One day about 25 or so years ago I was in the garage with my Dad back on the acreage in Alberta. I was sitting beside the dog while my Dad was working on something that probably didn’t need working on. The biggest thing I remember is listening to an Oilers’ game on the radio, and I’ve finally figured out that this is why I’m obsessed with hockey, particularly with how it’s communicated.
I coached three hockey games in the playoffs this spring that went into overtime. Two of them went into double overtime. At that point, as a coach, you’re still trying to do your job - teaching the players, getting the right players on the ice, adapting to your opponent…
But it’s tough not to just sit back and watch the game unfold.
With every pass, every shot, every attempted breakout, your stomach twists itself into knots. You get so nervous you feel like you’ll pass out. All you want from the universe at that point is the winning goal and the opportunity for your team to stay alive.
And so it was fairly memorable when Mitch Williams scored at 1 in the morning at the North Shore Winter Club to send our team to the second round a few weeks back. We all lost control on the bench, Mack Gray head butted me in the forehead because he was so excited. He was still wearing his helmet.
That win meant a lot. Fast forward from that moment exactly one week and we found ourselves in double overtime again. I blinked, and our players were laying on the ice, their hearts broken while our stomachs dropped on the bench.
It’s my job to remain even and level-headed as a coach, but as a parent watching the action unfold, not only do you have no responsibility to remain calm when you’re watching your son or daughter play hockey, your biological makeup demands you tag along for the ride. I have no idea what it’s like to be a parent spectator. I imagine it’s similar to being a coach, but you’re only really cheering for one player. You live and breathe on every stride they take, but ultimately, you’re powerless to do anything about it. You’re in the same building, but you might as well be on the other side of the planet.
Oh man, just writing it out really makes it hit home even harder. Seriously, I can’t imagine the grief you guys go through.
The amount of acid tossed around on twitter and Facebook at the expense of perennially flawed professional hockey teams pales in comparison to the emotional attachment parents have with their children. I’ve heard grown men reduced to tears on radio call-in shows talking about a team they have no connection with other than the connection they choose to cultivate.
Well, as a parent, you don’t get to choose who you cheer for. So it’s not so much an emotional investment as it is an emotional tax. (<- oh wow, that’s good.)
So what is the ultimate reality of being a hockey parent?
They have to want it more than you do.
No amount of gestures in the crowd, lectures in the car, or even good-natured encouragement can replace an internal drive to succeed. This isn’t limited to hockey - children have to want to succeed in school, in their relationships with their friends, their teachers, their family - you wanting it for them won’t cut it. Sorry.
But wait, I have good news. While you can’t do it for them, your kids still belong to you (more or less), and even when you think they aren’t watching or mimicking you, trust me, they are.
I must have listened to a hundred hockey games on the radio when I was a kid. I’m sure I could have tuned out, and I likely often did, but I grew up listening to hockey because that’s what my Dad happened to be doing.
My Dad can’t tell me how to deal with a malfunctioning powerplay. He can’t ride shotgun to my coaching career. He can’t do it for me, even though he probably wishes he could.
So we still talk every other day. And yeah, we talk hockey.