Thursday, 13 October 2016

Go Oilers Go!

The puck drops for the 2016/17 NHL season in a few hours.  Edmonton is on the road in Calgary for the first game.  I won't be able to see it as I will myself be on the road at the time, possibly only will get to watch it sometime over the weekend.  This will be the second season with Connor McDavid as an Oiler.  Here's hoping he has an even better season than last (when he scored over a point per game but missed almost half the season due a broken clavicle due those dirty Flyers).

There has been quite a bit of activity in the Northern hemisphere summer at Oilersland.  Probably the most controversial move was the trade of Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson.  So, we now have a strong right D and lost a top winger.  Me, I liked the trade once I got my head around it.  On the assumption that Larsson is as good as they say he is, the team will benefit more than they'll lose on the exit of Hall.  And I must say that I wasn't a great Hall fan.  He was good, yes, but spent too much time being a hero on his own and then getting shitty when it didn't work out.  Not my kind of player.

We picked up Milan Lucic to compensate on the left wing.  I think I'll prefer him to Hall.  Maybe not as individually brilliant as Hall but pretty damn good none-the-less, but he's a team player and sticks up for his mates (I hated him when he was in Boston).  We can do with a bit of grunt up front and we got it with Lucic on the first line.

Nail Yakapov is also gone, traded for picks to the Blues.  As much as I enjoyed watching him play, he was frustrating due always going offside, bouncing off the guys he hit, missing the goal from point blank (not good for a 'sniper').  The fact he wanted to be traded was probably the icing on the cake and he's gone.  I hope he works it all out, but am relieved he won't need to be covered.

Looking at the opening night roster, it's a long way advanced from this time last year.  We have a D, we have two killer lines leading the forwards, we still have a good number one goalie.  There are still a lot of prospects and rookies (three or four?!) on it, including this year's number 4 overall draft pick (Pool Party!), but I am most glad to see Slepyshev on the list.  I first noticed him before I knew he was an Oiler, in a Weber Cup game a couple years ago playing for his Russian KHL team.  He was ferocious and fast.  He only played one or two games with the Oilers last year.  I think he's looking good at the moment.  I am looking forward to seeing him unleash that ferocity (hopefully against Calgary).

Oh well, another Oilers season begins.  It's hard not to be optimistic at this time of the season.   For an Oilers fan, that usually ends within the month, but I'm hoping this year will be different.  They do say, hope dies last but I'm hoping there's more to it than that this time around.

My prediction?  We'll go close to the playoffs, maybe grab a wildcard spot if injuries don't cripple us like they did last year.  We wait...

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Running Man

There's a theory out there that human evolution is as much linked to our ability to run as it is anything else.  The theory points out that the exponential growth in the size of our brainpans is synchronous with the emergence of homio sapiens from its monkey ancestors, and gave it the edge in its competition with neanderthals so much so that the later vanished from the tale.  To get the growth in brain, we needed a huge increase in protein intake.  We achieved this by eating animals we caught.  Regularly.  Almost two million years before there is evidence that we used tools to do so (or, for that matter, to do anything else).

How did we regularly hunt down sufficiently large animals to supply our growing need for proteins, without tools?  In the savannahs and grasslands that dominated the landscape of early humankind, so goes the story, we were able to take down animals that were bigger, stronger, faster than us by running them down.  Essentially, running them to death (apparently there are still existing cultures where this still occurs).  We could do this because humans are able to run for longer and further than any other animal.

Our bodies distinguish themselves from all other animals in several respects, all geared to allow us to run longer and further.  These include; sweat and essential hairlessness to cool ourselves down independently of our breathing; an actual pace length longer than even a horse's; a breathing musculature that allows for independence from the stride (unlike, say, a cheetah who's powerful legs act as a bellows for the lungs, one pace one super powerful breathing action).  We were made to run, says the theory, and all else followed.

This running man theory has been used to promote all sorts of ideas, from barefoot running to the naturalness of ultra-marathons.  Me? I'm simpler.  I've used it to explain why I seem to like running.   And the more I have run, the more I want to run.  It's a virtuous circle.

