Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 11/12/13 at 11:49 AM ET
Tom Murray will be writing a feature column on a regular basis for Kukla's Korner this season.
I do hope you enjoy his submissions and to find out more about Tom, click on his name.
By Tom Murray,
It finally hits me late last week, after the final cuts have been made and we’re driving home, talking about possible line combinations and the team’s first scrimmage next weekend.
This is going to be Tommy’s last season.
He’s a senior in high school now, just a few months shy of his 18th birthday, a shade under six feet tall but still growing, shoots right but not nearly enough, invariably preferring to make a pass and then heading for the front of the net to pick up a rebound or a deflection. The classic power forward—selfless, fearless and dependable.
And sometime next spring it’ll all be over.
It’s not like he’s never going to play again. He loves it too much. But he knows as well as I that this phase of the game and his life, our lives, is coming to a close. So for me anyway this fall is a time of sweet reflection and of memories I’ll always hold dear.
The poor kid never really had a chance or a choice, as far as the game is concerned. It first makes its impact when he’s an infant, waking up at all hours and screaming for his bottle. I prop up a few pillows, pull him close with one arm and feed him with the other as we watch that evening’s NHL highlights until we fall back asleep.
He’s barely three or so when I take him for his first skate, lacing his tiny feet into a pair of rentals. We spend the afternoon doing endless loops as I hold him out in front of me, alternating between lifting and then dropping him back to the ice for a few more shaky strides. I’m a quivering and drenched mess after an hour of it. Tommy’s giddy with delight.
I take him to his first game even before then. A few weeks shy of his first birthday. I even have the exact date recorded in a journal for those memorable “firsts” for both my boys. And right there on page two I write: “January 31, 1997: I took Tommy to his very first hockey game today, between the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks. He was mesmerized! Sat in my lap for the entire first period, transfixed by the crowd, the players and the cheers after a Kings goal. He called it ‘The Big Noise.’ For this past week all he’s been saying is ‘goalie, goalie’ and ‘hockey, hockey.’ The kid is hooked!”
For the next dozen years it’s all a wonderful mash of pre-dawn practices and road trips, cold rinks and bad coffee as Tommy moves up the travel hockey ladder: Mite to Squirt to Peewee to Bantam. And of course we still watch games too, late into the night, especially when his beloved San Jose Sharks are playing. He’s devastated every spring when they fail to win the cup.
Relax I always tell him, it’s a long life, and then I remind him I waited a helluva lot longer than a measly 17 years before the Rangers won their cup.
So now here we are, at the start of another season. The last. And I’m already trying to figure out ways to somehow slow down the clock and make these precious next few months extra special. I’m talking to the dads of the other seniors on the team about planning a dinner of some sort, before the season-ending banquet in March, just fathers and sons, sharing some stories, a few laughs and maybe a tear or two.
But for now I’m just trying to savor every moment. The highlight so far? Easy. A fall league game a few weeks ago. I’m standing alone in my usual corner spot, nursing a coffee. Suddenly Tommy and a line-mate are heading my way, busting into the zone on a two-on-one. A quick pass over from Tommy and then he breaks to the net, arriving at the top of the crease in time to tip in the return pass an instant before he trips over the sprawling goalie. Teammates converge but before they can reach him, he’s already up, heading right at me, eyes wide, roaring with joy as he hurtles Ovechkin-like into the glass directly in front of me. I make a fist. So does he. Then he pounds the glass, flashes a grin and skates off.
You’re welcome, kiddo. It’s been a blast for me too.
Tom Murray is the former editor of The Hockey News. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him @twosonstom
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