"Hockey's a funny game. You have to prove yourself every shift, every game. It's not up to anyone else. You have to take pride in yourself." -Paul Coffey
Hockey is a big part of my life. It has been since I randomly decided one day back in 6th grade. I'd like to thank Wayne Gretzky and the cartoon Pro Stars (anyone remember it?). Although hockey was around way before Gretzky was traded to the LA Kings and my hometown area had the Rangers, Devils, and Islanders (as well as the Hartford Whalers), Gretzky's move from small market Edmonton to Los Angeles opened the flood gates to US mainstream media. A small part of that effect was this cartoon, along with Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson, fought crime or something as superstar athletes or something. Anyway, seeing this character skating around piqued my interest in this foreign sport. Baseball was too slow-paced for me, and I was too physical for basketball and soccer. These were all the sports I grew up playing; typical for a suburban middle-class Jersey kid. Neither my family nor I really knew anything about the sport of hockey, but we were about to learn very quickly. I have to give a ton of credit and thanks to my parents, especially my father, who like me, did not know much about the sport but was eager to learn. It was foreign. It was expensive. But I'd like to think it was worth it.
Yes, that's my brother Sean in the goalie pads.
And those God-aweful white Nike skates...
If you're reading this and do not know much about hockey, particularly youth hockey, it is different from most other youth sports/activities. Talking with Kristen, perhaps gymnastics is comparable in the sense of commitment (money and travel), practice times, and simply being a sport/activity not really mainstreamed (although tremendous strides have been made in youth hockey since I started playing in 1993-94). Practices and games at 5:00 AM are normal, and travel team fees are comparable to home mortgages. The best tournaments are typically in the big hockey states (otherwise known as the 3 M's: Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Michigan) so not only travelling to these places, but also paying for gas, meals, and lodging, can be quite expensive.
Even local and high school hockey was no easy path for me. My home town started up a hockey association in 1997 and for three years I played for the town's club. Although I played travel hockey while in high school, my only year playing varsity hockey was my senior year, since that was the inaugural season for Ramsey High. Along with my father and I, there were numerous other folks that helped Ramsey get a varsity team in 2000, just in time for my senior year. I was proud to be the first captain of the Ramsey Varsity Ice Hockey team, and the program has made amazing strides since our inaugural season, most impressively with winning the 2009 NJ State Public Championship (which my brother was a part of).
And the answer to anyone's question is yes, I do want the boys to start playing hockey whenever they want to. I won't be pushy, but I'm sure they will wonder what daddy is doing in the street or basement and want to have a stick of their own. Then they'll be hooked. I've read that you can introduce skating to a child as soon as they are confident walkers, so there is my time frame...
To really appreciate how much hockey has played a role in our family, you have to know some additional details. First and foremost, playing hockey started the chain of events that culminated in that fateful first meeting with Kristen, like first time we ever met. Back in 2001, I was playing Club Hockey at Ohio State and we had 10:30 PM practices on Thursdays in the Fall. That one night, my fraternity was having a social event with Kristen's sorority, but I couldn't attend due to practice. I got back to my fraternity house after midnight and was walking through the front room when I saw this hot blonde who looked pissed. Now I can be a talker and loud, but for those who don't really know me, I'm pretty quite until I get to know someone. Well for whatever reason, I said to myself, "Fuck it, let me at least say hello to this girl. What do I have to lose?" Stinking to high heaven and thinking I didn't have a snowball's chance in hell with this girl, I said hello and asked if she and her friends needed help with anything. That hot blonde was Kristen and along with some of her sorority sisters, they missed the shuttle to the social event, so they came back to the house to see if any stragglers were still going to the event, or if people would be partying afterwards. I didn't know many details and that was the end of that. I knew who this girl was and what sorority she was in, but didn't think anything of it because my first impression probably wasn't the best one when meeting a girl. I thought she was out of my league and though, "Oh well, maybe I'll see her again in the future", since our respective Greek houses frequently socialized together. Well we all know how that turned out (with bumps in the road along the way).
So you see, hockey is the reason Kristen and I met for the first time. As a player and fan for over twenty years, I've come to respect the sport and how I see it transcending into everyday life, especially with triplets. Hockey is a true team sport where players have different roles, just like a family. If you have all dangling goal scorers, who's going to play defense? And in certain situations, a face-off specialist can be just as important as a defensive-minded winger, it's just a matter of how the players fit together as a team. A successful team is one in which everyone buys in to the same overall goal, based on good coaching. There are going to be a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, but Kristen and I are up for this amazing opportunity that God gave us.
Lastly, where else can you play a sport with a view like this?