After Dave’s death I ended up working as hard as possible to make it back to the Varsity. I was medically cleared to play in the last game of the season and the state tournament. Coach had other plans. New kids were on board this year and numbers were good. I was told the hard news after being scratched for my final game my junior year after practice. Coach was going to go with “other players” since they had been there all year and got the team to where they were. I was angry, mad, sad and any other word you want to throw in there. As a hockey player you know this feeling. I sat out and they lost in the state tournament. I wanted them to succeed but was excited for my senior year and a shot at redemption.
Tri-Town had a new coach my Senior year and the only thing I knew about this guy was he was from Mass. Let’s just say he didn’t care much about how well I played 2 years ago. What have you done for me lately was his policy as far as playing time was concerned. I ended up riding the pine and playing on the 3rd line between two freshmen. My pride was hurt. I couldn’t understand it. We ended up losing in the 1st round of the CIAC playoffs to Newington, led by T.R. Coccaro who went on to play Div. 1 for Army. He scored a hat trick. I begged to shadow him in my final game prior to puck drop but coach insisted that was not necessary. No matter the case that night after we lost, I promised myself I would coach one day. I wanted to make every players high school hockey experience a positive one. My goal would be to use the experiences I had good and bad to be the best coach a high school hockey a player has ever had. Eventually I would get my chance.
Upon graduating, I decided I would attend MCC and major in Criminal Justice. After Dave’s accident, I wanted to help people. I started volunteering as a firefighter but I still wasn’t ready to let go of that last piece of my hockey dream. I tried out for the newest team in the EJHL, Team New England. I quickly found out I was not going to go anywhere playing hockey. The players on this team were amazing, never mind the fact that they played in one of the most prestigious leagues on the East Coast. I realized I could never be more than a player on the taxi squad, at best, and a few weeks later it was over. My competitive hockey playing days were done. I didn’t make it past practice.
Soon after getting my reality check in Juniors I was watching one of my little brother’s hockey games. The coach of his squirt team approached me and asked me to help out on the ice. He knew our home situation and probably felt bad. In reality, I was dying to get back out there no matter the reason. I just wanted to feel like I was part of a competitive hockey experience again. I didn’t care that it was coaching little kids. I was just happy to help and to be there for my brother who was team captain. The old man was still up to his tricks with the booze and regularly would show up to games or team functions smashed. I was hoping that my involvement would help save my brothers from the embarrassment I endured. I was wrong.
After getting my feet wet thanks to Coach Pierre taking a chance on me, I applied for assistant coach of another team and eventually got my first head coach “job” at EHA. At this point I was heavily involved as a volunteer firefighter and was evaluating what I was wanted to do as a career. I was focused but nothing could prepare me for the news I was about to get. My mother was diagnosed with cancer. Cancer.
You never realize what a terrible life-changing word this is until you are punched in the face by it. We were all in a tailspin. EHA stepped up the best they knew how. There were fundraisers and a scholarship in my mother’s name. My fire department had fundraisers too. One of the parents on my brother’s team even wrote a book that included my mom's cancer diagnosis and how they were coping in it. (A Season on the Rink: A Hockey Families Journal by John S. Kelly).
Not a single person who met her didn’t love her. My step father stopped drinking cold turkey, a miracle that wouldn’t last forever. My brothers had no idea how to cope. They were 10 and 11 at the time. The cancer was diagnosed and determined to be fatal. Trips to the Gray Cancer Center at Hartford Hospital and to Dana Farber were unsuccessful even after round upon round of chemo. My mother was a shell of herself. Once a beautiful vibrant woman, she was forced to succumb to the disease. After a year-plus of fighting it was over.
The last 48 hours of her life I personally carried her to the bathroom and took turns letting her suck water off of a sponge barely surviving. It’s the most helpless feeling in the world to be a freshly-trained EMT having to sit there watching her die. YOU are trained to help. When she gathered the strength to take her last breath I remember feeling worthless like I should be doing CPR and bringing her back to life. Instead I was only able to do the opposite and watch as she had requested. She died lying next to me and I did nothing. A part of me left this earth that day. I would start the Department of Corrections Academy 1 week later.
Check back next week for Part IV of Confessions of a Co-op Kid by Jesse Peters.