All through this journey I felt something was missing for my kid. My own experience of growing up in a hockey rich culture was rewarding. People knew who I was. I was a hockey player. My name was in the papers after every game. Sometimes it was just in the box score but more often in the articles describing the previous games highlights. Occasionally there were feature articles. It was a kick.
Hockey in San Diego and Southern California was so much different. While the skill and ability of the top kids coming out of SoCal was on par with anywhere, the status of hockey in the culture was quite absent. We had recently lost our minor league Gulls team. Of course the hockey community is passionate, small and tight knit. But outside of the rink and our circle of hockey friends it wasn't even a thing.
What I wanted for my son was to play in games where the fans were more than just the families of the players.
I wanted him to walk down the halls of his school and for people to see a hockey player. I wanted him to read his name in the papers. I'm pretty sure this is me living vicariously, but I won't judge.
There were only two ways for this to happen. Either hockey would need to be a bigger deal here or he/we were going to need to go where it was.
These next couple of years set the stage for him going there.
Things got better in the meantime. It seemed like my kid was stuck at 5 feet tall and 100lbs forever. Finally he started to grow. The pounds and inches would sliwly show themselves. My little boy was finally growing up enough to be called "a midget". To make it worse he had to spend two years as a midget minor, the ages of 16 and 17. He wasn't even a full grown midget. I remind you of my co-worker who upon hearing "midget hockey" was surprised that this even existed and he had no idea my son was a little person.
Roller hockey was a huge part of his development. He gained puck skills and confidence, mostly as a member of his high school team. There were also the tournaments, usually in the spring and summer. His reluctance to hold on the puck abated. He was becoming a more balanced player. He was named as an assistant captain and earned recognition as MVP during the season of his junior year. The captain that season was NHLer-to-be Chad Ruhwedel.
The increase in his skills carried over to the ice nicely. Joe Noris was right. We didn't have to move. Roller hockey was a great complement to ice hockey.
About this time my previous sins as a child abuser were so forgotten that I earned my way back to the coaching ranks.
Head coach Bruce Miller and I headed up to Reno to attend the USA Hockey level 4 coaching clinic put on by Ron White. There we got to hear from Mark Ostapina, head coach of the Milwaukee School of Engineering. He shared his infinite wisdom and told us all about himself. I would go on to hear about him from him for the next five years at just about every showcase I found myself attending. Very nice guy and I'm sure he can coach. But the man could use some new material.
At that same coaches clinic we heard from another speaker. This time it was goalie coach, Ed Walsh. Ed was a funny, friendly and slightly rotund guru of goalkeepers. He knew his stuff. I mention Ed because he's a bit of a legend in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In addition to running his own goalie school from the basement of his home he's the goalie instructor for Umass Lowell. My son would end up meeting him and having the opportunity to go to his home and shoot on goalies at his basement during his junior hockey years in NH.
Earlier I mentioned one more run in with a ref. Here it is. It was our second year of midget minor hockey. The Gulls were playing our SoCal rival, the West Valley Wolves in Las Vegas at the Silver Stick regional tournament. I was coming off of another back surgery. I recall that I had taken a pain killer and my ability to communicate was slightly askew.
We were up by a goal. It was around the midpoint in the game. We recognized that the referee was the head ref in the semi-pro Las Vegas Wranglers(ECHL) game we'd watched the night before at the Orleans Hotel. They have a profession arena there.
The guy had a bit of an ego. He skated around and appeared to want us to know he was doing us a favor by just being there.
We were breaking the puck out of our zone. Our defenseman passed the puck ahead. One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand....bam! The forechecker finished his check. It seemed to be quite a late hit. Our defenseman was caught off guard and a little shaken but not hurt.
"How long after he passes the puck can you hit a guy before its a penalty?", I proclaimed. My voice may have been slightly raised. I wasn't yelling at the ref. He did catch it though and immediately blew his whistle pointed at me and gave us a bench minor. WTF? Are you kidding me?
I should mention that Vegas has a notorious reputation for their refs being homers. Anyway, we had to kill the penalty, ended up getting another penalty and blew our lead. We went on to lose and I felt awful. I've tried to avoid pain killers ever since. They mess with my head and ability to think and function. Lesson learned. A painful lesson. Again.