When Darroll Powe
landed in The State of Hockey, he had to get acquainted with a lot of new things. He had adjust his watch from Eastern to Central Standard Time, change his diet from cheesesteaks to hot-dish and adapt to people responding to requests with, “Yeah, you betcha.”
One thing Powe didn’t have to change was one of his pre-game rituals: The Soccer Circle.
Along with stick taping and stretching, the Soccer Circle has become standard amongst players during pre-game rituals in the catacombs and locker rooms of NHL arenas. The combination of the influx of Europeans and attention to fitness and loosening limbs, so that muscles aren’t pulled like a bad goalie, the soccer ball has been kicked into, and in, ice rinks.
“Pretty much everyone plays,” Powe said.
There is no social protocol for joining the circle other than a little eye-foot coordination. Players kick the ball around for as long as they’d like or until they feel like they’re warmed up.
“Anyone can jump in the circle,” Powe said. “It’s just a good way to warm up the feet; get a little sweat-on before the game.”
However, like all professional athletes, hockey players are competitive. Instead of simply passing the ball around landlocked, like you might see on the pitch, hockey players ‘juggle’ the ball in the air and attempt to keep it from hitting the ground. Players juggle the ball and pass it to teammates in the circle. The catch, or drop, is that the last player to touch the ball before it hits the ground is eliminated and has to wait until the game resets before rejoining the circle.
“It’s like keep up: whoever is the last to touch it gets eliminated,” Rookie Defensemen Marco Scandella
said. There are no real consequences of getting eliminated, other than, as Scandella quotes from SlapShot, “They feel shame.”
The Soccer Circle primary function is to limber the players tree trunk like legs, but is also a time for players to relax before they hit the ice for 60 minutes of high-intensity NHL action. Players use the circle to stay loose, social, and as Scandella puts it, “have a little bit of fun before the game so you’re not nervous once you get into it.”
Even with the joking and hijinks that can travel with the soccer ball, the players are still preparing for the game.
“It’s a time to clear your head,” Scandella said. Although there might be some chicanery between volleys, it does take a certain amount of focus for the brain to fire synapses to the feet according to the rookie blueliner, “You get sharp; you have to see where the ball is going.”
Powe concisely sums up the reason why he believes the Soccer Circle is so popular amongst NHL players: “It’s fun, but it’s a good warm up as well, so that’s the main reason why we do it.”
The unlikeliest of hockey travel companions, the soccer ball is packed along with sticks, pads and pucks; so that, no matter where a rookie or grizzled veteran may land, he has the comfort of the Soccer Circle to kick around the ball with his teammates before the game.