Thursday, December 5, 2013

Week 7 (Dec. 3rd)

To be honest, not much happened this week at the clinic. It was another practice, and was about as routine as a practice can get. We did a number of shooting drills, a couple of skating drills, and that's about it.

So...yeah, not really much to blog over. We've got two games in a row now, so there should be some more stories to come.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Week 6 (Nov. 26th)

This week at the clinic marked a return to practice after one week of inactivity and a game in Week 5. I got to the rink on time, only to hear a loud cheer as I got close to the doors. Figuring that it probably wasn't a crowd excited that a hockey hero such as myself was arriving to his clinic, I peered through the windows to see that UMass Boston's women's hockey team was playing Bowdoin...15 minutes before our clinic was supposed to start.

I stood near the endboards, wondering if I'd missed some sort of memo or email, when I saw one of the coaches and a few other clinic guys.

A woman approached our coach and said, "what time's your clinic at?"

"Supposed to be 9:20," he said.

"I got you down for 10:30," she replied.


"I'm serious," she continued. "I'm the rink manager. I got you down for 10:30."

"OK, well whatever works then."

"I'll get you on when this is done," she said. "You go on early, I go home early, everyone wins! But if anyone goes on too early, that's $250."

"OK, we won't go-"

"That's $250."

She repeated the $250 number about four times, just in case we didn't get it. Weird.

(Bowdoin ended up scoring with 20 seconds left in the third to win. Lingering around waiting for the ice to be ready, I got to talking to a couple of other guys from the clinic. As it turns out, one guy lives on my father's mail route. Small world.)

My father knows EVERYONE.
Prior to getting on the ice, I took great care in tying my skates. I was trying to make sure I wouldn't be suffering the same kind of "dead foot" as in the previous week's game, so I tied them tightly, but not too tight.

After taking to the ice and skating a few laps, I realized they were too loose. Apparently I'm some sort of hockey Goldilocks: not too tight, but not too loose...just right.

I sat on the bench to adjust my skates and realized after about 30 seconds that it was hopeless: I'd have to completely undo them if I hoped to get any tighter. Unwilling to put in those two minutes of effort, I said, "forget it" and tied them as tightly as I could.

Practice started off fairly normally, though attendance was a little light. We skated end to end, then skated end to end backwards. Next up was the racing drills, where I won two of my three races but somehow didn't manage to get a shot on goal. Usually, I'd get close to the net and realize I needed to start stopping. At that point, I'd panic, and get the puck stolen from me. It's a good system.

The wrinkle came in the backwards chase drills: you have to start skating backwards from the goal line, then turn around and go forwards at the blue line. The point is to win the race, so you have to do this quickly. In my case, I probably should've taken a little more time.

For my first race, I got going pretty well. However, as people who have read this blog before know, turning around isn't my strength. As I got close to the blue line, I began to think about turning. My feet were ready to turn, but my body and brain weren't: I ended up catching a rut with my blade and (literally) launching myself into the air.

Both skates were a solid foot off the ice, and I came crashing back to earth on my left hip. Oof. Needless to say, I lost the race, ending my streak of "consecutive practices without a fall" at one. It was a good run.

Hey, who brought the news crew to the clinic last night?
 After that, we moved into 2-on-0's, then the dreaded "weave" drill. I somehow found myself first in the middle line, which is a good spot to be. Most people in the middle will face forward and pass the pack on their strong side (e.g. for me, as a righty, I'd pass it to my left so I can pass on the forehand). The problem with this is that you then have to skate to the left side, receiving the next pass on your backhand. No good.

To solve this, I kind of took a shortcut. I faced the right wing boards, making a forehand pass to the right wing, and then taking his spot. This way, I received the second pass on my forehand. Much easier. So much easier, in fact, that myself and the two guys with me executed this drill five times without making a mistake. That probably doesn't seem like much, but when previous incarnations of this drill have been about as orderly as a checkout line on Black Friday, it's quite an accomplishment.

The next drill...wasn't such an accomplishment: the dreaded push/pull was back, with a vengeance. I ended up paired with an older guy who isn't the greatest skater. I skated forwards first, pushing him back. He, like me, wasn't the greatest at skating backwards, and didn't provide much resistance. Sensing that he wasn't great on his feet, I went pretty slowly.

He returned the favor by going similarly slowly on the return trip. Hey, we're doing OK!

And now, for the pulling portion!

Instead of the standard "lock sticks, skate backwards, and pull" drill, the coach had the pull-ee (that's not a word, but the guy being pulled is what I mean) get down on one knee and hold the other guy's stick by the blade. Weird.

My partner had a ton of trouble with this. I'm not exactly a heavyweight, and he couldn't even get going. After about 30 seconds, he hadn't reached the red line. Ten seconds later, he was at the far blue line.

"Come on, ten more feet!" said Angry Coach. "Dig in!"

Meanwhile, I'm just cruising along at a snail's pace, enjoying the sights and sounds UMass has to offer. And by that, I mean "looking around the empty rink, feeling a mixture of sorry for this guy and embarrassed that I'm still being pulled along."

"Aright, that's enough, good," said Angry Coach as we pulled past the blue line. "Skate in."

My turn to pull was next, and it actually went worse than his turn: the guy couldn't stay on one knee.

I got going after a few strides, but the guy tipped over. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat, until at one point the guy tipped over and yelled in pain.

"Shit, I broke him," I thought.

"Go ahead, I'll take care of him," said Angry Coach.

A few seconds later, my partner glided down to the other end of the ice.

"What happened?" I asked. "Knees?"

"Yeah," he said. "You didn't hear them crack?"


