In our own backyard...I'm one proud hockey grandma!It’s difficult for a 5-year-old to fathom just what it would be like to cover the length of the ice in a few swift strokes, much less carry the puck past multiple defenders to try to score a goal. A girl can dream, however….
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Number 15 stood silently, with face glued up against the glass of the arena boards, studying the torrid pace of the players just beyond. The slap of the sticks, the searing whine of the sharpened blades and the rocket-like zing of the puck were mesmerizing, and a little intimidating. The fierce onslaught of the young players as they vied for the puck seemed larger than life from rink level, especially from the height of just a little over four feet.
Number 15, garbed in shoulder pads, elbow pads, shin guards, breezers and helmet, seemed more than ready to take on the ice, however, and the little player could hardly wait.
It’s difficult for a 5-year-old to fathom just what it would be like to cover the length of the ice in a few swift strokes, much less carry the puck past multiple defenders to try to score a goal. A girl can dream, however….
As soon as the older skaters left the ice, our granddaughter Evie was ready to bolt through the gate and try out her legs before practice began. She wobbled the first few strokes and teetered tentatively forward and back, but her ankles were perfectly straight and determination was written in every bone of her well-protected little body. Her Ice Mites group was made up of both boys and girls, though from a distance it was tough to pick Evie out of the crowd – except for the pink skate laces and the pink tape on her stick.
She cruised around the ice as she got used to the equipment and the ice. With only a couple of weeks of hockey practice under her belt, it was all still pretty new to her.
I noticed she skated with a peculiar backward tilt to her head, and I wondered what was going on. As I looked around, I noted that several others skated with the same awkward posture. As she cruised past us, I realized that she was having a hard time seeing out from under the overly large helmet, which had a tendency to slip down on her forehead. Making matters worse, through the face guard I could see her glasses had fogged up and slipped down toward the tip of her nose!
Soon the coaches blew their whistles, signaling that the hockey practice was about to get under way.
It was part drills, part game playing, and the kids seemed to love it. About half of them could skate in some way, shape or fashion, but the other half were decidedly new to the ice and had to use walker-like devices to hold them upright while they learned how to stand up on their skates. They weaved around cones, stepped through an obstacle course of hockey sticks, and skated as fast as they could before diving full-length on the ice and sliding.
I wandered around with my camera, snapping photos of Evie from every angle. It was when I was at one end of the rink that I noticed one of the dads with a cell phone glued to his ear. The entire time I stood there, he talked about returns on investment, earnings reports and the compound growth rate. He went on and on, with that eyes-forward stare that showed his mind was on the phone conversation and not on his son or daughter. It made me sad. He was missing all of the “firsts” that his little hockey player was conquering out on the ice.
On the other side of the coin, I noticed one of the coaches working with a very small boy who could barely move his skates. At one point, the coach happened to glance up toward the stands, and then he very slowly, very tenderly helped the little boy maneuver his skates in that direction. When they got almost to the boards, the coach made certain the boy was standing steady on his skates, with his hockey stick propping him up, and then he let go and cautiously took a step to the side – as the little boy’s mother up in the stands took a quick, and very precious, photo of him – on his own skates for the very first time.
Evie’s group was about to do one final drill, and they lined up six players deep to await the coach’s directions. The boy behind Evie was horsing around and lost his balance and fell, taking her out with him. One by one the rest of them fell, too, like a lineup of dominos, until they were all lying on the ice. As they scrambled to get up on their feet, I wondered if Evie would ever have the physical stamina and the mental toughness to play this game. But as she regained her balance, I noticed a fleeting moment when she glanced over her shoulder at the boy who fell and wiped out the lineup. She leveled her helmet, stared him right in the eye, and gave him “the look” that unmistakably said, “Try that again buddy and you’ll have me to reckon with!”
At that moment, I knew she’d be just fine.