One afternoon when I was about 11 or 12 years
old, I was in the kitchen gulping down a soup and sandwich when I
overheard my parents, who were in the living room, talking to one of their
friends about me. They obviously didn’t realize that I was within
earshot. My father described me to his friend as being “hockey crazy”.
Back then, I took what my father said as the
ultimate compliment. I finished my lunch and then hurriedly picked up my
worn out stick and went
outside to join a dozen or so of my buddies for the second half of our
‘four-hour road hockey game’.
Normal everyday things like lunch, dinner and
homework simply got in the way of our games. The dreaded “Bobby, it’s
time to eat” became such a game killer that eventually most mothers
learned that family gatherings at dinner time would have to be put off
until after hockey season. Either that, or they would have to co-ordinate
dinnertime with all of the other ‘hockey moms’ on the street. Even the
term ‘hockey mom’ had a different meaning back in those days.
Most of the guys in the group also played on
“organized teams” back then. A few of our games were even played
‘indoors’ at the old Copper Cliff Arena. That was a big treat for us
to get to skate on artificial ice, out of the wind and snow. A good season
would consist of about 16 games (including playoffs), and we were all
happy with that, because as far as we were concerned, the most important
hockey games were played on the street with a tennis ball.
We even played some games against friends from
the other side of town. It was quite a sight to see ten or twelve of us
march down the street like little soldiers with our sticks in hand to take
on the guys from “across the highway” in my hometown of Lively,
Ontario. When we had a lot of players show up for the game we would
sometimes play in a grass field so that we had room for everyone to play
at once. It wasn’t unusual to have twenty four kids on the field at
once, and we didn’t need any adults telling us which position to play.
It just happened. There was no way you would ever see a bunch of guys all
running for the ball. We know how to spread out and pass the ball to our
teammates in the clear.
I remember one time playing on the golf course
behind my house. It was late in the fall and there were no golfers playing
any more. We played on the 1st green because it was so flat. I
have since turned into an avid golfer, and it makes me break into a cold
sweat every time I think of that day and what I would think if I saw kids
doing that today. Needless to say, it wasn’t very good for the green.
One thing that I didn’t even pay any
attention to at the time, is that no one really talked much about our
‘organized games’. Upon
reflection, it was kind of strange that we didn’t say much about the big
games when we were in our proud uniforms and played on the “team”. We
would go to the game at the arena and then come home and immediately hit
the road for the big game of the day. The one with no clocks; no coaches;
no line changes; and no referees. I also recall that there weren’t many
parents at our league games. Mine always came, but aside from a few
fathers in the stands who were more interested in talking with their
friends about work, there wasn’t much noise or shouting. It was simply a
game of hockey with rules, line changes and skating around on a big ice
surface, just like they did every Saturday night on Hockey Night In
I wasn’t much of a ‘real’ hockey player
when I was young. I played house league, but that was pretty much all
there was at the time. I was small for my age and many of the others were
much larger and faster. I never seemed to worry about my safety during
those days, and that makes me wonder a bit since I was smaller than many
of the other players and our equipment wasn’t very protective. We just
played on the team and had fun.
It wasn’t until I “made” the high school
junior team that I experienced something that, for the first time in my
life, made me feel bad about playing hockey.
High school hockey was extremely big back in
the 60’s. When you were on the high school team, you were really
someone! I’m sure I only made the team because the coach had to keep
most of the people who tried out. There were a few people cut from the
team during tryouts, but I loved practices and thrived on scrimmaging with
my teammates. I was one of those kids who looked good in practice, but
when it came to games, it was a different story.
In any event, when I saw my name on the list
of players who made the final cut and went to pick up my sweater, socks
and pants, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. The next time I
ever recall feeling like that wasn’t until the day that I picked up my
son’s traveling team sweater after being informed that he was selected
to play on the elite level club. Come to think of it, I think it was me
who grabbed the sweater from the trainer first and then turned it over to
my son. It was as if I was reliving my high school days all over again. As
you will see later on in this book, there is some significance to this and
it has a lot to do with what is wrong with hockey today.
