After the first practice of my major bantam year, my coach came into the dressing room and asked each of us why we played hockey. Thankfully, being on the far side of the room I was given some time to think of my answer before responding. I listened to a few others: get a scholarship; make it to Jr. B; make it to the Ontario League; even make it to the NHL for some kids.
As the answers spilled out around the room, not one person responded with the answer of fun. I understand why; people who say they play for fun are considered not “competitive” or “intense” enough for a “rep” team. However, it still should always be part of the reason to play the game.
Most kids who are born into a hockey-loving family are given a puck and stick before their first birthday. Parental pressure will always be a part of playing hockey, whether it’s aggressive pressure or not. Kids almost feel some responsibility to play the game. But that’s all hockey is - a game. It shouldn’t be a lifestyle. All the greatest hockey players played other sports in the off-season. Another key word: off season. No pro hockey player plays hockey for 12 months of the year and neither should a minor hockey player.
But with all these pressures, kids still love to play this game and for good reason. Memories made from away overnight hockey tournaments, getting kicked out of halls for playing mini sticks, sneaking by the coach’s room after curfew, all the friends and people you meet along the way can really shape a player’s life in a positive way. And of course there’s always that dream to make it to the next level; play in front of sold out crowds, get paid to play the game we love and maybe even hoist Lord Stanley mug itself.
As the coach turned to me and asked me why I play hockey, I answered, “I play because I love it.” That’s what everyone who plays hockey should say. That’s why I’ll never hang up the skates for good and that’s why I put my first pair on.
Hockey was always fun for me, I played competitive my entire life. And I can’t even count how many times I lost control of my emotions and was totally consumed with the competitive nature of the game. But that is part of the fun; competing every shift, making the big hit, blocking a shot, pulling a toe drag through a defenders leg, making a big stop in overtime. All of these things create the atmosphere and personality of hockey.
These are the reasons that kids are willing to get up at 6 a.m. for a practice and give up a vacation on March break to somewhere in Hawaii just because their team might still be in the OMHA final then.
Kids are willing to make these sacrifices and they always will be, simply because “they love it.”
Patrick Gutelius, Newmarket, Ont.