Ice hockey is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. Players bang into each other all the time. When I heard I was going to train with the Penguins Hockey Club, I was worried that I may break a bone or something, as I had not put on skates for 10 years.
What's more, the Penguins are one of the best hockey clubs in Hong Kong. I hoped that, as a complete layman to the game, I wouldn't embarrass myself too much skating with their top young players.
The first step to playing ice hockey is putting on the protective gear. All I could do was sit in a chair as staff at Mega Ice helped me put on my shoulder guard, shin guards, helmet and other equipment.
"Is this how you put on shin guards?"
After getting dressed, I joined a practice session with the Penguins, following the instructions of Mega Ice head coach Norman Chin. I tried skating around to get the feeling of moving on the ice before getting to the practice drills. I really appreciated the design of the gear, because as bulky as I looked, I did not feel my movements were hampered. The gear was really light.
The first basic thing I had to learn was to stay in the "hockey ready" position, which meant I had to bend my knees. Players need to stay in this position to prevent them falling on their backs.
After I found my balance on the skates, the coach told me to try to do some shooting. You can imagine how hard it is to hit a puck with a stick while not being able to stand still. I was pressing down hard on my feet to try to stabilise myself as I knocked pucks towards the goal. After five shots in a row, my legs were so tired, I wanted to sit down. I was on the ice, but I could feel drops of sweat rolling down from my forehead just a few minutes into practice. You can't imagine how physical the game is! No wonder players need substitutes after playing a few minutes.
Wong (centre) learns from Chin (right) that shooting the puck past the goaltender and into the net is a matter of timing, balance and co-ordination.
Another basic is controlling the puck with the stick.
The idea is to keep the puck close to the stick so it cannot be stolen by an opponent. It is really hard, having to focus on not letting the puck slip away and worry about not losing my balance. "Keep your head up as you dribble. You can't look down at the puck all the time as you move!" Chin said as he saw me sliding slowly.
Up next was passing. As in any team sport, it takes two players to make a perfect pass. The passer has to direct the puck accurately to the receiver, and the receiver has to control the puck with the stick. Catching the puck with the stick is all about timing and angle. Many times, the puck bounced off the stick, and I had to position my stick to allow the puck to settle on it. Luckily, my teammates were kind enough to throw me soft passes so I didn't have to run around chasing after a loose puck.
I was totally worn out after I'd finished all the drills, so I was saved from being knocked around in a pick-up game. Thank goodness!
Special thanks to Mega Box for providing the venue and coaching
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