Week 11 – Goodbyes and the Varx Select

When I first started back at hockey 3 years ago I was unsure about how much my skill level would have diminished over the years I was away. I joined the Varx in the hope of joining in to improve and build my fitness. I was very unsure of myself. But I remember the turning point at the time was when a long time respected Varx player said one simple sentence “…you come on my line with me”. It meant he thought that I was good enough to play as his defence man above all others.


This player and his wife have both played for the Varx for a long time. Since that day they have continued to coach and guide me. When I joined the Falcons he was there to encourage me, he is the one who constantly puts himself against me in scrimmage so that I have someone to battle against and work up to.
Now his wife has a job opportunity over in Texas and will soon be moving over there. They will be sadly missed. 
I have only known them for about 3 years though. They have been part of the hockey community for over 12. So this week as a final tribute they have gathered together a team to play against the new Varx players. All the money will go to charity.
The Varx select team is a team of players that they have played with over the years who have become part of their friends and hockey family over the years. 
For me it means I get to play hockey where practically every person on the ice is a friend. It was a wonderful experience.
Also because the select team was made up of a lot of the Falcons players it was a good pace to play up to and prove how much I have learned.
Varx played the Falcons in a friendly the year previously and honestly I was out matched and left standing easier than I’d like to admit. This time was a different story.
The first 20 minutes we actually matched their pace and I’m very sure they were unexpectedly on the back foot. We even scored the first goal.
Really these guys were the select team and not the Falcons but the pride we felt after that first period was immense. 
Sadly as the game went on, stamina and pace finally overtook us and despite no one actually keeping score, there was a fair gap between the points. 
But we regard the two teams as brothers so we were all proud of each other, and we were sad when it ended. I had personally had a brilliant game not letting people through and really getting stuck in. I have shown my worth in that match. 
It was a brilliant match that we enjoyed. In the end it was to see too people off who we all had come to respect over the years and whom we will be sad to see go. 

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Week 10 – Perspective 

So far my journey in the beer league has gone right in every way. I quickly adapted to training, I earned a spot on the team, I got ice time in the pre season matches all quite quickly. 
I always knew however that it wasn’t going to be easy to get on the team. The pace and skill set was high and although I was keeping up I knew I wasn’t going to be fully up there yet.


As the first season game was drawing up I was optimistic and after good ice time at the pre season games I was eager to further my place on the teams line up. 
Unfortunately this was the week where I was going to have to take a step back. 
The training time on the Falcons changed, back by an hour. This made it more difficult for me to get there. But it made it easier for everyone else. As such a whole group of old time Falcons players could suddenly make it to training. As a consequence my ranking was pushed down as more familiar, experienced players suddenly wanted a spot. 
There was even a defenceman that they had been trying to get on the team for years, a real good one from the pro leagues who had become available. 
I was proud that my team had an influx of new players and the quality on training sky rocketed with even some of our top players being out worked. It benefited everyone.
The coach called me over and politely informed me that I was totally welcome to come to the game in Solihull, but it was the most players they have ever took and ice time would be limited.
I was disappointed. 
It happens a lot in the game where a player will think he deserves more ice time than another, and he complains and moans, or his parents complain and moan. But ultimately a coach wants/needs to put his best team on the bench. After 10 years as a coach working a bench, no one knew this better than me. 
So should I go down anyway ride the pine pony? I put the question to my Dad. “If he wanted you there,” he said, “he wouldn’t have said anything. If you go down, he will have to think about giving you ice time instead of concentrating on the game.”
It made sense. I knew it did. I would have to sit this one out. 
Looking at my position within the team I’m a line 4 defence man. Which is a lot better than not being on the team at all. I am grateful for my place on the team and happy that there are more high quality players to train with, it will only improve my own level. 
Ice time will come more and more I am confident in that because I am confident in the rate I’m improving.
It’s important to always take on a positive perspective that way you can always make step forwards, even when you step back.
If anything it has made me more hungry to improve, to get up to that higher level consistently. Until then I will continue to work hard and take the opportunities that come my way.

