Mike Chen over on From the Rink had a post the other day about favorite hockey memories; in this case, it's off-ice hockey memories. I almost posted something in the comments about that, but I decided to post something here instead. I figured, why not, right? We’re in the middle of the hockey desert known as July & August, and we’ve got to have something to talk about.
I used to play hockey before I blew out my ankle in a street hockey game. And, quite frankly, there’s nothing better. Every day I think about what I’d need to do in order to play again. Yes, it really is that good.
I started watching hockey when I was 19 years old. There was a major junior team in the town most of my family lived in, and they were the Tacoma Rockets (who have since moved to Kelowna, BC). I’d just wandered in with a friend to watch the Rockets play the Spokane Chiefs in a playoff game, and I was hooked – despite the sight lines in the Tacoma Dome being absolutely awful.
A group of girls were in the same section that my friends and I sat in, and we’d gotten to know each other the following season. We decided that while watching the game was fun, we wanted to play, too. At the time, there wasn’t a women’s hockey program in Tacoma, Washington, so we started one of our own. At the time, in the early 1990s, we were the largest women’s hockey program on the West Coast.
I played defense, for two reasons. One, my favorite player on the Rockets was a defenseman, Michal Sykora – who actually played for the Lightning at one point, but was drafted by the San Jose Sharks. The other reason – the main reason I chose defense – was that I was never any kind of a scorer when I played in any other sport. But, I was always good defensively, so I thought that’d be a good fit. My natural position is center, though, since that’s where I’d played in basketball in school. And I was about to change to center when I screwed up my ankle worse than it already was from playing basketball.
The rink manager was our coach, and he was from Edmonton. So for all of you purists, I guess you could say that we were taught how to play right. I remember him saying once that if you couldn’t feel your toes when you laced up your skates, then you’d laced them up tight enough to play. The nice part about having the rink manager as your coach is that we got some sweet ice time at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. In any other situation, we would’ve ended up with something like 5:30 am or 11:30 pm.
Incidentally, the Seattle Thunderbird’s equipment manager also worked at that same rink, so we were also taught how to deal with our gear in the right way as well. He rigged my helmet up for me so that I’d only have one strap to rip off if I got into a fight. Which is no mean feat, especially considering women are required to wear full cages. With a full cage, there are usually two straps you have to rip off to take the darned helmet off.
So after all of that preamble, here’s my favorite hockey memory.
Before practice, after the ice had been resurfaced, a few of us would get out on the rink early. We’d ditch our sticks in the bench, and line up on the goal line. Then we’d take a running start and skate as hard as we could for the nearest blue line. Then we’d drop to see how far we’d slide.
It was a contest, you see – who could slide the farthest on a clean sheet of ice. For those of you who have never worn full hockey gear, falling onto your stomach is much like falling into a bed. You land on your knees and elbows, and then stretch out. It was great fun. And it didn’t really matter who won, since the whole point was really having a reason to do it.
Hockey isn’t all seriousness. That’s why I enjoy going to watch NHL practices. You often see the guys have fun and do the silliest things, and I enjoy that. It reminds me of when I played and how our practices were. I love the game, but sometimes, practices are just more fun.