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12-05-2012, 12:47 AM
After 5 years...
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: New York
At the invitation of a guy who I would only call a "hockey buddy" and not a friend (met him playing with my usual group of ex-college/juniors guys) I played with a new group tonight for the first time. Skill level was high, a bit lower than my usual group, but the skate was more intense and just about everyone seemed to be taking it more seriously than our usual group skates.
My normal group has a really high skill level and we even get some ex-Islanders on a semi-regular basis, but we play a pretty leisurely pace with strong positional play and a lot of puck movement and patience. We hit, but we tend to keep anything more than a firm bump and pinning on the boards limited to guys who are regulars and we know are open to the big hits, or guys we know personally who can take it. We get a lot of patient, in zone puck movement and look for back door plays, redirects and pretty plays.
The new group, I was warned before hand, is more physical (I like to hit and the buddy who invited me and I often talk about wanting to throw the weight around or pick up the intensity once in a while, which is actually how the invitation eventually arose), but they also play with a kind of "urgency" which I wasn't really expecting. They don't keep score, but it feels like they're all keeping a mental tally and are playing to win. There's a lot less laughing, smiling and compliments flowing between benches. They skate together pretty regularly, apparently, but there's much less camaraderie.
Anyhow, like I said, the skill level was a bit lower but the intensity and physicality were a lot more. I tried to play pretty gentlemanly and not crush anyone I'd never met before, because I was the new guy and didn't want to be viewed as a jerk or get my buddy heckled for bringing me along. I laid a couple decent hits, had a really big, coincidental collision with a guy who made a really unpredictable cut at center (we both checked with each other to make sure we were good, gave each other a tap and kept playing) and had a couple of nice plays that resulted in goals for my side, but wasn't show boating or trying too hard to stand out (not to be confused with saying I wasn't trying; the skate was good and with the guys playing with such intensity, you had to be on your toes and make smart plays to keep up). The one thing I did do a lot though - and I was definitely aware of it - was that I kept stripping this one kid who was really trying (what seemed to be) as hard as he could, loved to carry the puck and try to beat people one on one (and was successful most of the time against most of the people on the ice) and was one of those guys who kind of makes unnecessarily fancy moves because they can. I get the feeling he's one of the top guys that comes down for them on a regular basis; he definitely had slicker hands than I could ever hope to. Anyhow, he kept trying to beat me one on one and I'm a really strong skater and better defensively than offensively. I kept stripping the puck, lifting his stick, stopping the puck with my skates and a couple of times I planted my feet and stepped into him (not a hit, but playing the body and bumping him off the puck) and I could tell it was frustrating him because he was a bit of a hot dog and obviously was used to having success against most of the guys. I was enjoying the challenge though. He did beat me a few times and I really like playing defense and pride myself on being good at it, so I was enjoying stopping him and kind of made it my goal of the skate to match up on him and play him tight (no tighter than others tried to, or the rest of the game was played in general).
Well, about 75 minutes into the game I went back into my own corner to retrieve a dump in and this dude boarded me harder than I've ever been hit. I mean, we're talking boarding, charging, roughing; the whole shebang. He cleaned my clock. I wear a half shield so I splattered my face into the boards and I cut my chin, bit my lip bad and got a bloody nose. I was pretty dazed as well. I tried to get up quick because I'm one of those guys who never likes to admit to being hurt or draw attention to myself, and I was pretty woozy but I shoved him while I was pawing my face trying to see which pieces were still intact and he actually slashed my ankle, despite me being a bloody mess. A couple of people told him to chill and someone grabbed him around the shoulders and everyone was asking if I was okay but I skated off and got undressed. A couple of the older guys came off to apologize and thank me for playing and stuff. I went to CVS and got gauze and shoved it up my nose and drove home pretty pissed off. Not how I wanted to enjoy my ice time.
And I'm going to go back and skate with them and lay the kid out next week. Clean and hard. He's good, especially his puck skills, but I'm better overall and I played at a higher level than him. I'm going to ring his bell. I'm not going to fight him, slash him, elbow him or even go head hunting. But I'm going to get my pound of flesh because, in every experience I've ever had, I expect open hockey to be, even when it's competitive, something that people who love the game do for fun. This 21 year old punk isn't going to take that away from me, even for one night. And I'm going to enjoy letting him know it.
And that's my rant. Thank god my dad has some vicodin lying around the house because my face HURTS.
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