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World Hockey Summit Talks Youth Game, Roots, And Growth Of The Sport

Last Friday afternoon saw the final day of the World Hockey Summit in Toronto come to a close.  Per its website, the Summit was “an event designed to dissect the current state of hockey and collaboratively identify and address key concerns and issues facing the game today.” In other words, it was a four-day “conversation” between the international power brokers in today’s professional and amateur ranks: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, IIHF President René Fasel, Hockey Canada president & CEO Bob Nicholson, Executive Director of USA Hockey Dave Ogrean, and literally hundreds of other ‘who’s who’ faces in the game today.

Much of the conversation revolved around the professional game. Bettman talked about the Kovalchuk situation and the CBA, Fasel stressed the importance of NHL players playing in the Olympics and World Championships, and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly discussed tweaking the NHL All-Star game to make it more interesting. All of these conversations are important to the growth, expansion, and coexistence of the various international bodies, but the Summit touched on several points that are close to my heart as well. Among them were the growth of the youth game, the role parents have in that growth, and how the power brokers for the sport can help drive passion for hockey within their young fans.

As I was stuck at the real job during the Summit, my WHS updates came from the same source where I get most of my breaking news: Twitter. The brilliant minds at Molson had the foresight to allow four hockey fanatics-slash-writers to attend the event and co-tweet under the username @WldHockeySummit. Over the four-day Summit they tweeted 698 times, and I read every single one. Below I’ll paste some of the more pertinent ones and discuss the issue at hand. Want in on this discussion? Post in the comments.

@WldHockeySummit: Kelleher: need to engage parents and win them over so they pick hockey over other sports in which to put their kids in.

@WldHockeySummit: Kelleher: Cost, Commitment and Culture are barriers to hockey in the US.

During Thursday’s session, USA Hockey Assistant Executive Director of Membership Development Pat Kelleher discussed the high financial and cultural boundaries of the game and how we might overcome them. It’s no secret that hockey is an expensive sport. The equipment is pricey, the team fees aren’t cheap, and the travel to facilities can be outrageous. Some have suggested that the key to growth is the creation of new facilities. In certain locations where there isn’t enough icetime to support everyone who wants in on it, that might be true. But in the US, the issue is less about a lack of facilities and more a lack of participation in the sport to begin with. Personally, I feel that the single biggest driver in the growth of the game and the feasibility of new rinks is a passion for the game. In areas with little hockey presence, simply building a new rink will not spark the passion required to sustain it. We’re all hockey people, so we get it. But imagine if your town built a fabulous new badminton facility. If we can imagine that badminton was expensive, would you immediately buy your eight-year-old $1,500 worth of equipment, sign them up for a badminton league that was $2,000 a season, then drive to the facility three times a week for practices and to matches two hours away on the weekends? Doubtful.

When I was growing up, I played a large majority of my hockey in one of two city-owned rinks. Twenty-five years later, there are a half dozen or more local rinks, with just as many new youth programs to choose from. The success of these facilities and programs are driven entirely by need  and demand, and this demand will not simply show up, skates in hand, the day you open the doors to a new rink. Rather, the love for the game must be developed first, and on a more grassroots level.

The good news is that there are inexpensive ways to showcase the sport and help seed that passion, and they don’t need to involve the latest equipment or sparkling multi-rink facilities. It starts early, and it starts with volunteerism and grassroots hockey campaigns. Things like pond hockey tournaments, street hockey events, learn-to-play camps. Things like Redline Hockey, Bob DeGemmis’s school (story/website) that not only offers on-ice training, but introduces DC-area kids to the game through an inexpensive street hockey program. Organizations like The Hockey Foundation (website/Twitter), which travels to non-hockey-centric countries and introduces the children there to our amazing sport. Or the Herb Brooks Foundation (website/Twitter), whose goal is to make “hockey fun for kids, letting them learn to love the game the way we did.” If every community had people and organizations like this, who spread the game in a way that doesn’t force a huge initial investment for kids or their parents, you would see the sport grow organically. Parents’ financial decisions are driven by their children’s passions. We will never be able to erase the high costs involved in youth hockey. But if we can ignite a fire and love for the game in the next generation and show their parents how fun, exciting, and important the game can be to their development, they may begin to see the price tag as a hurdle and not an impediment.

@WldHockeySummit: Yzerman making references to successes in growing grass roots hockey in Dallas.

