This is one of those extremely rare weekends where I have absolutely nothing planned.  And you know, that’s actually pretty refreshing.  I pride myself on keeping busy both at work and with weekend activities, but ya gotta take time to recharge the batteries too.

So, it’s Saturday and a long weekend with the Labor Day holiday upcoming on Monday.  I just got back from getting a little, ahem, personal maintenance done at my favorite spa.  A little waxing upstairs and downstairs does wonders, believe me.  I also get the (colorless but aging) peach fuzz waxed off above my eyebrows a few times a year and the skin stays very red and swollen for a couple days, enough to where I wear sunglasses inside in a store if I’m running errands.  Acting very chic and mysterious, like a celebrity who just had plastic surgery, ha ha. Other than that, I’m a blank slate the next few days.  I also have four new books about the Arctic (issues with the peoples, changing climate, tourism in Spitsbergen/Svalbard – which sounds incredibly appealing actually), but that’s another post for another time.

What were we talking about here?  Oh yeah, hockey.  Hockey memories.  This is the inbetween season time both for the NHL and for us adult beer league players alike.  Is it October yet?  Lots of time to reflect meanwhile.

Some of you may know the story already on how taking up (ice) hockey was probably THE most random, spontaneous thing I’ve ever started doing in my adult life.  This is a girl who never did team sports in school, save for some attempts at track & field in junior high.  I was into music.  Big time.  Singing in choirs, piano, performing, touring – that was my schtick all through high school and college. 

It was 2003 and I was 36 and a svelte size 6 after peeling off about 35 lbs by walking a few miles a day, every day for a few months.  I could not believe how I’d transformed myself and felt this inner urge to DO something more to keep pushing myself physically and mentally.  A new group moved into the building I was working in at the time – a group not connected with mine but we got acquainted just being right next to eachother in the hallway.  It was through that I became friends with D and she asked me if I wanted to start an adult beginner hockey class with her and I said YES!  She’d moved here from out of state and really wanted to get into it again.

In fact, I think I was considering taking up belly dancing at about this same time, thanks to my good friend J who’d been doing it for years and just loving it.  Yep, belly dancing was actually high on the list.  But hockey swooped in and trumped it.

We had an orientation session a couple weeks before the classes started to get paperwork done, pay our fees and learn about the equipment we’d need to buy.  I remember heading to that session at one of the rinks here in the area, opening the door to the rink itself (which was solid, no windows) and getting a WHOOOSH rush of cold air and noise smack in the face!  Wow!  There was a big drills session going on and I watched in awe.  Was *I* going to be doing this eventually someday?  I couldn’t believe it was even possible!  I hadn’t set foot in a rink in years and the last time I was on ice skates was probably over 10 years ago with my boyfriend at the time at one of the small outdoor rinks they have for public skating during the holidays.  Come to think of it, I tripped and fell pretty hard on my front too, enough to where I swear I bounced.  Ouch.

A few days after the orientation session I came back to that rink’s pro shop, equipment list in hand and credit card ready.  The girl in the shop asked me “how tall” and motioned with her palm face down, moving it up and down.  Oh my God!  She thought I needed to buy equipment for a child!  I laughed and said, no, actually this stuff is for me.  After she gave me a split second funny look (hey, don’t all suburban 30-something blonde chicks randomly take up hockey? Come on!) we got down to business.

I practiced suiting up at home (sans skates) and couldn’t get over how big and bulky I felt! 

For those who may not be familiar with all the padding that goes on under your hockey jersey, take a gander:
– “Jill” jock short.  Yes, guys, us ladies need protection down there too.  This is a mesh short with a hard, curved cup to cover the cooch sewn in.  There are velcro strips at the leg openings front and back where you attach your socks but we’ll get to that.
– Shin pads (which also cover the knees)
– Elbow pads
– Shoulder/chest pads
– Hockey pants (these resemble bulky shorts, for the legs and butt area are heavily padded.  The pants are also very high waisted with extra padding for the kidneys in back and the abdominal area up front.  “Do these pants make my butt look huge?”  Why, yes they sure do.  This ain’t about glamour, people.
– Socks.  Hockey socks are pretty much long, knit tubes.  You put them over your shin pads and attach them either to the velcro on your jock/jill short like I do, or some people use a sport garter belt with clips.  Either works.
– Gloves.  Hockey gloves are like scaled-down boxing gloves but with individual fingers.  The thumb pocket is extremely stiff to prevent your thumb from hyper-extending.  And the gloves pretty much keep your hands rigid since you are holding your stick 99.9% of the time.
– Helmet
– And of course, skates.
– A stick, a spare stick and stick tape.
– Sock tape. You put a few rings of this over your socks to keep your shin pads tight and flush against your legs.
– Gear bag to tote it all!
– Long sleeved, synthetic knit t-shirts and running tights.  Totally personal preference but for me this is essential.  I refuse to put on gear and pads over bare skin.  Plus it helps in a co-ed locker room situation…I can suit up but stay covered up.

