A few months ago I was fortunate enough to catch up with an old friend in a hockey rink in Langley. A hockey parent, yes, but a friend first and foremost. His name is Tom Sharp, I coached his son Eden for a few different teams in Edmonton back in the day.
When I first met Eden he was a twelve year-old goalie with a fresh spark for the game and an insatiable desire to succeed in his hockey career. Whatever came next, Eden was always ready for it.
No, Tom and I aren't watching Eden tend goal on this rainy afternoon. We’re watching Tom’s daughter, Molly, as she plays a crucial final round robin game in a tournament.
Eden doesn’t play hockey any more.
Eden Sharp was a remarkable young man. Hilariously humble and polite. He came to me in spring hockey as a fill-in goalie (spring hockey is the wild west, didn’t you know?) and I hit it off with the introverted, driven young goaltender immediately.
Maybe I liked Eden so much because Eden made me look good. He was a phenomenal person first and foremost, but he also won games for me. He was the most important player on a team of forgotten ’97 born hockey players. He took us over the top and guided us to gold medals in tournaments we had no business winning.
Fast forward a couple years after I’d moved to Vancouver to coach the North West Giants, and there’s Eden again, coming to town to help us win a tournament alongside Bo Didur against a team from the interior built on stars from all over the province.
Putting that gold medal around his neck, surrounded by players like Callahan Brebner, Quinn Benjafield, Ryland Chernomaz, Dante Fabbro, Spencer McLeod, Jansen Harkins and Cal Babych, along with his buddies from Edmonton, Logan Klatt, Austin Cleaver & Justin Young - the joy in Eden’s eyes was truly heartwarming after that victory.
Especially since it would be the last happy moment the game would give him.
After winning that final game Eden started getting cut wherever he went. He suffered two vicious concussions which may or may not have contributed to the next few years of adversity. I didn’t see Eden play in these seasons, so I don’t know if his play dropped off or not.
Eden, the person, started losing confidence. He started to question attending the high school academy he joined in grade 6, 5 years earlier.
This was too much for Tom and his wife Carrie to bear.
And just like that, Eden was done.
“I can’t handle it man,” Tom told me in the crowd that day as we watched Molly get kicked out of the game for a boarding penalty.
"It's been two years and I still can’t get over it."
Tom is one of the most laid-back people I know, but hockey has as much of an effect on a family as it does on the athlete who plays the games. Tom knows this shouldn't be the reality, but he's smart enough not to try and escape the way he feels, either. Tom is an honest guy. He believes in his family and he's always believed in me as a coach. I coached his son for 5 years and he refused to offer me any insight into Eden, how he was feeling or how I should coach him, at any point. That’s up to you, man, he would always say.
Watching a child forced (for lack of a better word) out of the sport they held so dear for so long is excruciating. I’ve never experienced it firtshand, but watching Tom go through it is difficult even from my bird’s eye view.
We’re interrupted at this point by a bawling Molly. Ejected from the game without knowing if she was gone for the tournament, her emotions took over after she joined me and her dad in the crowd.
How do you do it, parents? One minute Tom’s telling me about his anxiety due to his son leaving hockey and the next he’s consoling the emotional wreckage of his teenage daughter.
“It’s changed me as a parent,” says Tom.
Eden Sharp is a man now. He has a cool car, he goes to a new school with an academic concentration. He’s brilliantly smart, funny, kind-hearted. He’s like his Dad, except he’s over hockey.
I think that’s the most important thing - when you’re a parent, you don’t have to get over your own preconceived notions of failure as it relates to your child. Because from Eden's perspective, Eden hasn’t failed at anything. Eden's life is relaxed now, the pressure to play junior hockey is gone, the pressure to be his best at whatever it is he chooses to do has replaced it. And that’s just fine by Eden. The young man is still everything he was as a hockey player, which is himself fully and completely. Now he simply has the freedom to channel that self into something new and exciting.
So Tom, I’m speaking to you directly: I wish I could help you get over the ups and downs of Eden’s career. I wish I would have guided him to a happier result when I was coaching him. If that were possible though, then would that journey not have less of an impact? Would you want it to have less of an impact?
It seems to me Eden is perfectly comfortable and happy with what he’s accomplished on the ice, and to be honest, I’m more excited to see what he’s going to accomplish off the ice.
Besides, it’s Molly’s turn for attention.
By the way, Molly would play the next game and help her team to a glorious shootout victory before losing in the gold medal game.
Cherish the journey, my friends. You don’t know when it will end.