There will come a time in your adult novice ice hockey career when you look into your hockey bag and realize you have a cheap jersey with a lousy, generic iron on vinyl design. Congratulations! You are now on a team.
In my case, I have a spot on the "Detroit Red Wings" are we're proudly sporting bright gold jerseys. My team (or teamlet) is a part of league that plays 3 on 3 on the studio ice at Johnny's Ice House West. This has been working out well for me since I still skate too slow to hack it on a full sheet of ice very well and struggle with 180 degree turns. Having the puck banging around the small sheet of ice like a pinball is giving me more opportunities to figure out what to do with my hockey stick. And it's been a lot of fun, too!
What has been less fun is all of the times we have been short players. We have played a short bench 3 times out of the last five games and have never had a full bench at all. Of the past five games on a 9-person team, we have had 5 players one game and 4 players for two games. The real kicker was last Saturday, because right before our fifth game had started it was perfectly clear that we only had 3 players.
My teammates, Loren and Mike, and I were on ice for every second of the 25:00 minutes running clock. The only way we could have been more hosed would have been if our goalie Ryan decided to bail and head off for a beer. The 3 on 3 league plays two 25:00 minute running clock "halves" with a short break in between. It takes me a while to warm up and get moving, around ten minutes to shake off the stiff feeling, but the long continuous shift that game took me from stiffness to flared up joint pain and my muscles screaming at me. At one point I just bent forward and rested my ribcage on the boards and lifted my heels to take the pressure off my screaming knees for a second or two. I think people thought I was going to puke, but really my stomach was fine. Getting a two second break was probably more a psychological benefit than an physical benefit, but it helped.
Our one stroke of luck was that the team we were up against has the most players with the least amount of playing experience. They started the game with 5 players and were able to play in shifts. Their advantage lied in having some younger guys on their bench against our line of 40 - 56 year olds. None of them seemed to be huffing and puffing or turning a deep shade of red somewhere between "exertion" and "heart attack". One player that skated particularly well was confident in moving the puck and taking shots.
We were given the option to forfeit but committed to go all in and play. Our goalie, Ryan, was completely on board and was a warrior the whole game. Ryan had to stop a lot of 1-0 and 2-0 breakaways as we were trying our hardest to keep moving but hustling back for defense was not always happening due to exhaustion.
Loren rolled out fighting at the top of the clock, bringing in a 3-0 lead for our side that we hung onto until the bottom on the first half. There is no icing rule so we cleared the puck and let the other side bring it out of the corners and back toward us, waiting for them on the red line rather than skating coast to coast. We held the 3-0 lead until the bottom ten minutes.
I think the other team was getting frustrated. They worked harder on moving the puck into the attacking zone and got on the board around the nine minute mark, putting us at 3-1. Then they went hard the last three minutes, racking up 2 more goals; our side got another in the net and the buzzer went off with us in the lead 4-3.
I dumped my helmet and gloves, poured water over my face, gulped down more water, poured again and saw that Victoria had shown up to play, bringing our bench up to a total of four. I felt like I had managed to sweat out my soul. I was boiling hot, kind of shaky and my muscles were on fire. I laid down on the ice and just watched my sweat steam rising to the flourescent lights above while my heart pounded. The ice softly melted into a rounded depression cupping the back of my head. The ice felt good but what felt better was knowing I could go all in and not have to do more than a triple shift. After a 25:00 minute shift, a triple shift was going to seem like a vacation.
The other team was one goal away from tying up the score and it seemed to me they were looking at us like hungry wolves that just found baby lambs. They had another player show up late and were up to 6 players and would not have to double shift anyone. I wasn't in the mood to be eaten, so I taunted them. If they were going to beat us they were going to have to work their butts off for it. None of us were going to let them walk in and take it.
Goalie Ryan was jumping on the puck left and right if it came near the net. We went in to strip the other side, clear the puck or block shots and passes. The time seemed to be going by fast but was still clear at the same time. I knew I was in the beautiful state of being completely jacked on adrenaline. I scored a nice goal in middle of the second half. The defenseman was driving me wide but I was locked on the empty net I saw, kept going in a wide arc and took a smooth shot that went right in to the back of the net. I also got credit for a garbage goal that deflected off me breaking up their guy trying to clear the puck from their defensive zone, but it went in the net off of me. Victoria saw an opening and got her first goal on a good shot, too! Loren and Mike kept looking for that good opening and whipping pucks at the net. Mike told me he had one goal, so that made Loren our sniper.
We won with a final score 11-4.
I felt proud that I was an asset to my team. I was thrilled at the effort Loren and Mike put out. Victoria finally making it to the game was a huge help both mentally and emotionally. We busted our tails and held the lead the whole game. We won through hard work, playing smart and cooperation. I am most proud of the section of my team that wants to play so much they showed up and never gave up through a tough game.
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