BLOG - HOCKEY & HEAVY METAL
SEPTEMBER 20, 2013 • 05:00 AM
I HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO
At long last, I got back onto the ice with full hockey gear, sticks and pucks this past Sunday. There are moments that you wait a long time for and this was one of them. When I skated out onto the ice there was a pile of pucks about 30 feet away, and I skated right over, knocked one loose with my stick and started slowly skating and stickhandling with it. It was a small step for hockey but a giant leap for me. It felt so, so good to finally be able to do that for the first time since 1984. One little victory.
Savor the moment.
And now let’s move on to self-critique. I have to admit that I was nervous before this class. I got to the rink a full 45 minutes before class started in order to ensure I had enough time to put on all my gear, correctly, as well as switch out the prosthetic devices. I found my way to the upstairs dressing room, and there was one guy there when I first arrived. Within in couple of minutes three other guys arrived and a coupe of them knew each other, but I was nervous and quiet and stayed down at the far end. As much as anything, I didn’t want to screw up putting on all the equipment by doing so in the wrong order. This is something that is definitely going to take some reclamation - I’m used to working out a lot and sweating a lot, but usually I’m just wearing gym clothes and not covering myself with an entire layer of complicated and bulky protective padding.
Soon enough I feel like the Sta-Puf marshmallow man as I slowly clump down the stairs to the rink. But at least I’m not the only one who feels a little odd - Adam, who was on my hockey skating class, is also breaking in a brand news set of pads today and it was good to have someone else who was doing the same thing. We all made our way around the rink to the player benches just as the Zamboni drove off the ice and the coaches dumped a couple buckets of pucks all over the ice. Once they gave us the all-clear we all headed out onto the ice, and they gave us a good 10 minutes or so just to skate around and do whatever, which was nice because it allowed me to just get used to the gear and to handling a puck on ice again.
At about 5:30 a whistle blew and practice started, headed up by Coach Patrick and helped out by Coach Brian, he of the hockey skating class. I’m pretty happy about this because both of these guys are really good at explaining the “why” behind everything that we do. We started with some really basic drills - just skating and stopping with one hand on the stick to start, then skating with pucks, and then passing pucks back and forth. I ended up standing next to Adam when they asked us to pair so we ended up being passing partners and we did pretty well, i.e. we only made a couple of not-so-great passes. Spending then better part of a year practicing my stickhandling on dry land definitely helped here, and I started to feel a little more comfortable about everything.
One thing I had forgotten about is that skating with a hockey stick seems to wear you down a lot more quickly than skating without one. Or maybe it was because I was really hot and not entirely comfortable in all the hockey gear. It’s not heavy, but it is hot and just moving around in it will make you sweat. Or maybe it was because I hadn’t drank enough water before class and I suddenly felt dehydrated about 20 minutes into class. Or maybe it’s because you’re supposed to be skating with your body bent low but your head held up, and maintaining that posture takes energy. Or maybe I was just nervous and so these little things all felt like one big thing as a result.
The real wakeup call came when we moved onto the final portion of the class. The first part of the drill involved all 20 of us skating around and stickhandling a puck around each other, and in order to increase the difficulty they would shrink the area every couple of minutes so there was far more traffic. I was doing reasonably well - I was periodically losing the puck because you’re supposed to be looking up and not at the puck when you are stickhandling (because you’ll otherwise get your head taken off during a game), but I don’t think I was doing any worse than anyone else to start. But then the final drill exposed a major weakness - 16 of us were told to continue skating around with pucks and 4 guys were appointed as “thieves” who were allowed to steal the pucks from people who had them, and if you had your puck stolen then you become a thief. I managed to go the better part of a minute without a confrontation but soon enough a guy came in and I tried, unsuccessfully, to stickhandle away from him. Clean steal.
But then when I tried to do the same to several others, I was unsuccessful. My left hand needs work, and what’s more, the hockey attachment I’m using has an inherent flaw - it’s relatively easy to uncouple the stick from the device, but it’s pretty much impossible to reattach it without stopping what you are doing and looking down. (If you check out the picture, you can see that the device “grips” the stick and allows easy movement up and down the shaft, but it’s made of a hardened rubber and you kind of have to push hard to get it back onto the shaft when it pops off. The placement has to be exact, and that detail does not bode well for game conditions because this is a game where things happen very quickly and if you look away for a second it can (and frequently will) cost you and your team. Not only that, I managed to jam the stick in between two guys skating in opposite directions and kind of ended up jabbing one guy in the ribs with the shaft. It was totally unintentional, but this will not make me popular and will not make me much of a player until I figure out how to work around this.
Fortunately, a big step forward may be close. I’ve mentioned TRS Prosthetics before, because they make every terminal device that I use for training and other heavy physical activity, and last night I was able to relate these events to Bob Radocy, the company’s owner. He said that the device I have is a relatively old design, and he’s also been in the process of talking with me and a couple others about what form an improved hockey device might take. One idea that is being considered was a magnetic breakaway attachment, but after this class my initial thought that I’d want an attachment that’s kind of shaped like a curlicue - one where the user can essentially make a quick circular motion with the forearm to secure or unsecure the device via centrifugal force, and one that would allow the stick to slide up and down fairly unimpeded to allow for a full range of movement, including a full wind-up for slap shots.
I have a lot of work to do, but that was never a secret. There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle, and the once it’s all put together I’ll be able to play a regular shift.