Wine and Women Tournament with Pandora Women’s Hockey

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. :D

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.

Hot and Cold

It was another triple digit weekend in the Sacramento valley. Some clouds were building as we arrived at the rink for class Sunday evening – this is not usual weather for summer here. It felt more like a July evening in Florida than California as we walked in. By the time we left (after 9pm), stepping outside was like stepping into a hot, wet blanket. Just like a July evening in Florida. Yuck.

The ice was surprisingly okay though.  Soft but the pucks weren’t sticking.

There weren’t enough pucks on the ice for everyone to have one on the snake drill. I was happy to skate without it; managed nice crossovers in both directions even with all the traffic. Next up was a big W – working on the slick almost stop then skate away backwards transitions. Those are so much fun!

My 2 on 0 runs were less than awesome, but I only screwed up a couple times once we broke into two groups to do breakout drills. Lessons learned: When playing center, either pass the puck to a wing at blue line or skate it in; don’t dump it directly at the net from the blue line. When playing defense, don’t try to deflect the puck away from the net; leave it for the goalie to get so you don’t deflect it into the net (doh!).

Spent some time working on backwards crossovers again.  Progress – I’m not picking up the inside foot yet but I am crossing over the outside foot.  Really felt the increase in speed.

We got a full 20 minutes of scrimmage time again. The dark team has upped their game; some fast skaters with pretty good puck handling skills over there. I got beat several times, but redeemed myself with one really awesome steal along the boards from one of the faster, better forwards – a full second of brilliance out of about five minutes of ice time that was.

Plowed myself into the boards behind the net after bashing a puck away. I may have had some help getting there (the guy I was defending apologized), but it was my own fault for going that aggressive. Saw the boards coming and let out an “oh shit!” Roadrunner style. Hit them full body and skated away no worse for the wear.

After class, we were surprised to see that the team forming out of the class – the one that we sent emails off to the guy organizing it several weeks ago – was having a team meeting. Neither of us had ever received a reply to our emails, so we figured it was still a work in progress. Not so – they have a full team already. We can be subs, though.

I think not.

Gloves, Ribs and Beer

Hockey gloves have a lot of padding on them. This is a good thing in most on-ice situations. Leave it to me to discover a downside.

Class was really good last night. Standard skating drills to start the night, all done carrying a puck. Managed a couple crossovers with the puck in the snake drill and was happy with my left stops and transitions.

Broke into two groups and did 2 on 1′s. My defensive play was less than stellar, but I had a couple good runs as a forward. Almost got it past the goalie once after a nice pass from the guy I was skating with.

Next up was the line change drill. Defense – over the boards, out to position, dig out the puck, pass it forward, wait til it’s being dumped, in through the door. And repeat. This is way more tiring than it sounds.

Did some different drills with Brian and Jeff. Brian had us working on a breakout with all 5 skaters in the defensive zone. Jeff had us dumping and picking up the puck in the corner and passing it out, then coming back in for an attack.

Scrimmage time came early; we ended up with a bit over 20 minutes. Seemed that every time I was on the ice, I was skating against this one guy. He’s not fast but he’s big. Like over 6 feet and a good 240 pounds big. I, on the other hand, am not big. Trying to skate him toward the boards didn’t work so well. Neither did trying to push him out from in front of the goal. Sigh.

Was a bit deep in the offensive zone, going for the puck on what turned out to be my last shift of the evening. Not sure what happened, but I ended up going down with a glove between my ribs and the ice. It was like falling on a soccer ball.  Didn’t know that ribs could bend like that. Took a minute or so but I managed to get my breath back, get up and skate to the bench, where I spent the final minutes of scrimmage time sitting down, poking at my side to verify that it didn’t hurt so much that I was going to die.

Nothing broken, no lasting ill effects. It was a bit sore while we hung out drinking beer, watching Blue Thunder’s game and chatting; pretty much all better by this morning though.

The beer poured by the guy who took me out helped too. ;-)

Image

Smoked By a Punk Kid

One of our skydiver friends, Phil, has an athlete for a son.  Brandon has played soccer and baseball on higher level teams.  When he said he wanted to check out hockey, I encouraged him.

