Lacey Middlestead
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Fall is all about crunchy leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, boots and long walks outside in the crisp air. It is also, however, the start of one of my very favorite activities…..HOCKEY!!

I know, I know, how can I even think about holding up in a freezing rink building and chasing pucks when there’s so much beautiful weather outside to still take in? But honestly nothing feels better than walking out of the rink-- -fatigued and with sweaty, tousled hair—and being greeted by the warmth of the autumn sun setting and the gentle breeze whisking leaves through the air.

While the regular hockey season doesn’t start until the end of September, my husband and I signed up for a 6-week beginner hockey camp in late August. I was reluctant to start playing so early…especially when we haven’t even winterized our boat yet. But I knew I could use some assistance improving my skating and stick handling….plus my husband had already signed up and there was no way I was going to let him surpass me on the ice.

By the time the first night of camp arrived, my husband and I figured we’d better browse through our gear bags to make sure we had everything. It had been five months or so since our gear had seen daylight after all. With everything secured, we tossed our bags in the truck bed and headed for the rink. I must admit, it’s rather nice leaving for hockey and still comfortably rock flip flops on my feet. 

I was expecting a hearty dozen or so players to be lining the benches in the locker room when we arrived. But in fact, I was met by over 40 players sprawled between three different locker rooms. And 12-14 of those were women, which made me especially happy. It took me a few minutes to remember the proper order for putting gear on, but soon enough my skates were laced, my helmet snapped tight under my chin and my gloved hands tightly gripped my stick.

The first few steps onto the ice each season are always a little hesitant and unsteady for me, but my muscles quickly remembered what I was supposed to do. We had a few minutes to stretch out and take some laps around the rink, but when the coach’s whistle blew the real work began.

Our coach ran us hard for sure that first night. Between learning c-cuts, practicing stopping, and skating endless hard laps around the rink, I’d say we got our money’s worth for the evening. The thing about hockey is that it requires the use of muscles you don’t utilize for anything else during the year. So no matter how in shape you think you are, climbing stairs and squatting on the toilet are usually a challenge for a few days after your first skate. This time was no different.

There were the players that made me wonder why they were there at all. Their swift cuts across the ice and intuitive stick handling told me they normally played in the more advance open league. But I admired their commitment to never stop learning and improving at the sport they love. There were also the players who looked like it was their very first night wearing skates. I cringed at every fall they took on the ice. But all of having been at that same stage at some point knew the frustration and drummed our sticks on the ice each time they fell to show support and encouragement. Even though we were all at a different skill level and some of us had never skated together before, being on the ice made us united…..made us a team. That’s one of the beautiful things about hockey.

Four sessions into the camp, I’m beyond grateful I decided to sign up for it. Despite the exhaustion, sore muscles and occasional bruised ego from the struggle to perfect certain drills, I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot. When the puck drops in our first game in a couple of weeks, I’ll hit the ice with a revived confidence and some tricks up my jersey sleeve.