At age 5, Reid asked to play hockey. Not because he was fascinated by highlight reels or had an early obsession with Sidney Crosby. His buddies at school played. That’s it. That was a good enough reason for him. We signed him up for mini tyke house league because being Canadian, there were two things we wanted our kids to learn: how to skate and how to swim.
The first season was a confusing combination of admiration and admittedly slight embarrassment as Reid only skated on one foot, and pushed himself with the other. We asked the coach, pleaded in fact, that he correct this so he could keep up with his teammates. But this amazing, personable and dedicated man only smiled and told us, “he’ll get it, don’t worry”. By the end of the first season, Reid could skate. With two feet.
By this year, his third season, we weren’t sure he’d want to continue. He still liked the game, but didn’t want to fight over the puck or dig in the corners. Maybe hockey wasn’t for him. We didn’t care one way or the other, we were just glad he’d learned how to skate and would be able to hold his own in a game of pick-up with his friends. We let him decide and he asked to try being the goalie.
His coach was thrilled as most kids cringe and avoid goaltending at all costs, but none the wiser, we suited him up low and behold, he wasn’t half bad. He stopped more than he let in, and suddenly it was all he could talk about. We’ve seen the shirts, the mottos, the quotes from professional goalies toting themselves as nuts, looney toones and more than a little bit crazy to strap on that gear and voluntarily have pucks fired at them. But Reid came alive in net like nothing I’ve ever seen, and as far as I could tell, he wasn’t all that crazy.
After he made the Rostered Select team this season, we made an investment in some used equipment since the loaners from the league were too small, and buying new in the first year was well, just plain ridiculous, if you’ve ever seen the cost of goalie equipment. While he’s already on the tall side for his age, the enormous goalie gear made my little guy look like the Hulk.
We signed him up for a goalie clinic, on the advice of a friend, and let him watch You Tube videos of NHL goalies so he could learn some of the moves. He practiced with the team and seemed to be doing well out there. It was fun.
And then we went to his first game. Folks, if you’re new to hockey, let me be clear: Watching your child in net, at any competitive level, is highly stressful. I had no idea my blood pressure was about to go through the roof, or that I’d sweat so much I’d have to take my coat off in a freezing cold arena, or that I could actually hold my breath that long without passing out.
I emerged from their first game a complete wreck. What the hell just happened? There were kids barreling down on my son, trying to deek him out, firing shots at his head. Who let that kid get a break-away? How is that fair? He’s only SEVEN!
But Reid emerged with a wide grin and soaked hair, being high-fived by his teammates for making some great saves. He and the other goalie on his team felt like heroes. How are that kid’s parents so calm? Are they calm? They look calm!
I, on the other hand, needed a stiff drink. At times I couldn’t watch, my heart ready to explode, my head pounding from clenching my jaw through most of the game.
And it didn’t get any easier. The more they played, the greater the expectation. When they lost a game 4-1 and Reid was the goalie who let all 4 goals in, he was shattered. He couldn’t put into words how sad and disappointed he was so he sat in the back of the van all the way home, quiet and staring out the window. I let him be. When we got home, I hugged him and told him how I proud I am, every day, of all his efforts, and for sticking it out even though that game totally sucked.
Every time he plays, I fight nausea. I remind myself to take deep breaths. I talk myself out of punching the parent who cheers because their child scores on mine. I try not to cheer too loud, for fear of embarrassing him, but can never seem to find my mute button. I try to smile when the other moms say, “I don’t know how you do it”.
But I wouldn’t change a thing. He’s a good goalie, a great kid and a resilient 7-year-old who loves being between the pipes. He’s learning some valuable life skills out there, namely how to control his temper when the game isn’t going his way. We’ve had more than a few chats about limiting the number of times he slams his stick on the ice when he’s mad. Now he’s able to reset himself by tapping each corner of the net and then focusing on the next shot. And every once in a while, I look away when he needs to slam his stick down a few extra times.
In the end, he’s the one who has taught us; when you get knocked down, get back in net. He does, every time. And I resume my spot on the bench, trying not to think about rep tryouts coming up next month.