Like this, but more embarrasing.
We did a couple of in-zone shooting/passing drills after that, and then (to my surprise) had a scrimmage. We were broken up into two teams, and sent off for a 13 minute free-for-all. I managed to get out on the first shift, and took right wing. The puck was dropped, and off we went.

Unlike the last game, my team was actually able to control the puck and get stuff done this time around. We cruised over the blue line into the offensive zone, where the puck was rimmed around the glass. I managed to pick it off in the right corner, and sent it towards the front of the net, where it ticked off my teammate's stick and into a leg.

We got a little more pressure, but couldn't get a shot through the goalie. However, on that one shift, my line had more shots on net than in the entire game against the Booze Brothers.


The way the scrimmage works is that the coach will blow the whistle to end your shift, and you just leave the puck where it is. He told my line to get ready prior to our next shift, saying he was going to switch lines soon. I had my hand on the bench door, so when he blew the whistle, I took off.

One of the players on the other team was a good, honest soul and just left the puck in the neutral zone like he was supposed to. I was the first one on the ice, and when I saw the puck, I took off after it. I managed to beat the only guy near me and take it into the offensive zone, where I entered the high slot and fired (relative term...more like "floated") a shot on net.

It managed to beat the goalie between the arm and body and go into the back of the net for my second goal of the clinic. I was like a vulture, and definitely seized a low-hanging fruit. But hey, a goal is a goal.

A few seconds later, one of my teammates beat the goalie with a wrist shot. Shortly thereafter, I was heading in on a 2-on-1 with a teammate. He held onto the puck like he was supposed to, so I headed towards the net with my stick on the ice. Finally, the defenseman made a move towards him, but to his credit, he hold onto the puck and got around him, turning it into a 2-on-0.

He elected to keep the puck, shot it, and beat the goalie five-hole. The whistle blew thereafter, and we had scored three goals on a single shift. Rumor has it that our numbers will be retired prior to the next game.

My future home.
On my last shift, I had a sterling chance for the first two-goal game of my career. I managed to intercept a pass in the high slot, and only had a single defenseman between myself and the goal. Figuring it was my last shift and I may as well try something fun, I decided I'd try a deke.

I waited until the defenseman reached out for the pokecheck, and slid the puck to my backhand. I managed to get past him, stumbled a bit, and gathered the loose puck at the left faceoff circle. My mind racing, I cruised towards the net, where I saw the goalie had already gone down and was ready to try a pokecheck himself.

I pulled the puck back, but was in so tight that I had to lift the puck to get it over him and into the wide-open net. I pressed down, flicked my wrists, and...


The puck went off of the near post and skittered into the corner. While it would've been nice to score again, it was probably the best individual move I've ever made in a game. Hey, there's something to hang my hat on!

The scrimmage ended shortly thereafter, with my team winning 6-1. As it turns out, the young kid (probably high school-aged) who played goal for us was the son of the other team's goalie. That's gotta be an awkward ride home.

"Good game, son."

"Thanks, you too. You didn't have much of a chance on...any of those six goals."

"Thanks...I think."

I dressed and went out into the rain, pondering how many goals I would score in the next scrimmage. Five? Six?

In preparing my remarks for the inevitable press conference announcing my NHL signing, I realized something: I left my stick in the rink.

That's OK. I bet Steven Stamkos forgets his stick sometimes too, right? Right?


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Week 5 (Nov. 19th)

Last week (Nov. 12th) was supposed to be our second game of the clinic, with my Team White facing Team Maroon. The clinic vs. clinic games are usually the most fun, because the level of competition is pretty even, there are scoring chances aplenty, and the score is close.

About two hours before we were supposed to play, I got an email saying that hockey was canceled because UMass Boston had a home game. Goddomit. No hockey.

Fast forward to last night, when we had another game (yay!), but it was against an actual team (uh oh...): the Booze Brothers (boo!).

We had the late game, so we didn't start until nearly 10:40. I got to the rink on time and proceeded to get ready. I hadn't skated at all the week before (and really hadn't done much in the way of working out), so I was apprehensive about the game. Those fears turned out to be very, very founded.

I decided to try to go with the tight skates again in an attempt to get used to the feeling, because while it did hurt, it was supposed to be a process: tighten them, it hurts, tighten again, hurts less, etc. This would not be a good idea.

The official theme song of my feet.

We had four defensemen and nine forwards for the game, so everyone was going to get decent playing time. Due to the way we were sitting on the bench, I was in the third trio. Coach Joe asked us who was a center, and myself and my two linemates exchanged blank stares.

"Uhh...I'll be center, I guess," I said. Confidence!

The game began, and we were quickly outmatched. The Booze Brothers aren't that much better than us in terms of actual hockey skill, but they can all skate better than us, and have the added benefit of knowing where their teammates are going to be.

When a Booze Brother gets the puck: look up and pass it to where he knows his Brother will be.
When a Team White player gets the puck: panic, shoot it out of the zone, get it knocked down, fish puck out of our own net.

The first two shifts by our team were uneventful, with neither team scoring and not much really happening. We took to the ice for our first shift with the puck in our zone. I headed towards the slot to patrol where I thought a center should patrol. The puck eventually worked its way into the neutral zone, where I gathered it and flung it into their end. Hey, a smart play!

I went in on the forecheck and got a piece of a clearing attempt, but not enough to knock it down. Backchecking, I managed to intercept an attempted centering pass and clear it off the boards. The Brothers were whistled for offsides shortly thereafter, so I got to take my first faceoff. It was a bit of a draw, and when the Brother tried to go forward with the puck, I blocked it with my skates and kicked it forward.

Chasing the puck across their blueline, I decided that since it was near the end of my shift and I had no help, I'd just fling the puck on goal. Instead, I flung it into a defenseman's leg, and it drifted harmlessly into the corner. Oh well.

