Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Hockey Life: Seven hours

Though the final result fell one win short of the goal, the last day of the Squirt A portion of 2011 Florida International Hockey Invitational tournament at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla., presented one of my favorite things about hockey -- once the game is over and the gear is put away, the players are kids.

After working their way through the tournament, taking two must-win games to finish second in round-robin play, the Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning squad easily dispatched the Gulf Coast Flames (with Colin scoring his second goal of the tournament) in the semifinal. Their reward? Playing a team -- the Jr. Everblades -- that has had their number all season long for the championship.

I'll admit, I wasn't surprised at the outcome. The Jr. Everblades have a solid program that stresses winning at all levels with talent distributed evenly among all teams. In the end, though, it wasn't even close. Some kids, including Colin, were playing their hearts out at game's end. Others, however, well, I couldn't say.

Honestly, it's easy to understand just wanting to get the game over when you're getting spanked. It's no fun when you're losing. Still, I was raised to go hard, no matter the score, until the game was over. I'm doing that with Colin, too. That's why, at game's end, he had the most visible show of disappointment.

Tears moistened his cheeks as he knelt on the blueline, waiting his turn to collect his finalist medal and congratulate the Jr. Everblades. Later, he told me, he wasn't sad only because the team lost. What bothered him more, he said, was all about effort.

Within a couple hours, thanks to a grilled cheese sandwich at the All American Grill and a trip to the Disney character store at the Miramar Outlets, Colin was fine and looking forward to the night's festivities -- watching a pair of games at the College Hockey Classic at Germain Arena, at the same rink where he'd played only hours before.

Between that night's two games, we bumped into one of the Jr. Everblades players. Ryan, one of the team's top skaters, is a hounding buddy of Colin's. Before long, we were all sitting together, watching the University of Massachusetts battle Cornell University before the boys took off in search of autographs from players on the University of Maine and Clarkson University squads.

After making their rounds and loading up on signatures, Ryan took Colin up to a section to meet some of his Jr. Everblades teammates. After introductions and assurances that Colin wasn't there to "steal" team secrets, the gathering quickly turned to kids being kids. Some of the Jr. Everblades made sure, too, that Colin hadn't gotten hurt during the game and recognized his best efforts at being a pest.

It didn't take long for the kids, with Colin right in the middle of it, to do their best at getting shown on the arena's Jumbotron, achieving success at least five times, with their goofy dancing and silly antics. It didn't matter who played for whom. Bottom line, they were all hockey players doing what hockey players do best -- having a ton of fun.

Seven hours after a hard loss, Colin had an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

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