Ok, here we go! My first blog. Ever. If I hadn’t just read Matt Lombardi’s recent piece about Father Tony Pena, who stressed the importance of focusing on one train of thought, I’m sure this post would be scattered and going in more directions than a GPS navigating through downtown Boston (thanks for nothing, Garmin). But since I did read it (again and again), and since Father Tony just so happened to marry me and my wife, I am going to, once again, stick to his advice.
I am currently in Turku, Finland playing in the top hockey league in the country. Right now, however, I’m sitting here typing this and simultaneously watching my 19-month old daughter play with Elsa and Anna figurines. Yes, she is also singing “Let it Go” (well, sort of). It’s more like a high pitched combination of those three words over and over and over. I love it. It’s my favorite part about days off; just to be able to be around and soak it all in. I think back. How did I get here? What guided me to this point? How have I been fortunate enough to play this long, meet the people I’ve met, and have the experiences I’ve had?
There is a wide variety of different people and events that pop into my head. Some good, some bad, but both of which I could mention for impacting my trajectory.
To be honest, nothing made a bigger difference in my life than my parents sticking to what they valued most; be a good person, try your best, and most importantly don’t forget to have fun.
My parents chose to put their kids first in every regard. They even decided to pick our childhood house by using a protractor and drawing a “20-minute circle” around the only rink in the area when we moved from Seattle to Phoenix. As I got older some things were just understood; you got good grades, you didn’t do bad things, you stuck up for what is right, and you lived by the golden rule “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” If you couldn’t manage those simple rules, your passion was what was taken away, not forced upon you. And mine was hockey.
A perfect example was when I was 14 my team in Arizona was traveling to San Francisco to play in a tournament. I told my mom a slight fib that my English report was almost done. She checked the computer and saw I had only written the opening paragraph on a five-page paper (I said slight!). As I sat in my seat on the plane about to depart, I suddenly see someone board the plane who looked a lot like my mom. That’s because it was. As this woman got closer and closer (at an aggressively fast pace, might I add), I realized it was definitely my mom, and she was definitely not here to give me a warm bon-voyage. She leaned down right in front of my face and said, “Grab your stuff. You’re done with hockey for now.” I missed the whole tournament. I wasn’t even mad at my parents for making that decision, I was upset I let them down.
No matter what birthday or holiday was coming up throughout my childhood, I always wanted something hockey related. I asked to skate in this hockey camp or that hockey camp, to travel to certain places to train or compete, new gear, or my favorite players’ jersey. They supported me with everything but also never once pushed it on me.
Even when I made Team USA and got a scholarship to play at Boston College, they always made a point to reiterate how proud they were and continuously asked “Are you having fun?”
If I ever did anything to deface the name on the front of that jersey or the name on the back, hockey was what was going to be taken from me. They didn’t care if I was playing for a scholarship or not. My parents even made sure to tell Coach Jerry York (Boston College) and Mike Eaves (Wisconsin, my USA coach at the time) this before I joined their teams.
After playing a few years pro, I started to spend time coaching younger players in my off-season to keep up my on-ice training and as a way to give back to the community in Arizona that provided the springboard for me to move on with my career. I had a parent approach me once to ask if I could spend some extra time with his kid and help him with his skating. He said his son played three times a day on three different teams and lead all three teams in points. He explained to me that his son’s skating was the only thing between him and a scholarship at the DI level.
The father continued to drive home the point with immense passion, so I said “Ok, which one is he?” as I gazed over at the older 14-18-year-old group of skaters at one end of the ice. He said “The one in the purple jersey.” But I didn’t see one. A little confused, I said “Which one?” He then points down to the younger group at the opposite end of the ice to his six-year-old son. I was dumbfounded. Six-years-old.
I took one glance at this kid and could tell he liked hockey. Liked. But the love wasn’t there, not yet anyways. To be honest he could have been licking snow off the ice through the gaps in his cage, because once he pointed in that direction of the younger children, I didn’t need to see which one he was. He was six for crying out loud. I turned to his Dad and said “He looks like he’s having fun, so his skating will only get better the more fun he has. But thanks for coming out and keep making it fun for him.” He looked at me like I had two heads and I hopped back on the ice.
The Frozen Soundtrack has officially subsided. Now, my daughter has moved onto her “girls.” That’s Strawberry Shortcake and her gang of scented dolls. She has all four in her arms and she is spinning in circles and dancing to the iTunes radio song I have in the background. She smiles at me and exclaims “Dada!” looking 100% content and happy. I can’t help but think no matter what she wants to do; skate, sing, dance, etc., I will support her unconditionally. But if she ever loses the happiness or gets slightly off track, I will be there to guide and support her, not push her. Now, that wouldn’t be any fun.