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.)
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.