Teaching an old dog new tricks: I learn to play hockey.

Danny Gray
December 21 2011 12:28PM

 

This small child is a better hockey player than me

A few weeks ago I played a game of pick-up hockey in full equipment for the first time in my life. I had never been a strong skater growing up, so it has been a bit of a challenge but entirely worth it. I’m hooked. Playing three hour long pick-up games has given me some new insights into the game I already loved.

I am hardly adopting the stance that “if you never played the game” you are unqualified to speak about it and your opinions and insights invalid. Simply that you gain a more nuanced and deeper understanding as a result of seeing the game from the players’ perspective, irrespective of the level you play at.

Here are the things that stand out the most to me after only three games.

 

 

Holy hell does the game move fast:

I always knew that hockey was “the fastest game on ice” but you really cannot appreciate how fast until you try to keep up with the pace while lacking the most basic of skills. And this is Sunday morning pick-up against guys who never got near any sort of professional play. Even watching a game in person does not convey simply how fast the game moves.

I think this may be part of the reason that big lanky skaters get the reputation of being lazy. If they aren’t moving their legs like crazy they must be just floating out there.

Needless to say I often get back into the play just as it moves in the other direction, so I spend a lot of time skating between the bluelines, getting nowhere fast.

 

Almost everything that looks “simple” is absolutely not:

I used to get enraged when Kessel did his patented skate hard into the offensive zone and cut hard into the middle and fell over. Now I’m amazed that he is able to do the move with enough regularity for it to become a staple of his. I have enough trouble stopping and changing directions in general, and this is without the puck, often completely uncontested. I can’t fathom doing it at top speed with the puck on my stick and a defender draped over me. I’ll take it easy on Phil the next time he catches an edge.

 

Scoring a goal is a lot of fun:

Hockey players are supposed to act all non-chalante and “like they’ve been there before” after scoring each goal. After banging in a loose puck for my first ever goal, I was throwing my glove into the air and shooting it, Selanne style; in my mind, in realty I just shrugged and smiled like I got lucky. It’s funny that even though I’ve never played, I intuitively knew how I was “supposed” to behave out there. I get why NHL players don’t celebrate wildly after every goal, but it must be hard for them to resist the temptation.

Right now I’m only playing once a week, but will be able to play more once the outdoor rinks open up. To anyone out there who hasn’t played, either ever, or in a long while, get out there. I’m 26, it’s never too late.

To those with more experience playing, I’d welcome any advice you think would be helpful to someone like me. 

 

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Danny once met Doug Gilmour and it changed his life. Had he met Bret Hart the same day he would not have been able to handle it. He can be found on Twitter @ACatNamedFelix.
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#1 The '67 Sound
December 21 2011, 12:38PM
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I'm assuming you're playing wing since positionally it's the easiest.

When you're backchecking, pick up a man, don't just skate aimlessly towards your own end. Get ready to lift his stick if a pass comes.

Once in your zone, keep it simple and cover the damn point.

Even the worst player is tolerable on your team if he backchecks and covers the point. Even highly skilled players are maddening to have on your team if they don't do these two things.

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#3 ryantologist
December 21 2011, 12:53PM
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Very cool perspective. I don't think I've ever known someone going through his intro to playing after reaching an age at which he could effectively articulate the experience. I'll look forward to updates.

Be willing to do things that would make you yell at your TV if a pro did them. Giving up a couple extra steps to the puck carrier probably won't burn you in pickup, and it might buy you time to recover if you bite too early (which you will).

Celebrate your ass off. People who think it's uncouth to be happy about goals stink.

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#5 Draglikepull
December 22 2011, 07:31AM
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Cool piece. I'm kind of in a similar position to you - I've played the odd game of pickup, but I never played ice hockey in an organized league growing up because it was too expensive, and I'm not a great skater.

I was actually hoping to get into a beginner league this winter, but there are no leagues close enough to me that I could get to (as I have no car). It's cool to be able to see someone else have that experience (even though I realise this was just one game).

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#6 David
December 22 2011, 07:37AM
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I started about 4 years ago with little to no skating ability. I too have a vast respect for what I see in the NHL now.

Keep it going, you will only get better. I love it and wonder why I did not discover this sooner.

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#7 Neil Meneses
December 22 2011, 12:16PM
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"Even the worst player is tolerable on your team if he backchecks and covers the point."

This.

If you're still learning the game, head to the net in the offensive zone. Be the guy who mucks it up in front of the net, screen the keeper, and keep your stick on the ice. Get a few "ugly" goals, and it will build your confidence.

Also, short shifts.

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#8 Tom Holder
December 22 2011, 10:38PM
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1. laugh at yourself 2. shoot 25 forehand and 25 backhand a day in the basement 3. stickhandle figure eights around a couple of pucks spaced about shoulder width apart for a few minutes each day 4. go public skating and practice keeping your knees bent and butt down 5. seriously, laugh at yourself 'cause you are going to make some friggin' funny mistakes out there

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#9 Test
December 31 2011, 05:21PM
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My only hockey move is to pick one of 360 degrees at random and fire the puck

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