Saturday, July 11, 2009

Guilt by association ...

Boston. Gorgeous.

Damn! I tweaked my left knee during my BBHC skate on Friday morning. Sadly, these days, that's not an unusual occurrence (I'm buried somewhere underneath that pile-up in the accompanying photo!). Goaltending is tough on anyone's joints, and even more so on a pair of 51-year-old knees. And a 51-year-old goalie trying to play a butterfly style automatically doubles the odds of knee trouble.

I started playing more of a butterfly style (employing a wider, inverted-V stance, and dropping quickly to my knees to take away the lower part of the net) over the past decade primarily because it was more effective. As Father Time started to mess around with my eyesight and my reflexes, the butterfly allowed me to take advantage of my 6-foot-2 frame. The butterfly is commonly referred to as a "blocking" style as opposed to a "reacting" style, and my bulk provided a pretty good blocking surface. Plus, recent advances in goalie gear gave me a new-found courage (Translation? I don't think I'd ever use the "blocking" style with the thin, leather-and-felt body "armor" of my high school and college days!).

The downside to the butterfly - as I'm always telling my students at goalie camp - is that it really requires a fair amount of athleticism. Dropping to make a save is fine, but recovering, and being able to move quickly along the ice, is essential for a butterfly goalie. That requires hard work, and it's hard on the joints, particularly the knees and hips. I find more and more, as I get on, that I'm still making the first save, but trying to react to rebounds is becoming my own private hell. I've had more than one "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up" moment, and in truth they're happening with more and more frequency. Which is why I know that, if I want to keep playing goalie, and playing with a butterfly style, I need to hit the weight room to build up the muscles that support my joints, and I need to make a commitment to a stretching and yoga regimen. Have I started? Of course not.

All of which brings me to my recent Friday morning skate. I stretched just a wee bit too far while making a left pad save, and knew immediately the moment I got up that I had strained my medial collateral ligament in my left knee. So, after I got home, I drop a note to my friend Matt Cann, who was holding onto my GameReady rapid-recovery machine. Matt had knee surgery not long ago, and I had lent him this amazing machine to help speed his rehab (essentially, the GameReady takes the RICE concept - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation - to the next level, using ice water and compression cuffs). I apologized to Matt for having to grab the machine back, and that I would return it once my knee felt better.

"This whole 'getting old' thing is way over-rated," I wrote.

"We're not old," Matt replied. "Our knees are."

Now, I know what Matt's getting at. We're still young at heart, and in our minds we can still do most anything we want. Until our body betrays us. Then I thought of another great line, told to me by Larry Abbott, a former Boston University hockey player and owner of the HockeyTown rink where I got hurt on Friday. Larry once said, succinctly, "We don't come with any spare parts." And, with the possible exception of new hips, Larry's right.

So I replied to Matt, saying simply, "Guilt by association." For good or ill, I'm stuck with this old body. And I better start treating it with a little more respect if I plan to extend my hockey career. ;-)


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