I’ve spent a lot of time in hockey rinks over the past 10 years or so.
As a hockey writer and sports editor at the Ottawa Citizen for the better part of a decade, I was at arenas almost every day for eight months of the year – longer in Ottawa Senators playoff seasons – covering NHL practices and games. After a two-year hiatus from sportswriting, I was back at the rink in September as the lead Ottawa Senators reporter for The Athletic.
I won’t lie – being paid to watch and write about the NHL is great work if you can get it. But covering the highest level of competitive hockey, or even being an adult fan of a pro team, can also breed a lot of cynicism about the game.
When you’re a kid, there’s an aura about the home team and the players who populate the roster. They can do no wrong, and you cheer for them win or lose.
As an adult, you see the astounding sums of money being tossed about, the win-or-perish nature of the business, the headshots and lockouts.
It’s easy, at times, to lose sight of the fact that hockey is supposed to be, you know, fun!
One of the great things about having kids is that they remind you that all sorts of things are supposed to be fun. I touched on this back in the summertime when I wrote about my travels with my boys, about how a ride on a subway isn’t just a commute for kids, but a great train adventure!
Since my eldest son, Owen, started playing novice hockey this season, I’ve had an opportunity to travel back in time, to see and experience and enjoy the game again in its simplest form.
It’s not just the thrill of flying around the ice on thin strips of steel – though that’s always a great feeling – or the intensity of competition. It’s the palpable joy of doing something just for the enjoyment of doing it. The joy of taking on a challenge from scratch and surprising yourself with the results.
In the process, I’ve also had an opportunity to bond with my son in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
At the start of the year, an email went out to all parents asking who might be interested in joining the coaching staff of Owen’s team in various capacities. Given my inconsistent work schedule, I hesitated at first. Nobody wants to commit to something and then not be able to deliver.
After a day or two of deliberation, however, I sent an email back saying I wanted to participate as an on-ice helper. The risk of possibly having to miss a practice here and there was outweighed by the opportunity to spend a lot of quality time with my boy doing a shared activity.
It’s turned out to be one of the best parenting decisions I’ve ever made.
As any mom or dad can attest to, getting your kids to do all the things they need to do – get dressed for school, brush their teeth, be polite, get to school on time, eat their food, do their homework, go to bed, go to SLEEP! can be quite … erm … confrontational.
But for a couple hours each week, Owen and I get to be on the same team. Literally. We get to chat about games and practices and strategize about the best ways to improve.
Not in the most negative sense, of course. Unfortunately, some parents take things too far, living vicariously through their children and hoping that little Billy or Sally will achieve the sporting glory they never did.
My wife and I never wanted to push hockey on Owen, even if we do live in Canada. In fact, it would have been cheaper and less time-consuming if he’d taken up something else!
But we’ve always been of the belief that our children will find their passions on their own and that our job is to give them as many different options as possible. The hope is that they’ll find said passions embedded in there somewhere.
As a result of that process, we’ve seen Owen, for the first time, embrace an activity of his own volition and really run with it.
That he chose something I was familiar with and could participate in with him was a huge bonus. Before Owen joined hockey, I hadn’t had a favourite player since I was a kid. Now my favourite player is my kid, and nothing is more fun than cheering for him.
James Gordon is an Ottawa writer and entrepreneur. Follow him at Twitter.com/James_J_Gordon