Breaking the ice

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Breaking the ice

Malini Ramaiyer

hockey-dance2

Photograph by Alina Abidi

While I waited on the doorstep of my friend Rachael Mathew’s house, all I knew about hockey was that the ball goes into the goal.

At 6:40 p.m., ready to watch the Sharks game, I sat in the Mathew’s living room. Rachael recited APUSH facts, her brother Kevin played basketball upstairs and I nervously glanced at all the ESPNs on the television guide. After scrolling up and down to find the channel, we started to watch the game preview.

“They’re playing the LA Kings,” Rachael said. “The Sharks suck.”

Rachael was only upset because last season she had cheered for the Sharks, and they disappointed her in the end.

The Sharks had started off the season tremendously well, but at the playoffs, the team started losing, and the Kings, who had barely made it to the playoffs, started winning. The Kings won so much that they took home the Stanley Cup, which seemed like a big deal until they showed Kings players eating Fruit Loops out of it.

Rachael and I, with Mr. Mathew, sat through an hour of the Kings parading their victory from last season. They showed off their banners, skated around in circles and waved their Tiffany & Co. Stanley Cup rings.

I was discussing Ebola with Mrs. Mathew when the game began. At first, the players’ motions seemed choreographed. They skated around the rink, and the play ended. They glided over to the middle with rhythmic breaths and the play started again. Everything made sense. The players try to score goals on the other side, simple. The teams seemed to have a system, a planned performance — until the fight.

After 15 minutes, I started to look up pictures of Nat Wolff when two players dropped their hockey sticks and held up their fists. I thought it was a part of the game because the referees kept their distance as the players skated around each other. And suddenly, the hockey game became a wrestling match.

From their hideouts, the referees blew the whistle after a good minute during which the players might as well have dove head first into the ice. The players were sent to their timeout spots and the elaborate dance continued.

Except this time, I noticed the pushing, the shoving, the falling and the painting of the rink wall with a Sharks player’s face. Kevin recounted another game in which a player’s four front teeth were knocked out. Daniel Alfredsson of the Detroit Red Wings just picked up his teeth, gave them to the bench and continued the game.

Hockey is ruthless and scrappy, not graceful or synchronized. According to Mr. Mathew, the lineup changes every 45 seconds. Thirty seconds gives them no time to accomplish anything, but one minute is enough to exhaust and eventually pummel them.

As one commentator stated, hockey is uncomfortable.

The Sharks had scored two goals by the second period. Unfortunately, the goals were made so quickly that I couldn’t even see them in the replays.

When the Kings tried to score, goalie Antti Niemi sat firmly in the goal or fell into splits formation. To the Sharks, defense was king.

By 8:38 p.m., we got distracted by Mrs. Mathew’s kale chapathis and talked about the time she saw Patrick Marleau at Trader Joe’s. As I turned back to the game, the Sharks scored again, and I actually saw it! In the replay! Tommy Wingels broke away and scored right around the goalie’s splits. Ten seconds later, Marleau nudged another in.

Ice hockey reminded me of the scene in Kung Fu Panda where Po and Master Shifu fight for the last dumpling with their chopsticks. The dumpling moves all around the rink as the pandas scramble furiously for the last bite. The Sharks team was Po. Everyone underestimated them, especially the esteemed Master Shifu, the Kings. After all, they lost to Shifu in their first round of the playoffs last season even with a 3-0 series lead.

Throughout the game, the commentator’s words, the numbers, the names, they went over my head. Despite Mr. Mathew’s earnest explanations, I still don’t know what the blue lines are for or what icing is. I can’t even remember what the timeout spot is called. All I know now is that in this jarring dance of ice hockey, the puck goes into the goal.