The quest to become a hockey player started back in Fall 2001. At the time, I was keeping a sporadic diary of how it was going learning how to skate and then learning how to actually play the game. It’s appropriate that the first entry of the new blog has the history of those classes. This entry covers September 2001 through February 2002.

February 12, 2002: So I’ve been not so great keeping this updated because of some connectivity problems to upload to the website, but I’ve finally put the whole thing together here and can now talk about hockey class too, which started January 7. The picture here, by the way, were shot on January 9.

For those who’ve not been here before, this whole thing started at the end of softball season, around mid-July. As routine readers of this site might remember, I played on a Princeton Review softball team from April to July this past year. I had a fabulous time. And since I’m getting in better shape through a work out regime, I got the wild urge to learn how to play hockey.

Understand, I had little idea how to skate. There was some skating in Michigan when I was young, like 5 or 6 or 7, but nothing formal and certainly never playing hockey before. So I talked it over with Will and developed a plan: learn how to skate, learn how to play, get into a league.

It’s a pretty easy plan to follow through on here in New York City too. A simple visit to Chelsea Piers Sky Rink website put all the class information right there. I took a 10-week skating class in September (which you can read about below).

Just as I was psyching up for class to start, I read an article about the New York City Gay Hockey Association, which runs three different leagues. Reading their website made me interested and I’ve already been in touch with them about getting involved in the group. One night during general skating after a class I got to meet some of the members too.

NEWS FLASH: On February 6, I got offered a slot as either a Tiger or a Rocket — the two NYCGHA developmental teams. Don’t know which team I’ll be on yet, but I will be playing in the 12-game season starting in April!

10-week hockey prep class:
Week 1 (Jan. 7): This was insanely hard! I’ve never had to use so much eye-hand-body coordination in my life! Class started with the class — eight of us — just skating around to show the instructor our technique. Then we learned how to skate forward with the stick in front of us in the proper stance. This was initially quite difficult because it changed my entire balance, for a bit I felt like I’d forgotten how to skate. Then we started starting, stopping and starting again with the stick. Next up we learned basic forward puck control and how to keep the puck on the end of the stick. Theoretically you can do this while skating forward, with you head up because you can see the tip of your stick in your peripheral vision. I don’t have that ability yet at all. It was all I could do to keep the puck out in front of me while moving forward and watching it. It’s not easy at all. Shooting and receiving the puck wrapped up the hour. Once I got the idea of how to move my wrist right, this was something I did pretty okay with.

Meanwhile, in just the general practice sessions for the week I started working on stopping with my right foot — my left is my dominant foot and I need to be able to stop on either side. This was challenging on Monday and better on Wednesday. Also continued work on backwards and backwards crossovers.

Week 2 (Jan. 14): And it just gets harder. Besides reviewing last week’s material, we added two new skills. First up was skating around cones and being able to make tight turns around them. My legs simply don’t seem to want to move that way. The key is for the inside leg to move forward and pilot the way around the cone — during Wednesday’s practice session I was still working on that with just a smidge of progress. Besides just skating around the cones we also had to bring a puck around with us. I fell once doing that exercise — luckily though half the class fell that night. The other new thing was skating forward while passing the puck back-and-forth. I was better at that one, but it still felt very clunky. Besides working on those tight turns on Wednesday I also continued working on better stopping, especially the weak side.

Week 3 (Jan. 21): More on tight turns, which are still causing me great grief. It’ll get better eventually I hope. Started working on passing and receiving the puck this week too. Six of us would stand on the perimeter of one of the red circles and pass and receive a single puck and then after a few minutes we added a second puck so that it was all the more important to make sure that the person getting the puck knew they were getting the one you had. It’s all about eye contact. We also skated around within the circles trying to keep our own puck under control. The point here is to make sure that you’re looking up and not just down at the ice, otherwise you run into people.

Week 4 (Jan. 28): Crossovers began this week. For as well as I can do them just skating, there’s a huge difference doing them with a stick in your hand. I know that these should improve rapidly as I’m working on them all the time. We also worked crossovers while handling the puck… that was a bit of a nightmare and landed me on my ass once. We also did more skating around in the circles to make sure we were watching out for each other. We also had our first scrimmage this week. Light shirts vs. dark shirts. The dark shirt team — mine — sucked. But it was a total blast! I notice I don’t even think about the skating part when scrimmaging, it’s all about moving the puck or getting the puck. I can’t wait to play for real.

