By Derek Abma
A dad’s off-season hockey withdrawal explained
Summertime is in full swing, and what’s about to be said will annoy many people who curse anything that even remotely reminds them of the winter we just had. But I’m going to say it anyway: I miss hockey.
Not so much the Ottawa Senators, who were underwhelming, to say the least, in their on-ice performance last season.
I’m talking kids’ hockey; taking-your-nine-year-old-to-the-rink-at 6-o’clock-in-the-morning hockey, driving-halfway-across-the-province-on-ice-covered-roads-for-a-tournament hockey.
Yes, as I sit on the front porch, enjoying the sun, I look forward to the game played on cold ice starting all over again in the fall.
Make no mistake, I feel the same stresses a normal person would in dealing with having their kids enrolled in hockey for some of the reasons already mentioned, such as early wakeups and having to drive through bad weather.
Besides that, this is an activity that costs a pile of money, absorbs all your spare time and causes you to stay awake at night thinking of strategies that might help your offspring locate their inner Gretzky.
But it’s a thrill ride all the way. At least it was for me this past season.
My son Bradley’s atom house-league team finished 12th out of 14 teams during the regular season, and then turned it around to finish first overall in the round-robin playoffs. Their season met a sudden end in the semifinal game that was lost 5-4 in a back-and-forth game.
The kids on this team, the Nepean Juggernauts, were devastated. They had lost plenty of games before, but somehow this was different.
It was quiet in the dressing room after that last game, the faces were long and the eyes were teary. Bradley, who tends to roll with the punches, win or lose, was in a funk for the rest of the day.
As an assistant coach, I became attached to the other players on the team as well. It was great to see this group of kids bond, become friends, and support each other through success and adversity.
So there it was, the end of the season, and I was feeling down. This was particularly bitter, given the promise these kids showed late in the season, only to have a potential championship slip away due to a few bad bounces.
In the five years I’ve chaperoned my son through hockey, I’ve felt a degree of this melancholy every year when the season ends. That’s despite the fact that the logical part of my brain is welcoming all the free time, relatively speaking, that’s about to come my way.
Yet, there’s a certain emptiness that comes with sleeping in as late as, say, 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday. That early-morning emotional commitment one makes to a hockey game provides a certain jolt, comparable to a cup of coffee. But let’s be clear; there is absolutely no less coffee drank than usual on such mornings — quite the opposite.
But the best part of the experience for me is that fact that hockey is something my son truly loves, and I feed off of his enthusiasm. And it’s a love I completely understand, given my own upbringing as a hockey brat.
That’s in contrast to his passion for video games such Skylanders or Minecraft, which I don’t get, being more of a Pac-Man guy. He never complains about getting up before 5 a.m., or playing four games in one day for a tournament or any of the other pains in the rear that come with this sport. And he’s not shy about complaining about almost everything else, ranging from having to eat his vegetables to having to walk to his school that’s 10 minutes away.
I realize that’s not the universal reaction kids have to hockey, a sport some of us Canadian parents take far too seriously. I know of other kids who have decided to move on to other endeavours after just a few seasons.
But my son takes it all: the lectures from dad, the barking from the coach in practice, the early mornings, and the risk of injury around every corner, all because he caught the same hockey bug I caught so many years before him.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy summer. Kids’ sports that can be done outside are inherently cheaper, and the seasons are shorter. The kids tend to have more spare time during this season, and they spend much of it in the park across the street from our house as I watch them from the front porch while enjoying cold beverages made of hops and barley.
But the sickness will set in every once in a while. My son will be riding his bike, playing soccer, baseball or whatever, and I’ll think about whether any of these things are, in any way, helping his hockey skills.
Then soon enough, I’ll get that email from someone in the league, and he’ll have his first ice time scheduled. Eventually we’ll meet his team and start another season with new possibilities and regular weekend entertainment for Dad, which he has to work and pay for.
It has become a family tradition.
Derek Abma is an Ottawa-based journalist and editor of The Wire Report. He can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter.com/derekabma.