Ice hockey is the fastest (and one of the most violent) sports in the world. Gayle turns up for a training session with Dundee Stars…
Back in March, I sallied forth to Dundee Ice Arena for a training session with four champion figure skaters.
Having not been onto a rink since I was 14 – when I was dragged along by a cocky teenage lad – my confidence was pretty low.
My skills were equally lacking, and fear of smacking my backside off the ice meant I teetered about like Bambi.
Last week, when I turned up to train with Tayside’s professional ice hockey team, Dundee Stars, I wished I’d taken advice and had some more skating lessons first.
Watching the players in action is impressive – and daunting.
It’s fast, furious and very aggressive and I’m conscious that there are no female members.
The puck can fly through the air at 100mph, knocking out teeth and causing serious damage while bashing into opponents can result in bruises, broken bones and concussion.
Once I’m kitted out in the gear – helmet, shorts, chest harness, gloves and jersey – I look the part, but I’m not convinced I’ll be able to play the part.
As before, when I approach the ice, I’m struck by terror. My body goes rigid and I literally freeze, petrified of keeling over.
I’m wearing skates designed for ice hockey and they lack the front toe pick, used for take-off jumps. This also means I’m more likely to fall.
Luckily coach Omar Pacha takes pity on me, and he and Canadian player Gabriel Levesque take hold of my arms and lead me around.
It’s kind of like the armband-wearing version of swimming.
“Please don’t let go!” I cry, as Omar threatens to set me adrift.
Now I know you need to be relaxed to do this properly, but my body is as rigid as a day-old corpse and I just can’t help it.
“You don’t really wanna fall back and hit your head in that helmet,” warns Gabriel, which makes me even less adventurous.
However, when Omar hands me a hockey stick, I feel slightly more confident – maybe it’s because I have something to hang on to.
“Try a bit of stick handling,” he suggests, showing me how to hold and manoeuvre the wooden tool.
I have a bash at hitting a puck backwards and forwards and do okay.
Next, it’s time to see if I can score. With Emerson Hrynyk in goals, I take a swing – and miss.
After a few slow attempts, I manage to shoot the puck right in – wahey!
In truth, the guys are just humouring me and I appreciate that I’m probably better off sticking to sports with non-icy surfaces.
But I’ve learned that ice hockey can be great fun, hard work, and a sure-fire way of getting fit.
By the time I finish, I’m sweating madly and my legs are trembling. “You’ll feel that tomorrow!” winks Gabriel.
Omar recommends you learn the basics of skating before attempting ice hockey.
“It’s a difficult sport but so much fun,” he says. “I love the speed of the game and the skill-set needed to play.
“The competitiveness is high and everyone on a team is important for overall success.”
Omar has been head coach and general manager of the Stars since July and says he’s excited about the team’s future.
“We’ve made some really positive changes on the ice to have a more competitive team and our performances recently have shown that,” he says.
“The Elite Ice Hockey league in the UK is now one of the biggest leagues in the world.
“Ice hockey is now the number one indoor professional sport in the UK and the sport is growing rapidly in Dundee.”
As I turn to leave, I’m handed a souvenir of my experience – a puck!
Who knows, after a few more lessons, I could be back to use it!
Dundee Stars largely hail from North America and Canada. dundeestars.com
There are three players from Dundee, one from Fife, three from Sweden, one from England and one from Wales.
The aim is to score goals! If the puck leaves the ice (it might shoot over the bar or hit the net) the game stops.
Players are penalised for fighting, charging, tripping, slashing and hitting others with their stick.
Because of the aggressive nature of the sport, a lot of blood can be shed. If that happens, the game stops and the ice is cleaned.
The training regime is also pretty gruelling – the team do cardio, weights and yoga and meals are planned by a nutritionist.
The youngest player in Dundee Stars is 19 and the oldest is 31.
Dundee Ice Arena runs a Hockey for All scheme which is an introduction to ice hockey for anyone over 16. www.hockeyforall.co.uk