‘Yzerman’, of course, is legendary Detroit Red Wings captain and current Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. Stevie Y spoke during the Summit about the growth of hockey in less traditional markets, and how important professional teams are in helping non-hockey landscapes learn to love the game. Much like Wayne Gretzky introduced Southern California to the game in the early 90′s, the move from Minnesota to Dallas gave the Stars a chance to show the state of Texas what hockey was all about. And in the 17 years since that move, the hockey landscape in Texas has changed dramatically. The AHL currently has three franchises in the Lone Star State (the Houston Aeros, the Texas Stars, and the San Antonio Rampage), and also fields a Junior A Tier II team in the NAHL known as the Texas Tornado.

Ben Ellis, a writer at Big D Hockey, talks about the influence these teams have had on Texas youth hockey in this article on AOL Fanhouse:

“The high school hockey programs around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex have really flourished since the Stars, and then the Tornado, came to town,” said Ellis. “Before the Stars came to Dallas you would have been hard-pressed to find a hockey team in the area. Now, there are about a dozen. These kids started watching hockey when it came to Dallas, or their parents did and wanted to get their kids involved, and it went from there. The parents got the kids involved in learning to skate, and then learning to play hockey. The Dallas Junior Hockey Association started in the early 1970s, but really flourished by having a successful NHL team in the area. DJHA has gone on to become Texas’ largest junior hockey program, and develops players for an “Elite” program, also supported by the Stars, the Dallas Stars Elite. They have three levels of play before the kids are ready to play in a program like the Tornado, or a similar league like the USHL.”

It may not make sense to the layperson why the NHL stresses the importance of franchises in non-traditional hockey markets. But to the throngs of Dallas-area youth lacing them up this winter, it’s made all the difference.

@WldHockeySummit: Great to see teams like the Sens actively engaging in fostering minor hockey. Rehabbing outdoor rinks is the best idea I’ve heard so far.

While the Dallas Stars’ entrance into the Texas landscape has done much to bring the game to the attention of the locals, much of that has to do with how little penetration hockey had in the Texan mindset before their arrival. Contrast that to Ottawa, where babies sleep on Senators crib sheets and kids spend their free time skating on the Rideau. Hockey is as ingrained in Ottawa culture as beaver tails and poutine. So when the Senators want to help grow the game in their backyard, the objective is less about education and more about engagement. Cyril Leeder, President of the Senators and self-described as “bullish on hockey”, certainly does his part with several youth-focused organizational initiatives. The Senators:

  • Use their ‘Sens@School’ program to reach out to local students, helping motivate them toward their academic goals.
  • Host the ‘Faceoff Fieldtrip’, a free educational Senators practice for students that combines the sport with science (think ‘reaction time of a goalie’ for a math class).
  • Are helping to rebuild and rehab some of the city’s 236 city-approved outdoor rinks, then promoting them with appearances by players.

In Canada, where boys’ hockey participation has leveled in recent years, this type of engagement is especially important. Sure, everyone in Canada knows about hockey. But when the Senators are in their schools helping students read or talking to them about academic goals, or when they’re donating time, money, and supplies to help get kids back onto their local outdoor slab, they’re making personal investments in the lives of their neighbors. And this type of engagement can only help the game grow with the next generation.

@WldHockeySummit: Here is link for @NHLShanny talking about playing shinny and learning the game that way. http://youtu.be/HWtd9wbef24

Here is the video:

How can you not love Brendan Shanahan?  After 1,500 games played in the NHL, he recently accepted a job in the NHL’s front office. His official title is ‘Vice President of Hockey and Business Development’, which loosely translates to ‘Vice President of Making People Realize That Hockey Is Awesome’.  He’s still new to the role, but anyone who heard him talk at the Summit (or follows his tweets, @NHLShanny) knows that this guy has a serious love for the game and a motivation to get more kids involved. It’s guys like him at the top levels of our sport who can really help the game grow.

—–

The Summit lasted four full days, and there are literally hundreds of quotes from it that I could have expanded on here. It’s comforting to know that game’s brightest minds and biggest movers still take the time to think about, talk about, and work towards bringing the game back to its humble beginnings in an effort to make it more appealing to the masses. Obviously they have a vested financial interest. But within each one of them is a bit of the hockey fire, burning just as it did when they were introduced to the sport as a youngster.

