Hockey is a life style. I am referring to junior hockey. A lot of boys play hockey since they were small children. They learn to live and breathe hockey. The start to believe they have nothing is their life except hockey. They lose track that they are just boys playing hockey instead they think they are just a hockey boy and without it they are nothing.
At age 21, boys age out of juniors, after that, they have choices depending on their work ethic and talent. Some choose college while other choose to try to pro circuit. The colleges are not top schools and the pros are not the big times, by no means. But, its a start to life after juniors.
My friend once played in juniors. He blazed a way through his four years setting his sights on pro. He struggled with the usual adversities that all junior play tend to deal with; girls, drugs, drinking, and aging out of the juniors.
First, he had to overcome coming to US and learning the language. He, like all player no matter your country was placed into a billet family. Most billet family leave a lot to be desired. He was one of the lucky ones his billet family made him feel loved and safe.
He spend four years in the same town, which was unusual but not unheard of, he matured some and learned to become an hockey player that would make any mother proud. He was a good player, almost too good for the league he played in but when called up to other better team was unable to perform to that level. He finally settled into the mid-level league. He finally made assist captain his final season and with just the right team mates on his line he helped the team win the championship, all the way. He was the MVP of the league and the championship games.
He had an unbelievable experience, one that he longs to have back. You can see it in his Facebook and instagram posts. You can hear it in his voice when he thinks about his future. Now the season is over and so is his junior career. He must make some choices as to where his hockey should lead. Most of all, he has to stop living in the past, no matter how great it was.
He left the US with a big ego, with a junior hockey mentality. He went home to his small town and spent the summer as if he would return to that life, of a junior hockey player. He started his break with a bang, a night getting wasted just like every other night back home from the season. I received many snapchats of the people, alcohol and vomiting that took place, well until he lost his phone. Which later, I find out is a common occurrence.
Night after night, the drinking and weed continued. I constantly tried to talk to him about working out. He would agree with my advice and promise he was going to run and find a gym. He would reassure me that after a little bit of partying he knew he needed to prepare for the coming season. One day, pictures started to come of him, in the gym. I encouraged him. He truly wants to improve his game. I was supportive and very happy. He sent many sweaty selfies and always complained about how much he hated to work out, but he was there doing it. It became a cycle for him, a few days of gym, a few days of weed and alcohol.
He spent a lot of his time putting himself down. He would daily tell me, he wasn’t good enough. He would ignore my texts and tell me later he is a bad boyfriend. He always found reasons to not run. He always had a way to imply I thought he was horrible. I don’t fall for guilt or manipulation in this way, but I always tried to boast his pride and stroke his ego. One of the things I found myself texting him several time daily was, “You’re awesome!” He seemed to like this and respond accordingly.
The time came, he had an offer to play for a pro hockey team in US and another in Germany. He immediately contacted me to talk about it. He was so overwhelmed and worried it may not be the right choice because something better might come along that when he accepted one of them they indicated it was too late to sign with that team. He was devastated and lost. I helped him pick up the pieces. That little message, “You’re awesome” fit right in, again.
The vicious cycle continued. He wasn’t good enough(so he thought), he smoke weed and drank alcohol. He partied most nights, all night long. He went to gym just enough to make me and his mother happy. He was lost in the transition of junior hockey to real world with no real understanding of perseverance and work ethic. He never learned from the billet family that there is more to life then being a hockey boy. Someone please tell him he was just a boy playing hockey. A boy with so much more going for him. He is son, a boyfriend, a friend, he has every opportunity to be great, if he can just find all the right people to stand behind him and encourage him make his own choices to be the man I know he can be.
Sorry! Not sorry junior hockey is over for you!
He did sign with a team in Canada, a low level pro team. Everyone was so proud of him. Including me, but I knew it could have been different. I knew he settled because he wasn’t ready for real grown up life. I supported his choice.