Monday, May 3, 2010

Learning the game: Is castrating another player a two minute minor or game misconduct?

My team played its third game of the season yesterday and it was fun but didn't entirely go well from a scoring goals point of view. If that's how you measure success, the other team had four of them to our none.

On the other hand, if you measure success by having fun and having some good stories to tell, then we're achieving some success. We got into our first fight in our second game and it goes without saying that the guy on my team with the least skating experience -- and the last dude to sign up the for the league -- is our leading scorer.

Here's a good one: In yesterday's game, I had a nice collision with a woman player on the other team who while laying on the ice tried to kick me in the balls with her skate blades while suggesting I get away from her. She thankfully missed, I got cross-checked by the team's big dude for my alleged aggression and the more I think about it, the more I'm digging Ms. Castration. While I like my balls, I also like her spunk.

The whole incident also raises the question of when on-ice castration is legal and how it should be penalized. I'm thinking a mere attempt should be a two-minute minor and an attempt that draws blood a one-game suspension.

My lady issues aside, we're now 0 and 3 on the season; it's the first ever league experience for eight of 13 players and it's been years since a couple with real experience have played in a league. I haven't had time to write about the second game of the season, but we lost that one 4 to 2 after surrendering a goal in the final two minutes while trying to tie it up shorthanded.

I thought we would win one by now, but it's pretty clear we're also still learning how to play hockey against a league of mostly younger players although I don't think the age thing is a big deal. Yesterday's game was actually closer than the score, but we're still facing several issues.

I'm going to list some of the things we're doing well and some of our mistakes with the caveat that a lot of these are mistakes I've made. No one on the team is being singled out. I write this as food for thought for all beginning hockey players and teams.

•On the advice of my friend Scott -- who is basically my hockey Yoda -- we tried to evenly distribute the talent on our team across all our lines. It feels like that's working. No one line is getting slaughtered; on the other hand, no one line is achieving monster success.

•We play like a lot of us are nervous, although I'm starting to see more smiles out there.

•We have a severe tendency to chase the puck and get out of position. There are times it's appropriate -- there's a scoring chance or someone needs to be covered. But it's costing us, too. For example, I was playing right wing yesterday and on a couple of occasions I shaded too much to the middle or let myself get sucked too low into the corner. When my defenseman would come up with the puck, I wasn't where I should be, hugging the boards in the neutral zone to take a pass and turn it up the ice and it meant my defenseman had to cover a lot of ground on his own, often with a couple of guys on him.

•On that note, among the skills I'd like to practice more is the simple act of taking a long pass along the boards in the neutral zone and either turning up ice or making another pass to my center -- with a defenseman on me. It's hard. Really fucking hard because you have to take a pass from one direction and then go in another and very quickly either put a move on someone or make a decent pass or decide to dump-and-chase. If you can't do any of those, you technically don't have an offense.

•We pass too quickly sometimes, treating the puck like a hot potato or not trying to make something happen on our own. Conversely, we're still a little slow on the trigger when it comes to taking a shot.

•On that note, in our league on the short ice in Pasadena, there are few chances to properly set up and take a good wrist shot or slap shot like we do in clinics. Everyone playing hockey everywhere should practice taking shots while off-balance and while skating. And don't ignore your backhand shot because if you're sitting in front of the goal and the puck starts bouncing around, I absolutely fucking guarantee the Hockey Gods will put the puck on your backhand side.

•We were slow getting guys to the front of the net to either catch rebounds and screen their goalie.

•Back to the positioning thing, there were too many times yesterday when both teams had players right next to eachother on the ice. Too much bunching up means that someone on the other team is probably wide open somewhere.

•I suspect this is a problem not unique to my team -- we've got some of our best players on defense and we rely on them to generate some offense and make some rushes. But that means we're leaving ourselves somewhat vulnerable to rushes by the other team and we've got to get guys back to cover for them. That was especially critical yesterday when our opponents had one guy in particular who had speed and could get it up the ice. If we pinched too much and he got his stick on the puck, he had a clear path of travel down the ice.

That's it. It kills me that we have to wait another six days to play again and actually work real jobs in the meantime. But that also means that anyone who would like to pass along hockey wisdom in the comments section has plenty of time to do so.

--Steve Hymon

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