A few days ago, Phil let us know that Brandon had all his gear.  Since they live close to Skatetown, we decided to go there for our Thursday morning skate this week.  Several people from our class hit the 6:15 every week; it was kinda nice to see a few people we know.

My plan was to work a bit on backwards crossovers and on carrying the puck while doing front crossovers.  For the backwards I didn’t plan to actually cross over; instead I focused on starting the C cut with the outside foot in front of the inside one.

Image

There were enough people on the ice working end to end that I didn’t feel comfortable working on back crossovers for very long. I did manage to start the C cut in front as I’d planned, and I think I kinda maybe felt what I was supposed to feel. Hopefully we’ll spend more time on those at class this week.

I spent most of the hour skating with a puck and taking “shots” and working on crossovers carrying the puck.  Did some 2 on 0 runs with both Keith and Brandon and played a bit of defense when they did a couple runs.

The kid is gonna be good.  He’s already a better skater than I am – crossovers in both directions forwards and backwards, smooth transitions – and damn is he FAST!

Image

I couldn’t catch him. Damn punk kids. ;-)

That Sounds Like a Broken Leg

Sunday was a good day. We went to the dropzone in the morning to sell a parachute, went for a drive and had a fast food lunch (Jack in the Box burgers and fries do not compare to 5 Guys. We knew that, but Jack was the only option where we were at). The afternoon was spent lazing around the house until it was time to go to class.

I took a pre-emptive Ibuprofen before we left – Saturday’s public skate was a bit more strenuous than I thought. I was sore and tired just putting my bag into the truck. By the time we arrived at the rink I was feeling better (the caffeine in the Coke I drank on the way there helped too), and as expected the adrenaline took away the rest once we stepped onto the ice.

After a few minutes warm up, Jeff set us to the standard skating drills. But this time, we got to take a puck along.

Crossovers carrying a puck aren’t in my skill set yet. I’ve tried but it takes all my attention – as in my head is definitely not up. All those beautiful crossovers I’d done at the public skate on Saturday had me looking forward to this drill. Sigh. At least I only lost the puck once, at the end of the run. We then did stops with pucks and mine were fine. They let us not take a puck for transitions if we wanted; I left the puck behind and managed smooth transitions in both directions.

A few good 2 on 0 runs and a few not so good. Not surprisingly, my runs with Keith were some of the good ones. There’s a lot to be said for time spent skating and passing with someone.

Then Jeff broke us into 5 groups. Each group went to a circle. Where we got to do (drum roll please) backwards crossovers. Which just sound like a broken leg to me.

I did a couple runs around the circle C cutting like Brian had shown us, but I wasn’t getting how that was going to help me do the crossover. Tried to do it a couple times and it felt really, really awkward. So I was glad when that was over and we formed two groups for other drills. These will be practiced at stick times… I will own them. Someday. ;-)

Back to two groups and Jeff had us doing a nuetral zone regroup and reentry drill. After a bunch of runs at that we went off with Brian to do some skating with the puck around cones, ending with a shot on goal. He made it a bit harder after a couple runs each by adding in transitions and backwards skating. Other people were going around the cone and then doing the standard transition. I did the bitchin’ almost stop and take off backwards transition. Rock star! Until I lost the puck.

Jeff had us working on retrieving the puck and doing a drop pass in the corners. Although this drill ended with a shot on goal, I think the practice skating to and being in the corners will be just as valuable to me as it will be to forwards.

Finally it was scrimmage time. The white team didn’t do as well this week; we spent more time in our defensive zone and skating than we have been. As a result, there was a lot more hard skating on my shifts. I got caught a couple times on breakaways (goalies are awesome…), but also made a couple good passes and took away a few shooting and passing lanes.

By the end of the scrimmage I was wiped out. We hung out afterwards for a little while, watching Blue Thunder play on one rink and Foothill Flyers play on the other. Neither team was doing well on the score when we left.

Damn, am I sore today! Kinda glad it’s going to be ludicrously hot here today; laying around on the couch is well on it’s way to overtaking any desire to go out and do anything.

