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Looking forward to hockey

Fall is my favorite time of year for one reason only – it signals the beginning of hockey season.  I am a huge, huge fan of hockey.  My family finds this surprising because we didn’t grow up playing hockey, nor did we live in a big hockey town.  Seattle has a junior team, the Thunderbirds, which I never heard of until my junior year of high school, when I went to my first game.  The players are all in high school and like to fight.  My first introduction to the sport fit all the stereotypes of thug hockey.  And I loved every minute of it.

            Over the years, as I attended several more hockey games, I saw various degrees of good hockey and learned to appreciate the game for more than the fighting.  I watched a lot of college hockey in Alaska.  The UAA Seawolves were awesome to watch, showing quality hockey without fighting.  I went to my first NHL game in Boston, and became an instant fan of the Bruins. I have also had the pleasure of watching the LA Kings play in Staples Center and the Minnesota Wild play at the Xcel Energy Center. 

            The best part of the sport for me has been watching my children grow to love the sport as much as I do.  My younger son began playing in Alaska at six years old – a late start by Alaska standards.  He had a lot of catching up to do, but it has always been amazing to see his growth and development.  He started on a recreation team and quickly advanced to tryouts and playing with competitive teams and traveling teams. 

            My older son and daughter began playing when we moved to Wadena.  They were 12 and 9, respectively.  They both picked up the game quickly and both still play.

Each spring, by the end of hockey season, I am exhausted and thankful for the end of the season, a chance to recuperate.  Each August, I am already thinking hockey and counting down the days to the beginning of the upcoming season. 

            This year has been especially exciting for our hockey family.  My younger son Josh was invited to try out for the inaugural Reebok High Performance 14/15 fall league with District 15, the district Wadena plays with.  The first tryout was the first weekend in September.  I dutifully drove Josh to Alexandria for tryouts.  The next three weekends were filled with hockey as Josh progressed through the tryouts.  The reward at the end was that my son made the team, the only Wadena player to do so.  The rest of Josh’s teammates hailed from Moorhead, Detroit Lakes, Alexandria, Park Rapids, and Little Falls. 

            The fall festival was this past weekend at the Braemer Arena in Edina.  Josh and I traveled down early Saturday morning for his first game.  I was excited to spend time alone with my son, a rare opportunity as a single mom, and looking forward to watching some good hockey.  I wasn’t expecting many wins for Josh’s team, as they were pitted against teams from the Twin Cities, known for their excellent hockey ability.

            Imagine my surprise and delight when not only did my son’s team win all three of their games, but Josh earned a hat trick for the weekend, scoring a goal each game!  I worried that he might be able to keep up, as he was a rare B player playing with (and against) A players, and a few high school players. 

            Allow me to brag on my child a bit by saying that he not only kept up, but he was the fastest skater on his team.  He played center (when he normally plays defense) and even if he didn’t win the face-off, was able to quickly get into position and cherry-pick the puck from the opposing player.  He, his teammates, and the other teams really impressed me.  The level of play was really high quality, fast, elite hockey.  I know I wasn’t the only one impressed.  I saw several USA hockey and college scouts watching the games, taking notes of players they wanted to keep an eye on.

            Off the ice, Josh had amazing opportunities as well.  He was able to meet with the Coach-In-Chief of USA hockey, a hockey US Olympian, the director of college hockey, Inc., and an NHL scout.  He also gained useful information on the off-ice challenges he will face in the future, how to handle those challenges and how to stay on a proper development path.

            Josh made new friends on his team.  I made new friends with some parents of his teammates.  Josh and I had several good conversations about hockey, school, and his social life.  Overall, the weekend was a huge success.  I saw my son get pushed to the next level and work harder than he has in the past. 

            Hockey will continue to be a big part of my family.  Josh has had some amazing mentors.  One of his former coaches is a center for the Columbus Blue Jackets and another former coach just scored his first NHL goal in his rookie season playing for the New York Islanders.  This coach always took time to work with Josh and is a good family friend.  As one of the few black players in NHL hockey, he has been someone my children especially admire.  So, I guess now we are going to be Islander fans (sorry Wild)! 

            After last weekend, I am now officially energized for hockey season to begin and am counting down the days to the puck drop.