Not too long ago, a friend named Mike asked me to sub on his team, the Danglers, for a Saturday afternoon game. I was excited. The Danglers play in the Federal League at Johnny's Ice House, which is a step up, skill-wise, from the Heartland Novice Hockey League that I currently play in. I was eager to see if I could hack it at the next level. Would I fit in? Or would I make a dumb mistake that costs us the game?
And I think that was my biggest fear. Sure, beer league hockey is all about having fun. But nothing would suck worse than to be a fill-in player who makes a costly mistake. That did not happen. Mike, who is captain of the Danglers, put me on defense, because he knew that was the position that I was most comfortable and confident in playing.
After that -- as cliche as it sounds -- all I did was "play my game." You hear rookies in the NHL and minor-league call-ups say that all the time when interviewed; they claim to just "play their game" and not think too much. I get it now. You stick to what you know, what you are good at, and trust your instincts. That's what I did.
However, I did make a pretty big mistake early on. I was battling for the puck, and I flung it away from the opponent -- right onto the stick of his teammate, who was in front of our net! Fortunately, our goalie stopped the point-blank shot. (I owe you a steak, John!)
Other than that mistake, I did fine. I forced their shooters to the outside so that they would not have an easy shot at our net, broke up passes, blocked a few shots and did well to move the puck up to our forwards whenever possible. I should have been credited with an assist on one of our goals, too, but was not because I wasn't actually listed on the Dangler's roster.
My defining moment came in the third period. Our team was up 4-1, and our opponent's best player -- the one everyone told me to watch out for -- got around my defense partner for a breakaway. I kind of had an inkling that my d-partner would get beat, so I already was drifting back when it happened. The opponent took off through the neutral zone towards our net. I skated my ass off and was able to hook him with my stick and slow him down enough to knock the puck away.
I got a penalty, but I feel it was a well-earned penalty. Had their guy gotten a breakaway, he could have scored, which would have put the other team within two goals and right back into the game. If I tripped the guy, he would have gotten a penalty shot, which would have been worse since he'd have no one forcing him to rush his shot. What little hockey sense and skill I posses culminated in that hooking penalty. I'm not saying that it saved the game for us -- we ended up winning 5-1 -- but it could have been a different game if they scored on that breakaway. Sadly, my two "hard-earned" PIMs did not show up on the box score either.
I got a few compliments from my teammates after the game about how well I played. It was a good experience, and now I know that I can fit in at the next level.
Subscribe to The Hockey Noob and never miss an update. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time. Click here to subscribe.
Filed under: Hockey Games