Hockey mom

I've never been much for organized sports. Perhaps it's because I've never been able to follow directions. That girl in the back of the aerobics class, the one with the two left feet who gets reprimanded by the instructor, that's me. Which is why, whenever possible, I try to pursue solitary endeavors trail running, biking, skiing things that don't include the possibility of public humiliation or at least require enough protective gear that should humiliation occur, it is impossible to be identified.

So, when I announced that I had signed up to play hockey, most of my cohorts were in disbelief. Some inquired if I had been drunk at the time. I quickly defended my position, noting that whether or not I was inebriated (I was) had nothing to do with my decision.

See, I grew up in Minnesota, which in addition to Prince, Spam and Target, happens to be the home of 10,000 lakes. Of course, this claim is only accurate about three months out of the year. The rest of the time, it is home to 10,000 cold, flat, frozen surfaces, good for only one activity skating. (Note: ice fishing and snowmobiling are not "activities.") So, even though I never actually held a hockey stick, let alone hit a puck with one, I felt it would come naturally. After all, I grew up immersed in the hockey culture. My cousin's best friend's older brother's friend was the son of Herb Brooks, who coached the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team (half of which was Minnesotan) to the gold medal. I knew the real-life Hanson brothers, from the movie "Slap Shot." Playing hockey was practically my birthright. Nevermind that I had donned a pair of skates only twice in the last 20 years and hadn't the foggiest idea of how to stop there is ice in my blood.

But before I could test this theory, I had to procure gear. This was to be a lesson in itself my teacher an unwitting and befuddled young man more accustomed to outfitting kids than their mothers.

"I want the cheapest of the cheap," I declared as I entered his store.

He obediently set about outfitting me in everything from skates to shoulder pads politely turning his head when I slipped the breezers over my jeans to see if they fit. When it seemed I had amassed padding like flab on a WWF heavyweight wrestler, we headed toward the checkout. But there was one last stop: a rack of white, strappy apparati that looked more befitting of a male locker room than a middle-aged mother.

"I need one of those?" I asked in horror.

"They're, um, pelvic protectors, ma'am," he stammered.

Up until now, I had understood the need for all the protective padding hips, knees, elbows, chin but down there? Apparently, hockey was an equal-opportunity sport.

Rather than subject the boy to more trauma, I acquiesced.

"OK, guess I better have one."

There was an uncomfortable silence.

"Um, what size do you think you are?" he asked. "They come in small and large."

Now it was my turn to be embarrassed. As a woman, I had never been asked to evaluate such a measurement. I glanced down and wagered my best guess.

"Small?" I offered.


"Why don't you try a large," he responded. "They're adjustable."

Not in a position to argue, I took my large pelvic protector, threw in a pair of fuzzy, tiger-striped skate guards and was on my way eager to test my gear and the clerk eager to put the episode behind him.

But before I could do anything, I had to get dressed. An hour and a half before my first unofficial game, I began to sort through the pile of plastic and foam. Forty-five minutes later, I was still puzzling over how the garter belt worked and why the "socks" looked more like leg warmers. With ice time drawing near, I drove to the rink half dressed, hoping some of the more experienced players could help me out. It was here that I learned the first rules of hockey: breezers go on after knee pads and socks, but before skates; helmet after shoulder pads; jersey before helmet; and never, ever walk on the cement in your newly sharpened skates.

Fully decked out, I hobbled out to the rink like a sci fi Weeble and flung myself over the wall to the ice (there are doors, I would later learn.) Before long, I was feeling comfortable in my suit of armor. But there was one problem: the thought of a real hockey stop terrified me. I would have to improvise, relying on the boards to check my speed. I fashioned a pseudo stop by pointing my feet outward like a duck and spinning in a circle a pretty little trick I learned in fourth grade ice skating lessons.

My hands, however, were a lost cause. Drowning in a pair of loner gloves, I had trouble grasping the stick, let alone maneuvering it. I decided it would be safest for me and others to hang back on defense. With little fanfare, the game started, and I was doing a good job of avoiding the puck and drawing as little attention to myself as possible. And that's when it happened. Someone shot me the puck. Actually, it was more of a mercy pass, gently tapped in my general direction. All I had to do was swoop it away like a hot potato, but it was easier said than done. I waited for what seemed an eternity for the puck to reach me, then I closed in and took aim. A hush fell over the crowd, and with everything I had I whiffed.

With no puck to absorb my forward momentum, my upper body kept going, soon followed by my lower half. I'm not sure how I came to rest on the ice, but it must have been face up because I saw stars.

Once again splayed across the ground I was that girl. The one who misses a softball lob even a one-eyed pygmy goat-herder in bare feet could have returned, with his teeth.

Lying there, I prayed for a freak Zamboni accident to take me out, but no such luck. I was forced to stand up, brush off and play on.

Which is what I did for the next hour and a half of mostly self-imposed pain, the likes of which I have not seen since I experimented with snowboarding 10 years ago. In this time, it became apparent that my childhood training in the fine art of spins and bunny hops, not to mention my implicit brush with hockey greatness, had no bearing whatsoever on my real life playing abilities.

That was the first of many revelations. I also came to understand why hockey players have gaping smiles and crooked noses. I learned the importance of lifting my face mask before a farmer's blow. And I was made aware of my dormant quads and hip flexors, as well as a few unknown muscles.

But perhaps the most important thing I learned was that no matter how hard I crashed, it never hurt all that bad physically or otherwise. For one, I was practically encased in bubble wrap. And secondly, there wasn't a person there who hadn't wiped up the floor with her face at least once or twice. See, at one time or another, we all have to be that girl, or guy, and this just happened to be my turn.

In the meantime, I'm perfecting that hockey stop.




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