Drop back a year and a few months ago; Xander had decided, much to our trepidation, that he wanted to play Hockey. He was no skater. His movements on the ice at the first bunch of free public skates we attended were jerky, uneven. It seemed like such an unrealistic goal, really. My biggest concern was that he would get out there with all these kids who had been at it for years and embarrass himself, and suffer a shock to his self esteem. His ONLY exposure to "playing" hockey to this point was the Wii's NHL Slapshot for God's sake, and a video game does NOT a Hockey Player make.
Kristine immediately began looking into programs. We came across one called "Skate the Dream", where kids who aspired to play the game could go for nine weeks and learn the fundamentals. It cost next to nothing and seemed like our best bet. An agreement was made: we told Xan that if he committed himself to this program and busted his ass, we would sign him up for House League the next year.
Due to work, I missed the first couple of weeks of the program. My Dad, who had risen as far as Junior A level as a Goalie prospect, was interested in seeing his Grandson's progress. Much to my Dad's disappointment I had never shown any interest in playing the game when I was a lad, so this was a chance to see another Marcy on the ice.
So three or four weeks in I picked up my Dad and we went to the FREEZING environs of Eastdale Arena. Checking out the ice, I searched for my kid.
"Where is he?" I asked Kris.
Kris pointed out a kid skillfully executing stops and moving quickly."There he is there!"
This little jet on skates could NOT be Xan I thought. Only weeks previous the mere idea of him being able to traverse the length of the ice surface without falling was beyond me. Yet here he was. Skating, stopping, and more importantly having a ball.
My Dad was impressed. "If he's picked up the skating this quickly, all he needs is stick and puck handling and he's on his way!" he said.
The weeks wore down for Skate the Dream, and every week Xan got better and better. As promised we signed him up for House League at Lawfield Arena. We went and bought him all new equipment and signed him up for Power Skating courses.
The first day of Power Skating I went down with him to the change room and with great pride and reverence, helped him into his stuff. Here he was on the cusp of achieving something I thought would take years. It was and still is a powerful indelible memory.
Every week we would go to Hamilton Doublerinks and I would repeat the ritual. Unpack his bag. Line up the equipment. Tie the skates. One time he gave me a huge hug, and I was tearful.
The day of Assessment at Lawfield soon came and Xan took to the ice, participating in drills he had actually only learned earlier that day in his last Power Skating class of that session. Coaches were taking notice. Where had he played before? they'd ask him and were amazed that indeed, this was his first year. Kris was nervous but I felt calm, maybe only a few butterflies in my gut. Xan performed well though.
We got a call. Xander was to join the Lawfield Red Wings. We were given a date for the first practice and man, I was ready to go. This was Xan's passion and I was committed to helping him live it. We went and bought Red Wings baseball hats. The practice went well. A schedule for games and practices was passed out. This was happening!
Those first few games you noticed our boy was a newbie. He skated well, but wasn't quite sure of his place. He wasn't the only new kid on the block but still...
My Dad came out and enjoyed it. "He'll get it," he said, "Just give him a few weeks and every time he'll get better."
And sure enough he did. To see the name "Marcy" on the back of a hockey jersey again, my Dad was over the moon, and it a was proud moment for me, too!
Five games in and we were unbeaten. At the Arena, my Dad suddenly took ill, a diabetic attack. An ambulance was called and one of our players' Father was a paramedic and was on scene to help. With some insulin and a sugar boost of juice and a sandwich Dad came to. Scary.
A few days later we got the call. My Dad had passed away, massive heart attack. He had been sicker than we knew, several months earlier told his arteries were clogged back up (he had quadruple bypass nineteen years earlier.). He never told us. The day after we had practice. We went. My Dad would have been pissed if we hadn't. We went to the game. Xander scored his very first goal in a losing affair. I was choked up!
After the game, he said,"That was for Grandpa." just thinking of it now brings tears to my eyes.
We went on an 11 game losing streak. Usually one goal heartbreakers. Me, I was despondent.I started to think of silly superstitions. Five game winning streak before my Dad died, 11 game losing after. Xander got another goal. He had assists. We finally snapped the losing skid. He wracked up 14 penalty minutes and ended the season with thirteen points, three goals ten assists.
We met a lot of great kids. Our whole team was full of them. The Captain was a skilled player who would often help out the less experienced kids. We had an amazing girl on our team who was a constant scoring threat on the ice. Our goalie was a rail thin rake of a kid who could stop the puck like nobody's business. Our talent and heart was there, always fighting.
As first time hockey parents Kris and I struggled to fit in, and were able to have some conversations with other parents. It was odd to around so many people who had known each other for years. We talked a lot with the Dad of the other newbie, and befriended other parents as well. We didn't do as good as we could have. Despite my normal outgoing nature in strange unfamiliar situations I would revert to my shy self and this hockey thing? It was unfamiliar.
It's important to focus on the good things, like how encouraging everyone was of our son's improving play, their amazement it was his first year ever, and of course, the deep passion he holds for the game. It infected us and we looked forward to every practice and every game and every Power Skating session. It indeed brought us closer together.
This past Monday and Tuesday we had a tournament, and even though we only won one of the three games, damn wasn't it fun to be around the other parents and to talk to them, and to see all these awesome kids who were now indeed my son's new friends.
There were bad moments. I tended to get overly critical of the refereeing, sometimes too much so. We witnessed the bad side of kid's hockey when an opposing team's Mother lost her shit at our first tournament and Kris had to make sure one of our Mom's didn't duke it out with her. We played teams that had an over abundance of talent (which some pointed to as shady) and teams that played dirty and always seemed to get away with it. We dealt with the losses, both on and off the ice. My Dad, and then the head coach's brother, both passing in the season.
Most of all though it was a great experience, and as the weeks passed and we got closer to the end, I would sometimes get emotional. This had been FUN. Xander was living one of his passions, and we were 100% behind him. It's over for the year now. Yes, we have Xan signed up for 3 on 3 hockey, and perhaps some time at a school learning stick and puck handling. But I'm looking forward to October, when we go in for assessments again and start the wheel turning all over with a new Season and perhaps a new team. A lot of the great kids on our team are moving on to Bantam and Xander to senior PeeWee. I'll miss those kids. As one of the Dads said on Tuesday, "You know, we've got a great bunch of kids on our team. They're all really, really nice kids."
I agree. Not a prima donna in the bunch. And to those kids, I say thanks. Thanks for letting our kid and us be a part of Canada's greatest game, and here's to next year.