Sep 30, 2016

Much More Than Hockey

As anyone who has read more than a few entries of this blog knows, I write as much about the community of hockey, a family of a kind, as anything else. When I came back to hockey I never considered that the greatest part of it was going to be the friendships I gained. I thought it was all about being back on the ice and how I might fare in net.

A few weeks ago I turned 50. My wife Amy demanded I put on a clean shirt and pushed me out the door on our way to a birthday surprise. As we turned into one of our local rinks she told me we were going have a beer with some our friends and I couldn't think of a better way than that to start a birthday outing. Moments later I was in a locker room suiting up for a game. A very special game.

Dozens of the wonderful people I've got to know through hockey had turned up to play in a game for my birthday. Split into two teams, they wore custom jerseys with my face on the front and welcomed me onto the ice. I was in a daze as I skated around and trying to greet everyone. I was overwhelmed with the entire spectacle. Amy and my best friend Paul had pulled off the greatest surprise in the history of birthday surprises by somehow getting all of these folks to show up for an organized game without spilling the beans. I looked around the ice and saw so many of the friends who I've played with and against these past years and even more in the stands. They all had grins on their faces almost as big as mine. But the surprise wasn't over quite yet.

Someone announced a very special guest was about to join us for the game and I was at a loss to imagine who it could be as he came down the tunnel and onto the ice. Seconds later I recognized him as my brother who had flown down to Texas from Canada to join the party. I didn't hold my emotions in check. I didn't care. I was among friends and family as I embraced my brother and hugged him tight. You see, there are more than a few years between us in age and my brother had quit hockey many years before I picked it back up. We had never been on the ice together and it was something I always regretted as the years went by. Today we were together. Hockey.

Another great friend of ours flew 2,000 miles to surprise everyone and drop the puck at center ice and be part of the event. The game was a mix of hijinx and laughter. I scored goals (they let me), there were faux fights that ended in grins and even some cheating (mostly by me) that concluded with a handshake line that was more hugging than anything else.

The after party was as glorious as the game. Friends who couldn't attend sent greetings and videos. There was beer, food and gifts and my daughters at my side. Writing this now, weeks after, has me choked up again at the outpouring of well wishes.

After hearing many of the stories surrounding the planning and coordination of my birthday surprise, I have so many people to thank. I have tried to speak to each of you and make you understand how much it all meant. I'm not sure I was really able to tell you but I think you know.

A funny thing happened when I came back to hockey. I've found out it isn't the hockey. It's the friends.

If you want to see all the photos of the 'Al Star' game click here.

I have to make special mention of the wonderful photos of the day provided by Amy Holland. A local Dallas photographer, I hope you will keep her in mind for your events.

Extra thanks go to Amy, Paul, Paul, Amy, Mac, Caryn, Bonnie, Gail, Fred, Logan, Kasey, & John for making the greatest day for me.

Sep 8, 2016

You've Got to 'B' Kidding

*worst title ever

Three and a half years ago I re-booted my amateur hockey career by stepping onto the ice with 15 year old goalie gear and into an adult instructional league. I knew nobody who played hockey and I genuinely doubted I could ever play hockey again. I hadn't played in 25 years and I wasn't very good then.

Slowly I became a goalie again. I spent a lot of time on the ice and I spent a lot of money buying gear. I got a lot of help too. I played on bad teams and then a few good ones as I rose from the instructional league to higher skilled divisions.

In 2015 I was lucky enough to gather up some of the great people I knew in hockey to create my own team- the Puck Hawgs. It was a tough thing to try to do. I wasn't sure of my standing in our small hockey community. Would enough players commit to a new team I was putting together? How would I feel if the team didn't come together? Thankfully we did take the ice as a team and it was one of the most exciting moments of my new hockey life.

Before we began, I struggled deciding which division the Puck Hawgs should play and finally took the plunge into the Lower 'C' division despite feeling like we would have a better season if we played in the less skilled 'D' division. We did alright our first season and won the division championship the next. Soon enough, many of the players who struggled in Lower 'C' were ready to take on another challenge and in the fall of 2015 we decided to move up another division to Upper 'C'. Two more seasons went by and we came up just short of the division championship but dominated with an overall record of 12-3.

This summer, I got the news from the league that the Puck Hawgs had a choice; cut our top players or get moved up to the Lower 'B' division. I couldn't help but grin for awhile. As I reviewed the roster, many of the names were the same as the day we stepped onto the ice for the first time. Now we were moving to the second highest division in adult hockey. So many of these guys had worked to improve their game and were genuinely ready to play at a higher level and here I was going along for the ride.

We have been lucky enough to bring a few new friends to the Hawgs as the seasons went along. We've also had a few who weren't able to stay with us- although most of those remain connected to our team and part of our hockey family. But at the heart of the team many of the same people who took a leap and joined a new team that probably wasn't ready for 'C' have pushed us along to join a much higher level of hockey and I couldn't be more thrilled for them... and me.

Friday night is the start of the new season in 'B' and I'll skate over to my net and stand behind a group of friends who I've spent more time with than any others in recent years. I'll try to take a minute to look around and remember what it felt like stepping onto the ice for the first time three and half years ago and again for the first time with the Hawgs. It's been a hell of a ride and I can't wait to see what's next.

Thank you to all who were and continue to be part of the Puck Hawgs.