Who knows where the game of hockey will go in the future. USA Hockey is reporting a decline in boys’ hockey enrollment, while the girls’ game is trending up here and around the world. The NHL is enjoying some mainstream relevance with the Winter Classic and Olympics, but contractual issues may force another work stoppage in 2012. There’s little any of us can do to affect these worldwide issues, but we can all do our part in our own neighborhoods. If you’re reading this, the best way you can affect change in your area is by spreading the word and allowing easy inroads for others to experience it. Send people to this website. Take them to a game. Organize a street hockey event, or build a backyard rink and invite the neighbors. I grew up infused with hockey blood, so it’s easy for me to be passionate about it. But each of us has a role as ambassadors for the game, and each one of us can do our part to help it continue to grow. None of the issues raised at the Summit have simple, universal answers. But if every league, commissioner, team, parent, and Backyard Hockey reader does their part in spreading the game, we will continue to watch it flourish.


Thank you to everyone on the @WldHockeySummit Twitter squad:

Richard Loat (@mozy19)
Justin Kendrick (@hockeycardshow)
Darrin Reynolds (@dink9966)
Angela MacIsaac (@that_angela)

…as well as Ben at Big D Hockey.

Honda's 'Other' Hockey Commercials

A few months ago, we posted the video of Honda’s ‘Outdoor Rink’ commercial. In it, US hockey legends Mike Richter, Neal Broten, and Pat LaFontaine drive their assorted Hondas to a pond in Minnesota and build a little pond hockey rink for the neighborhood folks to enjoy. Northern Americana at its best.

Today we bring you two more. I’m actually in the market for a new SUV, and in my internet research travels, came upon Honda’s hat-trick of hockey-based commercials. In addition to ‘Outdoor Rink’, Honda produced two other commercials of note, ’5AM Practices” and ‘Reliability’. As someone who remembers getting half-dressed in a pre-dawn living room (and who is looking forward to doing the same with my son very soon), I find these commercials to be very nostalgic and well-done. Kudos to Honda for recognizing this niche market.

(RSS feeders and e-mail listers, this’ll probably be easier if you visit the site.)

5AM Practices

Reliability

EA Sports Releases New ‘NHL Slapshot’ Trailer

I wouldn’t consider myself a hardcore video gamer by any means. The only current-generation system I own is a Nintendo Wii, I’ve never so much as held a controller for the XBOX 360, and I have never once stood in line to make sure I got a game the day it came out. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever purchased a non-Madden, non-Tiger game in the same year it came out. But I know hockey, and I know what my wish list would be for a Wii hockey game. And from the ability to play on a backyard rink as a peewee to the inclusion of the hockey stick accessory, it looks like EA nailed it.

I posted this link back in early June to a story about EA Sports’ first entry into the Wii landscape, this fall’s NHL Slapshot. While the text and images in that article alone were enough to make me consider putting in for a week of vacation time immediately following the game’s release, these trailers have me considering making it a month.

Some of these have been around for a bit, but this first one was tweeted by @EASPORTSNHL just over an hour ago. It shows more of what the gameplay will be like for the user, and what kind of movements will be required to rip a backscratcher from the point or to Boychuk a hapless forward at center ice.

And if you haven’t seen them, here are a few of the other NHL Slapshot trailers:

The more I watch these, the more I can’t wait for this game to come out. When Blake Wheeler gets knocked off the puck by a 4’6″ kid on a backyard rink, you KNOW you’re dealing with a realistic simulation! Be sure to check back here for my full review shortly after it’s released (or sooner if I can get the folks at EA Sports PR to hook me up with an advanced review copy…*cough*).

If you’d like to pre-order your copy, you can do so by clicking here.


Videos courtesy of EA Sports. Product links subject to our Affiliate Disclosure.

The Coolest Hockey Bedroom EVER – The Locker

The Coolest Hockey Bedroom EVER is a series of posts chronicling the transformation from a boring bedroom to a hockey heaven for my toddler son. You can read about his dresser here. Have an idea for the room? Comment below.

Today’s installment of ‘I have too much time on my hands’ ‘The Coolest Hockey Bedroom EVER’ will cover the creation of a pint-sized hockey locker. Sure, you can buy these retail, but what fun is that? Rinkbuilders need SOMETHING to screw together haphazardly in the warm summer months, so why not address some storage/room awesomeness issues at the same time?

1 – The material list is pretty simplistic. It assumes that you already own things like a drill, screwdrivers, a table saw, and wood glue.

-Particleboard ($20, but see my note below)

-Hooks ($5)

-1″ Screws ($3)

-Paint (Free – used leftover indoor paint)

-Name Tag ($20 shipped)

What I’d do differently: I’d upgrade the wood I used. Wood can get a little spendy for some of the higher-end types, and my goal was to keep this project’s costs low. But I could have used an entry-level pine and still come out under $50, and the end result would have been much higher quality. Plus the particleboard can break and fall apart if your screws are too large.

