Hockey for my boys, may indeed go nowhere…but, it has already gone everywhere. Everywhere important that is.
This season alone, with two full months of hockey left to be played, between my two boys (who, mind you, are only 12 and 10) we already have 92 games in the books. We have spent 14 nights in hotel rooms…in six different states. When I got an oil change on November 7th the new sticker on my windshield told me that I should be due for the next one on April 7th. My hockey mobile made it, instead, to the end of December. If that doesn’t sum up how my weekends roll, I don’t know what does.
Lots of miles, lots of practices, lots of games, lots of scheduling, lots of dividing and conquering, lots of travel, lots of eating in the car, lots of gear, lots of money….did I mention lots of money…but, more importantly, lots of smiles, lots of lessons, growth, memories, laughs, and friendships.
I was asked the other day if I wished that my boys had never caught “the hockey bug.” I’d be lying if I tried to convince you that I’ve never complained. I have complained. Lots. The rinks are cold, the gear isn’t always as fragrant as I might like, the gas tank is always empty, sleep is often scarce…and, regrettably, I have to say “no” to a lot of life that unfolds outside of all things hockey. But, no, I don’t wish to change or cure any of it. And, dare I say, I have the bug too.
We do all of this because, obviously, we expect our boys to play at some super high level of hockey…if not the pros, right? (Insert eye roll) Ummm…no. No we don’t. That is not at all why we do this. In fact, I’m already feeling the sense of loss that will undoubtedly come crashing down when high school ends and there’s no longer a hockey schedule to adhere to or cold bleachers to sit on….because, I very much expect that there won’t be.
So, why spend this much money and such a significant part of the boys’ childhoods for something that we suspect will simply end one day? And end with very little fanfare at that. Something that may, indeed, go nowhere? Well, because, it has already gone, truly, everywhere.
Sure, my boys have a pretty impressive little collection of medals, and trophies, and awards, and titles, and championships. They also have plenty of losses and stretches when it felt like they might seriously never win again. But, you know what else they have? They have confidence, resilience, courage, strength, grit, compassion, independence, determination, drive, commitment….and much thicker skin than they would have without hockey. And then….then….there are the memories. The laughs. The stories. The good times. The silly one-liners that no one else in the world understands because they weren’t there. The friends.
There are lessons to be learned each and every time my boys take the ice….and something to hold on to from each and every game. The lessons often have to do with sportsmanship and fair play….the old “there’s no “I” in team”, “you need to work just as hard at being a good teammate as being a good player” etc. Sometimes what they learn, however, has absolutely nothing to do with hockey. Sometimes it has to do with being a friend…being strong…being forgiving…being imperfect. Sometimes it is as simple as remembering to hug their grandparents and thank them for coming to watch them skate…no matter what the scoreboard says or how drained they feel. Sometimes the lessons are out of the rink as well. The dance of packing, unpacking, navigating hotel check-ins, tipping, and traveling as a team. Lessons in respect to hotel and restaurant staff…lessons in communicating with teammates’ families who come to cheer, and support, and be an important part of the bigger picture. Sometimes they fail at all of it, but…then, they learn.
Sometimes my boys play with the confidence of knowing that they’re good… knowing that they contribute each and every shift…knowing that their team is better for having them on it. Sometimes my boys play and feel defeated….even after a big win. Sometimes they leave the rink and just can’t wait to get in the car because they feel like they didn’t play well….or, maybe, they were told they could have played better. Fair enough. Sometimes they score, they give assists, they feel on top of the world. Sometimes, during a power play, they’re the ones to get called off….and sometimes, at the end of a close game, they’re the ones to sit out a shift. Sometimes they feel appreciated…sometimes they feel, well, not. Sometimes their feelings are validated, sometimes…well, they’re not. It is by no means always happy….it’s hard, and it’s awesome, and it’s painful, and it’s amazing. It builds them up ….and it knocks them down just as quickly. But, they love it…and they know it comes with both highs and lows…and they never, ever want to quit.
They have, indeed, made friends…and, do you know what? So have I. They have learned to trust, to cheer, to support, and to truly love their teammates. And, do you what? So have I.
If you’re lucky enough to land on teams such as those that we have, you soon have a community unlike any other. It may start with casual conversation at the rink, slowly getting to know each other, soon…maybe “friending” each other on social media. Much like being a new student at a new school…or a new employee at a new job…you start to meet others. You start to ebb and flow in a more consistent rhythm….coming together soon in a circle that gets closer….and tighter. Soon you start recognizing siblings, and grandparents, and aunts + uncles. Soon, most likely, you learn what people do for work, how they take their coffee, and what they drink on a Saturday night. When the blanket is left on the bleachers….you find that you know who it belongs to and maybe even how long they’ve had it. Soon you’re not just getting to know the other families…you actually know the other families…and, honestly, it feels like you’ve known them forever.
The kids become closer…they start seeing each other outside of the rink….and so, happily, do the grown-ups. If you’re lucky enough to land on teams such as those that we have, you’re in for quite a ride. Tournament weekends feel like college all over again and you laugh so much that you cry. You might soon discover that you drink things you never thought you’d drink, you stay up later than you have in years, and each and every game your kids play feels like the Stanley Cup. Hysterical group texts are often the closest thing to a book you’ve read all season and inside jokes make you spontaneously laugh mid-week…at the most inconvenient times.
You complain about the traveling and the hotel bills, but you feel a sense of loss when the foreseen schedule doesn’t involve nights away. You’re a hockey parent. The kids love each other…but, they sometimes get on each other’s nerves. You love the coaches, but sometimes you feel like things aren’t fair. The coaches love coaching….but sometimes they’re frustrated and expect more. You’re a hockey team.
Hockey, for my boys, has already gone, truly, everywhere. Yes, sure, geographically, we have gone lots of places… but, that’s not what I mean. More importantly, it has seeped into their little beings and has been the backbone for who they have become…and are certainly still becoming. It has, without a doubt, shaped them and defined their childhoods and our family dynamic. It has built family bonds and routine and, of course, memories. It has filled the basement with equipment, baskets with precious team shirts, bookshelves with souvenirs, albums with photos, and our lives with something we all love. Hockey, years from now, will be something that my boys hopefully play in an over-thirty league with some good buddies late on Sunday nights. It may indeed go nowhere other than that but, I assure you, it has already given everything and gone everywhere…everywhere important that is.
Thank you to all who have brought this joy, this camaraderie, this craziness, and this sport into our lives. Thank you to the coaches, volunteers, teammates, friends, and families. Thank you to Cape Ann Youth Hockey and the North Shore Coyotes Hockey Club! We’re so thankful for you all.