Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Hockey nationals and more

Hi everyone,

Welcome back and thanks for taking the time to read. It is always a pleasure to write my blog, but this week it has been especially enjoyable because of the content. This is a BIG blog so be warned and don't go into reading it lightly, but equally make sure you read it. It is crammed full of stories and hopefully a gripping report on the biggest week in the UK Ball Hockey Calendar. Take your time to read it, comment and share with your friends.

Status Update
This week I am mostly tired and forgetful. It has been a busy week of work as we are undergoing an accreditation process so I have been putting in some longer hours to get stuff done whilst its quiet. Not only that, but as the NHL playoffs continue to enthral me I have been unable to get to sleep at an acceptable hour. I am definitely looking forward to some upcoming leave when I will be able to get some sleep and relax my tired and aching muscles.
This weekend hasn't exactly helped me catch up on sleep because the national hockey tournament dictated that I would have to wake up early on Sunday (3.45 am) to catch the team bus to Sheffield and then crawl back into bed a whole 23 hours later at 2.30am on Monday morning. Put it this way I have been on auto-pilot since then so you should count yourself lucky that I am managing to form a sentence let alone write an entire blog!
This week I also started a new fitness regime. I am going to be giving the workout that has been getting a lot of praise and recognition for its outcomes a try, Insanity. So far I have done the fitness test, but progression was rudely interrupted by hockey. I can, however, tell you that if the fitness test is anything to go by this is going to be some hardcore workout that will improve my cardio output and hopefully build my strength too. I am looking forward to giving it a shot and feeling the deep burn each time I turn on the DVD player. I am sure as weeks progress I will be reporting back, but the aim is to get fitter before I go to America so I can eat all the burgers I want without feeling guilty. Not that I would anyway!

Haggy's Hols
This week I finally got around to applying for my visa waiver so that my entry to USA would be smoother. I have to say that it had slipped my mind for a while and I was very happy to find that the process has been streamlined in comparison to other visa traditional processes. Ordinarily my understanding of visas is that you have to make a written application and then wait weeks whilst it is processed and your passport is updated. For this reason I was fearful that I may have left it a bit late and this would lead to impending panic stations, but reassured by recent travellers I logged on to a website to apply for my visa.
Well done to Homeland Security for creating such a simple process for applying for a visa. It removes a lot of complications for the customer and must allow them to complete all their necessary checks. The online application was simple and asked a few standard security questions, nothing too daunting though thankfully. I was also required to make a nominal credit card payment to complete the process. All in all though it was relatively painless and a mere 72 short hours later the visas were approved and we are cleared to travel! My advice don't leave it too late, but don't let concerns about complex visa processes put you off travel.

Let the countdown begin! There is still one stage left of our West Coast tour to tell you about - San Francisco. That can wait though because like they say good things come to those who wait. Before all that I have one final trip to make to Seville that I will tell you about next week and then real preparations will commence.

Food Glorious Food
Given that I am tired this week it was a nice coincidence that one of my favourite websites www.bbcgoodfood.com was running an article about how food can help you sleep better and reduce stress. Obviously I had a read of the article (found here) and it actually turns out that I do a lot of this stuff already. Maybe I just need to be strict and make myself go to bed at a reasonable hour. If you are having sleeping issues consider a change in your diet.

Based on what I read I would like to share with you the recipe for Zingy Chicken Stir-Fry because it looks tasty. It is literally a stir fry, but click here for the ingredients list.

Haggy's Hockey Corner
It has been the biggest hockey week of the year and I have a fair few stories to regale this week filled with real highs and some difficult times. I wouldn't say lows because they really aren't negative, but instead something that could have produced a slightly better outcome. Read on and I hope you catch my drift.

Comets collect the trophy with a final victory
Quick acknowledgement - the pictures of the Comets game and trophy come courtesy of Paul Lynch. Check out his 365 blog because he creates some stunning images.

