I choose to sit the first half period out and watch from the bench. I'm eager to evaluate the talent and see if I'm over my head after so many years out of the game. It takes me about 3 minutes.
The hockey is terrible and the realization trumpets in my head with delight.
Whatever reservations and doubts I have quickly vanish as I realize that theres a very good reason this is called the Instructional League. Most of the forward skaters do fine in straight lines but hard turns are only wishful thinking. Puck handling consists of pushing the puck ahead with the vaguest notions of control. Passes are of the general location type and the overall speed of the game is a bit faster than a public skate.
Soon the first 10 minutes are up and suddenly I'm skating towards my net. A passing gloved high-five with the starting goalie and I'm in the crease!
The whistle blows and I'm playing. I follow the action with razor focus and have to check my posts about 30 times a minute. My built-in radar from those many years ago seems to have vanished but still I'm in the game and moving.
My first save is a weak push from the top of the circle and I direct it towards the corner with my stick. I've passed the first shot, first save test and I am quietly relieved. 5 minutes into my debut and I'm huffing and puffing like a locomotive. I don't remember being up and down so much in my earlier days.
"I stick out my right leg in a flash as the shot hits my skate..."
Suddenly a 2-1 break towards my net! Never mind that I could have sipped some coffee before they made it inside my blue line, I was ready. The puck carrier moved to my left and the lone d-man followed. The puck is passed across the net to my right and the waiting shooter. I stick out my right leg in a flash as the shot hits my skate and stops inside my crease. I scramble to cover and the whistle blows. The shooter says, "good save goalie". My teammates tap my pads as I stand up. The game continues. The smile on my face was invisible behind the mask but it was wide.
I undress after the game and head out into the cold. I played 30 minutes total and let none in on a dozen shots. I drive home and share every detail with Amy.
I came back to hockey.