It’s 1992 and Disney put out a movie that changed my life. Like most kids my age, I was obsessed with The Mighty Ducks. I wanted to be like Connie. I wanted to play hockey. Unfortunately for me, I grew up in an area where hockey was not a big thing. To top it off, my parents said it was “a boy sport” and wouldn’t let me play. I was given a pair of figure skates and enrolled in a few classes. Needless to say, it was not my thing. I loved being on the ice, but I have never been a graceful girl. I stopped my classes, but went to as many public skates as I could and played street hockey with my friends. As I grew up, I went down other paths, but there was always a seed planted in my heart. I just didn’t know it yet.
Fast forward 15 years. My life had fallen apart. I was freshly divorced with a 3 year old son. My self esteem was at an all time low. I had fought hard for 2 years to save a relationship where I had been cheated on. I was tired. In my desperation of being lonely, I entered the dating field again. I met someone who ended up being a better friend than a boyfriend but the one thing I will owe him eternal thanks for is reintroducing me to the wonderful sport of hockey. While now I admit this guy makes a better friend than a boyfriend, at the time of the break up it was very difficult. I was depressed and lonely and was scared to death to be alone. I found myself turning to hockey. I became obsessed with it. I had to know everything, I had to watch any game that came on TV. The Olympics rolled around and I can remember sitting on my couch watching the USA vs Russia game. My son was running around the apartment, stopping every now and then to see what I was watching. By the end of that epic shootout my son had taken his wiffle ball bat and turned it into a hockey stick. This warmed my heart. I took him to the local rink where there happened to be a youth tournament going on. My 3 year old sat through 3 entire games before I had to peel him from the glass to go home. Looking back, I’m sure people there thought I was kidnapping him the way he kicked and screamed. We came back the next day, I put him on the ice for the first time and we sat through 2 more games (with the same reaction when it came time to leave) and the rest is history. Hockey gave me something to bond with my son. It gave me something to look forward to. I found that being on the ice was the best therapy $7 a session could buy.
Hockey became my outlet. My life still wasn’t going where I wanted. I was still lonely, I was still depressed. My attempt to live on my own was failing. I turned to watching hockey to escape my daily stress. I went to any games I could. It was becoming a passion that I could share with my son and continued to strengthen our bond. When I lost my job, I hit a whole new low. What was I going to do? How was I going to provide? I had to swallow my pride and move back in with my parents. I had to get a job at a restaurant which wounded my pride even more. Thankfully this restaurant was sports themed and I got to share my love of hockey with my customers and made my job fun. In this time I had several short lived failed relationships that added to my depression. My son had just turned 4 and was beginning to enter the phase where he felt that Mom had no idea what she was talking about. I had voiced this at work one night and a co-worker said that I needed to meet his friend who had played hockey all his life. I kind of laughed it off and said sure, whatever send him my way.
Roughly a month later this same coworker came up to me in the kitchen one day and asked if I recalled the conversation. Of course I did and he shoved one of the new hires in my direction and said, well, this is him. I didn’t know at that moment, but the love of my life was just dropped in front of me. He agreed to work with my son, I agreed to pay for ice time and lunch. Our relationship developed quickly despite my attempts to keep it at what it was due to our age difference. We bonded over hockey and he was perfect for me. He was my other half, my best friend, the piece that made me whole. My son fell in love with him too. This is the man my child calls Dad. He was a great role model and stepped up to fill shoes that most men double his age flee from. We became that perfect hockey family. He taught both of us the details of the sport we both loved. He encouraged both of us when we were on the ice. I can say this relationship was a whirlwind, but when things feel that right, you just don’t question them. We were married before we were together a year. The only day happier in my life was the day my son was born. I was truly happy. I had never had so much confidence in my life. I had a husband who I knew no matter what loved me. I had a wonderful family. I had a husband who encouraged me to go after a career that I always wanted and supported me through it when no one else did. We had our issues that needed worked out, but who doesn’t? Our life wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect for me.
Out of the blue it was all ripped out from under me. My husband left. I lost my best friend and the true love of my life without a real chance to save my marriage. I’m still trying to sort through what exactly went wrong, I’m still looking for answers. It was truly like grieving the death of someone who was still alive. Someone who had just been telling me how much he loved me and how much I meant to him was suddenly acting like he hated me and I never meant anything to him. This has taken me to a whole different level of low. I can honestly say I don’t know how I get through the days sometimes. The answer always appears as a little hyper voice asking to go to the rink. The first week my husband left, I couldn’t bear to be at the rink. It was too painful. The one thing that always brought me joy made me miserable. My son on the other hand, begged to go to the rink every day. This was his way of dealing with the pain. We’ve both had our trips that ended with one or both of us in tears. My husband and I have since began to work out a friendship. It’s still hard and it’s still painful and raw.
Through all of this, I discovered we had a whole family I never knew we had. Our hockey family. The support we got from our team and club was overwhelming and emotional. I can show up at the rink and my hockey family can see the look on my face and know where I’m at. I can tell them my son is having a hard time and his coaches do an amazing job of getting him reigned back in and focused. They’re always sure after to make sure I’m doing ok too. Another hockey friend stepped up and sent my son and I to a Capitals game to help us escape life for a little while. It was just what we needed at the perfect time. Seeing my son’s face light up when Braden Holtby was 5 feet from him, watching him jump out of his skin when Karl Alzner slammed into the glass at warm-ups right in front of him or seeing him giggle when Tom Wilson stopped right in front of me made me feel whole again.
I can say that this sport saved my life multiple times. It has pulled me out of the darkest places in my life. I can once again say that the smell of the ice brings me peace. The thrill of the game brings me to life. It’s created memories that I will cherish deeply for eternity. It has brought some truly wonderful people into my life that have all become family because we bonded over a sport played by passionate beasts with the biggest hearts. I still have my days where all I want to do is stay in bed and cry, but hockey has brought me all the tools I need to survive.