Week 9 – Dads return

My Dad is back at Hockey. After being ill for about 4 weeks. It has drove him mad that he has been unable play and he has still come to watch my matches. But now he is back with a better body shape aso he is lighter and more of a drive than ever. 
In the scrimmage he even took the puck off me and then dangled it past me round the back of the net. He trys to play in different positions so that various skills improve and he has playing as a forward on the Falcons drills before he was sick. It was brilliant to have him back. I missed him being there we build each other up during training and I perform better showing him what I can do. Im also really proud of him, he has come on so much as a player and I prefer having him as my defensive partner over alot of others.
I have unfortunatly not shared his confidence with offensive play. I seem to get a nose bleed each time I cross over the blue line into the opponents zone. my shot and shooting sense is really coming on however and I have improved tenfold in the last few months. It is a factor of my game that I will be looking at in the next couple of months. It is a part of the game that doesnt come naturally to me and therefore something I need to enhance.
I find that when your team plays a match you can play faster and harder against teams who are faster and stronger. Playing up has been a natural phenomenon I have experienced all my time on the puck. Consequently the same is true for the reverse. As such I find I play a lot faster on Falcons training. I prefer the speed. So much so I find it more difficult to stop a slower opponent. What I need is to remain consistant. 
In other news its trade time at the NHL and as such Colorado has traded Jarome Ignila to ? At a time when the team is struggling it is a shame to see such a gifted talent leave. Personally I have been a fan of Ignila since he joined the NHL and was excited when he joined the Avs. I will be sad to see him go. 
My daughter Freya has begun her journey starting her first lot of lessons. I was so proud of her because she seemed to pick it up so fast. It makes a difference with someone other than her dad showing her. She is a lot more responsive. The best thing for me to see is that she genuinely loves to skate.
Finally I spoke to my brother. I told him that I was excited for the match up between his team and mine. It was 3 months away and we were discussing how both our teams took the league seriously. I was excited for us to both be on the ice at the same time. That was when he said. Well don’t expect to play it’s a pretty high level. 

Now he was joking. But it still sparked something inside me. 
I had got on the team. I had played a match for the team. This was not to mean I should sit back job done. I wasn’t guaranteed to play all or any of the matches. I had to remember that getting on the team was just the beginning of the journey. 
He may have been joking but he actually gave me the spark I needed to move onto the next stage of my game. I would make sure I was match ready and I had 3 months to get up to that next level. 

Week 8 – Always a Falcon

As I stepped onto the ice on Varx training it was for the first time since I had signed for the Falcons and made my debut the previous evening.

Players from the Falcons train with the Varx. We had set up a drill that we also used in Falcons. Instead of shooting from the middle we started to shoot from the side. I followed suit.
My Falcons teammates reminded me of how the drill should run. This was when I realised that now I was a Falcon, I was always a Falcon. I remember looking up to the Falcons players, watching them for how the game should be played. 
I don’t arrogantly think I should be responsible for leading by example, I think all players should build all players up. If someone is doing the drill wrong, or needs help or coaching, we should all be encouraged to help out.
Hockey is a team sport and the most successful teams are ones that build each other up. Work together to create plays and work on tactics. There is a wealth of books or videos online that can teach you the basics of the game from your home. Although these are important to practise in the rink, the true benefit and purpose of going to training is to learn as a team. 
We had a match on our training session for the Falcons this week. My Dad who had recovered enough to play was itching to get on the ice and disappointed he had to wait another week.
However the next generation of Hirst players made his latest step towards playing some puck. Sawyer passed his Grade 1. Next week he starts his Grade 2 training along with his sister who will be starting her skating lessons.


I am so proud with how far he has come on. He is looking really confident on the Ice now and I am confident that he will keep up when he goes on stick and puck training. 
 

 

 

Blackburn Falcons – Vs Widnes Wildcats (Preseason Match 2)

This time we were on home ice. Our ice is wider so we had the advantage of space. Generally there is more players in home games than away games.
This meant that they had a smaller bench and i also meant that I fully expected to have less time on the ice as more of the players could make this. I didn’t mind, i had expected to ride the bench for well even the full season.
As Period One started we came out strong again. Playing our game, our strategy. We got an early goal. Now one of the line 3 defencemen couldn’t make it, so the coach had options, rotate from lines 2 and 1, or play me on line 3.
For the first shift he took option 1, in the first 10 minutes we were 4 – 0 up.
So I got put on line 3. I hit a guy, bounced off and fell over. Then I stopped the puck, slipped and fell over. I came off genuinely thinking he would not be playing me again. But I was wrong. He sent me out again, I remained on line 3 for the rest of the match. Not only that, I had gotten rind of my stumbblings in those first 2 min. After that I was cool on the puck, made some great simple plays. I broke out well, fought for the puck and skated well. I had someone try to start a fight with me, but I held my own and didn’t take a penalty. I kept a good pace with the players and never let any obvious goals through.
The team itself was calm throughout, no going for the big hits like last time, we didn’t get distracted. 
They had a really great player with fast hands and great legs. He did flash through once, but in general he was contained well. 3 goals slipped past but we led with 8 goals and remained in the lead and in control the entire game.
At the end of the game all the played came up to me and spoke my hand and genuinely congratulated me on how well I played. I was so pleased with my performance and the approval I got from my team mate. I really appreciated them telling me how well I had done. I felt like part of the team in its entirety. Because of how I played and how I was treated at the end I will always remember this match as the one where it all came together for me.

Week 7 – The Week I joined the Team

Despite this being the beer league a lot of people on the team take there fitness seriously, or, like me, they are fighting age and trying to return to a time when they were at the peak of their physical condition.