Yes, yes I did.

After my shift, I sat on the bench and got some water. About 20 seconds later, I realized that I already couldn't feel my feet. This was a bad sign, as I'd only been on the ice for about two minutes. I can barely skate as is; skating with two numb feet is borderline impossible.

The Brothers scored twice while I was on the bench, with my line hitting the ice after the second goal. I managed to win a faceoff over to my right wing, and he knocked it forward. I jumped on the loose puck and dumped it in, then headed in after it. I figured their defenseman would try to ring it around the boards, so I headed over in that direction.

I figured correctly, and intercepted it. With a forward closing on me, I flipped the puck towards the slot, hoping for a lucky bounce or a tip. No dice, and the Brothers took it back.

A few seconds later, I was covering a point for my wing (who was really, really struggling with the idea of defensive positioning). A defenseman had the puck in his feet, and I skated at him to give him some trouble. I managed to block his attempted dump in, and knocked the puck past him. I didn't get it far, and tried to kick it from my feet to my stick.

Had I done so, I'd have had a clean breakaway. However, I'm not nearly skilled enough to accomplish such feats, and instead got nothing. The puck remained in my skates until another Brother came over to help out. Shift over.

On my final shift of the period, we had a bit of trouble getting the puck out of our zone. And by "a bit of trouble," I mean we couldn't get it out of our zone. Six times (not hyperbole) a forward or defenseman had a chance to clear the puck, usually between the faceoff dots and the blueline. All six times, the puck came within inches of being cleared, only to be stolen and sent back in deep. This Sisyphean effort was incredibly frustrating and incredibly tiring. It was kind of like skating suicides from the dots to the blueline, six times in a row.

And then...SUCCESS! Seventh time's the charm, and we managed to clear it. I headed into their zone on the forecheck, hassling a defenseman who sent the puck up the wall. As he cleared it, he slowed down a bit and I passed him on the right. For whatever reason, his stick was up and hit me directly in the face.

I resisted the urge to do a Kris Letang head snap.

Had I not been wearing a cage, I probably would've had a decent-sized cut on my face. Instead, the blow from the stick just jarred my entire head. It was more shocking than anything else, but was still a pretty good blow. I mulled giving the guy a whack back, but decided it was probably an accident. He got away with it...this time.

The second period wasn't much better for us. In fact, it was much, much worse. It was 3-0 at the end of the first; it was 7-1 at the end of the second. Ouch. Speedy, my former linemate, got our only goal of the period by being, as he said after the game, "in the right place at the right time" and whacking a loose puck past the goalie.

I had what were probably my two best plays in the second period, both coming on the same shift. In one, I lingered around the high slot anticipating a clearing pass. I guessed correctly again, and managed to intercept it before it left the zone. I sent it over the a wing, but it ticked off his stick and went into the corner. Later in that shift, I chased down a loose puck along the right left wing boards. A defenseman came over to challenge me, so I had to decide between making a play and sending it behind the net.

I decided I'd try to make a play myself, and banked it off the boards as he came at me. I then went around him (surprising myself) and had the puck alone along the goal line. With no defensemen on me and no Brothers coming, I decided "what the hell, let's try it," and took the puck hard to the net. I skated towards the crease, got the goalie down, and then headed out front and tried to lift it over him. The Brothers' goalie stopped the initial shot, but my teammate got his stick on the rebound.

That shot was stopped too, and the rebound bounced right next to me, about three feet off the ice. I made my best attempt at making Cedar Grove Baseball proud, took a swipe at it...and completely whiffed. The puck landed in the slot at my feet, and I took a whack at it. It went off a skate and behind me, so I flipped a backhand, no-look shot on net. Stunningly, this magic trick shot didn't go in. I headed off the ice, satisfied that our line had some sustained pressure.

"Good shift guys, good shift," said Coach Joe. "Way to go to the net."

With a few minutes left in the second period, I headed out for another shift. I was drifting around the neutral zone, and picked off a pass. I gathered the puck and headed towards the offensive zone, realizing I had a 2-on-1 developing. The defenseman stayed towards the middle, and I stupidly decided I'd make a play now instead of skating in and forcing the d-man to do something. "MAKE HIM MAKE THE FIRST MOVE, CHARLIE."

Sorry, Coach Bombay.

I thought my pass was pretty good, and that it'd give my teammate a chance to get it and give it back to me. However, my linemate wasn't a great skater, and a pass that was an inch from his blade was unreachable. The puck skittered into the corner. Odd-man rush: foiled.

As I took a seat on the bench, Coach Joe asked, "who was it on that 2-on-1?"


I raised my hand.

"Next time," he said patiently, "hold on to the puck a little longer. You had plenty of time to make a play, make the defenseman commit. It was a good idea, but hold on a little longer next time."

I felt great shame.

It was around this time that I wasn't entirely sure if I even had feet anymore. That sounds like an exaggeration (and it is, of course), but I couldn't feel anything from my ankles down. That's how tight the skates were. They were so bad, in fact, that my last shift had probably only lasted about 45 seconds, which is like a blink of an eye in a clinic where most shifts are nearly three minutes (we're not good at managing time).

The third period started with Team White in a six-goal hole. Piece of cake! I took my first shift about four minutes into the third, and the change came with the puck in our zone. I hustled into the slot to play defense, and knew the Brother with the puck in the corner was going to send it towards the slot. I knew it. Knew it. 100%.

I was right. It came.

And I missed it. I'm not sure how I missed it. It went right between my feet, even though I knew it was coming.

Seconds later, it was in the back of the net. Giving up a goal during your shift is tough. Giving up a goal when the puck goes right by you is just plain embarrassing.

