Hockey season is upon us: WHL started last week; NHL next week. Our home-town season opener is this Saturday, and we’ll be there with bells on. (Not literally; I really don’t like the cowbell thing at hockey games.) I’m back at the rink on a pretty regular basis, too. I’ve hit the ice twice already this week, and I also plan on skating Friday. Which brings us (with less ado than usual) to this week’s Thursday Thirteen: Thirteen Awesome Things About Playing Pickup Ice Hockey!
1. It’s an incredible cardio workout. It is a sprint sport. An hour of ice time gets your heart and lungs conditioned like nothing else I can think of. (Of course, there are some eggheads who want to rain on my parade, showing how it might be dangerous for your heart.)
2. It’s outrageous fun. I mean, even on a bad day, when I suck even more than usual, it’s more fun than just about anything I can think of. It must be the closest thing to flying, short of… well, flying.
3. There’s a certain primitive comraderie. It took me a while to get a feel for it, since there’s not a lot of chit chat. Just a lot of sweating and physical play. It feels kind of good to shove a guy out of the crease or battle for the puck in the corner. You’re all padded up, so it doesn’t hurt (much), and nobody takes it personally (usually). The guy who you just stole the puck from could be on your team next session (or next shift), so even while being fully competitive, everybody’s pretty mellow. There’s no checking unless you want to. Sometimes guys mistake me for someone who wants to, and I just retaliate by taking the puck from them.
4. In the time it takes to put on your shin guards and hockey socks, pull on your hockey pants, lace up your skates, strap on your elbow pads, put on the shoulder pads, wiggle into your jersey, don a helmet and gloves and brandish a big stick, you are transformed from working joe into gladiator. You are two or three inches taller, 35 pounds heavier and armed with a couple pounds of lumber. Anything that was weighing on your mind before you suited up is gone well before your blades touch the ice.
5. When your blades finally touch ice, you are liberated from friction. As you take your first strides across the ice sheet with the cool air on your face, you can feel the tension melt away.
6. The first 15 minutes or so of the session, you just skate around, warming up and working on edges. Or pass the puck with a buddy. Or shoot on the goalie or against the boards. Then the game is on. Sides are chosen based on who’s wearing what color. Typically, it’s something like white and red against blue, gray, black, yellow and green, or white and gray against black and red, but the guy in maroon is on the other side, or there’s two guys with aqua jerseys, and the guy with the white helmet is on our side and the other guy, he’s not playing, he’s just putting around. At any rate, we usually get a good 5-on-5 scrimmage going, and if we’re lucky we’ve got a couple subs per side and a couple goalies. It usually takes a few shifts to figure out who’s on which side, and even then I always end up making at least one or two solid tape-to-tape passes to a guy on the other side because I can’t keep all the colors straight. If we’re short, we’ll play 4-on-4, or 3-on-3 half ice. It’s like herding cats at first, but the anarchy always falls into a groove of some sort.
7. It’s a great equalizer. I skate with surgeons, house painters, software engineers, insurance salesmen, motorcycle mechanics, lawyers and rink rats. The age range is about 8-70 (literally). The doctors and lawyers have nicer sticks and skates, but they’re definitely not the best players. It’s those blue collar guys from Jersey and Quebec and Minnesota with the wood sticks and battered skates you’ve got to watch out for. And the longer I skate, the less often I’m the slowest guy out there. Nice.
8. No penalties. No shame. No icing. No goalies? No problem! Puck has to hit the pipes to score. But nobody keeps track of goals. No pressure.
9. If you’re in the lower 48, you gain entry into an exclusive club where everybody speaks the same language (that nobody outside the club speaks). Talk hockey to your heart’s content in the locker room, and nobody’s eyes glaze over, and nobody tries to talk about basketball. It’s a beautiful thing for a hockey fan to be among others who understand. (You Canadians probably don’t get this one, since you’re all in that club even if you don’t play. It’s a US thing.)
10. Water from a filthy porcelain water fountain never tasted so good.
11. When work is a drag, it’s gives you a reason to get out the door in the morning. Just a few hours at the job before it’s stick time!
12. It’s a healthy, constructive outlet for aggressive energy. Nothing like an hour of hard skating to dissipate some anger.
13. Fun + excercise = what’s the catch? It definitely doesn’t seem right that something this fun would be good for you. There’s got to be a catch… Oh yeah, it’s kind of expensive. $7.20 a session to skate, plus several hundred dollars worth of gear. But I think it’s worth it. Totally guilt free pleasure!
See you at the rink!