Once the high school hockey season began,
however, my bubble burst and I would often find myself sitting on the
bench with the other two players on the 4th line, watching the top three
lines taking their regular shifts. I had felt disappointment in my life
before that, but it was the first time in my life that I had ever felt the
pain of public humiliation. And as unbelievable as it sounds, I was being
humiliated in the sport that I had loved from the time I could hold a
It was my first experience with elite hockey,
and I quickly discovered that everyone is not treated equally when it
comes to ice time at this level of the sport. The better players on
the team got the most ice-time and our line, the fourth line, got on the ice perhaps two or
three times a game for short shifts. There were some games when I didn’t
even get to play at all. It got so
bad that I didn’t even tell my father when our games were scheduled. The
odd time when he came to the game I felt bad for him because I knew that
he was in the stands with some of the other parents of the better kids and
I always thought he must have been embarrassed to let them know which number I was wearing.
My father was a supervisor at work, so he enjoyed an elevated status in
the community. I felt that my low status as a hockey player was
embarrassing to him and letting him and our family down. He never, ever gave me any
indication that this was what he actually thought, but it was how I felt
and it hurt me deeply inside to think that I was a disappointment to this
man who had called his son, “hockey crazy” only a few years earlier.
Many years later, I found myself in the stands
watching my own children on the ice. This time, however, I was the one who
was bursting with pride because my sons were all gifted hockey players.
They weren’t NHL material, but they were always among the best on their
teams. They were the ones who were put on the ice during the final minute
of play. They were the ones making the big play. They were the ones the
other parents cheered. I felt that my personal status as a father was
greatly enhanced as a result of the abilities of my children. Their
success was my success. It didn’t take me long to enjoy living
vicariously through my sons. It felt good.
The one thing that kept me ‘grounded’
through all of this was that I couldn’t help but notice the parents of
the kids who were third-liners. These were parents of the kids who seemed to always
make the crucial mistake which caused a goal; the kids who just couldn’t
keep the puck on their stick; the kids who never played on the power play,
never killed penalties, and heaven forbid that they would ever touch the
ice with less than five minutes remaining in the game.
When these parents mingled with others in the
lobby, they stayed out of conversations that were about the plays of the
game or about the way the players performed. They wanted to talk about
anything else except the game. It was as if they didn’t want to be
reminded about the insignificant contributions their children made to the
team. My thoughts often drifted back to my own days on the high school
team, wondering if that was how my own father felt when he spoke to the
other parents. I also noticed how the parents of the better kids were
always talking about the plays their own children made. It was as if the
rest of the world didn’t matter. What did matter is that their own child
played a fantastic game and they wanted to talk about it to anyone who
would listen. Before the season was very old, the parents of the four or
five weaker kids seemed to drift off by themselves, staying away from the
One thing I always remember is that during my
high school hockey playing days I was still one of the best road hockey
players in town. I could out-perform all of the bigger and better players
from the 1st and 2nd lines with no problem. No one
could handle a ball on snow and in boots like I could. Even when we played
shinny hockey on skates without equipment on the outdoor rink, I would shine. I could handle the puck,
pass the puck and make all of the plays with the best of them. Whether it
was on boots or on skates, when we were playing for fun among friends, I
excelled. When it came time to pick teams, I was always picked first or
second (if I wasn’t already a captain) and I always played a significant
role scoring tons of goals and often-making game winning plays. All I can
remember is that I had a great time and a whole lot of fun. We didn’t
care if the score was 48 to 42 or if the series was 12 games to 10 when we
played games up to five - we just had fun.
But as soon as I put on the team uniform and
stepped on the ice to represent Lively High School, it was a whole
different situation. There, I sat in humiliation on the bench while the
others played. But I couldn’t quit. That would be worse. Winning games
meant nothing to me. As a matter of fact, I almost hated winning. We had a
good team, but the odd time we lost I would feel a bit of personal
satisfaction and fantasize that perhaps if I was on the ice things might
have turned out better. We won the city championship that year, and I had
to suffer the shame of being congratulated by people at the school even
though I knew I had contributed nothing to the win.
I only played one year on the high school
team. I didn’t even try out the next year. People asked me why,
especially my father, but I simply shrugged off the questions and stated
that I didn’t have time. I remember that it was shortly after that year
on the high school team that I stopped playing road hockey. Perhaps it was
because I was getting older, or that there were other things to do, but
the ‘road hockey gang’ just seemed to lose interest in being together.
The game of hockey was changing and we couldn’t quite figure out why.
