Shortly before the worst winter in recent memory decided to befall this part of the world, I decided to build a little rink in the backyard. And when I say little, I mean little.
What I decided to do, in fact, was simply take our four-year old 18-foot diameter Intex steel-frame pool, which had decidedly reached the end of its useful summer life (though I received some resistance to this fact from the Devil) and reduce its height from 4 ft to about 6 inches all around. Then I would simply refill it with water and wait. At 18 feet in diameter (about the same as a faceoff circle), the most “hockey” one could realistically play would be some fancy stickhandling ala Patrick Kane or perpetual crossovers, which could quickly lead to dizziness, vomiting and perhaps even blackouts. I know because I sometimes have my players skate around a circle between drills at the Devil’s hockey practices and it’s never well received. Back at the rink to be, for those who follow regularly, you realize I am the father of two now mature teenagers aged 18 and 16 years respectively, the former of whom, doesn’t even reside in the family home anymore. I am sure Momma and the Devil were asking themselves why I was even bothering with this whimsical project. But it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. If I built it, surely someone would come and skate on it.
At the time, I regarded myself something of a genius, a veritable ice making MacGyver (who knew such rare footage existed) as I deftly made my way around the pool-turned-giant-ice-cube tray with my handy Exacto knife. I wondered if I should make a YouTube video to share my ingenious invention with other space-restricted hockey dads or perhaps even erstwhile used steel-frame pool salesmen. Having set the trap, all I needed to do now was wait for Mr. Freeze to arrive so I could begin the process of refilling the converted leisure vessel one last time. The aforementioned Freeze and his cousin Jack (Frost that is) showed up about a week before Christmas much to my delight. However, I was immediately presented with a dilemma as I hadn’t yet considered, which water source would be best suited to supply the critical ingredient. My first ill-conceived plan was to attach a garden hose to the outside faucet, which surely wouldn’t freeze that quick at barely sub-zero temperatures. After struggling mightily just to turn the metal tap the faucet produced barely a trickle of my much needed ice juice and so a secondary source would need to be procured. Momma was none too pleased to see me stretching the now snow-covered hose through our kitchen, down the main hall and into the laundry room where I determined the next best solution resided. A couple of minutes later I was in business, hastily filling what I began to realize was a less than level container. I soldiered on and put the base layer down knowing the frosty cousins were forecast to be in town for a few days. Sure enough, just before Christmas and in sync with da Boy’s arrival home for a three week rest from Uni, I had fully constructed a nice “little” rink. Delight returned via social media a couple of days later when I saw da Boy announce that he and the Devil were actually on the ice working on their stickhandling. This was quickly tempered by the report of a broken fence board courtesy of a puck having been shot at it. Ahhh, fence boards are easy enough to replace. Collateral damage from being a hockey dad.
I arrived home to see the rink littered with pucks, sticks and even pylons. A bottle of gatorade was half buried in the snow next to a small lawn chair. It might not be big, but this is how I like to see hockey I said to myself. Over the next few days, da Boy was back out on the wee rink doing his best Patrick Kane impression with bits of Brian Bollig’s not so mad stick skills mixed in.
Even the poochie liked the new backyard addition, though she felt the snow had been cleared especially for her so she could do her business right in the middle of my personal shrine to the game. Damned dog.
Here we are a few weeks later. Da Boy’s headed back to school. The Devil has school, a full slate of her own hockey and a buncha other teenage-type priorities. So the wee rink hasn’t really been used much of late and probably won’t be anytime soon. And yet, after each snowfall, of which there have been several, I find myself drawn out with a shovel to uncover the slick surface beneath. I’ve even peered out our 2nd floor bathroom window to see the frozen circle bathed in moonlight just before I hit the hay and thought about grabbing my skates to go do a couple of “laps”. Then, as I look down I can vaguely see da Boy frantically holding onto a chair for dear life, but suddenly, steadily, victoriously, making his way across the ice. Beside him I see a miniature Devil lying on her back doing snow angels in her hockey gear and grinning ear-to-ear in behind her cage as her small, pink, round glasses fog up again. Hell, I can almost see myself shooting a puck across an ice-covered farmers field next to our house in Manitoba and then chasing it for what seemed at the time like forever, only to turn around and shoot it back in the other direction. Maybe that’s why I built the little rink…so I could glance back to these moments frozen in my mind. Cue the scene from the movie…”Hey Dad, wanna go for a skate?” These little figments are welcome to drop by and skate in my backyard any time they like. Nope, it’s not much…just enough to draw out a few fond memories, making it all worth the effort. Next year’s version might even be bigger and better. Keep an eye out for the DIY YouTube video.
