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 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.

Blackburn Falcons – Vs Widnes Wildcats (Preseason Match 1)

My Debut

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.
1st Period
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.
Period 2
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.
Period 3
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.
  

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.

Week 5 – Allstars

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. 
Triangles

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.