time as a Jet.
With only a short time in between periods, it was nice to see both goalies having a mid ice chat between periods while the teams were at the benches.
A task that I have been given is to screen the goalie. It is a task that I have been enjoying when I can get there. I haven’t had a lot of chances with rebounds as my teammates often seem to be in the corners while I’m screening. Ar other times, the puck leaves the zone so I have to retreat.
I have been working on my goalie screening tactics. I have been working on various techniques to keep busy with my feet while near the crease. I’m pleased to report that I was complimented on my screening by the person I was screening – thanks, Jen! Beerginners is that sort of competition. There’s a lot of positive talk on and off the ice within and between teams.
A few times, I was caught out offside. Mostly, I was very close to being outside of the zone when the puck re-entered the zone. Once, the puck even hit my skate as I was retreating.
I only got to touch the puck a couple of times but my teammates and I are pleased by my progress. I continue to receive good feedback from other teams, coaches and spectators. One highlight was re-directing a puck down the wall in my defensive end.
I am competing hard. I’m getting in the way and I’m not making things easy for the opposition. I’m trying not to get in the way of my teammates and will stop what I’m doing if they have the puck near me. My general vision of the game is improving. For the first time, I was on the ice when the game ended. Leading by two goals towards the end of the game, there was no push to change tactics or lines. We simply kept the rotation that we mostly followed during the entire game.
My quest for action shots of Blue 69 continues. Once again, our referee wore my GoPro for both games. This time, the camera recorded both games in full. Somehow, the camera was in still images mode. I suspect that the big red button on the camera was held in for too long which led to the change of mode.
Instead of two games worth of video, the camera was taking still images the entire time. During my game alone, over 6000 still images were recorded. While that did enable a 45 minute game to become a 3 1/2 minute time lapse video, I did want to be able to see video of both games. The time lapse video is interesting for a once-off unusual effect however I would not want that to happen again.
In the later game, the Mighty Drunks would probably be happy that there is no video of their game. Trash Pandas turned on the goals to win 7-0. That said, the Mighty Drunks tried really hard at both ends of the ice despite being well overpowered. They were continuing their improvement and kept their heads up the entire time. I was very proud of their efforts and attitude.
The Pandas played their part in the game too. Their team is widely regarded as the team that is treating Beerginners the most seriously. The result was clear early on however they showed the Drunks a lot of respect. They shared the goal scoring around and mostly did not showboat. It could have been easy for a couple of people to dominate and for the score to be a lot more than 7-0. Some Pandas also registered their first goal of the season.
With two weeks of the season to go, there is a clear gap between the top two teams and the other two teams. Jets and Pandas have five wins out of six. Wayward Sons and Mighty Drunks have one win each.
Progress by the end of game six:
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: Gradually improving. Can mostly stop using the right blade only. Left blade starting to work during training. 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: A little practice this week against a Peewee goalie.
Stickhandling: Not a lot in game situations. Working on it during training sessions which is improving.
Positioning/tactics: Excellent work. Was complemented by opposition goalie about my screening.
Penalty Minutes: 0
Week 6 results:
7pm: Mascot Jets def Wayward Sons 3-1.
8pm: Trash Pandas def Mighty Drunks 7-0.
Week 7 schedule:
7pm: Mascot Jets v Mighty Drunks
8pm: Trash Pandas v Wayward Sons