About a year ago, as another new hockey season was about to begin, I decided to lean on my years of experience and observation in rinks across this fine land to put together a quick guide for parents considering joining the ranks of hockey moms and dads as something of a public service. A brief list of what to expect and a few do’s and don’ts for the yet to be initiated.
Many young parents come into this game all starry-eyed with visions of their little Johnny or wee Susie propelling themselves through minor hockey, into the OHL or a US college scholarship and onto fame and fortune as the next “Kid.” However, as we all should, but don’t apparently all know, Susie and Johnny are just little kids wanting to bomb around on the ice and have fun with their friends Billy and Lisa. They are not vessels through which dad will relive his misspent hockey youth.
With all of this in mind and with a new season either started or just around the corner for many families, below is a another quick list of things I’d recommend to all parents who want to maximize the enjoyment of the game for themselves, their children and those of us around them at the rink.
I suppose the first and primary Don’t is to not forget they are just kids who should be having fun playing a kid’s game. But here are a few more off the top of my aging hockey dad head for you to read and perhaps heed.
- Do let your child carry his or her own hockey bag as soon as he or she is physically able. This will most certainly save you on physiotherapy and chiropractic bills down the road. Do also let them tie their own skates when they hit Peewee…same reason.
- Don’t drop your Atom or Peewee aged kid off at the rink like it’s some glorified babysitting service. Once they reach Bantam age and they are somewhat able to fend for themselves, sitting through a 60 or 90 minute practice can be a little tedious. Until that time you should sit in the stands or lobby and pay attention to what’s happening on the ice. Practices for the younger players, still trying to get their “ice” legs, like so many little Bambi’s splayed out on all fours, can be quite entertaining. Weebles wobble and they do fall down.
- Do let your kids swim in the hotel pool between games at that away tournament. It’s not going to make a lick of difference to how they play or the outcome of the tournament. In most cases, this is the highlight of the weekend and the most enduring memory they will have from their minor hockey career.
- Don’t (or at least try not to) forget your kid at home, at the rink or at the hotel at 6:30am on a February morning at a tournament in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, I speak from experience on the last one, which had an upside as it became one of the best minor hockey stories I have to tell entitled “No One Gets Left Behind”. It’s worth a read if ya like a good chuckle at someone else’s expense.
- Do spend the extra $ on upgraded equipment and particularly on a good helmet; even if your kid is playing in a non-contact league. Early on they’re going to run into each other, trip over the blue line or otherwise battle the forces of physics. When they land head or tail first on the rock hard ice both you and they will appreciate the additional protection.
- Don’t get caught looking down at your mobile phone and then missing the perfect saucer pass, the bardown snipe or the killer kicksave. The work email can wait until after the final buzzer has gone.
- Do yell “Nice Pass”, “Atta Girl/Boy” and other such words of encouragement as loudly and as many times as you want or feel the need to. Pay no attention to the guy on your left who looks up at you from his Blackberry like you’ve disturbed his train of thought. In fact, move closer to him and start cheering louder.
- Don’t put jersey #99, #66 or #87 on your kid. That’s just not right. Even #4 and #9 are pushing it for those who appreciate the history of the game, but hockey association issued jersey numbers generally range from 2-18 plus 1, 30 or 34 for the goalies so we’ll let those two slide. With my previously stated bias, I’d also recommend keeping them out of a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey if you expect to instil any sort of a winning attitude or basic hope in them, but on this I will defer to ill-advised and misplaced allegiances your parents likely inflicted on you.
- Do strap on undersized road hockey goalie pads in the middle of February and let your kid fire a frozen orange hockey ball at you out on the driveway or at the local outdoor rink if you’re lucky enough to have one in close proximity.
- Don’t pay your kids for goals and don’t let Grandma, Grandpa or Uncle Jack from out East do it either. If you’re going to incentivize them (in a non-monetary way) to do anything, make it passing rather than scoring and focus on team rather than individual play. They, and their teams, will be better off for it in the long run. And this is not to say they shouldn’t also work on individual skills like stick-handling and shooting on the driveway, in the basement or when the coaches ask them to in practice.
