Having been derailed by my last entry that detailed the consequences of having a hot temper in beer league, I'm turning back to a much better experience- perhaps the perfect day on the ice.

I'm coming up on two years since I returned to hockey and while I've had personal breakthroughs and little achievements along the way, nothing has made my journey better than having my good friend Paul and my wife Amy join me. Neither had played hockey before this year and neither had much skating experience. They've both made great leaps in their game and the best part is I've got them on two of my four beer league teams where we play together every week.

Both of these teams are typical 'D' teams- up and down with a mix of beginners and unpolished vets who have a great time, win or lose. The first game of the day for me was with The Jokers. You may remember this team as being pretty good a few seasons ago but since we have been rebuilding and searching for a win- any win. As we took to the ice, my expectations were low but as always, the locker room before the game was full of laughter and smack talk among our many friends.

We played a terrific game and as will happen in rare circumstances, the puck looked as big as a beach ball to me. For those who don't play in goal, when this does happen its a glorious feeling. Every shot can be turned away with confidence and you can anticipate every play in front of you. I was working on a shutout as we got close the end of the third.

Suddenly, with Amy parked in front of the opposing net, the puck was sent through the slot by Paul from the blue line. Amy picked up the rebound for a clean one-timer that found the net and she had her first legitimate goal since she began playing six months ago. Our bench went crazy and even the other team- figuring out who scored the goal- slapped their sticks on the ice. Amy got her high fives and was picked up by Paul in a bear hug. I had a huge grin on my face from the other end of the ice. Jokers 3, MIB 0.

The start of a perfect day.

My second game of that day was with the Spiders- probably the highest skill team that I play with. We had gone 10-1 on the season and tonight's game was against the only team that had beaten us. I was feeling great after my shutout with the Jokers and determined to get another win.

The game was fast and chippy. Penalties were handed out like candy and we were short-handed several times. Again, beach balls. If only I could bottle that feeling for every game I played. We got up early and never looked back. Even opponents crashing the net and a flurry of third period shots couldn't make a dent in my play. The Spiders celebrated an 11-1 season and I got my second shutout of the day.

I sat in the Spider locker room and enjoyed a few moments while thinking back this day of friends and hockey and wins. Coming back to hockey is only part of the story because I'm learning that hockey can be a lot more with friends alongside.

The end to a perfect day.

This entry was going to be a description of a singular day of perfection on the ice. Tales of shut outs and highlight goals and locker room elation. Hopefully I can come back to that recent day in a future entry. Instead I'm writing about a beer league no-no and something I never expected to happen.

It really started much earlier in the game than the incident that had me exiting the ice with 3 minutes remaining in the third period. Yes, you read that right. I skated out of my crease, off the ice and into the locker room with time remaining.

It started with an early goal by my team to dash out to a 1-0 lead that quickly led to three unanswered goals and two goal deficit. I wasn't playing particularly well but the third goal was a result of a break away while the other team was short-handed. This didn't bode well for our chances. But what happened late in the second really set the tone for what was to come.

An opposing winger decided to crash the net and set up camp in my crease, only he didn't get stopped in time and plowed into me as I was tracking the puck. I saw him in time to brace myself and push back against him- causing him to tumble to the ice. No call on either of us from the refs. I wasn't happy but it happens- especially at low level beer league hockey where intention and outcome sometime don't align themselves.

With a little more than three minutes left in the third, the score remained 3-1 and our team wasn't able to make much of a push. The opposing team kept the puck on our side of the rink. With the puck in our zone, an opposing winger again decided to crash the net without the puck but this time I saw him coming. I came out of my stance as he plowed into me, knocking me back into the post and dislodging the net. I pushed back hard with both arms. I think he went down to the ice.

A whistle.

Slight exaggeration of actual events
The ref signals that I am getting a penalty. No signal for the opposing winger.

I was hot and I let the ref know it. I shouted and pled my case. How could he assess a penalty against me when the other player crashed my net without the puck? I got no reply which made things worse. Next the words came out of my mouth that would end my night. I thought at the time I was showing restraint but the ref didn't agree. With the single phrase, "You're full of shit", the ref skated to the penalty box and moments later my captain told me the ref had kicked me out of the game. There's a first time for everything.

I could tell you the reasons for why I get hot when players crash the net; safety, injuries, respect. I'm sure the other player and definitely the ref have their own version of the event. I'm aware of the rules in this league that prohibit hurling foul language at the officials. So in the end, I'm guilty as charged and accept I broke that rule.

The morning after, I've got mixed emotions but in the end I've got a competitive streak a mile long and I'm never going to let opposing players run my net without some reaction. And when I feel I'm wronged, everyone on the ice is going to know about it- including the officials.