2 – You’ll want to measure the area where you intend to place this locker, which will help you determine the dimensions of your particleboard. I had a little nook in a corner of my son’s room that would allow for a 1′ square locker footprint. The particleboard I purchased was 6′x1′, and I completed this entire project using four pieces.

You’ll build the body of the locker by simply gluing and screwing three full pieces of the 6′x1′ particleboard together. Run a thin bead of wood glue along the joint before joining the pieces, and be sure to drill pilot holes before screwing them together to keep your wood from splitting.

3 – Once you have your frame built and looking like the images above, you can measure out your shelving/seating setup. I did this by taking my extra fourth piece of particleboard and having it cut into four pieces: the top piece, the shelf, the seat, and the front facade along the floor.

What I’d do differently: I’d paint my pieces immediately after cutting, rather than waiting until the whole unit was assembled. It’s much easier to paint the wood pieces when they’re not assembled, as this allows you to work with different colors without having to worry about masking anything or painting in tight spots. My advice is to paint your pieces during step three.


4 – Put it all together. After making sure everything was square, I screwed the top piece on. I then slipped the shelf in, leveled it, drilled four pilot holes, and made it permanent with four screws.

For the seat, I first added the front facade, as that piece not only serves as the bottom front of the unit, but it also acts as the support for the front of the seat. I then took a scrap piece of 1″x2″ of pine, leveled it, and screwed it to the back wall of the locker to support the rear of the seat. Be sure this piece of 1″x2″ is at the same height as the top of your front facade. From there, it’s easy to slide your seating surface in, securing with wood glue and a few more screws.

What I’d do differently: I had initially intended to create a hinged seat (allowing for a ‘cubby’ of sorts underneath), but didn’t have the time or extra material to screw it up. If you choose to go this route, you’ll have to add some seat supports along the side so that the hinge doesn’t get bent the wrong way when your toddler leaps inside of it (and they will) The hinges were about $4.


5 – Now for the finishing touches. By far my favorite feature and what makes this thing really rad is the nametag. After doing a bit of googling one night, I ordered my son’s tag from www.nametagcountry.com. There are surely other sources, but many of the sites I found had volume minimums or higher prices. Once on the site, go to Products > Door Signs > Door Signs and select ‘Black Door Signs’. This provides you with a whole host of color combinations. We went with the Canary Yellow plate with black Arial text. It rules.

And what’s a locker if you can’t hang stuff in it? I opted to use three hooks in my son’s locker. The one in the back is a bit higher than the other two, which are placed lower because he’s only three and I wanted him to be able to reach them easily.

And there you have it! Aside from painting, it probably took me a grand total of two hours to build. My son went absolutely bananas when he came home from school the next day, which was precisely the point.

At the old house, we used to play mini hockey in the living room, where the couch was the bench, the loveseat was the penalty box, and the hardwood was the ice. Now we’ve added a new dimension to our indoor play: after each “buzzer”, we retreat to his bedroom where he sits in his locker, takes off his “skates”, and relaxes for 30 seconds before jumping up and repeating the whole scene. $50 and two hours of work to let my little winger pretend he’s chilling between periods of a close playoff game? Worth it and then some.

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Five Reasons Why I Love Hockey

The idea for this post was not my own. Rather, aided on a time-killing mission by my Google Reader, I stumbled onto a weekend post on the best pro hockey blog in the world, Yahoo’s Puck Daddy. It asked a simple question, and solicited a response from the everyfan: what is it about a hockey that made you a fan?

For me, there was no defining moment that announced my entry into hockey fandom. Considering that I was born into an old-fashioned French-Canadian hockey family, I suppose an argument could be made that the defining moment was my birth. But my point is that I was a hockey fan before I had the presence of mind to realize I was a hockey fan. As a toddler, I’d stand in front of the television and belt out the national anthem in step with Rene Rancourt.  Like many young children, I had my share of imaginary friends, though I’d be willing to bet most kids didn’t hang out with an invisible Pete Peeters.  And at parties, my parents got a kick out of calling me over and making me pronounce “Krushelnyski” in front of their friends.  I was a hockey kid, through and through.  But my upbringing alone did not make me the fan of the game that I am today.

