They tell a young child, not to worry, you have your whole life ahead of you. At a young age when we are starting a sport, they tell you to cherish each moment because you never know what could happen. They never tell you the feeling that you will feel or the thoughts that will rush through your brain, the day that final game comes. I always tell myself, life happens quickly so be sure to remember the good times.
When I first started hockey, I never knew the effect this sport would have on me or the energy that I would devote into to it. For me, it all started a little untraditionally, I started out in roller hockey playing in an outdoor league, with my cousin and brother. I never thought about ice hockey until my mom signed me up for skating lessons, and age 10, I put on ice skates for the first time. For four months I dedicated my blood, sweat, and tears into private lessons and learning to skate. After four months, I played in my first in-house league, through in-house I was asked to play on a travel team. And after one full year on skates, I played travel hockey. I now look back at that moment and realize how truly gifted I am to be able to play this sport. For some, it takes several years to make that leap but for me, I was lucky enough to go right into travel hockey after a year.
That first year of travel hockey fully convinced that this sport is the greatest sport on earth. Not because of the team, and playing but because of the off-ice support from parents, the road trips, the hotel mini hockey, the team bonding. Everything that happened that year carried on me with me forever, I will never forget those years. After two years with that team, I was forced to leave due to financial problems, so at age 13, I was scrambling to find another team and the team I had joined for a short period of time, made me despise hockey. I went from the most loving, and supportive set of teammates and parents to a team that resented me and hated me. I remember the team would shoot pucks at me, even the coach, or they some would not dress in the same locker room as me.
The reason, I bring this up because the bad times I have faced during my journey in hockey, all the good times make up for that. I was cut several times from teams, told I sucked, was never good enough to play here nor there, or just plan out hated for no reason. Hockey can be a tough sport, and a sport that is not made for everyone, it takes a special type of person to shed off the hateful words coaches and players say to us, or endure some of the things like failure, rejection, or disappointment we feel. But at the end of the day, when we look down that bench and we see 20 plus guys playing for the exact same goal, for the exact same purpose, it makes it a little easier to gear up and play through whatever is going on.
Hockey was an escape for me for 10 years, and I’m sure it has been an escape for many others that play the game, but from my experience, the reason hockey was my escape back then has a different meaning to it than many others. An escape can be something we use to get away from a nagging girlfriend, school work, social life, parents, stress, etc. But for me, it means something different, and I continue to fight back the urge to type this because, it is something I am truly ok with, and have accepted and have learned to be a better person from. For me, hockey is my escape because when I was in middle school, I was tormented, bullied and felt like I had nowhere to go in life. I missed days of school, from the fear of seeing my attackers, I feared to go out in public, I feared to make new friends. I was resentful and simply have given up on myself, I stopped playing the sport I loved and took off a full year of hockey. What happened to me caused me to let go of the one thing I loved in life. When I got back into hockey the following year, my freshman year of high school, I was scared to play and scared to be on a team again, one because of what happened to me during my middle school years both off and on the ice, I got bullied at school and at hockey.
My freshman year, my mother forced me to play again, and since then I have not looked back, sure I can sit here and say what if I didn’t stop playing, what if I found a different team, what if I tried to make friends with the team that hated me. But after that freshman year of hockey, I knew I my clock was ticking and my time in the game had only just begun, but was ending so soon. Through three years of high school playing juniors and varsity high school hockey, I never was my true self, I never allowed others to fully see the real me, I often hid behind a mask, weather I was being the team clown, or filled with rage. Through those years I had faked an attitude and persona that carried on me with me until college.
Entering my first year of college, I had no idea what to expect and I fell flat on my face, I failed miserably, and again tried to run from my problems, after freshman year of hockey, I thought it would be a good idea to try out for junior teams. After doing so, I was legitimately considering Canada or staying at school, when you live a life, constantly unsure of how to control your emotions or control how you react, situations like this are common. Now that I look at it, how stupid could I have been to considered this. Luckily I did not do that, I stayed and played at Rider my sophomore year, a year that I had struggled mentally and physically, I was always afraid to be a burden on others with how I felt, I did not want others to think I was a pansay, or complaining all the team, so I kept everything inside me. It affected my ability to connect with my team and others. Fast forward to Junior year, after being named the assistant captain and coming in physically ready, I thought the year would be different, unfortunately, it was a year filled with constant up and downs, and a team that was just not fully bought into a common goal, a goal to play for each other and not themselves.
Well, move onto my final year of hockey, the greatest year of my life. A year I will never forget and a year that has not even ended, but through 19 games and four months together with this group, I tear everytime thinking about this. To bring you back to my escape, this team is the reason why hockey has not been an escape for me anymore, it is the reason why I do not need to hide who I am from anyone or anything and I can be myself 24/7 and I know whatever I do, the guys to the left and right of me will be there to support me and cheer me on. This team has given me the confidence to do so much in life. It has allowed me to open and break the many barriers in my life, they have allowed me to tear off the masks I used to hide behind and show them the real me. Sure, there are days where I feel down or out of it and I am not fully there, but the moment I see this team or come out for a practice, the world and my thoughts wash away like water on the beach, and in the blink of an eye, I am standing there thanking god for giving me these 25 teammates. The days, I do not feel great or upbeat, I used to just throw it in a box and lock it up, with this team they allow me to open up and tell them how I really feel, what I am really scared of when I feel lost or unsure. This team has been the singular focus in my life at the moment. This team has allowed me to unleash a whole new perspective in my life, put my best foot forward and strive to accomplish anything I dream of. They have given me the power to do more than I was ever capable of and have not given me confidence in myself. To all 25 guys, from top to bottom, this team means the world to me, thank you for everything.