“Football’s not a matter of life and death….it’s more important than that” – all of you nodding sagely along with Bill Shankly’s famous quote have obviously never come into contact with the world of ice hockey. Or just plain hockey, as it’s called here in Canada, because clearly no other kind of hockey exists, or matters in any way. Hockey is like a religion over here; it’s deeply embedded in the DNA of most Canadians, and Christopher and Benjamin have decided that this is the sport they want to have a go at this year. So, we registered them, got them kitted out, and waited to hear about the tryouts. Kitting them out is not as simple as the phrase might suggest. It was up there with school supplies shopping. I don’t think astronauts have to don as much gear as someone venturing onto the ice with a hockey stick. They needed helmets (with cages), mouth guards and neck guards. Their chests, shoulders and upper arms are encased in a padded vest thingy, and they need elbow pads as well. They wear shorts with a cup, and padded hockey pants. Underneath these are massive shin guards and over these go huge hockey socks (which are held up by the velcro on the jockey shorts). Their gloves look like something a boxer would wear. They need skates, a hockey stick, and a gigantic bag to keep the whole ensemble together.
I got the email about tryouts last week. I don’t know exactly what I’d envisioned, but I thought we’d toddle along to a rink for an hour and the coaches would divide them into the three different tiers with their league. Christopher and Benjamin are playing with the Atom league, and the tiers run from 1 (the best in the age group) down to 3. God forbid that tryouts would be that casual or flippant. It’s like a full-scale military operation. Their tryouts were to take place on Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning – 75 minutes each time. The 75 minutes doesn’t take into account the previous 60 minutes of trying to help them into all the gear, and the subsequent 20 minutes of hauling them out of it again. This is tortuous. I spent forty-two years biting my nails, and finally had my first manicure ever last week, only to realise that pretty nails are not an asset when trying to lace up and unlace the bloody skates. I can’t believe that no-one has invented an alternative to laces yet. They have to be tightened bit by bit all the way to the top and then loosened all the way down again. The laces are hard and rough and then wet and cold when it comes to taking them off. I hate them.
So, on Friday evening we started the whole process. Michael and I helped them into all the gear, loaded their bags into the van, and off we went to the rink, which is right behind Costco, and which, apparently, I “couldn’t miss”. Canadians are such an optimistic race. Round and round we drove, until I eventually pulled into a gas station and headed inside to ask for directions. There were six men at the counter. Six. And they all looked at me blankly when I asked them where the ice rink might be found. Off I went again, into a nearby Subway, where a very enthusiastic Riders fan sent me back up the street with instructions to turn left and then right. I found myself driving around the huge car park of the Credit Union Centre, with no ice rink in sight. We finally spotted a lone truck driver at the far end of the lot, and he redirected us to the rink, which might as well have had an invisibility cloak tossed over it for all the notice the locals take. It was packed. We battled our way through the doors with the bags and into a jammed locker room, which was stuffed with padded kids and sweating parents on their knees, trying to lace up their damn skates. Fathers were issuing advice, none of which I understood, and the atmosphere was loaded with nervous excitement. Their time came, and the doors to the rink swung open; off they glided on to the ice, where black-clothed referees and coaches were circling nonchalantly, clutching cups of coffee and making skating look like the easiest thing on earth.
Now, I know that the term “ice-rink” should have been a clue, but I almost died of hypothermia sitting on the benches and watching the drills. My breath was frosting in front of me, and I couldn’t feel most of my limbs after the first thirty minutes. I took the occasional stroll outside to warm up (it had been 30 degrees all day) and then returned to see what horrors the next drill held. Some of the kids were amazing; they knew all the drills and were completely at home on the ice. Every time a new drill started, the coaches would send them off first to show the rest what needed to be done. Christopher and Benjamin managed fairly well until about the fourth drill in. They were supposed to skate all the way to the end of the rink, then skate backwards towards us again, then skate to the end while dropping repeatedly onto one knee, and finally back to us again while jumping over the markings with both feet. They started well, got to the other end of the rink, and then couldn’t get the hang of going backwards. It was painful to watch. One by one, the other kids passed them, while my sorry-looking pair floundered on the same three feet of ice, going nowhere fast. One of the coaches came to their rescue, and showed them how to carve large semi-circles in the ice, while waggling their hips. They struggled to the end, and then attempted the bending of the knees bit. I was drinking my tears laughing at this stage. They knelt, fell over, pirouetted inelegantly, got up, tried again, same thing…..got to the end, turned, and came back towards me, jumping with two feet, splatting onto the ice, scrambling up, same thing again….
Eventually one of the coaches couldn’t take it any more, and took them aside to show them how to stop, and how to skate backwards. They learnt more in thirty minutes than they had all winter on the rink beside us. The session ended, we spent twenty minutes back in the smelly changing rooms, and headed home to get some sleep before Round 2. The next session was where they evaluated the drills; this time around they managed to do them all without making a show of themselves, and the afternoon session was a scrimmage game. They were divided into two teams and played two 30 minute games. This was great to watch – the five players on the ice changed over every couple of minutes, and the rink was full of whirling figures in red and green jerseys. The referee circled constantly, while the evaluators watched from the bench. The last session, another scrimmage game, was this morning, and the teams will be announced this evening. I don’t know how good a fist we’ll make of being hockey parents, but we’ll try it out for this year, and learn the rules as we go along.
In other news of the week, I’m down 20 pounds since last Tuesday, and had my first photo-shoot the same day. More about the photo-shoot later – what an amazing day :-). The first article in the Star Phoenix appeared yesterday, and the blog that I’m writing about this experience also appeared. Here’s the links: