Tonight I officially wrapped up my first season of organized hockey. And what a season it was! The experience far surpassed any and all of my expectations. I’ve been thinking about how best to summarize and blog about my first hockey season and I thought writing a letter to my Strange Brews teammates would be most appropriate, because they helped provide me with an experience that has been a true highlight in my adult life.
Dear Strange Brews:
Like so many of our games this season, tonight’s didn’t end quite the way we wanted it to but the final score in no way diminishes the pride I have in being a member of the Strange Brews team. To a player, you all accepted this middle-aged first-year hockey player with no reservation or judgement and turned the season into a memory I’ll hold forever.
Growing up as a California kid, I never had the opportunity to play hockey – even though the sport fascinated me. But I finally decided to sign up for the HES learn-to-play class for adults last August and decided to take a chance and join the GSHL as a rookie. I’ll never forget when Dean dropped by one of our last HES classes to announce that the Brews were looking for players and were open to first-year players on the Div 8 team. I decided to chat with Dean to learn more about the team afterwards and was encouraged when he told me “we’re only interested in players who aren’t a-holes and don’t mind playing with women.” That sounded perfect to me – so I told him I’d be happy to be part of the team, if the team was willing to take me as a novice. He assured me it was no problem.
I remember walking into the locker room for our first game, and not knowing a soul. And in true rookie fashion, I also happened to forget my shoulder pads for the game. Luckily Dean wasn’t playing so he loaned me his pads, and I ventured onto the ice for my first game, with my only objective being not to make a complete ass out of myself. What I (and you) didn’t realize was that I began my hockey career with cracked ribs. On the final night of HES class during the scrimmage, I fell and landed hard on my arm/stick on my side. Initially I just thought I knocked the wind of out myself and finished the scrimmage. When the ribs remained painful for weeks later, I realized that I might have bruised them – and possibly cracked them. An x-ray in November confirmed that I indeed, had cracked a couple (though they were thankfully healed). This no doubt contributed to my somewhat slow start but it didn’t stop you from encouraging me every game – and looking for opportunities for positive reinforcement and support as I took baby steps as a hockey player. There were many “aha” moments thanks to your coaching – realizing that charging full force at an opponent could force a turnover because, as one teammate put it, “it looks scary having a big dude like you (Kaufer) skating hard at you.”
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would finish the season with not one, but two goals (and even a couple of assists). I’ll never forget the thrill and joy of my first goal – and how excited and supportive (and probably shocked) everyone was for me. It was a special moment and part of what makes hockey so awesome – its impossible to be successful without help from your teammates.
It has been so great getting to know all of you better and watching the atmosphere of the locker room evolve and change over the season. In the early season we mostly came in, got dressed and went on the ice with only a few words spoken (other than Dean’s encouragement and hockey etiquette reminders). By the end of the season, this had clearly changed The mood before our playoff games was just amazing – everyone laughing, joking and encouraging each other. What a difference 22 games over 7 months makes!
And this is what most people who have never played hockey don’t understand – can’t understand really. The sport forges a bond unlike any I’ve experienced (or expected). As the season evolved my attitude and expectations changed on the ice as I saw and understood how hard and passionate everyone needs to play to be a successful team. Thank you to all the teammates who took me under your wing (you know who you are) who helped encourage, coach and when needed, kick me in the butt me during the season (“skate harder Kaufer!!”). I’ve developed friendships that I know will continue to grow in the future as the team also continues to evolve.
It was truly amazing to see how much we improved and grew as a team throughout the course of the season – even though our W-L record may not have shown it. By the end of the season I know that my goals and expectations as a player had changed from not wanting to embarrass myself (as earlier) to finding a way to contribute to our team and helping us win. And as a team we also changed from not wanting to get our ass kicked every game to believing we actually had the chance to beat any team we played (and we did). It’s exciting to think about how much more we’ll improve as we continue to play together: The future looks bright for the Brews!
So thank you again each and every Strange Brews teammate for an amazing experience.