Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When children are the enemy

I occasionally partake in an early morning hockey clinic on Saturdays at the Pickwick ice rink in Burbank. Anywhere from six to 20 people may participate with a full range of skills on display -- in other words, from those who are good to those who skate as if they have a duck stuck in their hockey shorts.

This past Saturday featured a full house, including some teen kids who were sickengingly skilled. After 45 minutes or so of chowing down on humble pie -- some of the drills I couldn't do; some of the drills I had no idea even what I was supposed to do -- it was time to scrimmage, which is always the most fun part of the clinic.

In this case, the coach who runs the clinic divied up the class into the really good teen kids and a few others who played on half the ice. The remaining 10 people consisted of five kids -- all about eight or nine, I'm guessing -- and five of us who happen to be north of 40 and who are relatively new to ice hockey.

At this point, you can probably guess the teams: kids versus adults with about 30 years of life experience between each opponent. It goes without saying that the kids were quite good -- they were fast, talented stickhandlers and competitive. Really competitive.

So if you were to walk into the rink on Saturday morning, what you would have seen is this: five hockey players firmly esconsed in middle age up against five little kids in a scrimmage that managed to become fairly intense. About 15 minutes into the game, I managed to completely hook one of the little brats and send her sprawling and I can't say I felt even an ounce of sympathy for her. 

Hey, it's a fast game and things happen. And, besides, there's no apologizing in hockey.

The problem with the game was that we had agreed to something called rules. And the rule was that no one could take a shot on the goal (actually the netting top of the goal, since we laid the net down on the ice) until his or her team had passed the puck three times.

The adults understood this and abided by the rules but the children seemed to have a problem getting their still-developing brains wrapped around it. In a typical sequence, one of the kiddies would rob one of the adults of the puck, skate it out past the blue line and then do a U-turn and head straight back toward the net for a shot.

Since the adults were too oxygen-deprived at that point to keep score, the kiddies kept boasting they were winning. Which wasn't quite true.

All that said, the great thing about being a geezer-in-training is that adults know that strategy can sometimes trump individual skill.

As the game went on, we got better at everything: collapsing on the goal on defense instead of lunging and missing; using the boards to take the puck out of the zone; trailing a teammate with the puck to pick it up in case the other team poked it away, and; keeping our feet moving so that we were in position to take a pass on a part of the ice where we could do something with it, either pass to someone else or work it closer to the goal.

I can't quite say that our teamwork helped us slay them -- the kiddies also got wise and starting passing more. But we made the game competitive and honed our passing skills. In fact, I would argue that executing a good, smart pass was every bit as rewarding as actually scoring the goal. In many cases, the pass required more skill than simply sitting above the crease and banging a loose puck home.

Of course, I'm still trying to decide how I feel about being in a competitive game against children under the age of 10. The rational part of me tends to believe the very thought of that requires me to donate my hockey equipment immediately to charity and take up something like Bingo or maybe Yahtzee.

On the other hand, there's this: being occasionally schooled by kids at ice hockey is still better than not playing ice hockey at all.

--Steve Hymon

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