I have always embraced new adventures and love a good challenge. I have been active my whole life. From basketball, soccer, track cross country, fishing, swimming, and hiking, I always had time to do something. I have competed in several half-marathon races, finished the LaSalle Banks Marathon in 2006 and crossed the finish line in two Chicago triathlon’s. I even made it through 3 rounds of boxing for a charity event. So when I met three ladies from the Chicagoland area at one of my Saturday night summer outings, the first question that they asked me was “Can you ice skate?” And my response was, “Sure, I can ice skate.” Then the next question was, “Have you ever played ice hockey?” My response, “Well yes I have, but that was in high school and it was on a pond hockey.” I could literally see everyone’s “wheels” starting to turn as they slowly began to recruit me to their hockey tryouts in August.
My background in ice skating started some 40 years ago. I managed to learn from my mom on a frozen pond in a forest preserve. After a short hike through trees, brush and snow while we wore our skates without any guards, we made it to the pond to learn how to fall and get back up on that below zero winter day. I will say this, I learned to appreciate snow pants. Those snow pants gave a little bit of cushioning to those falls and kept me dry. What I also learned as no matter how many pairs of socks you could wear, your feet still froze!
After that freezing cold skating lesson, I skated in indoor rinks when I had saved some allowance money and the outdoor ponds in the winter because they were free. I would watch figure skating competitions on the weekend and try and copy some of their maneuvers. They were so graceful and never seemed to fall. My girlfriend was lucky enough to be able to take figure skating lessons, so she taught me a few things here and there such as skating backwards and learning to do crossovers in at least one direction. By high school, I was actively playing the old school version of “pond hockey” with my brothers and the neighborhood kids when the weather cooperated. This consisted of a pretty rough game of hockey, co-ed (only because I wanted to play) with no precautions taken. When I mean “precautions” I’m talking about no protective hockey equipment. So, needless to say, you learned quickly to take pucks to the shin and suck it up. Falling on the ice just made you tougher. It didn’t matter if you had hockey skates or figure skates, any type will do and as far as a hockey stick, whatever was available that day would have to work. We played for hours on that pond. We would come home exhausted, with freezing cold hands and feet. But, the next morning, we would be up and at it again as long as it was cold enough and the pond was still frozen.
So back to the question of ice skating…well, I probably can’t even stand up anymore on ice skates. I am 47 years old and I haven’t been on skates in at least 6, maybe 7 or 8 years. What was I thinking? I am not 14 years old and my body has been through enough. But, how cool would it be to actually play on a team again and to play ice hockey? And this time around, there is actually protective gear to wear. So, why wouldn’t I at least tryout?
Now that I made my decision to try out for the All-Women’s Hockey League, I need to round up some gear. My first call was to find out who had some pads and gear to borrow. As most hockey players know that hockey is not the cheapest sport to get involved in. Skates alone can cost $500-$1000. Lucky for me, I had not one pair of skates, but two pairs. Skates are skates, right? Even if they are 15 years old and are no longer made, they will work. I can check that off my list. My mission was rounding up the pads and helmet. I called a good friend who has a son that used to play high school hockey. I figured I would borrow enough gear to get me through the tryouts and then re-asses after that. When I told my friend my agenda, he just started laughing. Then he asked me if I could even skate? I said sure, I did it 6, 7 or 8 years ago, of course I can. That just made him laugh even more. Well I did convince him to loan me his sons gear so that helped my wallet. I figured that if didn’t make the team, I wouldn’t be out a small fortune and I wouldn’t be stuck with gear that I would end up not needing. The only thing I would need to purchase was a helmet and a set of gloves that fit.
Once all my gear was in order, I called my youngest brother to tell him. See, both my brothers skate and skate well. They have been playing hockey since they graduated high school. Both have coached their kids and both have been injured playing. So of course when I call my youngest brother to tell him, he couldn’t stop laughing on the phone. His first question to me was, “Are you kidding me? You don’t even know how to skate.” Then my niece, who skates very well and plays on a traveling team, started laughing and told me that she could teach me and my whole team how to skate. No doubt she could! I have seen her skate and skated with her some years ago. She can skate. Anyways, once my brother realized I was serious, he made sure that he went over the order of gearing up. I remember him saying, you don’t want to look like you don’t know what you are doing in the locker room. If you gear up the right way, no one will know. Here is me…thinking, they may not know from putting gear on, but they are about to find out when I get on the ice and skate that I have no clue what I’m doing!
Once at the rink, I met up with the ladies that I met this summer on that Saturday night outing. They were excited to see me and glad I was there to try out. I met several other women that were on the team last year and were trying out to move up to another level. I also met a few new ladies that were like me who have never played before. Some played over the years and played in high school and college. Others just took the sport up this past summer. These women were not only hockey players, but had full-time careers as mothers, nurses, librarians, city workers, customer service representatives, technical support and retail workers. They were balancing their busy lives to play the sport that they loved. This was great, but I was still the oldest one there, trying to make the team and maybe going through a mid-life crisis in my late 40’s, while deciding that playing hockey is the best solution to the problem. What was I thinking?
Once on the rink, I observed people stretching along the wall, others were skating around and a few were taking shots on goal. For me, I had one goal, that only goal was do not fall. Well, that lasted about 10 minutes and down I went. Falling in your 40’s, even padded up, still hurts and leaves marks!
Finally, it was time to meet with the coaches and learn what drills we would be doing. Each coach was equipped with clips boards. I’m guessing to take notes on skaters and see who has improved and who hasn’t.
We skated forward, backward, did some passing drills and shots on goal. I remember falling several times that day, but I stuck out the entire hour. By the end, I was tired, sweaty, and my body was beat up. I couldn’t wait to go home and soak in my hot tub. I was mentally and physically exhausted, and I was also proud of myself. Here I am, starting sport that I have loved watching on television and attending for years, but now I was going to do my best to be a part of it and play it.
The following week, I did my second tryout for the team. We ran through skating drills, passing drills and shooting drills again. Not only was I still out of shape, I also learned that my brain needed an additional coaching staff to re-program it to learn all these hockey drills. I felt like it was about to explode! I was trying to interpret the coach’s squiggly lines, then X’s and then arrows to determine where I’m supposed to skate too. This was definitely something new for me. Skate here, turn here, pass there, and shoot the puck in the goal. There was only one agenda this practice and that is to make the team on my own. Well, maybe two goals, make the team and try not to fall.
Once tryouts were completed, it was time to sit back and wait for the roster list to come out. After 2 weeks, the list was posted. I remember sitting at work looking at the list. I was in alphabetical order. I finally reached the K’s and there was my name. I had made the Division 7 team! I had to do a double take and check it again. Yep, there is my name. Next call, was to my younger brother and he started laughing and said congratulations. He also said, well, you have your work cut out for you. Start with bending your knees!