I am very excited to share with you the first contribution from the newest member of Backyard-Hockey.com, Kevin Stow. Kevin is a former collegiate goalie who played his puck at Oswego State. These days he dons the pads in Chicago-area men’s leagues. He’s also a school teacher, a father of two boys, and a backyard rinkbuilder. Kevin will be contributing to the site periodically. Please join me in welcoming him to the Backyard-Hockey.com family!
It feels like the entire world loves the summer. As a high school teacher, I won’t deny that it is a special time of year. My life, however, doesn’t resemble the All-American awesomeness of summer, like The Sandlot. In fact, I maintain that this is the may be worst time of the year for anyone whose life revolves around hockey. Hockey playoffs have ended. I can’t get excited about the draft, because I know the Rangers will inevitably screw up either their pick or the athlete. The awards show reminds me of the porn awards in “Boogie Nights”- totally amateur and basically unwatchable. Baseball puts me to sleep. I watch repeats of “NHL on the Fly”. Not good. Not good at all. That said, there is some semblance of relief: summer drop-in hockey. I am a father of two boys. Seven and Five. Seven and Five… Boys…Bored boys in the summer cause the graying of my hair to increase exponentially during these supposedly carefree days of summer. “It’s too hot to go outside” or “Why can’t we watch TV?” or “I don’t know what to dooo.” These, and accompanying comments, start to wear you down, if not dealt with proactively. Enter drop-in hockey to the rescue. Entering the rink, hitting the ice, and the trip back home are the closest thing to a bridge to October and the start of better times.
“Get your stuff in the bag, if you want to go to Stick and Puck.” is my routine announcement. Stick and Puck sessions are the closest thing I’ve seen to our winter backyard rink or pond hockey. These sessions are usually sparsely populated. Maybe a few dads and their little ones , and the occasional “big kid” learning to skate. This fact appeals to me. My kids have unstructured time on ice, they practice skating and stickhandling as they want, devise different games/races, and best of all I usually do lazy circles watching it all. As great as these reasons are, they are secondary to my favorite part of summer hockey sessions: entering the rink.
Entering a rink at any time of year is one of the more underrated experiences by a hockey player. I’ve always felt this, and yet nobody really talks about it. All the senses experience something singularly unique only experienced at a hockey rink. Open the door and you’re bombarded by noises, sights and smells that are nostalgically welcoming to hockey players. In the summer months, an element of instant cooling is added. This can’t be understated. Going from 90 degrees and sweating like Patrick Ewing at the foul line to instantly cool is one of the BEST things about summer hockey. For one to two hours during stick and puck, the kids are allowed to sweat on their own terms – not from just sitting in the heat complaining. It’s a little piece of heaven walking into a rink in mid July.
I mentioned earlier the unstructured aspect of summer stick and puck sessions appeal to me. I have to be careful not to jump up on the soapbox here. After coaching my son’s mite team for a full season and then entering him in a spring session of higher quality and competition, I began to detect signs of burnout. In my seven year old! Burnout in a seven year old should be unacceptable to all who love and hope to build the game from the low levels up, yet I know tons of kids that play all year long. Good for them, if they stay with it, but I know my boy and I didn’t want to risk him resenting trips to the ice. For well over 7 months, 3 nights a week he had rigid scheduled practices. While essential for development, the kid needed a break from structure. During Stick and Puck, he can basically screw around for the entire session. Between the leg roof shot attempts, Samasonov’s 3 puck drill and sliding belly flops, they keep their skating and skills sharp and have a ball in the process. No coach barking. No monotonous breakout drills. No battles to be first in line with Jamie the defenseman. There’s just a seven-year old, his brother, some pucks and 90 minutes of goofing around on the ice. Lovely.
Returning home with Gatorades in the back seat, I listen to the brothers plan their NHL voyage. Will they play for the Blackhawks or the Rangers? “What about the Canucks, guys?”, I ask. This gets the Dad-approved chorus of “eww. No way. I hate them.” They’re trained well. Conversation continues along the same path as we head home. Air conditioning blasting. Sun shining. Bank thermometer says 92 degrees. Summer is in full swing, hockey season laying in wait, but with a few visits to the summer rink, I guess the kids and I can hold on for a few more months until October.