Shop Talk: So many smiles, so many memories with One Step Bobcats
I walked into AZ Ice Peoria with my stick and small coaches bag to help however I was needed with the One Step Bobcats skate.
Upon entering the lobby where the players were assembling, a few players shouted out to me, “Who are you?” to which I replied, “I’m Randy.”
At this time, a familiar face from the group came up to me. It was a good friend to Behind The Mask, Nick. Nick is the captain of the One Step Bobcats team. Nick has been coming into our store for years and in fact, Nick helped us with the move of our Peoria store last June. A big smile came over Nick’s face and he shook my hand.
Nick and I converse numerous times a week on Facebook Messenger. He is a HUGE Arizona Coyotes fan, having gone to almost 200 straight home games. If you have been to a Coyotes game, you might have seen Nick – he’s hard to miss. He is 6-foot-5 and wears an Oliver Ekman-Larsson jersey.
I give credit to Nick as he was the one many months before the 2016 NHL Draft that suggested to me that the Coyotes should take Jakob Chychrun. He was spot on (Chychrun was selected in the first round, 16th overall).
After our small talk in the lobby, we headed to the dressing room. You could see the players’ eyes light up as they put on their gear. Most needed some help on putting the gear on and tying their skates. Each player put on a Bobcats jersey.
They looked like a team.
Players filed out of the dressing room and waited patiently by the gate to get on the ice. The Arizona Hawks junior team (in the Western States Hockey League) was coming off the ice from their practice and the players high fived the One Step Bobcats on the way out – a true sign of respect among hockey players. A few of the Hawks players stayed on the ice to help with the skate. It was great to see them out there helping.
Volunteers helped the players get on the ice. They were fully dressed with skates on, but most were seated on chairs and pushed out on the ice. A few players, including Nick, could skate on their own. Nick was a towering figure on skates. I don’t believe I have ever seen more smiles on the ice at one time than this moment. A chill ran down my spine.
This is what it’s all about. Nothing else mattered but the joy of participation.
Coaches and volunteers pushed the players around in the chairs, setting them up in a half circle in front of the net. I passed pucks and the players shot the pucks. It was amazing to see the players improve their hand-eye skill as the session went on. Players took turns playing goal. There were celebrations for goals and saves. The hour passed quickly and players left the ice, except for Nick. It was his job as captain to pick up all the pucks and put them in the puck bag.
Back in the locker room, players reminisced about the ice session and got undressed. Talk changed to many other subjects. Nick continued to ask my thoughts on Dylan Strome and whether he should stay with the Coyotes or go back to junior. (Strome has since been reassigned to the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters.)
I left the rink that day with a better understanding of not only hockey, but life. And to top the day off, there was a message on my Facebook from Nick that night thanking me for coming out.
I replied, “No Nick. Thank you!”
Randy Exelby is the owner of Behind The Mask Hockey Shops.