I am approaching my one-year anniversary. Last January, 2011, was the first time I played ice hockey. I fell in love. A year later, I thought it might be fun to revisit my impressions as a middle-aged woman playing ice hockey....here ya go. -Val
Originally written February 9, 2011
It was already snowing when I got to the rink at 9pm. The Old Coach told me that he was going to cancel the class, and we’d do it another night, but we were welcome to stay and skate around for a while. Since I’d been feeling like hell all day and managed to get there under the steam of a fistful of Motrin and several healthy slugs of Robitussin, I figured I might as well stay. What started out as just a skate-around turned into a full-fledged two hours of scrimmage. No one left, except the Old Coach. The other coach let us skate for a bit then whistled us in and told us we were going to just play, like you’d play a pickup game. Pick two teams, and sub ourselves in and out.
Who wants to guess what’s worse than being picked last?
I was captain this week. Me and Nicole. Captains. One of the coaches jerked his thumb over his shoulder and said, “Yup, two girl captains. Go.”
I totally copped out and picked Goose first. Then I picked his brother, because as Goose pointed out, we for sure didn’t want to play against him. Then the Islanders-jersey guy, for the same reason (and I have to say, either he can’t understand English well enough to converse, or he just really dislikes me, because I was getting some seriously disdainful vibes off this guy this week). After that I pretty much took whoever Goose told me to. Let’s face it, Goose picked our team. Nicole picked Artoum before I got to him, but I snagged Billy and Brown Sweatshirt from last week. I felt like I should have picked the girls first, but instead I picked the guys I knew were the best players – why do I get the feeling that guys don’t worry about these niceties when they pick teams? It’s possible I think entirely too much.
When I mentioned to Goose that I knew I had completely copped out, he told me that sometimes one of the best things a captain can do is delegate. He was joking, but he was also right. I am not a leader; I never have been. I am perfectly happy to do my job as best I can and contribute to the team, but I have no desire to be the star. When I am forced into a leadership role, I defer to those who know more than I do. Some of it is fear of failure, but more of it is sheer laziness. To quote my brother, I’m just a foot soldier – and I am more content that way, much less stress.
It was snowing pretty hard, and we kept losing the puck under the snow. Eventually we switched to a hockey ball, which was pretty comical because it moved so much faster than the puck. If someone knocked it out, they’d jump the wall and go dig around in the snow for it, and then we’d pick up where we left off.
I had a decent defensive game but oh my god, could I suck any more on offense? I can’t keep the puck on my stick to save my life; one of the other forwards passed me this soft little drifter, probably just to be nice to me, and I totally bobbled it and got pickpocketed by the other team’s winger. It got so I felt like the other team would see a pass go to me, and they’d descend, knowing I couldn’t hold onto it for love or money. It was downright embarrassing. Also, as the snow came down harder, people started leaving, and I switched onto the other team so the numbers would be even. That engendered a lot of confusion; a couple moments of not knowing which way I was supposed to be heading, and who I was supposed to be defending (I had one guy shout at me, You’re on my team, and I had to shout back, No, I’m not, anymore! Damn baby blue jersey is too noticeable…). It wasn’t just me, though, at that point the teams were so mixed up that we might as well have had a free-for-all on the ice. But I hate feeling that confused. So many of the people I play with seem so confident, like they know exactly where they are supposed to be when and what they’re meant to be doing. I have no way of knowing if they are faking it, if they feel as inferior and doubtful as I do on the inside. One of the other women, who plays at Mt Lebanon, asked me if this was the first time I’d played. When I said yes, she expressed surprise. Either she’s delusional, or my utter lack of regard for my personal well-being and complete unconcern for whole bones is making an impression on someone, at least. But I still feel like I don’t have a clue, and it’s a distinctly unpleasant feeling.
Scott the rink manager Zambonied the rink for us about halfway through, and the ice was better for about 10 minutes, but eventually we had to give up. The snow was just coming down too hard. He had already canceled his pickup game normally scheduled for after our class, and I don’t think he expected us to last as long as we did. I got home at midnight, and I paid for my folly the next day with a resurgence of lovely flu symptoms, but it was worth it.
Because I realized this past week that I am in love. This obsession is the closest thing to being in love I have experienced other than, well, actually being in love.
I can’t stop talking about hockey; I want to talk about it with everyone I see – the waitress at the Eat ‘n’ Park, the lifeguard at the gym, the moms clustered around the school doors at the end of the day. It’s so cool and awesome, I just want to tell everyone. Like when you can’t help dropping your new boyfriend’s name into every conversation like some ridiculous junior high schooler, like when you stay up way too late with the new object of your affection, knowing you’re going to be dead on your feet at work the next day.
I am in love with playing hockey. I am in love with the idea of my playing hockey. I think about it all the time – in the shower, swimming laps, cooking dinner. I finagle and justify spending as much time as possible skating or reading about it or signing up for yet another session: it’s good exercise, it’s late at night so it’s not taking time away from my family and other responsibilities – sad truth is, even if it weren’t, or were, it wouldn’t matter. I am in love.
I went out in the rain to skate backwards in circles for an hour; this is the act of a lunatic, or someone in love, or both. I spent another hour Saturday night skating three feet and skidding to a stop, left, right, left, right. Nothing is boring – it is all for the greater good of playing hockey.
Heaven knows I’ve been in worse relationships.
Learn the fundamentals of the sport and improve your skills.
Many of you have heard that RMU Island Sports Center is discontinuing the Island Storm Women's Learn to Play Hockey Program. No reason was given for this. When we posted about this on our Facebook page, we had a lot of comments asking why and/or how this could happen when the program is always full. Out of this response a friend created a Save Island Storm Facebook page and Valley Hockey has expressed interest in starting their own women's only skills and scrimmage program based on the overwhelming comments on our Facebook page thread. Here is the email Valley Hockey has sent to us and others:
Valley Hockey is looking at a WOMENS ONLY skills and scrimmage class for 6 weeks starting in June, we are seeking out interest in the Valley Hockey Community. WHO IS INTERESTED? please respond to this email so we can get a head count. the cost for the 6 sessions would be determined by how commitments we get.
Be sure to email Valley Hockey if you are interested in their program. Hopefully they will be able to continue the women's only learn to play hockey program!
Pittsburgh Women's Hockey Resource Blog
Charlene Bidula, Sara Petyk, Cori James and Val Sweeney blog about local women's hockey news, tips, teams and anything else they find helpful to all the women hockey players in Pittsburgh!