After sealing the title as champions last week against Northumbria Sharks the North East Dekstars Comets were back in action this week. The team took to the court to face off against a fellow Dekstars team - the Supernovas. You would think that being a fellow Dekstars team and just a week out from the big national tournament this game may be a docile affair. It was not. Instead this game would turn out to be one of the hardest fought of the season and was interspersed with some aggressive play, sometimes overly so.
The game had been ticking over nicely for a while. It was feisty and committed, but being played in good spirits. That was until a jostle in the corner where two players gave as good as they got boiled over later on in the play. Whilst the Comet player James Dixon was running towards the boards he received a cross check to the back sending him head first towards the boards. This led to a lot of pushing and shoving between the teams and in all honesty a lot of people getting involved when they really didn't need to be involved. The referees did a good job of handling it and got the game going again relatively quickly. In my eyes it was totally unnecessary and could have caused serious injury to someone who is a very important piece of the Dekstars 1 national team and someone due to go and represent his country in a matter of weeks. That kind of thing does not belong in the game and hopefully the league look at it again, but if not the offending player should count himself lucky and learn from what happened in the aftermath.
Ultimately the Comets won 6-5 (I am not sure, but I may have the game winner) and completed the season undefeated. On reflection the incident gave the Comets the kick they needed to go on and win the game and it certainly made victory that little bit sweeter. The only blemish on the season was the draw last week and it would have perhaps been nice to have recorded a shutout at some point in the season. Beggars can't be choosers though! It was a great privilege to play alongside every single Comet and they are all superstars in my eyes contributing in many ways over the season. It is a shame that the team will probably be broken down and reformed in a draft style next season, but we can all be proud to be the first team to win the inaugural Northern Conference League. Thanks for the ride Comets, it's been an honour!

Dekstars 1 come a very close second
Sunday saw the entire Dekstars club take 3 teams to the season finale national tournament. I was honoured to be asked to captain the first team in the absence of our broken toed captain Becky Farren (get well soon Bec). It added a bit of additional pressure to the tournament, but it was a level of pressure I actually enjoy having and it drives me on to give more and really try to lead by example. That and it gives me the permission to be more vocal too!

The format of the tournament would be a group of sorts with the 3 other competing teams before a semi-final and a final. We would avoid the semi-final if we topped the group so there was added importance to winning  every game in the group stage. Forgive me for not remembering the ins and outs of games, but it was a long day!
First game was up against Shaw Millionaires. Shaw are a team we have historically had difficulty against because they are well drilled and play a hard game. This game followed tradition and to be honest I don't think the 4am start and a 3 hour coach trip had helped any of us as we were sluggish for the majority of the game. We clicked in flashes and just enough to start the day with a confidence building 2-0 victory.

Game two would be a different story against a team who were possibly the favourites just ahead of us Dekstars, Nottingham Wolves 1. A team filled with talent and pace and playing a forechecking style very similar to our own it would be a game decided by who could control the neutral zone the best. Unfortunately that accolade went to Wolves who dominated from start to end. We had a few good chances on goal, but the pace and precision of Wolves' passing saw us collapse deep in front of our net and encourage them to attack. It was only some sterling work in goal from Darren Elliott that kept the score to a respectable 1-0 loss.
Game three and the final game of the group was against a talented Wolves 2 team. It was do or die because a loss would very likely see our day end there and then and get dumped out of the nationals without showing anywhere near the performance that saw us capture the Southern Open tournament a matter of weeks ago. The game started out as a tactical affair on few clear cut chances, but a game that I think we had control of for long swathes. However, we would go behind thanks to a quick break that caught us napping and allowed  Wolves to sneak a goal in at the near post. Again, falling behind gave us the kick we needed to turn on our game and we went back down the other end and bagged an equaliser a couple of shifts later. As the game went on Coach Cree called us in and game us a ticking off and told us to up our game, we did. As the game drew on space did start to develop and a superb pass from Jonna Galloway found me on the left wing. I made my way up the wing unchallenged and I don't know what came over me, but I decide to take a slap shot from just inside the offensive zone. I don't think I have scored a slapshot since my first year of University ice hockey in 2005, but this one found itself nestling in the back of the net. That would be the game winner and we saw out a 2-1 victory to progress to the semi finals.
The semi-final would see us face off against that pesky Shaw Millionaires team filled with old team mates and good friends Katy and Jeff Holliday. Again the game was close and actually all turned on the penalty awarded to my line mate Justin Presseau. After taking a penalty the Millionaires would quickly convert a powerplay to take a 1-0 lead and see a usually calm Justin flip his lid and try and snap his stick coming out of the bench. I found this slightly funny as it was such a break from normality. Anyway, on the very next shift David 'JC' Hirst would convert a chance created by some hard board work from James Dixon. The momentum was truly with us and when Terry Simons scored on a semi spin-o-rama goal we took a lead that we would not relinquish. I would go on to add a goal that I will try to remain modest about, but am in fact very proud of. Picking up the ball on the halfway I chipped the ball over one defenders stick, volleyed it over the next and after settling the ball down snapped a shot into the top corner. The game was over by that point, but it still felt good to score a goal like that on the national stage. Final score 3-1 to Dekstars.

