Stories of a Bender – Looking Ahead

by Kelly Thomas Reardon

Me, looking like I actual know what I'm doing...

Me, looking like I actually know what I’m doing…

Stories of a Bender was a series of posts that were features at my previous Chicago Blackhawks & NHL blogs. I’m going to continue with these stories here.

When it comes to my personal hockey career, April – June are the absolute worst. These are the only months I’m not playing hockey on a regular basis. April is when our winter season typically ends, and late June is when our summer session picks up. You know what that means:

April, May & June are empty and void, unless you’re talking about the inevitable pounds that get attached to my body.

And yet, the summer session has a certain atmosphere around it that’s distinctly different than our winter session. In the winter, all the teams play, and with their regular rosters. There’s the opportunity to win a championship which can earn you a trip to Toronto. It’s more competitive, less easy-breezy hockey. In the summer, some teams take the summer off, leaving a bunch of guys that still want to play to get assigned to other teams. You could find yourself lining up alongside a previous enemy, the closest a bunch of hacks like us can get to feeling like your team traded for a hated rival. This is also when teams bring on prospective new players, since the league fees are cheaper and they don’t have to splurge on uniforms in the summer.

Combine that with lots of people going on vacations with their kids, and guys just in general wanting to be outside some nights instead of playing hockey and you get spotty attendance, a slightly less intense dedication, and lots of guys sleepwalking through games.

I view the summer session as our preseason. This is when I can mess with line combinations (mostly because I have to) and move guys to different positions. Personally, I’ll play a little riskier, try things I normally wouldn’t when a trip to Toronto is looming as a potential end to our season.

There’s also the odd feeling of getting out of the rink, sometimes at midnight, and it’s in the nineties outside. Going from sweating in a cold rink, to sweating in a hot locker room, to finally sweating in the hot, humid, still summer air is brutal.

It’s also a time to either continue, or change, your personal progress. For me, this will be my third year in a row playing defense after playing center for the previous four. That first season on D was tough. Took a lot of energy to focus on the defensive side of the game, which as a center, should have been easier than it was.

Being more comfortable on D going into this past year meant I could start to grow my game instead of just finding it. I found that I had quite a knack as an offensive defenseman. I had the abilities to go end-to-end and score, get that long stretch pass to a streaking forward, or just generally start the breakout (when a bunch of hacks could actually get together and do a formal breakout). The last quarter of this winter was when I really found my game. In the final three games, I had five goals and three assists. I’m still making the defensive mistake or mental lapse here and there, but I feel much more solid and reliable, and the fact I found that offensive upside makes me feel better about the occasional defensive lapse.

I also looked at my career numbers in this league for the first time too. I won’t put them here, because I’m not looking to toot my own horn (although I don’t think you can consider under a point per game in rec league tooting your own horn), but it made me proud. It made me proud to see a numerical representation of all the effort I’ve put in for the last seven years. I will say, it’s exciting to know that as long as I don’t have a total stinker of a season, I’ll break 100 career points. That’s pretty cool to me.

But the important thing is that the summer is the giant reset button. Forget last season. Forget the 1-9 start. Forget the 6-4 finish that still left us out of the playoffs by only a few points. Forget the missed opportunities. Forget the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s. Remember how it feels to step out onto that fresh ice, feel the wind against your face, and the pure joy of the first goal of the summer, and that first big win.

Here’s to looking ahead.