I played my first game in a brand-new hockey league for beginners last Saturday. It was the most fun I've had on the ice all year.
The Heartland Novice Hockey League is exactly what "hockey noobs" in and near Chicago were hoping for: a league by beginners and for beginners like me. Participants were carefully screened to make sure that very experienced players don't try to sneak into the league, and the talent was evenly split between teams.
A fellow new player named Mike, who I've played some rat hockey with, started the league and asked me to help. I wanted to see this idea get off the ground, so I did what I could to help promote it, both here on the blog and by telling every beginning player I knew. Mike also asked me to be a team captain. I have no delusions of grandeur -- I've only been playing six months -- but I agreed.
One of the cool things about being a captain is that I got to name my team. Thus, we are "Blades of Steel," named after the awesome Nintendo video game from the late 1980s. We don't have our team jerseys yet, but trust me -- they will be awesome.
Another plus of being a captain is that I had some control over selecting players for my team. So I made sure to pick my friend Anthony, as well as a fellow Columbia College teacher and some of the guys I know from the Hockey 101 & 102 classes at Johnny's Ice House.
Our first game was against a team with an equally-cool name: the Heartland Whalers. (For those who don't know, that's a nod to an NHL team from the 1980s and 1990s called the Hartford Whalers.) The Whalers had us back on our heels for the first two minutes. We could not clear the puck out of our zone to save our lives.
Finally, things settled down, and the game was pretty much a back-and-forth affair. The Whalers scored first, but Blades of Steel ended up winning 7-4. The game was a lot closer than the score let on.
Early in the third period, my center won an offensive-zone face-off and drew the puck back to me on the blue line. I took aim, shot and scored! This was the first-ever goal I scored in an organized hockey game. When I didn't see it go up on the scoreboard right away, I asked the referee if it counted...much to the amusement of some of the Whalers players who knew me from hockey class.
At the time, this increased our score to 5-2, so it was really an insurance goal. But the Whalers scored a few more, so my goal ended up becoming the game-winner: another first for me.
Late in the third period, I also got my first-ever penalty. I've been clean as a whistle through 10 games in the Franklin Park league, but needed only one game here. My team had just allowed a goal a few moments before -- due to my being caught out of position -- so there was no way in hell I was going to allow another goal to happen on my shift. The opposing player had a step on me. I tied up his stick, and his arm came up and pushed me backwards (according to my teammates and a friend in the stands). I fell, but was sure to drag my opponent down to prevent a breakaway, which resulted in a two-minute holding penalty.
Fortunately, the Blades of Steel penalty kill was efficient, and didn't allow a goal while I was in the sin bin.
Sure, winning is fun. But even if we lost, I still would have enjoyed myself. And I know we won't win 'em all. It was awesome competing with and against others who are learning to play. I look forward to many more games in this new league.
If you are still thinking about learning how to play hockey, now is the time. Take some lessons (see the Resources page to find lessons at a rink near you) and you could be ready for the Heartland Novice League when their next season starts at the end of March. A few months ago, playing in an organized league was the furthest thing from my mind. And now here I am, a team captain in a D-League.
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Filed under: Hockey Games