Friday, January 8, 2010

My Hockey Moment

Sometimes I look back and think about how I signed up to play in the women’s hockey league just weeks before I moved to Canada and can’t decide if that was really brave or really foolish—especially since I had never played a single minute of a hockey game in my life. However, playing hockey has had the biggest influence on my life since I moved to Canada because it has allowed me to feel more a part of Canadian culture; it has also provided an outlet for stress and a venue for meeting people.

I’ve played many sports in my lifetime, and as Sarah always says, I don’t do things by halves—if I take up something new, I put my heart and soul into it until I am good at it. I was in track in junior high and set records in the shot put and the 880. In high school, I was on the softball team and won games with one swing of the bat. In college, I played tennis and my name is on the fieldhouse wall for being named Academic All-American. In the many years I’ve been playing soccer, I’ve tied then won games with a couple of well-placed kicks. Anyone who plays any sport has these types of moments. I’ve been waiting for my hockey moment to come.

I play hockey year-round now that I am in Canada, sometimes in skills clinics, sometimes in co-ed rookie leagues, and sometimes at drop-in sessions, but mostly in the women’s league. My progress has been excruciatingly slow. There are two separate but completely interrelated skills that need to be mastered in hockey—the game itself (handling the stick and the puck, positioning and strategy on the ice) and skating. A person can be good at one or the other or both. I am not much good at either. The skating part has been particularly difficult. I can see that all these Canucks, despite what they say, are born with skates on. And, though women’s hockey is a relatively recent phenomenon in Canada, even girls who didn’t grow up playing hockey grew up skating or playing ringuette. As much as Michigan is a hockey state, the home of many NHL players and Olympians, women’s hockey there is almost non-existent. Check out the roster for the US Women’s Olympic team and you will see not a single person from Michigan, unlike the male counterpart. I literally had no chance while I was there.

Where was I going with this? . . . oh, right, my hockey moment. My point is that if you want to learn to play soccer, you can learn the game and focus on that because you already know how to run. If you want to learn basketball, you can learn to dribble the ball and shoot, but you already know how to run. With hockey, you can’t really focus on the game until you know how to skate, but you need to know the game to know how you should be skating. This is why learning hockey has been so difficult for me.

Sarah and I are clearly the most novice players on our women’s league team. We are more obstacles than assets to our teammates. By some miracle, I scored two goals in the whole of last season. Sarah had her first goal ever in December of 2009 this season. We were still buzzing and celebrating that when my first hockey moment came just a day later.

It was a Monday night game, and it was a late night game. Earlier that afternoon, the e-mail messages started coming in from teammates who were letting everyone know they wouldn’t be at the game for various reasons. The rest of us were still sore from the tournament that we finished playing just the day before. Sarah and I arrived at the arena about a half hour before face off, and much to our dismay, only two other members of our team were there. Over time, a few more showed up. Ideally, we would want at least ten players plus a goalie. As game time approached, we were only up to eight—two of the eight were Sarah and me, which is like less than one player, and two others were there but missing crucial equipment. One more person then showed up, and the two without hockey pants were working on getting some brought to the arena so they could play. About this time, I remembered that the other team’s jerseys were dark blue and ours were black, so I volunteered to go to our opponents’ locker room and see if they were willing to wear an alternate color.

I went down the hall to their dressing room. The door was open a crack and I could see all of the other team members in the dressing room in yellow jerseys—so one problem was solved. Then I noticed all the hockey sticks leaning on the wall outside the door—they clearly weren’t having trouble with their players showing up for the game. I went back to my own team’s dressing room, where chaos was still ruling as equipmentless players were panicking and everyone else was realizing our shorthandedness. I said, “Well, the good news is that they’re already wearing their yellow jerseys. The bad news is that there are a lot of sticks outside their door!”

In typical hockey-player style, everyone remarked on the amount of ice time we would get with so few subs, and those of us who had all of our equipment headed out to the ice for warm ups. As we were warming up, we had about six skaters and a goalie. The other team had about 15 players. I think they looked at our thin numbers and thought it would be a cake walk. Just before the game started, the other team’s coach came over and asked if we wanted to take some of their players just so we’d have more subs. While most of us were considering this option, our star player looked at him with a confident gaze and said, “Nah, we’ll be fine.” The unwritten, unspoken rule of rec sports that if you borrow players from another team you’re technically forfeiting was probably the reason she declined the help, and I was glad to see that someone on our team was confident.

