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Column: Club hockey engenders enthusiasm over talent

  • St. Paul's School has coed, intramural hockey teams that play hour-long games. Each team has 3 lines of varying skill level that rotate every 2 minutes of game play.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    St. Paul's School has coed, intramural hockey teams that play hour-long games. Each team has 3 lines of varying skill level that rotate every 2 minutes of game play.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • St. Paul's School has coed, intramural hockey teams that play hour-long games. Each team has 3 lines of varying skill level that rotate every 2 minutes of game play.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    St. Paul's School has coed, intramural hockey teams that play hour-long games. Each team has 3 lines of varying skill level that rotate every 2 minutes of game play.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • St. Paul's School has coed, intramural hockey teams that play hour-long games. Each team has 3 lines of varying skill level that rotate every 2 minutes of game play.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • St. Paul's School has coed, intramural hockey teams that play hour-long games. Each team has 3 lines of varying skill level that rotate every 2 minutes of game play.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

Athletics have never been my forte. I have played numerous sports, from soccer to softball, but I have never found one I was particularly good at. At best, I have avoided being terrible through sheer enthusiasm and force of will.

For the past three years I have Nordic skied on my school team during the winter, and my record of poor sports performances held true on the ski course. In fact, I was one of the worst skiers in the entire league, finishing close to last in almost all of my races. Girls who had been in my race would pass me on their cool-down laps while I still stumbled on my uncooperative skis toward the finish line. Finally, this year, my senior year in high school, I decided it was time to end the humiliation and try something new, and I discovered club hockey.

There is a significant hockey culture at St. Paul’s School in Concord. St. Paul’s was an early power when hockey first came to the United States – some even say the first hockey game in America was played on Lower School Pond on campus. And at a school where athletics are definitely not the focus for many, the teams have always had enormous support.

Club hockey is no exception. While only an intramural sport meeting two days per week, it is part of the fierce intramural club competition at St. Paul’s – and a large part of winter term for many students. Players, regardless of skill level, look forward to it all year, and even students from other sports know which teams are doing well. I watched my roommate’s team skate to victory our sophomore year, and it looked like so much fun that when trying to find a new sport this year, I didn’t hesitate to sign up.

Suiting up for my first club hockey practice (a 20-minute ordeal – I don’t know how real hockey players do it every day), a little voice in the back of my head said, “Maybe this is it. You could be about to discover your sport – you could shock everyone with your hockey prowess, become the star of first line and carry your team to victory.” After all, I had skated before, albeit more than five years ago and never on hockey skates (which is better than many club hockey participants, who put on skates for the first time ever at the first practice). Crazier things have happened, I told myself. With visions of Miracle and the final scene of Rudy running through my head, I shuffled onto the ice.

Practice consisted of basic drills: warm-up laps around the edge of the rink with sticks and pucks, shooting and passing practice, skating backward, etc. By the time we left the ice, I knew one thing for sure: I had definitely not been squandering a hidden hockey talent. But although basic hand-eye coordination seemed beyond me and seemingly innocuous patches of ice could present tripping hazards, club hockey has been one of the greatest sports experiences of my life.

Upon their entrance to the school, all students and faculty members at St. Paul’s are assigned to one of three clubs: Isthmian, Delphian or Old Hundred. As the first in my family to go to St. Paul’s I was randomly assigned to a club, but club affiliation is also passed down through families. Because I am a proud member of Isthmian, my sister, who is a sophomore, was also assigned to Isthmian, as all our future relatives at St. Paul’s will be. In club hockey, we are split into these three teams and play against each other for the chance to win eternal glory for our club in the Club Hockey Finals.

Skill level ranges all over the place. First-line skaters are generally pretty good; watching them play is almost like watching a real high school hockey game (at least to the untrained eye). The quality and speed of play decreases somewhat on the second line, and third-line players generally have never skated or played hockey ever before.

As part of the small but scrappy Isthmian team with just enough people to form three full lines, I am on second line, although it is obvious to anyone watching that I belong on third line. Every time I touch the puck, something good seems to happen for the other team. No matter a player’s skill level, though, all are united in their passion for their club and their confidence that their team is ultimately superior. Rivalries form, games get heated and club spirit runs rampant.

Club hockey is everything I have loved about my St. Paul’s experience. You can watch students who seem to be good at every other sport stumble around as they step on the ice for the first time – while the person taking all advanced math and science classes skates circles around them on first line. No matter how good a person is, though, nobody feels embarrassed when they step onto the ice, and everyone is part of the team. The first-line players cheer just as enthusiastically for the third-line players as the third-line players do for them. The competition between teams is fierce, but players can do battle on the ice and then walk together to the dining hall for dinner.

I’m so glad I decided to trade my skis for skates. And who knows, now that I finally figured out that holding the stick with both hands is much more effective than holding it with one, I could still be the one to score the goal that makes Isthmian the 2013 Club Hockey Champion.

Probably not, but crazier things have happened.

(Molly Becker of New York City is a senior at St. Paul’s School in Concord.)

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