Last night, for the first time in my life, I held a hockey stick.
No, I’m not joking. And I’m not exaggerating. I’m completely serious.
What kind of 22-year-old, born-and-raised Canadian has never held a hockey stick in her life, let alone hit a puck with the thing?
Oh, right. A 22-year-old, born-and-raised Canadian that has always professed to disliking the sport profusely and who has always been disgruntled that, somehow, the definition of Canada is, well, hockey.
I’m still disgruntled that the definition of Canada is hockey. That’s a stupid way to define a country and a people. I stand by my earlier statements that you are still a perfectly good Canadian even if you don’t like hockey. But, you know what? I retract the statement that I dislike the sport profusely. In fact, I’ll even say there’s something incredibly exhilerating about the whole thing. I think it’s the sounds, actually. Skates on ice, sticks on ice, the voices of the players, the puck ricocheting off the garbage can next to the outdoor rink, the solid plunk of the puck against a stick.
Throughout the city I live in, there are small outdoor rinks, lit, thankfully. Last night, M, his roommates and myself loaded skates and hockey equipment into one of their cars and went to one, hidden away down a dead-end road at the end of a slightly obscure path. There was another small group of three there, experienced players, or at least more so than myself. The guys had their skates on in a matter of minutes. My own skates, being the wrong colour and style (white, not black, with laces all the way up and the pretty look of dancing on ice — that’s right. I handled a puck with a hockey stick in figure skates) took about 15 minutes to get into. It doesn’t help that they haven’t been worn in nearly two years and were stiff and unmanageable. And then, I sat feeling intimidated. The six people on the ice whipped around spraying a thin shimmer into the air. The six pucks flew from one side to the other as they practiced passing and shooting. I could see no where I belonged with my shiny, white, rusty skates and my potential to land flat on my butt the moment I stepped out onto the ice. Making a fool of myself in front of M and his roommates, all whom I know well and trust, was one thing; making a fool of myself in front of these strangers was quite another.
But I couldn’t sit on the sidelines either. Weighing my options I realized I would be far more of a fool if I sat like an idiot on the bench for the next half hour until the three strangers left.
It was like walking when I first stepped out. My skates had been stored improperly the last time I used them and rust had built up on the blades. But it got better, and with each turn around the rink, I gained a little confidence on my blades. Finally, I was ready to hold the stick. It didn’t help that the guys kept trying to hit my feet with pucks in what I guess they thought was encouragement.
I’m lucky to have met M and his roommates. They’re patient. Willing to let me fail, perhaps, as long as I keep trying. They gave me a few basics and then kept shooting pucks at me. And I kept, clumsily, shooting back. Half an hour later, M said I was better. And, I’ll admit, I could tell. It doesn’t take long for the stick to feel more comfortable in your hands. It doesn’t take long for your feet to adjust to gliding instead of walking. The hardest part is putting those two things together.
By the end of the winter, I hope I’ll be better. I hope at least to have an understanding of what it is about the sport that has so captivated the people who play. I think I’m on my way to that.
(However, the hour it took to warm up afterwards hindered that just a touch.)