During the registration calls we take for our goalie schools I often have the chance to talk with parents about their son or daughter’s experience as a goalie. Almost every parent I talk to is absolutely tuned in on how their child is playing but perhaps more importantly, how their child is handling the stress and excitement of being the last line of defence. When the conversation goes in that direction, my next question is… “And how are you handling the stress of watching your kid be the last line of defence?” As a former “goalie parent”, I am very interested in hearing how they do it because I simply wasn’t very good at watching my son play.
My son Bryn started playing goal when he was about four years old. We started in the basement of our home in Newmarket, where we played for hours. I would announce the game and Bryn would pretend he was Andy Moog or Patrick Roy making save after save. Inevitably, we would conclude with a post-game interview when I would ask him what his biggest save was. Those were wonderful days when we simply played for the fun of it. There were no losers… only winners. I was the biggest winner because I got to spend time with my son doing something that we both loved.
By the time Bryn turned six or seven, he started playing in one of the local Newmarket leagues. At first, he played “out” and Barb and I would get him dressed in most of his equipment at home. Once at the rink, he’d put on his skates and helmet and then play his game. Barb and I would watch and cheer and enjoy every minute of the game. In those days, none of the teams had a regular goalie; everyone had to take their turn at playing goal and eventually it was Bryn’s turn to put on the pads. He instantly fell in love with the position and couldn’t wait for his next chance to be in net. The following year, he tried out
for the Newmarket AA Novice team and he was selected to be one of the goalies. He was quite good at it and eventually went on to play many years of AAA hockey. Along the way, he was on a couple of OMHA Championship teams with Richmond Hill and York Simcoe. From there, he played several years of Jr. “A” hockey and then it was off to the NCAA where he wrapped up his hockey career.
For me, something happened when Bryn made the transition from being an “out” player to being a full time goalie… the last line of defence. It started subtly, but the further he went in hockey the more difficult it was for me to watch him play. The pre-game butterflies that I experienced as a player always vanished with the first save; but when my son was in net, they never dissipated. In fact, they usually became more intense as the game went on. I often found myself making saves for him… I’d kick out my legs on low shots and start murmuring instructions like…’Challenge!! Get up!!! Step out!!! …. Stick!!! …
By the time he was in Midget hockey, my murmurs became reflexive shouts, and not only to my son but to other players in the defensive zone. It was as though I was actually playing the game without the feeling of being in control of the situation that comes when you are actually in the game.
By the time Bryn was playing Jr. “A” hockey I found it almost impossible to watch him play. I remember one occasion when Barb and I drove to Ottawa to watch him play the season opener for the Cornwall Colts of the CJHL. After the pregame warm-up, I got out of my seat and announced that I simply couldn’t handle it… I went out and sat in the parking lot until people started filing out of the rink. Sheepishly, I asked Barb how it all went. She announced that Cornwall had lost the game 1 – 0 and that Bryn stood on his head and was named star of the game.
Bryn finished his Jr. “A” career with the Wexford Raiders of the OPJHL. By this point in his hockey, Barb drove him to most of his games while I busied myself with school work or other coaching duties awaiting the results of his games. During the playoffs against the North York Rangers, John Bowler, a very wise man and G.M. of the Raiders saw me sitting pensively in the stands prior to the game. We chatted briefly and he finally asked me why I was so nervous. I replied that Bryn was in net tonight… how could I not be nervous. He looked at me straight in the eyes and gave me sage advice… “Steve… your son’s hockey will be over before you know it. Don’t miss a second of it. In the end, winning or losing won’t mean a thing… being there for him, win or lose is all that matters.” After that, I swallowed my butterflies and watched every second of the series. I still jumped and murmured and sometimes shouted reflexively. Bryn played well but in the end Wexford lost out to the rugged Rangers.
I will never forget the advice John Bowler gave me on that early spring evening at the old Scarborough Gardens. Our children’s time in hockey is short and having won or lost will be inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. As parents, we sometimes get caught up in the intensity of the moment and lose sight of more important issues. For me, I missed precious time watching my son play the game we both love. I often wish that I could turn back the clock and make up for lost time. The best I can do now is to learn from my mistake and never waste another second of precious time with my children and grandchildren. You see, hockey does teach some valuable lessons… even to old goalies like me.