As If It Was The Last

Originally published on The Point – https://www.thepointhamilton.com/2020/11/27/as-if-it-was-the-last/

We never know when something will be our last and a couple Sundays past, I watched on with this in mind.

Nothing is forever. We never know when our favourite player might retire, the band we have followed since a young child might call it a day, when that diner around the corner that’s been there 60 years will serve their last breakfast or more importantly, when someone we care about might leave us in our silent night.

My wife and I have been working from home since school boards sent our kids home for the longest March break on record, so there wasn’t much that changed for us as a family with Friday’s announcement that Hamilton would move to Red-Control under the Ontario government’s new colour-coded COVID-19 framework. At 12:01am last Monday, minor hockey was the only unknown as our family compared our then existing colour designation of Yellow-Protect.

We follow the rules. We wear a mask basically everywhere. We’ve minimalized guests. Haven’t seen our parents much. We even had a few Zoom calls with them in the early weeks of the March shutdown. There is nothing wrong with my mother’s eyebrows and my dad’s left shoulder, but that just doesn’t cut it. We’ve also socially distanced in the backyard on some chilly afternoons. We’ve gone for many long family drives to nowhere, including those times we crossed our fingers – and legs if needed, with hopes a restroom wouldn’t be an urgent need. 

The kids don’t mind masks enough to just be glad to not have their parents as at-wits-end teachers. We even totally re-imagined our yearly Halloween event by reversing trick-or-treating and provided 4 hours of online original programming.

I’ve found peace, patience, understanding, inspiration, fear, and have had my ability to adapt severely challenged.

As scary as this has all been, there have been so many things that I would welcome as permanent changes. I like staying home if you are sick. I love working from home. My wife is a great and creative cook. I love her coworkers and what they do period. I like being more involved in my kids school work and the ability for them to learn remotely on a day they are not mentally or physically up for school. I love spending time in my own community and in my backyard. I thoroughly enjoy fixing things, more hikes with our dog, cats paws hanging off the edge of my desk onto my keyboard randoming typing attention seeking gobblygook. I’ve adored more time with my kids, working with my wife, and the soft, comical side of my folks trying to make the best of isolation. 

I also love 4 on 4 hockey.

Having a little 3-3 fun in Cayuga.

I know. Sports. Blah. Blah Blah. It’s a big passion of mine. Less pro and more local as age continually redefines priority and joy, but sport has taught me so much about myself, life, and others and from these lessons, what I feel it gave back to my family, and how it’s affected my own children, sport will always have a special place within my being.

Some of my favourite movies are Rudy, Any Given Sunday, The Longest Yard (they are both good), 42, A League of Their Own, Mystery Alaska, Mighty Ducks, Bull Durham, Fever Pitch, Field of Dreams, Youngblood, Angels in the Outfield, The Big Green, and too many more to list.

I played hockey almost every day of the week from on the ice, on the street, climbed underground parking fences, played in driveways, biked across the city with a hockey stick and net on my shoulder, burnt throughew the knees of many a pair of pants playing hand hockey and mini sticks in basements and halls of hotels with my teammates. 

I collected hockey cards, loved watching games with my dad, travelling to games with him, seeing family cheering from the stands, reading mental toughness training in sport, wearing my team jersey to school, writing books about hockey, dreaming of playing in the NHL, and still remain friends with many guys I met through the game from players, to coaches. 

I never made the NHL. I didn’t become a famous author from the 100 page hockey story I wrote in grade 7 complete with illustrations. I never became a board game designer from my two story hockey game I designed in college. It also doesn’t matter. I had passion and a whole lot of it. Hockey just so happened to influence all of those passions that I carried. It doesn’t matter that I played hockey or even that I liked it. It mattered that I found something to be passionate about.

If it was this time last year, hockey being shut down would have had my youngest daughter, Abby, doing a fist bump as she turned the corner from my view, after learning hockey was on pause. Heck, you could have said as such a couple of months ago with the same reaction. 

Last year Abby tried to play mixed hockey at my childhood playground, Lawfield. We met some wonderful families and her coaches were amazing and patient with her. They all cheered her on every time she made it to the arena. We even became close with the coaches from the squad her team practiced with each week who were just as big a part of her booster system as if it was one big team. She made it on the ice for a handful of practices,  but never played a game – October to March. One time, after a a young man by the name of Blake helped her with a drill, he turned around and gave me a thumbs up. He got it. I cried. 

My youngest almost didn’t play the game we created for her, Icing Anxiety, to help her get over her fears because well, she was still scared surrounded by family, friends, and so many players and spectators who wanted to help her overcome her hockey fears. Most notably, many girls from the Hamilton Bantam Hawks girls hockey team.

Abby went to about 5 practices with the girls Pee-wee team (now under 13), the end of last season and although she was nervous those first two times, she excelled and had so much fun. She was actually sad when COVID cancelled the rest of the girls hockey season. So was I after seeing her struggle so long and to finally have had this breakthrough.

Abby dawning her new Hamilton Hawks jersey.

We tried hockey with Abby again this year and once again, she was nervous that first practice back, and even more so her first game, but she has now played two games and scored a goal in each. I cried. I warned the coach a few minutes before that I would cry if she scored when I noticed she was getting close, and I didn’t disappoint. Abby got over a substantial and somewhat debilitating fear that reminded me that her anxiety for certain things never really went away. She now loves hockey and is excited when there are 4 games or practices in a week.

