It was a weekend of firsts for many of them. Their first full ice game. They skated real periods of 17 minutes. They learned to change shifts on the fly. They got to dress in a college locker room and leave their gear there all weekend. They had refs and were called for real penalties. The aggressive ones were excited to test out the penalty box and smirked sheepishly as they were hauled off to the sin bin for tripping or slashing with their sticks.
We played teams from Minnesota and North Dakota and Canada. We lost two and won two. And when we lost, we lost huge. And when we won, it felt especially good. Most of these teams had a lot more experience than we did traveling to tournaments and playing together
Our kids came together for 3 practices and then played in their first game. So we were plenty proud when they could just keep some of the games as close as they were. But for most of us, this wasn't so much about winning and losing. It was more about learning how to be on a team and work together. About passing the puck, instead of hogging it. About looking for your wingers, instead of skating it in alone. And about supporting each other, whether a score is made or a goal is missed.
The lessons learned were many. They learned that locker rooms stink. Really. Bad. They learned that red gatorade dumped on white skate laces makes them very pink! They learned that letting the puck out of their zone meant they had to chase it down quick, and gets really, really tiring. They learned that losing hurts. Winning feels great. And beating Roseau, our arch rivals in high school hockey, is an awesome feeling!
But the biggest lesson perhaps, is not one that any of them could articulate. But like Herb Brooks, the legendary coach of the USA Olympic Gold medal winning hockey team in the 1980's said “You're looking for players whose name on the front of the sweater is more important than the one on the back." In the end, I think the boys took their first baby steps towards doing just that.