Last weekend, in a partial effort to remember/recapture some of the Boy’s youth and perhaps a bit of our own in the process, Momma, the Boy and I got up relatively early (ok, it was only 8:30, but that’s pretty early for most 17-year-olds on a Sunday) to go watch one of Momma’s co-worker’s kids play hockey. The Boy was also brought along because he’s considered something of a hockey inspiration to the new young player. The other family had been to a few of the Boy’s recent tournament games and we were returning the favour.
Now, we’d been to the young fella’s house league evaluation skate (his first official hockey skate) earlier in the year and we, or at least I, was intrigued to see what progress he’d made in a couple of months. At the evaluation skate, we spent a fair bit of time assuring the kid’s nervous new hockey Momma he’d be fine and to just give him time to figure the whole balance thing out.
Slight progress could even be seen in his first 90 minutes of ice time. I could remember the first few practices I had with first-year players. I can recall patience being a critical part of any successful practice. Let the kids skate, um walk, a few strides, pick them up and repeat. Once they realize the falling down on ice part doesn’t hurt when you’re covered in pads they’re typically good to go. We’d been told the young lad had scored his first goal a couple of weeks earlier and had definitely caught the hockey bug in a major way. That too sounded familiar from previous experience with both the Boy and Devil.
Sure enough we watched as a confident new skater lined up for the opening faceoff. He looked up to send a knowing nod signaling his growing hockey competence. He received the old Don Cherryesque thumbs-up from the Boy and I in return. As the puck dropped he darted from his left wing perch towards the loose puck in his sights. A fairy tale storyline would have him continue across the blue line, splitting the D, faking to his forehand and then putting a back-hander top shelf over a bewildered six-year old goaltender. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, the wayward rubber disk eluded his reach and he continued headlong down to the ice. A mere moment later he popped back up in pursuit of the puck with the rest of his teammates. And that, my friends, is indeed progress.
At the end of the second period, we watched as this same kid, who only a few weeks early was struggling with staying upright, was literally streaking (ok, streaking may be a little strong) down the right wing and pushing the puck towards the goal. The end result was one of two assists he would be credited with in the game. There were, of course, a few stronger players on the ice, but he certainly didn’t look out of place. You could tell he was determined to skate with them all. And that, my friends, is likewise progress.
For many hockey players I’ve encountered over the last 12+ years, which is a pretty good sample size methinks, the main thing holding them back is between their ears. Many players, regardless their skill level, only play as well as they really want to play. I believe there are plenty of success stories, including those of the professional variety, which hinge on determination and will.
The young lad is off to a good start in the spirit and desire department…the skating (including backwards), stick-handling, passing and shooting will follow. With the right encouragement the spirit will no doubt carry him a long way. If when he’s 17 he still likes the game half as much as the Boy and the Devil, regardless the level he reaches they’ll have done a great job (he says typing with one hand and patting himself on the back with the other).
By the way, the game itself was an awesome back and forth high-scoring affair with a game winning goal scored following an end-to-end rush by one of the stronger skaters in the last 30 seconds to break a 7-7 tie. The focus on goaltending skills generally doesn’t start until year two.