Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Chapter 10: Lessons Learned From Being a Hockey Dad

(Quick note: This chapter is getting a lot of readership lately and I was curious why. Please leave a comment or email me at cosmo46@earthlink.net to let me know how you found this blog.  Thanks.  Steve)

Parents are crazy.  Coaches are arrogant.  Kids just want to have fun. But mostly, parents are nuts. Lord I know…I'm one. 

I cherish my years as a hockey dad.  I got to be totally involved with my son and my family in the sport I love.  I miss those days.  It was a time of innocence, when my kids still thought I was cool.  Now I'm just the idiot who pays for everything.  Those truly were the days.  Maybe when I become a grandparent I can recapture some of that magic.  

About the time my son's travel hockey career started taking off, my daughter was immersed in her own travel sports, soccer and softball.  As crazy as hockey parents are, soccer and softball parents may just take the cake.  The first couple of travel seasons, my daughter was not so entrenched in her own thing, so she and my wife were much more involved in going to weekly hockey games and to the holiday tournaments.  Every holiday has a hockey tournament...Is nothing sacred?  Nope.  

The boys were playing in a mite Christmas tournament in the late 90's.  The games were held at the Ice-O-Plex in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles.  The L.A. Kings held a practice at this complex.  The kids were thrilled to watch the Kings skate and after the practice they were able to get their autographs.  Rob Blake, Josef Stumpel, Ian laperriere, Jamie Storr. 

My daughter had gotten a bunny rabbit for Christmas.  We named him Thumper.  Bret and Kyle had Thumper with them....they ran into Luc Robataille in the parking lot behind the rink.  He was in the midst of  frustrating scoring slump with the Kings.  Kyle and Bret talked to him.  They invited him to pet Thumper, for good luck.  The next game, Robataille scored to end his drought.  Coincidence?  I think not!

My beer league career was in full swing.  A couple of years earlier, before Max got going with his youth hockey, I was playing on two different adult league teams....It was 1994.  I was still with the Mustangs playing in the advanced division at the Escondido Ice-O-Plex.  The other team was the intermediate level team at Mira Mesa.  I don't remember the name of that team.  What I do remember is that both teams won their league championships and qualified to go to the California Senior League State Championships in Simi Valley.  We played at the Easy Street Arena.  

The Mustangs had a few USIU alumni, one guy who played a few games at BU.  We had Alan Leggett, a Canadian,a Bowling Green grad who had a decent minor pro career playing in the AHL, the ECHL and WCHL and the IHL. We also had my very good friend, Barry MacCarthy.  Barry played defense at Boston College with Jerry York and against Jack Parker at BU.  Barry was recently voted into the Brookline High School Hall of Fame in Boston.

I mention Barry because, only he played in more games that weekend than I did.  Between the two teams I played in twelve games.  We even played one game at two in the morning.  The Championship games were played back to back on the last day.  Both of my teams won their respective championships.  The intermediate level team I played on faced "The Marines" out of Camp Pendleton.  They reminded me of the Army team I faced at Uconn.  They played with a killer instinct, they were in amazing shape. They just weren't very good. We beat them by a score of 5 to something.  I got a hat trick.   Barry played on both of my teams plus one other "over 35" team...so while I played in twelve games he played in fifteen or sixteen.  

i was amassing an array of trophies that my wife made me take to my office. 

I remember thinking on the drive back to San Diego from Simi Valley that I haven't been in such good shape since my college playing days.  That next Tuesday night, Barry's "over 35" team had a game.  The team was called the Blues.  I called Barry to see if I could play in the game.  I wasn't officially on the team, but I was in such great condition it would be a shame to waste all this talent. He said, "sure".  I showed up to play, again being in the best playing shape of my adult life.  Did I mention I was in really good shape? We played against a team that had a player named Steve Percy.   I think Percy may have played a bit of junior hockey in Rochester.  I first met him when I was making my hockey comeback a couple of years earlier.  He played every game with a nasty edge, as if it was Stanley Cup playoff hockey.  That would be admirable if he wasn't such a jerk about it and if we didn't all have to go to work the next day after each game.  Anyway, he was bad news and best to be avoided whenever possible.

In the first period of the game, I had a couple of run ins with Percy.  I mentioned it to the ref to keep an eye on this guy.  Someone was going to get hurt.  Note the ominous foreshadowing here. In the second period, I got tied up with him in the corner.  We ended up wrestling each other to the ice where he landed on top of me.  I felt a snap and immediately knew I'd broken my collar bone. To add insult to injury, literally, I got a two minute penalty for roughing.  Matching minors. 

When I got home, Kyle was pissed.  This happened on Tuesday night.  That coming Friday we had plans to go on vacation in Montana.  We went, but I was in a harness/sling and unable to help out with our kids as much as needed.  Kyle was even more pissed at the jerk who'd tackled me.  Her revenge?  She anonymously signed him up for dozens of subscriptions to magazines, record clubs, etc.  Do not piss my wife off.

I have many, many good friends I've met in my travels. I also made a few enemies of other hockey parents over the years. Not intentionally of course, but its hard being this cool without pissing some people off. 

One weekend when Max was playing squirt summer house league we had a game at the Escondido iceoplex. There was, probably still is a rivalry between the two rinks I keep mentioning; the iceoplex and the San Diego Ice Arena(SDIA) about fifteen minutes down highway 15 in Mira Mesa.  Many of the most talented youth players got their start in developmental hockey and house leagues at SDIA then they would make the leap to the SD Jr. Gulls the premier travel club in town. 

I was coaching the SDIA team and our game was at iceoplex.  I walked in and was looking to see which locker room we would be using.  I opened a door and poked my head in to see.  There were a group of kids and a few parents helping them get suited up.  I jokingly asked, "is this the good guys or the bad guys".  A player, an eight year old who I'll call Potty Mouth so as to protect his identity, responded with an unexpected, "f**k you!"  

Wow.  Really?  I backed out and headed back to the lobby to find the coach and let him know what just happened.  I found the coach and reported the incident. He was aghast. We marched back to the locker room together. "Ok, which one said it?", he asked me.  I pointed to Potty Mouth who immediately denied it.   It turns out the kid was the coach's son. To make matters worse, coach's wife and kid's mom was in the room the entire time. She started screaming at me to stop verbally abusing her son. 

This family would go on to stalk me anonymously on the local SoCal hockey message board for years.  The kid turned out to be a nice kid.  The parents and I have never really spoken.  Crazy I tell ya. 

So far we have two running themes here.  First, all roads lead to the beer leagues.  Second, hockey parents are nuts.  Oh and a third, hockey is the best sport in the world.

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