Another Point on Why I Love Hockey

Sometimes it’s the little things that can remind us about the joy of sport.

Especially for us old and somewhat jaded folks.

My youngest son, Ryder, turned nine at the beginning of August and we had some plans for the afternoon to celebrate as a family, including a trip to the local amusement park.

Those plans, however, abruptly changed when I received an email from his minor hockey association (Blackfoot Hockey) informing parents that hometown boy Brayden Point would be at one of the local rinks here in Calgary with the Cup that afternoon, and that kids were invited to drop by for a picture.

Point — a Blackfoot alumnus — was making the stop as part of his tour of the city for his day with Lord Stanley’s sacred chalice.  

It just so happened that given his local roots – and recent heroics during Tampa Bay’s second straight Cup run — he was already Ryder’s second-favourite player, sitting closely behind Calgary’s Sean Monahan.

And the Lightning already had a coveted spot in our family – not for me, but my boys. As a Flames fan, I’m still bitter about 2004. IT. WAS. IN. 

Some years back, courtesy of a relative of ours, Steven Stamkos surprised my oldest son Aidan by sending some signed Lightning stuff, including a picture with a nice personal message. 

It arrived in the mail and after he opened it, he was an instant fan of the player and the team. This trickled down to Ryder, who considers Tampa his second favourite team, again, after the Flames. 

Needless to say, he was rather excited the last two years when they won back-to-back Cups.

So when I read the email from Blackfoot I could not believe the timing. It was too perfect. When I told Ryder about Point and the Cup, he gave that look that parents adore, the one they get on Christmas morning: Sheer unbridled joy.

Of course, there’s nothing better than sharing an experience like that with a pal so we picked up his best friend Matthew and headed to the rink about 45 minutes before Point was slated to arrive. A lineup had just started forming, with everyone hoping for an autograph as well.

Point arrived a bit late but the crowd of kids erupted when he walked in and held the Cup above his head. His dad asked everyone to flood out on to the arena floor for a big group picture. 

It was bedlam – but the good kind.

Ryder and Matthew managed to get close to him for the picture, Point even rubbing Ryder’s head and saying ‘Hi pal.’

After that, Point announced they had to get going as it was a packed day with tons of stops. However, outside near their rented bus, he stopped for another chat with some kids. Ryder and Matthew found their way right beside him again, both getting to touch the Cup and his ring from 2019. They were beaming.

One little guy asked Point ‘Why does the Cup smell like beer’ – leading to laughter amongst the pint-sized group that had formed around him.

He replied something along the lines of ‘you know why,’ and this time it was the dads turn to chuckle.

Needless to say, Ryder’s feet didn’t touch the ground for the rest of day – he was on Cloud 9.

I work for the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (the Flames, Stampeders, NLL Roughnecks and WHL Hitmen) as the Director of Digital Content and Social Media, and before that was in the newspaper business for nearly 20 years, most of the time in sports. I’ve spent a lot of time around pro athletes and have become numb to the experience. 

Sure, I see all the work they do behind the scenes with charities and hospital visits, along with regular interactions with young fans. I know firsthand they make a big difference in a lot of young lives.

It’s special, but I think I forgot just how special till I saw it again as a dad through the eyes of my child.

On my first trip down to Tampa after I joined the Flames, I found a few minutes to chat with Stamkos in the Lightning dressing room after his media scrum to thank him. I recounted the story of what he did for Aidan and how that small act of kindness made my child a lifelong fan. He was gracious and smiled when I explained the details, and I’m sure he’s heard a thousand similar stories in his life.

I hope I have the chance in the future to tell Point what that one day and quick exchange meant to a nine-year-old who idolizes him, on his birthday nonetheless.

And also what it meant to me. 

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Tips on Getting Started in Rep Hockey

At the start of my daughter’s second year of hockey, she noticed the older rep team girls playing a style of hockey that was much faster than her houseleague counterpart. Within a month she had her heart set on being a part of that world. Tryouts for next season came and to our surprise she made a rep team. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

If your little player has graduated from the house leagues to rep and you’re finding yourself leaving work early, sitting in rush hour heading to a game across town wondering what you’ve signed yourself up for, here are some tips to help survive your first season of rep hockey:

Rep hockey is pricey

You’ve probably already heard that hockey is super expensive. It’s definitely not cheap. For rep hockey, you can expect to pay around four times your house league fees.  Hockey will also cost more as kids get older, and depending on how competitive your team is, and if they travel to many tournaments, fees can be much higher. Expect to be doing some fundraising to help supplement the costs.

Your schedule is dictated by hockey

From September onwards, my response to any invitation is “I’ll check the hockey schedule and get back to you.” There will be a commitment expectation for your team that hockey comes first over almost everything. Which means short of a family wedding or a death, you are expected to be there. Playoffs conflict with March Break vacations. Long weekends are for tournaments and your child may have to miss birthday parties for hockey practice. You need to realize that you are not anywhere. Family events will be scheduled around hockey.  Some leagues/teams publish their scheduled games and tournaments months in advance, making it somewhat easier to plan your life. Last year, my child’s team used the Team Snap app.  I should totally buy stock in it as it really is a God-send for keeping track of the hockey schedule.

Other sports may have to drop

My daughter plays rep hockey and also is a competitive figure skater. It is a crazy balance. Skating has to “skate” around hockey. Hockey comes first so we sometimes miss skate practices and have to forgo competitions for tournaments (which sometimes fall on the same weekends).

There are days when we have gone from skate competition straight to a hockey game back to back. So you will likely have to sacrifice one. We had an upfront conversation with her coach and committed that hockey would always take the upper hand. In most cases, coaches won’t want you doing two competitive sports in the same season. Ours only did as skating skills complimented hockey. 

