If someone was to ask me which Elite League team I supported; I don’t think I could answer them. I love hockey. I support hockey in this country. In my time as a hockey fan in the UK, I suppose you could say I’ve supported most of the teams who play here. I try and raise my daughter the same way. She is the next generation of paying fan and I believe it’s important to give those children an open and positive attitude towards the game from the very first day.
I remember the first time I took her to anything hockey related, of all the players in that room she gravitated towards Liam Stewart. I don’t know what it was that originally caught her attention (she was 3 and a half at the time) but what kept it was the way he gave her the time of day and bent down to talk to her on her own level. He hugged her when she asked for a hug and from that day on, the way she talked about him you’d think he was her best friend. She asked for his jersey for Christmas, she even booed Scorch when the egging happened on the ice last year, but she was dedicated to him for the season he was with the Blaze.
When he left to join the Guildford Flames, it took me a week to pluck up the courage to tell her he didn’t play for Coventry anymore. I knew the tears would come and they did. However now she’ll tell everyone who asks that her favourite player used to play for Blaze and now plays somewhere else. “In Guildford Mummy, the one with the G on fire.”
Last night we went to Coventry to see them take on the Guildford Flames. It was the first time she’d be seeing Liam since he left.
She wore her Blaze jersey because it was Liam’s from last season. She spent the whole game screaming and banging on the glass, cheering for Liam and the Flames. Stood next to another little one who was yelling for Blaze at the top of his lungs, made her more determined to scream louder for Guildford.
I got given some odd looks but I’ve never seen her more engaged and excited about a game in all the times I’ve taken her. I won’t try and force her to cheer for someone she doesn’t want to. She can cheer for whoever she pleases!
During the game Liam was in front of us waiting for a faceoff and she was screaming for him, trying to get his attention and he turns around, waves and kind of grins at us. “I did try and smile.” He explained afterwards. “But the mouthguard, ya know?”
She didn’t care, the way she squeaked and hugged me and got all giddy when he noticed her made her day. That small gesture is something she’ll never forget. “He waved at me Mummy and smiled at me!”
We waited for him after the game and when she spotted him, she ran full pelt at him and he knelt down and hugged her. She had missed him and Liam was good enough to at least make her believe that he’d missed her as much.
They had photos taken and we stood and chatted with him until it was time for the players to leave on the coach. A fan stood waiting with us gave Sophia a Guildford scarf (I’m sorry, I never got your name but thank you so much from the bottom of my heart), which Liam signed for her and I’ll be honest, she went to sleep last night cuddling it. Its now the most important thing she owns.
It’s the small things that players can do, that makes all the difference to small children. If Liam hadn’t hugged her that day nearly 18 months ago, or spent the time listening to her then jibberish about whatever was on her mind. Maybe he’d not have been her favourite but he is and I think she’ll follow him for a long time to come.
Thank you Liam, for encouraging my little one to love Ice Hockey as much as I do.