So much so that my pre-season training hasn't got out of 'running mode'.  I justify it by referring to the increase in my 'aerobic base', and make the most of it by tailoring into my running as much hockey specific conditioning aspects as I can.  Thus, 'hard running' and interval work takes place in the schedule alongside more traditional threshold and aerobic 'modes'.  The only real specific 'running' modality I do is the weekly 'long run' - an aspect of marathon training far more so than for hockey (in fact, a concentration on this 'running agenda' is contra-indicated for hockey players if taken beyond a certain point).

Perhaps the fact that I will be shifting back a gear or two in my running program in the months to come allows me to justify pushing it to the forefront now.

And, as a runner I'm pretty pleased with what I've achieved.  In the last week I ran a total of 28km, with the longest individual run being of over 10km one moonlit night.  It's been quite a journey!

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Pre Season Training Thoughts

The upcoming season is the third for which I will have prepared myself with a pre-season schedule of fitness, conditioning and skills training.  Unsurprisingly, and even though it is still early days this year despite my later than ideal start, I feel better equipped than in the past and that my efforts will be more effective as a result.  Hopefully it's not just hubris.

Since my last inline game in early August it was another four and a half weeks before I did any specifically 'sporty' activity (namely, a social skate at the Ice Arena one Wednesday evening).  Not that this was a huge change, as I hadn't done anything EXCEPT play inline once a week since May.  Be that as it was, I thoroughly enjoyed my ice skating and drove the heart and lungs reasonably strongly.  I felt great afterwards, realised that I'd better stop procrastinating about beginning some pre-season training (I'd been finding 'reasons' not to start for the previous couple of weeks), that higher level physical exertion isn't only good for you, it FEELS good as well!  So, a couple days later I strapped on my heart rate monitor and went my first run in five months.  And thus began my pre-season training program for this season.

In the first couple days I ran 3km each, the following week totaled 22km, the following one over 25km, this week will be close to 30km.  I can feel the heart/blood/lungs starting to respond to this increase in aerobic activity, to the point where I now feel safe starting some anaerobic work (began this phase of training yesterday evening).  Next up will be core and leg strength work (this week), agility (next week) and general overall skills training (subject to weather for some inline skating, otherwise stickhandling with a golf ball every second evening every second day or so).

If I treat the first game of the season as actually falling within pre-season period I buy myself a couple extra weeks before I need to transition into regular season activity, so I have about a month to go.  That's enough time to make a significant difference to my performance.  Especially if I maintain some basic fitness and skill work into my schedule through at least the first half of the season.

The plan is evolving!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The Plan

It is two and a half weeks to our opening ice hockey game for the season, and another 15 days before the second (we play five times over the ensuing 24 day period).  Having moved to the Mid North (about two hours drive from the Ice Arena) there will be a few changes for me from the last three seasons.  Ironically, this pre-season period is that which will be least affected by the move (as it primarily involves individual off-ice fitness and conditioning work, as opposed to team or ice based activity). 

The big changes for me are a function of the distance I need to travel and the time it takes to do so.  I won't be getting to training with any regularity (and possibly not for weeks at a time), I won't be playing inline hockey over summer, and I'll have a two hour car trip both before and after my games.

To alleviate the issue of the two hour drive beforehand, I'll try and leave earlier so that I can have some 'chill' time before starting to focus in on the game ahead.  As I would be having my main meal at least four hours before a game, if I had that and then drove in I'd have a couple hours to get over the trip.  Sounds better than what I did with inline over winter, when it was get out of the car and get changed and play.

As for lack of training sessions or inline games, I can aim to do the best I practically can to attend trainings (half is better than none) and factor some individual skills sessions into my fitness and conditioning schedule.  As for skating practice, take advantage of what spare trips to Adelaide I get to call in at the Ice Arena, and get in some inline skating at the local primary school when the weather fines up.

All of that is for the future, however, except for fitness and conditioning and maybe some individual skills work.  I can do these things now.

Sounds like a plan.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The season just gone

After a long hiatus I return!  Since last posting I played out a whole season of inline hockey.  It's only four weeks to my first game of the coming season on the ice.  I have started up a 'crash course' of fitness and conditioning.  Life is good.

