A number of things have contributed to me writing this.
First off, an old friend asked me to write a story about “living the dream and hockey.” Not a hard thing to do… many of the people I grew up with consider those things interlaced and interchangeable.
Secondly, Michigan high school hockey tryouts are tomorrow. Five years ago, I hit the ice as a wide-eyed, curly-haired frosh who was overly concerned that I wasn’t good enough to make the cut. In the big scheme of things, not a lot has changed. Except for the hair.
Also, today at work one of my editors told me that he’s saving a spot for me on his intramural broomball team. He said that I better score most of the team’s goals if I want to keep calling myself a hockey player.
That culmination of events, along with some inspiring lyrics, courtesy of Pandora Radio, led me to this.
I don’t really call myself a hockey player anymore. For whatever that’s worth. A year ago today I was gearing up for my senior season, getting excited as always to lead my team. Looking forward to finishing off my career with a bang. To forming memories that will last a lifetime.
That is not me anymore.
Only eight months removed from my competitive hockey game, I can’t remember the last time I thought about strapping ’em up. I have only skated twice since March. I’ve got my bag sitting in my car a couple of blocks away, doing nothing but making my trunk smell.
Growing up, I had the dream of being the only freshman to make the Gaylord varsity hockey team. For some reason, it had a huge appeal to me. I wanted to be the kid that was exceeding expectations, doing as well as the older kids and growing up just a hair faster than everyone else.
A couple of other kids made the team with me — and believe me, I’m glad they did. It was an honor to play alongside the people I did.
All of the hard work payed off for me and I was blessed with the opportunity to get immediate playing time. I still think one of the top three high school hockey moments I had was my first game — a loss to Traverse City Central on the road.
I was visibly nervous and even more visibly in the zone. It would be an understatement to say that I had been looking forward to this game for a while. I had built it up in my mind as the single most important thing that would ever happen to me in that moment. At the time, it seemed like it. It seemed like everything rested on that season and if I didn’t rock it out I’d be thrust aside on the road to success.
I feel like all hockey players can attest to that feeling.
At the end of that season, I sat in a locker room in Big Rapids and watched some of my closest friends cry their eyes out because they knew it was all over for them. To this day, I consider that moment one of the most moving of my career. And I’ve done it all.
If I were to rewind a couple hours from that moment, I’d be getting some of the best advice I’ve ever received.
“Hey Jacket (the nickname only one person ever called me), you nervous?” he said.
I replied that I was, being that I was super amped and a little sick. I always played better when I was sick.
“Good — you better be. I’ve been doing this for four years and I still get those butterflies. It’s the reason I play this game,” he said.
At the end of the game, he shook hands with his fellow seniors, cinched up his tie and headed out to the bus, eyes dry.
None of my teammates ever caught on when I tried to instill the same lesson in them, but that’s okay. It has inspired me and that’s enough.
One could argue that I’ve lived the dream. I’ve played the game. I’ve spent my summer in the gym. I’ve been at the rink at 5:30am.
I’ve experienced the payoff. I’ve won the awards. Given the speeches. Had amazing girls wear my jersey.
For all of the hard work and ensuing heartbreak, it was pretty awesome.
The more I think about it, the more I grow to appreciate the life that I lived. Hockey was my passion and in a lot of cases, was my life. I worshipped the team aspect of the game and I knew that a little dressing room with a bit too loud of a stereo and a shoddy heating system was a place where I could break down and be myself.
In the same respect, I’ve moved on. And I think I’m better off because of it. I love the life that I live now and I feel like I am in a great place. This is where I want and need to be and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
The amount of parallels that I can draw with my high school days is insane. If I just pop the word ‘journalism’ where ‘hockey’ used to be, it is pretty much a mirror image.
“Live it up cause it may not last.
Life goes too slow then it goes too fast.
Had to see the future to discover the past.”