Now that my shoulder or arm -or whatever the hell it is- is healing I’m starting to think back to my experience with the younger generation at the rink recently. A time where if I could be graded on plus-minus I think all my shifts were a minus and even as one of the oldest players on the ice I had less experience than the 10 year old boys who could skate, pass and shoot better than me. Gooooo team!
But I keep getting reminded that it’s a learning process. I can’t remember what it was like when I was learning basketball. I don’t remember what it was like when I was learning soccer. Well I hated learning how to play soccer when I was really young. I must have been 10 or 11. “Why use your feet?” Always asking the coach. “You have hands, why can’t I use my hands?” It seemed so dumb to me. I ran when we they were taking kids to soccer in summer camp. I would hide in the gym and shoot basketball. They wouldn’t find me until after soccer was over. I was so quiet when I was little no one would miss me. Plus I was tiny and kept to myself. They didn’t care what I did.
So I didn’t learn how to play soccer until I was much older. Probably a teenager. I heard about indoor soccer and I heard that they need goalies. “Where do I sign up for that?” I know it’s not really learning about soccer, but I’m playing some sort of soccer. I had a couple of friends in school who had played since they were young and they tried to show me how to dribble and shoot. That was hilarious. If there was an aircraft carrier I could score on it but a goal, not so much. But put me in net in indoor soccer and I’m going to give you everything I got. Interestingly enough, it felt a lot like playing goalie in roller hockey, minus those annoying roller blades. Plus the indoor soccer ball was huge and fluorescent green, you couldn’t miss it. Although I did miss it more than a few times. I’m not Gianluigi Buffon.
I do remember what it was like when I was learning T-ball. Yeah I played that for about a year or two. My fondest memory of playing that involved me in center field watching a ball come my way and me not wanting to play it for fear of dropping it and the coach yelling. The coach was always yelling. I never did anything wrong and the coach always yelled. Hell I was only about 8. But here was the coach, blah blah blah. Like the teacher on Peanuts but louder and meaner. He only wanted his kid in center. All I wanted to do was bat but all the ball wanted to do was go by the bat. Everything was upside down. I couldn’t catch and I couldn’t bat and I got yelled at. Plus I don’t think my dad was very happy with me. I think he wanted his son to play for the Yankees or the Washington Senators. Yes I know they don’t exist anymore.
The more I’ve tried to skate I’ve looked back on these experiences and I’ve thought about those guys I’ve watched for years on television and in person in various arenas from Madison Square Garden to Air Canada Center to Mohegan Sun Arena to Norfolk Scope to the Richmond Coliseum. I’ve wondered about the paths they’ve taken to get to the levels they did. I used to dispute that Gretzky was the greatest hockey player of all time because of all the crap with Leafs. But after all the time I’ve spent on the ice, I can’t deny it. From 1978 to 1999 he scored 894 goals 1963 assists and 2857 points. I know how hard it is to even skate. He even won four Stanley Cups. I know some guys don’t even win one. I was fortunate to grow up at a time when I could watch him play. I never realized how fortunate until I got older. I know there will never be a guy like him. Ever.
It’s been stepping onto that ice with all the equipment that has brought me the “feels.” The smell of the ice. The feeling of camaraderie. Knowing how tough it is to keep your balance. Knowing how tough it is to play against guys older than you. The skills to keep up with younger kids. Let’s not forget that during Gretz’s younger years this was a rough and tumble league. You can bet even though he had guys watching his back he still had the opposition take a run at him. There’s always the bumps and bruises no matter how many pads you wear. I can bundle up like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man but I’ll still probably take some lumps and be sore. Hell I’ve already proven that. No matter how hard I try not to fall I’m going to fall. The ice is just like trees, it’s very unforgiving.
It’s sad that hockey players never get the respect that they deserve. For many years I never gave Gretz the respect he deserved. But it’s not just respect personally but financially too. I know baseball players play a 162 game season but they don’t hit each other like hockey players. They aren’t conditioned like hockey players. For that matter most athletes don’t go through what hockey players do. Between the hitting, the skating, the agility, the strength and the willpower. Hockey players fight through the injuries to be there game in and game out. You always hear that hockey players are tough. But they don’t earn that much in comparison. Take for example the following:
Highest earners by sport:
Hockey – Sidney Crosby 16.5 million (because of a 12 million dollar salary with 4.5 million in endorsements)
Baseball for 2016 season– Zach Grenke 34.4 million (appeared in 32 games in 2015, all of this is salary)
Basketball – LeBron James 64.6 million (20.6 million salary, 44 million in endorsements)
Football – Aaron Rodgers 22 million
On salary alone, Crosby still lags behind everyone in a sport where teeth get knocked out on a regular basis, players get hit in the body with 100+ mile per hour pucks and smelly gloves always end up in someone’s face. Trust me they are smelly. There is no way to describe it. Until you get out there, wear gloves for a while, throw them in a bag, put that bag in the back of your car for a few days and then put them back on- you have no idea what that scent is. It’s a new fragrance for Yankee Candle – Hockey Glove. Sadly though, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Until hockey gets more kids playing it than football or basketball, this salary will always lag.
All I know is it is a tough sport and I’m headed out to the Yankee Candle store to pitch my new idea. Wish me luck.