1 – Family

I began playing hockey at the age of four.  As the years passed, hockey was a part of my life in every way.  At four, it was dad waking me up while it was still dark to drive to JFK for 5:30 games.  At eight, it was visiting Rhode Island, Connecticut, or Vermont for weekend tournaments, eating at fun new restaurants and spending hours in hotel pools and game rooms.  At twelve, it was the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Anchorage for the National Championships.  At the time, I didn’t think much past the games themselves.  But looking back, I realize now all of the quality time spent with my family.  Those early intro-mite games, it was my dad nudging me awake and gearing me up in the living room.  The tournaments?  Those were weekends filled with games and friends, but also quality time with my parents and my sister.  I can remember being a 13-year-old, playing on a Boston-area travel team, driving hours for one Saturday game.  How many teenagers do you think spend entire weekend days with their parents?  I did, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was damn lucky.

I’m long past those days of travel hockey and hotel video game tournaments.  But a funny thing is happening in my life these days: I’m in the exact same place my dad was some 26 years ago.  My son, all of three years old, is a carbon copy of the toddler I once was.  His favorite toys are his hockey guys, and he plays with them every day.  He can execute a between-the-legs drop pass in the living room, and knows the top shelf from the five hole.  And while he’s an only child at the moment, he’s had an imaginary brother for at least a year now.  His name?  Michael Ryder (insert your salary cap joke here).  So while my competitive playing days are over, I am eagerly awaiting the dawn of a new career.  And while I hope my son succeeds in all he does, I don’t sit around and think about goals and wins and scholarships and contracts.  I’m just looking forward to the car rides, post-game pizzas, and tournament weekends.  And I hope that someday he too will look back and realize that while the game of hockey provides satisfaction in the moment, it also helps form tremendous familial bonds that transcend the game itself.  In my 30 years on Earth, hockey has brought my family together more than anything else.

2 – Playing Outdoors

I can’t quite put my finger on its genesis, but there is an ongoing movement in North America to bring hockey back outside.  It seems to have started around 2005, and in five short years, outdoor hockey has grown tremendously.  The member count of the Yahoo Backyard Rink group that I belong to grows every month, and there are pond hockey tournaments taking place from December to March in just about every locale whose weather system will support it.  Many participants in these events grew up on outdoor rinks.  Those players see these backyard rinks and pond hockey tournaments as a way to get back to their roots and revisit their youth.  They look back at their growth and development as players and have the local ponds and lakes to thank.  But there is a fascinating and overlooked phenomenon that is taking place at the same time.  Outdoor hockey, for many players, is serving as a re-introduction to the game.  Speaking for myself and most of my friends and cousins, the outdoor game is relatively new to us.  I know that for me, aside from a small handful of pond hockey games, I grew up in ice rinks and on organized teams.  My parents just didn’t have a flat yard that would lend itself to a backyard rink, and I don’t recall being dropped off at the local pond for a quick game of shinny on any sort of regular basis.  Outdoor hockey just wasn’t a topic of conversation, and that suited me just fine.  But with this latest surge of outdoor love, I am experiencing this great game in an entirely new way.  And with events like the New England Pond Hockey Classic introducing more people like me to the joys of outdoor hockey, my hope is that this growth continues.  Because even though playing pond hockey doesn’t conjure up images of my youth for me, playing outside with friends and relatives certainly has an invigorating fountain-of-youth quality to it.

3 – Playing With Pros

I’m convinced that hockey players are among the most accessible professional athletes in the world.  And I’m not just talking about autograph sessions or charity events either.  I’m talking about how relatively common it is to end up in the same locker room as guys who make their living playing professional hockey.  There’s this example (down in the reader section), where locked-out Boston Bruins’ center Adam Oates played a full season with a Worcestor-based men’s league team.  Or this story in the Gazette about how NHLers PJ Stock and Felix Potvin take part in a pond hockey tournament in Quebec.  And there was Maxim Afinogenov down in Alabama earlier this year. There are dozens of stories like these.  When’s the last time Albert Pujols took batting practice at your local field?  Do you think LeBron James structures his off-season workouts around the local YMCA pickup game schedule?

But hockey players are different.  From the kids at the learn-to-skate programs around the world to the world class players taking part in the Olympics, each one of them shares a similar love for the game.  So when it comes time to hang them up, be it for a union lockout or a career, it’s difficult for these players to stay away.  And when the fans and contracts and stadiums disappear, what’s left are the blue collar lunchpail leagues, the charity tournaments, and the outdoor events.

