First Time Wreck: Game 4 Frustration

This is First Time Wreck, talking about my first rec league and first team.  I play at the Ice Ranch in the RMHL in Denver, CO.  You can find our league here, and our team stats here. I wear number 5, even though the stats list me as 84.  I don’t know why.

(I should have started this game one, and wrote some things I didn’t publish about game three.  Those might come up.  You might as well read on.  It’s not like there’s NHL hockey to talk about.)

Wreck League 1

That’s me in the middle (red)

Last night was game four, and it was my most frustrating game yet.  But let’s back up a bit.

I already knew I would be late to the game.  I had to work in downtown Denver until five, and the puck dropped at 5:25 pm.  The rink is 28 minutes from work.  My girlfriend had the car idling at the loading dock, ready to make our escape.  Thanks to warm ups, we got to the rink just as the game started.  

Normally, it would take another ten minutes to rush putting on my pads and skates, but since I wasn’t driving, I started suiting up in the car.  I hope other drivers saw what was going on, and I was someone’s interesting story.  I don’t know what I would have thought had I seen what I was doing in another car. 

My pre-game ritual has been to get to the rink early, listen to my hockey playlist (power jam!) on the drive down, and spend some time prepping for the game.  I get my pads and skates on slowly and spend some time stretching and psyching myself up.  

This time, I talked to my girlfriend instead of listening to music, while struggling to get my shoulder pads on without interfering with her driving.  When I got to the rink, I saw how short the bench was: two lines of forwards and three defensemen.  So far, I’ve been playing defense, and it’s been working out OK, for a first timer.  I know when I screw up, but this is lower level hockey (lowest level in the league), so I screw up quite a bit.  

(Also, I’m fairly hard on myself.  I remember my mistakes well before my accomplishments.  My version of how much I screw up might be different than other people’s.)

I hustled to the empty (save for emptied hockey bags) locker room, and laced up my skates.  Through the door, I could hear every stoppage in play, and each one felt like time I was wasting.  I wanted out there.  As soon as my skates were on, I got to an entrance to the rink and waited.

The time between whistles when you are ready to step on the ice are the longest.  Getting caught in your end on a long change doesn’t seem that long.  Waiting for the zamboni to finish it’s scrape of the ice before you step out for warmups is an eternity.  Standing outside the rink that is soon to be yours, waiting for your chance to play, time stands still.  You live a lifetime in that stretch.

Notice what didn’t happen before the game.  There wasn’t any stretching.  There was no warmup.  There wasn’t any moment with the team before.  I didn’t check the board to see what position anyone was playing (and I don’t know enough names for that to really help, but it’s nice to fake it sometimes).  I knew I was playing D, and that’s it.  There was no time for anything else.  The standard path to hockey was interrupted.  It was strange.

I stepped on the ice and was told who my defensive partner was, and stayed out.  I dropped my extra stick and water bottle off at the bench, and stayed out for my first shift.  Game on, right away.  

If you were to ask what was going through my mind at the time, I couldn’t tell you.  I know it wasn’t hockey.  I don’t remember thinking anything other than cursing, which I do in my mind a lot during the game.  It took a while to get into the game.  I wasn’t feeling it, and I wanted to feel it.  It didn’t feel like game day, and I didn’t feel ready.  I don’t know what feeling ready is supposed to feel like, but I know I wasn’t there.  I knew who I was playing with, I knew where to go (most of the time), but I didn’t feel into it.

The other frustration was with my defensive partner for the first half of the game.  Whenever we were on the bench, he would start telling me what I was doing wrong.  He was probably trying to direct me more and help, but what I was feeling at the time was someone who was constantly complaining either to or about me.  I was close to telling him to shut the front door.  I already wasn’t feeling into the game, and this wasn’t helping. 

I know how I felt about it at the time, but looking back at it, I can gain a little perspective. I believe he thought he was being helpful.  He is also a hockey parent, and his kids could skate circles around me.  At the time, I couldn’t see any of that.  All I wanted him to do was shut up and let me skate.  

