Five Things I Learned in Five Years of Hockey

Five Things I Learned in Five Years of Hockey
[Photo by David Peña]

Those of you who read this blog may have noticed that I have not written much here lately. This is for a lot of reasons. First off, I am freelance writing for several other publications, which helps pay the bills (yay!) but also distracts me from writing about my Hockey Odyssey (boo!). Another reason is because what used to seem like a big deal to me, like blocking a shot or even chipping in a goal every now and then, isn't so surprising anymore. But I think the biggest reason why I haven't blogged that much here is because once the newness of a hobby dies down, you don't feel the need to tell everyone every little thing. I know other longtime bloggers/writers will agree with me on that last point.

However, I recently made some new hockey acquaintances, and they told me that The Hockey Noob was a great resource for them in researching lessons and leagues, and overall just good advice for hockey beginners. One guy even introduced me as "The Hockey Noob" to his wife; I was flattered that they both read my blog. I'm proud that this blog has helped and inspired others to play hockey. And hearing that others were inspired by The Hockey Noob has inspired me to start writing here again.

It's been just over five years since I took hockey lessons. Inspired by a similar article that I wrote when I hit my three-year anniversary of being "The Hockey Noob," here are five things that I learned in five years of playing hockey. Proceed with caution, as they are all not positive.

1. You will score a goal

That's me on the left, chipping in a rebound.

That's me on the left, chipping in a rebound.

I still remember the night when I scored my first-ever rat hockey goal, as well as the night that I scored my first-ever goal in a league game. The rat hockey goal came because I had no option but to shoot, and was quick enough to get to my own rebound. The league goal came because I shot the puck from the point, hoping that a forward would knock in a rebound -- but my shot made it through without any help.

I've gotten decent goals where I actually aimed my shot and beaten a goalie. And I've gotten my share of rebounds, lucky bounces, or shots that should not have made it in, but somehow did. One that stands out was one that I passed the puck from behind the net, trying to center it. The goalie put his glove out to try and break up my pass, but it ended up deflecting off his glove and into the net for a goal. Hey, I'll take it!

Some hockey players make scoring goals look super-easy, but here's a secret: they're actually working hard at it. Maybe they had to work on their endurance or they had to work on their shooting. I need work on all of the above, but I try to make sure that I try to get a few shots in every game I play. If you just started out, don't feel bad if you don't have a goal yet. It will happen. You just have to work for it.

2. You will surprise yourself

Every now and then, I still surprise myself, and that makes hockey fun for me. My Blades of Steel team lost a game recently by a score of 5-2. We actually have lost every game this season, but more on that later. We were down by four or five goals, and the game was pretty much out of reach before we made a little bit of a comeback. An opponent shot the puck on our net, and our goalie made a great save, but the rebound went to a wide-open net. Without even thinking, I dove and blocked a shot, which otherwise would have resulted in a goal.

While I did say in the introduction above that not every shot block is worth writing about, this one was because I surprised myself. I didn't think -- I reacted -- and slid down and took the shot in the legs like a defenseman should. My goalie complimented me after the game, as did a few teammates and my girlfriend. It's a nice feeling when something like that works out the way that it should.

3. You will plateau

At first, every little thing you do makes you better. You figure out how to comfortably tie your skates, or lift the puck off the ice, or make a nice pass, or do a backwards crossover, and it's a big deal. Eventually, that all becomes easier; I won't say second nature, given how late in life I re-started hockey.

I think we all reach a point where we don't feel like we are getting better. At least that is how I feel, and I'm usually on the ice two or three times a week. I don't know if I've gotten better in the past year. I mean, I probably have. I force myself to go to the net when I play forward, and try to get several shots in a game (although sometimes I don't even get one shot). I try to push myself and skate hard, especially when I'm chasing a faster player, because if I don't try, I will never know if I can catch him. Sometimes, I do, many times I don't.

My point here is, after a while, progress becomes so incremental that you feel like you have plateaued, but you are probably making just a tiny bit of progress each time. Or at least I hope I am.

4. You will burn out

Over the summer, I played in a hockey league in Northbrook, IL (I wouldn't recommend it), and my team lost just about every game by a lopsided score. This fall, my Blades of Steel team at American Heartland Ice Arena has 0 wins and 10 losses, again, mostly by lopsided scores. The constant losing is really starting to drain me. There are some nights I don't want to go to the rink and play hockey; some nights where I'd rather stay home and watch hockey, or write about hockey, than actually participate in hockey.

When I used to study karate, I would also get burned out, but that was mainly from the repetition of having to do the same thing over and over, just to get a little bit better. Now, I'm burned out because my team is losing, and I feel like I can only do so much to keep everyone's morale up.

It is the ability to rise above burnout is what keeps people in any hobby for a long time. I have no immediate plans to quit hockey, but when I figure out how to overcome this feeling of burnout, I will be sure to write about it.

5. Some of your friends will leave or quit

The cheese stands alone.

The cheese stands alone...or takes a knee, I guess.

I made a lot of new friends when I first took hockey lessons. Heck, I even drafted many of them to play on my Blades of Steel team. But over the past five years, I've seen my friends/teammates move up to better teams, move out of the city or state, or even just outright quit hockey for a myriad of reasons, from injury, to burnout, to the fact that it no longer makes them happy to go to the rink. Sound familiar?.

When you make new friends starting a new hobby, you think those friends will always be around, and that you'll reminisce about hockey lessons or that one game from ten years ago, or whatever. But just like high school, college, work, or any other social environment where you make friends, those friends move on. Again, when I studied karate, many of the people I sweated alongside quit or otherwise left. Now I'm seeing that same thing happen in hockey, and it makes me a little sad.

The takeaway here is that nothing lasts forever, so enjoy the people that you play with while you can.


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