I begged my dad not to say anything.
You see, back then players and parents didn’t talk to coaches. You did as you were told.
Even when you were told to do nothing.
So there I was, in the lobby of the hotel in Calgary after I watched my teammates play a game at the prestigious Mac’s Hockey Tournament. The view from the crowd was great, but the frustration and depression I felt as I sat out turned out to be too much for my family (my parents and all 3 of my sisters who had travelled from Edmonton to watch) to handle.
Looking back, though, I just didn’t want it to be an issue. I didn’t feel comfortable with the clouds gathering around me. I wanted to focus on the team, which was even tougher since we lost the game and the tournament was finished.
Fast forward over a decade. I’m once again sitting in a hotel in Calgary. This time it’s New Year’s Day, the morning of the Mac’s Cup gold medal game. 20 young men are hanging off my every word as I re-tell my story. You see, I’m a coach now. Now I feel an obligation to speak. No, it's my job to communicate.
I get goosebumps thinking about that morning. I’m finally where I belong, I was thinking. The game may have put me through hell, but I’m stronger for it.
“The game took something away from me that day,” I tell my players.
“And now you’re going to help me take it back.”
And everyone cheers.
We leave the hotel room with grim determination, the odds stacked against us. We’re set to face the Carolina Junior Hurricanes, a team with 7 over-age players and a reputation as a gunshot-quick, tough team of skilled athletes. They’re bigger than us. We’re told they’re better than us.
We decide not to listen.
I’d love to say that we flew out of the gate, that we dominated the moment the puck dropped. It’s not true. We scrambled. We never led in the game.
And with under 30 seconds remaining in the third period, down 2-1, the seconds ticking away, we manage to get Bo Didur out of the net. Brandon DelGrosso leaps onto the ice and skates as fast as I’ve ever seen anyone skate, straight to the net.
An impossible pass from Jansen Harkins. An unlikely pass from Jarid Lukosevicious.
And DelGrosso scores!
12 seconds left and we tie the game! The profanity-laden text messages I would later read painted a picture of an army of supporters back in North Vancouver. Indeed, 10,000 people in the Saddledome chanting Go Vancouver Go echoed the emotion. Literally.
The first overtime solved nothing. I remember the jokes flying around the dressing room in our 4th intermission, before double overtime. It was at this point I felt like I had taken back what I had lost. Two holiday seasons in my life I’d spent away from my family, flying out on Christmas Day to go to battle with my team.
This time around, I felt like I was home. Even if we lost, the pain my family had gone through all those years earlier would have been erased.
It’s a funny feeling, losing the fear of losing. When you commit fully to the moment no matter what happens there’s a calm that comes over you. A quiet, unbreakable strength.
When you commit to the reality of losing, the intensity of winning is multiplied a hundred times over. Winning becomes all that matters. For your family, for your teammates.
For that kid who might not have been good enough to play.
So you can imagine the explosion, 5 minutes into double overtime, when our captain, our heart and soul, Eric Margo, drove back a Carolina defenseman into the path of a Jackson Cressey centering pass.
It bounces off something and into the back of the net.
And my heart drops.
“What the *expletive* do we do?” I scream. The bench empties. Zach Landon picks me up on the ice, yelling at the top of his lungs. And from there it’s a blur. We still don't really know who scored, and we don't care.
We accept our medals. The rink is dark an hour later. It’s January 2nd now and it’s officially my 30th birthday. I’m standing at centre ice and I phone my dad. I talk to my mom. I phone my sisters.
But this time, it’s not about me. It’s about us.
Why do you play?
Merry Christmas everyone.