I'm assigned to play winger. Within a couple minutes I careen into an opposing player and flatten her, I commit an off-side violation, and the ref skates over to the team manager to let her know I'm using the wrong stick (I have no idea that I "shoot left"). By the end of the game, I'm spitting out chunks of my plastic mouth guard, which I've chewed to pieces in a bad case of the nerves. When I exit the locker room after the game, a sweaty mess, my kids are sitting in a row on a bench in the lobby. All three are shaking their heads. "Oh well," my middle son says, "they say first is worst, right?"
But I don't give up easily--and I follow direction well. My manager instructs: "The puck is not a hot potato! Go out there and hold onto that puck for at least five seconds." And I do. "Both hands on the stick, lady!" she yells. And I listen. There are so many skills at work--skating, passing, shooting, and strategy. The learning curve is steep. I learn that taking risks pays off.
I practice at U-M's Yost Ice Arena and some guys ask me to join them for a three-on-three scrimmage. Mostly they skate circles around me, but the intensity of their game unleashes a new aggression in me, and I bring it to my next MACRHL game. In the locker room afterward, my teammates present me with the "Balls Out Award"--two street hockey balls. Although there's zero tolerance for checking--or rough play--in MACRHL, playing hard with a competitive spirit is encouraged. Skating hard and breathlessly after that puck becomes a form of therapy.