Ever have an experience and think "That is once in a lifetime, so glad I did it." I certainly felt that way last year. So, imagine my surprise when the opportunity presented itself against this year.
My friends Mark and John again won the auction for the skills clinic this year. Same basic setup as last year with different players. As everyone has seen from the RMNB story, this we we had Coach Woods, Brooks Laich, Mike Green, Varly and Matt Hendricks running the drills.
As with last year, we got lucky enough to get the ice for almost an hour before the players came out. Half the fun of this is being on the ice doing, well, hockey things, with everyone else. Everyone had sweet matching unis, everyone is acting like a ten year old. So when the players come out, you already in hockey mode.
After a quick introduction of the players by Coach Woods, it was time to get to work. First up was the Matt Hendricks Experience. This was all about defending or attacking the puck in the corner. Of all the players, Matt seemed the most into the day. I suppose given his road to having a stable NHL career, that's to be expected, but the attitude and energy were still appreciated. He also wasn't shy about letting us know he expected actual battling. Most interesting thing he showed was to not have the puck on the stick until you were ready to move it. Why? Someone whacks your stick, there goes the puck.
We left that station winded and headed to the Mike Green powerplay drill. Take a pass at the top of the circle, three strides toward center ice and bombs away. Or, as Mike put it, "Three strides, and then just rip it at this cockknocker punk." The goalie had a good glove hand, and had him and Greenie had been trading barbs after big saves. I know everyone is worried about Mike's health, but for a guy who is apparently still not 100%, he can let the puck fly. The drill was much less intense than the previous one, and we all got to chat and joke around with Mike. I say this as a compliment - Green came across as exactly the type of free spirit I imagined him. Whistle blows, time to move on.
Coach Woods taught us puck retreival and evasion skills. Last year, my skating was pretty abysmal, as those of you I've played pickup with know. These drills really highlighted how much better that has gotten. The drills were basically to collect a pass while skating backwards, and circle or pivot inside or outside away from an oncoming attacker. The other flavor was skating backwards, and Coach would flip the puck over your head - go retrieve by the boards and make a quick pass. We had a chance to talk a little afterwards, where we got these two gems. When asked what to do if there is no safe outlet, "Well, sometimes you're just going to eat it in the boards". When I commented how much more I was getting out of all of this being better on the skates, he pointed out that without solid skating, you might as well not even have a puck out there.
Brooksie was again doing top of the crease work, same as last year. One guy in our group had poor form on using his stick as a third leg, so Laich goes behind him, "So, I'm Chris Pronger, this guy is bothering my goalie, so" and with a little shove, dumps him on the ice. He points at me, "Thirteen here has good form. So, you see, it's harder..." and he gives me a shove. Stay on my feet. "But sometimes things get a little crazy..." and I'm now getting crosschecked. And staying on my feet. Barely. My buddy thought it was the funniest thing he's seen. "Alright, good job, let's go annoy the goalie!" Brooks was probably the most laid back of the group.
Last up was Varly. Not much to add. He was friendly enough, but more animated with the goalie. Our job was to put the puck where Varly wanted, so he could work with the goalie on positioning. Nice enough, but not nearly the same level of interaction as with the other guys.
After that, everyone got a couple tries at shootout drills against the goalies. Group photo, autographs and what not wrapped it up. Looking back, I was less star struck this year, and therefor was able to absorb the hockey stuff better.
Thanks to Union Jack for helping to sponsor the unis and get us a good spread for brunch after the event. It was a good way to relive such a unique experience and hear everyone else's stories.