The Brothers settled into cruise control mode, comfortable with their seven-goal cushion. Team White, tired from being 25+ years old and out of shape, couldn't muster much in the way of offense down the stretch.

"Geez, we're gonna have to skate 'em harder in practice," quipped Quiet Coach as the seconds ticked away in the third. "Whip 'em into shape."

"Put the pucks away," laughed Coach Joe. "Skating only."

Hey, it looks like I, uh, might have...something to do next Tuesday! Yeah, that's it! I can't come in...

There were around 120 seconds left in the third, and I figured we were done for the night. Then, the line immediately before mine gave up a goal. Then they gave up another goal, two in the span of 30 seconds.

Coach Joe called for a change, and I took to the ice in the epitome of garbage time: down nine goals, 45 seconds to go.

The Brothers controlled the puck off the faceoff and sent it in deep. I headed back to play defense, and anticipated the puck being rimmed around the boards. The Brothers helped me out by doing just that, and I skated over to intercept it. I got it and tried to put it off the boards and past the defenseman, which would've given me a clean breakaway with time expiring.

I got the puck nearly all the way past the Brother...and then he reached back in desperation and managed to just barely tip it with the end of his stick. That little bit of interference was enough to foil my breakaway, ending any hopes of scoring a nine-point goal that would've tied the game.

The horn, mercifully, sounded soon after.

On the way out to the parking lot after the game, I was walking behind a group of Brothers and overheard the following exchange:

  • "Eh, good game guys."
  • "Yeah, we just may score 25 goals in total this year!"


  • "We definitely will if we play them again!"

*uproarious laughter*

*Milk Crates walks to his car alone, with the music from the end of the Incredible Hulk playing in the background*


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Week 4 (Nov. 5th)

Week 4 of the clinic was another practice, and I went into it expecting plenty of instruction following our lackluster performance during the previous week's game. I arrived at the rink and got dressed in plenty of time, and was standing by the boards talking to a few of my teammates about the other teams we'll play this clinic (the non-clinic teams, i.e. the Booze Brothers, Myth, etc.).

While standing along the boards, I noticed that a puck had gotten stuck in between the protective netting and the glass. It was just sitting there, so I figured it'd be easy to whack it out and either keep it or just throw it into the clinic's bag of pucks. It was just a puck in some netting. What could go wrong?

Five minutes later, there were four or five of us grown men standing around taking whacks at the puck, unable to dislodge it.

"Maybe lift the wire up and drop it out?"

"No, the wire is too tight."

"Can we flip it up and over?"

*Tries and fails six times.*

"Maybe try baseball swinging at it?"

Success! After a few baseball-style whacks, this stubborn puck went over the glass and back onto the ice, and our group of grown men who were foiled by some netting and wire sheepishly took to the ice. I imagine we looked something like a group of cavemen trying to figure out fire for the first time, or like Derek and Hansel working with the computer in Zoolander.

Pretty much.

Practice started off routinely enough, with a few laps up and down the ice, followed by the same thing backwards, followed by some turning (or in my case, stumbling).

After a few minutes, Angry Coach barked, "alright, get a partner!"

Uh oh.

Partner? That means it's the dreaded push-and-pull drill. For me, the push-and-pull drill is more like "holy shit I'm going to fall I'm going to fall I'm going to fall ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh."

I was standing next to Speedy, and figured that since he was a nice guy (and a lot smaller than me), he could be my partner and not run me over.

"Not this drill..." I lamented.

"Yeah, this one sucks," he replied.

"I can't slow down backwards," I admitted. "I just end up flying down the ice, so don't worry about skating too hard."

"Just dig in your blades like this," he offered helpfully, demonstrating the v-shaped stopping pattern. Poor Speedy didn't know who he was dealing with.

As it turns out, all of our fretting was for naught: it wasn't the push-and-pull drill; instead, it was a close range passing drill, where one guy skated backwards and the other forwards, making short passes back and forth. Simple.

Speedy and I completed this drill with ease, both relieved that we didn't have to do the other drill instead.

That drill was followed by some 2-on-0's and some race drills. I did OK with these, only screwing up a few of the 2-on-0's and winning two of my three races.

On one race, I beat my opponent to the blue line and gathered the puck, heading in on my breakaway. He backchecked like he was supposed to, and managed to get his stick on mine as I took my shot. (I slowed down as I got to the other net because I'm still not sold on my own stopping abilities.)

As he skated by, he said something to me about "skating, kid." I have no idea what this guy was talking about, and couldn't tell if he was complimenting me or challenging me to a rumble for beating him. Weird.

Did I offend you, sir?

Practice had been going pretty well at this point, so obviously Angry Coach decided to screw it all up with the weave drill.

This drill had been done a lot over the summer (and in the previous clinic). If you're a new reader (bless your heart), here's what it is:

    • There are three lines. The skater in the middle starts with the puck.
    • He/she passes it to one wing. He/she then skates to the wing who has the puck. The skater with the puck heads towards the middle and passes it to the other wing, taking his/her place.
    • The wing who now has the puck heads towards the middle, sending a pass to the other wing and taking his/her place.
    • Repeat, until you get a shot on goal.
Sound confusing? No, it isn't at all. Basically, you make a pass to a wing and follow your pass, taking that skater's place when he/she makes his/her pass. It's really simple.

Seeing as it was the first time we'd done this drill, it went predictably terrible. Skaters stayed in their lane the entire time. Some didn't pass. Others passed to no one. Angry Coach wasn't pleased.

I fared pretty well in this drill, having done it a number of times. I managed to score my best goal of the clinic in this drill, in fact. Towards the end of one of our runs, the puck was on the right wing boards, so I drifted to the front of the net, just in case. Speedy threw the puck towards the crease to finish the drill, where it ended up on my backhand. 

