Monday, June 28, 2010

It takes a village...or does it take a few bottles of Jagermeister?

My team concluded its first regular season hockey league yesterday by playing a spirited game against the best team in our league. We didn't win, but it was 1 to 0 for the other guys late in the contest until they put it away.

I don't believe a blog is the proper place to talk about team issues, the reason why I mostly write about my own play (by which I mean immense number of shortcomings). That said, I did want to write a little today about the stages of development for the team.

As I've mentioned in the past, what makes my beer league team a little different than most is that for eight of 13 us this is our first ever hockey league -- and a few of the others haven't played in years. In addition, eight of our guys are north of 40 and only two are under 30, meaning our team skews older than the others in the house league.

To put it another way, we were basically starting from scratch, with most of us only having played in clinic scrimmages. Those scrimmages are a lot of fun, but they're casual, there's no ref, no one really plays position and there's almost always no goalie.

So when the whistle blew on our first game, most of us were in a whole new world of shit, to borrow a phrase from the military. To say a lot of us had a major case of the yips is a vast understatement. Maybe, just maybe if we put Jagermeister in our water bottles, those yips would go away -- plus my college experience is that Jagermeister turns most people into violent, chair-throwing idiots, a temperment that can be useful in the exciting game of ice hockey.

It has been interesting to see the stages of development for the team. We're still clearly not a finished product yet -- and I'm not even going to discuss our win-loss record, brothers and sisters --  but I think it's easy to see the stages of development we've gone though. To wit:

STAGE ONE: In this stage of our development, we basically learned to show up at the rink on time for the game and remembered to bring our red jerseys. We formed some basic defensive and offensive lines while some members learned how to hop over the boards on shift changes.

STAGE TWO: We started to learn to play defense. Our defensive guys -- and a bunch of us got the chance to try -- learned what happens when you pinch against speedy players. And we started not to chase the puck wherever it went -- instead focusing on trying to play some semblance of our positions. (Why not just chase the puck?, you ask. Because there's only one puck and three or four guys from teh same team crowded into one section of the ice almost guarantees the other team will exploit all the open ice).

STAGE THREE: As we got better at pushing the puck to the sides on defense, we also started to work on the basic breakout pass from a defenseman to a wing and/or center. It's not easy under pressure, but we started to complete some of these passes and take the puck all the way through the neutral zone.

STAGE FOUR: This is where we're struggling -- getting the puck through traffic and creating the space for a quality shot from in front of the net. Some of this involves teamwork, especially getting the centers and wings on the same page; no individual is at fault, we just have to get used to working together at game speed. The best players in our league are on defense and while my team has some quick guys with good hands, we don't have a lot of guys who can consistently skate the puck through traffic.

STAGE FIVE: The ability to consistently pass back to our D-men to set up plays and shots. We're clearly not there. Not yet.

All in all, after 10 games I thought we'd be farther along -- but that's before I realized that ice hockey is an insanely difficult game. It's not touch football on Sunday afternoons when one decent quarterback and receiver can march the ball up and down the field no matter what the other players are doing. At some point, you need everyone to contribute.

So we'll see. Despite our regular season record, every team in my league qualifies for the playoffs. On July 11, we have a chance to see how far we've come.

--Steve Hymon

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