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.
Standing Tall Looking Good
I completed the academy and was well into my career at DOC. A few years had passed and I graduated from EHA Head Coach to Volunteer Assistant Coach at Tri-Town. My days consisted of work and/or hockey. I was laser focused on my career and my coaching. I would come to the rink most days with a note pad to watch Gary Dineen and Lincoln Flagg run the Junior Coyotes through drills. I would steal every one of these drills and listen to how they motivated their players. It was a cross between father figure disciplinarian and hockey savant. I wanted to watch the coaches who turned out top NCAA and NHL talent. Anything I could apply to my practices would help. I still use many of these drills to this day.
My brothers were playing, I was coaching, and my step father had started drinking again. This time it was worse. After his 3rd or 4th DUI (I honestly lost count) the big one came one night in Simsbury at ISCC. While my brother was playing and I was there watching as I always was. I got news from my step father’s new girlfriend (she was in my graduating class which was embarrassing enough) that there was an accident. My step father had been trying to make it to the game but instead had too much to drink and ended up totaling his car. He had 12 counts of evading and was in jail. That’s a heck of a way for a kid to get taken off the ice via his father’s lunatic girlfriend. I had to do something.
When the dust settled, it was 6 years in jail, suspended after 1 year. I immediately defaulted on my apartments lease and moved back home to take care of my brothers. I was in my early 20’s at the time but that didn’t matter; I had to take care of my brothers it was what my mother would have wanted. On top of the personal shame, I was also forced to embarrass myself at work. Policy at DOC was if a direct family member becomes incarcerated it must be reported to the Warden. The Warden at Somers Prison at the time knew I was a good employee and felt sorry for my situation. He put word in to have my step father sent to a very low security and small population prison. A favor my step father never thanked me for. It’s something that ended up teaching him nothing while on the inside. He would be back in jail again for DUI.
Champs to Chumps
At Plattsburgh State University, winning is tradition. I was there when my former neighbor and lifelong friend hoisted the National Championship trophy over his head. They had just beaten an undefeated R.P.I. team in the NCAA D3 National Championship game on their home ice. It was an amazing accomplishment and I am proud to have been there. Paul Dowe and I had been friends since I was a teenage high school player working at ETR watching his Mite AAA games in the Metro Boston League. He also lived about 5 houses away. There was and always will be a mutual admiration.
Immediately after his successful college career, Paul and I were hanging out when the words came out of his mouth. “I want to coach Tri-Town and you are going to be my assistant coach.” I loved Tri-Town but I did not understand why he wanted to do this. Paul had offers to coach elsewhere and would continue to get them throughout our tenure together. The team was bad too. They only had 12 players returning and the record was less than stellar. Still, Paul was a man of his word and after 1 year assisting together under the former coach, that dream became a reality.
Check back next week for Part V of Confessions of a Co-op Kid by Jesse Peters.