My favourite image from back then was the first time I tried out for the school team. A friend had talked me into it because he was going to try out. Fool that I was, I agreed. Hey, I played street hockey with a tennis ball, didn’t I? And I was a pretty good right winger, even a good goalie.
I hadn’t thought it through, however. Tip for anyone considering taking up hockey: if you can’t skate, go home. No matter how good your other skills are, without skating you’re kaput. It is played on ice, after all.
So my friend and I went to try out for the school hockey team. We went to the first try-out, suited up and hit the ice. First up on the agenda, stops and starts. This is where everyone lines up along the blue line. The coach blows a whistle and everyone skates like mad. Next whistle: everyone stops.
We lined up and the whistle blew. We all started skating as if our lives were in the balance. The whistle blew and along the line a shower of snow went up like a foaming wave rolling in from the Pacific. And out of this cloud-like shower of ice one skinny little kid emerged as if an apparition from mythology slowly gathering density.
It was me. My legs had stopped moving but my skates continued to glide, carrying me slowly and lazily, almost in a peaceful Zen-like fashion, all the way to the end of the ice where I hit the end boards and finally stopped.
I could skate, all right. Sadly, I had no idea how to stop.
Thus ended my first foray into the fast-paced, skill-specific world of hockey.
In hockey, skills are everything. First, you have to be able to skate. Second, you need to be able to stop. They go hand in hand, logically, and in their absence all other skills are irrelevant.
Oddly, you rarely hear this brought up in hockey broadcasts. I don’t recall ever hearing anyone say something like, “Wow! That Sidney Crosby sure can stop!”