(Published in Hockey Player Magazine, April 2019)
Zero, ten, two isn’t a bike lock combination. It was last season’s hockey record. My Blazers suffered more takedowns last Fall than MMA wrestlers. The losses really sucked when we went 1-12 a few years back. But 0-10-2 really, really, sucks.
It’s not that we aren’t competitive. For most games we outshot opponents but just didn’t find the net. If Map Quest could direct us to clearings between the pipes we would’ve downloaded an app. No one player broke a game. Crazy Eddy, our leftie goalie, occasionally yielded real estate between his right blocker and post but we should have better jammed traffic up front. Ed didn’t let us down.
Free agency has no market place in Beer League hockey no matter who the team is or how long they’ve been around. The Blazers turned twenty years old this April. Teammates like Blaze, our captain, have been with them for nearly all those years. I’ve skated with Blaze for ten. Other guys, like Stretch, moved onward. Tattooed head to toe, Stretch left California farm country last year for the Arizona desert. Last I heard he lives in a yurt and eats cactus.
Muzzy, a former defenseman, migrated to Florida eight years ago for a job at the happiest place on Earth. A visit with Muzzy earns a golf-round with Mickey. Blaze often travels east to visit Muzzy, play golf, and exchange lies.
Our newer teammate additions are fun folks though. Big Tim grew up in North Dakota as a corn fed free range kid—he joined the Blazers last year. A powerful shooter, Big T played college and minor league hockey in his bachelor years before kids and beers. Big T scored A LOT but our opponents scored more.
Swifty skates the fastest in our tribe, often outracing his own passes. Wheels, an iron man triathlete with whale lungs, plays four minute shifts without breaking a sweat. Tex has a seven foot ambidextrous wingspan, shooting right and left at the same time. He and his wife raise a hat trick of kids.
We’ve had lady Blazers too. Little T and Bones, both forwards, married and moved away after they finished college. They soon expect a baby hockey player. We gained our newest Blazer gal, Roxanne, a few seasons ago. Easy on the eyes, Rox is opportunistic and redirects errant rebounds into the net, mostly because opponents underestimate the power of her feminine pulchritude. An astute observer of team morale, Rox consoled fellow Blazers after Sunday night losses. “Boys, you didn’t do that bad. Not good maybe, but not that bad.”
I have nearly fifteen years on my teammates and give ’em everything I have. After a 43 second shift my fast twitch muscles switch to slow. A ninety second shift, long for me, gets me into a danger zone of involuntary muscle control and wheezing. Of the 60 or so adult players in our league I’m the 47th fastest skater and have the 61st most accurate shot. Needless to say I don’t have the best stats but I do score when we need it.
For one recent game against our rival, the Gulos, I antagonized two defensemen playing keep away at the blue line. They toyed with the puck as I yo-yoed between them. The Gulo team initially gasped when I tipped the puck past the defenders—nothing but 60 feet of open space before me.
I was 57 seconds into the shift and my adrenalin kicked in for the break away. With a twenty foot lead and my legs churning, this was a chance at redemption. After three strides their team captain, Chuck, whizzed by and stole my puck. Momentum carried me north, puck-less. Chuck turned south, twirled a few whoop-dee-dos, took a shot and scored. We lost the game by a goal.
We lined up after the game to shake hands. Chuck pulled me aside.
“Thought you had me Eric,” he said. A cigarette dangled from his mouth.
“Yeah,” I huffed. “If I had another 15 feet you never would have caught me.”
Chuck removed his helmet. Cigarette ashes fell out, his eyes met mine.
“That was a heckuva play. You compete.” He smiled, “Good game.”
The theory of entropy, or rather the gradual decline of my physicality in this case, hinged on 15 feet of slow twitch muscle responses. Fortunately my teammates are a gracious bunch. We’re faring better this spring and rank in the middle of the pack. We’re in the playoffs.
So far I haven’t been traded.