I’m pretty sure that the penalty box holds all the secrets to life.
Actually, let me rephrase that. I think there is a lot to be learned from the inside of a hockey rink. Bear with me – I come from the land of horse shows and ponies. I have no idea what happens when someone puts on their skates, laces up, and steps on the ice. But I have to tell you, there’s something special about the game. From the players to the coaches, from the referees to the fans, there’s something different about it.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, there is a place for you on the ice. Whether it’s in a beer league or on a AAA team that travels all over the country, you belong somewhere. You belong to the seventeen odd something guys who wear the same team jacket you do. As an equestrian, I belong in the saddle on the back of my horse and often times, nowhere else. It’s me and my pony until the end of Rodeo Road, you know?
I went to a hockey tournament this weekend, and while I was watching my boyfriend coach a team of 12 year old boys, I was struck by how it felt like family sitting in the bleachers watching the Junior Hurricanes beat whatever team from an inconsequential area (sorry, I’m biased. They’re from my town… what can a girl do?) There are life lessons to be learned on, and off the ice. What other place allows people to get into a fist fight over who hit who the hardest? Okay, maybe that’s not the best talking point. But the loyalty? That is. When the Junior Hurricanes goalie let in a few goals during the shoot out that happened after they tied, his teammates swelled with pride for the kid who stayed in the net while opponents struck slap shots at his head. They banged on the boards beneath their bench, rallying even though they lost the game.
Their first game ended in a shootout, where the Hurricanes lost. The team jumped from the bench, hopped the board and were on the ice in a few seconds to greet their goalie and tell him he did just fine. When I knock a rail down, my gut does this little flip flop that reminds me how I made a mistake and I might feel guilty later (read: definitely). This kid took off his mask and apologized to his team. They took their skating gear off and suddenly it’s 7:30 at night and they’re running around together playing manhunt outside and the hotel manager complains to Coach that their are kids outside running amok.
The goals didn’t matter. The shootout didn’t matter. The penalties they racked up – they didn’t matter either.
One of the boys on the team was issued a penalty because he raised his stick in the air incredulously after another boy had hit a teammate into the wall. With obvious anger, he spent two minutes in the penalty box. When he came out, resolve was on his face – not anger. He stepped onto the ice, and within a minute had scored a goal.
Coach had some insight after the difficult morning when the referees missed some calls. If you keep your head down and skate, keep your stick on the ice, do your job, defend your teammates at the end of the day you have done all you can do and the rest will come. Sounds like pretty good life advice, right?
The last thing Coach said at the end of the tournament was the most inspirational. When asked what his favorite stat was, a goal or an assist, he said “I like the assists.” For those of you who know nothing about hockey like me, that means he’s the person to set up the goal – but he passes the puck to another player for them to score. He values being the foundation for which someone else can shine on.
If we all valued being the assist, if we all stuck our necks out for our goalies, if we all supported each other like we were on the same team who had to travel together every weekend from now until forever… well, these are just some ideas coming out of the penalty box. I don’t suggest actually sitting in there, though. It often smells like moldy hockey gear and there is no quick fix for that.