Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Retiring from Ice Hockey

I threw out my old ice hockey equipment today.

In 1993, I took up the game of ice hockey, and I took it as seriously as I could take it. I bought the best skates I could afford ($200 Riedells). I spent almost a year learning how to ice skate (I took lessons at The Skating Club of Boston). I accumulated equipment as the months progressed.

I joined Hockey North America in early 1994. HNA is a league geared for beginners. There were group try-outs, and then we were assigned to teams randomly. I forked over more money, signed a bunch of papers, and eventually fell into one of the most memorable experiences of my limited sports career.

Our team, the Boston Heat, had a bunch of hockey wanna-bes. Just like me. Some were fairly good skaters. Others were fairly good puck handlers (I was a better skater than puck handler or shooter). We were all gung-ho enthusiasts, living out our ice dreams.

Our captain, Joe Jaena (a fabric business owner) wanted the team to improve, and he hired Cliff Lombardo, a player in the "A" league, to be our coach (we were in the "D" league). Cliff was a good coach. Our team practiced once a week (drills then scrimmages), then we'd play a league game (complete with referees, a clock, and a handful of fans). I played defense, and wore the number 25 because that was how old I was when I joined the league.

We were a good team, and we made it all the way to the championship game. However, the opposing team's one lone talent skated down the left wing, and scored in the final minute of play. I don't remember the score, but I did remember that a tie would have given us the championship on points. I was on the ice, head bowed, completely lost. The locker room afterward was numb, but I remembering trying to hold Joe back as he started in on one of our teammates. We peacefully departed. I remember eating a breakfast meal (it was almost 11PM) at a local pancake place, trying to console myself.

The team stuck together though. We had a nice team party a few weeks later. And after a summer league (we moved to New England Regional Hockey League) and on-and-off practices, we played one more winter season. However, we never captured our original dominant form. We would fade in the early playoff series. This was April 1996.

After I "retired", I played exactly once, at a "stick practice" during lunch (the equivalent of pick up basketball, except that it takes nearly ten minutes to get dressed). There were only ten men in the game, and I was exhausted after three minutes of being on the ice (professional players typically skate in shifts of less than two minutes).

My bag of gear stayed in my basement, but this past weekend, while cleaning out the basement, Jenn suggested I let it go. I have often thought about chucking my gear, but there was always this fear that I might take it up again, and I would need all this equipment. But that didn't seem realistic. I then thought about getting my stuff into a second-hand store, but my pads were worn, and dank with dried sweat. Eventually, I convinced myself that the road sometimes ends. I emptied my gear into a garbage bag, and put it out on the curb.

I kept my skates and my gloves though. My gloves were too new (they were my second pair). And there's no way I could throw out my skates.

I don't miss my equipment so much as I miss being on the team. I loved the camaraderie. I loved the profane noise of a locker room after a practice or a game. I loved the atmosphere: The hard ice. Looking up at the time. My occasional forays into the penalty box. The game itself is the fastest, most physical, yet most skillful game I have ever participated in.

But my playing days are over. They were over long before I threw out my equipment. Putting it out on the curb just makes it official.

1 comment:

  1. For more on me and ice skating, check out: