Silently sitting alone. You can’t be with your team. Different genders result to different locker rooms. You feel out casted. No one talks to you, No one listens to you. You are just a shadow, A breeze, A back-round noise. You don’t fit in here, you don’t belong here, you are not one of them. You repeat this over and over in your head as you was out of the locker room, and behind all of the rest of your team, waiting in the tunnel that leads to the ice. You stand and wait amongst them. You lean back against the cement walls, which are painted in white, black, and gold stripes. The team’s colors. You close your eyes and listen past the yelling and foul mouth of your teammates and hear the beast. The machine the clears way for you. It’s gears grind together. It cleans your home so you can be a part of it. Then you hear it slow. You hear the gears come to a stop, and the beast is then gone. You open your eyes to the sound of the metal hitch of the old beaten up and rusted gate close. You move slowly in line along with your team, and you step foot on the ice. The first push on clean ice is a blissful thing. You can hear the crunch of your blade slicing into the soft yet solid ice. You can feel the purity and acceptance of the ice as it travels up your skate and all the way up through your heart and into your mind. And it reminds you why you play.
You play for the team, which gives you a place to play. You play for the parents, who want to see you get better. You play for the coaches, who exist to help you get better. You play for your teammates, who depend on you to play your part. You play for you. You want to be the best player on the ice, but everyone constantly is improving and it’s a race down the ice past the blue line, the red line, back to the blue line, who’s going to impress the coach today. Who’s trying their hardest? Who really doesn’t want to be here? Who cares for their sport? We do.
This is our home. It’s our rink, our game, our puck. You can try to beat us but you can’t win. Because we are a family. Off ice we may not be the best of friends, but you push the grudges aside and play the game. It is a game of respect and grace, patience and diligence, but you must also be fast, and furious. You have to have a flame burning inside of you so hot it could melt the ice you play upon. That flame is what keeps you playing, what keeps you going for countless hours and days and months and years. And keeps the team together. It’s like carrying the ceremonial torch for the Olympics inside of you. One of your teammates breaks down. Their own tears sizzling against their flame till it’s out. They are a burnt out match. But you, you can relight them. You tell them it’s okay, you listen to their problems and you help them. You be there for them when no one else is, and you relight them. A team can break apart if the fire stops burning, it can crumble to the ground as the ashes of the burnt out players fall to the ice. That is why the heart of a hockey player must be stronger than any other part of their body. It doesn’t matter if you have the hardest shot, or you are the fastest skater. It matters that you care. You have to play as a family or you will never win.
You skate with your team out on the ice, out in the somehow engaging warmup circles you do around the ice, saying hi to your teammates. Then you hear the whistle. Back to the blue line as fast as you can. 4 lines. Doesn’t matter who you are with, you are in practice mode now. You hear someone yell “6 and 12.” And you start skating around the circles. You skate forward crossing the sharp and fresh cut blade of your skate, to close for comfort over the laces of your other and again and again. Then you reach the top of the circle. You read yourself and slide your feet, switching their direction to face the way you came from. The sound of that freshly sharpened metal against ice is a very distinct sound. A sound that skaters enjoy. You now take your other foot and cross the sharp blades over the skate that did this before, again and again. And now you make the daring transition from backwards to forwards. Moving as graceful as a swan, but as fast and diligent as a tiger, feet facing out but your body in, knees bent, so you are in a plié for a split second, and then you are forward again. And you do this. 3 times. Then back 3 times. Then again. Again. You do this till the blood is pumping through every inch of your body and you are out of breath and your muscles ache.
Then the whistle is blown again. Back to the center of the ice. You take a knee. The soft fabric of your sock sticking to the brittle ice, like a snowflake to a jacket. This is it. This is the drill you dread every practice. Crosbys. Named after one of the legends of the game. This required you to do the gruesome Plié again, but you hold it, round and round your muscles aching and stretching beyond their reach. You must trust the edges of your skates to support you. The crisp and thinly sliced insides of the blade of your skates, Cut into the ice, leaving a lasting mark on the ice with a sweet crunching sound. Carving yourself into every step, leaving your mark behind you. The drill is one of importance. But you dread it oh so much. But you do it. You stick through it. You do it with every other person who dreads the drill, and you do it as hard as you can. Because this is hockey. You have to try, You have to care. But they both come back to the heart and mind. We are strong. We have courage. We care. We have passion. We are hockey players.