Most of you know by now that I'm a bona fide hockey freak. Imagine my delight when my son begged me to let him play hockey. There's nothing like getting up at 5 a.m. to load stinky equipment in the station wagon, driving in snowy darkness to a drafty community centre rink and watching a bunch of boys slapping the puck against the boards, while trying to warm your hands on a paper cup containing vile arena coffee.
I had misgivings, too. You see, at eleven years old, my son was small for his age and he had never strapped on a pair of skates. Why in the world would he want to play hockey?
Perhaps my enthusiasm for the game rubbed off on him. Anyway, I relented, dug up the cash and enrolled him in House League. After all, I'd be the perfect Hockey Mom, right?
He looked tiny and lost in hand-me-down padding and huge helmet with its cage that hid his round face. When he stepped on the ice for the first time, he went down like a little pile of bricks. It wasn't the first time. My heart squeezed every time he fell and got back up again, like a toddler learning to walk for the first time.
The other boys skated circles around him, occasionally helping him up and encouraging him. When shooting practice began, he took a puck on the back of his arm and crumpled, crying.
The assistant coach took him aside and sat on the bench with him, talking for a long time. Apparently they made a deal, that my son should at least show up for one more practice. He agreed to give it one more try.
Well, he showed up for every game and practice that year, improving slowly and even providing a few assists. His team won the championship, which was a good way to end his first year. He got the 'Happy Face' award for being the funniest kid on the team.
The second year wasn't as magical for him. He wanted to be on the same team, but he'd been picked up by the second place team from the previous year. He didn't quite connect with his new teammates, and I had to press him to finish out the year. I didn't want to waste my three hundred bucks or the new equipment he'd received for Christmas.
Was I being harsh? Maybe. He was unhappy, but I stressed that it wasn't a good idea to give up just because things weren't going his way. He knew he wasn't going to be the next Gretzky, but he reluctantly pressed on.
The final game day arrived, the Consolation Final for the Bronze trophy. He had wormed his way into the hearts of his new teammates and their parents. We all shouted encouragement when he was on the ice plugging away at half the speed (and half the height) of the other players. We were ahead by a goal, with only a minute or so left on the clock.
The other team (his 'rookie' team from the previous year) pulled their goalie for a chance to tie. Coach put Andrew on the ice. As the players streamed toward the opposing goal, Andrew's wing mate carefully steered the puck onto Andrew's stick. He pushed it ahead of him, lost his balance, and slid into the goal with four seconds to go. The puck went in with him.
The place went wild. Players from the opposing team crowded around him with his own mates and clapped him on the back. Coach gave him the puck at the end of the game. I mounted it with his card and had a plaque made with the date of the goal.
He retired from hockey at the ripe old age of twelve.
I've got the whole thing on tape.
Image: Waiting for the Ice • 11x14 Watercolour