Chapter 15: Chances Are

(The Hockey Bag series was previously published on NHL.com)

The more hockey games I play, the more the chances come my way – chances to receive passes; chances to shoot on net; even chances to get points (in case you were wondering, my standings so far are one goal and two assists!).

I’m also getting chances for breakaways, which I’ve discovered are most exciting of all. And potentially painful. You’ll understand what I’m talking about a little later on. But first, I’d like to talk about passing, because it’s one area where I can monitor my confidence on the ice in any given game.

My team has been taking hockey skills classes on Saturday afternoons, and practicing things like positional play, skating with the puck, passing. Something as simple as passing the puck might, to some people, seem simple. In theory, it is. But in reality, it isn’t. Especially when you are a rookie.

There’s already so much going on in a hockey game – skating as hard as possible, keeping an eye on everyone else, keeping your head up, trying not to fall down, and remembering not to do the off-word. Passing around a small black slidey thing just adds another dimension into the already convoluted mix.

I would soooooo love for passing to be second nature to me. But it isn’t. And while it may seem easy to those who have played the game for a long time, or to those who merely watch and have no idea how challenging it actually is, to me, it’s no where near easy. Whenever I see a pass coming my way, the scenario happens something like this:

I’ll spot a teammate looking to pass the puck, and my heart starts racing. Part of me hopes they don’t pick me, while another part of me bangs my stick on the ice (did I do that out loud??) indicating, hey, I’m over here and I’m ready! Go on, give me a chance…

Realizing they might actually pass to me (which they never used to do but are now starting to) I prepare to receive the pass by keeping my eye on the puck and stick on the ice. Then I’d watch it come towards me, all the while remembering to keep skating, keep my head up, and time it juuuuust right so the puck connects with my stick at juuuuust the right moment…

I’m holding my breath now as the puck comes closer and closer, whizzing past players on the other team, and heading right at me … I’m still skating, still keeping my head up, still keeping my eye on the puck as it slides right towards me… and then continues to slide right past me, juuuust beyond the reach of my stick… DOH!!

Okay, so that is how it used to be all the time. And while this particular scenario still happens more then I’d care to admit, more often it’s starting to end with my stick connecting with the puck. Little by little, my teammates are becoming more willing to take a chance on me. And the more chances I get, the more willing I am to believe in myself, take those chances and run with them. Or in this case, skate with them. But only for a brief moment.

Because once I realize that I actually connected with the pass and now have the puck in my possession (yes, MY possession!) that’s when I panic a little, figuring if I don’t do something fast then surely someone is going to steal the puck away from me and nullify that great play I just made. So I’ll proceed to take a few strides with the puck, juuuust to prove to myself that I can skate and carry the puck at the same time, before quickly dumping it away to someone – anyone – close by. Even members of the other team. (Did I already say DOH!!??)

So while I’m still a work-in-progress when it comes to playing hockey, and will be for a while, I’m happy to say my passing skills are getting better. As are my chances at breakaways. I’m starting to discover that I can skate fairly fast, even though I still lack control on my blades. Which makes it extra scary, because this means I can’t always stop in time, turn in tight spots, or pivot when I want to. All I can say is, thank goodness for my awesome Easton gear. It protects me well when I take a tumble. Or, say, happen to free fall…

Like one recent game when I almost got a breakaway. We were in the neutral zone when the defense on the other team missed a pass and the puck continued right past her into their zone. There was no one around but me and her, and she was about ten feet closer to the puck than me.

In that moment, I forgot that I don’t have a lot of control when going top speed. In that moment, all I saw was the puck, and only one opposing player between it and me. I poured it on, skating as fast as I could. I could hear the Hockey Bags screaming from the box – go! Go!! GO GO GO!!!

So I went. As fast as I possibly could. I gained on her quickly, suddenly finding myself neck-in-neck with her, within reaching distance of the puck. So I reached out, stretching my stick as far as I could, just barely touching the puck. At the very same time she reached out, stretching her stick, just barely touching my stick.

But juuuust enough to make me waiver, forget how to skate, trip over my own two feet, lift off the ice like a projectile, and soar no less than five feet through the air before spinning over, free falling and crash landing with full force right smack down on my left ass cheek. All I can say is, thank goodness for the extra padding. And the awesome Easton gear.

Having survived that very dramatic and potentially career-ending fall, and coming soooo darn close to stealing the puck for my very first breakaway, it turned out to be a really great game in my mind. Plus the Hockey Bags won, which improved our season stats a little.

Which leads me to conclude that as long as I keep having fun, trying my best, skating hard, and keeping my stick on the ice, chances are I’ll get more chances.

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