It’s ironic that Montreal Canadiens’ goalie Carey Price made me reflect on hockey. An injury to the franchise player on November 25, 2016 was initially thought to be just a “week or two” thing. Price hasn’t seen a game since that day and isn’t sure he will before the end of the season or the playoffs, if the Canadiens make it – things aren’t looking good for him or the team.
Skate backwards twenty-plus-years to when I played roller hockey in the sunny Southern states with a group of loyal compatriots and thought that I was pretty good at what I was doing. I could go side-to-side, change direction in a flash, skate backwards, I could go pretty fast and I damn sure wasn’t afraid to stop on a dime. There was also the roller hockey side – I could dish, I could put the puck where I had to (ok, the roller hockey ball). I was also “that kid” out there with the ice hockey gloves, yeah I know, but I went to Pennsylvania for a wedding and made my dad go to a hockey store. Hell I even played goalie pretty damn well – my one memory is stopping a penalty shot by using my forehead to block the ball.
We weren’t organized and didn’t put money into much, just sticks and the ball when we could. We didn’t care about wearing masks and this was before Bryan Berard and Marc Staal had eye injuries (sorry guys!). We didn’t know any better either, we just did it for the typical “love of the game.”
We didn’t have any ice either – the NHL was just realizing that Northern “snowbirds” were screaming for hockey in Florida so they were installing two franchises in Tampa Bay and Miami. A kid we went to school with, thought he was going pro (we might have been a little jealous), toted around a hockey stick and ice skates because he went to a rink that was an hour and a half away to play ice hockey. None of us could afford to either drive that far away or buy all that ice hockey equipment, nor would our parents take us. Okay we were a lot jealous.
We did have a local hockey team in the East Coast Hockey League, the Hampton Roads Admirals, that our pro ice hockey kid learned from. That’s where I learned my love of ice hockey, that and our local cable channel Home Team Sports that showed almost every Washington Capitals game. Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin taught me a lot about the game because they were the only ones I had to learn from.
Locally the Admirals were coached by John Brophy, the same John Brophy who melted down on the bench of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 80’s. Good times. He did his fair share of melting down in the ECHL. It was quite comical.
But we played probably ten games max of roller hockey at a tennis court on the edge of town. A nice barely used tennis court, well-lit and out of the way but the Southern sun made it ridiculous to use during the day, so we played at night.
Until one summer night when some guys came out of nowhere with trouble on their mind. I’ll tell you, there wasn’t much to me – 5-foot-10, 150 pounds max with skates on. It was probably 9 or 9:30 at night and we had the lights on skating and I notice them, that’s always been something that I was good at was noticing my surroundings, and I noticed these guys coming up that obviously did not have skates. One goes up to the breaker box for the lights and I’m planning my exit the whole time. No one else had any clue what was about to go on. Lights go out and I’m gone like the Russian Rocket. I don’t know if I’ve ever skated or ran faster in my life. Ten minutes later it was over and we hauled ass out of there never to return.
We still wanted to play and we tried to play at the tennis courts at the high school in town but the one night we tried someone called the cops on us – citing the trespassing sign. I got tossed in the back of a cop car with skates still on my feet along with my fellow hockey players. Imagine that, instead of bringing drugs or weapons to school we were playing hockey on the tennis courts! Priorities.
After that, the most roller hockey I played was in my driveway with a goal I built from two-by -fours and a net I bought at a sporting goods store. I skated so many times in the same circle that I wore the wheels down on an angle and I worked on a slap shot that broke the window of my parent’s garage door at least twice. But I had nowhere else to go “for the love of the game.”
Finnish flash twenty-plus-years to Carey Price, “I want to be out there playing the game I love.” Price continued, “that’s been the goal this entire time, to be able to come back with 100 per cent confidence, I didn’t want to come back at 90 per cent and still have that mentally kind of shadow overcast. We wanted to come back and make sure that I can compete at 100 per cent and lay it all out there because if you still have that mental block, you can’t play at your best.”
I followed hockey for those 20 plus years, even though I was introduced to hockey by the Admirals and Capitals (and early 80’s with Macgyver’s Calgary Flames hat) I was always a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Being a Buffalo Bills fan I guess it’s something about the area – or maybe it’s something about lovable losers, I can say it I’m a fan. I wrote Doug Gilmour when he was at the Leafs and was sent back an autographed picture. I still have it to this day. I always admired the goalies, don’t ask me why but Jocelyn Thibault has always been my favorite player (I’m ducking – I know I know but Felix Potvin was never far behind). These days Henrik Lundqvist gets the nod, and I support Jayson Megna since I’ve seen him skate at Wilkes-Barre Scranton. Which brings me full circle.
So after seeing hockey live, I decided maybe it was time to get back on ice skates and roller blades and see what I could do. Looking up ice rinks it turned out that the one near Wilkes-Barre Scranton was the closest one. My daughter wanted to skate too, at 10 years old she decided it was time for her to learn to play hockey. Ice hockey. So now, we’re both learning. We both have to learn to skate – I have to “re-learn” and she has to start the process. For me, it’s getting back and believing in myself, that I can do it. For her, it’s believing that her skates won’t fail her, that she can stay balanced. Carey Price talked about it, the confidence – you have to have it.
There’s something about that rink, along with the smell of the ice – you know? You look at it and first maybe you are thinking “ok it’s not so bad, all these guys and girls are doing it.” But then you step on it and you fall. Then you fall again. When you are a kid it’s not a big deal you have all these years ahead to learn. But as an adult you are thinking “I should know how to do this,” especially if when you are younger you knew how to roller blade like a champ. But this is so different. The ice will eat you up. There’s nothing like getting on that ice. It’s so intimidating. Especially if you see other people out there skating with sticks and pucks and they make it look so damn easy.
Guys or girls your age or younger. I skated from one side to the other and considered it an achievement until I saw a young lady skate backwards faster than I skated forward. How the hell do you do that? And don’t get me started on bending my knees. How do I stay so bent? And puck handling? Try to shoot the puck and fall on your face. It’s ridiculous. I just feel like a failure. Then I watch someone else zing them in. Then I try to pick myself up the ice and slip again. It’s a natural thing isn’t it?
Or go watch the NHL and they make it look so easy and get paid half as much as baseball players. Hell, that’s not right. I’ll never complain about a hockey player being terrible. I’m terrible. Don’t pay me. Pay me to stay off the ice. I’m awful. They say you just have to keep going back and training and training. I get how people with so much talent wash out now. I understand. If you lose confidence it’s going to eat you up. It’s tough. I gotta get back on the skates – I think?