“A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Wayne Gretzky
Some scoring statistics are best forgotten.
You’re not a hockey player until you’ve scored on yourself a saying goes, quoted by an anonymous player too embarrassed to admit doing it. In hockey we score on opponents—not on one’s own team. Gretzky prophesied that great hockey players don’t play where the puck is but where it will be. That being said, I’m a great player behind my own goalie’s rear end.
Hockey season is underway in our Northern California recreational league, a beer-driven coalition of Gen Xer’s through Baby Boomers. A Millennial occasionally fills in for absent older working stiffs. The kids are fun but frustrating. They’re shifty, cocky and sprint like gazelles. When they sub on my team though, I like ’em.
I never obsessed on scoring statistics because it’s boring to tally zeros. Throughout my hockey career I played hard-scrabble defense and stuck with the position through college tryouts. I tallied a few assists but was hardly a playmaker, preferring to scrap in the corners with reckless abandon. Size didn’t matter. The bigger my foe, the bigger the brawl and bigger his fall. I stand 5′ 9″ wearing skates but my elbows…they’re eight inches wide and weigh two pounds each.
Grandpa snuck me beers after games to celebrate my goals. I earned a quarter per goal in an era when a gallon of gas cost a buck. Throughout high school I netted two beers and maybe made four-bits off the old guy.
When I re-kindled my playing career several years ago I moved from defense to forward. I love fore-checking and bothering opponents, a trait I’ve carried into my professional and personal life. My mate says I bother her too.
Last year’s scoring stats have been deleted from the league’s web-site but I know I had at least one two-goal game and several playmakers. My overall stats were mediocre but sufficient enough for my Blazer teammates to keep me. I lit the lamp when needed, except for two forgettable goals that haunt me. Thankfully they weren’t in the same game.
My first own-goal score occurred as I reached behind our goalie, Young Chuck, a high-school kid. The lad sprawled like a deer on ice after a brilliant save. With my skates burning I hustled towards the net to help. Curly, playing defense, tangled with a guy in front of the net who tried to carve a hole through Young Chuck’s back. Sticks wildly flailed into a pushy brawl but Curly, a tough guy, fended off the invader like a cat spikes a mouse. The puck wobbled beyond Young Chuck’s skates, an inch from the goal line. All I had to do was reach and clear the crease. Instead, I tapped the puck across the line. Curly shook his head, “Nice shot. Too bad it was against us.”
Fortunately my Blazer teammates are a forgiving group and keep short accounts. Not much riles our captain, Blaze, a mellow guy and amateur entomologist who grafts rootstock inside his house. And Stretch, who adds tattoos every season, is the consummate optimist. Stretch makes a near empty beer stein seem half full. “Yeah, we lost but you tried. The hockey gods will gift you a hat trick. It’s all good…that won’t happen again.”
One of my objectives is to improve face-offs. For those new to hockey the face-off is akin to when two gunslingers square up for a draw. We stare each other down without blinking. Politeness at the puck drop is taboo and signals weakness. I face my opponent, bend my knees, choke up on my stick, and aim to sweep the puck to a defenseman.
We were in a one-goal game and out-shooting our opponent. I jumped over the boards after a whistle for a line change. The referee waited at the circle to the right of Young Chuck. I scowled at my adversary, squatted, and leaned forward. My feet were anchored like bedrock.
I beat my challenger to the drop and swept the puck hard behind me. Young Chuck, dumbfounded, froze as the puck zoomed between his skates. Score.
“Who gets credit for this one?” the ref asked me. He laughed and skated away.
So far this season I haven’t scored on my Blazers. Our rivals haven’t needed my help as we’re on a losing skid. Statistically we’re outshooting our foes but must protect our zone better and keep the other guys from harpooning Young Chuck. We must stop every shot, whether they come from other teams, or me.
Because there’s no romance in own-goal scores….
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