My first season in Division 1 inline hockey at Gawler was played for the Rolling Dead.  Fast, physical and competitive.  Our leaky defence, amplified by poor offence (6th), subverted valiant goal tending (2nd) to ensure the Rolling Dead didn't make the playoffs.  We ended up fifth on the ladder (six teams).  I totally loved the jersey!

I made all twelve of our games.  Each was an experience unto itself for me.  Some games I shone on the face off, others I played an (almost) impassable defence, others I got good shots on goal and, in some, I scored.  There were a number of highlights and a few lessons (some of which I detail below) but the overall experience was one of steady improvement and continuing enjoyment.

I didn't attend a single training session for the whole season, either with others or on my own.  I didn't touch my skates except to play a game.  I did no physical training or exercises at home.  I did turn up for several games after a morning mixing concrete, chopping down trees, digging holes.  All of this and a two hour drive each way to get to a game in the first place.

A few events stand out in memory:

Turning up for my first game to discover that I'd be on the rink for the full game (we only had three skaters).  We played till it felt like we had nothing left and then we played some more, used a time out with ten minutes to go, conserved energy when we could, burnt it with gay abandon every shift.  We ended up with a victory, my fitness tracker recorded the highest performance metrics I've yet produced and I got my first goal at this level (pass from Brad in the corner to me in slot).  What a game!

In our third game we were soundly beaten 11-1.  The junior star of the opposing team scored six goals and made a couple of assists, our goal keeping was the lowest I've ever had on a team, but I still greatly enjoyed the game.  Mainly because I shut down their star for the second half by playing good solid defence (though he kept on scoring when our first line was on the floor).  In other words, and in spite of the score line, I grew more confident in my defensive abilities after this game.

In Game 5 I blocked five shots and scored a nice goal on the rush off of a desperate and accurate pass from Jess.

In Game 11 I single handedly scored game tying goal after taking advantage of my own centre face off win, backing my skating to thread a gap in the defence and quick release a snap shot at speed.  I also played out a couple of penalty kills, including the dying minutes (using my body and feet to good effect against bigger stronger players more than my stick).

In Game 12 I finally started to strip the puck from the opposition with more regularity (twice off of their best player) and deny them the slot when it counted.  I was also skated around twice by a better skater in the zone (once leading direct to a goal).  I then took part in a shift which was probably the strongest I've either witnessed or played in at my level, with Josh and Jess being the primary movers and me using every bit of my lungs and legs to give support as they tore off dangerous shot after dangerous shot and we controlled the puck for several minutes (and their goalie denied us each and every time we thought we'd scored (I hit the post twice)).  Great play, no result, they scored shortly after we made a change.  Sigh.

Lack of fitness work (ie neither training, nor High Intesity sessions as a substitute) or hockey training (neither team training sessions, nor private time with stick and/or puck to compensate) led to a decline in my capacity over the season, especially when combined with the 'external' factors of work around the house (lumber work, digging, concreting) and travel times (for example, arriving after a two hour drive to immediately get changed and play, no 'adjustment' time to compensate for the drive).

If I am content to continue to learn hockey sense from game to game, I can pick up that same game to a higher level by doing the following in future:
- sustained in-season strength and conditioning work, prioritising high intensity sessions (1 or 2 'tabata' runs or indoor cycle sessions per week), leg strength and agility (twice weekly) and skating/shooting/stick handling sessions (upto twice weekly).  That's a fair bit to work into a busy life, but I'll try.
 - getting to the game with time for my muscles and mind to recover from the drive before I have to focus on game.

As for my first Div 1 season, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, learned a lot about hockey and myself, and can't wait to repeat it next year.

Individual Stats: GP 12 G 3 A 2 T/P 5 PIMS 4
Rolling Dead Stats: W 5 L 7 T 0 GF 69 GA 71 SV% .805

Monday, 9 May 2016

Inline Update

I typed this on March 15 but for some reason never posted it (the pre-paid mobile internet didn't work out to be any quicker than dial-up used to be, perhaps).

I have been out of contact for the past month due the fact that I moved house twice in that time and only in the last day or so finally established a (mobile prepaid) internet connection.  I am now living in a cottage in the country about 150 kms north of Adelaide and waiting until May 7th (when we are scheduled to be connected to regular internet service).

