Hockey Grandparents

contributed by Phyllis Jardine (Nova Scotia)

bigstockphoto_Speedster_515667IT’S EARLY SATURDAY MORNING. The local arena is coming to life with the clanging of heating pipes and echoes of pucks smacking against the boards. I move out of the way as sleepy ten-year-olds parade by mumbling greetings of “hello” as they shuffle by–shirts untucked, jackets open, neckties askew–towards their dressing rooms. My husband follows them carrying a hockey bag bigger than our grandson.

Today, I think back to the days when my four brothers played hockey and how things have changed around the arena. Back then, my brothers made their own way to the rink carrying old, used army-surplus kit bags filled with a hodge-podge of hockey sweaters, hand-me-down skates, and equipment that was taped together. I don’t recall seeing many grandparents, or parents for that matter, at hockey games.

“It was a different world back then,” my husband says when I say how different it was when I was a kid, how it was less structured, unconstrained. “You can’t compare,” he reminds me.

But I do. And I wonder if this organized sport affects children’s ability to make decisions, if it takes the joy and freedom from childhood, if it interferes with personal choices. But as I watch the kids on the ice, I see that they play their hearts out and seem to love the sport and my concerns dissipate. They are in the game not for personal gain, but to do their personal best.

To date, my husband and I have been to almost every frigid rink in Nova Scotia. And every time I drop a handful of coins for a cup of hot chocolate, I am reminded of my Snowbird friends living in the southern U.S. during the winter months.

“These winter games, shape us, make us tough,” I say, trying to convince myself.

“How can a warm breeze compare to the rush you get from watching your grandchild play hockey? Even it is 7:00 a.m. and it’s 20 degrees Celsius outside?”

Then again, it’s more than just withstanding winter’s weather. It’s the suspense I experience as I search the ice for my grandson’s sweater number, and the pride in finding it. It’s the love I feel as I watch him looking through the mask’s cage, trying to find me up in the stands. And when he weaves and bobs, dekeing players on his way to the net, then passes the puck to a team mate—it’s that momentary wave of warmth that brings me back, game after game.

And when the game is over, there’s always an instant swelling of love and pride that overwhelms me when he says, “Good game today, Nanny. We almost won.”

•••

AS PLAYERS, THE BOYS AND GIRLS on our grandson’s hockey team have blossomed over the years. When they were five years-old we’d take newspapers and books along to the games. As we read about major government changes, and the rise and fall of financial markets, little players wearing Timbit hockey sweaters skated from one end of the rink to the other on wobbly legs.

Now that they’re in Atom league, the players skate faster and shoot harder. It’s exciting to watch their skills improve. A bit taller and a little more hockey wise, they are more coordinated, more focussed, and really playing well. We’ve even noticed that the individual need to be the star of the game has dwindled and the concept of the collective–team play–has taken over.

There is hockey where ever we go: We watch kids play shinny in driveways, on frozen ponds, and on quiet streets. On Saturday afternoons they get together and raise funds packing groceries in malls.

I watch them now as I write this, behind the glass at the rink; I see them, out of breath, listening to the coach’s instructions in preparation for today’s big game against the best in the league. One of the players is unable to stifle a giggle as another player drops to the ice to do push-ups. The coach has expectations and the kids learn that this is payback for infraction. They know they have to do their best and be their best if they plan to continue playing the game of hockey.

As grandparents, my husband and I simply want our grandson to have fun. Part of the joy of childhood is a sense of play, but it is also important for kids to learn to take responsibility for their actions. There are rules to be  followed. On the flipside, as they come off the ice, we watch players get encouraging pats on their heads. As a team, they share in the joy of victory, the agony of defeat.

We’re dressed for the chill of the arena: warm toques on my greying hair and his balding head; we carry fleece blankets to drape over our laps and insulated pillows to keep our backsides off the cold bleachers.

The puck drops, the game begins.

As play progresses, it’s evident our team is having problems getting the puck to the net, but the boisterous crowd spurs us on. At first, we are the underdogs, but soon the team rises to the challenge; our boys and girls pass, stick-handle, and skate like a cohesive team and before we know it, the score is tied. With only seconds to go, there’s a scramble in front of the opposing net and my grandson bangs in the winning goal. The players pile on top of him as though he’s just scored the winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Spectators scream their support, and in his excitement, the coach hollers, “I’m taking everyone out for pizza!”

The collective excitement of the players, the coaching staff, and the spectators is infectious. I find myself laughing along.

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