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.

Week 4 – Training to play

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.  

Week 3 – Getting Game Ready

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 

https://youtu.be/pqQVtgjfRR0

Week 2 – Back on the Ice 

Finally I get to get back on the ice. As I get changed someone enlightens me that it has been 4 weeks since our last training session.


For Christmas I got a new stick. A Nexus 9000. There are two differences between this stick and the last. The first is the length, my previous stick I cut down really short. The basis for this was to emphasise puck handling over shooting. I have never had a shot, certainly not a slapshot, and because I keep low for checking the length suited me.

Because it was short the second difference was that it had no flex. Like none at all. Once cut it must have been over 150 flex. 

During the break I was worrying about playing with a longer, whippier stick.

How would it effect my puck control? Would it really give me a better shot? Or would it just get in the way?

My other concern was how much damage my Christmas belly had done to my fitness.

4 weeks of questions followed me as I stepped onto the the ice for the Altrincham Aardvarx Saturday session. As I skated up and down in the opening few minutes I realised my skates were sharp enough, I hadn’t left any of my agility behind.

There were no net minders on the Varx. All had prior commitments it being the first Saturday past the Holidays. That didn’t stop me from firing out a load of shots off. Wow. It was worth the initial clumsiness when the power in my shot had grown so much. At one point I thought someone behind me had taken the shot… and they kept hitting the top left bag… from the blue line.

Due to the lack of net minders the drills consisted mainly of skating and puck handling drills. Perfect. Just what I needed to feel out the stick and my stride.

One thing I noticed was I had more of a reach I could dodge one way and have my stick out the other side, cutting them off completely. I got the puck 90% of the time.

I didn’t feel any awkwardness with the stick until I returned to the Blackburn Falcons 2 nights later. With the higher intensity I really got a feel for how differently I could pull moves on it. They were different moves which gave me more space. It was easier to guide them to the boards because of my reach. This time there was a net minder to practice my shot on.

The Falcons drills were as always more situational and during a cycling drill I found the true power of the shot, scoring several top shelf bags past the net minder from a one timer, on the move. I had never done that before. 

In my last Falcons training before Christmas I had a higher intensity and even started to match the others players pace. I could never have matched them before. Thankfully this session was no different, carrying my confidence through into this new year.

A surprise was that in the scrimmage the two players known for the harder most liberal checks were against me. I’m pleased to say I held my own and took and gave a few checks back. Checking is something I need to build back into my game so this was a nice first step.

The first training sessions of the new year had gone well and wiped any doubts that come from absence out of my mind, now I can move forward with pride and self confidence.

Week 1 – Ice withdrawal

“Coach Bombay: Haven’t you guys been training in the off-season? 

Lester Averman: You know, I knew we forgot something.” – Mighty Ducks 2
So this is week one and I’m already a little nervous because I havent been on the Ice for 2 weeks.

I feel like I have gotten very fat and slow and until I get back on the ice I don’t know just how fat and slow I have got.


To counteract this since the 27th I have started my off ice training, this consists of 3 key areas. Firstly I run. At least 15k a week, usually 5k 3 times. I run to increase my stamina, but there is a difference to long distance training and hockey specific running. There is always a 10k that I am training for and I run these through the summer for charity. But once a week I will run a 5k specific for hockey. This is usually to sprint the lampposts providing a chance to build up short bursts of speed, representative of chasing down a player on a break away, or even having a break away myself. Or I could run at high speed for 2 minutes, the jogging pace for 3 minutes, to represent shifts on the ice. 

I might also try some thing different I might have seen in research.

Next type is HIIT training in the form of a beach body workout. I have completed a few of them to date and this year I wanted to try a new one. Insanity Max 30. Currently I’m in my second week and hope that this will burn off the fat I have built up over the holidays. Once this is complete I plan to move back to my Insanity/P90x hybrid for the rest of the year.

Finally I have found a few stickhandling drills online that I plan on practising regularly. This one is from current NHL all star McDavid.

https://youtu.be/GQK1RBm8Vx4
The link runs from one of my favourite YouTube channels The Hockey Movement, if you look through his back episodes there is a wealth of hockey tips and tricks for all skill levels. 
There has also been a lot of Hockey to watch over the holidays. The centinial Classic between Toronto and Detroit and the Winter Classic between Chicago and St Louis. I havent seen the Ceninial yet but I can say I enjoyed the Winter Classic enormously, I will avoid spoilers but will say this is an entertaining game if you haven’t seen it.

Also I really like the Road to… series that NHL have been making of recent years, a behind the scenes look at the teams in the games before the Winter Classic and Stanley Cup. It makes for a fascinating insight into the professional game we aspire to. 

That’s how I have been keeping busy waiting, but while I am pacing up and down waiting for ice time, you can see me having fun on the ice by checking out my YouTube Channel Bergs Place on YouTube at
https://youtu.be/pqQVtgjfRR0