Why Do You Play Hockey?

Why do you do it?


Do you ask yourself why you get out there?

When I get in my car some days and drive an hour and a half to the rink I think about what it is that I am that getting out of hockey.  The Stanley Cup playoffs are on and I listen on the radio and I envision myself playing for a team winning a Cup.  But I’m way too old to get drafted or walk onto a team.

To be fair, I don’t think I can step onto any team in the NHL and contribute anything. I might be able to carry the sticks for some guys and stack the pucks before warm ups but trust me I’m not getting on the ice and scoring goals or making passes.  I sure as hell am not getting out there and being someone’s missing piece.  If anything, that team is going missing from the playoffs if they put me out there.  Plus they’ll find me missing because I’ll be in the trainer’s room.

In fact, the Cup is kind of a funny subject with me.  Some hockey players have superstitions.  I have one about getting my picture taken with it.  The last time I had my picture taken with the Cup was when I was a teenager, even though I’ve seen it at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto at least three times after that since I’ve been an adult.  It might sound strange to some that I would refuse to take a picture with the Cup, but I know I’ll never have my name on that silver chalice so sometimes I look at it like a tease.  Plus the thing I thought when I took the picture was that I was going to maybe have a chance one day to get another picture with it when I won it.  Guess that’s not happening.

I’d watch the Stanley Cup Finals and see guys hoist that trophy over their heads knowing that they’ve done something that most of the population of the world will never do.  In 2008 according to Google there were 528.7 million people in North America and as we know there are 23 people on an NHL roster.  If I did the math properly that means that of those 528.7 million North Americans, they have a .000004 % chance of winning the Cup?  That’s anyone from man, woman to child.  That could be true, in 2007 Ken Campbell wrote on ESPN.com that a child who grew up playing hockey had a 5% chance of making the NHL.

But if I can’t watch the playoffs without feeling that I want to get out on the ice and make myself better then why am I doing it?  I’m not going to be a star.  I’m not going to be some kind of beer league all-star.  I have all these terrible quirks in my game.  They are well documented.  My knees aren’t bending.  My back is too bent forward.  I’m not driving into my shots.  I’m not skating when I go to net, I’m gliding.  I’m tiring out.  But still maybe I could be something?

I just want to prove to myself that I can find an ounce of talent inside of me instead of these layers of doubt that cloud my mind.  Sure I’m hopeful when I step on the ice that I’ll find the confidence to do these things the right way and I tell myself that I’m going to be okay.  However you can bet once it goes wrong, I’m throwing in my hat and I’m going to start skating so as not to fall – even though I’ve watched guys fall all playoff long.  I believe in myself enough at this point not to make it worse but unfortunately I don’t always know how to make myself better.  You’d think I’d have it all figured out by this age but I am still trying to learn.

The more I question it, the more I realize I don’t know why I do it.  I just know I keep coming back.  Whenever the ice and skates put me on my face, I find a way to laugh it off and get back up smiling.  Is it the love?  Sure I love the game.  I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember.  But there’s something about playing it.  You can play any other sport, but there’s something about strapping on the skates and getting out there.  It’s amazing and fascinating to play but it’s hard work.  It’s the hardest game in the world to learn but it’s the most rewarding game in the world.  I appreciate everything it gives back, even when I find bruises that I have no idea where they came from.

Is it the people?  My hockey family.  The people that have included me in their exclusive circle.  My brothers and sisters who strap on pads and sharp blades to whack a rubber puck around a slick surface.  Just like me, they have given up time, money and energy to pursue this dream of just being out on the rink to fulfill some of our collective dreams.  To my fellow skaters, I salute you for all you’ve given up and all you’ve done to help me grow, may you never catch an edge and may you continue to follow your dreams.