It probably made for some great locker room gossip amongst the teams waiting for the next ice time. Maybe it'll slow down one of them who decide to run the net. Or maybe I'll have to push and knock the next player down. But the next time I'll try not to include a naughty word if the ref calls me for it.

There's a terrific summary of the progression of the goaltending position and the evolution of the butterfly technique written by Dean Boustead at Beer League Blog.

This was the main style for quite some time, in fact some of the last goalies to use stand up weren’t too long ago, for example Bill Ranford whom retired in 2000-2001 season. That being said, stand-up goalies were far and few at this point in time, due to the newer style of goal tending known as the butterfly style. The first few goalies to do the butterfly style, such as Tony Esposito, played around the 70s. However is wasn’t very popular nor effective at the time. Once hockey took a change in the early 90s, with young talents and much more developed equipment, so too did goal tending. The butterfly was fully implemented with Patrick Roy reintroducing and making it popular along with other goalies such as Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph.

Dean expands on a common misconception that the modern butterfly is the current state of affairs for high level goaltenders of today.

Traditional butterfly is more of a “blocking” style of play, where the goalie is to stay perfectly square to the puck, take up as much of the net as possible and make positional saves. This relies heavily on a goalies ability to perform rebound control, as typically after the first 1 to 2 shots, the goalie will be out of position. This causes a multitude of issues for modern play; shots are harder, passes are faster, even the players are faster. Goalies have to be able to keep up with the play, they needed to be more mobile. Butterfly was further developed into the “Profly” and “Hybrid” styles. Both are very similar, yet different in their own regards.

As my readers know, When I stepped back into the net in late 2012 after a 25 year hiatus, I had to relearn everything. Equipment, technique and fitness. My journey continues but I now consider myself much closer to a butterfly goalie than I did in the winter of my return.

Perhaps I'm a hybrid goalie now too. A mix of "butterfly" and "a$$holes and elbows".

Read more from Dean and the rest of the gang at Beer League Blog here.
Walking to my car last night, one of the many new faces to join my teams this season stopped me. This was moments after a gut-wrenching 5-3 loss after holding a 3-0 lead going into the second period.

"Hey man, I just wanted to say that if you see something out there that I'm doing wrong, let me know OK?" I nodded enthusiastically and assured him I would.

Leading up the game I had posted several times to the team's Facebook page. Diagrams of defensive zone coverage, suggestions to our forwards about choosing patience instead of turning the puck over and so on.

Before the game, I grabbed up my defenseman and had an on-ice huddle. "Two rules," I implored them. "One, don't play with the puck around the crease. You see the puck, you slam it to the nearest boards as fast as you can. Two, no clears up the middle."

Throughout the game I shouted words of encouragement for good play and solid efforts while loudly admonishing poor choices. In between periods I tried some quick hits of advice on what I was seeing.

So walking back to my car after we blew a big lead with 5 breakaways including a penalty shot, clears up the middle and rebounds that remained uncleared throughout the game, my frustration was at a boiling point. Then along comes New Player making sure that I promised to let him know when things were going wrong with his game.

But it's the morning after and I had 55 minutes of commuting to think about the whole idea of hockey education, experience and skills. Here's my conclusion;

Just like there are distinct levels of hockey skill on the ice in every beer league and every division in the country, there are distinct levels of hockey smarts built by experience and education.

I'm no hockey expert. I played growing up, yes. I've watched thousands of games on television (Thank you CBC), I've been to countless live games and my number one hobby is hockey. That means I read. I watch. I digest. All that adds up to a unique and often completely different level of education and knowledge about hockey (sometimes higher, sometimes lower) than any one of the guys & gals I'm playing next to on any given night.

I need to stop holding others to a standard- mine or anyone else's. Now some of my regular readers might recognize this as a recurring theme. Recognizing a flaw in my own character that allows my own competitiveness to drive me to the brink of rage. I suppose it may be, but this choice cut of enlightenment focuses on the reality that there's a good reason players play the way they do.

Joe Defenseman is in his first season playing organized hockey. He's got 3 kids and a back-breaking job and he laces his skates up an hour a week to get the hell away from the wife and kids and just have some fun. Jim Winger has been skating for years and played hockey as a kid but somehow was never coached on the basics of playing his position. He landed 30 minutes before game time and his whole week was listening to some customer complain about the nickel increase in the cost of widgets.

You can roll out a dozen different scenarios that mean the team in front of me on any given night all want to win and have fun but for many (most?) it isn't an exercise in education or self-improvement. It's 60 minutes of playing the greatest game in the world. The rest of the week is filled with domestic chaos and keeping the head above water at work.

