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The District

December 3rd, 2011

Although I had wanted to play hockey in Washington, D.C., the fact that there were only two ice arenas there posed a significant logistical problem.  I didn’t have to play there, since it wasn’t a state, but I considered it a “nice to have.”

The sheets of ice were the Verizon Center, where the Washington Capitals played, and the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, where mere mortals played.  Notably, the Capitals practiced at neither arena; instead, they used the Kettler Capitals Iceplex across the river in Arlington, Virginia.

Fort Dupont Ice Arena: The only full-sized, full-time sheet of ice in DC

There were no pickup sessions mentioned on the Fort Dupont arena web site.  Fortunately, a woman named Katie had heard about my trip and left a comment on the map page.  She was the development coordinator at the arena, and she offered to find a way I could spend time on the ice and stop a few pucks.

The day before I flew to Hawaii, I was hanging out in the Washington area.  I had yet to hear from Katie.  As the hours wound down, I wrote off the possibility of playing in D.C.

Then, at 4:00 p.m., I got an email from her.  She was able to get a hold of the coach of a high school team, and he’d agreed to let me participate in their practice. She wrote:

Our DC High School group got back to me just a little bit ago- they’re on ice at 7:30 tonight, and are expecting you if you’d like to join them. Sorry about the last minute notice of it all, gets a little crazy around there sometimes.

I was in Reston, Virginia at the time on my way to a hotel near the Dulles airport.  I debated for a moment whether to make the hour-long trek back to the rink in Washington.  In the balance hung the rest of my evening.  The easy way out would have been to decline the invitation and have a quiet night before my flight to Hawaii.  But I figured, what was the trip about if not hockey?  I sent a reply back to Katie accepting the invitation before I could change my mind:

Great! I’ll be there!

Navigating to the rink, I noticed that the final two streets on the approach were Minnesota Avenue and Ely Place.  How appropriate. (Ely is a city in northern Minnesota.)

Fort Dupont Ice Arena was perched on a small hill, and in the distance, the Capitol and the Washington Monument were visible. Large trees with the last of their red leaves towered around the rink, constant reminders that the park was something of an oasis in an otherwise rough neighborhood.

I met the coaches, changed, and hopped on the ice.

The high school team was a combined program for several of the DC-area high schools.  Although some of the private schools had their own teams, not all did, and there were no programs at any of the public schools save this one. It was the brainchild of a man named Paul who had an infectious love of hockey and a strong sense of justice, as told in a Washington Post story.  After Paul died, a man named Adam took over as head coach with his brother Greg and another man named Clyde as assistants.

There were two goalies on the team, Andrew and Kevin.  While Kevin held a significant height advantage over Andrew, it seemed to me like Andrew had the upper hand in positioning and reaction.  I saw some things they could work on, but I wasn’t confident it was my place to point them out.

In general, I wasn’t quite sure what role to play at the practice.  Pretend to be one of the guys on the team?  Take on the role of a coach and work on drills with Andrew and Kevin? Stand awkwardly to the side after taking a few shots, trying to have it both ways?  Was I a kid, or was I an adult?

I never did find a completely comfortable role, but I did have a good time.  I stopped pucks during some shooting drills, tried to give Andrew and Kevin some pointers and work on some skills with them, and talked with Adam and Greg about the state of the team. Our goalie drill options were a bit limited by the low turnout at the practice.

There were only eight skaters plus the goalies on the ice.  When I asked the kids about it, they blamed the low numbers that day on the expectation that Adam would be angry about a fight that happened at the previous game.  When I asked the coaches about it, they blamed the low numbers on a lack of commitment from the kids.

It wasn’t that the kids didn’t like hockey.  It wasn’t even that they had anything against the team or coaches.  It was simply that many of the kids were on multiple teams simultaneously, and for geopolitical reasons the joint DC High School team wasn’t at the top of the priority list.  At least, that’s how the coaches saw it.  They were a bit frustrated, but they stayed professional and didn’t take it out on the kids who did show up.

At the end of the practice, Greg presented one of the team members with a fun prize: a bag of M&Ms to the person who had the most spectacular fall during practice.  That honor went to Kevin, who had a spectacular fall when he went to shoot a puck at Andrew.  Kevin made an attempt at a slapshot, totally missed the puck, followed through too hard, had his feet fly out in front of him.  He landed flat on his back, much to the amusement of the rest of us on the ice.

I changed back into my street clothes, made small talk with the coaches and players, and hit the road back to my hotel.

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