Shop Talk: Memories can be created at all levels, even house league
Over the years of chatting with customers, I have found an alarming trend.
When asking players and parents what rink they play at and what team they play on, we get all kinds of answers ranging from “AAA” to “only house league.”
To the first response, I reply, “Wow, great. Where are you traveling to this weekend?” The second answer is what concerns me. “Only house league” is almost an apology from the parent or player for not playing on a travel team. There is no shame in playing any level of hockey. As long as you have a stick and puck, it’s hockey to me. Be it ice, inline, street, house or travel, you are all part of this same great sport.
As we know all too well, the costs of travel hockey – be it the ice time, equipment, private lessons, camps, etc. – limit some from participating, but so do the time commitments required to play travel hockey. Some families just don’t have the time to commit to practice, game and travel schedules. Other siblings may participate in other time-consuming sports or activities. Or perhaps the player is involved in other activities that just as important or more than hockey. Maybe the player is happy with one practice and game a week. That doesn’t make them any less of a hockey player in my mind.
The life lessons you learn from all levels of hockey are tremendous. You learn to deal with success and failure, as you will experience both the highs and lows, sometimes within the same game, how to deal with teammates, both on and off the ice, and how to deal with different coaches and other parents. The friendships and memories that hockey creates are priceless. Maybe a AAA player remembers winning the big tournament in OT and a house league player remembers scoring their first goal or maybe the team pizza party or pool party. Neither memory is more important that the other.
One of my fondest hockey memories was when playing goalie my first year in the Queensway House League at Lakeshore Lions Arena in Etobicoke, Ont., in 1973, an opposing team’s player’s gum fell out of his mouth and onto the ice (this is before players were required to wear full face protection). As the play started back the other direction, he skated over to the harsh marks picked up his gum, put it back in his mouth and proceeded to skate over and stop by the goal that I was tending. He then began to tell me how he was going to score on me, oblivious to the fact that the play was in his own end. I remember my father asking me after the game what the player said to me and we both had a good laugh. Thinking back on that memory puts a smile on my face.
I have been asked over the years, “Does my son or daughter have what it takes to make it?” To which I respond that the more important thing is, “Do they enjoy playing hockey? Do they have their bag packed waiting at the door in anticipation of practice or games?” Hockey, like any other sport, should not be forced upon anyone. Hockey at younger ages should not be viewed as an investment that you are expecting a financial return on down the line. It should be viewed as an investment in helping to building a quality person.
No hockey player or parent at ever needs to make an apology for they level of hockey their son or daughter plays.
Randy Exelby is the owner of Behind The Mask Hockey Shops.