Being new to the team, I feel like I should be the one to shut up and skate.  I feel like that’s my job right now, and figure out where I fit.  This guy has been around the team for a while, and in the hierarchy of teams, seniority rules.  I don’t think it’s my place to tell him to give it a break.  In the third period, I didn’t have to, as we shuffled defensive pairings (more on that some other time) and I wound up with our team captain.  By then, I had turned sour and angry.  I wasn’t having any fun, and any mistake I made was amplified in my mind.  Any moment out of position made me more mad at myself.  It pushed my energy up, but it didn’t help at all.  I didn’t believe in myself on the ice, and I started trying to do too much.  

One of those moments of trying to do too much led to the game tying goal for the opposition.  I was between the face-off circles in the slot, and the puck made it’s way to the point.  No one was pressuring the defense, so I stepped up, which was a big mistake.  The puck got past me, and I turned around in time to see we were outmanned in front of the net, and I was too far away to be useful.  Then the puck went in.  I felt like giving up at that point.  The goal wasn’t entirely my fault, but it seemed like it at the time.  Goals against are rarely the fault of only one person, but in the moment, you only see what you did wrong.  

There is no four on four OT in this league, as there is limited ice time.  OT goes directly to the shootout.  I wanted to be in the shootout.  I wanted to take a shot, and make up for my previous errors.  I wanted to redeem myself.  

The thing is, the only person I needed to redeem myself to was myself, and I think I was too far gone for it to matter at that point.  I was angry, and I wanted to go out there, and I didn’t want to go out there.  I wanted to win the game, and I didn’t want to be a non-factor.  This, as always, leads to the classic phrase, squeezing the stick to hard.  There’s a reason it’s a cliche. 

My chance came third on the shootout.  I decided to go backhand, starting to my right, cut left and shoot.  The goalie got just enough on it to tip it past the net by one or two inches.  All I could do was put my head down and skate to the bench.  I didn’t even look at anyone.  I was done.

We lost in the shootout after going seven or eight deep.  The locker room didn’t feel like it had after any of the other games, not even the losses.  It felt sour all around.  It felt like a loss that stung.  I know I felt stung.  

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I didn’t have any fun playing hockey, and that might have been a first.  Hockey can lift me out of a funk, it can feel like an accomplishment just being able to keep up, and even when things go sour, I feel like I am lucky to be out there.  It didn’t feel that way this game.

It isn’t about winning the game.  It wasn’t about things not going my way.  It was about how I played the game.  And I wasn’t playing the game the way I wanted to. It barely felt like a game.  But there’s always the next one, a week and a half away.

Rampage lost 3-2 in the shootout to Half Nuts.  Our record is 1-2-1 for three points.

I Don’t Want to Talk About It

Locked Out!

Locked Out!

There are three kinds of hockey we can talk about: Hockey I can see, hockey I can’t see, and the lockout, which is to say, no hockey at all.  And I want to talk about hockey.

Of course I don’t like the lockout, but what really annoys me is that we’ve heard and read everything about this lockout from the last one.  There is hardly anything original being published, only the names and places change.  We have virtually the same issues  (even the salary cap is being challenged in the media) and virtually the same complaints from the fans, media, players and owners about each other.  Nothing new under the sun.

What does that leave?  There are the minors, and the only minor leagues I’m projected to see this season are the Denver Cutthroats, maybe the Colorado Eagles, and one or two minor league games across the country (San Francisco Bull, I’m looking at you).  Someone recently told me that their favorite posts of mine were the travel posts, when I took in a game in a minor league or junior city (like Johnstown, PA (part 1 and part 2) or recent trips to Odessa, TX and Sioux Falls, SD) or took a road trip through several cities (like my west coast hockey tour).  Now that I’m home in Denver, my travel is cut way back.

There is the hockey I can’t see, which is all the minor league hockey I love that I can only read reports of, just like you.    Fairly pointless, other than to bemoan the lack of hockey I get to see, and update you on stats and reports I am not going to have any more insight than anyone else reading the same thing as me.  So yeah, not going to do that.

The other hockey I can talk about is rec league hockey, and you don’t care about that.  I care, only because I started on my first rec league team this year.  I will say that now, I have 2 PIM (for tripping), which ties me for the lead on my team, and my first official stat ever. I am a goon.  I’m sure this will pop up from time to time.

