9 January 2002
I've had a couple hockey breakthroughs since I last wrote. But first, a quick update on my hands/wrists/arms, since at least one person has written to say that she's had the same troubles: they're still killing me, but the pain is no longer increasing daily. I've been wearing on my right arm a brace that I got from my doctor during the last bad bout of tendonitis a couple years ago, and it seems to be helping. I'm also trying to sit up straighter at work, I'm stretching my arms, wrists, and shoulders regularly, and when my trackball goes on the fritz (frequently) I use both hands to work the pointer and mouse buttons rather than trying to make the stretch with just my right hand. My grip still isn't as strong as it should be, and my passes are weak, but I've been able to play and practice hockey three times in the past week without unusual difficulty. Yay!

OK, now on to hockey. The first breakthrough came during a late night pickup-that-turned-into-stick-time at Ice Oasis. There were only a few of us on the ice, and I was more than happy to just have time to practice with the puck. I wasn't really that interested in pickup. Anyway, I mostly worked on skating down the ice with the puck as fast as I possibly could, and then firing off a shot. It was so exhilirating! I had some good shots, but mostly the thrilling part was shooting at top speed. After I had that down, I worked a bit on stamina and turning at speed by starting at one end of the ice, blowing down to the other, skating either in front of or behind the net, and then flying back and getting off a shot. Those runs required a serious breather in between, but I felt like they were really helpful. During one of these rests, one of the guys who played on my Monday team last season saw me and said, "you've gotten a lot faster!" I think it's true, I have, but I also think I'm a lot faster when no one's challenging me.

I decided to test this theory by asking Al to challenge me while I tried to skate past him. Yep, it was true: as soon as he got near me, I slowed down to about 1/3 my top speed, sometimes even stopping. Aha, I thought: this is why I can't make anything happen in a game! I got the puck back from Al and skated into the neutral zone, then turned to come back in again. This time when I saw him about 15 feet away from me, I made a conscious decision to keep up my speed and go left. If he went in the same direction, I'd run him down. I did keep up my speed, and when I was about 5 feet from him I dodged left. He went right (OH MY GOD, I JUST DEKED!), and I continued in for the shot. So there was breakthrough #1: I need to make a conscious decision to KEEP GOING. Damn the defensemen, full speed ahead!

The next thing was regarding my shot. Earlier that same night, we'd been at Tony & Maria's going-away party at the rink, and T&M had rented the ice from 6:00 - 7:30. We arrived at 7:20, so I didn't think it was worthwhile putting on my skates (we'd come from another holiday party, and I wasn't really dressed for skating anyway), but Al put his on and dashed out to get his 10 minutes' worth. I saw him at the far end of the ice talking to Craig, so I went down to take his picture (he looked so cute on the ice in his suit). Later, I asked him what he and Craig had been talking about. He said that they were just working on his shot. I asked if Craig had had any good tips, and Al said, "yeah one really great one: on a wrist shot, start the puck on the heel of the stickblade." I replied, "oh yeah, Reuben tried to show me that once. I couldn't get the hang of it."

During the warm-ups before my game the following Monday, I decided to try Craig's advice. Damned if I didn't INSTANTLY have a wrist shot! I think Reuben gave me the tip before I could even lift the puck, so I wasn't ready for it yet. Up til that Monday, I'd been lifting the puck regularly with my one-and-only shot, the snap. Now I have a wrist shot to go with it. Woo-hoo! After that Monday game we didn't play for two weeks because of the holidays, but on Jan. 2 I subbed for Al's Wednesday team. I managed to knock the puck away from a defenseman in the offensive slot, and I chased it into the left faceoff circle. I decided to try my wrist shot in a game situation and flung the puck at the net. The goalie went down and the puck hit him square in the stomach, but damned if it wasn't a fine shot. Alrighty, then!

craig gives al some pointers on his shot

craig kicks the puck onto his stick so he can demonstrate the proper technique

helen and a friend check out the results

usa vs. canada at compaq center

we had really good seats behind the canada bench

close in, and toward the side of the ice that
usa attacked twice (and attack they did!)

a Bruins skater warms up at the Shark Tank

There's a third breakthrough that I'll describe in a minute, but it came after the Sharks practice on Saturday, so I'll describe that first. It was a really neat experience that I'd absolutely do again if I had the chance.

I got there a bit early, so I introduced myself to some of the other players who were hanging around outside the North entrance to Compaq Center. I knew Glenn and Julie, and I recognized one of the women from the Oasis Women's league, but just about everyone else was a stranger.

Mike Bruins opened the door for us at 2pm and had us fill out waiver forms (if you get killed on the ice it's not the Sharks' fault, blahbity blah blah...), then he led us down to locker room B on the visitors' side of the ice. (That means we didn't get to skate out of the shark head.) The locker room was basic, but it was carpeted and had padded chairs, which was nice. There was a table with water bottles and black and white practice jerseys on it, and a Mission Hockey baseball cap on each chair. We were told to try to distribute the black and white jerseys evenly among ourselves. For some reason, most of the women chose white and most of the men chose black, and there were more men than women, so white was about two or three players short.