A game of firsts. First game and first goal.

Hockey looks different for everyone this year. One parent only. We all stand at an arrow around the glass and we wear masks as do the kiddos until they put their helmets on. They spread out on the ice, have to come to the arena dressed except for their skates, helmets, and gloves. There are no faceoffs, they play four on four, and have split their team into two so there are only four on the bench at any given time. They also have one other team they play. Cayuga. They also split their team up so now the two teams turned into four, and they all play against one another. Our hockey bubble if you will. 

Using a nurse hack I seen to avoid my glasses getting fogged up.

I’ll always love Cayuga Memorial Arena. For one it’s new and beautiful. Reminds me of Dunnville and as it turns out, they were built around the same time. Abby played her first game there. Scored her first goal that same game. Last game she was to play there, she had fallen at the playground earlier in the week and was still a bit sore. We went to watch. Abby from the bench. Me from the stands. She told me afterward she wanted to go on the ice so bad. Although of course I am glad she enjoys the game that brought me so much joy and inspiration, it warms my heart that she found success in facing her fears and realizing she can do anything she puts her mind to.

The parents are adapting, and we already know that kids are for the most part pretty flexible. We all know that we have a responsibility to be safe and follow the rules so others don’t suffer the loss of ice time or even the season. 

Abby said she would choose hockey if she had a choice between that and school. She would miss it and her friends there, but she can do school at home. She can’t play hockey on MS Teams. This is the girl whose hockey mask was beaming with fear only a month before. 

We are now in Red-Control. No games for at least 28 days. Only eight players are allowed on the ice, one coach, and a trainer on the bench. No parents. 

My view from Abby’s practice last Wednesday.

“Did it feel weird practising with no parents?” 

“No. We were having so much fun. I love coach Shannon.” Wendy helped her carry her sticks to the car. “Bye, Abby.” They’re great kids. 

My greatest joy as a dad is watching and participating in my kids activites where and when I can. I only get to see them half of their young lives. Time goes by way too fast. I’ll gladly sacrifice being able to watch Abby shadow the first friend she met at girls hockey, Meagan, and talking with parents from our arrows spaced 6 feet apart, if I can still enjoy the conversations to and from the arena.

These girls are making friends, memories, and getting a good workout to boot. All critical elements to a child’s mental and physical well-being. MS Teams just aint the same. They avoid turning the video sharing on as much as possible.

So I question, should hockey be grouped with other indoor sports? High ceilings. Cold temperatures. Larger overall space. Should a bigger restaurant share the same limitations of one with a small seating capacity? Should we be comparing arena’s like Chedoke or Mohawk 4 Ice Pad, with an arena where there is only one ice surface and minimal seating areas? If you could see what 50 in Cayuga Memorial vs. 50 in an average Hamilton arena looks like, it makes you wonder about grouping so many things that we have during COVID, with others because they fall into the same category. Maybe things like restaurants, arena’s, and gyms should be grouped by level. For example, an average Hamilton arena is Level 6, A double rink Level 5, a triple rink Level 4, a quad-pad Level 3, a mid-size single rink surface like say Dave Andreychuck Arena, Level 2, and a full-capacity arena like say First Ontario Centre, Level 1. Maybe you feel they should simply be all closed right now, but perhaps we all agree that when they are open to any level whether just practices, modified games, or normal play, that rules such as capacity should not be dealt with under one grouping.

Ontario’s colour-coded COVID-19 control system.

Our kids have been patient, tough and accommodating through all of this. They are adaptive and I am re-learning some resiliency through them these past eight months. By shutting things back down bit by bit however, are we taking away the wrong things after how hard they have worked to do their part to get us back to some level of normal as a society? What do they think of twenty some-odd kids in a classroom vs. now only 8 players on an ice surface some 8 times bigger than the average classroom? 

Have there been cases in minor house league hockey? Should recreation not be classified as education? Can they school from home and change out their classroom bubble with one with a frozen surface and go back to learning online?

I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get us through these dangerous and scary times, and will do my best to help my kids through whatever this pandemic throws at us, but I have questions, concerns, ideas, and gripes – as do we all I am sure.

We are in the midst of global pandemic. People are out of work, hungry, living in tents across our city. So many are not able to see their loved ones. People have died. They are scared for themselves and their loved ones. I appreciate that we have been able to have some safe normalcy through these unprecedented times. 

I also have many concerns about how a lot of this has been dealt with, including our new colour-coded zones that really seem to paint so many different things, with the same brush. 

We need a balance between safety, and sanity. I’ve lost a friend due to mental health in these COVID times. I’ve lost a friend due to mental health in these COVID times, as well as a family member just the other day. You’ve lost a family member due to the virus. Both are extremely important factors in how we move forward through this together in good physical and mental health.

I’ve been an elected official. I know these decisions can be extremely difficult. So let’s work on the solutions as a community and as a larger collective, tell those with the ability to put their arms in the air to represent our voices, our ideas, concerns, desires, and what that with which they oversee, means to us.

 It’s just hockey. Or is it?

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