For some reason the video won't show, but here is a link - vs. Shaw video

Ahead of the final I sat and had a think about the Wolves breakout and how we could combat it. We had a few small chats beforehand. I am not going to say what about because there will come a time when we play them again, but put it this way I noticed one system they play. It seemed to work because the game was much more even than our first meeting earlier in the day. Chances were limited as both team nullified the others' attacks but both goaltender was called upon to make important saves. At one stage I hit the bar and would later be told by the opposing goalie that had it been on target it would have gone in because he was unsighted. That makes what happened next all the more unbearable. The game would end 0-0 and owing to time constraints would go straight to penalty shots. It takes a brave man to step forward and take a shot in this type of game and confidence is key. Even though I had a great day I was not confident as I tend to overthink one-on-one scenarios and end up missing, so looked and hoped for others to be braver than I. Luckily there were some brave enough to step forward: Arto Polus, Terry Simons and James Dixon. It was a tense affair as is to be expected, but luck was not on our side as we lost narrowly 2-1. Even though we lost I need to give a big shout out to our penalty takers. It takes guts and courage to do what you did so regardless of the result be proud in your mental fortitude and you will forever have my admiration.

Again here is another link to a video - Penalty video

After the final we all got together for a bit of a team talk as normal and the loss was still very raw for everyone. I could see in everyone's eyes that they had given much more than a physical effort but also an emotional effort. It was at that time that all you can do is congratulate the team for giving it their all and try to remind them of all the positives. There are a lot from a team who is still getting to used to using new line combinations, playing new systems and dealing with injuries and absences. I mean 2 trophies, a semi-final defeat to eventual champions and a tight penalty shot loss in a final is something to be very proud of. If any Dekstars 1 players are reading really do take great pride in what we have accomplished together this season. Next season we carry on upwards and build on each and every success we have earned this year. Well done you heroes!

Before I leave off from the nationals I want to give a shout out to the Dekstars 2 and 3 teams. Both teams gave excellent performances all day and hopefully learnt a lot about themselves and their team mates. From my perspective they played some excellent hockey and deserved to go deeper into the tournament than narrowly missing out at the group stage. I was lucky enough to bench coach Team 2 during their tournament and every player gave their all and impressed me in the passion and drive to achieve. There are elements of the team that Team 1 would do well to learn from and hopefully we can continue to give them something to aspire to and even one day usurp us! It was a great day for everyone involved in the club and a big thanks goes to Darren, Alison, Ali and Becky for organising the day and being so amazing!

Have You Heard What Haggy's Heard?
Story of the week  - I am not usually a fan of celebrity because unfortunately too many people are given this status despite being talentless. I mean programs like Geordie Shore and The Valleys symbolise just how dire things have become. Today though I want to praise Angelina Jolie for using her status to raise awareness in world issues. She has worked on behalf of the UN previously but today she is raising awareness in breast cancer through her own tribulations and a double mastectomy. In what must be a difficult personal time she is creating a media focus and discussion around the topic. If it can increase screening then hopefully people can make informed decisions before they are forced to take action. For once someone acting as a proper role model - click here for full story

Quote of the week - This week is less so a quote but more of a comment I saw on Facebook. It doesn't need much introduction, but it really gets you thinking why the world's superpowers couldn't just agree to get along for once and instead make a real positive difference to future generations.

Song of the week - This week's song of the week goes to Naughty Boy with the new track LaLaLa featuring Sam Smith. It's a catchy track for sure but it is song of the week on the back of the innovative video. I am loving the South American Wizard of Oz references in the oddly endearing story of a runaway and the people he meets on his journey. Check it out, it's cool. Another video link fail sorry so please click here

Film of the week - I love a dystopia and tonight I saw a trailer for a film that may just feed my just satisfy that craving. The Purge starring Ethan Hawke is about a society where once a year all crime goes. An interesting concept indeed an if not worth going to the cinema to watch it is a definite addition to my rental list.

Thanks for persisting and I hope you enjoyed this week's bumper edition. See you next week!


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