As a child, all I thought about was hockey. I always wanted to play and watch any type of hockey I could find. I envied the players in the NHL like they were gods, and to me they were. I was never really big into being religious so hockey became my religion, with my gods being the best of the best hockey players in the world. Though they seemed like the top of the food chain to me, I always had my favorite player – my dad. I either wanted to go play street hockey in the driveway or go watch my dad showcase moves that I had never seen before in the game of hockey. Now, one of my many goals in life has been achieved, and that was to play with my dad, the best player in the game – check.
As my life went on and I got older, I started to join my dad in his Sunday game. The Sunday Game, as he called it, was a weekly roller hockey game held at a rink 20 minutes away from our house. For more than a decade, he and his buddies would always play from about 10:00 am to 1:00 pm every Sunday–if it didn’t snow or rain. Sometimes I would come after my ice hockey games and just watch my dad light the other team up. It was always a pick-up game so the teams varied a lot, but I always rooted for my dad.
Then one day when I was about ten years old, the day finally came! I was old enough and strong enough to play with the big boys. It was a sunny spring day and as we left the house at about 9:00 am I was so excited, the only thing I remember my mom saying was, “You got the call – have fun boys.” We packed the gear in the car and headed for the rink. As we neared the road in which the rink was located, I started to feel queasy and nervous, “What if I played poorly? What if I couldn’t keep up?”
We pulled into the rink parking lot and all I could see were smiles and waves from the guys through my window. We got out, unloaded the car and started to get dressed. I didn’t say a word the entire time until I skated down the long, bumpy driveway to the rink. All the guys knew me. I was “Pete’s kid” and they knew I was on my way to being as good as my dad, or at least I hoped.
The pre-game warm-ups began and I was skating, stretching, and making sure I was 110% ready for the game. Today– I play hockey with my dad, and boy was I excited. This was really the first competitive game I have ever played with the ruler of my religion.
The game got underway, and I lost all feeling in my body. I went completely numb. But, my brain still controlled me and I started to play the game instinctively. All the time I had spent watching and practicing had put me into a groove. It was so much fun! Nothing could have ruined my day, except for the thought of the homework I would have to do when I got home, but I was in a state of bliss.
It was a while until someone scored, and that was the ruler himself, my dad. I changed from my shift and started to rest on the bench. I prepared myself for what I needed to do, I needed to score. I got back on the rink and quickly looked back in the defensive zone just in time to call for a pass from my defenseman. The pass was right on my stick. I took a long stride forward and sprinted to the net to go one-on-one with the goalie. All I could hear was the Flyers announcer saying, “He’s in all alone” in my head. I took the ball to my backhand, then the forehand, and then shot. It went in! It was an incredible moment!!! As I looked back at my dad, he gave me the biggest smile ever as he said, “That’s my move.” Little did I know that this would be one of the most memorable sentences in the history of my relationship with my hero. He was so proud of me. He came off the bench to give me the biggest hug. “I did it just like you, dad” were the only words that I could muster. I was as proud as he was.
From that day on, I have played many hockey games with my dad. We now play every Saturday afternoon and every Sunday morning when I don’t have a club ice hockey game scheduled. Usually, if I have a game he will still play those games without me but I always hear that same line from him, “It just wasn’t the same without you today, son.”
As the years have gone on, the guys that we play with have become a second family. There’s a lot of camaraderie and carrying on, but I know they all have my back if need be. One of the guys is 6’5” and weighs about 250 pounds, and has personally become vested in teaching me how to become tougher. Every week another memory is created that my dad and second family have to share and laugh and sometimes cry about. But nothing compares to that first time, that first goal, the first experience lacing ‘em up with the old man.