Late last night my wife looked at me and asked what was on my mind. A small smile appeared on my face and quietly I said “the torch has been passed”. “What was that?” she asked not being able to hear me. “Nothing” I said, I had decided to keep it to myself, at least until this morning.
I’m Canadian, and like most 40 year old Canadian males there are few things in this world that we are more passionate about than hockey, specifically “The Stanley Cup”. At this time of year, it’s pretty much all you hear talked about. Which team is going to trade what players, who is going to try to make a run, and which teams are shutting it down and admitting to their fans that this isn’t their year.
In the next week or two, millions of hearts will be broken as teams make the decisions, good and bad that fans will spend weeks and months debating. Truly, the moves of only one team will matter. Last year it was the Anaheim Ducks, this year fans across the worlds second largest country (by land mass) will all pray that it’s their team.
For me the passion has been with me for as long as I can remember. I don’t ever remember a time where I wasn’t playing ball hockey on a snow covered road, or walking the ¾ of a mile to the outdoor rink in my skates. Every other kid out there was like me, frozen toes and fingers yet not wanting to be the one that had to leave first. Parents dragged their kids home kicking and screaming while the other kids looked on. No one ever made fun of those kids, as we all knew our fate awaited us with the next parent that rounded the corner.
As I grew up, the outdoor rink became a place where we could play. The 6am practices on a Sunday morning were for the coaches, and the games were something that seemed were for our parents. We joined leagues because we wanted to play, and any opportunity to be on the ice for 2 more hours a week was worth it, but the outdoor rink was our place to just play. No one giving us drills to do, no one getting mad when you missed a pass or fell down. You could try things out there without getting into trouble, like the Savardian Spinorama, or Gretzky’s infamous behind the net quarterbacking. The only rules were to not raise the puck, and spend at least some time in net, praying that your ankles didn’t get hit or you didn’t hear the gut wrenching sound of puck hitting hollow iron.
This year my son turned 4 and for Christmas his grandfather asked what he wanted for gifts. To my surprise I watched him as his eyes popped out of his head when the gift his grandparents gave him turned out to be a “real” hockey stick, a puck and new skates. “Now I can play with you Daddy” he said as he ran across the room, stick in hand while various relatives dove for cover. Note to future gift givers, cut the stick down to size first, a five and a half foot stick does an incredible amount of damage in the hands of a four year old.
Now just seven weeks later my son is so in love with a game that his behavior at the baby sitters has never been better. “Our secret”, I told the sitter after she inquired as to the change in his behavior, “well he gets to play hockey on the local rink if he has had a good day”. Every night I spend at least an hour on the local rink, at first helping him stand, and then just a few short days later watching him shuffle around the ice. Last night before heading in for dinner I watched in amazement as my son physically skated around the ice pushing his puck towards the goal. He carefully took aim, shot the puck and then was rewarded with a sound that took me back some 30 years ago. The sound known to millions of Canadians, the sound of a puck hitting a hollow piece of iron. His stick raised into the air similar to Gretzky when he scored number 802. Daddy doesn’t let him score, he has to earn it legitimately and he is rewarded when he’s finally achieved his goal.
Before leaving I had one more lesson for him. I taught him how to shovel a rink, a skill that I’d guess 90% of the current players in the NHL are quite adept at. We help to clear the rink along with the other “big” kids who range in age from 8 to 18. “Thanks, sir” one kid says to me as I hand him my shovel once we completed. Sir, did he just call me sir? Then I remember that I’m 40, my time as a player is almost done, but I watch a new group of youngsters playing the game dreaming of playing with Crosby, Ovechkin, maybe even Owen. Who is Owen you ask? Well he’s a four year old kid who just recently discovered part of what makes him a Canadian. His love for a game.
It only cost ten guineas, but to an entire nation its value can’t be measured. There isn’t a hockey player in Canada who wouldn’t give everything they have to be able to hold it above their head, while skating around an NHL arena. My son now sleeps with a replica trophy close to his bed, and last night before going to sleep he said to me. “I’ll get it for you Daddy”.
The torch has been passed.