Thursday, August 19, 2010

Of Men And Quins

On Sunday morning, we headed to the mall for hockey practice.

Eli 9.0 doesn't usually practice at this link, but the location had been moved for the rest of summer.

As we neared the rink, already inside the mall, I saw a startlingly lifelike mannequin outside the entrance. It was quite striking, really--a male teen over 6 feet tall, anorexia-thin, with an authentically rendered fake-tan skin hue, Flock of Seagulls haircut, faded peach polo shirt with the collar turned up, Capri pants, and sandals. Even  the insouciant slouch was perfectly captured, and the arms were folded across its chest in a model act of indifference.

It was a bit unsettling, really, but I had to admire the edgy kind of marketing this represented.Who would put that kind of mannequin outside a skating rink?

"Dude," I said tapping Eli 9.0 on the shoulder. "Look how real--"

Then the mannequin moved.

If it was unsettling to see a mannequin outside a skating rink, it was exponentially more unsettling to see that mannequin move. It was like seeing a modern-day version of Pinocchio, life-sized and dressed for a Ralph Lauren catalog, suddenly stumble off Gepetto's workbench.

Perhaps this fellow's stylish manner would not be out of place in another city--The Hamptons, perhaps-- but Austin is almost vehemently casual. I hadn't seen anyone even remotely dressed like this for at least a decade, and only because memory fails me after 10 years (in general, although I was immediately able to recall yesterday in a trivia-based situation that Princess Anne was on England's equestrian team in 1976.)

Carefully, we passed the wax teenager and entered the rink. Soon after, he entered as well, and incredibly, he managed to walk while entirely retaining his slouch. For the rest of the 90 minute practice, he stood in the spectator area, unmoving, and by unmoving I mean entirely frozen in place. 

When we left the rink, he was still standing there.

I can only explain this incident using advanced theories of robotics and possibly time travel.

The reason we were at the rink was because Eli 9.0 was playing goalie in a scrimmage against travel-team level players, which was a step up for him. A big step, because some of these kids were absolute freaks (and I mean that in a positive, skill-based kind of way).

He gave up some goals on breakaways (everyone else did, too), but considering he just learned how to skate five months ago, he's an absolute freak as well. His only soft spot  is a "V" that is basically formed by his goalie stickand his arm.That's a soft spot for every goalie, really, but he wanted to figure out how to get better, so I decided to think about it in terms of general principles instead of just hockey.

That area is partially defended by the blocker, and higher by the stick, but the stick is so narrow that it doesn't really provide much defense. Here, I made a detailed drawing that shows it quite clearly:

Wait--that might be a Transformer.

You should be very thankful this isn't an art blog. I certainly am.

Okay, so the goalie has a strange sort of list to one side, and that triangle is actually bigger in real life, but you get the idea--there's this gap that can really only be defended by the narrow part of the goalie stick.

I figured that if he could get used to stopping a large object with the stick, then we could move to progressively smaller objects, and eventually he would be comfortable.

We started off with softball-size Whiffle balls on Monday, at a slow speed. He improved so quickly, though, that we included tennis balls on Tuesday (at a much higher speed), and added racqetballs yesterday. I'm throwing about 200 balls a day, underhanded (which I can throw very fast), and my release point is as close to the ground as possible, to simulate a shot.

I think he's making some mistakes technically--in particular, he sort of "paws" with his blocker when moving his stick, instead of moving quickly left to right in a single plane (which, theoretically, seems like it would be the correct technique )-- but it's quite amazing to see how much he's improved in only four days.

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