I am 24 years old.
It's 7:20pm and I feel like a young man as I excitedly head toward the rink for a night of hockey. Due to a continuing scheduling nightmare, my D team plays back-to-back games tonight but I don't mind. I'll be playing in net for game one and then pulling on my player skates for game two. I am looking forward to both.
Game one is a barn-burner. Our team never leads but manages to tie it up after each opposing goal. The scoring chances are frequent and I'm having to put out a decent effort to keep my team in it until the end. Finally the game ends in a 4-4 tie and its time for the shootout. I stone all four shooters and our fourth potted a goal to take a 5-4 win. Its a good start to a big night of hockey.
I am 32 years old.
I frantically change in the locker room between games. Sweat is pouring off me as I discard my goalie gear which is heavy and wet from the first game. No matter, I pull on my player skates, suit up and get ready for game two.
I pull duty at Center and I try and put out my best effort during the game. I'm not a great puck handler so I make sure I apply pressure with the forecheck and get open for outlet passes. I skate as hard as I can during my shifts and I am gasping for air on the bench. I get a couple of good chances including a wrister top shelf that takes a good save to stop. By the time the third period starts, my legs are feeling like jelly and I am looking around at a team who are suffering late into a back-to-back game. We end up losing the second game but everyone seems pretty happy with the outcome.
In am 40 years old.
I quickly skate off the ice because my night isn't over. I've somehow arranged that I will be subbing for another team in net in what will be my third game in a row this night. As I hurry to the locker room, I feel my legs wobbly underneath me and I begin undressing and pulling on my heavy, wet goalie gear. I begin to wonder if I have made a good choice. I get the occasional glance from my team mates in the locker room. Everyone is wiped out from two games in a row and I'm pulling on gear for game three.
Sweat is pouring off me as I guzzle water and try to get ready for the game while the Zamboni finishes up. I get myself together and head back to the ice where I will face the best team in the league.
With a short bench my team puts out a spirited effort- falling behind early 4-0 before getting within one goal midway through the third period. I am a mess. My technique is out the window. I slide through angles, my stance is half-assed and my recovery time from a save can be measured with an hourglass. I find the energy to take a roughing penalty in the second period after I knock down a player who loves to run me over every chance he gets- I've still got a little fight in me at this point. I do my best to keep the game close until a late goal puts it out of reach.
I am 48 years old.
I limp my way back to the locker room after game three. My back is aching, my feet protesting and my legs feeling like two dead logs under me. I get undressed and enjoy a beer provided by my team mates while looking at the pile of goalie and player gear in front me. It takes me longer than normal to pack up and head home but I manage to walk in the door just a little after midnight. The alarm will go off at 6AM the next morning. Knowing five hours of sleep is the best I can hope for, I shuffle to bed after gulping Tylenol.
How many more nights of back-to-backs can I muster? I plan to take every opportunity to find out until its time to retire from my last run at playing the game- or until my team mates ask me to hang them up. I wonder which will happen first?