Warming up to hockey ice

You’ve heard the quote, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take”?

I’ve referred to it many times, mostly when trying to prod myself forward with less fear of failure and more tolerance of risk.

For some reason, though, I’ve always framed this quote in a basketball context. As in, if you don’t shoot the ball, you’ll never score a basket.

But what I learned as I searched for all things hockey-related—my chosen topic for the month—was that the man who first spoke those words, Wayne Gretzky, did not play basketball. He was a hockey player, and a good one, too.

Gretzky first began skating at age 2, according to www.gretzky.com. By age 13, he had scored 1,000 goals. Over the course of his professional career, Gretzky played for the Indianapolis Racers, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

Greztky became the NHL’s all-time leading scorer in 1994 and was MVP of the NHL All Star Game in 1999. His number, 99, was retired later that year, and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

So why all this talk of hockey, a sport I frankly know next to nothing about?

Last month, I attended my very first hockey game in Wichita. The Thunder are members of the Western Conference and currently sit atop the ECHL Mountain Division standings with a 15-2-2 record, and I had an open invitation to watch them play.

The night of the game, I didn’t quite know what to expect.

I knew the general idea, of course. A group of men skate on knife-like blades, carrying sticks and chasing a disk made of rubber. There might be a fight, and oh, the goal—literally—is to send the tiny puck into the net. But strategy? I knew nothing about that.

My seat was nearly behind the goal, which provided a unique vantage point to watch the game. And I soaked it all in. I noted the appropriately named Imagine Dragons song, “Thunder,” blaring over the sound system, as well as the curiously effortless way the important looking people in dress shoes could walk on the ice without slipping prior to the game’s start.

The goaltenders were dressed in what I imagine would fit with “Transfor­mers” attire, although admittedly I’ve never seen the movie. I still have no idea how a goaltender expertly maneuvers with the equivalent of two boards strapped to his legs.

When players took the ice, most hopped over the waist-high wall separating the bench from the rink, a move that would most certainly end in disaster if attempted by yours truly, as my last ice skating endeavor my senior year of college left me face to the ground with an up-close view of the ice.

In trying to avoid impending disaster, I and the poor guy involved had attempted to break our collision course by redirecting our skates the same direction, which ended in, well, embarrassment for both of us.

Even the officials were on skates, sometimes hopping up on the short wall around the rink in order to avoid a collision. A necessary skill to learn, I decided. I also learned there’s a penalty box and an obnoxious train whistle when the home team scores. This happened fairly frequently, because apparently, the Thunder are good.

To think about controlling a puck with a stick while skating is simply beyond my skill or ability, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the beauty happening on the ice in front of me. I was mesmerized by the fluid motion. It was flawless and dance-like, albeit with a kerfuffle or two scattered in between.

I found the experience quite relaxing, actually. There wasn’t the over-stimulation of an NFL game, or the nervous energy I feel when a starting pitcher is in a bases-loaded jam.

The Thunder won that night, and I left the arena thankful for the opportunity to experience something new. I’d certainly go again if given the opportunity.

As the end of this column nears, I’ve been trying to think of a clever way to wrap it up. Perhaps tie in the quote from the beginning or write a clever analogy or life lesson. But a smooth conclusions eludes me. Best to end this column as awkwardly as my last experience on ice.

Janae Rempel, former sports editor at the Free Press, is on staff with Christian Leader magazine. You can still reach her at janae@hillsborofree­press.com.