Mar 12 - Mavericks 5 d Snipers 4 1-1-2 +1 GRAND FINAL
Awards:  Grand Final Medal, Season Highest Scorer and Most Valued Player trophies.

We played a poor first half and went into half time down 0-2.  The score had declined to 0-3 before Matt put one in for us through sheer determination.  They then scored to make it 1-4 and things looked grim but we found our mojo and took the lead in the final two minutes, killing off the remaining time to come out winners.  I scored the game tying goal off a pass from Natasha, and then myself provided the helper for Merrilyn's game winner.  A great way to end off this season and my time in Div II (have been promoted to Division I for next season).

It was a big evening for me.  Standing for the national anthem before the game was a buzz, moment of reflection and ambition.  This was book ended after the game when I went up to receive my trophies.  Receiving the applause of my sweaty peers meant more to me than the more abstract awards I've won previously in life.

Mar 5 - Mavericks 2 d Bumpers 0 1-1-2 +2 SEMI FINAL

Possibly our best game for the season.  Short shifts, good talking, accurate passing, physically determined, desperate.  My favorite play was the one that led to our second goal.  It was within two minutes of the end of the game when Craig got behind us on a rush, I set off in hot pursuit.  I had been about to end a tiring shift and so this was a major effort.  It didn't take me more than a step or two as I crossed the half way line that I realised I wouldn't catch him.  This didn't slow me down or stop me, however, and I was close enough to him when he took his shot to clip his stick with mine, resulting in a total miss on his part.  I was able to wheel and retrieve the puck much quicker than he was and I was shortly on my own one man mission up the board, cross through the centre, deke around their last defender before faking and pulling a shot so that Matt the Goalie committed himself.  Then taking stock of where the gaps were and picking one and shooting for it (between his right arm and leg) and getting it.  I sort of raised my stick but skated off for a quick breather before being sent back out by Brenton to see out the game.  Very spent the next day with a lot of upper body muscular soreness due several strength battles with Craig and Dallas.

Feb 27 - Mavericks 6 d Bumpers 2, 4-1-5 +4
Feb 20 - Mavericks 3 d Shufflers 1, 1-2-3 +3 PIMS 2
Feb 13 - Snipers 4 d Mavericks 3, 0-0-0 +/-0 PIMS 2

Regular season Stats - GP 10 G 22 A 13 Pts 35 +27 7/3/0 PIMS 10
Playoff Stats GP 2 G 2 A 2 Pts 4 +3 2/0/0

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Game Day - Bumpers (4) d Mavericks (3) SO

Regular season Inline hockey returned to Gawler on Saturday Night.  We lost our Division II game against the Bumpers in a clean close-fought game that ended up in a them taking the shootout victory with a solitary goal by the adult rookie, Dallas, in his first game with the team.  With him on board they had five skaters, the same as us.  They had Matt the Goalie, we had Josh.  Neither team had a bench manager.

The game was important to both teams in terms of position on the ladder.  The Division is very competitive this year, three teams with one point between them (we were in first position coming out of the summer break, on goal difference) and only four games before finals and any of the four teams can beat any other on a good day.  The points were important.

I was on the first shift.  It was controlled and fluid.  Their 'new' guy game out after I had changed out, scored a goal shortly afterwards.  He has quite a shot and this was effectively his way of announcing that fact.  From that moment on the game was one of continuous catch-up and them never surrendering their lead.  At least, that's the way I recall events (the official game sheet, however, tells another tale).

Our first shift was good, strong skating, recovery from defence, passing to advantage and shots on goal.  Shouldn't have been too self congratulatory as they scored their first goal on the next shift.  Dallas, the new guy who'd been on our team in the Viking Cup, scored it from just over half way.  He was skating strong and showed his good shot at that time, putting the rest of us who weren't already on notice that this was a good (ie. Div I) player.

Ten minutes later we equalised with a deft shot by myself from the mid slot, off of a pass from Merrilyn in the left corner.  Between her and me were all three Bumpers.  What was cool was that she deliberately held the puck despite being charged so as to have a good look and find her moment for a pass to myself.  When it came it was a brilliant saucer pass, landing right on my blade allowing for what was effectively a one timer snapshot.

