Thank You, Hockey

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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.

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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. 

  • Hemi

    A most wonderful read!

    Amazingly, sports in general does play a significant part in our lives and as you have gracefully explained, on many a different level.

    My daughter has the same passion for her sport, “Rugby”. She has played it since high school and still to this day, some 15 years later, I cringe every time I watch her play.

    As you, she too has a love of the game and is aware that her body is breaking down due to the game itself. She also coaches the game (voluntarily) with several other of her team mates at the high school level. She believes that sports (any game) helped her tremendously through her teenage years and into her adulthood.

    It is clear that you have a love of the game that is truly part of your character.

    As you go forward, I hope you consider passing your understanding and love of sports to those whom may need a wee little mentoring in their lives.

    Good on you Kyla!

  • @S_2_H

    Nice little post. I can relate to a few things in this article – so thanks for sharing.

    Now I feel like a dick for being so harsh on your Taylor Hall article a few months back. I guess sometimes I forget there’s real people behind these words. Sorry for that.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    Although the oilers have been depressing over the last 10 years, hockey has been the only thing that’s kept me going through my own depression.

    Scrivens time in Edmonton wasn’t smooth but im happy he did what he could to breakdown the stigma associated with mental health.

  • Canoe Ride 27.1

    Thanks for sharing Kyla.

    Hats off to the goalies of the world. It takes a special breed to stand in front of high velocity vulcanized rubber and human mass.

    While your all a bit nuts, we love ya.

  • Spydyr

    Playing the great game of hockey is therapeutical. It allows for an escape from reality that is drug free a short respite from the day to day issues that effect us all.

    Best game in the World.

    So sad to hear of your Dad.

    Hopefully in the near future society will have more options and help when dealing with Mental Illness.

  • Mo Playoffs Mo Problems

    Thank you for the heartfelt and well-written article.

    It’s a great reminder that even though we get wrapped up in Yakupov’s trade value, McDavid’s line mates, imaginary trades that would somehow fix the defence, and the impact on the centre depth chart if Richards accepts a PTO offer, we’re really all here because we love a game.

  • I’m going to say this with the best of intentions.

    Suck it up Kyla. Beg, borrow or steal the money for a private MRI, get the surgery, do the rehab, endure the physio, get fitted for a brace and GET BACK IN THE GAME.

    What makes sport the coolest thing you can do is not just playing but all the sacrifices you make to play. It’s damn well worth it.

    If you give up and quit before your time you’ll regret it every day for the rest of your life.

    Signed,

    Mr “Been There”

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    Get the surgery! Do the rehab!

    I’m 43, had to endure another knee surgery, then had to get surgery on my groining (opposite side of my knee surgery).

    Took almost a year and a half to get back on the ice.

    Like you ,I was a goalie, you don’t have to give up playing the game, playing out isn’t so bad.

    You just have to adapt to the pace and wear a bloody knee brace!

    So, get your ass back on that ice!!!

  • Oilerman

    Hi Kyla,

    I never learned to skate, but like you loved the game. For a number of years my NHL was rec ball hockey, an older guy on my team once told me that he needed to keep playing while his knees could still take it. Unfortunately I blew out mine long before he did. It was devastating. But I had surgery, bought the braces, and went right back at it. But shortly thereafter I realised, that I shouldn’t. So, I took up softball, which gave me another 10 years of competition and comradely. But eventually, I had to give that up too, knowing that if I didn’t I’d probably end up a cripple.

    My advice to you would be to remain in hockey in other ways and try a different sport. Save your body. I am 40 now and have no regrets, but feel it everyday, every time I stand up. Hockey has given many things to many people, but it can also take from you, be wise with your health.

    Good luck.