Let me tell you the story of a boy who fell in love with hockey. He had just turned 4-years old and was on his way to a hockey rink for the first time. His life has had a lot of action in the last month. He had moved across the United States from Nevada to Michigan because of the tragic and sudden loss of his father, he was starting school for the first time, and now his mom was making him go try something called hockey!
When he got to the rink, his mom got skates, a helmet and gloves for him. As he was about to step on the ice with a plastic walker that all learn-to-skate participants used, he started bawling and resisted going on the ice. His mother asked him what was wrong, and his response was, “The ice is going to melt and I am going to fall through.” His mother laughed and told him that it will not melt and he will be okay! She also told him that there is concrete under the ice to catch him if he did fall through. This was not exactly the first hockey experience someone would want to have. Nevertheless, he went back to every learn-to-skate lesson after that and started to like it.
After a-year-and-a-half of learn-to-skate, it was time for a real hockey team. The first team he played for was house mini-mites in Midland, Michigan. Then he moved up to house mites, still playing in Midland, Michigan. He doesn’t remember much about these years of hockey because he was so young. Then came Squirt A, a year he will never forget that motivates him to this day. He played travel for the Saginaw Badgers in Michigan for a team no one wants hockey to be defined by. He was only 7 or 8-years old and he literally sat the bench the entire year. For a kid who was new to hockey, this was a very discouraging year. He considered quitting hockey altogether so he wouldn’t have to have another discouraging experience. With mild convincing, his mom got him to play house for a year and see how it went. A surprise to all, he was an absolute star for the year scoring at least a goal a game. This was a boost to his confidence and one of the reasons he kept playing. After the end of the season, his mother was laid-off from her job and got a new job two hours away from where they currently lived. So they picked up everything and moved to Jackson, Michigan.
By the time they moved to Jackson, the Peewee A travel team already had tryouts, so he had to go to their practice and prove he was a good fit for the team. He showed what he was made of and with confidence from last season, he made the team. With this team, he met his first friends in the new town and made his first big leap in skill level in hockey. He played for the Jackson Generals/B&M Towers for two years but the team folded, leaving him with the challenge of finding a new team. He tried out for Bantam AA Lansing Spartans, which is a year above his age group. He made the team and had a very challenging year playing forward. His team went on to win the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League playoffs. Once the season was over and the next season tryouts came along, the team was moving up to Midget A and the coach told him he would only have a spot for him if he played defense. Knowing that Midget A would be a great challenge, he did what his coach suggested. It was not the season he was hoping for, playing less than he wanted, but he realized it was where hockey started getting serious for players (15 and 16-year olds). He took the playing time he got and used the rest of the bench time as a learning experience. The team went to the playoff finals again, but lost in a very difficult game.
Then the 2016-2017 season was coming along and another skill level leap happened. He tried out for the same team and made it. It was his year to step up against the other defense on the team and fight for more playing time. Growing about six inches and gaining about 30 pounds, he was ready to prove himself. For the first part of the season he was getting second line ice time. Then tragically, one of his defensive partners was diagnosed with Leukemia. He stepped up, worked hard and earned first line playing time the rest of the year. With this year’s size and skill level leap, his love for hockey grew to an extent no one could have dreamed of. Now that the season is over, he is faced with the decision to play U18 travel or high school hockey. He is also getting involved with Junior level teams and potential college coaches.
If you haven’t made the connection yet, the boy in the story is me.
This past hockey season has showed me why I play hockey above any other sport and how much I love the game. I have started to put myself out there more in the hockey community to try to play hockey at a higher level. Simply knowing the game for 12 years, it has changed my life for the better and I don’t know where I would be without it.
Hockey has taught me discipline, control, how to have fun and how to leave everything on the ice. The game itself has inspired me to get where I am today, through all the challenges. All in all, hockey is a sport like no other and no one will appreciate its glory until they have experienced hockey first hand.
Written by Kyler LaDuke