Has it finally arrived? The time that most hockey dads fear. They know it’s out there. It’s that time you always see as “somewhere down the line”. You try to not think about it. You do all you can to focus on the now and remove yourself from thinking about the future, but that time truly may have arrived. It’s the time of joy for some, a time of reflection for many others, but deep down inside, for the hockey dad, it’s a time of reality. It’s a time that really makes you think to yourself, “is this the end”?
You remember the early years. The days of early practices, so early, so dark outside, so cold. So early you dressed your son in his “unders” before bed to get that extra sleep. There were those learning years, the times they laid on the ice more than they “skated”. The time the coach told you that your son volunteered to try goalie and threw you a bag of ragtag gear that you had no idea how to put on. The look after that practice, the smile through the cage, the look that told you “I love it” when other parents laughed and told you that you were “totally screwed”.
Hockey then brought you to real teams. First local teams. Then much more. Your son gets a goalie coach. He pushes him the way he should be. No blowing sunshine… do the drill right. Focus. Be patient. Don’t think, react. Be fundamental. Hockey brought you to something new, something foreign that you never really did yourself as a kid because it didn’t really exist when you were a kid…“travel”. So, you did this thing…why? Because your son lit up when he knew it was that time. The time to meet up with his teammates, to go places we never heard of, to stay in hotels we swore we never would again. Why? For this thing called hockey. The car rides that he’d sleep through, the snowstorms you’d drive through…people called you crazy. But you did it for that smile…to play hockey.
Time goes by and the competition grows. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just something to witness. Next come big time tryouts. Who makes what team? What parent’s become part your “crew” and who you just stay cordial with, the ones whose kid is going to the NHL. Slowly over time as your son becomes part of the hockey brotherhood with is teammates, you too become a part of the “hockey dad crew”. Soon there’s weekend tournaments, strange functions where the parents end up staying up later than the kids! Then come state tournaments, regional tournaments, showcases, nationals, new leagues, larger leagues, farther leagues…all a part of this thing called hockey. It sounds overwhelming to some, but you roll with it, because it speaks to your son like nothing else. He’s played all kinds of sports and joined other clubs and activities, but there’s something about this damn hockey that keeps him coming back for more.
Games and seasons fly by. There are good ones and bad ones. Championships are lost. Tears are shed. Failures and rejection occur. Suddenly, there’s championships won. Cheers and tears of joy are spread. Heck even dads hug. Teammates become his best friends but it’s more than just that…it’s a bond. Hockey brothers for life? You never know. Heck, the parents crew is reaching an all-time high as well. The hockey machine is in full effect.
Next, there’s forks in the road on where you’ll go, who you’ll play for and who will be by your side. But your son keeps pushing. Your family keeps going. A separation does start to occur with your son’s friends. You learn terms like elite, select, billet, and prep. You make choices…some good, some bad, some less than you expected but with each come lessons. Life lessons. Finally, it’s high school time now and this sport is offered from another source, one that brings you back to where you started, it’s local again…and dad’s wallet is pleased, but it also offers something new. A chance to represent your school, your town, in something that’s more “home-y”. It brings the neighbors in and shows them what that crazy family has been doing for the past 8 years or so. This new arena brings fans, more than just mom, dad, and your poor sister who had to tag along. The kids in your school show interest. It brings attention. There’s reporters in his locker room but they don’t care about your son…yet. He watches the seniors and hopes for a little mention or even a head nod. Your son starts as a young guy on a team where other guys may be 3-4 years older, but your son knows hockey, it’s really no different, just step up and do your job. Seasons go by and it’s more of the same, some good, some not so good, but each one educates him. There’s development, there’s growth. There’s a schedule…school, practice, games, off ice, homework. Again, there’s the typical big game wins and big game losses. Some seasons are great, others end far before you expected. Hockey is such a game of inches that it really provides one constant, complete nervousness, and it can either be joyous or shockingly over in the blink of an eye. One thing continues, it provides him with an education. It’s more than a hockey education, it’s an education on life.
Flash forward and believe me it’s a quick flash. Senior year - Captain. Now your son is a veteran, but you don’t see it. You still see that kid who just wanted to play goalie. He goes out and gives all he’s got. He plays the season with everything he has to offer, everything he’s learned, everything that the past 10+ years has taught him. He tries to put his team on his back. Those life lessons keep showing up on the ice and off it. There are wins and there are losses. Tight games and blow outs. Pressure felt endlessly with each shot that only a goalie family understands. The season goes by. Five games in, the halfway point, the final stretch. You sit back watching, and that “time” starts creeping in from the back of your mind. But as a hockey dad, you continue to ignore it. You really start seeing your son differently out there. Old teammates become rivals. Your parent crew looks forward to seeing each other when the boys compete. Games end and old teammates hug it out in the handshake line. Pictures are taken with old buddies. You start looking closer each game as the countdown continues. Opposing coaches stop and talk with your son. Refs spend longer than normal laughing with your son in the crease after saves. Reporters and press are drawn to your son now. There are articles in the news, awards, and recognition from all avenues. It’s all greatly appreciated but you see it as more lessons learned from it. Stay humble. Remember your teammates. Give all you got. Push yourself. You must fail to succeed. They are all there, but the one I see the most during this time was… Love something. Love it so much and it’ll love you back.
That final game came and went. The horn sounded and it was all…over. The clock said zero and the end arrived. Again, you watched. Your son skate to every teammate and hugged it out. Coaches hugged him. Refs shook hands longer than normal. There were locker room tears and a long bus ride home. But in the end, there was a strange feeling. A feeling of thank you. Of course, thanks to all the coaches, the teammates, the parents, the press, the followers, but there was also that big THANKS…a thanks to hockey. This dad saw his son, that young goalie from many years ago, grow into a man. This sport did that. It may not be the end, but it’ll be different for this goalie dad. For all the time that this sport has allowed me to spend with my son, I say…
Thank You Hockey
-Ron Maringola aka "thatgoaliedad"