Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hockey n' Heels (without the heels and subsequent broken ankles)

Well, I went to the Hockey N' Heels event at Kettler today. I wasn't really sure what to expect, though I had hoped to get a little more insight into the strategies of the game, as the description said it, "features instructional lessons and on-ice demonstrations targeted toward the Capitals’ female audience."

But there was no skating (the first organizer email telling us to wear sneakers for the on-ice pieces was a disappointment; I'd hoped for a reminder to bring skates or to tell us that rental skates would be available). And when I got there around 12:30, there seemed to be an awful lot of women wearing jerseys and not-so-practical-to-walk-on-the-ice shoes.

Overall, it was fun, despite only 2 -- maybe 3 -- of the sessions meeting my expectations. By far the best session from my perspective was the "Film Session" with Bruce Boudreau. The man really "tells it like it is," from declaring the team's play against the Avalanche last night as "shitty," to telling us that even when Ovechkin doesn't exactly follow the plans, what is he (Boudreau) supposed to do, "bench him?" We got to see a "systems" film, showing the various components to Boudreau's play catalog. He explained how they choose the plays, based on reviewing hours of tape of an opponent, and then modifying things as the game progresses. This was by far the best of the breakout sessions, simply because I felt it did what was promised by giving excellent instruction on the game.

The equipment session was pretty cool too. Run by Dave Fitzpatrick, from the Kettler Pro Shop, and Brett Leonhardt, the Capitals web producer-turned-backup-NHL goalie, we got to see the latest in NHL-level hockey equipment. The 25 minute limit to the session, and the size of the groups really made this session less than it could have been, as I thought we'd get to see how all the pieces go together (especially the goaltender ensemble). I'm somewhat infamous for my resistance to wearing certain protective gear (....yeah... let's just say that "shin pads are for wimps" is not the smartest thing to ever come out of my mouth), and so I do have to admit it was nice to see how light-yet-strong the equipment is today. A female hockey chest protector would have been a nice piece to share with us, though, as they are constructed somewhat differently.

I did get to hold Brett's helmet and examine it close-up though. Very cool artwork too.

Q&A with Lisa Hillary (from Comcast) and Rod Langway was fun. For some reason, it was listed as "chalk talk," which I associate more with the Mazda/Chevy RevItUps, and the strategy/experiences discussion that went on at those events' versions of "chalk talk." Here, however, it was simply a question and answer period. Most of the questions revolved around what Langway thought of the current team, and he was very good about saying he really didn't think it was his place to critique these Capitals, as he and his teammates didn't like it when former players critiqued them "back in the day" (he wouldn't name names of the player(s) who would do that), and he said the style of play, and the players themselves are so different from when he played, he didn't feel qualified to comment. Interestingly, he said he didn't think that the "stars" of his team could cut it on today's team, and that some of the players on his team might even be carrying as much as 25-28% body fat (as measured by calipers)!

My question for him was whether he thought the Western Conference teams played a different style of hockey than the Eastern Conference, considering how much the Eastern Conference as a whole (not just the Capitals) has faired against them. He (and Lisa) thought it was more that they don't see each other enough during the season to get a feel for how the other teams play, not like playing other divisional teams a half-dozen times per year.

Strangely, Langway is no longer in hockey, not like some guys who go into coaching, scouting, or some other front office job. He said he's working in Richmond at a blacksmith's shop! Oh, and BTW, he really, really doesn't like Philly.

The on-ice demonstrations were the two that were the most disappointing. The "goaltending demonstration" was the first session that my group went to. One of the problems with these sessions was simply the size of the groups made it hard to hear what you were supposed to be doing when the instructions were given. The other issue with the group size was that you really couldn't get any feedback (like we were evidently supposed to be getting) from Michal Neuvirth. Lastly, it didn't help that so many puck bunnies were there simply to see the players that they held up the line for pictures and autographs. In any case, Neuvirth at least paid attention to my "form," and didn't like it, grabbing my glove hand and forcing it into the position it should be in when preparing for a shot. Boyd Gordon was shooting the "puck" (not a real puck, but a soft, foam facsimile), and I managed to prevent any of the "shots" from going in and even caught the third one.

Watching Neuvirth was kind of funny though. Something about his mannerisms (and maybe his facial hair) reminded me of my friend AJ Nealey. I wonder if Neuvirth has ever jumped over a bonfire with a BMX bike?

The other on-ice demonstration was the last break-out for the purple group. We were being kind of rushed at this point, as we needed to be done by 4PM, and it was already 3:35 when we got down to the ice from the film session. The DJ who was there from 107.3 (Chili, I think her name was) told us to just "go to the shorter line" for the shooting "practice," but most people in front of me were going to the line where Tomas Fleischmann was feeding you the puck. So, I went to the shorter line with Jeff Schultz. Dean Evason was helping out in this line too.

The point of the shooting "demonstration" was to practice a wrist shot (stick blade against the ice) and to practice a slap shot (start with the stick blade in the air, then chip down against the puck). Evason would ask which stick you wanted, then show how to do both shots, and then you'd go up to Schultz and do three shots.

So, Evason starts handing me a stick, and I go, "Left." He looks confused for a second, as evidently everyone before me has shot righty. So he gives me the other stick, and skates around to my left (he was the only one on skates, a remnant from practice), then looks at me and says, "You've done this before."

I'm kind of confused, because I don't know why he thinks that, and tell him, "Yeah, I played street hockey a long time again. Never on ice though. And this stick's about four inches too long for me."

He laughs and says, "I guess I don't need to tell you how to do this then." I told him that I used to see him play with the Whalers, and he remarked that I must have been following hockey for a long time, at which point I tell him how I saw Brett Hull playing as a rookie with the Flames. He was impressed.

I walk up to Schultz, who initially sets up the puck on the wrong side for me (see, "everyone else shot righty" above), realizes I've got a lefty stick, and then walks across in front of me. Then, he too says, "You've done this before." I tell him the same thing I told Evason. I take my wrist shot, and make it (slow release though... it's been a while), then try a slap shot, smacking the ice before the puck. My wrist doesn't like the jolt. Schultz says, "Just try another wrist shot," which I do, and I make it again. "Good," he says, "Now do the slap shot." I try it again, and do the same thing. He tells me to do something different (I can't remember what), but I did, and my last shot was about six inches wide of the net. He said I did good anyway.

Then I realized I took five shots to the others' three, and I could see some annoyed people in the line behind me. I don't feel so bad, though, as I was shooting, not just taking pictures or getting autographs like so many others.

So, overall, it was fun. I got to meet Leslie from the Musings of a Hockey Mom blog, and a couple of other cool women who weren't there just to drool over Brooks Laich or Mike Green. I kind of wish the groups were a bit smaller so there could actually be better interaction for learning and less rush at the end, or that the sessions were more geared towards people who wanted to learn more than people who wanted an autograph. Maybe have a ban on autograph requests until the end of the event? Maybe have people sign up for the breakout sessions they would like to attend in advance? I'm not sure. I'm glad I got to go, and I wish my friend Carrie could have come with me.

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