Is it worth making an effort to help educate and improve your team mates? Yes. It's part of what makes hockey fun for me and every once in a while I see something getting though. Everyone once in a while I get educated too. That's also part of the fun.

So my hobby will include education and educating but also the journey towards enlightenment and finding pure hockey enjoyment with everyone- no matter the level.

A couple of topics make their way into this entry because I've had a sort of mental break through in my struggles handling breakaways. I also got the chance to skate out again and enjoy the thrill of being offensive-minded instead of guarding the net.

Matching the Speed

Since coming back to goaltending, one of my biggest deficiencies has been playing a break away. For any of you that play beer league hockey, you'll know that the break away is a staple of the game. This was a problem for me because with an average of 3-plus break aways per game, I was probably letting in more than half of them.

Two things have happened. First, I spent some time with my goaltending guru who beat me up about not coming far enough out of the net to challenge the opponent. Secondly, I finally realized why I was so reluctant to do that. When I came out from the crease, the shooter approached, I flopped and he skated around me for an easy goal.

The missing ingredient was to match the player's speed, or at least come close to it, as you retreat towards the net. Being square to the shooter while keeping centered between he and the net is crucial but it's virtually impossible to do unless you are pacing the incoming player.

Over the past two weeks I've had plenty of live game practice on this- including a 14 round shootout. I am definitely seeing some better results. It's given me the confidence to come out and challenge knowing that I'm not going to become a speed bump on the way to the net.

Here's a good video to watch

Sound & Vision

I got another opportunity to skate out recently and was thrilled to score my second goal in four games. While running the game back in my head later I realized that my situational awareness on the ice was not very good and the whole experience was a little like driving through a tunnel with the windows open in a car- dark, windy and noisy. Anytime I got possession of the puck in the offensive zone, I felt overwhelmed and a little panicked.

So I began to wonder. Do many beer league skaters experience a sort of tunnel vision when playing? Is it due to my inexperience and rush of adrenaline?

If this tunnel vision exists for some/many/most beer league skaters then I've been giving far too much credit as to the complexity of tactics. Focus more on the play in front of me and less on the what-ifs of drop passes and tic-tac-toe plays.

Everyone's mileage will vary but to what degree are these shooters in my league basically driving through that dark, windy tunnel?
Herb Brooks: I'm thinking about sitting you down Jim.
Jim Craig: What? Wait what are you talking about?
Herb Brooks: No, it's not your fault. I played you way too much, and you're too tired. Besides that, I think it's time I give Janny a look. He's been waiting for seven months.
Jim Craig:  You're kidding me? Now?
Herb Brooks: Of course I mean now!
Jim Craig:  That's my net man. You can't do that!
Herb Brooks: They just scored ten goals Jim. Right now it's everybody's net.
- Miracle (Disney, 2004)

I knew within moments of my game last night that it was going to be a tough one. We spent the first two minutes trapped in our zone. The opposing line was faster than anyone from our team and were beating us to every puck and trapping every clearing attempt. Finally, after a brief exit from our zone, I faced the first shot of the game- a clean breakaway that resulted in a goal. The first of many.

We were outmatched and I was facing an avalanche of shots and quality scoring chances. I tried to stay strong and give my team a chance to stay in the game. Somehow after the first period we were down only 2-1.

Then it happened. Goal after goal poured into the net. Uncontested rebounds, back door tap ins, clean point shots and deflections. I overplayed slot shots, I was sloppy along the post. Pucks popped out of glove. I swiped loose pucks onto opposing player's sticks. Wide-eyed and unfocused I played undisciplined hockey.

At first I was frustrated and shouted at my defense for obvious mistakes. Next I was frustrated at myself and seethed at my incompetence. By the time the 7th or 8th of 9 total goals found the net, I was numb.

I don't have any answers the morning after the collapse. I know I wasn't mentally strong enough to play my best hockey in the face of an overpowering team. Instead I regressed and adopted the "1,000 yard stare". It happens to every goalie- even those professionals who have the talent, the training & the extraordinary commitment it takes to play in the NHL. Coaches are adept at spotting the distant stare and they pull their starting goaltender when they see it. I'm pretty sure that more than a few of my own players saw that on my face last night.

Many of you reading this might wonder why all the fuss and consternation over some late-night beer league game that few will remember a week from now. I don't know either. Something drives me to play my best and feel miserable when I don't. Is that a good reason to keep playing? I think so because I can't wait for the next game. I can't wait to strap on my pads and learn more hard lessons about being the Ancient Netminder.