This was my first game in a couple of weeks as I was battling a toddler-born plague last week. We were SUPPOSED to play our first game of the season at the Cox Convention Center (where the OKC Barons play) last night, but were informed at the last minute that the ice wasn't available. So off to Edmond for a 7:30 tilt on UCO's home ice.
Had a light dinner of left-over lemon-herb chicken and got to the rink with about 30 minutes to spare. While getting dressed I managed a pretty sick burn on one of the forwards in the room, Victor (all names changes to protect me). He was commenting on one of the defenseman's all-black kit making him invisible during a game. I subtlety reminded him that ice was, in fact, white. Much razzing was had by all.
I drew the black team tonight. The way our league works is we have a pool of 20 skaters and two goalies. The skaters get "drafted" onto a single 5-man roster (A, B, C, and D). Then every week two rosters get paired against the other two in a rotation. Goalies get assigned on a rotating basis as well The two teams with the highest win total at the end of the season (and the winningest goalie) get paired together against the two lowest-win teams (and the least-winningest goalie) and we have a three game "playoff" series over three weeks. Last season (late spring/summer) was pretty abysmal as I had a long streak of winless games and was pretty "meh" all season. Had some good games but didn't get the goal support, had some eye-stabbing bad games with goal support. I've been on a decent roll this season though and have felt good after playing 6 games over two days and winning a Labor Day tourney a couple of weeks ago. But I digress...
Warm-up started with no net pegs and no pucks. Good times. Pegs were acquired and a handful of pucks were "borrowed" from somewhere. Got a decent shot-heavy warm-up with the exception of one guy, let's call him Steve, who shot a puck into the back of my leg as I was facing another shooter. Now, accidents happen, but Steve has never been taught (or plain doesn't give a shit) about warm-up etiquette. You don't shoot if the goalie isn't looking at you. How do you know if the goalie is looking at you? He makes eye contact, nods at you, or calls your name. Pretty simple, right? Every week I have to have an extra set of eyes just for Steve because he buries his head and never looks at me when he's ready to shoot and he has ZERO awareness of what the other guys in the zone are doing. Dangerous? Slightly. Annoying as hell? Absolutely. Oh and to cap it off, while I was visualizing my angles (a ritual) as the pucks were gathered up Victor (white team) skated in and slung another puck off the back of the same leg because he thought me staring at the blueline was an indication that I was ready. Incorrect assessment. I honestly didn't even know he was in the zone because of my mental gymnastics.
Anyway... the puck drops and the first period saw us get a quick possession and get a shot on Rick, the opposing goalie. Then about 5 minutes of neutral zone play and sloppy dump-ins, line changes, and break-outs. I got a little bored and played the puck a tad and then mentally chastised myself for wandering. Then Team Blanco got a favorable match-up and generated a decent rush with their top line. The first shot I see is from the right side low boards and it gets steered to the corner, turned over for a 2nd shot from the same area, which gets blocked and bounces right over to Victor who's alone in the left side of the slot. I got center out angle, but not much depth and he took a heavy bar-down snapshot that nailed me dead center in the cage as I dropped into a blocking butterfly. It must have looked pretty bad because they damn near stopped play to check on me, but I was cool. It was more noisy than anything (danglers are LOUD).
Play continued and a couple of minutes later we executed a nifty 3-man pass-pass-shot play on the rush and get our first goal of the game. Not long after, an offside call went unnoticed by Victor even though there was a whistle, everybody stood up, he appeared to look at the ref, and I visibly relaxed. He teed it up anyway and smoked me right in the arm above my blocker. It stung, but my feelings were hurt more than anything. I felt better after he got 2 for unsportsmanlike conduct. We then executed a mind-bogglingly bad power play that saw one weak shot on net.
We scored a 2nd goal not long after and then late in the period Steve caught Rick a little out of position and buried a fluky goal with a rainbow shot from the boards. Not too much action on my end, but the guys were communicating and moving their feet even if there were some questionable breakout decisions. The White team seemed to be getting most of their chances on the rush but wasn’t sustaining any pressure. I did have a good right-to-left save off the collarbone as late 2-on-1 developed but other than that, nothing spectacular. I warned the guys at the bench during the break that Victor, Dustin, Len, and Murrey (the top guys on the other team) would probably load up on a line in the 2nd and come with a vengeance. It's like I'm psychic or something.
2nd period started much like the first with some neutral zone play as passes were getting intercepted all over the place. Then a face-off in our end saw a quick shot to my far-side (left leg) that I barely got a skate blade on after picking it up through traffic. I felt good when the uuuugggghhhh rained from the opposing bench. The ice was a little tilted now and the white team was generating chances. D-to-D communication started to wane in our end as well and we had several shifts of lazy forward work. Sounds like a recipe for a goal.
On a rush, Thad (the all-black defenseman) managed to get in a decent position angle-wise on the puck-carrier coming in the zone on a 2-on-1. He wasn't carrying any speed though and at the last minute (about 10 feet in front of me), decides that even though he'd eliminated half the net because he was literally in the puck-carrier's stick-side hip pocket, now was the time to aggressively over-pursue the off-wing attacker. I had adjusted my angle because the puck-carrier was limited to a wide, back-hand approach and shot due to Thad's position. Thad moved. Now I'm off my angle and the puck-carrier pulled the shot to his forehand and I was caught showing a lot of net to him as he was standing about 5 feet from the top of the crease at that point. I waved ineffectively at it and it's now 3-1. Thad apologized because he knew he got caught flat-footed, so there’s that at least.
