Once upon a time Widnes and Blackburn were the same team. This was the team I left. Then they split and began to get more professional and started to draft players in from the professional, minors and foriegn pools. Despite most of the original players moving on, there is still a fierce rivalry between the two teams.
What better a match then to have my debut.
I was surprised at two things during this, my first match at this level. People were warning me that the pace is quicker and as such I have tried to bring my pace up to this level. Also I realise that this is a checking league, but level of checking was the surprise. How hard and how often these guys check left me open mouthed on the bench. I have always loved checking, I have no problem dishing out the hits, taking the big hits, but this was at a whole new level. I was glad that had the opportunity to watch first before we got started so I could get ready. It served as a reminder that although I had made the team I still had a long way to go.
The second surprise came from how much I was welcomed within the team. In the team talk, it was mentioned that I had my debut, in the end talk I was hailed as having a successful debut. No one got frustrated when I was put on instead of them, and I was actively encouraged on the bench. The best way to bond with a team is on the bench, when everyone is actively and enthusiastically pursuing the same goal.
We took the lead early on. We played our game, we bested their pace, and we concentrated on the breakouts and strategy we practiced. We scored 4 goals in the first 10 minutes. We checked hard and kept them out. But then they started to check back and made a few nightly plays. We were determined to fight back.
They had this period. We got pulled out of position trying to go for the big hits. There was a lot of penalties. It did mean our special plays lines got tested and for the most part they held up. One of their played slashed at the bench with two hands, every player o the bench wore a visor except one, me. Luckily for him it his me square in the face, anyone else and it would be a hospital visit. 2 goals to them and 1 to us.
We regained our form and finished it home for the last period. Scoring a further 3 goals to their 1.
Final Score: 8 – 3 Falcons Win.
I played about 6 min ice time, which for a debut was more than I expected, and when I was on I played well.
Finally their is a player who hasn’t washed his underpants fro 16 years. He wears them for training, matches the lot and the rest of the time they live in his hockey back. It is tradition that newest members of the team are initiated by having the garments wrapped around their face and rubbed unceremoniously. This time I was the lucky victim. I had made it. I had debuted.
This month. Sawyer passed his skating grade 1, Freya started skates lessons, Freya and Skye got trophys in Dance, I made my Falcons Ice Hockey Debut, we saw a deer, Freya got a bronze award, and we made cakes, cheesecakes, and pancakes yummy.
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.
“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.
This week was the week the week of the NHL Allstar game and skills competition. I love this event as is shows a real banter between the top players in the world.
Hockey is a game and as such the most important thing is to have fun. These competitions show the world that the worlds elite feel this way too.
But what a show. The skills competition was epic as always. My favourite is the skills relay but if I’m honest they are all brilliant. It was a shame McDavid didn’t beat Larkins Speed record but then again, good for Larkin. Highlights for me was Mike Smith scoring from red line, Weber retaining his hardest shot, and Crosby showing the rookies who’s boss.
I enjoyed the game too. I enjoy the build up and the fact that it’s the centennial so they have all of the 100 greatest players peppered in there as well makes it all the more watchable.
It was nice to see Gretzky behind the bench and getting involved. It was also nice to see how we have really took to the 3 on 3 format. It makes for a much more exciting experience.
Also how many goals were scored. Wow both semi finals had 10 goal wins with only 1 goal in it for the final. Again despite being a big McDavid fan it was nice to see the Ovi/Crosby team winning it in the end. Well done Metropolitan. It was a brilliant experience to watch and I look forward to watching it again next year.
So back on the Varxs team and my constant playing up on the Falcons is really starting to show. I’m faster and have more of a shot than ever before. My chest infection is dying down and I’m able to go for longer again. Still only one Goalie though but hey it’s not all about the net and scoring. There have also been a few Falcons players down which brings the pace of training and scrimmage up, but a few of our guys are really coming on too which helps.
At Falcons we have started training in teams. So as we change we get given a colour, Black, White or Red. We then play each other in those lines. Swapping full lines at scrimmage on a 2 on 1 off basis. It means I get good recovery time. The people on Falcons take there fitness seriously, they want you to get the maximum amount out of it, regular water breaks, controlled recovery time and full power when you are on the ice.
The pace has jumped right up. If I can get up to this pace then I will certainly be an elite player. Currently I am playing the best hockey I have ever played, but I know I’m still a long way off where I need to be.
Our resident professional took the defenders this week. We did a number of backwards skating drills. When I play scrimmage I can keep up, there are so many factors that influence the game, but when I’m doing a skating drill the difference in skill level is obvious. I was a long way behind. I have a lot to work on. But I listened and there was a lot of people talking to me and coaching me.
When I get off the ice I write down a few of the things I learnt so I can remember them better.
Don’t panic on the puck
I don’t scare easy on the ice and I have been playing a long time. Yet when I get the puck I have been known to throw it away quickly, or get annoyed when it gets stuck against the boards, fearing the time pressure I have in this faster moving level.