I’ve been fortunate to play with several current and past professionals, and it never ceases to amaze me at the tremendous skill levels that these individuals possess, even decades after their last paid game.  I’m just a 30-something-washed-up-ex-college player, but in the last year alone, I have: played in a charity tournament with a current LA Kings prospect; played all winter in a men’s league with a former Hobey Baker Award winner and his brother, who played 13 years in Europe; been a defensive partner of an ex-NHLer who played over 530 games for the Devils, Blues, Coyotes, Stars, and Bruins; and taken part in a pond hockey tournament with ex-NHLers who still reside in the Northeast.  This kind of stuff just doesn’t happen in other sports, and it’s us lucky blue-collar men’s league guys who benefit from watching these guys on the ice with us week after week.  Seeing their tremendous talents on display right in front of your eyes can only make you a better player, and the fact that they are willing to play where there are no contracts or cameras shows the passion and love they have for the game.  And both the skills and affinity for this great game are very easy to feed off of.

4 – NHL Playoffs

I understand that hockey is not for everyone.  It struggles to compete with the WNBA for TV time, has to fight ice dancing for prime coverage during the Olympics, and is generally regarded by mainstream America as something that slots in between couples badminton and competitive laundry-folding on the importance scale.  But to the folks that don’t quite get it, I beg you: watch, nay, ATTEND an NHL playoff game.  I’m not sure I would have included this item a year ago.  But last spring, I was lucky enough to go to every Bruins home playoff game in what we thought might be a magical season.  I had seen enough playoff hockey on TV in my lifetime to make me think that I knew what to expect.  But the ambiance, not only in the Garden, but in the subway, the streets, and the restaurants around the Garden, was so ignited that you could feel the energy around you.  As game time approached, the hoards of people outside the arena shuffled towards it, heckling those crazy enough to wear opposition sweaters.  We funneled into the building’s escalators, as nervous and excited and anxious as the players themselves.  Spilling out onto the concourse, the impending explosion of intensity and fury enveloping us.  Then walking through the opening to our seats, the sonic boom of excitement and apprehension forming a deafening roar that doesn’t let up for three hours.  That is playoff hockey.  And that is why I wish there was a way to bottle it and release it to everyone.  Because I have yet to meet a single person who has watched a playoff hockey game and not come away wondering why they didn’t watch hockey more often.

5 – The Ice

It’s funny how you can play 20-something years of competitive hockey, and yet look back and still remember something as seemingly mundane as pre-practice ice.  But I remember it so vividly that I can smell the cold rink air as I type this.  When I was in high school, our school day ended at 2:33 on the button.  Practice started at 3:15, but our slot at West Side Arena opened up at 3:00.  The rink was relatively close to school, leaving us plenty of time to get ready for our daily skate.  For some, this half hour was time to relax, to joke, to unwind from the school day with their buddies in the locker room.  But not me.  Because nobody rented the time slots in the few hours leading up to our practice time, the ice hadn’t been touched in hours.  The hot water laid down by the Zamboni had long frozen, leaving our cold home rink ice a silky smooth white sheet, with not so much a single skate mark in it.  Until I made them.  There’s something about taking something so innocent and pure and perfect and dancing around on it.  After jumping onto the ice I’d glide to the bench and drop off my backup stick, looking back to see the parallel tracks I’d made, with tiny flecks of ice next to them.  Then I’d test my edges, making giant C’s in the ice.  I’d grab a puck and slide it across the rink, letting it bounce off the boards before scooping it up and racing down the ice with it, chips of ice exploding off my skates with each stride.  Within five minutes my teammates would join me, practice would start, and the perfect ice I’d enjoyed would be relegated to a mishmash of cross-overs and hockey stops.  And I’d have to look forward to the next afternoon.  I made my last pre-practice cuts 12 years ago, but the feeling of the ice under my blades and the echoing of my Sher-Wood in the empty arena have been programmed into my soul.

~-~

For a while after college, I was done with hockey.  I was tired of playing competitively, I was angry with the Bruins for their miserly ways, and I was willing to walk way from the sport when the lockout begged us to do so.  But I’m back in a major way.  First it was my hockey-loving son, born in 2006.  Then it was the Bruins-Habs Game Six in 2008.  Then it was my backyard rink and my introduction to the world according to Jack Falla.  Then it was this blog, and the realization that my hockey life had done an incredible job in preparing me for my real life.  And as I sit here now, a few short years away from becoming a true hockey dad, I’m realizing how much I owe to this game, how much I love this game, and how much I want to share this game with the world.

Thanks, hockey.

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Images courtesy of D’Arcy Norman, borevagen, and laverrue