I haven't played a game of hockey in a good 17 years, and at that, were talking nothing more than glorified beer league back then. I figured I'd never again indulge in playing my favorite sport, as it was a concussion suffered during my final game when I was 31 that put me out for good. It's the only brain I have right? Good to keep most parts of it working at least some of the time!
Strangely enough, it took an offer from MLX Skates to get me back into a game. About a month ago, the skate company contacted me concerning a promo I could do for them that involved giving their state of the art skates a spin on the ice.
Now I was never Yvan Cournoyer on a pair of blades, When I first learned to skate I wore out my ankles. I did manage to score 29 goals in my last beer league year, but don't let a number fool you into thinking I was fearsome or anything. Bluntly put, I still skated like I needed all kinds of work.
The skates I had worn in the past were never top of the line. The first things I'd worn were probably hand-me-downs and a succession of whatever I could afford. None of them ever did much for my skating.
So when MLX proposed this idea, I started wondering if, with much better skates, I could pull off a one-game comeback and try out their product.
Excited and scared, I decided it would be best that I should get acquainted with my new skates as much as I could. Smartly, I hit the ice for five sessions of recreational skating spread out over the last few weeks, getting in shape some and getting accustomed to the boots.
After heat molding them in the oven so that they would better mold to my feet, I cautiously took them out for spin. I chose not to tinker with blade adjustments just yet, prefering at first to get a feel for them. I have only been out public skating a half dozen times in recent years, so my first concerns were mainly about my own rust and shaking as much off as I could. Skate comfort was secondary for the time being.
My first ninety minute skating session with the new blades proved quite surprising to me. First off, there was less rust on me than I feared. Secondly, the new boots, made a noticable difference in how I skated. Because I was so comfortable in them to start, I was confident in them. My balance seemed to be better than it ever had been, which confounds me a bit. Could it be due to owning a stronger pair of skates? Was it the molded fit to my feet? Not only that, but the skates helped improve my biggest weakness as a skater - my left side strength and balance.
What always did me in in hockey games, was that I was so tenuous in using my left leg to cut, break, turn sharply or pivot on. It became an instinct almost for me to avoid using it, putting the weight down on the left side. Here now, there seemed to be an improvement in how solid I felt.
When I returned the following days for some free skating, I put a concentrated effort into using the left side more, and it has helped. Testament to my ragged skating style, I could never quite manage to learn to stop when turning right. My left side movements had just never been practiced that way, and I suppose my muscle memory knew that. Now, here I was all these years later, working like a devil to fix that flaw. To my surprise, I found a noticable improvement in that area.
It likely comes from the fact that I was never taught properly how to skate, I started at 15 by just putting on a pair of skates and running in them, essentially. Since then, watching and coaching the game, I've learned much more about what skating is. The MLX blades gave me a chance to put some of that knowledge to use. By improving my left side thanks to the skate's sturdier feel on my feet, I'm now more rounded in how I undertake every stride. I don't feel myself on the ice. I feel myself gliding more over it, going where my will takes me, not where my legs limit me to.
After all this improvement, I starting getting extremely anxious to play, and late this past Saturday night, I joined up with a group of oldtimers a friend recommended me to. These boys are a mix of muckers along with some pretty sleek old fellows who have been playing together on this night for a good thirty years. All of them are aged somewhere between 45 and 65, so I wagered I'd be able to at least make a respectable showing. Last week I went out and watched them play a game first, just to be sure I wouldn't get killed out there. After noticing that at least half of these boys reminded me of me out there, I figured I had a decent chance of survival.
So this past Saturday, after writing out my last will and testament, I took the plunge. I warned everyone in the dressing room prior to go a bit easy on me at first, but since I knew only a handful of them I don't think they gave a crap that I hadn't been on the ice for close to 20 years.
Watching the first few shifts from the bench, I wondered what I had gotten myself into at first. I took good long look at the opposition, thought again about my recent skating improvements, said a little prayer and hit the ice. I figured I'd get out there and just try to get up to speed at first, keep my head up as well, and make it through a shift.
After another shift, I began to get more and more into the game. By my third shift I felt in synch with linemates and we started clicking on some plays. We had some good scoring chances, which was a relief to me in some ways. On the next shift, we scored after I fed a pass into the slot and it went off my centerman's foot. With every shift came more excitement. Things were clicking out there. About halfway through the game it occured to me that I completely stopped thinking about the new skates. I actually had a harder time getting used to playing with a caged helmet. I had never worn headgear ever, back when I played. Sounds stupid, but that's how it was then.
When all was said and done, I survived the game, scoring once and hitting the crossbar on another chance. I felt good out there, happy that I kept up and played okay, although every muscle in my body (some I didn't know I had) ached like hell the next morning.
Overall, I have to say that I was quite pleased, surprised even, at what the MLX skates did for me. With some effort on my part, concentrated on areas I've always needed improvement with, the MLX skate helped a great deal.
The comfort and feel of the boot itself, right from the get-go made a significant difference all on it's own. I did no adjusting of the blade placement as the positioning was best left the way I was used to. I was impressed at how sturdy I felt in them. It's hard for me to put my finger on exactly why, but I was much more comfortable in turns and pivots than I ever was. I wish I had these skates 20 years ago.