The game was 1-1 as we went into half time.  This turned out to be an extra long break due to Josh having trouble with his goalie gear (in the end he swapped out of the ones he had on originally to some that allowed him some flexibility of movement).  Although it was nice to have a long break and come back in virtually a rested state for the second half, it was disturbing to think that the opposition was also getting this benefit.  I think this worked to our disadvantage as our basic fitness and conditioning was superior to the Bumpers and we would have therefore had a bit more of an edge in the final minutes if half time was shorter.  Be that as it may, such is life.

I was on for their second goal, scored in the third minute by another shot from close to the centre line.  This time it was by Mel.  I was close to the flight of the puck and could have made an attempt to block it away if I had chosen.  Instead, I decided to leave it to the goalie and it fluttered through.  Nice shot, but what interests me now is that I (1) had time to consider options even as the puck was in the air, and (2) I chose to take the 'passive' approach and step back out of the puck's path to allow Josh a clearer view of it.  In respect of (1), this is good as long as I don't intellectualise on the rink.  In respect of (2), perhaps with the benefit of hindsight I can now say that I should have tried to block it.  Recent defelcted goals seem to have shaken my confidence, if only to the extent that I now leave the long shots to the goalie to deal with.

I wasn't on the rink for our answering goal, a pass from Merrilyn to Matt in front of goal and he slamming it home.  2-2.  Nor was I on for their next score, ten minutes. later.  I wasn't even watching at the time but noticed that all their players were crowding our net.  I gather he jammed it home from close in, an unusual goal for Craig. 

They were in front 3-2 as the final minutes ticked away and the game grew desparate.  I was on the rink for the final minute, had tried to rush the goal off an offensive face off, failed, found ourselves pushed back in our own end, me in the back left corner looking to get the puck forward for a final attack, notice Merrilyn coming out of the gate and springing up the right boards, wait, pass it in a long cross rink stretch pass that went tape to tape and allowed her to swoop in and score.  Very neat pass.

3 all.  Overtime.  We ran with myself, Matt and Merrilyn and failed to score.  On their side, Dallas scored the opener and then Mel and Craig failed to follow up.  Their win and no points to us.

No penalties in the game despite the teams and the intensity, though I think we all came close at some time.

Besides the tight passing that led to our goals, I most recall the physical nature of the game, an almost goal when I got outfoxed by Matt the Goalie, and the fact that we kept hitting Matt's body and pads when we shot at goal (need to find the corners more often).

In terms of physicality, two incidents typify its level.  On the first, I and Dallas battle on the boards behind our goal.  He pins me, prevents me clearing it, tries to push it clockwise.  I try and dig it out from under him and start trying to kick the puck out from him despite the pin.  He ties this up by getting his foot under mine between kicks and levering it upwards.  So we are pinned to uselessness against the boards and no one else can get the puck from between three of our four skates.  So, and unusually, the ref blow his whistle to restart the game at a faceoff.  Excellent battle.

The second example of the physicality occured AFTER we'd scored our final goal, off of a final attack by us that resulted in four bodies down in front of their goal, and everyone still pushing, shoving, slashing, except for me who is stretch right out to tie up their third player's stick as she tried to plunder the scrum.  Pretty funny to see everyone down, even if Brenton had been a bit stunned after being knocked down.

The goal I shoulda got but didn't was when I went behind their goal, tried the wrap around, ended up with the puck loose behind the goalie, my stick mere inches from it, and him grabbing and immobilising it in a manner so as the ref couldn't see it.  I was tempted to kick the puck in out of frustration but didn't.  Good sly goal tending.

The other thing Matt the Goalie did really well was position his body and cover with his pads.  The only goals we got were from elevated shots, we just didn't do them often enough.  And when we did we tended to shoot at the goalie rather than the gaps.  The official record says that they outshot us 21-19 but I'd say their victory was due to his goal keeping.  Well done Matt. 

Next game, Snipers.

