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”. Eric is nearing his Beerginners journey, which leaves us with just two words: Finals, baby!
Week eight is the final week of the regular season before the two week final series. With only four teams in the competition, all teams would be finalists. There’s a big gap between the top two teams (Trash Pandas and my Jets) compared to the other two teams (Wayward Sons and Mighty Drunks).
As luck would have it, the final games of the regular season would decide all 4 places before the finals series. However, I had a busy week prior to my final regular season game.
Tuesday night scrimmage after game seven saw some familiar faces join in from my local area. Once again, there was a lot more experienced players than me. I was treating the scrimmage as an extended skate under match conditions.
This week, I was pleased to be able to get some stick on puck. Even though I am slower than all of the other team, I am still competing hard. Even though it is scrimmage, it is still competitive.
Compared to last week, I was able to get through the entire scrimmage session without incident. Luckily for me, the calf muscle I had issue with the previous week had not caused any issue since.
Wednesday night pilates again turned into a big leg session. This week, I managed to find a darker corner however the lights were still an issue for my eyes with the amount of time I would be looking into them. But this week, I had a solution thanks to my trusty Wayward beanie.
Thursday night saw me head off again to Max Arena for more inline skating. After the success
of last week’s initial skating lesson, I decided to do inline’s version of my Monday night hockey development class. Easily the oldest person there and the least experienced on inline skates, why would this be any different to how I feel on Monday nights?
Soon enough, I was going up and down the floor making forehand and backhand passes while skating. This would also become good practice for my on-ice activities too. With a small group on the floor in the large arena, there is plenty of room for drills.
A favourite drill of mine on the ice is the horseshoe drill which we do in warmup before Tuesday games. The team is divided in half and located on the goal line. One person skates from one side of the ice to the blue line and then turns in towards goal. The other person passes the puck to the skater who tries to receive the pass then take a shot at goal.
I was about to do the inline version of the drill. With no blue line on the arena floor because there are only two zones in inline hockey, we instead had to skate to the centre red line before taking the pass then stickhandle the puck then take a shot at goal. As a new inline skater but a newish hockey player, my passes were better than my skating.
The skill of the teenagers and children I was skating with was amazing. I was, however, trying to pass to them as if I was passing to adults. The teenagers especially had some power on their shots and passes beyond their years.
I delivered one pass to a player however he had moved his stick at the wrong time and the puck went right past him. He must have made some sort of comment about the pass because the coach replied: “That was a perfect pass. You moved your stick and caused that”.
Session over and I was certainly feeling how hard on the legs inline skating is compared to ice skating. I was certainly enjoying the various passes drills, though.
On my hour drive home, my brain was working overtime. It was on this drive home that I decided that my website Harbour City Hockey could expand to cover inline hockey. Much like the original concept of the site, it is designed to have all the information in one place for the benefit of new people like me. Once I arrived home, I started work on the website straight away. This work would continue through most of the week.
Saturday night saw me meet up with several of the Grassroots Sports crew for the East Coast Super League All Star Charity Game at Penrith Ice Palace. A great crowd was on hand for the Star Wars-themed night. This league is in the shadows of the AIHL in Sydney however they always do a great job with their charity related All Star games.
As always, it is great to be able to catch up with the Grassroots crew. It is one thing to chat online but it is catch up in person. I had planned to go to the game as an interested spectator however I was asked to film crowd scenes on a GoPro camera before and during the game.
I’m in a lucky position in hockey in Sydney because of my involvement in various ways. I get to see and experience things that the average fan does not get to see firsthand. I enjoy watching people getting interviewed. I enjoy the behind the scenes things like watching the zamboni go around and around. One thing that I had not seen for myself was watching the ice surface get flooded with water at the end of the night after the game.
Sunday afternoon training was interesting. We actually had two goalies to play with! While one of the goalies was experienced from playing Friday Night Hockey and with her club team, I was able to see someone in the goalie gear for the first time. Needless to say, there’s a big difference from playing in Beerginners as a skater to being a goalie but that is exactly what Ben was trying to do.
We had a lot of skating and passing drills which was fine with me. During one drill, there was an attacking team and a defensive team but both teams had to attack the same net because
of the other group at the other end of the ice. One team was made up of people wearing coloured jerseys while the other was people wearing white jerseys.
I took this chance to practice screening the goalie. As I was screening, I could feel my stick getting hit. Looking up, it was a player on my team for this drill hacking at my stick.
“SAME TEAM! SAME TEAM!” I yell. The hacking of my stick stopped. Having a laugh shortly after, this incident occurred because we were wearing our respective Beerginners jerseys which meant that for the drill, we weren’t a Jet and a Drunk but were effectively Team Colour.
For weeks, I have been working on screening the goalie and getting in a tap in or rebound goal as a result. For weeks, I have been frustrated because it has not been happening. I know even AIHL players performing the same role frustrated when the shots don’t come in. But finally, it happened.
