And what that in mind, the latest batch of hockey mistakes that keeps me awake at night:
The Crime: Yesterday's game. I'm at right wing. My team's up 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 with maybe less than five minutes to go (thank you, non-working scoreboard!) and I'm working the puck up the boards in the other team's zone. I manage to get down to the corner before the other team's D-man steals the puck and takes off around the net, with me chasing him. I reach out with my stick and...
The Result:...allegedly trip him, according to the late whistle from the referee. I actually think it was more of a hook than a trip, but who am I to quibble about details. In any event, we're protecting a lead late in the game and now I've put the other team on the power play. All the way down at the other end of the ice I can hear my goalie call out to me "Steve!" as in "Steve, what the f--k were you thinking?" Excellent question! We almost surrendered a goal on the power play, but my goalie was able to sit on the puck an inch before it crossed the goal line. I'm sure he was silently thanking me for that puck suppository.
The Lesson: What was I thinking? The answer is, of course, I wasn't thinking. I was playing hockey, which attentive readers know shrinks one's brain matter to one percent of normal capacity. I was in "get the f--k away from my puck" mode and probably the only thing that was gonna stop me was a taser to the testicles. That said, the lesson here is think. Although many hockey teams -- including mine -- have pretty good penalty kills, a penalty kill still cripples a team's offensive chances and few teams are good enough to sacrifice quality shots on goal. So if you're reading this, don't revel in your PIMs. Vow to reduce them.
The Crime: A couple of games ago. Somehow I've managed to skate the puck through the neutral zone without losing it, a feat usually requiring divine intervention on the order of the Red Sea. With a couple of opponents in front of me -- well, something in front of me -- I fling a diagonal up the ice pass to the left wing. Except...
The Result: ...the puck never quite finds its way to our left wing. Instead it flies about 15 feet in front of him and lands perfectly -- and I mean perfectly -- on the stick of one of the team's D-men, who then makes a nice breakout pass to one of his teammates. Offensive chance thwarted!
The Lesson: Looking down at the puck will 1) get you killed; 2) make it look like you've never actually touched a hockey puck before. Of all the things you should be reminding yourself during a game -- skating hard, taking short shifts, being in the position -- this one is the most important.
The Crime: A couple of games ago and we're getting hammered. Not once, but twice, I'm within spitting distance of a guy from the other team who has planted himself in front of our goal and who manages both times...
The Result: ...to score a goal pretty much unmolested.
The Lesson: As anyone who plays hockey knows, things break down when it comes to positioning, especially on mad scrambles for the puck in front of your own goal. And that's what happened on the first goal the dude scored against us. I was at wing so my responsibility was supposed to be one of the other team's D-men. But here's the thing: it doesn't make much sense to be watching the D if there's a guy standing wide open in front of the goal. When that happens, my feeling that it's the responsibility of whoever is closest to get a stick and body on the other guy's stick and I was a step too slow to get it done. The second goal came off a faceoff, when the puck dribbled over to the guy and he got a backhand dinker to go in. Same thing -- I was in the neighborhood and didn't skate hard or fast enough to knock the guy off his shot.
And, trust me on this, there's nothing worse than giving up a goal to an open guy. Because it's usually totally preventable.