I have always loved not only watching hockey, but playing it as well. I have played outdoor hockey a countless number of times in my life, but never had I played in an actual competitive ice hockey game in full pads until this past Saturday. It was quite the experience.
It all started with getting my skates freshly sharpened about an hour before the game. I took them to a hockey shop right near the rink and had them sharpened within 10 minutes. Then, my next step was to get fully dressed in the locker room.
I had never put on hockey pads before, so I embarrassed myself pretty bad while getting dressed in the same room with a bunch of other guys who have been playing hockey their whole lives. I had no idea as to what order I should be putting my pads on. Should I put my pants on first? Should my shin pads be first? I had no clue. So I did my best to try and mimic the order that all of the other guys were going in. In the end, I ended up looking the same as the rest of the guys, so it all worked out OK.
Next, it was time to hit the ice. As I left the locker room, I grabbed my new and freshly taped stick and started praying for the best. I have never been a great skater in my life, but I would consider myself to be decent. When I first stepped onto the ice, everything seemed fine. I was no stranger to skating, like I already mentioned. My problem was that I had never skated while being fully dressed in hockey pads and a helmet with a cage on the front. I will admit that skating with all of the pads on was not as bad as I thought it would be, but having the mask in front of my face was a bit distracting at first. As I began taking warm-up shots on the net, I found that it was a little tough to focus on the puck with all of those metal bars 3 inches in front of my face. It definitely took me a little while to get used to.
After warm-ups, I headed to the bench for the start of the game and began waiting for my first shift. I was quite nervous, to say the least. I was about to go play in my first ever competitive ice hockey game against a bunch of guys who had been doing it their whole lives. Then, the moment I had been waiting for came upon me before I even had a chance to think about it. As I got up off the bench to take the ice, I put my mouth guard in, and again started saying my prayers.
Something that I had never really even considered prior to that moment was jumping over the boards in front of the bench and onto the ice. It’s not as easy as it looks! When I finally made it over the boards and onto the ice, I just began to react to what was going on around me in the game without even thinking about it. After watching hockey my whole life, I felt like I honestly knew what I was doing out on that ice. However, while I felt like I had things under control, I was still the worst players out there by far. I wasn’t good at coming to a stop on a dime, and I couldn’t make real sharp cuts/turns while playing defense. This unfortunately led to a bunch of guys on the other team blowing right by me for breakaways.
When I came back to the bench after my first shift, I was already dead tired. You don’t realize how much those pads weigh you down until you go full-out in them for an extended period of time.
After about my third shift, I noticed that when I got back to the bench I had sweat just pouring off my face. The weird part was that I didn’t even feel hot. However, I was sweating profusely. It was at that moment that I fully understood how NHL players are so soaking wet when giving TV interviews right after a period ends.
As the game progressed, so did I. I felt more and more comfortable on the ice with each shift that I took. In the end, I managed to get just one shot on goal, which didn’t go in. Aside from finally playing in my first real ice hockey game, the biggest thing that I gained from this experience is realizing just what it is that players in the NHL go through each game (except take what I went through and multiply it by 10). They have to be in excellent shape, and have unbelievable cardiovascular endurance, among other things.
From now on, I will never watch an NHL game the same way that I used to. I now have a much greater appreciation for how talented those guys really are.