The pleasant surprise in the email far outweighed the initial disappointment.
I had emailed a guy named Adam from Couchsurfing.org in an attempt to find a place to stay in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He wrote back: “Unfortunately we are renovating our rooms and are sleeping on the couch/living room right now,” so the couch was unavailable. That was a bit of a let down. However, he continued: “So, instead I’ve got a great offer. How would you like to play a real game tomorrow night? My team’s goalie just msg’d me that he can’t make it.”
Would I like to play hockey in a real game as a sub goalie? Of course!
The little catch was that I was in Winnipeg at the time, and Saskatoon was a 9-hour drive away. On top of that, I still had a drop-in game to play late that night. It would be a busy 24 hours.
My Winnipeg shinny session got done around 12:30 a.m., and I finally got to sleep around 2:30 a.m. The alarm clock’s clamor came at 8:00 a.m., and I was on the road by 9:30.
Nine hours of driving later, including a time change and a major detour to avoid the flooded Trans-Canada Highway, I arrived in Saskatoon.
Two hours to spare before ice time.
I was to sub-goalie for “The Eh Team”. (What a great name!) It was composed of an enthusiastic group of 20-somethings playing in the ASHL, the local adult rec hockey league. Sadly, enthusiasm had not translated to much success during the season, and the team went into Wednesday night with a record of 1-8.
Before the game, the story of my trip was greeted with surprise and excitement. “I wish I could do that,” somebody said, to which another lamented, “I wish my wife would let me do that.”
I felt good on the ice in spite of the short previous night and the long day of driving. I think that the Winnipeg pick-up game helped, since it gave me an opportunity to calibrate to a slightly faster game than I was used to. D2-level in the Saskatoon ASHL seemed about the same skill level as C2-level in the Minneapolis AHA (my league last winter).
Things went well. That’s not to say that it didn’t get a bit hairy at times: I was making virtually all of my first saves, but I got burned by a couple of shots off rebounds and front-of-the-net scrambles. Still, whether it was the clarity of instinct that comes from mental exhaustion, the large bolus of coffee I had downed, or my freshly sharpened skates, I made enough saves to not lose the game. (Or at least that’s what I like to tell myself. Really though, it was the rest of the team’s offensive and defensive talents that saved the day.)
That’s right: we won! The team’s record improved to 2-8, which was cause for much celebration. It helped that a beer cart came around to the dressing room selling refreshments, which was something that I had never seen while playing in the States. (Oh, Canada.)
My first game as a sub goalie in Canada was great fun.