The goalie went down to block my shot, but I quickly shifted to my forehand and roofed it into the top corner, eliciting some stick taps from my teammates. I surprised the hell out of myself, so I can only imagine how surprised the poor goalie was.

David Krejci stealing my move.

Practice continued with a few shooting drills, and ended with the puck battle drill where every skater has a puck on his/her stick and skates around the zone trying to knock each other's pucks out. When the whistle blows, anyone without a puck is out, and a few pucks are taken out each round. I managed to last until the last six skaters, mainly by staying off to the side and hoping no one noticed me.

With three guys left, Angry Coach instructed us to pick a winner: the people who picked the two losers would have to skate a lap, while the winning pickers got a reprieve. I picked a smaller guy who could really skate, and he rewarded me with the whistle-to-whistle win.

We were told we had a few minutes to screw around before the Zamboni came out, so I took a few spins around the ice working on my left-foot stops. I'm starting to find the edge on my left skate, and managed to skid to a semi-stop a couple of times.

It only took me 74 weeks. Progress!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Week 3 (Oct. 29th)

Week 3 marked the first scrimmage of the clinic, with my Team White facing off against Team Green. Team Green is, for whatever reason, comprised of a lot of players who are new to the clinic. I'm not saying they're not very good, but they play a lot like I did in the first few weeks of my first clinic session. So I guess I am, in fact, saying they're not very good.

I arrived to the rink and, miraculously, got a seat in the cinderblockerroom (get it? Cinderblock locker room...I know, I'm a wordsmith). I started talking to Joe, and we agreed that we'd try to get our original Team Teal line back together. When Speedy arrived at the rink, he agreed that we should get the band back together and torch the clinic with like, maybe three goals this year. Maybe.

We took to the ice for warm-ups, ready for a spirited (read: sloppy) first game. After about two minutes on the ice, we realized we were missing a key ingredient: we had no pucks.

Our coach, Quiet Coach, as I'll call him, said, "I don't know where Coach Joe is, and he's got the pucks. He said he'd be here."

"I'm not even supposed to be here tonight," he mumbled, sounding like a man who would rather be literally anywhere else on Earth. Confidence boost!

Minutes later, Coach Joe arrived and threw us some pucks. Our team pounced on the loose pucks like a pack of dogs, a fitting description because many of us skate about as well as dogs would move on ice. I fired a few shots on goal, feeling good about the upcoming game.

After, I decided to become Marc Savard and feed passes to my teammates instead of taking shots. Surely they had never seen such feathery passes. Jaws were dropped. Or no one said anything. Either one works.

The referee took to the ice and whistled the start of the game. It was then that we realized something else was missing: the Green goalie didn't show.

Damn it.

Thanks for showing up, Green Goalie.

After a brief discussion, the coaches decided they'd let a Green skater voluntarily man the pipes.

"Alright, we've got a guy volunteering in net tonight for our side, so take it easy," said Coach Joe. "He doesn't have any pads, so don't do anything stupid."

Dejectedly, I skated out onto the ice to take the first shift. Playing against a non-goalie kind of ruins the fun of the game. It's not nearly as challenging to score on a guy in regular hockey gear, let alone one who tries harder to get out of the way of the puck than he does to stop it.

Regardless, we had a game to play, and the puck dropped with yours truly skating on the right wing, Speedy at center, and Joe on the left wing. WE'RE BACK!

On my first shift, I identified which guys on Team Green could skate. By "identified" I mean that one of their defensemen skated right past me on the forecheck, after which I noted "hey, he can skate."

Shortly thereafter, Joe collected a loose puck and flipped it ahead to Speedy. I came up the right wing in a 2-on-1. Speedy floated a great pass over to me, and I saw it coming and prepared to fire.

Predictably, it bounced off of my stick and went into the corner. I flubbed a wide-open scoring chance less than 45 seconds into my first shift. Go me!

I banged my stick on the ice and bellowed the appropriate expletive to make sure everyone knew how mad I was, and skated after the puck. I gathered it up and sent it out front, where Speedy was locked up with a defenseman. It glanced off his skate and into the other corner, and I skated off for a change shortly thereafter.

One shift, one failed scoring chance. Way to go, sport.

Sitting on the bench, I realized that we had an extra forward, so our lines would be screwed up immediately. For my next shift, I was matched up with Speedy, but not Joe. Instead, we were joined by Big Guy, who, as we took to the ice, asked anyone within earshot if they were "ready for the Shitshow Line." I liked this guy already.

While I was on the bench, our team had given up a goal and scored one, so things were knotted at one. I chased a loose puck into the corner of the offensive zone, and had it in my sights. Trying to stay two steps ahead, I began to think about where I was going with the puck: back to the point, where my defenseman was wide open.

I knew I had a backchecker on me. I didn't know how close he was, but felt that I had time to make the play. I reached out to backhand the puck back to the point, and suddenly I had no legs.

The backchecker had, indeed, been close enough to me to make a play. In fact, he was so close that he couldn't stop, and rather than pokecheck the puck he just went right through me. His left leg connected with the back of my right foot, and considering that I don't exactly have Dennis Seidenberg-esque strength on my skates, I went flying.

My first slew-foot. I'll remember it forever. <3

I went down hard, my back slamming off the ice and helmet barely avoiding contact. It didn't hurt too badly, but it certainly didn't feel nice. Regardless, I was furious. I reached out with a Ryan Miller-style slash/swipe, attempting to show my displeasure with this fellow's antics. I hit the boards instead.

Shaking off the cobwebs, I went to the bench, which I then kicked. I sat stewing on the bench until the end of the period, plotting my revenge.

Who let Ovechkin in the clinic?

