I often get asked how or why I got Ty involved with junior hockey when I have no previous experience myself. The reason I usually give is that when the twins were toddlers, I met a Dad at a networking event who had sons now in college. We were talking about all of the organized sports options for kids and he emphatically told me, “get your kids into hockey. It never rains inside the rink and you’ll never have to stand in a muddy field.” That did make sense to me.
But in truth, I had long thought that if I ever had children, hockey would be a great sport for them to learn when they were young. The combination of eye-hand coordination, balance, skill and yes, toughness were all skills I feel will be helpful in any sport that may follow (even if they decided not to play hockey long).
The other primary reason I wanted Ty to play hockey (which I had not shared with many) was that I have long wanted to play it myself. I was able to go to a few California Golden Seals NHL games as a child and the sport fascinated me. I loved the speed and physicality of it – it reminded me a bit of football, but on ice skates. There was one other classmate I knew who played but the nearest rink was 15 miles away and his practices were at 6 am during the week. I knew there was no way I’d be able to talk my mom into that kind of schedule for me (particularly when she had to juggle schools and schedules for 2 other brothers and a sister). But I remained fascinated with the sport.
After I moved to Seattle (the first time) in 1990, I saw yard signs around the area encouraging adults to sign up for a beginner hockey league in the area (“No experience necessary”). I was intrigued and seriously thought about it – but never took the step to learn more about it or actually sign up.
As Ty’s season wound down, we received an announcement for the season-end party and celebration. It would feature a parents vs. kids hockey game at Kingsgate Arena in Kirkland. Other dads (who grew up playing hockey) immediately started talking about how fun the game will be – and asked if I had any experience. I confessed I didn’t, but they encouraged me to come on out to play anyway. I thought about and realized, this is finally my chance to actually play hockey myself! Fortunately, I know a Dad from one of the other Mite teams (his son played on Ty’s Little League baseball team last year) who started playing beginner hockey 2 years ago (he’s been trying to get me to sign up for the league as well). He graciously loaned me his hockey gear so I could play.
Ty was very excited that I was going to play in the parents vs. kids game and I thought about how it would be a very cool and memorable experience for us to be able to take the ice together and play. There really are very few sports (especially team sports) where one would have this kind of opportunity. As the date for the party approached, I found myself both excited and nervous – it brought back memories of my first tackle football game more than 30 years ago. I couldn’t wait for the experience but I was also terrified I might make a complete fool out of myself once I got on the ice.
It was a surreal experience putting on all of the hockey gear – on myself (instead of Ty). We had arrived a few minutes late so I was the last Dad to come out to the bench. The others greeted me warmly and enthusiastically. We had 11 Dads so we basically divided into two separate shifts (or lines). After getting help from one of the other Dads to lace up and tighten my skates – I was ready to play. It was time for the shift change and I bolted onto the ice with only a general idea where I was supposed to go (or what to do). It wasn’t long before the puck caromed my direction and I quickly realized just how tricky it is to coordinate feet, ice skates and a big hockey stick – as I reached for the puck my skates slid out from under me and I landed on my side. I had my first official fall not even :30 into my hockey career. Fortunately, it turned out to be my only fall as I skated steadier the rest of the game.
After I regained my footing I found myself chasing the puck (and players) around the ice. As one of the kids tried to skate past me with the puck I successfully knocked it away and even managed to turn it into a weak pass to a teammate. I felt empowered. About :20 seconds later one of the better skaters on Ty’s team secured the puck and started to rush towards me with it. He made a move to go around me and I instinctively reached out with my stick to try to again jab away the puck – but this time I got his skates with it. The whistle blew (two kids volunteered to referee) and I was called for the first penalty of the game. There are many (including my Mom) who consider this to be very fitting for me to be sent to the penalty box not even 2 minutes into the game. But alas, I did the crime so I had to do the time.
The kids won the game (of course) but the overall experience was truly exhilarating for me. I was able to skate on probably 4-5 different shifts and was amazed at how much sweat I produced during that time. Granted, I’m not in the best shape of my life but every other dad (and most other kids) were equally drenched as well. Even in a low-key game like that, skating in a full-ice game takes an amazing amount of energy and work!
The experience was a resounding success. Ty was thrilled with my participation although when I asked him later how he thought I did out there he said, “you weren’t very good, but that’s OK!” I’m glad to see all of my coaching with him has already made it full circle.
Later I was reflecting back on my first exposure to playing hockey and wondered if it would be similar to Moonlight Graham in the movie, Field of Dreams. In the movie, Graham was provided the opportunity to finally hit in a major league game, thanks to the magical field and Ray Kinsella. But he wasn’t able to continue playing because he stepped off the field to help Ray’s daughter, who had been choking on a hot dog. Ray apologized profusely but Moonlight wouldn’t hear of it. He was happy he finally got the experience and explained, “If I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes… now that would have been a tragedy.”
There is a part of me that would have been equally OK if that Sunday in Kirkland turned out to be my one and only hockey action. I have a very full life and plenty of challenges from a time (and financial) standpoint that its easy to rationalize not playing again. But I have to say there is something about that experience that has stuck with me. It’s not dissimilar from my first trip overseas when I had the opportunity to visit London, Berlin and Copenhagen for the first time. In that case I caught the travel bug, now I have the hockey bug.
One of the dads from Ty’s team emailed the others and commented how much fun it was for us to all skate together and he shared that the rink has open ice times for beginner adults every Saturday night. It sounds like a group of guys will be going on a regular basis and I plan to join as well (as soon as I have a free Saturday night). But in the meantime I’ve bought my hockey equipment so I’m ready to go. Whether its now joining Ty on the ice for Stick and Puck or joining a new beginner adult hockey league in the Fall, I’m excited about this new athletic chapter in my life. How many sports can you say that about at my age?
And I also have a new level of appreciation for just how difficult a sport hockey is – this helps put things into perspective as I watch and support Ty continue to grow and improve in his young hockey career.