Herald writer Nick Patterson trades in his pen for a hockey stick

What was I thinking?

When I first heard about the Silvertips Street Hockey Challenge, my first reaction was to ask sports editor Kevin Brown if he wanted to put a team together and have someone write about it. I thought it would make for an amusing little story, and provide some fun for the sports department.

Little did I realize what I was getting myself into.

You see, I’ve never played hockey before. Not street hockey, not ice hockey, not in-line hockey. Nothing. I figured if the Herald put a team together I’d just be one of many who was in the same boat.

However, we weren’t able to scrounge up enough players for a team, so I figured it was a no-go. The Tips were having none of it. In their glee to take some digs back at me they insisted they would find a team for me to join. So I was thrown to the wolves.

The Tips hooked me up with SSH, which stands for Seattle Street Hockey. Friday afternoon I called up Rob Anthony, the captain of SSH, to deliver the bad news. Rob’s a regular player for Seattle Street Hockey, which meets most Saturdays at Adams Elementary in the Ballard neighborhood of north Seattle, so I imagine he was less than eager to take on a beginner. Fortunately, Rob had a pig roast to get to later in the day, so he was actually hoping for an early exit so he could get to the party at a reasonable time. The Tips did a good job finding the right team to dump me on.

Rob informed me that the team had one other newbie who’s be playing street hockey for the first time. I now knew my goal: make sure I was just the second-most futile player on the team.

So anyway, here’s a catalog of my first experience with street hockey.

11:30 — I arrived at the rinks in the parking lot located at Hewitt and Lombard streets and immediately ran into Silvertips athletic trainer Chris Walker, who upon learning I was a rookie offered to suit me up in full helmet/visor/cage. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I then took a look at the three rinks and cringed. I’m a little guy, and my one hope of being useful was to use my speed and quickness. But these courts are too small to put those abilities to use. Uh-oh.

12:00 — It’s a great crowd out here. In addition to the 20 teams worth of players, there’s a lot of spectators. Particularly around the kids rinks, where families have pulled out the camping chairs to make a day of it in the sun. Among those who have made appearances in the crowd are former Tip Mitch Love, current Tips Kellan Tochkin and Scott MacDonald, and associate head coach Jay Varady.

12:50 — Our team is finally all here, just in time to warm up for our first game. It consists of Rob, Chris Koh, Katherine Cortes, Kareese Arneson, Clinton Williams and myself. Clinton’s the other first-timer and Kareese is the goalie. Sizing up the competition we’re a lot smaller than the rest of the teams. We’re also the only team with any females, and we have two. Plus we have two first-time players. This could get ugly.

1:00 — Our first game has arrived, versus Sting.

1:05 — First shift played and no goals against. Success!

1:15 — Did I really just score a goal? A blind stab in front and I guess the ball got under the goalie, as I never saw it. Can I quit now?

1:25 — The first game’s over, we won 5-2. Rob scores twice and Chris is a beast on the forecheck. Katherine points out a bleeding gash on my elbow that I never even noticed. Tips general manager Doug Soetaert was watching, and afterward he compared me to former Tip Jesse Burt: good hustle, no hands.

3:00 — We’re up again, this time against Team Tailgators.

3:25 p.m. — We won again? It’s 4-0, and it’s all the more impressive considering Team Tailgators probably had an average of four inches and 30 pounds on us. Kareese was the wall with the shutout. Rob scored two laser beams, Clinton had the opener, and guess who went top shelf for the last one? Maybe I should be playing street hockey instead of soccer.

Of course, this complicates things. First off we’re in the playoffs, which means another game and I’m already dying. Second, my intention was at some point during the day to don the goalie pads. But I can’t pull that stunt while we’re still in contention. Nuts.

3:55 — While warming up for our final group game we sacrifice yet another ball to the railroad gods below the parking lot. I’m sure there’s more than a dozen down there by now.

4:00 — Next up, Tired Old Men. No offense, but you can’t use that name. I’m the one who’s tired.

They’ve got a new strategy for me. Play offense, try to block the initial shot from the back, then screen the goalie when we’re on offense. Apparently my teammates don’t think I have enough bruises.

4:30 — Another game, another win. This time we tie it 2-2 in the final minute with Kareese pulled, then win in a shootout. Of course, they forced me to take a shots, which I’m just happy I hit the target. Rob scored both goals and the only shootout goal. Can you say, “ringer?”

I haven’t decided whether being put on Rob’s team was a blessing or a curse. On the one hand it’s great to be winning. But on the other I was not prepared for a fourth game. I’m completely gassed and my back is stiffening up something fierce. Did I really sign up for this?

5:00 — Disaster! While sitting down between games Kareese gets nailed right under the eye by an errant shot from one of the rinks. Maybe I’ll be donning the pads after all.

5:50 — Kareese is going to tough it out, despite essentially being limited to one eye. Now that’s a hockey-player move.

6:00 — It’s the semifinals, us against the Unhinged Squirrels.

6:25 — Well, the run finally came to an end. Katherine turned her ankle, Kareese’s eye was causing her problems, and we spent the last three minutes with Kareese pulled, trying to come back before succumbing 6-2. Somehow I managed to score another goal.

Perhaps it was for the best that we went out in the semifinals. We probably would have been down two players for the championship game, and facing a Sting II team that annihilated everyone it faced. And my aching body would have been running on fumes.

Kareese ended up being named the tournament’s top goaltender. I avoided making a fool of myself, but only because I didn’t get a chance to go in goal — and there’s some members of the Tips front office who were mighty disappointed about missing their chance to fire shots at me.

So all-in-all, an excellent day. The tournament was run incredibly well, considering it was the first time the event was put on, and I think everyone had a lot of fun, including a beginner like me. I’ll have to try this street hockey thing out again. Maybe by the time next summer’s edition rolls around I’ll have recovered.

Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog

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