Team White smelled the chum in the water and the next several minutes were punctuated by repeated passing clinics and possession in my end. Then a puck got moved below the goal line into the right corner and two of my guys jumped the puck-carrier with glee. My math said somebody was wide-open. Ohh look!! It's Len at the top of the slot one-timing the centering feed back against the grain as I tried to get some depth off the post after the pass out. I over-challenged a little to his side of the ice and he half-flubs one into the far corner of the net. 3-2 Black.
We settled down a tad and started generating or at least matching their chances, but Rick made some good saves in close and his D helped clear out some rebounds. A lazy pinch led to a breakaway back my way and I made a good, patient save that generated a controlled rebound off my shoulder about 3 feet in front of me. Everybody assumed I was going to get lit up or something because the next guy into the zone was also wearing a white jersey and I had to time my poke-check toward the boards to prevent another turnover/scoring opportunity. We muddled our way through a PK shortly thereafter. We escaped to intermission though.
Dustin (an opposing forward) chatted me up during intermission explaining how I'm off my angle toward the stick side and that if I had smaller pads he would have scored. I think he may be wrong about one of those things.
Third period started with some quick feet and hands from our top guy which generated some good opportunities. We were working the cycle well and getting the puck into good positions. Our top line managed to sneak a puck through Rick's five-hole during some sustained play and now we were up 4-2. The white team took another penalty but we didn't generate tons of chances. We gave them a good one though as we gave up a near-breakaway with the guy out of the box even though I almost turned my stick to firewood banging on the ice and calling the D by name to get their attention that the advantage was almost over. Still, we seemed to be controlling the play for the most part.
Another breakaway, this time down my right hand side resulted in another patient, good read save on my part putting the puck into the far left corner. White was swarming a little now and I started to see some more work. They scored again, this time on a rush as a diving defenseman (Patrick) tried to break up a two-on-one pass across the front of my crease, but actually knocked the puck down and to the other attacker. I aborted my slide across when he made contact with the puck and didn't have time to react to the tap in as the other player gathered it in and shoveled it in past my leg.
We were down to the last five or six minutes left in the game and holding on to a slim one-goal lead. We managed to match up a little better and our top guy who had ping-ponged back and forth from forward to D during the third moved back up front and tried to counter-punch. We couldn't bury any chances and the white team kept coming back on the rush. They were looking at the clock and talking about pulling the goalie so I knew we were in for a scrambly finish. Again, my powers of precognition were locked in.
White won a faceoff with their top line and got a shot from the low left point through traffic on me. I never saw it through the forest of people between me and the shooter, but I "felt" the shot coming and executed a tight BF at the top of my crease. First save made, rebound caromed out parallel to the goal line about 4 feet off the paint. Victor was waiting in Ovechkin-land and he teed it up for the one-time blast. The puck wasn't moving that fast and I had time to half-recover and throw my right leg across the goal mouth like an old-timey kick save as I baseball slid across. Victor's shot was mid-net and hit my leg pad flush on its face, launching the puck straight up. I'm now down in the paint and have no idea where the puck is when it drops in my lap. I covered and got the whistle. Whew.
Less than 2 minutes left in the game and they pulled Rick after a terrible icing on our part. I made a good save moving right-to-left on a passing play and put the puck into the corner. We were out-manned and the puck ended up at the left point. Murrey walked the blueline and shot a low, hard shot toward the net. They had a two-level screen and I was a little deep in my net hunting for the puck. The guy camped out at the top of the crease tip it juuuuust enough to slip it past my right foot as my BF was too narrow and too deep. Game tied.
The last 45 seconds or so were filled with more horrible clears and "passing" in our end and Murrey had a chance on the backhand after a centering pass out of the corner found his completely unencumbered stick two feet above my crease. I got the blocker on it just as the buzzer sounded. Shootout!! Yay.
White went first (Dustin) and I got a good telescope and started my controlled retreat. He started chopping broccoli as the gap closed and he was in the beginning stage of some fancy stick-skate-stick pass move (or something) right on top of me when I paddled-down and pushed the puck into his feet for the first save. I had the right leg covering the bottom of the net as I sprawled, so perfect execution aside, I don't think he would have much to shoot on if my poke-check gambit had failed.
Our first shooter went to Rick's left and got him down in the two-pad stack (his go-to one-on-one save selection). My guy was patient and fired it up with enough umph that even though Rick got a piece with the pad, it still bounced in. Next up for white is Len, who has a quick release and good handles so I try to remind myself to be patient. I'm so busy in my head, he's at the blueline before I started my telescope. I got one good push back on the retreat and he's closed the gap. He pulled it to his forehand and it trickles past his stick blade a little, so I lunged forward with the paddle-down and knocked it back into the right circle.
Our second shooter went in with some speed and one-moved Rick before roofing it for the dagger. Game over. 5-4 shootout win for Team Black.
I celebrated on the 30 minute drive home with a Frost Blue Gatorade and a Mrs. Fields Ice Cream Sandwich, a flavor combination that can only be enjoyed on the fringes of dehydration at 9:30 at night. When I got home, Mrs. refused any other celebrations due to the rankness of my person. Challenge Completed.