We started the second period up 2-1, and were shooting on the goalie this time. I took my first shift a few minutes into the second, this time playing left wing. I gathered a pass from Red Defenseman (a guy who has played in both clinics with me, and arguably the best skater in the group), and took it into the offensive zone.

An odd-man rush was developing, and I was thinking "pass." However, the Green defenseman just kind of left me alone, instead electing to play the pass. Clearly he wasn't exactly fearful of my shot.

As I drifted in towards the circle, I decided I'd shoot. I let loose a wrister, and actually got some good wood on it. It headed towards the goalie and broke through the space between his arm and his torso, dribbling out the other side about a foot wide of the post.

Speedy gathered up the rebound, and I headed towards the crease to cause some havoc. I posted up in front while Speedy hung around in the corner. He skated towards the blue line, then stopped halfway and fired a bad-angle shot on net. The goalie knocked it down with his pad, but it dropped right into the crease. I outmuscled (I know, I was surprised too) my defender and whacked at the rebound, sending the puck up in the air, off the post, and out. Foiled again.

Inspired by my close calls, I came out flying (relative term) on the next shift. My line buzzed the cage again, but we couldn't get one past the goalie. Late in the shift, I ended up in a battle along the boards with the defenseman who blew by me earlier in the game. I got inside position and went past him, kicking the puck to my stick. Entering Gretzky's office, the guy was on my back. I tried to put a backhand out front, but the defender got his stick on it.

Peeling back the other way, I decided it was time to make another Savardian pass. I knew my teammate would be at the point, and there was a wide-open lane. I slid the pass out to the point, about ten feet away from the nearest teammate. Oops.

We entered the third period up 3-1 and were shooting on the regular skater in the final frame, meaning it'd take a collapse of Maple Leafs proportions to lose the game. On my first couple of shifts, my line couldn't get much going.

"You have to MOVE," implored Quiet Coach. "When your teammate gets the puck, everyone just stands there. MOVE! MOVE! He needs someone to pass to!"

Noted. On the next shift, we had a bit more flow to our game, and managed to get a few decent breakouts. On one such entry into the offensive zone, the puck was rimmed around the boards and I tore in after it. I gathered the puck and headed further down the boards, towards the back of the net. I was met by a Green defender who either A) couldn't stop or B) didn't like me, because he elected to just keep on coming and bundle me.

Luckily, #IAmGregoryCampbell, so I popped right up and gave the offending defenseman an icy glare. He didn't seem to notice.

As I sat on the bench, my teammates managed to score two goals, putting us up 5-1. It was getting late in the game, and I figured my next shift would be my last. I took to the ice with Big Guy and someone else I didn't recognize, determined to score after my earlier close calls.

Towards the end of the shift, the puck had worked its way into the corner of the offensive zone. I was on the opposite side of the ice, and headed towards the slot to hang out and possibly get a tip. My teammate won the puck in the corner, and just threw it towards the net. It pinballed off of a few sticks and feet, and lo and behold, ended up on my stick.

Before I could think, I instinctively flicked the puck on net from about ten feet out, and it snuck between the legs of the skater-goalie for my first goal of the clinic.

My team went on to score another goal before the game ended, giving us a 7-1 win over the overmatched Team Green. Yours truly is a goal-per-game player, meaning a call from the Bruins should be coming shortly.

It looks like Team White might be an unstoppable juggernaut this clinic (until we play actual teams, that is).

Of course, I mean unstoppable in a literal sense, so maybe it's not much of a compliment after all...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Week 2 (Oct. 22nd)

Week 2 of the clinic started with a little bit of a wrinkle: we were going to be broken up into three teams instead of two, as there were too many players for just two sides.

The good news: hey, smaller teams means more ice time in games!

The bad news: shit, smaller teams means more ice time in games!

I got to the rink early enough to watch a bit of the game that was going on before our session. One team was called the BoozeHounds, and their jerseys were based on the Chicago Blackhawks' Winter Classic sweaters. In other words, they were awesome.

During this game, two players started jawing at each other for some reason or another, leading to a gathering of the clans. (Keep in mind, these are basically beer league games, so fighting isn't tolerated.) Numerous blown whistles failed to quiet the masses, so finally a referee shouted, "IF YA DON'T CUT THA SHIT NOW, WE'LL JUST SHUT THE GAME DOWN AND WALK OFF RIGHT HERE!"

Apparently the threat had weight, as all of the players immediately returned to their benches. It was pretty weird to hear a ref threaten to end the game with ten minutes left in the third in order to end a scrum, but hey, it worked. For those curious (I'm sure there are tons), the BoozeHounds scored with five seconds left to tie the game at one. Riveting.

Much like the first week, things were way too crowded at the rink to get a seat in the locker room. Your faithful hockey playing hero was forced to get dressed next to the rink again, probably catching four or five different colds in the process.

Thanks, hockey rink.

I tied my skates as tightly as possible again and managed to set a new record in the process: I couldn't feel my left foot after just under two minutes, shattering the previous record of ten. After a few warm-up spins, it was time to begin. I had noticed the coaches giving maroon jerseys to a few guys before the warm-ups started, and we were subsequently all ordered to gather by color along the boards: white, green, and maroon.

I wasn't exactly married to my white team, but I knew a few guys from the first clinic, so I kind of wanted to stay. One of the coaches asked "are any of you playing alone, without any buddies?"

Being the one-man wolfpack that I am, I started to raise my hand. The coach then finished, "if you are, come out here and grab a maroon jersey."

SCREEEEEEECH. No thanks. My hand went back down and I tried to inconspicuously skate away. I managed to escape, and was left with my white teammates (awkward). Speedy and Joe, linemates from my first clinic, remained on my team as well. We should put up around 1,399 points during the clinic.

We started things off the same way as we did in the first session: end to end, end to end with a puck, end to end backwards, end to end backwards with a puck, and finally...stops and turns.

We meet again, left-foot stops. My first few left-footed trips up the ice were, predictably, disastrous. It went something like this:

  1. Fail to come to even one complete stop, instead spinning like a top each time.
  2. Kind of stop, but instead nearly do a split.
  3. Repeat number one.
However, on the magical fourth run, I had a mini-breakthrough: I managed to skid to a bit of a stop on my left skate, barely dragging the right one. It was the first time I'd ever been anything close to successful on the left, and I was brimming with confidence.

In fact, I had so much confidence that I sped up a bit to try my last left-foot stop, approached it without hesitation, and...spun around like a top again.

Back to square one.

Hey, who took a picture of my trying to stop?!

Turns went in a similar fashion: spins, spins, spins, kind of turns, spins, kind of turns, and spins. I'm nothing if not consistent, and by consistent I mean "consistently not succeeding at doing anything on my left."

The chase drill/2-on-0 drill was up next (it was a chase drill on one side of the ice and a 2-on-0 on the other, alternating sides). My first chase was predictably successful: I smoked my poor competition, leaving him in the dust.*

*Dust here means "by one or two strides, at most."

The 2-on-0 was going OK until I got to the faceoff circles, at which point I tried to unselfishly backhand a pass to my partner. My partner was already at the goalline, so it probably wasn't the best idea. The puck skittered into the corner, and I skated away in shame. Oops.

My second race was against a new guy, JOFA Helmet. JOFA Helmet had on all old gear and old looking glasses, so I thought he was a newbie and would be easy to beat. 

Wrong. I lost by about four strides, and learned a valuable lesson in the process: if a guy's gear looks to be as old as the rink you're skating in, he's probably been playing for a while.

I got a laugh at JOFA's expense in the next drill. It's a simple shooting drill involving three skaters at once and three items on the ice, spaced evenly: the first person curls inside the first item and takes a shot, second curls on the second item, third curls on the third. It's a pretty simple drill.

JOFA struggled mightily, skating past his target and then compounding the error by skating into the next group of three to go, earning a thundering "WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?!?" from Angry Coach.

I can only assume JOFA's struggles were punishment from the Hockey Gods for daring to beat me in a race. He won't make that mistake again.

Old school JOFA!

The last drill of the night was a passing/shooting drill. The person with the puck passes it to a skater at the point, then skates to the point. The point guy passes it to someone on the other point, then skates to his spot. The guy who received the second pass skates in and shoots. (It's a lot harder to explain in words.)

I watched as the new-ish players struggled with the drill, making the wrong passes or failing to skate to the right spots (I fear what's going to happen when we try the weave drill in a couple of weeks). As the failures mounted, the zone started looking like the Expressway at rush hour.

My turn was up, and I confidently stepped up to the puck and fired a pass to the point, a pass that promptly was in my teammate's skates. Oops. 

My three shots in this drill? Saved, saved, and saved. Oops again.

Hey, sometimes it's good to be humbled. I've certainly made progress in the last year, but am occasionally reminded that there's a long way to go. There are definitely guys (and girls) in the clinic who are worse than me, but there's no point in comparing myself to them.

No, instead I've made not of who they are and will harass them when they have the puck in the games next week. Strategy!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I'm Back: Week 1 (Oct. 15th)

At the conclusion of the first clinic session back in March, I knew that I'd had a ton of fun and wanted to play again. The only question was when I'd get back on the ice, and whether or not it'd be in a formal setting (like another clinic) or something more informal, like pick-up games.

A couple of months after the first clinic ended, we got an email from the NESHL inviting us to sign up for the summer clinic, which would take place in a suburb slightly south of Boston, once a week. After skating in one pick-up game, I decided I wanted more organized hockey instead, so I signed up.

(As a quick aside, the reason pick-up games suck is because everyone out there thinks he's Gretzky. I had the misfortune of having some high school-aged kid on my team, and his shifts were routinely four minutes or longer. Players like that suck the fun out of it for everyone else. If you're sitting there saying, "hey, I don't have a guy like that at my games!", you're probably that guy. Sorry.)

I signed up for the summer clinic and had a lot of fun, but it wasn't really "blog-worthy" because it was only drills: no scrimmages, no games, just skating and practicing. There are only so many funny stories I can tell about crossover drills, or how many times I fell down trying to transition from forwards to backwards skating. We did do a few shootout drills (a poor goalie was victimized by my ferocious snapshot beating him five-hole...he was never seen nor heard from again), but it was mostly practice.

I improved a lot over the summer, mainly due to some equipment guidance from a coach who informed me that my loose skates were ruining my stride.

"You're not that bad of a skater," he said. "But they're so loose that you're ankles are bending all over the place out there!"

A new set of wax laces and some determined tightening helped me out, and he noticed a difference immediately (as did I).

The summer clinic was a good workout once a week, but I wanted to return to game action.

Enter the fall clinic, part two: return of the milk crates.

The new clinic is the exact same as the first one: one night a week at a Boston-area university. I spent 15 minutes at work that afternoon re-taping my stick, preparing it for maybe one or two shots over the course of the 20 weeks. Unfortunately, I ran out of tape after taping the blade...meaning I was stuck with a black grip/knob and a white blade. There wasn't much I could do, so I decided to deal with it and take to the ice as the hockey version of a swirl cone.

I got to the rink a little early to check in and get my jersey. Upon arrival, I saw two piles of jerseys on the ground: white and green. 

"Jackpot," I thought to myself. "New colors to add to my collection."

