Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hockey Is Not Life & Death

Finding out your teammates' brother had a brain tumour removed is life and death.

My son’s team is in the semi-finals so we headed to the arena full of excitement. The usual clichés were bandied about, ‘I’ll die if we don’t win’ and ‘Playoffs are do or die’ being some of them. We got a reality check in the pre-game coach’s chat.

I could tell by the look on the his face that he was in a very serious frame of mind, and thought nothing of it, because, this after all, is Minor Atom semi-finals – first team to reach four points advances to the gold medal match. What could possibly matter more than playoff hockey?

“Riley’s brother is in hospital following brain tumour surgery,” was not what anyone in that room expected to hear from our coach. We were all frozen. A week ago this boy was watching his brother play, now he was recovering from a major operation.

When the words first bounced from my eardrums into my conscience, there was nothing – nothing to think, to do, to say. I’m a writer – surely there must be words for this? No. This time, silence spoke and I did not dare to interrupt.

The game was dedicated to a little boy in hospital, the family by his side, and his brother on blades.

Riley got to wear the special jersey – number 99 – for this game. I’ve watched him play since October but today was his career game. It was a slow start for our kids, understandably so. If I couldn’t get the news out of my head, how could I expect it of them?

Something clicked and when they finally scored, the pressure was off. Those kids had put it on themselves to win, trying so hard, that for a short while, the fun was gone.

Sometimes scoring a goal goes beyond the physical sphere; sometimes it’s more than a little chunk of rubber landing it the net. Today was one of those times.

When the puck slid past the goalie, it didn’t cure a sick little boy. It didn’t magically make everything better. It did however, make 13 kids forget, for a few seconds, that maybe playing the game isn’t the most important thing.

Who you play it for, that counts for more than any names and numbers on a score sheet.

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