Week 5 (Feb. 4): This week was about balance and flexibility. My flexibility sucks big time! Drills included: Bend your knees and drop one knee onto the ice and keep gliding forward, bend, drop one knee and drag the skate behind you so you stop, get as low possible with knees bended and glide forward. The ones I could do the best were simply picking up one skate while maintaining a hockey stance and going forward while bent at the waist as if touching my toes. These were very tough… fell a lot doing this as did a lot of people. For puck handling it was crossovers and shooting and receiving as you’re going into and out of a curve. I wasn’t too bad at this. The scrimmage was great again. I actually had an assist on a goal by passing the puck who made the shot into the goal. That was cool… had I been playing I would’ve actually had a stat! I also ended up and accidentally body checked a classmate because I wanted the puck he had. He vows to get me back in a future scrimmage. ;)

Week 6 (Feb. 11): More crossovers in the early part of the class and then we revisited week two and three with more of the tight turns around the cones. This got better again, but after class a few of us really tried to make this work and got even better. The turns aren’t great, but they are tighter. We were also working on immediate stops while moving the puck, which was a pretty good exercise. More passing and receiving this week too, back around the red circles. I did good with this, missing none of my receives, even the ones against the back side of the stick. I even made a few passes using the backside just to see if I could. Scrimmage was good again. I helped get the puck moved around and had a great time again! No scoring though because I wasn’t really trying to do that. I guess you could say I was more playing defense than anything else.

10-week adult skating class recap:
Week 1 (Sept. 24): First thing we learned is the basics of balancing on the blades and how to fall correctly. Bending your knees is important (since starting I’ve noticed that hockey players are almost perpetually bent) because it improves balance and your center of gravity. Then it was forward skating, both with simple glides and swizzles. Swizzles are quite painful to the inner thigh until you’re used to them and they were very hard to do. By the general session that night after class, I was already buzzing around the rink, sadly, though, with no way to stop other than a wall.

Week 2 (Oct. 1): Somehow between the time I left general skate last week and arrived to warm up this week, my brain seems to have embraced the swizzle concept. This week we built on the swizzles and started to work on balance by skating with one foot off the ice (looking like flamingos I must say). Also looked at a sort of slalom way to move forward, looked a lot like downhill skiing.

Week 3 (Oct. 8): Again, the week before slalom was difficult directly after class, but in warm-up tonight I seem to have gotten it. This week we worked on honing our basic skills from the past two weeks. It helped a lot towards building my foundation.

Week 4 (Oct. 17): Major breakthrough tonight! Learned backwards and even started doing it
before general skate was over. I got backwards swizzles and backwards slalom going. It’s not graceful, but it’s getting there. Also began to nail down the all-important stop feature.

Week 5 (Oct. 22): More refinement of backwards and the introduction of the crossover to help get around the turns. Understand, that to me, crossover is an invitation to fall since you have to pick up one foot and bring it over the other and then place it down and swing the other around. I had a hard time grasping how to move right. But by the end of general skate I was at least sort of doing them. My plan this week is to hit the rink on Saturday morning for some practice in place of a leg work out so I can nail some of this stuff down better.

Week 6 (Oct. 29): It was another week of work on forward crossovers. And it did get a little easier, though it’s still very difficult to move one foot over the other correctly. Week 7 is supposed to be backwards crossovers. Ugh!

Week 7 (Nov. 5): And backwards crossovers we did try, and totally didn’t get. It’s insanely difficult to get the feet moving in a crossover when you can’t glide well backwards. Forward skating is going great though and the forward crosses are getting easier.

Week 8 (Nov. 12): Worked a lot on backwards movement this week and being able to glide more. Also got a great drill for forward crossovers so you cross one direction, glide then cross the other direction and glide. This drill has helped improve things a lot

Week of Nov. 19: No class this week because of Thanksgiving, but I did work on all my movements during practice on Monday and Wednesday night. I also started skating in my own hockey skates this week and will take the last two weeks of class in them.

Week 9 (Nov. 26): I passed my skills test! So it’s off to hockey prep I go in early January. I proved my forward, backwards, forward crossover and turning ability. Also got some pointers on what to work on during December between classes.

Week 10 (Dec. 3): Class wrapped up and I got lots of pointers on how to make the backwards cross over work. Although it’s still not there yet.

December’s Practices: I got much faster in December, often with the help of one of the skate guards behaving as sort of a pace car for me. My forward crossovers also improved, as did my ability to skate with bended knees to keep my center of gravity lower. The backwards crossovers also finally started to come in. They certainly aren’t graceful, but they’re getting better every week.