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The bag skate

Saturday 8/1/20

If you played hockey or have been around the game much, you are no doubt familiar with what is called the bag skate. Non-hockey people will have no clue what the term means, and won't be likely to ascertain its meaning. The bag skate is almost something that has to be experienced to even be cited. I don't think people who have not participated in bag skates say the term even remotely, from a distance. The bag skate, to be discussed later, has to have been something necessarily experiental at juncture in life.


Since hockey began, pucks were transported to the rink--or the pond--in what every hockey player and coach calls the puck bag. Joy is induced when the puck bag has its contents dumped upon the ice. You grab a puck, you skate with it, fire shots against the boards, passing with a teammate--that is, if you are one of the first upon the ice, before the practice begins. Pre-practice ice is good ice--a fun time to be there.


Bag skates are not fun. They are thus termed because no puck will leave the bag on that day. The bag may not have even been brought to the rink. The bag may sit on the lip of one of the benches, a reminder that the reward of the puck will not be a part of the day's work.


The bag skate has various forms and coaches add in wrinkles, but the most common version features what are called killers. The team lines up on the goal line. The whistle blows, you sprint to the near blue line and back; next, the red line and back; the far blue line and back; and, finally, the other goal line and back. Normally the squad will be split in two units. I found it harder to be in the second unit, watching the first group go. You will do these killers over and over again. To max out the bag skate, the coach might have the players of the unit that is "resting" all lie on their back, and keep their skates six inches above the ice, while their teammates sprint.


Speed is the essence of the bag skate--you are to go as hard as you can, every time. If you do not, there may be no rest period, and you are forced to go again. Players will vomit. The mere prospect of the bag skate, when you know one is coming, can induce anxiety, fear, just as a person decades removed from a bag skate may all but double-over to catch their breath at the memory.


The bag skate can also be a verb. As in, "Coach is going to bag skate us today." I had a coach who insisted that you stop at each line facing the clock high up on one wall of the rink. You must come to a complete stop, because it is harder--takes more energy--to begin to skate again after such a stop, rather than sort of pivoting out with a turn. If someone failed to stop facing the clock, this coach would forgo the minute or two of rest you might have between killers. He sent you again, yelling "Mental discipline!" He even had a reason for why we were to stop facing the clock. "Time and tide wait for no man, gentlemen," he'd say, then add another "Mental discipline!" If Marcel Proust were a hockey coach, he would have had his players stop facing the clock.


I feel like I am being bag skated by life. Every day. I am on the goal line, the pucks never come out, I skate killers. Some coaches have a bucket in which you are to vomit as you execute the bag skate, and the skate will not conclude until there is a satisfactory amount of sick in this bucket.


There is a calculated point to the bag skate. That point is not to inflict cruelty. There is, certainly, an infliction of pain, but the pain is not the point, in and of itself.


The point of the bag skate is so that late in a contest, when it matters most, when the opponent is vulnerable, you will have something, a crucial, deciding, additional amount.


F. Scott Fitzgerald called it the extra that he had. You will have your extra, and when you ought to be falling behind for good, taking your defeat, you will be the one who decides.


You will be the one with the burst. You will be the one with the strength. You will be the one with the fitness to finish your check and knock your opponent on their ass.


You will be the one who was built to endure. You will be the one who is pulling ahead.


You will be the victor.


That's the point of the bag skate. I think about that a lot as I answer to the whistle right now. I think about that every day, to be honest with you.