Outdoor Hockey Rink

Sticks In The Middle

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.

5 replies
  1. Louanne
    Louanne says:

    Fantastic truth well described about a great game. No pressure, no parents in the stands, no expectations, no one even cares who wins. It’s about the fun and friendly competition on ice between the two “teams” and a handshake and pat on the back when it’s all over. It is a right of passage for young players guided along the way by the older ones. My boys grew up rushing home to get to the outdoor rink. There was instant acceptance and camaraderie and the random team selection ensured everyone was welcome. My lads started out as the young ones, looking up to and learning from the older kids, to becoming the ones looked up to. They took that mentorship role seriously and remembered well how they were treated. They acquired humility, generosity, kindness, tolerance and maturity along the way, while having the time of their lives. They came home only when they were cold, tired and hungry, with great stories and memories they still recall fondly.

    • Chris Read
      Chris Read says:

      The funny thing is that I think my son has gained more experience playing against the older kids than he has all year in his Novice house league. Something about that outdoor game makes the kids try harder than they normally would. My guess, again, would be that there is no pressure on them to succeed which makes them less afraid of failure. I hope we get a few more weeks before the heat comes because it’s nice for this dad to be able to lace them up from time to time, too! I still love being a part of the game.


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