August 28, 2017

Hanging on and enjoying the ride

Its been three months since I updated this blog and a lot happened since my last.

Back in May I was feeling my game was eroding, my skills diminishing and maybe I was starting to let my teams down. It turned out to be a pretty good summer on the ice and maybe I'm settling in to the idea of enjoying the ride for as long as I can.

My Puck Hawgs finished the summer season 9-1 and won the league championship with a 6-3 win against one of the best teams in the division.

After feeling like my game was in serious decline, I seemed to get my head on straight and I played the second half of the season better than the first. I didn't find a fountain of youth or suddenly become lighter and faster but my mental attitude improved- in part from some terrific support from my team mates. A few words here and there make a difference. Knowing the rest of the team doesn't consider every goal a disaster and then watching them respond with heart and effort to put goals in the other net has an effect on my play and I'm guessing other beer league goalies out there.

What happens when you throw together a bunch of guys of mixed skill levels, who have never played together and all old as dirt? A tournament team! I played net for a summer 35+ tournament team called Old Milwaukee and we finished our run with the championship. Sure it only took us 5 games to get there but it was a terrific time with a fun bunch of men and women. My pal Paul and wife Amy joined me which made it all the better. After playing some really ragged games where I was sloppy, I went into the final game with a positive and confident attitude. I had to force myself to be in that mental state after an absolutely humiliating 9-8 overtime loss in the previous game. 45+ shots later, Old Milwaukee had the shutout for a 3-0 tournament win and I played as sharp as I have in months.

So maybe my game isn't on the rise. Maybe my age means every game is going to be a physical challenge and maybe I won't get to all the pucks I should. But maybe it's also about remaining positive, relying on my team mates and working harder not to feel like every goal and every game is entirely on my shoulders.

That seems to be working OK right now.

May 24, 2017

Maybe Its Time to Stop

There it was. The thought that popped into my head mid-way through the second period. It wasn't following a bad goal. It didn't happen after taking a puck to the knee or head. I was watching my defenseman skate the puck out of our zone and it just entered my head. Maybe its time to stop.

We are four games into the Puck Hawgs summer season and we have been doing well. 3 wins and 1 loss. Just 3 losses to 21 wins since we moved to the Upper 'B' division. But I've been struggling this season. My GAA has shot up and my save percentage has dropped below .900 for the first time in a while. This season the Hawgs aren't dominating but instead games are closer because I'm letting more pucks by me and more shots that beat me are because of my mistakes.

My skills are improving at a snail's pace. I recall when I first started playing again that each lesson opened up the potential for tremendous improvement. New stance, butterfly drops, butterfly pushes, C-cuts, they all took time to master but the improvement in my game was measurable and the results followed. For the past year or so, the only addition to my game has been the RVH and while I now use it in games, the improvement I want to see in that is painfully slow.

I am getting slower. I've been capturing a lot of video from my games and have been reviewing each with a critical eye. I've also compared them to some video captured two years ago and it is hard to dispute that my movements around the crease have slowed. I'm not getting up from the butterfly as quickly and where once I seemed to scramble my way to rebound saves, now I seem helpless to react to those plays that demand throwing your body and legs around the ice to make a desperation play.

I'm playing in survival mode. I just can't deny it. Games where the puck is my zone a lot or I see 30+ shots I am struggling to retain my technique. I'm often winded and I am in energy conservation mode earlier and earlier in games. I watch the video and see whatever speed and power I have in the third period of games is lacking compared to the first.

Solutions? Get stronger and get fitter. Practice more and play less. Don't be 50. Some of these may be easier to accomplish than others.

I had a recent conversation with my of my best friends on the team and let him know how I was feeling. I told him I thought maybe I was slipping into the category of goalie I never want to be... the goalie who gets eye-rolling reactions to letting in softies. The one who makes the team feel like they need to light up the scoreboard just to have a chance at a win. He reminded me of our win/loss record and that playing in this division means I see shots from players who boast a Jr. hockey or college career. I think I'm afraid of letting my guys down- the nature of a goalie. He told me I'm not.

I'm still having fun. I still look forward to every game with anticipation. I still get butterflies on game day and even though every game is a physical struggle I want to keep playing. Maybe I can commit to one more fitness rally and squeeze out a couple of more years. I know I want to. I also know that there is life beyond 50 for goalies but in my case it might not be at the level I'm playing.

I'm hoping for a rally.