GP 7 G 17 A 10 Pts 27 +20 5/2/0 PIMs 6

Inline 5

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Game Day - Storm (1) d Knights (0) in Elimination Final

On Sunday the Knights played in our first Summer Season post season game, an elimination final against the Storm.  The winner continues into the semi final playoffs against top of table Blades.  The losers hang up their skates till next season.  We had won both regular season encounters, the first in a shootout and the second 3-1.  They had been close games.  For this game we had ten skaters and Tommy in goal.  Justine ran our bench with Nick assisting.  They had three staff, thirteen skaters and Peterson between the pipes.

Only one goal was scored the whole game, theirs in the later part of the second period.  For the rest of the game it seemed a see-saw battle, with them working their way into the combat zone in front of our net with sustained pressure, and us with our lightening strikes and quick waves of attack.  I didn't see their goal, having just left the ice before the play which it resulted from, but gather it was a coast to coast skate by their lanky forward, with Tommy being left to fend for himself.  If so, Tsk Tsk Tsk to us, for this is the kind of play that should not happen at this end of the season.  In a strange way, it's only fair that our season ended as a result.

Tommy was brilliant in goals and kept us in the game to the final siren.  He couldn't have done anything more.  He made some brilliant saves, sometimes ending up sprawled on the ice over the puck to kill a scrum that had gone crazy, sometimes making himself huge as he advanced towards a rushing forward, sometimes swatting the puck surely away from the kill zone.  Brave man, hats off.

I very nearly was the cause of the scoreline blowing out on at least two occasions.  Once in the first period when I failed to clear it from a scrum, ultimately leading to me being at one of the posts with Tommy flat across the line and a pile of bodies in front of him, the puck standing tantalisingly on its edge for a what seemed like several seconds in the few inches behind his back and out of my reach also (the ref blew his whistle to end the play, having lost sight of the puck).

The second near-screwup  occurred in the second period and began as a one on one that I felt quite comfortable with, despite the high speed.  I was skating backwards and controlling the gap as I tracked the forward to the point where I would arrest him properly when one of my skates bit into the ice and I went arse down backwards.  I swung my stick towards the puck as soon as I felt what was happening, allowed the momentum of my swung stick to carry me around to end up outstretched and face down towards my own goal.  The forward got by me, but I tangled him just sufficiently to enable our furiously backchecking centre to apply further pressure from behind and ultimately frustrate the shot.  Scary moment!

To counter these scary moments, there were a number of memorable plays with which I was involved.  As has been the case for recent game reports, I'll rehash them below in impressionist form.

In the first period I had my best shot at goal.  It began with me holding the blue line during one of our counterattacks after the siege of the first ten minutes.  I pinched down slightly to secure possession of the puck on the half board before firing it back in.  I did this twice on the play.  The third time I had to race for the puck, arriving at it at the same time as my opponent.  Our sticks combined to knock it into clean ice.  By the time we took the necessary paces to its location (still on the blue line) other players were arriving.  I managed to swipe my stick first, keeping the puck in the zone and bouncing it high off of someone elses blade.  No one is sure where the puck is for a split second, I spin around on the spot looking.  Sight it as it drops down onto the ice a few feet away.  Swing the stick, connecting with the puck as it touches the ice.  Whip it in to goal.  Hard and powerful and unexpected shot.  Goalie's glove save spoils it and silences the crowd.  Great shot though!

The second period was a more even affair, more controlled in our defence and a bit more sustained pressure up forward.  I think we hit the pipes once.  We also started taking penalties, but they weren't too good at holding it in the zone if we could push towards the blue (they were strong down low, though) so we killed them all off mainly by icing the puck with a moderately strong forecheck (it's fun to be patrolling the blue on the penalty kill).  Several times during the period I gathered the loose puck in our zone and skated it behind our net before passing it up the boards.

As you'd expect, the third period started out quite ferociously as we tried to claw back their one goal lead.  It didn't ease up until the final siren, though by then exhaustion and fatigue were taking their toll on tired legs and decision making faculties alike.  Early in the piece I had engaged with a forward around the halfboard, drawing a cluster of players into our vicinity.  The puck vanished amongst us all briefly.  Their forwards outnumbered us and were almost frantic in their intensity, so I just started swinging my stick in wide sweeping motions around the puck, clearing the ice of the sticks of both friend and foe until our centre could grab it and take it out of harms way.

Perhaps the other memorable moments of the third entailed tying up forwards in front of or behind our net.  In front, I 'boxed them out' if they were close in, tied up sticks or bodies if they were higher up.  I chased to the corners as required, sometimes gaining the puck clean and only once allowing a shot that I didn't manage to then block with skate or shoulder.  The hairiest few seconds involved arriving late in the corner against a rampaging wide skating winger, chasing him back and keeping the inside position even though always behind, pursuing him behind goal and forcing him wide as he tried to wrap around, repeating the whole thing immediately the other way, and a final third time before we were both taken out by another player.

I still felt like I was going strong, and my decisions were good and quick, but many of the other skaters were beginning to cluster, hesitate and excessively stickhandle.  It was a bit frustrating but also a simple fact.  Their extra line of forwards certainly paid off in those final minutes!  Disappointing after the final siren, but pride in Tommy and the team for having put up a good game.  the handshakes were genuine and smiles were warm.

The referees took the unusual step of congratulating the teams for playing an intense and heavy game, but all in a very good spirit.  One can't ask for more than that in a final. 

Except for a win!!!

Ice 5

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Pre Playoff Review

The Knights play against the Storm in the Elimination Final this evening.  The winner goes through to a Semi Final series of upto three games against the Blades (the other Semi Final is already set to be between the Flyers and Rangers).  We have entered the serious end of the season.  As such, now is a good opportunity to review the regular season just concluded, from both an individual and a team perspective.

My Season - GP 16 G 2 A 3 Pts 5 +4 10/4/1/1 PIMs 14

I played my second entire season in defence, didn't miss a game and had no serious injury events.  More than half of the season we have played with only three on defence.  I have generally been on the first pairing and had more time on ice than my partners.  My game has become much more physical, primarily crease clearing in the early season, graduating to board battles in the corners as time passed.  A perhaps necessary consequence of developing my physical game has been an accumulation of penalties.  I have also developed a tendency to join the rush and have skated coast to coast on a number of occasions.  Apart from games where my health was suffering I have finished games skating stronger than at the start.

My decision making has improved through the season, particularly when without the puck. Examples include taking my man, covering the rush, controlling the gap and keeping them on the outside, maintaining coverage in front of the net, setting up on the blue line and general weak side play and have all been reasonable to good. 

I have not been so consistent with the puck on my stick, still having a tendency to find the opposition D on the blue when trying to clear up the boards from our zone or to ice the puck when there isn't enough pressure to warrant this.  More head-up play is probably my best tactic to adopt to counter these failings this late in the season.

The increased physical performance has come about due a much more coherent pre-season training schedule than last year, training through the mid-season break and intelligent dietary choices (especially on game day).  My improved technique and reading of the play has come about through a combination of accumulating experience and making the majority of team training sessions.  Personal and team training combined have led to improved confidence, smarter play and a good foundation to rely upon as we enter the playoffs.

The Knights - 4th on the ladder G 54 (3rd) PIMs 108 (2nd)* SA 245 (1st) GA 37 (4th)
*if Stewy's ridiculous game suspension for momentarily removing his helmet prior the handshake at the end of a game is discounted (it triggered a major shakeup amongst officials with the responsible referee losing his position as head ref), we come in at between 4th and 6th in the penalty rankings.

It has been a good season for the Knights, especially considering that our roster was depleted of Bacon and then Matt before the xmas break.  We have a total of only eleven on the roster (plus Tommy the goalie) as we enter the playoffs, but are a fairly tight unit and usually field at least nine or ten skaters.  By comparison, the Storm generally fields thirteen skaters (occasionally twelve) while the Blades and Flyers generally only have eight or nine.

The primary stat of significance to me as a defender is that we have allowed less shots on goal than any other team.  We will need to continue to do this.

All in all, we have a competitive team who can push any of the other playoff teams and, puck gods smiling, beat them.  Certainly the Blades aren't invulnerable should we make our way past the Storm this afternoon.  IF we can keep healthy through the playoffs, we'll give them a shake.

Perhaps equally important, if we can keep the bulk of this team together for next season (and there are many signs that most if not all intend to return) and recruit a couple more useful rookies in the interim, then we will truly be a force to be reckoned with!

Let's go Knights!

