I was always going to arrive obscenely early, it’s a nervous habit. I hate and despise being late. On the ice, goalie school is happening and some kids are getting private tutoring at the other end. ProShopCoach asks if I don’t mind waiting since I’m so early.
I take a seat and start flicking through twitter. The clock ticks on, and I start to get a little anxious. There’s a constant stream of people through the tiny proshop, and I’m pretty sure he’s forgotten about me. I stick my head in, and sure enough he says “Oh god, are you still waiting?” He hands me a jersey and tells me to go get some gear. I eventually find the gear room and find myself staring blankly at the gear. So, I traipse back and ask for some help. I’m introduced to Coach Funky ‘Stache. He helps me find some gear to use, and I find myself in a locker room full of women, all of whom are getting ready to hit the ice, asking for advice on how to get dressed.
I realize I’ve missed this: the camaraderie of the locker room. It’s been over a decade since I was here.
Different sport, same feeling.
There’s chirps, support, and as all women know, most importantly, shared deodorant. We are as different from each other as we could possibly be. We are students and mothers. We are young and we are older. We are fit and we are the not-so-fit.
We are hockey players.
After a LOT of advice on the correct order of pants, socks, pads from the trickster goddess Owen, and the lend of some tape (thanks to our pet Goalie, J.Wil), I’m ready hit the ice.
Remember above how I said I hate being late? I can feel myself shaking, and I’m grateful for the layers of gear that muffle the sound of my heart trying to beat it’s way right out of my chest.
Coach Intenso is talking, but I can’t hear him over the blood rushing in my ears.
We start with “C” cuts, I think I may sell my soul to the devil if I never to have to do another “C” cut. I struggle up the ice, cursing my practically non-existent VMO* strength. I’ve not even had a chance to find my ice legs. I’m so nervous I want to puke and I’m the only one (it seems to me) who can’t do this stupid maneuver that even 2 year olds can master.
I start to think this just isn’t going to work. I can’t force myself out of my own head. I can’t make my knees bend, and I can’t make myself take my eyes off my feet.
Then Coach T. skates over and applies just the right amount of instruction and gentle encouragement.
I throw myself into the next drill. Literally, it’s a falling drill. I flail like a turtle on it’s shell and Coach Canada lets out a giggle as I land on my ass trying to get back up. He gives me an encouraging butt-tap as I finally right myself.
Just like that, the bubble bursts, and I’m pretty sure I can do this.
We break off into groups and us newbies are taken aside by Coach Canada and Coach T to practice falling over again while the other groups do more advanced things. Coach T sticks close and offers tips and encouragement. Coach Canada keeps shooting worried glances at my hockey pants, which I’m pretty sure are going to end up around my ankles at any minute.
Time starts to fly by.
Once upon a time, I was a captain. It’s basic instinct: even when you’re at your lowest point, you reach out. It’s what you do, so I exchange a few fist-bumps with some of the newbies from the guys locker room. Before I know it, we are given 5 minutes to practice what we like. I throw myself at the ice a few more times, then some of my regular overconfidence returns and I steal the puck from Coach T.
That’s what I’ve been waiting for; the friction of puck against tape. My skating isn’t good enough to keep it, but I know that’s what I want out of this whole thing. That delicious feeling of control, of flying along the ice, of dancing past opponents and sending the puck to the back of the net.
That’s not what happens, not yet, but I’ll get there.
*VMO – Vastus Medialis Oblique. It’s the inside front part of your quadriceps. It’s often weak in women causing patella instability and pain.