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

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Game Day - Viking Cup Games 3 and 4

On Sunday morning I headed out to Gawler for the second half of the Viking Cup's round robin schedule.  The early game was against the Shufflers and at midday we would take on the Rockers.  At the end of that match the three teams would be seeded for their finals appearances, an elimination game between positions two and three, followed by a grand final between the winner of that game and the team that had come first during the round robin games.

I knew that I could not be in Gawler for the afternoon finals as I had to be back at the Ice Arena for the Knights final game of the regular season against the Rangers.  So, the best I could do for my team was try and help them get first position on the ladder to maximise their chance for a later victory.

We opened the tally with a 4-0 win against the Shufflers.  Good team effort on our part, especially as we had only five skaters (2 of whom were rookies, one of whom has a shoulder injury).  I got an assist for our second goal in the first period, but much of my game was defensive in nature as I fed the forwards and kept it in the zone.  I made it a point to cover the danger players of the Shufflers as they could each outskate all the others on our team.  It was a totally fun game, no penalties or bad blood on anyone's part.

The second Wheelers game of the day at Gawler resulted in a 1-1 draw against the Rockers.  If our team was about passing and positioning, the Rockers were mainly about strength and cunning.  It was a very close fought game, 0-0 at the end of the first half and both teams tiring a bit.  Each team scored in the final five minutes.  We unfortunately were penalised for too many skaters on the rink with twenty seconds to go, however they only got one face off before the siren went so it wasn't too bad.  Again, I spent much of my time picking up their loose skater through the game.

My greatest failing in both games was my passing, very often putting it straight into an opposing player rather than the intended target (though a surprising number did find the right person).  I will have to be a little more conservative with my passing game, holding the puck and playing for position more than I did, when the regular season returns.

For me, it was a case of pack up my gear and hop in the car and drive back to Adelaide for the Knights game in the afternoon.

For the Wheelers, it was an elimination game against the Shufflers.  Shufflers won that game, went on to lose against the Rockers in the Cup game.  Sigh.

Inline 4

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Game Day - Viking Cup Games 1 and 2

I am enrolled for my first tournament, the Viking Cup.  I am in the Second/Social Division, composed of three teams in total.  We have six skaters and Matt the Goalie.  The other teams are similarly composed.  Most of the players are from Div 2 in the regular competition, though we have three rookies on our team who are all trying it out (all can play).  The usual combinations have been mixed up for the occasion.  On my team, only Nat and I are used to playing together.  Our team is the Wheelers.

Games comprise two twelve minute halves, with a minute for half time and two minutes between games.  There are two Junior divisions and two senior Divisions., each team plays two games today and two tomorrow, followed by finals in the afternoon (I'll have to miss the finals if the Wheelers make it, being required on the ice for the Knights clash against the Rangers).

Today we played the Shufflers first.  It ended up 2-2 draw.  I tied it up in the ninth minute of the second half with a ridiculous shot from the right boards only a foot or two above the redline.  This was my only score for the day.  I was a bit rusty overall, dropping the puck off my stick a couple of times most noticeably.  Had a good battle with Darryl, a dual citizen from Blackwood, through the game (he plays with the Shufflers in the regular competition and have had a good tussle with him there also).  We played most of our minutes with each other on the rink.

Our second game was five hours later against the Rockers.  This was a harsher affair.  We lost 1-2.  Dallas scored his second goal of the tournament for us.  I pushed myself harder in this game, and my energetics were still picking up by game end (peak HR of 193 was reached in the last shift and EPOC maxed out after the game was over).  The Rockers have a greater emphasis on strength than the Shufflers (who were more about skill - we are about speed and position) and it was definitely a more physical game.  Both teams were blocking a significant significant number of shots.

Most memorable moments for the day included my goal against the Shufflers and the general challenge of that game, wrestling Craig to the floor mid-rink as we twisted against each other's sticks, being beaten by him shortly after in a race to the boards and subsequent battle for body position, successfully blocking a shot by glancing it off my upper elbow guard (lower left bicep) and not even feeling it.