Friday, 29 January 2016

Game Day - Rangers (5) d Knights (2)

After competing in two morning games of inline hockey at Gawler as part of the Vikings Cup tournament I made my way back to the Ice Arena to play in the Knights' final game of the regular season.  We were taking on our old enemies, the Rangers, and the game would determine who had to play the elimination game against the Storm the following week before the playoffs proper commence.

We had ten skaters and Tommy in goal.  This is almost as good as it gets for us, still being a player down from when Bacon and then Matt were taken from us.  The Rangers iced twelve skaters plus their goalie.  We had Justine managing the bench.  She was assisted by Nick on the gate.  The Rangers had three coaching staff.

I should have written this up shortly after the game as life has been busy since (will be a common 'problem' in coming weeks, alas) and the details blur very quickly.  Therefore, as has become my practice on this blog, I will be more impressionistic than narrative in my style in what follows.

The Rangers scored against us pretty early, in my first shift.  It was one on one as their forward crossed the blue near the boards, I was coming back from a more central position and should have had him covered but I lacked the urgency a D needs in moments like this and he got clear beneath me and took his shot.  I put the goal down to my failure to engage properly, and the fact that I did so due the fact that my body hadn't yet awoken to the fact that I was playing my third hockey game of the day.

I'm not sure of the details of the play that led to their second goal, but do know that I was battling in front of our crease to keep our goalie clear.  I think I achieved this aim, but took a couple stick blows to the helmet while doing it.  My only real surprise was that, while the ref's saw the goal clear, they didn't see me getting hit around the head twice.  Sigh.

We scored shortly after I hopped off the ice late in the first period.

I was on for their third goal, relatively early in the second period.  Again, the shot came in from the outside and again I was holding up my man from crowding the crease.  I was doing what I needed to do and didn't feel too guilty about it afterwards (same as the second goal).

About midway through the second period our young centre got deliberately boarded at full speed pretty well right in front of our bench.  It was a mean and dirty hit and quite upsetting to see.  Our centre played out the rest of the period on the wing and then didn't return to the game due back pain.  The opposition guy copped a minor penalty for the hit.  Unsurprisingly, the game acquired an edge from this moment on.

We'd been playing with four D and two lines prior to Baden's injury.  From towards the end of the second period (when it became obvious he couldn't continue to play at all) we started playing with 3D.  They scored two more goals before the end of the game, we scored one.  I was on the ice for our goal (though uninvolved in any real fashion) but not theirs.

In the last period I played probably my best hockey, keeping the puck in their zone on a number of occasions by multiple interceptions, soccer skills, etc, clearing it from ours, taking them on along the boards and tying them up to the point of uselessness in front of goal.  I also managed to pick up a two minute penalty for hooking with about twenty seconds to go (a nice way to end the season, in the penalty box!).

Perhaps the strongest memories were three different forwards of theirs getting upset at me for totally being concentrated on them when they were in the slot and not even caring where the puck was or what the play was doing.  I've never before had any forward take exception to the fact that I do this, let alone voice it to me.  All three took a moment out from our struggle to tell me where the play was, or where the puck was, and asked/told me to direct my attention there.

Two of the three I didn't even deign to reply except to give them a bit of a shove.  My favorite personal memory was having the forward who'd put the illegal hit on our player look me in my eyes as I stood right up against and staring at him ask me, "What are you looking at?"

"You.  You're special."
"The puck's over there," using his eyes to glance over my shoulder.
No reply.  Shove.
"The play's over there!"  Frustrated.
Shove.  Stick lift.

The play moved on and we cleared it from our zone.  The forward used this as his opportunity to back away from me and skate off.

"We'll be keeping a special eye out for you in future!"  I skated off for the end of my shift.  Indeed.

The other two gave me a big grin and congratulated me on an 'excellent game' during the handshake.  The dirty player, on the other hand, didn't meet my eyes for the remainder of the game after our goalfront encounter (including when I was controlling the gap on him resulting in a successful poke check) and looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but there by the time I shook his hand (I wonder what others of the Knights had said to him by that point, I said nothing and was deadpan in expression).

GP 16 G 2 A 3 Pts 5 10/4/1/1 PIMs 14

Ice 4