I was destined to fall in love with hockey, I think. A Minnesota winter’s first snow is magical to a child. It means making snow angels, building snow forts, and climbing the huge piles of snow made by the snowplows. It means snowball fights, sticking your tongue to a metal pole, and bread bags in our boots to keep our socks dry. It also meant the rinks were coming.
My elementary school put in an ice rink and a warming house every winter, and if you brought your skates to school, you could skate whenever your class went outside. The girls thought that since I had figure skates, I should try doing fancy figure skating moves like they were, so I tried it for a few days, but it just wasn’t that much fun falling down all the time. Besides, I grew up in a neighborhood full of boys, so I was a bit of a tomboy and spent most days after school playing some sport or other. When my friend Ricky noticed me ignoring the girls and just skating fast, he challenged me to a race around the rink. We raced around the perimeter of that rink every single day at recess after that. Sometimes he would win, and sometimes I would, but it was the best part of a long, boring Minnesota winter. I actually found out much later that skate sharpening was a thing. I was using skates right out of the box!
My summers were spent playing baseball with the boys in the neighborhood, and once I found out there were a couple girls playing Little League, I asked my dad if I could play, too. He told me no because he didn’t think I could cut it. I knew I could, though. I had a rocket for an arm, and I was always one of the first ones picked when picking teams. The boys knew I could do it. In fifth grade, I hit a line drive so hard, I knocked my teacher to the ground. When I didn’t sign up for girls’ softball in junior high, he came to my house to try to get my parents to convince me. Mr. Sorenson came to my house every year after that because he also coached high school softball. I refused out of spite for being told no to Little League.
My little brother played baseball, and my dad was on the board of the local association. I spent much of my youth on a baseball field, in the dugout, or in the concession stand. I figured once I had a son of my own, he would play, too. I was going to settle for that.
By the time I had my son, I had acquired a much younger step-brother who played soccer, hockey, lacrosse, and later football, so my son saw his first hockey game at 2 ½ and became obsessed. I saw my first game in person then as well. Now, I had watched some hockey in high school on TV because some of my friends had crushes on Mario Lemeuix, Mike Modano, and Dino Ciccarelli, but it just didn’t grab my attention like seeing a game in person. It was hard to see the puck on TV, but in person that was a completely different story.
In person, it’s a beautiful game. The players seem like giants skating down the ice at seemingly impossible speeds, dangling a tiny, frozen piece of rubber on the end of a stick while other guys literally fight them for it. The grace and physicality is unmatched, and the action rarely stops. It’s an intense 60 minutes and an emotional rollercoaster, even for a spectator.
After my son played for a couple years, I noticed an article in a local magazine looking for female players for a women’s team. I joined immediately. I was nervous my first time on the ice, and since I was 40 years old, I wasn’t exactly graceful on the ice. The kids make it look so easy. I couldn’t remember how to hockey stop at all, but I made some new friends, had a blast, and found out I could sweat in places I didn’t think possible. I played right wing, and I always seemed to be playing against a girl named Iris. It didn’t matter if I put on a light or dark jersey for practice. She somehow was always on the other team, and I would cringe every time we met on the face off. I could never get the puck away from her, but I worked at it until one day I did, and it was a glorious feeling.
One practice, we had another new girl, and she could barely even stand up on skates. One shift, she came at me with what little speed she had and sheer terror on her face because we both knew she couldn’t stop. I grabbed her and just held on until we both thought she had her balance. The next thing I knew I was looking up at another teammate’s face. The new girl had fallen forward which made me fall backwards and hit my head on the ice, and I had lost consciousness. I skated to the bench thinking I would just sit out a shift, but when I skated the next one, I just headed straight off the ice and went home. I went to the ER later that night and was told I had a concussion. So I have a hockey concussion, but my son does not.
It was also about this time that my son started playing summer AAA teams. I was a little nervous about that since in association hockey, everyone plays, but on many AAA teams, coaches play to win. It ended up being a great experience for both of us, though. When winter season rolled back around and we’d go play teams from neighboring towns, we knew someone on the other team at every game. Our hockey family just kept growing, and it was a blast for both of us. There are some who trash the summer hockey here calling it, “checkbook hockey,” but we didn’t care. We were making friends from all over and having fun.
We keep making friends at every tryout, every showcase, every tournament, every team. It has given me so many great memories and funny stories, some of them definitely not appropriate for print. It’s been horrible and amazing, and I’ve wanted it to be over, and I never want it to end. I am 100% positive I will be a blubbering mess the day my son hangs up his skates. Puck is life.
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