Watching a daughter, and remembering a father, by the hockey rink.
“I look like a Stormtrooper!” my daughter said. I leaned back and had to admit that yeah, she did look a little like a Stormtrooper in her new hockey shoulder pads.
I slid the tiniest of elbow pads on to her arms, helped her pull her new hockey jersey over her head, snapped her helmet into place and checked her skates one more time.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Yep,” she said.
“Go have fun.”
She stepped through the door, onto the ice at Vancouver’s Mountain View Ice Arena and fell right down. She pushed herself up, and she fell down again. A coach brought her a small red plastic chair. She grabbed hold of it, and fell down again.
From a few feet away, on the other side of the boards, I smiled and cheered. Just like my mom and dad used to do.
The end of the rink was where you’d find my dad. If either of his kids were playing hockey, he’d place himself behind the goalie, standing if there was room. He said he liked the view, the ability to see the play set up, and I’m sure there’s some truth to that.
I also think he was anxious for his kids, who were playing the game he’d played and knew best. He helped us into our equipment and tied our skates tight and taught us how to tape our sticks. He was there for my first stitches, for the broken leg in the play-offs my junior year, for bumps and bruises and disappointments and small triumphs that felt so much bigger at the time.
He coached when needed, but mostly he watched from his spot, hands in his pockets, and he’d watch in relative solitude. Mom was right there, too, but she preferred the company of the other parents (and the heaters that usually hung above the bleachers).
I hadn’t thought about any of that in years, until the day my wife sent an email asking if we should sign our daughter up for the Rose City Hockey Club. And then those memories were all I could think about. I was so excited I felt guilty, like my enthusiasm for hockey might tip my daughter to the fact that I don’t really care whether or not Tinkerbell saves spring.
But the kiddo seemed equally excited. She’d seen a few of my adult league games. “I’ll be just like you,” she said, and maybe — just maybe – she was getting a charge out of a little common ground as well.
So we drove to the rink, filled out some paperwork, and the Rose City Hockey Club handed us a bag of equipment. That’s no small thing. Hockey is expensive. By providing equipment, the club gives girls a chance to try the game out. The smiles of the volunteers and the spirit at the rink will — more often than not, I’d bet — take care of the rest.
I’d make that bet because my daughter isn’t usually the most physically courageous kid on the playground. She tends toward careful. And while I don’t think this is unique among 5-year olds, when something isn’t mastered quickly, it’s usually abandoned, and with tears. (For example: our first game of catch with a baseball.)
On the ice that day, she kept falling down and kept getting up, and I kept waiting for frustration, anger or tears. But she just kept getting up, determined. She got some help. She got a little steadier. She began to figure it out. She fell again. She got back up.
She looked at me and smiled. I looked at the end of the rink and picked out a spot I might call mine in years to come.
For more information on Rose City Hockey Club, visit rosecityhockeyclub.com.