Hockey players come in all shapes, sizes and skill levels. Some are naturally talented while others have to scratch and claw for every inch. We sort them by age and skill level, throw them on teams and shuttle them off to their 6am practices while we sip coffee or lace up with them and breathe the unmistakable arena air. In most cases, the children will stay in their comfort zones and play at the same skill level for the majority of their hockey lives and become friends with other similarly skilled players. While we may want to believe that there isn’t separation among friends based on your athletic abilities, for those of us who grew up in sports, we know that it definitely exists.
There exists, however, an alternate hockey universe; a glitch in the matrix, if you will, and it takes place in the dead of winter at the outdoor rink. As far back as I can remember the outdoor rink was a neutral playground for anyone who has ever laced up their skates and picked up a stick. As the outdoor rink there are no levels, no jersey numbers and definitely no egos. It’s always been a place where people from all walks of life meet up to simply have some fun.
Just the other day my 7 year old son, his friend and I went to the rink and within minutes of arriving had been thrust into an ongoing game. In that game there were two dads, three 7/8 year olds, a handful of teenage boys, two teenage girls and a couple guys who I’d guess we’re in their mid-20’s. Some of the players were obviously in competitive programs, others were less so and the young guys are still trying to find their place. None of us knew each other when we arrived at the rink but we threw our sticks in the middle, blindly selected teams and formed immediate bonds with the players in the game.
You’d think with all the different ages and skill levels that the game would be controlled by only a few skaters but something funny happens once you step onto the outdoor ice. Maybe it’s the lack of pressure to succeed or simply kindness taking over but a silent agreement is made between all players that everyone gets the chance to shine. This is my favourite part. There is a renewed faith in humanity in watching a 13 year old kid with all the talent in the world stop himself from scoring a goal in order to feed passes to a 6 year old kid who is still learning to shoot without falling down. Although the 13 year old isn’t my child I still feel a sense of pride as a parent, knowing how much awareness and maturity it took to share the glory with someone else.
Being involved in organized hockey can be tough, as a player and a parent, but the minute you step onto that outdoor ice you remember why you love this game so much. So don’t be afraid to jump into the game and throw your stick in the middle when asked. The game never really ends, it’s just waiting for the next player to get there.