Hockey Dad vs. The Boyfriend: A Tale of Parental Angst

So occasionally I get to thinking these scribblings should be entitled I’m the Father of Two Hockey Players rather than I’m a Hockey Dad as the paternal nature of the job generally trumps the sports angle making it more deserving of the top billing. Such was the case this past weekend as the Devil’s first official “boyfriend” (yeah, I said it) accompanied us in the family vehicle to one of her away games. Now I don’t have a problem with the “boyfriend” (as a living, breathing person) since, as chance would have it, I’ve know him since he was 8 or 9 years old. There is a whole back story here about him being one of the Boy’s former hockey teammates and up until recently good friend. Suffice it to say the Boy was not a big fan of one of his buddies pursuing his sister. And I gotta say, I don’t blame him. I’ve discussed the whole situation with my buddies and we generally agree that he is contravening an unwritten, unspoken Bro-Code. Regardless, he is the “boyfriend” and it’s something the Boy and I are just going to have to deal with. Actually, the Boy has likely decided to just ignore the whole situation for now from his new university digs nearly 2 hours away. Leaving me to handle this male conundrum on my own.

As the father of two hockey players, my challenge is coming to grips with the whole “boyfriend” concept. I reluctantly have to realize she will not be my “little” Devil forever and yes I know this is something every dad goes through eventually. It’s just that eventually came a whole lot quicker than I, or I’m sure Hockey Momma, expected.

Little Devil Hockey Player

When we reached the arena and Hockey Momma sent me and the “boyfriend” on a traditional Timmies run, thereby subjecting at least one and probably both of us to 10 minutes of uncomfortable small-talk. We started naturally with hockey talk. But then my “How’s college?” question (did I mention he’s in college and she’s in Grade 11?) was mutually understood to be no more than a veiled reference to “Don’t touch my daughter.” I had a flash back to Bill Engvall recalling a conversation where he forewarned one of his girl’s suitors about what he would do should anything bad befall her on a date.

Had I not known this boy for as long as I have, I may have related the same.

Once at the hockey rink the new “boyfriend” caught the attention of several of the Devil’s teammates who hurled a catcalls in his general direction as teenage girls are wont to do. He retreated to a safer part of the arena, out of their sight. I gotta tell ya, the kid must be relatively smitten for all the abuse he’s taken over the last couple of weeks. Problem is I kinda recall likewise being cupid’s bullseye at a tender age and that doesn’t make me feel any better.

I was curious to see how the Devil would perform with him watching from the stands. Now, this was not the first time he had watched her play, but it was the first time as the “boyfriend”. Yeah, no matter how many times I write or say it, it’s not quite rolling easily off the keyboard or tongue. In any case, you could say the Devil played a less than inspired game with her beau cheering her on. I’m not sure, and pretty certain, if there was any cheering it was done quietly under his breath and she didn’t give him many opportunities anyway. Unfortunately, the Devil was not the only one with a sub-par performance as our Sharks were lucky to escape the first game of the weekend with a 1-1 tie after having registered a grand total of five or six shots on the opposing goal. Post-game, I made my way from behind the bench towards our dressing room, stopping briefly to mostly jokingly let the “boyfriend” know he was no longer allowed to attend our games. On the way home, we let the Devil know we thought she was negatively affected by her biggest fan. The pros and cons of his attendance at future contests would need to be weighted heavily in the best interest of the team.

Keep Calm and Date a Hockey Player

The next day brought another game with one particular spectator notably absent due to a work shift. Now after the ribbing she received the day previous, the Devil was likely to have a better performance. And that she did; scoring the loan Sharks’ goal off of a beauty pass from one of her linemates. Upon scoring said goal and after an appropriate amount of cheering, I announced to the bench that the boyfriend was hereby banished from all future contests – an edict I know I’m not likely going to be able to enforce, but one which was thoroughly appreciated by those within earshot. A second very-spirited and penalty-filled match ended in a 1-1 draw bringing our regular season record to 0-1-4; something we and the Sharks will need to work on. That’s a whole other topic to be addressed in short order.

For now we’ll reserve judgment on the “boyfriend’s” presence at games and his affect on the Devil’s play; a pretty small concern for this father of two hockey players in the grand scheme of things. Glad I got a good Hockey Momma to help me deal with all this growing up stuff because I’ve had a difficult enough time handling my own maturation, much less that of a couple of young adults under my watch. I’m open to suggestions from any other fathers of female hockey players or who’ve gone through this before me.


Image courtesy

New Hockey Parent Do’s and Don’ts

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.

hockey dads watching a game

Pay no attention to my murse. Momma was on the bench for this game and I became the guardian. Hell, it doesn’t even match my shoes.

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.