After checking in, I was assigned to the white team and told to grab a jersey. I sifted through the pile until I found an XL, and turned it over to find myself sporting number 11. Clearly this was a sign: I was Gregory Campbell. I had to spend my clinic sliding all over the ice, throwing myself in harm's way. And then maybe after I stood up, I could try to block a shot or two.

This wasn't my first rodeo, so I knew the locker room situation at this rink was non-existent, meaning the locker rooms are actually cinderblock walls without doors. The room was already packed, so I decided to just put my bag down and get ready next to the rink. No shame.

I put on most of my equipment (excluding skates, helmet, and gloves), the first time any of it had been worn since September. Fortunately, I hadn't experienced any massive growth spurts over the course of a few weeks, so everything still fit.

After getting dressed, I prepared for my most difficult task: tying my skates. I don't know what it is, but I can't seem to do it. I don't tie my sneakers, barely tie dress shoes...I have tie aversion. The failure to correctly tie my skates is what led to a less-than-graceful skating stride (and that's putting it kindly) in the previous clinic, so I was determined to get these suckers tied.

I pulled on the wax laces like I was playing a game of "tug of war" with my ankle (I was losing), tied them up, and got ready to hit the ice.

Someday this jersey will sell for hundreds on eBay.

The Zamboni left, and I hit the rink, taking a few strides for the first time in way too long. I took a couple of spins around the rink, stopping here and there just to prove to myself that I could. I even tried to stop on my left foot once or twice, failing miserably each time. By my fourth time around the rink, I couldn't feel my right foot. 

"Shit, I have to go loosen these," I thought.


"Alright, everyone line up down this end," yelled Coach Mike (he was a coach at the summer clinic too).

Not wanting to be the guy who gets on the ice late, I decided to suck it up and hope the skate thing would go away.

It didn't. 

After some warm-up skates, I couldn't feel either of my feet. It felt like both of my feet were shoved into boots made out of granite that were two sizes too small. However, the coach who had helped me out at the previous clinic insisted that it just took getting used to, and that the feeling would ease over time.

I took his word for it and let them be, checking every now and then to make sure that yes, my feet were still there.

Our first drills were very basic: end-to-end skating, with and without the puck. Watching from the corner, I saw people stumbling and struggling to stay up, wistfully reminiscing on the time nearly a year ago when that was me, Bambi on the ice.

Shortly thereafter, I caught a rut and fell right on my chest. What kind of drill was it?

It wasn't. It was just "skating up the ice with a puck."

Bambi, checking in.

And I don't even have an adorable rabbit to skate with...

The format of this clinic is set to be practices for the first two weeks, followed by game-practice-game-practice, etc. until the end of the clinic (more or less). The drills were simple: skating up and down the ice, skating up and down with the puck, skating up and down backwards, etc.

I handled all of these pretty well (go me!), and we then broke into two groups for more drills: one group was going to do the "chase" drill (a puck is shot forward and two guys race after it; the first one to get it takes it in on net while the second guy backchecks), while the other group did simple 2-on-0's in on a goalie.

I was the second guy up for the chase drill, and the poor bastard facing me didn't know what he was up against. The puck was shot ahead and off I went, leaving him in the dust wondering "what happened?"

Of course by that I mean that I beat him to the puck by three or four strides (thanks, long legs). My shot was turned aside, but I was undefeated, unafraid of all challengers. I chose the backhand side for 2-on-0's and feathered a couple of wobbly-at-best passes to my partner before letting him shoot.

I won my next race and beat the goalie five-hole with what I intended to be a laser wrister, but it turned into a broken-bat dribbler instead. Beat the goalie with the change-up! 

The next 2-on-0 was standard fare, but then things got interesting: for whatever reason, the lines started getting messed up, and there was a long wait for the 2-on-0's when I left, but none for the chase. The roles reversed when I got to the line for the 2-on-0's. Basically, because of the way the lines had been split up, every time I got to a station, I was second or third in line.

This meant pretty much continuous sprinting on skates for about five minutes straight, probably not the best idea after a month or so off of the ice. 

Undaunted, your heroic blogger soldiered on. I won every puck race, only failing to get a shot off when my partner got me with a sneaky stick lift. Shortly thereafter, Coach Mike told us to take a lap. I decided to take my lap off of the ice and over to my water bottle, silently wondering if anyone noticed how excellent my conditioning was.

Next, we were to do "whistle stops", which are exactly what they sound like: stop on the whistle, facing a predetermined direction to ensure that everyone practices stopping with both feet. Up first was stopping on the left foot, or in my case, "not stopping."

Believe it or not, a month off of the ice didn't, in fact, make me better at stopping on my left foot. Who knew?!

After a series of stops and skitters, I was mercifully facing the other direction, stopping on my right foot. This drill continued for a while: embarrassing myself one way, embarrassing myself slightly less the other way.

Still the official "Milk Crates" anthem!

After that, we had two drills left: turns and crossovers. Crossovers came last, and I actually did fairly well. I didn't fall at all, stumbled maybe twice on four tries, and only really screwed up when it came to doing them with a puck.

The turns, however, were the night's humbling moment. Towards the end of the summer clinic, I was able to turn OK. Nothing glamorous, nothing smooth, but...OK. With that surging confidence, I headed into my first turn and promptly stumbled, came to a complete halt, and barely avoided falling.

"Surely that was a mistake," I thought to myself. "I've become the TurnMaster." 

The next time up the ice, I was able to turn fairly smoothly, but again stumbled coming the other way. And again. And again.

I'd spent much of the summer telling people who asked how hockey was going that it was going well, that I'd improved a lot and was getting pretty decent. And it's true: I have improved, and improved a lot. 

But it took just two drills (stops and turns) to be "Humbled by Hockey" again, and to realize that I've still got a ways to go.

Get the Icy Hot ready.