The last few weeks there have been a lot of things involving hockey that have been concerning to say the least. Ugly on ice incidents, arrests off the ice and a continual parade of players heading to the NHL league offices to be the latest players suspended for violent head shots. Tough to read the old Twitter feed lately these days.....
But yesterday I witnessed something that in my opinion was pretty special.
Yesterday, hockey won.
I help coach the U18 Wilkes Barre/Scranton Hockey team and we played Team Comcast U18. Both teams are filled with very talented, passionate young hockey players. All our games against them this season will no doubt be very competitive and intense.
Yesterday was supposed to be different. Yesterday was different.
Early in the week, Comcast had tragically lost a fellow teammate, Alexander Thomas. The circumstances of Alexander's death are not important. Their team and their family lost someone who they loved dearly and was part of them.
There are no words that adequately express that kind of loss and pain. Especially for 16 and 17 year old teammates.
But yesterday for a short time, hockey won.
Those young men from Team Comcast wanted to play and here is what they did. They pulled together. They began to mourn their loss. And they asked us not to cancel a game we had scheduled shortly after Alexander's death. His teammates wanted to play. The needed to play.....They wanted to be together. They needed to be together. They needed the game.......
Looking at the game you would think that Team Comcast would have a very difficult time. It would be virtually impossible for them to prepare, focus and play a game after the week they had just lived through.
For close to 60 minutes yesterday, their young players put on their hockey gear as players do, warmed up, and battled a team that was well rested and had not gone through anything emotionally close to what they had gone through. They played hard, they played smart and they played disciplined. They deserved to win the game although they came up just short. I found a big part of myself cheering for them and in some ways hoping they would find a way to win. Not really what a coach of an opposing team should do, but I am sorry. That is how I felt.
But here is the most important thing. They did not lose. We did not win. Hockey won. Again. Like it has so many times over the course of history, hockey was there to help people heal. It gave those young men a reprieve from the agony. It gave them a place they could go to temporarily be free from the pain. During a game at that level a certain kind of focus takes over where so many things have to get blocked out. That team and coaching staff should be proud of their will, strength and commitment to lace up their skates and compete like they did. Their coach even came in after the game to thank our team for playing and shared some kind words. I guess he understood that our guys were confused too. It was an example of total class.
Yesterday, hockey won......
As a young player in the NHL I was once on a team where one of our teammates lost his wife during childbirth and we had to play that night after getting the news. It was one of the most confusing and difficult things I have been through. Hockey didn't make it right, but it provided a platform for us to lean on one another and somehow find the strength to move forward. We managed to come together, pray for our teammate, and get out as a family and play a good game.
Hockey won that night for a brief time.
I think I saw that same power again yesterday.
People will often say, "Hockey just really isn't that important....." In the grand scheme of things, they are 100% correct. But we should also never underestimate or forget that hockey also has some special qualities that help us all heal.
Dealing with their loss will forever be difficult. It is part of growing into an adult. But I hope that what those young Comcast players take away from yesterday is a feeling of pride about how they competed. They began to overcome what life has thrown at them. How it is important to always remember a fallen teammate and to honor him by being a team that forges on.
Yesterday, hockey won.