The first period of the game was fairly uneventful. The play was surprisingly even. Our two pantless players had somehow managed to secure hockey pants and joined us. We had nine players plus a goalie. Again, remember that two of the nine were Sarah and me, so essentially, we had seven players plus a goalie.

With a minute left in the first half, the other team scored. We were down 0-1. I mentioned to someone nearby that the score line would certainly get worse for us before the game was over.

The second period started, and not too long after that, I found myself following up right behind our star player who was going in for a shot on goal. All of a sudden, the puck bounced off the goalie or the post, I don’t know which. The goalie was stretched out to the side and on the ice. The puck skipped across the crease and to my stick. I flipped it into the net and we were tied! My teammates went crazy. I was so excited. I had just tied us up in a game we should have been losing. I knew it was just a lucky fluke, but I was going to celebrate that moment.

After this, I was skating on pure adrenaline. I was determined to do everything in my power to help maintain that tie and was hoping we could, against all odds, score again. We were past the halfway point of the game, and as we neared the end of the second period, we were tired, still sore from the previous weekend’s tournament, breathing hard, but spirited and resolute.

With only a couple of minutes left in the second period, one of my teammates had the puck, saw that I was close to the blue line, and passed the puck into our offensive zone for me to chase. My adrenaline still pumping, I actually got to the puck before any of the opposing defenders, which was miraculous in itself. I could feel my heart racing as I had the puck on my stick and was heading towards the goal. I saw a defender coming in on me out of the corner of my eye and thought that I had better get rid of the puck before it was taken from me. I flipped the puck at the goal, hoping to just get it closer for one of my teammates. As I followed through on my swing, I completely lost my balance, in typical MJB hockey style, and ended up on my knees, on the ice, sliding, and facing the opposite direction. That’s when my REAL hockey moment happened. I heard all of my teammates cheering and going wild again. I thought that either one of my teammates had got to the puck and scored or that the opposing goalie had made an amazing save. All at once my teammates who were on the ice came skidding up to me, and they must have seen the confusion on my face because they were saying, “Mary! You just scored again!!!”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was unlikely enough that I had scored one goal. It was unlikely enough that our team wasn’t losing. But, now we were WINNING, and I had scored both goals? Yes! Sure enough, we were now winning 2-1. I never saw the goal or the puck go in, and I am betting it was another flukey goal, but two flukey goals in one period? Both off my stick? Now this was amazing.

We went into the third period up 2-1 with my teammates still buzzing and promising me all kinds of quantities and types of alcohol if I were to score a third goal—a hat trick. I was focusing on just maintaining our lead.

The third period got a bit wild, with some shoving and language between the teams that I wasn’t part of. One of our better players was ejected from the game. Another was put in the penalty box. Now we were down to seven players plus a goalie, and we still had about ten minutes to play. We were playing 4 on 5 for most of that period, due to the penalties. The other team pressed and pressed, but our defense was determined and seamless. When the buzzer finally sounded, we surely had won 2-1, and I was shaking with emotion.

I have always found sports to be a valuable part of my life for so many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that it helps to balance out some of the helplessness I feel in other areas of my life, such as at work. In soccer, if I score a goal, that is an accomplishment that no one can take away from me. No one can say, “Oh, we like this person better, so we are going to give her your goal.” On the field, or on the ice, unlike in the workplace, I have more control over my own destiny. If I work hard and do well, and especially if I score a goal, the ref writes it down, it goes on record, and that’s the end. It’s not like the workplace where I can work hard, accomplish much, and still be ignored, told I haven’t done a good enough job, or be denied a deserved promotion or raise.

There’s a feeling that goes through your mind when you have a car accident. As soon as you hear the sound of the metal crunching, you realize with horror that this moment is done and there is no going back, no matter how much you wish you could go back and look in your rear view mirror before reversing. The feeling of scoring a goal is similar but in a good way. Once that ball or puck hits the net and the ref signals the goal, there is no going back—nothing can take that accomplishment away from you.

Many more games and even seasons will undoubtedly pass before I score two goals in a hockey game again. But, until that time, at least now I have a special hockey moment I can remember that will inspire me to keep working to improve.

I also think that this hockey game combined with my torch relay experience should be enough to make me an honorary Canadian citizen. Alas, Citizenship and Immigration Canada won’t buy that argument. I still have two more years of residency to go. Bring it on!

1 comment:

MSEH said...

Woo-hoo!!!! Congrats!!!!