Been a while since I cyber-scrawled anything here, but being the Dad of a 20-year-old Junior C player is quite a bit different than cabbing a minor hockey player around from rink to rink. I am sure fellow parents who I see at the games Momma and I go to will attest to fact the game and most of the things around it have changed. I got to thinking about this after a recent trip to watch the Boy play and in seeing parents in the stands at the World Junior Championships or NHL games. We are all still parents, of course, but our relationships with our kids and the game are naturally dissimilar from when they were just kids. At the same time, there are flashes of the former experiences from time-to-time. Here are a few examples of both sides of the coin and I welcome my fellow hockey dads n’ moms to chime in with their own recollections.
Every game now is an away game for us as the Boy attends University about 90 minutes away and his squad plays out of a small town near his school. And so, Momma and I find ourselves driving at least 45 minutes to see him play anywhere, while he arrives at most “away” games on a coach bus, with a buddy or in his overly-accommodating girlfriend’s car. Just last night, we followed his bus for a while on our way to his latest match; an odd sensation to be sure. One bonus difference now is we don’t have to actually be at the rink until puck drop, while in contrast, during his minor hockey days we’d stand around for an over an hour twiddling our thumbs or joining fellow parents on “parking lot patrol” (i.e. tailgating). Instead we now anxiously seek out local establishments for a pre-game appies and a libation. Game nights have become mini date nights. In this, different is good.
Because it’s Junior C, even the pre-game is a little different as we all stand and remove our caps for the playing, and in some hoity-toity arenas the singing, of the National Anthem. Silly pre-game rules have seen teams start with a player in the penalty box when they failed to have five skaters on the ice for the traditional on-ice ceremony. Another interesting rule is a 10-minute misconduct issued to any player who crosses the red-line into enemy territory during warm-ups; a reminder of how this level of hockey can get a little chippy and overly antagonistic. After all, they are still relatively young lads with testosterone coursing through their veins. In considering some of my own “non-contact/non-competitve” beer league games, this is something which will likely never change; regardless of age.
Once a game has started, the experience is both different and the same…for most of us hockey parents. My ability to cheer and/or “exhort” the officials to make the “right” call is somewhat compromised by both Momma and the Devil, who has attended a few games. “Don’t go yelling at the refs” they say. “You’re embarrassing us,” they plead. I (among others) admittedly need to be reminded this is “Junior C” hockey and quell my competitive instincts to vigorously voice my opinion. Inside this hockey dad (and I’m sure others like me), paternal instincts and feelings are very much the same as they ever were. I still beam with pride when the Boy makes a good pass, scores a goal (though these have been limited by his defensive role) or lays a good hit on an unsuspecting foe. My simple advice before every game has been consistent since he’s been old enough to body check, “Hit somebody!”, which I offer in selfish sincerity. And the Boy generally continues to oblige his dear ol’ dad. After the Boy has a good or bad shift, I will catch myself occasionally glancing at the bench to see what praise or criticism he’s received; sitting as a self-appointed, albeit biased judge and jury. I’ll mutter silent condemnations of my own where I feel their deserved, of which I’m allowed, cuz I’m the dad.
Post-game is a bit different too as previously we’d have an opportunity to discuss game high and low lights in some detail on the drive home, whereas now our drives are typically in our own vehicles and in opposite directions. So we settle for a few sound bites in the arena lobby or texts back and forth once we’ve reached home. Definitely not the same, but it’ll do.
As it nears its close, this season has been interesting for the Boy and his Shamrock mates. As an aside, I absolutely love the fact he plays for a team called the Shamrocks based in a little mock-Irish village plopped in the middle of south central Ontario. However, the Shams, as they are affectionately called, are not the luckiest bunch with a win-loss record placing them at the bottom of the Georgian Bay Mid-Ontario Junior C Hockey League (GBMJCHL) standings. Though in their case this fact has less to do with luck than commitment and talent. In some mid-season games the bench for some away games was fortunate to include much more than two full lines, while the home team iced nearly double the bodies. When they have a full squad, the Shams can compete with nearly any team in their league. The Boy, for his part, has had some of his own objections to on and off-ice decisions, which is his prerogative and which he has reportedly voiced. Something about not seeing the ice in OT after scoring an OT winner against the same team only a couple of weeks prior. Yeah, Dad pondered the irony too. And so the Shams will nudge their way into the playoffs with the hopes of pulling an upset against one of the league leaders. Kindly bow your heads and we’ll all say a wee Irish prayer to the @HockeyGods for them.
Regardless how different this season may be, I (we’re) thankful for the opportunity to watch him play again, when we thought it had all abruptly ended a couple of years ago. We’ve only a single regular season and hopefully a few more playoff date nights left, so we’ll be sure to cherish them and I’ll try to keep my disapproving mutterings to a minimum. #GoShamrocks