When we were dressed, Mike led us out onto the ice, noting that it was pretty hot out there, so we should bring extra water. I didn't think it was hot when I skated out, but it wasn't *cold*—my hands and feet didn't freeze the way they do at Ice Oasis in the winter. In the end, I guess it was pretty warm, because I was soaked. It wasn't uncomfortable, though.

After we had all skated around a bit, Drew Remenda came out and said that we were going to start things off with a three-puck scrimmage. The only rules were that you couldn't shoot at the goalie if he wasn't looking at you, and you couldn't dump the puck into the zone—you had to try to pass to others and make plays. It was totally crazy on the ice for about 5-10 minutes, but it was a fun way to warm up. After that we stretched a bit, and then we started working on puck handling.

First we had to skate around the rink, going behind the nets, counter-clockwise. Drew, Mike, and Dave Maley stood in the neutral zone swishing their sticks across the ice so we'd have to go around them. I definitely noticed the extra 15 feet that an NHL regulation rink has over the Ice Oasis rink—after the three-puck scrimmage and a couple laps, I was already getting tired. Drew then blew the whistle and decreed that all black players would now skate clockwise. It was a neat trick: first get comfortable skating with the puck, then learn to stickhandle with your head up (or else!). Every time Drew blew a short blast on the whistle, we were supposed to speed up. By now I was almost completely out of energy, so every time he blew the whistle, I'd take two strides at the faster speed, and then slow down again.

I noticed that everyone seemed to bunch up quite a bit; at one point eight of us (four going one direction, four going the other) tried to skate behind the net at once, and I lost my puck. I looked back, but it was gone (did someone leave with two?), so I had to skate back to the other corner to find a free one. At that point, Drew blew a long blast on the whistle to get us to stop, and I was the only one in that zone. That's how bunched up everyone was.

Next Drew had us pick a partner "of equal size and ability." I didn't know everyone's abilities, so I just tried to find someone my size. Of the three people closest to me proximitywise, a guy who was about two inches shorter than me was closest to me sizewise, so chose him. We had to practice knocking each other off the puck—harrassing, basically. I turned out to be quite good at it. Weirdly, I also wasn't bad at protecting the puck, either, which means we probably weren't of equal ability. It's the easiest thing in the world to knock me off the puck in a Monday game.

When Drew blew the whistle we went back to center ice for a demonstration of the next drill: protecting the puck with our bodies. Drew and Dave showed what they wanted us to do, and then Dave gave us a tip: he said often beginners will hear someone coming and look up to see where the guy is... and promptly have the puck stolen from them. He told us to wait until the guy was right on you, so you could feel from his body weight which way he was going to go. Once he said it, I realized that I see the Sharks do this all the time. I always wondered what they were waiting for on the boards; now I know.

We then transitioned from stickhandling to shooting with a drill where all the black players got in the corner at one end of the ice, and all the white players got in a corner at the other end. When Drew blew the whistle, three players from each squad took a puck and skated up to the neutral zone. We were to skate around there until Drew blew the whistle again, and then we were to come in on our goalie, each taking a different shooting lane. It sounded really easy, until I realized that there would be six of us with pucks all trying to stickhandle around the neutral zone. It was a bit chaotic, but really fun and useful.

We did a few more shooting drills, then we scrimmaged for 10 minutes. At first we all just changed like we would in a pickup game, but Drew thought this was too disorganized. He started blowing the whistle to signal line changes; when we heard it, all ten players were to come off, and ten new players would come on. More like the pros, but it meant you couldn't skate shorter shifts if you were tired (as I was).

We finished up with a shooting competition, where all the black players got in one corner, and all the white players got in the other. Drew lent us two black players, since there were more of them than us. We had to skate all the way down the ice, shoot on the opposing goalie, and then book back as fast as we could—the next guy couldn't go until we'd crossed our own blue line. The winning team would be the one with the most goals when time was called.

When it was my turn to go, I skated hard down the ice, but the puck kept scooting a little in front of me. I lost control of it a few feet in front of the goalie, who just stuck his stick out to stop it. He didn't cover, though, so I picked the puck off his stick and flipped it in. All the black players went, "oh ho ho!", and Dave Maley said, "that counts!" My team ended up winning, because we had more goals than the black team. Yay!

So now we come to the third breakthrough. It's a small one that doesn't really warrant many words, but it was important to me. During this past Monday's game against the Toasters, I got a breakout pass. As I felt the puck hit my stick, I made a determined decision to skate with it rather than look up and pass.

I managed to take two or three quick strides and advance to the red line before being cut off at an angle by a (huge) defenseman. Just as he tried to stick check me, I popped the puck over his stick and into the zone, so I could change up.

So while I didn't end up scoring or even entering the zone with the puck, I skated with it—which was a big deal for me. The next thing to try is a move: stop and cut right, as Jeff might, or turn my body to the defender and blow by, as Kristin would.

Joe Thornton winds up for a shot

I always go for the big guys, so Gill is one of my favorites.

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