Six bodies exploded off the blue line into the zone. Two players hurtled after the puck. The red jersey was just feet ahead. He turned his head to look over his shoulder at the approaching blue. Judging there to be enough space, he pivoted his body just before the boards and used his hip and shoulder to block his opponent from the puck. Meanwhile his stick worked the black disc away from the wall and teed it up for a pass. The navy skater pressed in, leaning into Daniel and trying to poke his own stick between and around feet to gain advantage. But with another twist of his head to check for open teammates, Daniel rocketed a pass away through a narrow open lane.
The hockey season is officially over for us.
This is the final night of tryouts for next season. Thirty something boys vie for positions on two teams. Aside from a stunning New England Sectional tournament last spring, evaluations are the most stress-inducing week for me as a hockey mom. (The exception to that was a head-first collision into the boards early this season, but since that was a quiet terror, stress hardly applies.)
I know. They’re kids.
When Daniel first tried out for a travel team, he was seven. In the parents meeting the board members for the local hockey program explained that there would be A, B, and C teams. Groans escaped some of the returning parents. Tentatively I raised my hand.
“Excuse me, but, every skater will have a spot on one of the teams? He’ll still get to play hockey?” I queried. It turned out, they would. I couldn’t imagine that year why it would matter which team he was on, as long as he got to play. We’re not holding out NHL fantasies. I don’t dream of Division I sports or even college scholarships. My boys love this game. And now, so do we.
On the first day of tryouts this year, I sat in the stands and glanced up to see a tiny boy walk past. His long blond hair stuck out the back of his baseball cap the same way Daniel’s did, until two weeks ago. He looked just as determined and full of purpose as Daniel had at six or seven years old in his team warm up suit, pulling his bag behind him and carrying his stick high.
It made me think of the time that’s passed since I asked that question. The experiences we’ve had since then. It made me realize that, at least for Daniel, we’re nearer the end of this journey than the beginning. He’ll be a second year bantam, and a sophomore next year. Likely he’ll try out for his high school team next time and this local hockey organization will no longer be home.
A blue shirt collided with the glass. The red shirted player drove his shoulder solidly into the players side, then nimbly stepped away with the puck.
I watched as his black shorts shot between the throng of players at center ice. His legs look so long and skinny now. He’s grown so much this year.
Now, dangling the goalie, he shoots. And scores.
The shift is over. Coach calls the players to a huddle for what’s next.
I’m proud as punch that he ended this portion of the tryouts with a strong play.
These have been his best tryouts. I’ve watched every year with bated breath. I’ve recognized the good shifts and the ones he took off. I’ve seen him pulled aside by coaches and longed to hear the advice they were offering. That very first year he made the A team. His mites won their travel tournament with Daniel in goal.
Now, in his final bantam year, I think he has a chance to make the cut for A again as a defenseman. I wish it for him. I hope for him that he gets to stretch to meet those other A players. I picture him on a team where he needs to work hard every shift to keep pace. I imagine him in a new team warm up suit, tall and handsome. So different, but with that same love of the game.
We never got into this for the scholarship. For us, the payout has always been that the boys learn to work hard to get better each time they’re on the ice, to believe in themselves even when the situation looks grim, to contribute to something bigger than themselves even when that means someone else looks like the hero. And to give themselves completely to something they love.
I guess we won!