Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas Past: The Joy of Attending a Leaf Practice

In my first year of year playing house league hockey, my coach put me between the pipes and told me not leave the crease under any circumstances. The explanation for these instructions was easy to understand, as I couldn't skate without falling down. Thus, I was given the goalie pads and watched the action unfold before me. My skating was so bad, it caused me to have nightmares. In my dream, the goalie for the other team would claim the net closest to the gate (about 6-feet away). When this happened, I would have to make my way to the other end of the rink. While slowly travelling down the ice, I would be hugging the boards for support in an attempt to remain on my skates. Every inch of the way, I could feel the eyes of everyone in the arena watching my adventure.

During the Christmas vacation, something happened to make my nightmares disappear. The week between Christmas and New Years, my coach invited our team to a skating party held at a pond located north of Toronto. Looking back, I think he knew this was just the tonic I needed. Unlike the arena where we played, there were no nets and just open ice. There were no crowds to contend with or worries about making it to the net by the gate. Away from the usual environment, I concentrated solely on my skating. If I fell down, I would brush off the snow and continue straight ahead. By the end of the afternoon, I could manoeuvre around the pond without doing a face-plant.

When our next game took place, I lead our team out of the dressing room and was the first person to reach the gate. As I watched the final moments of the contest before our game, I was determined to show everyone that I could now handle myself on the ice. As the gate flung open, I skated around the net and made a beeline to the net furthest away.

The next year, I made the switch from goalie to forward and my strongest asset became my skating ability.

Also, during the school break that Christmas, our coach arranged for us to attend a Leaf practice at Maple Leaf Gardens.

It was a real eye-opener to watch the Leafs during their workout. For the most part, they completed their drills in a precise and competitive manner. I remember our coach telling us to soak in what we were watching. He stressed that we could learn what it took to remain the National Hockey League. He pointed out how hard the players were working and their ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

A week later, it was back to school and the regular routine. That Christmas, however, was magical. I learnt how to properly skate and got to watch my first Toronto Maple Leafs practice. What more could a kid wish for at Christmas?

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