This week’s Reader Photos comes from friend, hockey dad, and rinkbuilder, Scott Millin. Scott, whose backyard fire was borne after reading Jack Falla’s Home Ice, is entering his fifth year on the Millin Four’Em. I’ve said before that I might be the only blogger whose readers are better writers than he is. Scott proves this with his entry:
When I used to ask my now 12 year old son, Danny what sport he liked to play the best, baseball or hockey? He would always reply, “You can’t make me choose!” Years later I still ask him the same question, but now Danny always replies, “Hockey” before I can finish the question. When it comes to choosing a photo to demonstrate how I feel about the game of hockey, I feel like using Danny’s old line: “You can’t make me choose!” There are too many experiences, memories, and images that I have stored on my computer and in my brain, which I still pull out on occasion to review and remember.
However, there are a series of photos that I think best reflect how I feel about the game of hockey, and all were taken on the ice surface of my backyard rink, the Millin Four-em. Unlike most hockey photos, these three photos are not action shots; instead they are staged and were taken over each of the last three winters.
The subjects are my son Danny and three of his closest friends and I think the pictures – both individually and collectively – reflect what I think are the most important take-a-ways from the game of hockey:
1) Fun. Hockey is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. Each picture was taken after endless hours of 2 on 2 hockey – free form, spontaneous, no parents to make rules kind of hockey. When the boys are out there I make a point to throw open the window so that I can secretly watch and listen to them argue about the score (and settle it themselves), laugh with and at each other, improvise and invent, and break a sweat on a frigid winter day. Danny’s youth hockey experience is full of structure and strategy, and that’s okay. But on our rink those things take a back seat to fun. I never have to say “Say cheese!” when I take these pictures – they are all smiles.
2) Friends. Often the people who play the game of hockey spend more time in the locker room laughing than they actually spend on the ice playing the game. That doesn’t happen in many other sports. In these three photos I see friendships that have grown as steady over the years as the boys themselves have. I look at the oldest photo and can’t believe how little they look. I look at the most recent one and can’t believe how old they look. Where does our time go? It’s so fleeting and soon these boys will be off on their own; driving, dating, and doing things I am not quite ready to accept but know are inevitable. However, I hope (naively perhaps) they will still always come back to skate on the rink and will always remain friends.
3) The Struggle. As all of us know, life ain’t easy…and neither is the game of hockey. Success in both is measured and happens at a gradual pace, but if you work hard, push your own comfort zone, learn to play nicely with others, and stick with it you can become a better player and, I am convinced, a better person. Hockey lends itself to many metaphors and to achieve and excel at both hockey and life is like having the stuffing right beside your mashed potatoes on your Thanksgiving plate (each one is good but together they are great). The four boys in this picture all started playing together in the same In House (non-travel) program. Over the years they have worked hard and turned themselves into better players and better people. As parents, that’s the gravy on our stuffing and mashed potatoes.
When he is an old man like me, I hope Danny doesn’t look back and only remember the practices, conditioning drills, the wins or the losses, or even the goals he scored during his youth hockey career. Those are all important experiences of course, but most of all I want him to remember the fun he had and the friends he made, and I also hope he continues to try to become a better player and a better person…well, by now I’m sure you get the picture.
I do get it. Because while the calendar may disagree, I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that I was the little kid in the giant helmet. Now I’m coming full circle, poised to become the dad in the window watching a new batch of giant helmets bobbing around the ice, slicing through puffs of warm breath in the cold air, and forming friendships and memories amidst squabbles over puck possession. Scott gives us all a glimpse into the journey that is watching your children grow, and reminds us all that the oft-difficult journey is a bit more palatable when shared in one’s own backyard.
To read more about Scott and his rink, visit http://themillinfour-em.blogspot.com. Scott also writes some incredible (non-hockey) fiction, but I’ll let him comment with that web address.
Have an image you’d like to share with the Backyard-Hockey community? Send it, and your narrative, to firstname.lastname@example.org.