Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Hockey Life: Breathing easier

There was a moment Saturday afternoon, in between Colin's two games with his Tampa Bay Jr. Lightning Pee Wee A White teammates, when I simply sat back, smiled and enjoyed the scene. It had been a long, long time.

Here was a youth hockey team, fresh off its best victory -- so far -- of the young season, taking up one side of the Courtside Grille. Most of the kids were gathered at one table, playing games on their smartphones or sharing an order of calamari. Yes, calamari. At other tables, including ours, families enjoyed their meals, making small talk, above the din of the kids, between bites.

In a word, it was nice.

It was nice to see that teammates can get along. It was nice to see that teammates can respect each other. It was nice to see all of the teammates having fun. And, after last season's debacle with another organization, it was nice to see that it was even possible.

Going into this season, our primary goal was to have fun. To be able to enjoy ourselves. To be able to enjoy the company we keep. To look forward to games and, honestly, practices. A month into the season, our expectations have been exceeded. Even better, we've yet to see, hear or learn of anything to the contrary.

We'll do our part, too, to make sure that keeps happening.
What we're learning is that it's more than wins and losses, goals and assists, and who gets to choose the locker room music. It's all about these kids playing a game, getting better every time they touch the ice and becoming a tight-knit group.

It's no secret -- in and outside of the organization -- that this team was put together only after the Pee Wee team, the one that suffered through a pretty tough campaign last season, was hand-picked from the fairly large group of kids who tried out. I don't have a problem with that. If that's what they need, who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to tell them differently. Besides, it makes for a good rivalry within the family.

Honestly, it was easy to see, even before official practices began, that the kids on the White team, especially Colin, had some work to do. And while some may see that as a disadvantage, I think it will ultimately be a strength of this team. To me, the kids will grow tighter -- like a band of brothers, if you will -- with each step of improvement that takes place in the days ahead this season.

For Colin, this is his season to really focus on his skills. He's understands what it means to go hard. He skates just as hard on the last shift of his second game of the day as he did during his first shift of his first game. Earlier today, during a scrimmage with his rec team, he drove hard to the net, crashing into players in a bid to score. Not once, but twice. To me, he took a huge stride.

Sure, Colin and his teammates will have some hard games. In this game of inches, there will be missed opportunities. Teaching moments, rather than mistakes, will happen, too. They'll learn, like most of us do, that nothing good comes easy. To me, that's how a team comes together.

It'll be fun watching it happen.

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