I have to anticipate where the puck is going, a lot of time not knowing my next move is playing on my mind. Look up and look for my pass. This should give me the reality that I have more time on the puck than I think and enable me to give a more accurate pass for the breakout.
The whole game is about triangles. As a player as long as I move as part of a triangle I can’t be far wrong. Most plays, especially defensive ones form triangles. I will talk about this in a further post.
Always face the puck
Usual I end up in front of the net, pushing and pulling with a player in the crease. If however instead of facing this player I stand facing the puck I can read if the player is a problem or if I need to be elsewhere. I could even block the puck before it even gets to him. Always facing the puck allows me to read the play more. I can always keep my stick on him similar to a blind man using his cane. That way I always know where he is.
Tactics and tips will be given a lot more as I continue to strive to improve. But I’m having so much fun learning, and like the NHL Allstars have shown this week, that is the most important thing.
I only wear my Go Pro on Varx training. Last week I didnt get a lot of great footage. But this week we had a better pace and there was more conflict for me so I got quite a few good battles on the camera. I will be publishing the footage in the next couple of weeks.
The drills that we work on are generally the same each week and as such we can see a real progression within the team. We try to bring each other on and look after the beginners, trying to bring them up to a good level. I can see the group that started a couple of years ago with me getting a good sense of the game, they have worked on the basics and this year are realising the basic positional and breakout plays.
We still cant get more than one net minder on the Varx session this year. As a defender I find the forwards dont try as hard with no keeper in net. They dont have the same motivation. Realistically you can still work on setting up in the offensive zone. I think after a long training players want to scrimmage for fun and the discipline goes, thats why they go goal hungry at the end. I do it as well after all what is hockey without the fun?
There was no Falcons this week as my chest infection was too much and my worst still I gave it to my Dad so he couldn’t make it either.
That said I did manage to move forwards with the Falcons in that I made real steps to becoming an active player on the team. Last week they were discussing who would be signing for the team this year so they could start training in lines.
This prompted me to discuss with the coach my desire to play for the team in matches. The quality of players is so high that you need to be at a certain level to be even considered. But considered I was. I know in myself how far I need to come before I’m at pace with the rest of the team. I feel that I’m only a couple of months hard training away and I’m certainly improving every week.
Consequencely because of my enthusiam I am now currently training to play not just training. Which makes a huge difference in the mindset of the other players and the coach as it allows them a better idea of how to use me in training. I can be used in lines to see where I fit and who I play with best. They also know to go in harder in order to teach me and bring me up. They want a team member, they know can handle the matches they want to play.
The modern team now also has an important connection to social media. Communication between players and coaches off ice is now a lot easier. 2 years ago when I joined the Varx I was given access to a facebook group that could only be obtained by invitation, with secret settings. This became an imprortant tool to share game times strategies and general team information. This week I had the priviledge of being included in the Falcons group. This act has already made me feel part of the team.
On the group we have already been given homework, looking into a forechecking formation that we will be using this season. Watching the YouTube instruction has able me to focus on the training ahead whilst being off sick this week.
It has also given me access to the order forms for some merchandise. All team members must come to games in a Falcons Jacket or T shirt. I also got a hat, I was particularly pleased that I was able to remain #2 which has always been my hockey number for 20 years.
The festive period is over and it’s time to get down to work. Both Varx and Falcons are pre season so we are preparing hard to form the teams and plays for the matches.
Since New Year the Varx training has been working on setting up plays, breakouts and positions within the offensive zone. The drills have required a bit more thought and timing to them. There is a definite improvement in a lot of the players, the drills are giving us a better sense of positioning and passing in scrimmage.
It was a real fast pace on the Falcons tonight. The drills are always game sensitive, as in you can apply them directly to the games, but the pace was cranked up a notch. There is a real sense of moving towards the matches and a strong desire to win from the players. We have started to play in lines and work on plays that we will use in matches. I was happy that I kept pace and I even had my first check that came out 50/50. As I hit the ice I looked across and the other guy slid along the ice too I thought, that will do. I have noticed apprehension in myself rejoining the Falcons with regards to hitting. I have survived a few hits now and I am pleased to say it’s given me confidence to take and give them. It is so important when going into the boards or any challenges that that you don’t fear the check. Such an improvement I’m very proud of.
There has been talks of who is an isn’t signing for the new season. I will have to discuss this with them in the week to come, it could be my chance to join the team officially or if not get a real sense of where I am.
This week sees the return of Sawyers skating lessons. He wants to play Ice Hockey like his Dad. Unlike his Dad he has started early enough to get on some youth teams and play under the age of 16. This could be an excellent opportunity for him but it does require him to pass gradings and obtain a certain level before he’s allowed to play with a puck. Early days but he is progressing well through the basics and he has a friend there so he is having fun and socialising as well which is important at his age.
Finally I have had the Go Pro on my helmet during training. I was able to get on ice footage that I then use to produce photos and short videos. I can get some nice clips which I publish on the channel go watch them at