The RinkRat Letters
My hockey dad is everything I want to be, and everything I don’t.
Hockey has been my life from 4 years old until today (28). Lessons learned in those rinks provided stories for almost every situation in my life.
Most kids who start this sport don’t make it past 18 and I was 25 years old playing college hockey before beer leagues got me. And one thought humbles most hockey players who’ve gotten to play at the college level or higher...
You did not get here alone.
My dad knew next to nothing about hockey when he was growing up. He spent most of his time playing baseball. So, when he was asked to play hockey at his high school he proudly packed up his leather figure skates and went to the rink. Having played only a short time for a horrendous school team, he wouldn’t play hockey again until he was in his mid-20s.
When I was born, he and a couple of his friends started renting out the ice at 12-Midnight so they could play some pick-up. And when I was about 4 years old he started letting me go out on the ice with the big boys.
Imagine a 4-year-old on the ice with a bunch of adult hockey players… it was frickin’ awesome and possibly dangerous. I spent most of my time sneaking up behind guys and laying the body. By that I mean, people skating backward would trip over a small child, but it didn’t matter. My game was hitting and “did you see me take out that huge guy!?”
From then on the seed of hockey was planted.
He loved hockey because it is one of those sports you can play as an adult and because he loved it, now so did I.
Flash forward to me at 11 years old where I’d finally made it to AAA hockey. Anyone who has played at this level knows it does not come without parental sacrifice. He would leave for work around 6 in the morning and come pick-up my brother and me around 5 for practice. Practice started at 5:30 and the drive was about 25 minutes in good conditions.
Our team dues cost about $4,000 for most kids but we were a package deal so we’re able to snake the price down to a 2-for-1 deal. Which was great because we’d travel 6-to-16 hours nearly every weekend. On trips longer than 3 hours you can tack on a night or two in an overly expensive hotel.
I tell you all this, not because I am writing a book report, but because you the reader need to understand the sacrifice this man made for a couple a jerk kids. We weren’t even old enough to ride the zipper coaster at the carnival, yet we were being chauffeured around like pro hockey players.
Now, imagine you’ve just spent all your money, worked a full day, raced through rush-hour traffic, listened to two boys fight in the back seat and have two hours to kill. What do you do with your time? … Talk with other parents? …. Read a book? …. Take a well-earned nap? ….. HELL NO! The other parents are crazy, reading is hard and my kids are out there playing. How can you nap?
There are a couple dads he bonded with over the years. You’ve seen these guys. They stand over in the corner of the rink up against the glass. They don’t want to talk with you about the weather or what the president is doing or how the S&P dropped 3 points. They are there to watch their sons play hockey.
To these ELITE DADS, it doesn’t matter how much money was spent or how many idiotic hockey mom comments had to be heard. It was about their kids getting to do something they loved.
If you have ever been in competitive sports you can testify that it is hard and the people are just as hard. I was always one of the worst kids on every team I played on and I was super socially awkward. For two years I let myself be bullied by a skinny, freckled, redhead and his overweight friend … Every week for years I left the ice nearly in tears.
One weekend, my dad bought me some super cool yellow glasses at the state fair. I was so mad after a game that I took those glasses and smashed them in the rink parking lot with a hammer.
Looking back at this, I would have whooped my own butt. Not because those glasses were dope because they were, but because that is not how you face adversity. Instead, he just said what he always said, “are you still having fun because we can quit at any time?” This would be his catchphrase for my entire youth hockey career.
There was NO WAY I was going to quit. My dad doesn’t quit anything. My dad doesn’t tell everyone he’s the best, he proves it through hard work.
Instead of flying off the handle and meeting a flailing child on its own terms he knew better. By being a stable figure in a chaotic world he was able to passively wrestle the crazy out of me. Which was a tribute to the man’s innate intelligence because if you’ve ever heard him articulate a thought, you’d likely be more confused after than before. Talking was never his strong suit so he decided to skip that whole part and lead by example.
He came to every game that he could. Always sitting in the corner away from the loud-mouth parents just to watch me play. He brought stability and passion to my game and I cannot thank him enough for what he has done for me.
My dad can beat up your dad. Feel it.
Love you dad,