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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Monday, January 17, 2005

Erasing The Zeros

When I first started playing hockey for UCLA, I took a look around the locker room, sized up my chances of getting any playing time, and decided that one of my goals for the season would be to make the dressing roster for half of the team's games. It had been a while since I'd played check hockey, and the team looked pretty deep, and since only 19 skaters are permitted to suit up for each game, it seemed like a reachable goal. So when I dressed for our first game of the season against Berkeley, I was feeling pretty good. Of course, I was a scratch for the second game, but even still, I was on pace to meet my goal.

Since that second game, I've been in uniform for each game, so I suppose that measured against my preseason expectations for myself, I've done well. Of course, as soon as you start climbing the ladder, you want to reach the next rung, so while I'm happy to be dressing for the games now, I'm now trying to earn myself some ice time.

Against our weaker opponents like Stanford and Washington, we'll roll all four lines, so I get my share of shifts. But there have been at least three games this season where the only ice time I've seen is in warmups. Sometimes I joke that for me, a hat trick is three shifts in a game. I'm not complaining - I'm a rookie on this team, and I know where I stand on the depth chart. On the other hand, I have to continue to improve and give the coach enough confidence in me to put me on the ice against the best teams in the conference.

On Friday night against Stanford, I took what I hope is a significant step toward that end. In the first period, with a 1-0 lead, Nick Hertz, who was playing on the third line, cut his chin and had to take a shift off while it was bandaged. I got the opportunity to jump up and take one shift in his place.

Playing right wing, I found myself on a two-on-one with Eric Allen, who carried the puck into the attack zone. The defenseman stepped up and played Eric aggressively, and he should have passed the puck over to me, but he instead made a terrific cut inside and freed himself for a shot on goal. The goalie left the rebound right in front of me, and I took a whack to try to get it under him before he dropped to the ice. The goalie got a piece of it with one of his pads, but as I circled behind the net, I could see the puck trickling slowly through his five hole across the goal line.

It happened in slow motion - partly because of the anticipation of a goal, but partly because the puck was barely moving. When it came to rest in the net, it was no more than two inches across the line.

For me, scoring a goal is a rare event. In high school, I never scored once in three years playing varsity. My only goal was in a 10-goal loss while playing JV. And although I scored my fair share of goals in men's leagues (including one five-goal game where every rebound found its way onto my stick and the net looked twice its size), those were no-check leagues with less speed and defense.

So as I realized it was a goal, the first thought flashing through my head was whether someone else touched the puck. I hadn't really considered seriously the possibility of scoring a goal in a game. Then I realized it really was me who scored, and I put my arms up so fast I nearly threw my stick in the air. I was so excited, I had to be reminded to skate by the bench for the requisite congratulations. I can't fully explain the feeling, but it's quite the high.

It took 15 games to do it, but I finally scored a goal as a UCLA Bruin.

Later in the game, perhaps playing with some added confidence, I even assisted on another goal - my first assist of the season. And after the game (a 7-3 win), the coach named John Harms, my linemate whom I assisted, and me as players of the game.

I'm still a little giddy about it all, to be honest. I'm not sure if my writing really does the goal - and especially the feeling of scoring it - justice. But it'll have to do, along with the box score from the game - proof that it actually happened.

Hopefully my momentum, as well as the team's, carries into our remaining five regular-season games. After all, we need to hit Game 5 of the Crosstown Cup and the Pac-8 Championships with a full head of steam. And I have a scoring streak to continue.


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