For the second day of Hockey Weekend Across America, writers were encouraged to go out and try playing hockey, or more simply, attempt to skate. I can gladly say that my first learning experience skating was with none other than Nolan Baumgartner. I remember the day like it was yesterday. . .
It was the annual Skate With the Pirates and my mother had encouraged me to go on the ice and skate with Nolan. Although I was shy, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to go skating with my hero. The event was scheduled after a home game, which involved us standing in line for around an hour, while we waited for the opposing team to clear out of the locker room. Slowly but surely the line would move and I would creep my way ahead. My stomach twisting and turning with every step that I would take. I had never really skated before. While my aunt had a pond out behind her house, I was always too scared to actually attempt skating on it, so I would just run around and play in the snow instead.
Considering this would be my first time skating and it would be with a whole bunch of other people, my nerves were out of control. My mother luckily was right next to me the entire time, (considering I was only six or seven) and would lace up the skate for me and fasten my helmet should I fall.
I remember my mother holding onto my elbow to try and steady me as I walked on the thin blades underneath my feet, feeling awkward with each step. As I reached the entry way to the ice and attempted my first ‘step’, I slid and had to grab onto the boards for stability. I can remember feeling embarrassed as I held onto the sides the entire way around the rink, my mom standing close by me, encouraging me to let go. Yet, every time I seemed to try I would lose balance and either fall or come extremely close to it.
After making a couple laps around the rink, older kids whizzing by me, the players began to filter onto the ice from the locker room, some bringing out their children, others hanging out by the benches and signing autographs while conversing. Lucky for me, my mother had brought her Sharpie and a camera (as you can see above). My jersey began to fill up with autographs from the entire team and I was extremely excited, that’s when I happened to look up and find Nolan skating up to me.
He stood at the boards and talked with my mom and aunt for a little while and then turned to me and asked if I wanted to skate with them. At first I was too shy and didn’t want to go, for fear of falling down, but with the urging from my mother I decided to go.
He took a hold of my hand and slowly glided me across the ice, making sure to stay close to the boards should I get scared. My knees were really wobbly, but under his direction we floated across the ice and it was the easiest thing ever. He talked to me about school and about what I had thought of the game as we took lap after lap around the ice while my mom skated around with my aunt. We skated until the ‘officials’ told us we had to leave and the zambonis were coming to clear the ice, ending the night with a hug and a picture taken together.
After that night I made a pact to myself to learn how to skate on my own. I figured out that roller blading and ice skating were a lot alike, so for my next birthday I asked for a pair of roller blades. Lucky for me I was an only child(at the time) and got just about anything I wanted.
I practiced rollerblading day and night in my basement. I would go around and around in circles on the cement flooring, before and after school, listening to music to get me going. At first I ended up with a few bruised up knees and some scrapes from wiping out around the corners, but I learned. After I began feeling comfortable I grabbed one of my hockey sticks and a tennis ball and skated around dribbling the ball at the end of the stick.
Honestly, it isn’t as easy at it may look, it takes a lot of concentration to keep control of it, and that was while looking at it, let alone keeping my head up and doing it! I would pretend that I was playing my own game and draw chalk goal lines to shoot at. I would also nail myself with a tennis ball quite a few times as I would perform slapshots on my way by, setting the ball in the perfect position to hit.
In teaching myself how to rollerblade, I was able to skate on one foot, backwards, cross-over for turns and jump over obstacles. All because I wanted to become like Baumer.
The stick handling skills I had taught myself in my basement would later come in handy in high school physical education classes when we would play floor hockey. I distinctly remember being one of the only people who could control the hard plastic puck on the forehand and backhand as I made my way up the basketball court. (I scored a pretty nice backhander too against our high school team’s goaltender)
While I don’t really skate or roller blade anymore, I have to say some of my greatest childhood memories come from learning and teaching my friends how to and it’s something I can cherish forever.