Blades Edge Ice Breakers to Get First Win
By L. Hayes
First game of the year! Even after several great practices, you never know what’s going to happen the first time you take the ice as a team. Amanda, Consuelo and Naoko were making their Blades debuts (for Consuelo, also her first real game!) The result was a thriller – and an unexpected treat.
Our opponents were the Ice Breakers, a team that’s traditionally been a strong opponent.
Meredith and Amanda traded off at center, in between three sets of wings – Nina and Alyssa, Danielle and Consuelo, and Kim and Karyn. Deb, Naoko and I were the blueliners, with Steph between the pipes, and Kelly joining us in a new position – coaching on the bench.
The puck dropped, and the battle was on!
The Ice Breakers managed to control the puck first, but their first foray into our zone was cut short by Meredith, who somehow managed to circumvent the laws of time and physics by getting back in time for an interception. She quickly sent the puck over to Alyssa, who skated an S-curve up the ice, and got off a solid shot on net, while Nina closed in on the left. Not bad for the first shift of the season!
The Ice Breakers stepped up to the challenge, and we soon settled into a game that travelled quickly end to end, with neither side seeming to hold an edge. Steph deflected a few shots early on, as easily as Wonder Woman bouncing bullets off her wrists. Meredith had a nice move, stopping a forward’s rush down the middle of the ice, and shifting the puck to Danielle.
Danielle used her speed to move the action back the other way, zipping the puck into the offensive zone and right to the net, with Consuelo trailing in prime position to pick up a rebound. Karyn had a crucial clear just five minutes into the game, picking up the puck on the boards and breaking it out, skating past two Breakers trying to impede her progress.
Back on D, Deb was having a tremendous game, calling for the puck when she was in the clear, and dishing it out as quickly and confidently as a short order cook in a Jersey diner. She made a beautiful clear out of our zone late in the 1st, only to have it bounced back in. Taking her time, and making the most of her do-over, she coolly skated it up, out and over to Danielle for another swift run up the ice.
The Ice Breakers know Naoko and so they knew what to expect, but that didn’t help them when faced with her crisp backhand and explosive wrist shot. Her rockets from the blue line kept our opponents on the edges of their – well, their edges!
Steph had a good save towards the end of the period, leading to the first face off in our zone. The breakout put the puck on Alyssa’s stick, and she swooped through traffic to take a shot that coulda woulda shoulda been a goal! She was robbed!
Another rush by the Ice Breakers down the center rattled Steph not at all. She telescoped out to cover the puck, then mad another save off the ensuing face off. Thanks to her focus and finesse, the first period ended with a scoreless tie.
The second period can be trouble if shifts get too long and legs get too tired. But we stayed strong and didn’t lose our focus. (Of course, staying focus is always a little easier when you have a short bench – you’re either on the ice or about to get back on the ice, so there’s no time to cool off or let your mind wander to other interesting topics, like the contents of your refrigerator, or wondering what kind of cookies Deb’s brought to the locker room.) The two centers never stopped skating, going end to end, circling the net on offense then rushing back to help out the D, working the ice like the rent is due. Amazingly, it was Amanda’s first time playing center, but she played the position like a natural. When the Breakers tried to collapse on our net, she was there keeping them away from the crease, then off to dig the puck out of the corner.
Kim was fierce as a badger along the boards, never letting their offense bring the puck up unchallenged. She and Karyn have obviously been working on their psychic connection – they both like to cover a lot of ice, but they always knew where the other one was (OK, except for that one time – but nobody else saw that, right?)
The Ice Breakers began leaving a cherry picker behind, either by strategy or because they were getting a bit tired. They almost got one through following a scrum around out net – the celebration had already started – but the ref whistled the play dead when he lost sight of the puck. (It shouldn’t have counted anyway – the puck got under Steph, but never completely crossed the line because she held her position so steadily. I definitely would have called Toronto for a video review of that one!)
The Blades came close as well, on the other end. Danielle was keeping the puck moving, then Consuelo got a shot on net – not bad for a first game!
The second period ended with the same 0-0 score. The pressure was on for the third –it was going to be a game won by the small things, shift by shift. With two such closely matched teams, every race for the puck could make the difference. When we pressed towards their net Nina fought on the boards for every inch, keeping the puck in their zone. When it came back to our end, Consuelo had a timely tip, knocking the puck away so Deb could scoop it up and take it all the way to the other end. Meredith and Amanda each took ownership of the neutral zone, leaving no trespasser unchallenged. Alyssa was trapped in a puck battle along the boards in our zone – she applied her patented spin-arama in slow motion, dragging the puck along with her until she got it out. Steph made save after save as the Ice Breakers grew increasingly desperate. Any mistake at this point could give away the game!
The Breakers came rushing down the ice for a high speed two on one. Unfortunately for them, the one was Naoko, who split them up then picked off the puck and got it to Karyn to break out. (Karyn, by the way, showed no signs of fatigue despite having done a 20-mile training run the day before. No doubt that was because she took it easy the day of the game, with nothing more than 3-mile charity walk, followed by a 20-mile bike ride, prepping for an upcoming charity event. It’s not a conventional hockey warm up, but it sure works for her!)
With less than two and a half minutes left, something finally broke open. It started with Deb, lacing a pass up the ice to Alyssa, who turned, circled, shot – and scored! Deb quickly called a time out to give everyone an extra 30 seconds to breathe and prepare for the final minutes. The Ice Breakers tried to rally, but the Blades stepped up. Kim and Karyn had a strong final shift, causing creative havoc in the neutral zone. Naoko got her stick on the puck as the clock wound down, and I thought for sure she was going to get an empty netter. But despite the tumult, the goal stood up – and the Blades won the first game 1-0.
The unexpected treat was how well we meshed as a team. Every line was strong, every one played well – and Steph got her first shut out of the year!