I got good advice early on…spend money on your skates and your helmet.  Because if your skates don’t fit correctly your feet will be miserable, which makes YOU miserable.  And the helmet?  Enough said. Everything else can be bought second hand or fairly cheap.

Jerseys…or “sweaters” if you use the old school term.  Because hockey was played outside wearing actual, yes, sweaters.  And the name stuck.

Over the years I’ve acquired quite an impressive collection of jerseys (and socks).  I can brush my fingers over them as they hang in my closet and feel the memories tingling into my fingers.

There’s the red, white and black ‘house’ jerseys we got after finishing the beginner hockey clinic.  The league split our class into two equally-matched teams and we were on our way, joining the most novice team division about halfway through the season.  I’ll NEVER forget the adrenaline rushes…hitting the ice for the first time, struggling to learn to skate, pass, shoot, stop…and I was probably walking on air the whole day before our very first “official” league game.

Now, it’s all still a joy, but in a habit and lifestyle way. Seven years later, I’m still smiling.

And our first “real” team jerseys, complete with our names on the back, a team logo, numbers, the whole works.  A few tournament jerseys, including a couple from a womens tournament a few of us take part in in Vegas every January!  Charity team jerseys for the Hockey Challenge, a benefit for the local Ronald McDonald House here in Seattle.

You know, one thing that I didn’t expect about taking up hockey was the time committment.  And the cuh-razy game start times we can have.  Sunday night game, face-off at 9:30 or 10pm?  At a rink a 40 minute drive away?  Yep, it’s possible alright.  Games last about 90 minutes and if you include the time to drive, suit up, warm up with your team, play, change and drive home that’s a few hours.  Hours well spent!

I used to get really stressed out on Sunday nights.  I’d go over work issues in my head and dread the thought of getting up in the morning and going to work.  But once hockey entered my life it punctured all of that stress right out.  Because most of our beginner clinic practices (and later my division’s games) were on Sunday nights.  So my typical pre-hockey Sunday night routine totally got turned upside down and I couldn’t be happier.  I’m single with no kids and I could sit on the couch by myself, watching TV or just veging out…OR I could be out on the ice with super fun people, playing a super fun game…and getting some exercise too! 

When I am out on the ice, nothing else matters.  For you really, really need to focus on the game.  Especially for someone like me where this does not come naturally.  And I get a lot of funny looks when I talk about our late start times on Sundays or even during the week, depending.  Thankfully over the years I’ve worked in places where you can start a tad later in the morning than is traditional.  And lots of people at this company play hockey (or other team sports) and understand the lifestyle.

This season there are changes coming up, for I’ve hooked up with a brand new team.  After 7 years I absolutely adore my original team, and quite a few of us have stayed on since we got started way back when.  People come and go over time but we’ve stayed pretty consistent.  Only now we’ve advanced to a level in the league where I can’t really participate effectively.  Gosh, I remember how I used to skate (practices, scrimmages, league games) a good 3 or 4 nights a week.   I just don’t do that anymore, and as a result my skills have plateau’d.

I was a little worried about cutting ties and moving on, as much as it was very necessary.  Could I get on board with a new team before fall season?  I know a ton of people in the league…can I just pimp myself out shamelessly and avoid having to go to a new player draft?

Lo and behold, the Hockey Gods listened.  And delivered.  There is a hockey player email distribution list at work – for purely social purposes of course.  And an email came out asking for people who would be interested in joining a brand new team…at a skill level right in my sweet spot!  SCORE!! 

We had a meet and greet skate earlier this week at one of the rinks in the area, and about 6 of us showed up.  Super fun and nice people, and I can’t wait for the season to start!  And to see what our new team logo will look like.  We do know our sweaters and socks will be the blue, green and white of the Vancouver Canucks (which happens to be my favorite NHL team as apparently it is of our founder and Captain!).  Nice.

I chuckle at how awkward I felt the first few times I suited up in all that gear.  And how now it’s kinetic habit to suit up and I’m fully used to how it feels and how sweaty I get as a result after a hard fought game on the ice.  Our meet and greet skate (which was during a public skate so we wore street clothes)?  Oh man…I hadn’t skated sans gear in years and it felt so strange!

And boy I am glad I have a garage.  Because there’s nothing worse than Hockey Funk…the inevitable stink that permeates your gear over time, no matter how much you air it out afterwards.  I’ve washed my gear and pads in a bathtub with liquid dishwasher soap a few times over the years.

Hmmm…maybe I DO have something planned this weekend after all.  Hockey gear suds fest!