Your hockey family will help

I work full-time and so does my husband. We are fortunate to have some flexibility in our jobs. But most workplaces don’t consider hockey a good excuse for cutting out of work early. In order for me to make my daughter’s mid-week 4:30pm practices, I sometimes rely on other hockey parents to get her there after school. After work, I meet them at the rink. Don’t worry, everyone is in the same boat. You will spend more time with hockey parents than your other friends and family during hockey season. They won’t be strangers for long.

Feeding your athlete

My daughter’s hockey is almost always right at meal time. Considering that we need to be at the rink 1 hour before the puck drops, and it can take up to an hour to drive there, it’s a constant struggle for me to figure out what she can eat. My player is very picky so finding ‘on-the-go’ food is a challenge. But here’s the good thing, hockey has helped her understand the importance of healthy food as fuel for up for hockey. I now stock up on the healthy snacks and granola bars and a protein shake can sometimes fill in when there isn’t time to eat or hydrate. Some nights they are my dinner, too. I’ve learned that I need to stay away from the poutine or as Christina Aguilera would say, “my hips don’t lie”. Look for snacks that travel well, make-ahead meals and make at home meal kits to make sure the whole family is eating well.

You need a reliable car

You need access to a reliable car and you’ll be spending a lot of time in it. Expect to rack up some miles on your car and sometimes feeling you are completely lost. Driving in bad weather to remote parts of the city require a GPS.  Snow tires are a must if you live within a snowbelt where a storm can sometimes provide you with whiteout conditions and a white knuckles grip. Word of advice … make sure you’re topped up on gas and wiper fluid and have clear directions the night before you leave for the rink and leave early. I learned this lesson the hard way.

Make sure you have cash and coins

After scrambling for change at the bottom of my purse a few too many times, I learned to keep a change and small bills in the car. Most arena snack bars are cash-only. So it’s important to make sure you have cash on hand before promising that post-game slushie. Plus … some places charge for spectators. Yes, you may have to fork over $5 or more to watch your own child play.

Being a rep hockey mom is a lot of work. There are days when as I sit in my sixth rink of the week and I’m fretting over the pile of laundry at home or assignment work I will have to finish later. But it’s worth it. My daughter pours her heart into something she loves. She works hard and if she’s willing to put in this work then I’m willing to support it.

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Should my daughter play boys or girls hockey?

Every parent wants their child to have the best opportunities to be successful AND happy. 

When it comes to hockey, does that mean their young daughter should play on a boys team in her development years? In areas where there are viable girls hockey programs available, it is clear that there is two questions you must consider:

Is my daughter’s on-ice development improved by playing with boys?

Is that development worth missing out on some of the positive social aspects of playing on an all-girls team?

Kristen Richards, a Canadian professional ice hockey player, played AA in the GTHL for the Etobicoke Canucks until she was 13. 

“I absolutely loved playing boys hockey,” said Richards, who played four seasons in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League with the Brampton/Markham Thunder. “It was difficult for my parents to get me to switch to the girls game. 

“I loved the physicality, compete level, and development opportunities that existed from being in that circle. The physicality of the boys side helped me to develop balance, puck protection, and vision to make quicker plays.”

Tori Charron, who played AA for the boys’ Tecumseh Eagles, had a great experience as well. 

“Looking back I don’t think I would have changed that experience,” said Charron, who played NCAA hockey with Norwich University. “I feel like there was a lot more emphasis of keeping your head up from an early age, preparing us for when hitting would be implemented and I think that makes a huge difference in the early years. 

“I played with a lot of girls who, even in college, had a hard time getting their heads up. This changes the game completely.”

All the women we spoke to who played on boys teams growing up had positive experiences but also faced some challenges. 

Charron recalls her memories of changing in janitors’ closets or the arena’s public bathroom, sometimes feeling left out. 

“This can be difficult and I didn’t realize that until I started playing girls hockey and saw what I was missing,” she said.

Brittany Friesen, who played boys Novice to Bantom with Oro Minor Hockey, also struggled at times with trying to fit in on a boys’ team.

 There were a couple instances of bullying or certain teammates making it clear that they did not like my presence there,” Friesen said. “But I was lucky to have supportive coaches who recognized those things and ensured that playing was a safe space for me.”

When making the decision, USA Hockey encourages parents to consider which program offers a better coaching and player development strategy. Which program will continue to challenge and allow your daughter to improve? Add this to your research homework.

Kayla Magarelli, who played A and AA boys with the Duffield Devils shared her experience.

“I loved playing hockey with the boys. It was really fun,” said Magarelli. “Sometimes I felt left out of “inside jokes.” Once I moved to girls hockey, I appreciated the social aspect more.”

Hockey Canada (Female Hockey Development) says, “It is important for girls to have the opportunity to interact with teammates and be leaders on their teams. The skill level of female hockey has increased dramatically and girls today have the opportunity to compete at a high level and still benefit from the social and leadership side of the game as well.”

Hockey goes beyond the sport. Many girls will grow up together and develop lifelong friendships. Several women we spoke with indicated that with the advancements in girls hockey they would play in a girls’ hockey program today if they had the option. 

Consider the pros and cons of each option, including the athlete’s decision. She needs to be comfortable and have fun wherever she plays.

“It is important to remember that at some point the athlete will have to join the women’s game if they wish to continue to play at a high performance (provincial or national) and/or a post – secondary level,” said Melody Davidson, former coach of the Canadian National Women’s hockey team who is now with Hockey Canada.

The good news is  no matter where girls start, their path for a future career in women’s hockey has never been brighter.

More On Girls Hockey

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