Playing A Level Up

Playing A Level Up

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.


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