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One of my coaches, I think it must have been the man I had for my second season of Squirts, a man who, let us say, thought keen defensive coaching strategy was to scream "Stop him! Stop that guy with the puck! Don't let him score!" at his defensemen, once said a thing of great wisdom. He said to me: "Most people will never know it, but there is a great art to crunching some sucker."
Well, today, I am someone whose primary job in a hockey game is to crunch suckers. And I like to think there is indeed a great art to what I do. It is true that I am one of the players you despise when you're a parent of a kid on the other team because I am the heartless, ruthless dude who rockets full tilt toward your precious Justin when he has his head down looking at the puck between his skates.
Before he pulls his head up to see me coming I plow into him going about 25 mph, and knock him into next month. Probably I get both of his skates in the air as he shoots backward, and probably he drops his stick and his helmet jerks forward over his eyes before he slams into the glass and bounces off onto the ice. Maybe after the game he tells you he thinks next winter he wants to try basketball instead of this hockey junk. I never hear about those parts of my success stories, but I like to think I've whacked a few wimps out of the sport entirely.
By the way, while Justin is sprawling awkwardly on the ice with his helmet forward over his eyes, I pick up the puck on my stick bladewithout looking downand pass it to one of my defensive teammates, who skates it out of the zoneand that is the end of that offensivethreat. I have done my job. You may scream and holler, you may even believe there is no skill whatsoever in timing and property angling a high-speed collision so that I remain completely in control on my own skates while my opponent goes flying.
But you'd be wrong. I'm good. So if he puts his head down when I am on the ice, Justin is going to end up on his pants, aching in at least three places and wondering how he got there. It's clean hockey. Live with it.
Speaking of "clean." I have studied crunching. I am smart, believe it or not, smart enough to figure out ten ways to hit a kid in ten positions and speeds and angles as he carries the puck, or to hit a kid without it so that I am not guilty of interference. The legality of a hit depends on all kinds of relationships between the players and the boards and the angle of their hips and their sticks and other things too boring to go into unless you are a student of it.
The reason I have them all down pat is that I do not want to get penalized for doing the job I love. There is nothing in the world I love as much as that moment of pure crunch.
Am I an animal? No more than any other hockey player, Justin included. If I could skate like a gymnast with jets, or shoot bullets past goalies, then that is what I would do. Instead, I have a talent for good, fair, very nasty crunches. So that is what I do.
Naturally I had always hoped my teammatesespecially this year when I got about twelve of them all together at once before this seasonwould bestow on me the nickname Crunch, or Crash, or Bonebreaker, or something equally intimidating and awe-inspiring. Instead, our very wise-ass goalie (who is called Zip) observed how I played for about two weeks and began calling me Subtle. So Subtle it is. Sometimes the name confuses the opposing players for a shift or two if they hear a teammate call out to me, which is finethey wait for me to make some finesse move, and instead I launch them into the Dumpster.
Just for the record: I get very few penalties, and I have never injured anyone (though I have forced a few kids to miss shifts while they checked to make sure). There is one important thing the legality of a hit does not depend onand that is how hard the hit is. And I hit harder, with less ice needed to build up speed on my skates, than any kid in both of our Pewee A leagues. The coaches from the other teams are always sending out their biggest guys to headhunt me and "make me pay" and show that I cannot just go around wreaking my havoc with them.
Well, studying crunches has also made me an ace at dodging crunches. So quite a few of these guys wind up with a face mask full of glass for their efforts. And what's more, before the shift is over I usually manage to find a reason to get a pretty good hit of my own in against them, but only if it's a good hockey. I am a cruncher, but only because first and above all I am a hockey player.
I have been told that one of the things opposing coaches tell their teams in the locker rooms is"When number 19 is on the ice, for goodness' sake keep your head up!" (If you're playing Peewee A hockey, you ought to keep your head up anyway.) Somehow that makes me feel all fuzzy inside. It's even worth hearing people say, "Hey, Subtlesling me those spare pucks, okay?" or "Hey, Subtlegive me some tape! "