The Cage

A ball is passed to an older man, clad in a white jersey, who is streaking down off to my right. The orange sphere bounces off his stick as he seems unsure of what to do next. Is he going to turn and fire? Wait…he’s right-handed and can’t shoot from this angle. Another man, a younger dude also representing Team White is coming to my left, probably looking for a pass to put this home. I shift slightly and get into the crouch position, the mid-point of either a stand-up save or a butterfly pad block. The mental preparation for either decision begins. Am I going down early or should I charge out and head him off at the pass? Where’s my defense?

The man in white rears back to fire but it’s a decoy as he passes to a less-than-sure skater 20 feet to his right. The area in front of me is clogged with bodies. I can’t see the god damn puck! Clear out! Shit! My leg pad is loose. The puck finds its way to another skater who is at my 9’o’clock. There’s no way he can get that shot. He fires on in my direction and I protect my left goal post like a mother bear protects her newborns. The ball ricochets off my leg pad like a pinball toward the stick of another opponent. I slide over knowing that he’s going to put a shot on net, probably low. I am right this time and I catch the puck in the midsection, covering up until the enemy heads down to the other end of the court. I pass to a teammate and the offense takes over. I regain my vertical base, catch a breath and get ready for the next attack. It’s still 1-0 and at least 30 minutes will pass until the first game is over. They’re not scoring on me tonight.

Welcome to the Dame School gym in Concord, New Hampshire. It’s 7:18 pm and this is Tuesday night roller hockey.

A little over a year ago, our old PR Director kept talking about going to play hockey on Tuesdays. Most of us paid little mind to it and never bothered to ask about it. But he was persistent and other co-workers were starting to get into it. The crew was all people I knew, most of which I was surprised about. I couldn’t skate, which apparently wasn’t a worry because they needed a goalie. The only hockey experience I’ve had other than working in it was a sixth-grade afterschool league in South Paris, Maine. (I was a deadly assassin from the left wing.) However, this group was mostly made up of 35-and-older guys who all wanted to have a little fun once a week out of the house. I finally took the challenge and suited up for my first game in May of 2005. Almost a year later, I’m the goalie defending the ‘Cookie Monster’ painted side of the court, part of the nuance of playing in a cramped elementary school gym.

We play three or four games and go to five goals per game. There are no penalties in our three-on-three battles. We have colorful characters with names like Teddy, Conrad and the Green Machine. We are from varying backgrounds, some fathers, some young and most old. One of our cars was actually broken into a few months ago and there was laughter as a result. There are novice skaters and good skaters, bumps and bruises that come with the territory of learning. People fall down, people yell in anguish of a missed opportunity and sometimes, people argue due to a mix of all of the above. At the end of it all, we unlace the stinky pads, drink some water or Gatorade and say our goodbyes for the week, heading back to whatever existence awaits on the other side of the gym doors.

While it’s meant to be fun, the Josh Nason that emerges between the hours of 7-10 pm is one that none of my readers has probably ever seen. The joking, the one-liners, the easy-going attitude all dissipate. In their place is intensity, anger and aggression. I get the rush of feeling like a competitive athlete, something I’ve really never experienced before. It’s a transformation that some of my friends cannot understand as I am, at times, unapproachable after a loss. For this three hours, it’s my responsibility to protect a 4×6 melding of plastic and twine. Sometimes, the rage comes when I let in a stupid goal. Other times, it’s when one of my teammates makes a shit-ass pass that leads to a 2-on-none breakaway. It begins when I first arrive and stretch out to when I arrive home after the 20-minute drive home. Decompression is often found at the bottom of a beer bottle or two. Best of all, the experience is amazingly addicting.

This Tuesday, the fever gets turned up a notch. The man who I admire every week for his amazing saves – known as ‘Perk’ – is going to put on some skates this week and play out of net, the first time this has happened with me at the other end. My opponent, however, will be the man I recruited to play net in my absence, our P.A. guy Sean. He’s an old-school goaler and has also caught the fever as well. When I’m not playing, I’m always worrying about being Wally Pipp-ed by this newbie. Tuesday will be my chance to reinforce my position on the goalie food chain. It’s time to lay the smackdown and show the boys what I really do. I have never been more psyched up to play a game before in my life.

Wednesday morning? The fever builds again.

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