Photo credit: Katt Adachi
Hockey was my first love and will forever be my greatest love (my apologies, future husband). Sometimes you don’t realize just how important something is to you until it’s threatened to be taken away. After two torn ACLs, a torn MCL, and, as of this week, a torn LCL, it’s been suggested to me that I re-evaluate my involvement with the game and possibly retire from my position as a goalie. Since us beer leaguers have longer MRI wait times than broken Oilers, I can’t help but reflect on the significance that hockey has had on my life. Since I have to choose between pushing my return to the game or being able to walk when I’m 50, I decided to go with a love letter to hockey in the mean time.
When I was four years old, my father laced up my skates and introduced me to my greatest passion. A year later he took his own life. Though I’m sure he’d scoff at my taste for blue and orange apparel over his beloved Flames colours, I like to think that he taught me to fall in love with the game before he left so that I could continue feeling his presence. I’ve always found comfort in knowing that we shared a love for something so great.
My love for the game grew as I did. I remember being a kid and getting dressed in the basement so I could hit the ice as soon as I got to the rink, and skating for endless hours on the outdoor rink my stepdad made me in the winters. Eventually, I had to stop playing due to financial reasons, but I never stopped loving the game or bugging my mom to let me play again, until she finally gave in.
The older I got, the more significance the game had on my life: I became increasingly aware of mental health issues that were only silenced with a therapy I call hockey. I learned that being a part of a team and the greater hockey culture allowed me to be a part of something so much larger than myself. I was driven to choose an education and career path that included hockey. And above all else, I realized that hockey was so much more than just a game.
Though I have never, and will never, come close to being a professional athlete, I still owe almost everything I have in my life to the beautiful game of hockey. There’s something so much greater at play than the game that happens on the ice: hockey is the reason that you can be in a stadium full of almost 20,000 people and feel completely at home, or in a dressing room full of teammates that have become your brothers and sisters, or on a website dedicated to hockey that brings thousands of people who love the game together. It can make someone who sees him or herself as a nobody feel like a somebody, and that is one of the greatest feelings in the world. When you’re a part of the game, you belong somewhere.
While I can’t begin to understand the devastation that a professional athlete must endure, or the tenacity it takes to continue after an injury, I can tell you that no matter what the level of play, facing the thought of having to walk away from the game is one of the most difficult thoughts to grapple with. I’ve talked to my male teammates who have shed tears over injuries that could have ended their days of playing hockey — not due to the physical pain, but because of the emotional pain —and people who have chosen careers in hockey so that they can continue getting their fix without actually playing. Once you’re a part of the game, there’s no going back, it would seem.
We’ve seen players in the hockey world struggle after their retirement from the game, many finding it a challenge to find their place in the world after. When all you know is the game it becomes hard to find your identity outside of it. When people ask about me, what I do for a living, etc., my first instinct is to go straight to hockey. Though there are plenty of other things I can associate myself with, being a part of the hockey culture is my one of my proudest claims.
I’m not completely sure if the day I say goodbye to playing the game will come sooner rather than later, but I do know that at the end of the day it’s not about remembering what you’ve given to the game, but remembering what the game has given to you. Though nothing will ever compare to the feeling of being on the ice, if I were to go out now, I would be 100% satisfied and grateful with what hockey has given me. I am the luckiest person in the world to be able to love the game as much as I do and to have the friends, job, and life I do because of it, and I think sometimes we get so wrapped up in the game and the stats and the shit hole that the Oilers have dragged us into that we forget to take a step back and realize how incredibly lucky we are to be a part of loving this game.
Whether you play the game, watch the game, write about the game, talk about the game, or simply just enjoy the game, there’s a certain satisfaction you can take in knowing that you’re a part of it. It’s an interesting feeling to take a step back and think about how a six-ounce piece of rubber on ice can mean so much to so many people when someone on the outside sees it as just a trivial game. When you reflect on what sparked your love for the game or what allows that dedication to continue, it’s surprising just how many ways the game impacts us.
Thank you, hockey.