Six months ago, I was debating going to my first practice with Pandora Women’s Hockey. Sitting here now, I know that was the best decision I’ve made in hockey.
We hit the Pandora/Foothill Flyers practice over a week ago, partly to get ready for the Vacaville tournament and partly to expand the number of hockey players that recognize us in hopes of possibly finding a team to play with this season. The same coach that ran the first Pandora practice I went to, Randy, was there running this one. He’s an amazing skater and an even better coach – I love his style; he pushes us without making us feel stupid if we can’t do something and he keeps it all light and fun.
At one point I was laughing about something and he said “hey, no smiling in hockey!” Which only made me laugh harder as I’m well known at the dropzone for telling people to quit smiling (“Skydiving is serious stuff, knock that smiling shit off!”).
Sunday evening I wasn’t feeling well so I missed class. Escaped the heat of the valley by visiting a friend in the Sierras mid-week, so I hadn’t been on the ice for almost a week when I arrived at the Vacaville rink for our first game of the tournament Friday afternoon.
Pandora sent two teams to the tournament – one silver and one bronze. I was on the bronze team – Pandora’s Wrath. The tournament also had a beginner bracket with four teams, one of which had the best novice team name ever – The Mighty Pylons.
Keith and our friends Shaun and Barbara (Shaun officiated at our wedding) showed up to watch and root us on. Keith was Wrath’s biggest fan this weekend; he made it to every game and got some great photos from two of them. Check them out on my facebook album.
We had a variety of skill levels on our team, ranging from a few women who have been playing for years down to me and Casey, who were both playing in our first real hockey games. Some of them have played togther before, others play against each other in the bronze league at Skatetown.
About all I can say for my performance in the first game is…. damn, I learned a LOT! Got the team a penalty when I was the 6th woman on the ice – first game, first time in the sin bin. Got caught flatfooted and had to give chase repeatedly. We didn’t manage to put anything on the scoreboard and I was on the ice for most of their goals but I had a lot of fun.
Saturday morning was our second game. We scored within 30 seconds of the puck dropping and managed to hold that lead for the entire first period. Unfortunately we couldn’t generate enough offensive pressure to score again, and they ended up beating us by a few goals. I got caught flatfooted a number of times (but less than in our first game), and even tried relying on the desperation puck check at the blue line (hero zero move; I’m zero). My overall awareness of what is going on and what I need to be watching for had increased quite a bit. I learned a huge amount, and one big thing I learned really showed in our third game later that day.
Pandora’s silver team, Remorse, had two games Saturday, the second a couple hours before our second of the day. After our first game, I went home to air the gear, wash the clothes and rest. Came back to the rink in time to watch their second game. Jillian told me after our morning game that keeping my feet moving would help me not get caught flat footed as much. After watching them play a game and focusing on what the defensewomen were doing, I got it. I knew what I needed to do.
And once we got on the ice, I did it. Wow. Just by continuing to move around in the neutral zone when the puck was in the other end, I had momentum to use when I needed to bust out after the puck or a player. Can you say breakthrough? This may be obvious to others, but it was a revelation to me. I was able to be first to the puck a few times. I was able to skate forwards toward the walls. I was able to be in the way of the pass. I was able to poke a puck away from a skater coming down the boards. My teammates noticed it too; got several compliments on my play in that game.
I also learned more about what I should be doing in front of the net. I’m not big enough or strong enough on my skates to be pushing 200 pound people away from the net, but I can be a big pest by tying up their sticks so they can’t receive a pass or knock the puck into the net.
We didn’t win that game either, but overall we all played really well.
When we were done, a bunch of us went over to a local pizza place for food, beers and laughter. Our last game of the tournament required that we be there around 8 am the next morning, so Keith and I left the party early to get some sleep.
After three games in two days, I woke up Sunday morning still tired. Dug deep (with the assistance of coffee) and made it to the rink on time. We giggled a bit at the other team who had gone running to warm up. We probably shouldn’t have giggled, as they outskated us pretty much the entire game.
Again, we didn’t win – didn’t even put one on the scoreboard – but there was some good stuff going on. Lots of good individual plays and, considering that it was our fourth game and we were all pretty beat, at least some of us managed to keep our brains engaged through the third period (I don’t include myself in that!). And the most important thing – we all had a good time.
Six months ago I was worried that Pandora would be a bunch of really competitive atheletes and I’d be out of my league, so to speak. I seriously considered not going to that first practice. Sitting here now with sore, tired muscles and a lingering grin, I am so glad I did.
Oh, and I didn’t make it to hockey class last night either. We got home from the second game and I barely left the couch until bedtime.