On a brighter note, I didn’t just drop out
of hockey altogether. I decided to become a referee. It was great and I
must say that I was very good at it. I seemed to have just the right
attitude and a special gift for managing a game. I even got back into the
high school league – this time as a linesman. We only had one linesman
and one referee in those days. And it was usually the visiting team that
had to provide the linesman. I was the one who was selected to accompany
the Lively High School senior team on road trips. What a feeling? I would
actually ride the bus to the game with the players and they all genuinely
respected me for what I was doing. Imagine. To these star hockey players I
was someone special because I was doing something that was different.
There was only one linesman on the ice and that person was me. There were
plenty of players. I don’t think I even got paid for those games, but I
felt like I was on top of the world. I was still in hockey, and I was a
My father was often in the stands watching me
referee in the house league in Copper Cliff. After the game I would meet
him in the lobby and everyone would make a big fuss about the good job I
was doing. They would stop what they were doing and talk to me about the
game, asking questions and treating me like I was an expert. I could tell
by the look on his face that my father was extremely proud, and it
certainly made me feel good about myself knowing that he felt that way. He
would often be teased good-naturedly by his friends who would joke with
him about being the only person they knew who came to games to cheer for
I know my father loved this attention because,
once again, years later I found myself in exactly the same situation.
All three of my sons stopped playing organized hockey when they
entered high school. They got into other school sports, but they all
continued to referee. And they are all gifted referees. I know I seem to
overuse the term gifted, but there is no other word to describe their
ability to manage hockey games.
It is kind of ironic. I was identified as
being hockey crazy early in my life. I had three sons who were all
extremely talented hockey players. I discovered a place in hockey as a
referee, and all three of my sons became excellent referees. Co-incidence?
Is it in the genes? Who knows?
But I do know that I get as much, if not more
pleasure from watching one of my sons referee a game as I did from
watching them score goals as players. It is nothing for me to drive three
hours to watch a game that one of them is refereeing or lining. When Marty
went to Kingston to line his first out-of-town game in the Ontario Hockey
League, my wife and I drove seven hours to be in the stands for the game.
And anyone who spoke to me that night, from the ticket agent, to the
concession stand girl, to the people sitting beside us, knew who my son
was. When Warren refereed his first Junior A hockey game in Espanola, my
wife and I were there. And anyone who I talked to knew who my son was. I
loved every minute and the distance didn’t matter.
But there is a dark side of this story as
well. Ryan, my oldest son, has remarkable skills as a referee. But he
regretfully had to hang up the skates when he graduated from university to
start a career as an independent financial advisor. In his words, “I
can’t have my clients hearing disgruntled hockey parents calling me an
idiot or worse, and still expect to have their confidence in my ability to
handle their finances. I also don’t want to risk having a client take
his business away from me because he is upset with the way I referee his
son’s hockey game.” This saddens me as a father, because I know how
much he enjoyed the game.
During the summer of 2002, we had a family
meeting that included myself, Marty, Warren and Ryan. We decided to create
a web site called ‘After The Whistle’. Our goal with this web site was
to help parents, players, coaches and fans in general gain an appreciation
for the game of hockey that would allow them to develop an improved
attitude towards the sport. It is our opinion that a lack of understanding
of the basic fundamentals of the game itself is the root of most of the
problems that have infected the sport today.
As you may have noticed as I have rambled on, many of the problems in hockey today have been with us for
many years. The gradual loss of enjoyment once you enter the world of
organized hockey has always been there. However, today we see kids losing
that enjoyment even in house league. The impact players have on their
parents, and vice versa is still there, but the parents are much more
vocal and the kids seem to be under much more pressure. I have also
noticed that as the problems in hockey have escalated in recent years, the
number of road hockey games seems to have declined.
We have even created an Online Book as part of
this web site. It is called "For
The Sake of The Game". This book is an extension of ‘After The
Whistle’. We hope we give
you food for thought about your role as a parent, coach, player or fan.
This book will certainly not answer all of your questions. In fact, when
you finish reading the final chapter, you may have more questions than
when you began. They may not be the same questions, but I can assure you
there will be questions.
We are hopeful that this book raises awareness
and creates an enhanced level of appreciation for minor hockey which will
enable you and your children to get much more enjoyment from the sport.
My personal objectives are quite clear. Some
day, I want to look out my window and see my grandchildren playing road
hockey with a dozen or so of their buddies. And I want to chuckle to
myself when I see how many times it takes for their mother to convince
them that they should take a break to eat.
We hope that you return to our online book
and this web site many times during the season. Above all,
we hope that it can, in some small way, make the game of hockey just a
little bit better for you this year.