I was screening our new day one rookie goalie when the shot came in. In a second, the puck hit my stick and rebounded into the goal. So this is what is supposed to happen!
Note to self: Don’t fist-bump the goalie to celebrate scoring a goal in a game.
The session ended in a short scrimmage where again, I managed to get the puck onto my stick a few times.
Monday afternoon was a special afternoon. After weeks of conversations about inline skating and inline hockey, I travelled to Skaters Network to purchase a pair of inline hockey skates. As expected, Bears AIHL player Brian Funes expertly fitted me with the skates relatively quickly. It only took three pairs of skates for me to feel comfortable in them. The skates came fitted with indoor court wheels and later, I ordered outdoor wheels on Brian’s suggestion. Who knew that you should use different wheels for indoor and outdoor inline skating?
With new inline skates in a new hockey bag, I headed off for my Monday night hockey development class. The highlight of the evening was another turn at skating backwards while receiving passes. It was slow going and my backwards skating is not yet up to game standard. I am getting some good backwards glide, though! There were also some excellent passing and puck handling skills during the session.
Tuesday night was the final night of the regular season. With a slightly changed line-up compared to the previous week, I helped determine the centres and defensive pairs for my Jets. Wingers tended to rotate as required and I ended up playing on both wings.
It was an extremely tough game against the Trash Pandas as expected. Jets opened the scoring with a powerplay goal in exactly the way that I have been wanting to see all season. I did get to see the goal albeit from the bench. A shot off the goalie’s pads was received by a Jet at point blank range and deposited at point blank range into the net.
I was throwing myself around and making some good passes and getting some good possessions. I was also trying to work hard in defensive situations. At one point, I ended up in a pileup of bodies at a faceoff dot with my stick caught in a teammate’s skate between the blade and the sole!
Towards the end of the game with about 90 seconds to go and my Jets down by a goal, I headed onto the ice. There was no thought of throwing the Jets’ best line on the ice – all night we had been rotating through the two lines. Soon after starting my last shift, I fell in neutral ice and badly jarred my elbow. Still on the ice, I swatted at a puck that was passing by before getting to my feet.
I thought about coming off the ice however the Jets weren’t expecting me. Besides, if a player on the other team can skate after suffering a dislocated tailbone, I can skate with a jarred elbow. My new doctor cleared me of any injury the next day, thankfully.
Getting to my feet, I was soon screening the goalie with the seconds winding down. My Jets were working hard to tie the scores as the clock wound down. I was in good position for a rebound and the puck was laying on the ice ready for me to strike it in the back of the net to send the game to a shootout. Unfortunately for me, the puck was between my skates which meant that I could not get a shot on the net before the puck disappeared. I was glad that at least I was in a good position but the hockey gods were not on my side just then.
With the Trash Pandas winning 2-1 against a hard charging squadron of Jets, this meant that they took first place after only one loss from eight games. My Jets finished second (two losses from eight games) and the winner of the Mighty Drunks/Wayward Sons would finish third.
I am so proud of the effort of all the teams in the debut season of Beerginners. All teams have had skaters making massive improvement from game one to game eight regardless of the results. While it has been an interesting exercise watching the balance between the teams, it is clear that the Pandas and Jets have fought so hard to be the best team of the year between each other. Wayward Sons and Mighty Drunks have been highly competitive too even if the standings may not reflect this at first glance.
The spirit of competition between Wayward Sons and Mighty Drunks has been a joy to watch all season. Mainly filled with hospitality workers and those who enjoy the work of hospitality workers, both teams have been close in skill level, drinking and banter all season. There has been some spectacular action on the ice and lots of good fun between the two teams off the ice.
For the third period, I was asked to take over operation of the game clock and scoreboard. In a seesawing, intense battle, there were two goals scored during my period as scoreboard operator and timekeeper but because of the location of both benches, I saw neither goal. Mighty Drunks won the game 2-1 and ended up with third place for the regular season.
After the game, there was a play fight on the ice and a nice combined team photo of both teams. It is likely that the match ups that we had just seen would happen again on grand-final night in two weeks’ time. It will be sad to see the end of the season however there have been many highlights for every team.
Progress by the end of game eight:
Skating forwards: Excellent progress by my standard. 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. Managed to pass the puck & receive passes while skating backwards again.
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: Improving. Getting more passes to teammates and clearing the puck out of the defensive zone.
Shooting the puck: Had some practice with a rookie goalie.
Stickhandling: Nothing in game situations. Working on it during training sessions which is improving.
Positioning/tactics: Excellent work. Almost scored while providing a screen late in the game.
Week 8 results:
7pm: Trash Pandas def Mascot Jets 2-1
8pm: Mighty Drunks def Wayward Sons 2-1
Semi Finals Week:
7pm: Trash Pandas (1) v Wayward Sons (4)
8pm: Mascot Jets (2) v Mighty Drunks (3)