A fun day, with two more games scheduled for tomorrow morning before I hop into the car and drive an hour to the Ice Arena for the important last game of the season.

Inline 2

Game Day - Knights (2) d Flyers (1)

On Sunday night we played the Flyers for the second time this season.  The Flyers are defending a premiership.  We haven't beaten them in three seasons.  They'd beaten us by five goals when we met before xmas.   They had lost a couple of games recently and, for the first time since round two, been knocked out of first spot on the ladder (by the Blades, after their victory over us the night before).  Therefore, we knew they'd be keener even than usual for a win. 

Against this, we knew that if we are to avoid a playoff elimination game we had to win this one.  Anything less would leave our playoff chances subject to the results of other games.  So we also had a pretty good 'meta-reason' to win the game.  The fact that we had ten skaters against their seven wasn't going to be as decisive as it ordinarily would have been as we were playing within twenty four hours of our shootout defeat to the Blades.  Both teams are known as fairly aggressive.  It was going to be a tough game.

We ran with four defencemen for the first two periods, switcing it up in the final period to only three on the rotation.  I was on the ice for their goal, and for both of ours had only literally just stepped off the ice at the end of a shift as they went in. 

From memory, they had us under severe attack in the first period, outshooting us about 10 to 2.  In a sense we were lucky to be tied at 1-1, and owed the game at this stage to Tommy the Goalie (do teams owe every game they win to their goalie?).  He was definitely on fire, stopping everything they could throw at him except a hard shot from the inside of the offensive dot which deflected just enough of the shaft of my stick go over the top of Tommy's glove and into the back of the net.  I felt slightly responsible but those are the risks of getting in the way.

We went up by a goal in the second period, which was much more even in terms of shots than the first had been.  The game was being fought out significantly in the neutral zone and I was getting an edge on their lesser players around our goalfront, especially as some of their fancier skaters realised that I didn't need to be as good a skater as they were to screw up their plans.  Similarly, their larger more bullish players were beginning to understand that I was still willing to take them on and was willing to work hard to put myself into a position of advantage to do so.  

Probably the most heart stopping moment I had on the bench was when one of their larger wingers found himself on a breakaway 1 on 0 against our goalie, and blew the shot.  Go Tommy!  Ealier in the period the same winger had started tapping my stick to irritate me, but I had tapped him back and we had just got to the point where a ref was skating over in case he had to get between us when I skated off with a small moral victory under my belt.  I'm not great fan of bullyish intimidation, so I enjoyed this fellow fluffing his shot later.

Both teams were physically tiring by the end of the second period, though you could guarantee we'd all come out strong after a couple minutes rest and it would boil down to a battle of wills in the final few minutes.  Which is the way it turned out to be.

The game's pace picked up again in the third period, with strong forays being made by both sides and good goal keeping at both ends.  Penalties began to flow, but they tended to be matching and thus there was no outsized disparity such as the last period had seen (when we had killed off about at minute at 5 on 3, and then the remainder of the regular powerplay).

Entering the final minutes I was pretty convinced that, as tired as we all were, they would be battling the effects of fatigue on their decision making abilities as well as, in their less conditioned players at least, the effects of 'jelly legs' due having only seven skaters.  Against this, they were a more well drilled unit, with back passing forwards, late trailing snipers, set plays at face offs and a history of winning, so we battened down the hatches and put in our hardest minutes of the game.

For me, this was perhaps typified best in the following three incidents.  In the first, I blocked a shot by closing the space on the same forward who had deflected one into the net in the first period, in an almost identical situation (I'd also blocked a low shot in the second, with the front of my boot (which stung a little for awhile)). 

The second incident occured as they came in on one of several forays on our right wing resulting in our centre battling with theirs on the boards.  Their winger was waiting several feet away to take the plunder.  I knew he was a slick skater and had a good snapshot, so proceeded to involve myself with him to the point that, as soon as the puck was in our reach, he was on the ice.  He started to complain aloud to me, so I told him to 'stop your whining' as I skated off after the puck to clear it.

