Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Rookie Diaries: Volume One

Back when I first started toying with the idea of having readers blog about hockey stories they wanted to see, James Huening came to me with his idea of starting hockey as a 30-something rookie. I was immediately intrigued, and I thought that this would be an excellent feature on this blog, but he wanted some input from the readers. After scribing an article explaining what he wanted to do, here is James with what will be a regular feature on this blog. HBIC is proud to bring to you James Huening's story, forever known as "The Rookie Diaries".

A couple weeks ago, I asked you, the reader, to let me know via a poll whether or not I should try organized hockey for the first time in my life. Despite a bit of a technical glitch with that poll, the votes did come in and it was unanimous. Everyone who responded chose the "go for it" option.

So that means the ball was in my court, er, maybe the puck was in my zone. Whatever. It was up to me to follow through and sign up already. Honestly, unless the voting was unanimously in the "don’t do it, old man" category, I was going to sign up anyway. (I still probably would have done it if everyone told me not to.)

So I called the Skokie Park District to see if there was any space available in adult novice hockey on Thursday nights. I was told that session was full but that they had plenty of space available in the intermediate level, which is on Wednesday nights. There are two coaches, so they’ll split everyone up and the novices will take half the ice and the more advanced players will take the other half.

After a brief conversation where I described my skating abilities and asked some general questions about the program, I decided that I’d give it a shot.

As I write this, I’ve done two sessions. Here’s how things have gone so far.

Week 1: September 15, 2010

  • I get to the rink and as I’m bringing my gear from my car to the dressing room, the first thing that occurs to me is that the old duffel bag I’m using is not going to cut it. I’ll need to pick up a real hockey bag.
  • A quick glance around and I see that there are some that are a bit younger but it’s mostly guys about my age. I was expecting some to be teenagers/college-age.
  • I get all my gear on and I’m sweating before I even get on the ice. C'mon Zamboni dude, let's go.
  • Coach Lew likes the Wisconsin jersey I’m wearing. So at least I've got one thing going for me.
  • OK, time to take the ice. And wow, it’s not in good shape. It’s really chewed up in some spots. I hope I don't blow out a knee or something.
  • Time for some warm-up laps and stretching exercises. OK, any minute now they’re going to split us up, right?
  • Sure enough, we’re getting split up, but it’s just at random. Half of us to the right, half to the left. Time for some skating drills.
  • By this point it’s pretty clear that we are not going to be divided up by skill level (or lack thereof). But hey, I think I can hang with these guys.
  • Oh yeah, that backwards thing. Maybe not.
  • A half hour left, so we’re going to play a scrimmage game. This should be interesting. I play my first shift and I don’t actually get my stick on the puck but I do manage to disrupt a decent offensive chance for the other team.
  • I go back to the bench and start talking to one of the guys. He played in college, but he hasn’t played in about 20 years. Obviously, he's a much better player than I am, but I'm in way better shape. Maybe I can hang after all. (I hope this guy's OK. He doesn't look so good.)
  • A few more shifts, nothing spectacular but I don’t completely embarrass myself, either. I’m getting really tired, though.
  • Time to head in and get this gear off. Gee, I really should have brought some clothes to change into. A towel would have been a good idea, too. I think I sweated out about 5 pounds.
  • Now I need to get home, shower quickly and get to bed ASAP. Need to wake up early to do some Habitat for Humanity work. I hope I’m not in too bad of shape for that.
  • Next morning? No pain at all, I’m just really tired.
  • Two days later? I can barely move my legs. I’m not sure if that's from hockey or the HFH thing. Maybe both? I did do a decent amount of lifting when I was helping out at the HFH store, but I’m thinking this is mostly from the hockey.
  • All in all, not bad. I’ll be back next week.

Week 2: September 22, 2010

  • New bag? Check.
  • The ice is in much better shape this week – very few rough patches.
  • This time around, all the skating/passing/stickhandling drills seemed to go much more smoothly for me.
  • Coach Lew even noticed that my backwards skating has improved over last week. Back straight, knees bent….
  • One minor screw-up during the game. I didn’t see the guy ahead and to the left of me (with nobody between him and the goal) so I took a pass that was clearly intended for him and promptly turned it over in the neutral zone. Ah, well, if it had been a better pass….
  • No sign of the guy I was talking to last week. I hope last week wasn’t too much for him.
  • I talked to someone else on the bench who also tried to get into the novice session and ended up in the intermediate like I did. He says he’s been taking skating lessons on Monday nights and it’s made a world of difference for him. I’m thinking that’s a good idea for me.
  • Next day: feeling pretty good.
  • Two days later: a little bit of soreness in my legs, but no real pain.

Now, I can't tell you how happy I am that James is playing hockey. I think that everyone should skate at least once, attend a pro hockey game once, and sit in an arena during a kid's hockey game and take in the passion. I know James has done the middle one, is working through the first one, and will probably be doing the last one shortly if he hasn't already. However, the bigger thing to me is James is trying something that he has always wanted to do.

I can't say that it's every child's dream to play in the NHL, but every hockey player has had that thought cross his or her mind at least once. While James will most likely never get an emergency call from the Chicago Blackhawks or Chicago Wolves, he is still doing something he has always wanted to do.

Isn't that unbridled joy and passion for the game exactly what sports are all about?

James will be updating up weekly though this feature, and I'm happy to feature his writing here! Good luck in the upcoming week, James!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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