- Do help out with your kids team either as a coach, manager, on-ice helper, trainer, fundraiser, timekeeper…. A team cannot run without volunteers and I guarantee you will be richer for the experience of interacting with the kids. Many of my favourite stories through the years are via those interactions with kids other than my own. Like the time 4 year old Little Johnny (yup, that was really his name) told me he “sucked at hockey and didn’t want to play anymore.” After a little cajoling, I convinced him to try another shift upon which he decided to grab the puck with his gloved hand and threw it into the net. He came back to the bench quite pleased with his accomplishment and new-found skill.
- Don’t spend 45 minutes of the 60 minute ride home from an away game analyzing your kid’s play shift-by-shift. A few more “nice passes”, “sweet goals” or “atta girls” will suffice. Remember to focus on the positives and the fun if you really want to see them play better next game.
- Do take 24 hours to chill out, sleep on it and/or otherwise consider tearing a strip off a member of your child’s coaching staff when they’ve short-shifted or misplayed your kid. I’m not saying you shouldn’t defend your child if you feel he or she has been wronged, but just make sure you’ve thought it through logically and in the context of the team situation and dynamic keeping in mind the coach also has 16 other players and their parents to consider.
- Don’t be that hockey parent – the one who’s rink ranting actions show up in the local paper, on the 6 o’clock news or in a YouTube video. Nuff said. Just don’t.
- Do savour every moment you have inside a rink watching your kid(s) play because tempus fugit and before you know it you’ll be wondering where it all went.
This is by no means a complete list of Do’s or Don’ts so I do welcome the wisdom of other seasoned hockey moms and dads who’ve likewise woken pre-dawn countless times to go watch their kids on-ice escapades with their best interests in mind.
I began this with a list originally forwarded by a hockey Dad from the Devil’s team who received it in an email from yet another hockey Dad. We joked over a couple of beers we were enjoying while our daughters were working hard at practice. Several of the Ifs hit really close to home. I’ve added a few of my own and welcome any others you can think of. If you’ve done any, or like me, many of these……youuuuuu just might be a hockey parent (with deference to Jeff Foxworthy and his little Redneck thing).
If you base the next purchase of a vehicle on how many kids, sticks and hockey bags it will hold.
If you know the location of every Tim Horton’s within a 400 kilometre radius.
If you give directions to places relative to the closest arenas.
If you’ve quoted Don Cherry, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe or lines from the movie Slap Shot in conversations with your kids.
If you know the name of every single kid on every single team your kids have every played on……. but don’t have a clue who their school mates are.
If you’ve lost your voice at a weekend tournament.
If the smell of a locker room or unwashed hockey gear doesn’t make you nauseous or if, in truth, you actually enjoy it.
If you feel lost when you have a hockey free weekend.
If your spouse waits until you decide where to sit and then chooses a spot on the opposite side of the arena.
If you know at least three rink rats on a first-name basis.
If you can justify complaining about someone who donates hundreds of hours of volunteer time to your son or daughter.
If you ground your kids for a week when they misbehave (except for hockey practice).
If you’ve had to replace panels or your entire garage door after several pucks were shot at or through them.
If you’ve rationalized spending $250 on a Synergy for a 9 year old, but won’t spend $5 on a birthday card for your wife.
If when someone asks how old your children are you respond, “I have a ’95 and a ’97.”
If practices are a major part of your social life.
If you buy gloves according to how loud you can clap in them.
If you don’t mind the giant dead spot in your backyard where the rink used to be.
If you find yourself missing the parents of your kids’ teammates during the off-season.
If you refuse to make any plans with your friends until you check your kids’ hockey schedules.
If you open a credit line to pay for all the registration fees, equipment and travelling expenses.
If you’ve ever leaned to the left or the right to psycho-kinetically attempt to help your did avoid a hit or guide a puck into a net from 150 feet away.
If all of your computer passwords begin with “hockey” or contain your child’s jersey number.
If your wedding anniversary celebration has included a watching a game or practice followed by a trip to McDonalds or some wing joint.
If you have been barred from more than one rink on more than one occasion for bad behaviour.
If you’ve purchased a new $200 stick because old one “didn’t have any goals left in it.”
If you know a few 5 year olds who are good, but “lack focus.”
If your kids have asked if Christmas is “Home or Away” this season.
If you’ve sat up all night with pre-game jitters in anticipation of a game you aren’t even playing in.
You juussst might be a hockey parent.
I’d love to see this list grow so let me know what you can add in the Comments below.
Da Boy has had a few of these lately; but then again he’s nearly 17. Kinda tough when they take up half the cooler at the convenience store and sponsor every rad, young sporting event under the sun from Crashed Ice to Skateboarding to MMA.