So what to do?  Keep talking about a lockout that has no end in sight?  I don’t want to do that, but I want to talk about something hockey related.  I want to podcast about hockey as well (and I haven’t really wanted to for a while).

I’m at a loss.  More than anything, I’m going to miss going to minor league games around the country.  The travel is expensive, and I don’t have the discretionary money I used to for hotels, food and gas (and tickets).  If I could, I would go all over the country watching all levels of hockey, and report back to you.  I would take you on a hockey tour of the nation.  For now, I might catch up on some of the games I didn’t post about when I saw them.  There are a few from the West Coast Hockey Tour that never made it to the blog (due to time constraints, we jump ahead in the action).

What do you want to talk about?  The CBA is boring, and every NHL meeting leads to dashed hopes. It’s too frustrating.  So I ask, what should we do here?  What are you still interested in?

The More Things Change


Locked Out!

Going into the latest CBA negotiations, we heard a familiar refrain from the last time the league imposed a lockout: some teams will lose less money not playing the season than they will if they do play.  Which says a lot about the NHL and it’s business.

Can you imagine if you ran a small business that was more successful the less business you did?  Does that make any sense?  Of course it doesn’t.  If you were serious about making your business a success, or at the least make it break even, you would reexamine your business plan.

Which is what the players brought to the table in their CBA offerings.  They brought a new structure to the owners that would help the smaller market, money losing teams.  They even conceded to taking less money, something no union in the world ever wants to do.  It’s never in the best interest of a union or collective bargaining association to take less money, unless it’s to save the business they are working in.  That alone tells you that the players took their tactic seriously.

We know what happened next.  The owners dismissed the offer out of hand.  As Merlin Mann says,

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The owners don’t want the players running their businesses.  It’s equivalent to making the players true partners in the league, not just partners in name only, as they were after the last lockout.

If you are the NHLPA, and you bring another proposal to the table, you have several groups you need to satisfy:

– The larger market owners, like the Rangers, Kings, Wild, Blackhawks and every Canadian franchise (yes, even Winnipeg).  They have enough money to make a profit, so they want one thing only, more money.  That means more salary rollbacks and less of that money going elsewhere.  They believe that they earned it (and a few of them have), rather than being a beneficiary of circumstance.  Like stepping out of ownership in Nashville and into ownership in Minnesota.

– The smaller market owners, who are bleeding money.  They need support in a system designed to make their operating costs go up the more successful other franchises become, regardless of how their market is doing.  They want a bigger piece of that $3.3 billion they keep hearing about, but aren’t seeing.  And the direct way to that piece is to take it from the players.  The larger markets will fight them to the death to keep their profits from going to the smaller markets, EVEN THOUGH the smaller market teams are as much are reason for the success of the league and the bigger market teams than anyone else.  The larger markets don’t get 82 games a season only playing 10 other teams.

– Gary Bettman and management.  If Bettman doesn’t get an NBA-sized concession from the players, he will look like a tool.  You could argue that he already does, this being his third CBA negotiation leading directly to a lockout in a row, but for some reason, that doesn’t resonate.  His success will rest on two numbers alone,  how much larger the $3.3 billion dollars can grow, and the percentage of that overall take that goes to the “owners.”  I say owners in quotes because it won’t go to the owners in an even or fair way.  How the money is distributed doesn’t matter to his legacy, and you better believe he is building a legacy.

There is only one thing that will satisfy all three groups: less money to the players.  The NHLPA were foolish enough to believe that they could make a proposal that would benefit the league as a whole, because the league doesn’t live as a whole, it lives as thirty siblings in the same family.  Foolish as they were, they were also bold and correct.  Even if the league will never dance to the player’s tune, they should be humming along because the players proposal is much closer to saving a thirty-team league than what the owners are demanding.

In an odd way, the owners are falling into the same trap as the fans have, believing that the money being spent on players is the main reason the owners are losing money.  It’s a factor, yes, but it isn’t the entire factor, and probably not the one needing the most adjustment.  This is how the owners should be saved from themselves.  They need a more even business model, the dreaded redistribution that the league doesn’t want to touch.  It would reduce sovereignty across the thirty teams.  The league doesn’t want that responsibility, and the teams don’t want to lose the independence.

Which means they will still be losing money when the players give back a bunch of money again.  Just like last time.