My first season in the Developmental League (or D-League) at my local YMCA went exceptionally well! Not only did I get a whole lot better, I even put a couple pucks into the back of the net!
My first semi-organized hockey games were nothing like taking the beginner classes I’d used to begin my journey into the sport. Not saying this was bad, it was just a different feel; more competitive, less structured. Drills didn’t feature at all. Each week, the players that showed up would split into even teams, warm up for about 5 minutes and then drop puck. Not gonna lie, the nature of this “straight to business” approach and my own obvious skill deficit to the majority of the other players was just a bit intimidating. For the first few weeks I was easily the slowest, worst conditioned and least skilled participant. I even took a couple weeks off in the middle of the season to do some conditioning.
These first eight or so weeks were really difficult. Not only was I behind the curve and less experienced than most of the other players, the group was only getting around 12-14 skaters each session. This was leading to a lot of 5 on 5 with only 1 or 2 subs per bench and lots of marathon shifts. Our group also had enough time to play not just a standard 3, but four 20 minute periods. There were nights where I would be on the ice for 50+ minutes and a couple guys were going iron-man; 80 minutes time on ice. It felt insane! There was a night where I could barely get my gear and self into the apartment, my legs were dead tired. This amount of ice time felt like a curse at times. “How will I get any better at skating if I can’t feel my legs?” I’d think by the end of the 2nd period some sessions. As the icing on the cake, during this time I barely touched the puck. I may have gotten one secondary assist, so points weren’t really a thing. The only time I seemed to get stick on puck was to deflect someone else’s pass or shot (one sad time right past my own goalie). It was a bit discouraging at times, but each time out I felt like I’d made little bits of progress and most importantly I had a ton of fun.
As the season approached the holiday break, finding myself getting more confident on my skates, I decided to purchase some new steel runners. The LS3s from Bauer, as they seem to be the only blade manufacturer that fits the LS Edge holder on my (shocking I know) Bauer skates. I’m not sure if it was the added height or hardness of the new blades, some kind of mental trick I played on myself or all of the hard work and time I’d put in on the ice over the full year I’d been skating but suddenly I felt like a new skater. While Connor McDavid I am not; I was more stable, could skate backwards (kinda) and was able to do a better job keeping up with the pace and tempo of the games.
Armed with my newfound abilities, I started to feel and play even better. I was getting involved, making some passes, getting in good positions on defense. I registered my first official point pretty soon thereafter; an assist on a sweet breakout pass! The more involved I got, the more confident I’d feel and the more fun I had. It was really awesome and the guys who I got to play with were super helpful; giving small tips and pointers to me any time they could. Then, I broke my first stick.
It happened on an attempted shot. I felt like my first goal was teed up for me, got good wood on the shot attempt and it felt like the puck came off at about half power. Turns out I’d basically snapped the blade off. Thankfully it was at the end of the evening and I had a spare, but it DID put me in the market for a new twig. The next week I played terrified of breaking my only stick and having to go home early. It was not a good week for me. I did find a great little app on my phone though, Sideline Swap. Wow, it is so cool, you can buy pro over-stock and GAME USED sticks, skates, uniform parts, gear and even apparel from your favorite hockey teams. I wanted to order a $250 Mikko Rantanen game used stick, but couldn’t justify spending that much on one stick (that I’d probably cry if broken). I did end up picking up two sweet pro-stock sticks and some socks from the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues.
Armed with my new gear, I hit the ice the next week looking and feeling good. Even a couple of the other skaters took notice of the new sticks and inquired as to how I got my hands on them. The first night, I test out the Bauer Nexus 1N pro-stock of current AHL/NHL player Andy Andreoff. Felt really great and I scored my first goal! Well, basically my teammate passed the puck off my stick into the net, but what do I care? #StillCounts am I right? I now understand why hockey players all huddle up and celebrate every goal they score, it feels REALLY FREAKING GOOD. I’ve hit home runs, I’ve sunk three pointers and really nice putts and none of those compared to the feeling of the puck squeezing by the goalie and into the back of the net.
The rest of the season went by really quickly, there were only a handful of sessions left by this point in mid-February. I scored one more goal; this time on an amazing one-timer that I blasted off a gorgeous pass from my teammate. That goal might’ve felt even better than the first one. The middle of March came way too quickly for me, the YMCA was melting the ice for the season and unbeknownst to myself or the rest of the world the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-down was right around the corner. The season was over and now I’m just left counting down the days until I can hit the ice with my new group of friends again.
I now understand why hockey players all huddle up and celebrate every goal they score, it feels REALLY FREAKING GOOD.
Big thanks to everyone who’s been following along with my hockey trials since I started this site. This was the conclusion of my first full year (and couple months) of hockey and I’m fully hooked. I can’t wait for this quarantine to be over and fall to arrive so I can get back to skating and playing. I’m going to try to find a way to get on the ice more this next year, maybe even playing in my first organized league? Make sure you bookmark the site and follow me on social media to keep up with my hockey adventure as well as all of the other great sports related content you’ll be able to find here!
Just a guy who loves sports.