Naked and Vulnerable

We met up with our friends, Muffin and Buttercup, for lunch and some skating yesterday. It’s been well over a year since I’ve been to a public skate; it was weird walking into the rink without the bag full of gear, weird to not go into the locker room, weird to be getting on the ice without my gear.

I felt so naked and vulnerable out there. If I fell down it was going to hurt.

The ice was pretty good considering it was 90+ degrees F outside. There were maybe 10 people on the ice, including a group of middle aged female figure skaters dominating center ice. We did some lazy laps at first, checking out the ice and chatting with our friends.

I wasn’t going to skate aggressively or push any of my skating skills without the gear, but the ice was good and my skates are pretty sharp…. tried some crossovers and they were very good. Tried some crossover lane changes and they were very good. Tried some left foot stops and they were good. Even transitions at slow speed felt okay. Huh.

Gave Muffin and Buttercup some tips on basic skating skills, making sure to remind them that we know NOTHING and are probably teaching them bad habits.

Image

The caveat comes from experiences in skydiving. It’s quite common for newer jumpers to give advice to those even newer. Unfortunately, many times that advice is bad; the jumper giving the advice just doesn’t know any better. We call them 100 jump wonders, and they can be found on every dropzone and on every skydiving related internet forum. The title isn’t mean-spirited though, as we’ve all been there.

We don’t want to be the hockey equivalent of a skydiving 100 jump wonder. But something we said must have been helpful, as they both said it was one of the best skating sessions they’d had so far.

Wasn’t so bad for us either. It was good to be out there without the pads and my stick. I knew I depend on the pads to keep falls from hurting, but I hadn’t realized just how much I depend on my stick – for balance and to make up for some of the lacks in my skating skill set.

Image

I was very happy with my crossovers, in both directions. Did quite a few laps including lane changes, focusing on smoothness and riding the edges before putting the next foot down. They felt so good that I wasn’t even jealous watching another guy building more speed backwards than I can forwards. I’ve come so far and there’s still so much more to learn – and that’s part of why I love hockey.

Oh yeah, I did fall down.  Twice.  Got a nice little bruise on my knee from one of them. Glad I get to wear the gear tonight!

Fireworks. And Stuff.

The ice had to go on without us this morning as yesterday was the Fourth of July. The dropzone sponsors a demonstration skydive into the city’s 4th celebration each year. The twenty or so available slots for this skydive are highly desired by local jumpers, as it is a fairly easy demo jump with a high “glory” quotient. Keith gets the rock star slot each year – he lands last towing a large American flag.

Image

After the jumpers pack up, we all hang out in our special reserved area, drinking and socializing while waiting for the big booms. The park is only a mile or so from the house, so we usually walk home after the fireworks to avoid traffic and possible DUI’s. Arriving home tired and a bit tipsy at 11 pm, we knew there was no way we’d make it to stick time today.

Met up with Jillian on Tuesday and had a great time chatting and picking her hockey brain. Got more details on the upcoming women’s hockey tournament in Vacaville, and now I’m even more excited (and nervous!). Our team name is Pandora’s Wrath. I’ll be playing defense on the bronze team, probably paired with the strongest defensewoman on the team. We play one game Friday evening and two games on Saturday, with the possibility of championship game(s) on Sunday if we do well. Which Jillian thinks we will.

There’s a saying in skydiving that I think will be bouncing around my head as I get on the ice for that first game on Friday. Please God don’t let me f&%k up. First.

She also gave me some tips on changing out as a defenseman. The biggie is to communication with your D partner. Something I hadn’t thought of before is switching out sides so the next skater to change is on the same side as the benches. Another key is waiting until the puck is deep in the offensive zone prior to changing, which is a bit longer than Jeff suggested in our drill last Sunday. He had us starting to change as the puck was being dumped, and we got caught short once in scrimmage because of it.

My former roommate and her husband are in town (they live in southern Washington now but have family in the area). They’re learning to ice skate and have their own hockey skates. Which they brought along. So we get to hit a public skate in Vacaville with them on Saturday. Besides being good to hang out with them, I’m hoping getting some skating in without the gear (and my third leg – ie my stick) will be good for me.