It's been several weeks of coaching sessions with The Punisher and between drop-in, stick and puck and league play, I've been on the ice 3-4 times a week for the past three months. My body aches day and night. My knees are knobby, swollen bags of glass and it has become an effort not to groan loudly when getting up from a chair.
And I love it.
Reading back on my last entry, it's clear I was in a bit of a low-point in my struggle to return to goaltending and, in fact, things only got worse for a time. My losing streak continued with my I-League team's loss in the first round of the playoffs- once again being defeated in a shootout when I wasn't able to stop pucks in the first two rounds
But I didn't quit or even take a break. The following week I hit the ice 4 times in 4 days and got some confidence back- even if my body paid the price. This week, my team played a consolation round to determine the 3rd place finisher and I was feeling strong.
I had dominated my net in the first two periods- only allowing one goal on a flopping puck that made its way through a forest of legs. The score was tied 1-1 when the puck was dumped to center and behind my defense. Suddenly, a streaking player for the other team was trying to get to it and I had to rush out to beat him to the puck. I made it first but, hesitating, mishandled it and the player crashed it with his stick and the puck flew into my net. Could this be happening? I finally play the kind of hockey I know is in me and we might lose to such a bonehead play?
One of my team mates bailed me out and scored in the third to tie the game before it went to overtime. Tied 2-2, the shootout started. Our team, with me in net, had an 0-4 record in shootouts this season and I was determined not to make it 5. What happened next was a couple of the best saves I've made since my return including a stretch to the post that had me grimacing in pain and a poke check that almost knocked the player to the ice. In the end, I stopped 3 shooters and we scored to win the game.
It was a high point for our team and there was lots of back slapping on the ice and atta-boys in the locker room. I felt I had played the best game of my life- despite the bonehead play that almost cost us the game.
As I walked out into the dark of the parking lot, a couple of my team mates waved goodbye and one shouted, "You're about 30 times better now than we started this season. See you next season!'
Hell yes, I've come back to hockey.