T.J. Oshie — the kid from Everett who put the United States hockey team on his back the other night, saving the day against the Russians — is my latest athletic inspiration. It’s partly because he caused the Russian president Vladimir Putin some serious angst about losing to the dang Yanks. But it’s also because he can skate and chew gum at the same time. Or skate and do just about anything that he wants — calculus, crochet, kiss babies — at the same time.
I, on the other hand, would cause Putin no concern with my skill on the ice. Inspired by Oshie, I got my first taste of life on ice skates with a stick in hand in the Adult Beginning Hockey class this past Sunday at the Comcast Arena’s Community Ice Rink.
Let’s just say that as soon as I hit the ice, I choked on my gum.
But, with the same skill as Vladimir Putin in the face of the mishap with the Olympic rings at the opening ceremony, I survived the embarrassment. I survived my stumbling and bumbling on the ice just like Putin did when questioned about the controversial torchbearer who is rumored to have romantic ties to the Russian president.
I survived to do it all again next Sunday. So will Putin, I assure you.
To say that I had a rough start to this new experience for me is the understatement equivalent to suggesting that many in Ukraine right now are wanting nothing to do with Putin, the Sochi Games or Russia in general. Right from the start I struggled. In fact, I struggled before I even got on the ice because it’s dang tough to put on that protective hockey gear if you have no idea what you are doing.
And then I gingerly stepped on to the ice.
This is probably a good time to note that I hadn’t been on ice skates in over eight years. It’s also worth noting that the bulky gear hockey players wear was an added stressor for me.
Combine that with the fact that all twenty other members of the class were lined up having already gone through their warm-up drills and were watching me as I hugged the three-foot rink railing, you can understand why I almost turned around and slid off before this experiment even really began.
It was at that point that Ethan Anderson, an 18-year-old natural skater who helps coach the adult program, came over to me and re-assured me with the line that gave me serenity: “I’m going to be right by your side for the whole session.” It was all he needed to say to get me to loosen up just enough to release the death grip I had on the railing.
Still, I was questioning whether this was one of those sports that I should have pursued in my Winter Olympic fever.
Twenty minutes later, after getting exclusive one-on-one training by both Ethan and Rylan Huot, the primary coach of this class, I was starting to feel more comfortable. They took me through a nice progression of drills to actually get me to feel as if T.J. Oshie could, in some extra dimension of time and space, be my relative — and even at that, probably a distant relative.
And then it was scrimmage time.
I tried to hide in the shadows during this portion, but Coach Huot was having none of it. In fact, he put me out in the first group of five for my team.
Talk about baptism by fire.
Looking back on it, Coach Huot did it just right. No time to think about it; just get out there and go for it.
And go for it, I did. Sure, it wasn’t as graceful as Gracie Gold, but I’ll bet I could knock Gracie’s 5’6” 117-pound frame on the ice after just my one session of the adult beginner hockey. Not that I would, of course, but I could, if she put on this bulky hockey gear and challenged me for the puck as it slipped into the corner.
We’re talking hockey, folks. This isn’t for the weak, right, T.J.?
Of course, when the 20 of us headed to the locker room after scrimmage, with sweat dripping from every inch of me, with my shirt absolutely drenched, I realized that I had just put my body through the ringer and I felt great. No pounding on the knees. No aching plantar fasciitis. Just a bunch of sweat.
My wife and daughter can have Gracie Gold and the figure skating. I can hardly wait for more action from Oshie and the U.S. hockey team. For the first time in my life, I will be able to relate, if in some miniscule way, to those hockey beasts from all over the globe.
Now, if I can skate and score a goal, maybe we can have “Miracle on Ice II,” 34 years after the first time the U.S. team beat the guys from the Soviet machine, back when Putin was just another KGB intelligence officer and T.J. Oshie wasn’t even born.