The third was on the opposite boards, when I was first to the puck and consequently became involved in a board tussle.  I did my best just to hold the puck in, push it forward.  He, on the other hand, was trying to strip it and concentrating more on me than the puck.  As a consequence, the butt end of his stick ended up in my sternum with some force just as the whistle stopped play for a roughing penalty against my opponent.

I saw out the game on the ice, almost in a penalty killing role as they pulled their goalie with a half minute to go (we'd kept the puck in their end for at least a couple minutes before that).

It was a sweet victory indeed.

Our team game was more measured than it has been before, more deliberate passes finding their target, more holding onto the puck to make smarter decisions, a greater willingess to carry it if opportunity presented, less undisciplined play, smoother line changes, greater support, better breakouts (even I carried it behind our goal at least three times, on one of those occasions even doing a reverse of direction to shake the forechecking forward).  I think our coach would be reasonably proud.

I was pretty happy with my game.  I lost my edges a lost less than the night before, got several shots off (including a couple that ended in the goalie's glove), did some nice breakout passes, managed to contain their best forward and disarmed the others, stood protectively over our goalie on a number of plays.  I was surprised to see at the end of the game that my average heart rate and VO2 were both significantly less than the night before, the effort had seemed just as intense.

There's a lesson in that, what with a heavy hockey weekend coming up (four short inline games at the Viking Cup, followed by the final game of regular season on the ice, when we play the Rangers in a game of importance to both teams as we head into playoffs).

GP 15 G 2 A 3 Pts 5 +6 10/3/3/1 PIMs 12

Ice 3

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Game Day - Blades (5) d Knights (4) SO

We lost last night's game in a shootout, having first surrendered a first period lead of 2-0 and then, in the third, struggling to score an equaliser to even get to a shootout.  In that sense, it was a disappointing outing.  Part of the disappointment arises from the fact that I was involved with three of their goals, albeit being on the ice for all of ours also.   On the other hand, I/we can play better than we did and as a result I am pretty certain that we can beat this team should we meet them in the playoffs.

We had nine skaters again, same as the Blades.

My takeaway lessons from the game mainly centre around the goals that we allowed when I was on the ice.  For the first, I was backing in and keeping their guy on the outside.  I could maybe have closed the gap on him a little but was playing conservative.  I'd only picked him up late (as he entered the zone) due fact my partner further up had been caught flat footed and I was picking up the pieces.  The shot went in from above the hashmarks, probably just above the dot.  I don't think that any real blame attaches to me for this one.

The second goal was one where I had inside position between winger and goal, had kept him from screening our goalie, had my stick under his as the pass came in from the corner, and yet still totally failed to disrupt the subsequent shot.  A sticklift or a good shove would have been all it took to neutralise the eventual scorer.

The third was one that was fairly regretable.  I'd pulled up at our post as our centre carried the puck behind the goal.  Somehow he lost his footing and went down, to be pounced on by a pursuing forward.  I dropped back and was shouting at our guy to 'get up', trying to step over him to get back in front of the net as the forward steamed off.  I was still emerging from behind the net when the pass came in to the open winger in front of the open goal (Tommy was covering the shot).  It was especially painful to watch from my position because I knew exactly where I would have been if not snarled up behind the net.

Lest it seem like it was all doom and gloom, it wasn't.  I blocked a couple shots solidly, helped kill off their one power play, tied up a forward in front of our net several times, carried and reset several times, played ping pong on the blue line at least once, took several shots of which two ended up in the mitt and, most gratifyingly, seemed to get a lot of passes onto a friendly stick (generally board passes, though not always).  I iced it once on a long pass that sailed past a dreaming forward who wasn't watching the play (frustrating).

Conditioning held up again; peak HR of 195 (avg 170), EPOC of 109 ml/kg, VO2 of 38 ml/kg/min.  What will be really interesting is whether I can replicate this again tomorrow, and at the same time play smarter deep in our own zone, in what is arguably the most important game of our season.

GP 14 G 2 A 3 Pts 5 +7 9/3/1/1 PIMs 12 

Ice - 2