Game 8: Hitting my stride

Game 8: Hitting my stride

My team’s eighth game of the season in the Franklin Park Original Six League felt really good for this beginning hockey player. Perhaps for the first time, I thought that I could be an actual part of the game — not just a guy who “tries to keep up,” or “not embarrass himself” or “lucks into” making a good play. Instead, I thought I could make a contribution every shift I took.

Part of this was probably because we were against a similarly-skilled team, so I knew that I had a bit more time to make a play, instead of just moving the puck to a better teammate ASAP.

I also am starting to understand what a defenseman does besides (duh!) keeping the other team from scoring. I’m getting a feel of what to do during a face-off, how to best clear the puck out of my own zone in a given situation, and how to keep the puck in the attacking zone.

That actually lead to our first goal of the game. While an opposing player was trying to clear the puck from his own end, I hustled and was able to keep it in the zone — I stopped the puck right on the blue line! I then chipped it in to a teammate, which eventually lead to our goal. When I skated back to the bench for a line change, a teammate congratulated me.

“Nice job, Sal,” he said.

“But I didn’t get an assist on the goal,” I replied.

“Who cares? You kept the puck in the zone. You started that play.”

For a while I felt pretty good. But later on, the other team tied the score. An opposing player was rushing in, with my defense partner glued to his side. I decided to crowd the crease, making sure that he could not make a clean pass to the other breaking winger. That was a good play for me to make, but not the right play, as the opposing puck carrier shot and scored.

So much for being a plus player.

All scoring — by us and against us — after that was done while I was on the bench.

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Throughout the game, I had my fair share of decent plays. I blocked a few passes or low shots with my stick. I hustled and made sure that the winger I covered never was able to shoot from in front of the net. I always looked for the open opponent and made sure that he couldn’t get a pass or camp out in front of my net. I kept the puck in the offensive zone many times while my team was attacking, and generally took shorter shifts so I wouldn’t tire out and become a liability.

Later in the game, I picked up the puck behind my net and skated up the ice with it because, dammit, that’s what Duncan Keith does when he picks up the puck behind his net. I wanted to see how far I could get with the puck. Well, maybe ten feet from my blue line, one opponent was skating towards me hard, with another two right behind him. I knew that even if I could get around the first guy, the other two would steal the puck from me.

So, unfortunately, I tried to shoot it through them and out of the zone, but my shot was blocked by the lead attacker, which resulted in a scoring chance — but thankfully, not a goal. Lesson learned: if three guys are closing in on me, that means I have two open teammates. Find one fast and pass the puck to him!

In the closing moments, we held on to a 3-2 lead. While my defense partner battled for the puck near the boards, I covered an opposing player who was camped out in front of our net. I slowly backed into him, attempting to push him out of the slot. He in turn tried to push me away. He wasn’t aggressive, but he was probably stronger than me, so when I felt his stick brush against my leg, I sneakily grabbed it with my hand and gave it a lift.

“HEY!” he shouted at my questionably-moral defensive strategy, while trying to shake me loose.

After a stoppage of play, I skated over to him, smiled and agreed that I what I did was wrong. “What the hell?” he laughed.

“Just testing the waters,” I replied. Lesson learned: it isn’t a penalty if the ref does not see it find a better way to thwart an opponent camped in front of the net.

This win improves my team’s record to a respectable 4-3-1.

Sal’s Stats: Game 8
Shots Blocked: 2
Plus/Minus: 0

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