It is in this endeavour that the drop a stone in a month challenge started. Two players challenged each other to lose a stone. Whoever lost gained a tenner. Then the banter escalated and the rest of the team were some asked who there money was on. But it didn’t end there the forfeit also fell on the backers and extended further, by the end the losing team had to skate the ice naked and slide across the ice similar to the forfeit in Mystrey Alaska. 
Because I picked a side before I realised the forfeit included the group I was stuck. Suddenly we were all doing the challenge. 
This worked out in my favour I suddenly had a support network and access to good information about weight loss. However if I didn’t lose a stone in a month then I had a naked skate to perform and I would lose 10 pounds.
Our coach is a qualified doctor and has access to scales and fat calipers. At training we were required to get there early for a weigh in. We all got weighed and had our BMI measured. Currently I weigh 186 Kg with a fat percentage of 30%. Honestly it was a lot better than I expected, I certainly wasn’t the biggest. My fate had been sealed, I was commited. 
At Varx training I had took advantage of the slower pace and had been practising my basics. In particular I had been working on the legs and glide, stopping on my wrong side, and my shot. My shot had came on loads since I got my new stick and now I was getting practised with it. However this week I did not hit the net once, the power on the shot was awesome, if I was shooting against a wall at home I would be very impressed, but on the ice the puck sailed wide and or hit glass each time.
In scrimmage however I had some excellent moments, it all came together, getting the puck in the offensive zone, pulling off some dangles, skating hard into positions. All in all after Varx I felt ready, so I on Falcons I wore my circa 2005 Falcons jersey and I brought my signing fee.
On Friday we have our first preseason game against Widnes Wildcats, we went through our strategy and practiced our plays. Everyone was getting fired up and knowing that I was finally signing made it feel so much more like part of the team. 
Once the session was over, and I signed the paperwork and I was officially a team member. I was so pleased that all my hard work had paid off, I had achieved my goal. 
I realised that now was the beginning, to learn, to play at this level. Despite being on the team i knew I had a lot of bench warming to do, to watch and match my pace to the new level.   
I was in the same league as my brother, the fixtures showed that I had 3 months until our teams played each other.
I was a Falcon now.
I would play with passion and pride.
Starting with the match on Friday. 

Week 6 – Legs and Glide

“They hone their skills by playing each other, Saturday after Saturday for as long as anyone can remember.” Mystery Alaska

The preseason matches are booked and everybody is itching for more ice time. This week there are more Falcon players on the Aardvarx than usual which is good because it raises the bar for Varx players.


When I train I got into the habit of taking 2 jerseys with me for scrimmage. That way I can weigh up who is on what team and pick the other team accordingly. This started out as banter between my friends and Dad, and it was a way of us all playing together, but recently I use it to pick the side opposite the better players. In particular there is a Falcons player who is always at Varx and always wears white so I tend to wear black. It is of my opinion that you improve better against better opponents, that way I have to push myself each week. 
Some weeks there are more who pick whites, and this was one of those weeks. Needless to say it made for some good hockey and loads of effort needed to hold them off. 
I have a collection of hockey jerseys accrued over many years. One was a set of 2006 Home and Away Falcons tops from my last season before my break. I found them and since I was training with the team again wondered if it was too arrogant to wear them. I decided in the end that I would wear them as I was proud of my new team and pleased to be part of training again.
The pace of Saturday continued through to the Falcons training on Monday. I had been watching NHL games recently and my team mates and noticed something important. When I’m on the ice I move my feet, constantly moving. This is itself is right. But what I noticed the top players doing was also using a glide technique. This was usually on run up to the net. This gave them 2 advantages, 1 a firm 2 footed base, and 2 the freedom to concentrate on their hands for the dangle or shot. Players used this a lot more than I thought, when they were timing a shot to the net, when they went in for a check, when they were dekeing past someone.
When I saw some of my teammates doing it I knew I needed to apply it. I knew the perfect place to test it. 
The drill is a breakout drill, defence men skate backwards behind the net, pick up a puck, skate forwards out, pass the puck to the breaking forward at the boards and then turn back round the net and repeat on the other side. After that the defence man make a break him self full ice.
It is exhausting for the d man, with a lot of leg movement. It is difficult to keep my legs moving and look to hit the tape on the pass. My attempt now was to move my legs hard to the net, glide to make the pass, and the move my legs again to the net to repeat the other side.
It worked like a treat, I was less tired and was able to read the play better, I also hit the pass a lot easier and more consistent. 
Since then I have been using it a lot more, legs for quick breaks, then gliding for accurate plays.
This has also been my best week for stamina and I’m going to need it, next week is the last training before the first preseason match again Widnes. Will I get ice time? Will they let me sign? I find out next week.