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
The second hockey session was better than the first. Odd, because I was much, MUCH more nervous last night than I was the first session. Possibly - most likely - because I now knew how bad I was. I wasn't harboring shameful, secret delusions that somehow I was going to turn out to be a hockey natural. I've never been a natural at any sport in my life. I was an enthusiastic but lousy gymnast, an enthusiastic but lousy (and blind) basketball player, an enthusiastic and good swimmer, but slow as molasses, and, well, I can't call myself a "runner" with a straight face, I am a "plodder." Eleven-minute miles, my friends - I know people who walk faster than I "run." I am not sure why, in the deep, hidden depths of my twisted brain, I thought for one minute - one second - that I might turn out to be a natural at hockey. The only thing at which I will ever turn out to be a natural, should the opportunity arise, is the peasant work my sturdy body is genetically designed for: digging potatoes and herding cows and churning butter. I am solid and slow and can go forever, like the freaking Energizer bunny - exactly what you want in a farmhand, not so much in an athlete. At any rate, we live in the 21st century and I don't live on a farm and I want to play hockey.
I had done some research and visited the pro shop again, and was now completely and accurately outfitted. Most important for a few reasons were the jock shorts that go under everything. They look like spandex bike shorts, with Velcro patches to use as garters for your socks. They also enabled me to strip down in the locker room without a second thought - well, I had a few second thoughts, but decided I was being ridiculously silly, since I was stripping down to Lycra shorts and a technical running shirt while half the men were wandering around blithely in their tighty whiteys. After I strapped on my shinguards, my new pale blue hockey socks went on top, attached securely to the shorts via their Velcro, and then wrapped with tape. The padded hockey shorts go on top - the shorts pretty much feel like you are wearing an all-encompassing diaper of sorts, but it also helps you feel invincible. I fell on my butt several times last night and barely felt it. (Unfortunately, the shorts also make you think twice about thinking you need to pee.)
My jersey is solid pale blue - my ten-year-old pointed out that I looked like I was wearing Penguins alternate uniforms. Not at all my intention - in fact, the thought that I would want to mortified me, kinda like how I am embarrassed for grown men who wear other grown men's names on their backs - but too late to worry about that now. I was not especially pleased when one of the guys called my jersey and socks "baby blue" but oh well. By the end of the scrimmages, my team was calling me "Blue" so, fine. (No one really knows anyone else's names - I defy you to identify one out of twenty five people when you're all in full hockey gear.)
I felt a lot more comfortable this week - both because I'd gone skating twice last week, and because I felt less fragile all geared-up. Also, people knew me now. I was putting faces to jerseys and recognizing people, and people recognized me, and I realized we were all pretty damn happy to be out on the ice playing hockey. There was a new guy there this week - a tall Indian guy with a red bandanna doubling as his Sikh headwear under his helmet. He unabashedly confessed that he was completely thrilled to be there, and that playing hockey was a long-held dream. It's not like any of us suit up to skate around in the freezing cold at 930 at night because we feel sorta lukewarmish about something, right?
Drills focused on puck-handling and skating skills this week. Despite the fact that I am still the slowest skater, I figured out the basic wrist-turn of proper puck handling pretty easily and the two-on-one drills went much better because of it. (Although when I wryly mentioned that I wish I'd thought to bring my Velcro stick, several people laughed. The puck skittered away from all of us pretty regularly, the slippery little bugger.) I need to work on my backward skating, which I plan to do tonight when I, um, go to the 930 public skating session. Who, me, obsessed?
I know you'll all be relieved to learn that I was not the last person picked this week - take THAT, junior high - I was second to last. But the guy who was last is actually a good skater - in fact, I happen to know he teaches hockey clinics for little kids. So I do think my husband's right and it's much more about who knows who than everyone carefully watching the drills and picking out the best players.
The scrimmaging was So. Freaking. Fun. With all the new padding, I worried a lot less about 1) falling down, and 2) getting hurt. The slow skating hurt me in the defensive zone, but I am definitely already getting better at reading the puck bounces and knowing where I am supposed to be - even if it takes me forever to get there. I contentedly played defense for a few shifts before our de facto captain shouted, "Hey, Blue, play up this time!" and I found myself on right wing, opposite my friend Sonia. I didn't disgrace myself, I can say that. I didn't suddenly turn into Billy Guerin but I managed. I even got my stick on the puck and moved it up a few times. Next shift I happily returned to defense where I promptly - and accidentally - checked someone into the boards.He asked if I was hurt. I snapped at him, No, are YOU? He had three inches and fifty pounds on me, though, so he was fine. [Note: Last night Sara & I discussed how only women playing hockey apologize. This leads me to my mantra: "There's no I'm sorry in hockey!" (Unless there's blood &/or broken bones...)]
It was a great night. On shift breaks I talked to two of the coaches a little - the old one (what? He IS. He's as old as dirt, by the looks of him. Hell, he might be OLDER than dirt. But he can still skate) [Um, yeah. Phil.] and the skinny, mouthy one [yeah, Jason]. Nice guys. Enthusiastic about hockey, knowledgeable as all get out, and thoroughly happy to be running this clinic. Nice.
Now I just need to figure out where in this town one can get a beer after midnight and Monday night hockey will be practically perfect.
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!