I set a goal for myself at the start of my current hockey season: score one goal. Just one. And it took me four months, but I finally scored a goal in a game last week.
Before that game, I only scored two goals in 18 months of league play. Both happened in the same anticlimactic fashion: Offensive zone face-off. Center won the draw, chipped puck to the right wing, who dished it back to me on right defense. I fired the puck through traffic -- hoping that one of my guys would be in position to get a rebound -- but the puck somehow found its way into the net.
Both times, it was kind of like "Oh, hey, is that in? It is! Who shot that? Sal? Way to go, Sal!" But last week, I scored my third-ever goal in a league game. This one was special because it wasn't a lucky bounce.
I normally play defense. Being one of the slower skaters on the team, I'm more of a stay-at-home, defense-first kind of guy. So, I don't really try to score goals; I just try to prevent them. I scored one goal in each of my first two seasons in the Heartland League, and zero goals in the third season.
At the same time, telling myself that I'm a defense-first, stay-at-home defenseman became an excuse for me not to score; a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. I would usually pass the puck and very rarely take any chances in the offensive zone. After thinking about it, I realized that playing it safe all the time wouldn't help me become a better player. Hence my setting a goal of actively seeking a goal.
This season, I've tried to shoot the puck more; to actually take good shots on net instead of just dumping the puck back in. I've also put myself at forward every five games or so (we're playing a 17-game season this time). Since we already clinched the top seed in our division, the outcome of our second-to-last game this season didn't matter. So I put myself at right wing and worked hard.
In that game, I had five shots on net, which is good for me, considering that I am not the most fleet of foot, and that the team we played has several solid defensemen.
My big break didn't happen until halfway through the third period. I skated the puck into the offensive zone on right wing. My center, Anthony, must have chipped the puck up to me, because I sure as hell didn't steal it from anyone. I took a low shot on net, which the goalie ably deflected into the right corner.
Jim, my left wing, picked up the puck but collided with an opponent near the boards. Both fell, if I remember correctly, and I was able to scoop up the puck and take it back on net for another shot.
Again, the goalie made the save, but gave up a juicy rebound. One of our defensemen, Joe, nabbed the rebound and fired a rocket on net. The goalie stopped it. Joe got his own rebound and shot the puck again, but the goalie made a fourth consecutive save.
By this time, I had managed to get into a good position to the right of the net. Joe's second shot rebounded near me.
I did not panic. I did not choke. I did not mindlessly whack at the puck like a man desperate to score after going more than 30 games goal-less. I launched the puck over the goalie's outstretched leg and into the net. I remember seeing the puck hit the back of the net, then fall to the ice.
I yelled at the top of my lungs. I couldn't help myself. I was overwhelmed with joy and relief. Joy from scoring. Relief because I dreaded the thought of going almost an entire calendar year without scoring a single goal.
Sure, I've scored a few goals in rat hockey or in scrimmages during my hockey classes, but those only count for bragging rights.
This goal, on the other hand, was the game-tying goal. Our game ended in a 3-3 tie, and my goal helped our team earn a point in the standings (though like I said, we already had first place).
Our team gives out a "Player of the Game" belt after each game to the player who helps the team the most. It is an old Nintendo game controller attached to a strap, which is totally appropriate considering that our team name is Blades of Steel and our logo is a pixelated hockey guy.
Ali, the assistant captain, had possession of the belt since the last game. He awarded it to me for tying this game.
"Speech! Speech!" everyone shouted.
"I'm glad you all got to witness my goal," I told my teammates, "because this is the only one you're going to see me score all year."
The locker room erupted in laughter.
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Filed under: Hockey Games