My kid is a goon. There I said it.
So, I have this 17 year old that didn’t start skating until he was 12. Most kids that age have been skating for 5 or more years. When he started playing on the local club team outside of St. Louis, he was slow and uneasy on the ice and couldn’t really puck handle. On a turnover, by the time he skated down to the other blue line, the play was either already on its way back or the other team had scored.
Complicating things was that this was his Bantam year in USA Hockey (14U). USA Hockey rules state that kids can’t start checking until the Bantam year. Great. So we have hormonal teenage boys of varying sizes, with limbs they haven’t yet grown into, skating full force into each other. Mix that with a kid that can’t skate well and you have a recipe for disaster.
It was a rough first year. Other teams we played over the year, got to know that they could easily hit #23 and take him down. At that age, all they wanted to do was beat the crap out of each other. It was like MMA on skates. We lucked out with only a tear of his MCL and Meniscus that took him out for about 6 weeks. Other, more experienced kids ended up with broken bones, dislocated shoulders and one torn ACL. We got lucky. Did I mention it was a rough 1st year?
But then he grew. And grew, and grew. This past year Thing #1 was one of the tallest players on the team. He has now moved into the Midget bracket (18U). Standing at 6’1″ (1.85m) and 205 pounds (92.86kg) at 16 years old, was a sight to see on skates in full hockey gear. My once little boy looked like a menacing large man, wielding a $300 composite stick like it was a weapon.
At the beginning of this past season, I would watch games like I used to. Cheering and encouraging; the occasional complaint about a missed call. But 2-3 games into the season, he learned that his new height and weight (he also plays American Football for his high school, so he now lifts weights) has given him a new role on the team. Enforcer.
What. The. Hell?!
I hated it. I hated that every time he went out for a shift, he knew he couldn’t puck handle well, or skate fast. But he knew he could knock any other kid off his skates. One hip check by this kid and your average size teenage boy was down like a bowling pin.
He loved it. He loved having a role. After 3 years of playing hockey and seeing the eye rolls from his teammates every time he took the ice, he was now getting cheers. He was now getting respect from both his team and the coach. Coach would now give him extra shifts if the games was getting a little too rough.
“Go out there Thing #1 and do your thing. Don’t let them take late hits on your center,” I would sometimes hear.
This new role had disaster written all over it. I hated that my sweet boy has turned into a gladiator on ice. Now, don’t get me wrong. They can’t actually fight in USA Hockey. Any player that is caught dropping the gloves or swinging fists will be automatically ejected from the game and possible suspension. Some of the repeat offenders have been banned from USA Hockey – although that has been rare. So its not like he is a Tom Wilson or the fictional Doug “The Thug” Glatt. Most of the time he would give a hit and just knock a kid into the boards. Most of the time they were good legal hits. Most of the time.
Did I mention that my kid is one of the slower skaters on the ice? What that translates to in 18U Midget level hockey is a lot of late hits. For instance, other kid has puck, Thing #1 would skate toward “kid with puck” and set up for a nice, legal hit. “Kid with puck” would pass the puck to get rid of the puck, and Thing #1 was already in full body checking motion. Late hit. Penalty. 2 minutes.
Then you have the times when “kid with puck” quickly changes direction and Thing #1 didn’t (because he skates slow AF) and he hits “kid with puck” from behind. Hit from behind. Penalty. 2 minute Minor and 10 Minute Major.
At first I used to get upset at the penalties. He wasn’t helping his team with all the penalties. It is hard to win games when you are playing short handed all the time. He didn’t mind it. He would say, “Hey, at least I got on the score sheet!”
True, but not the way I would want him to get on the score sheet. It took a while for me to understand that without this new role, my kid would never get on the score sheet. Sigh….
So what’s a mother to do? While I still don’t like the idea that his main role on the team is to hit, check and smack-talk. I eventually warmed to the idea that he actually has a role on the team. He likes that he has a role on the team. I think at this point he would have taken any role on the team.
I had to adjust. The other mom’s would talk. Most of the time not near me, but I would hear them talk about the dirty plays and how he does it on purpose and does nothing to help his team when he is in the box all the time. I couldn’t argue that.
Then one of his teammates was clothes-lined in the throat that took him out for the remainder of the game. A penalty was not called. Our player was on down on the ice barely able the breathe, clutching his throat while the other team scores. We were furious. Regardless of the penalty not being called, anytime a player is down on the ice, USA Hockey rules state that play must be stopped.
Play was not stopped. The goal was not called back.
Then my kid went out there. We were already short a player or 2 for illness or whatever. Now we were down one of our best players for injury. Thing #1 went out there and it looked like someone finally took the lead out of his skate boot.
I had never seen this kid skate like that. He was skating with a purpose. Hit after hit, the parents that were once giving me the evil eye, were almost cheering on my kid.
We were in the 3rd period and Thing #1 had yet to get called for a penalty. I was thinking that maybe the refs were trying to make up for the “no call” in the 2nd. Then came the “kid with the puck that took out our player”. He skated left, he skated right to avoid Thing #1, but he was right there with him. Then “kid with puck” turned to skate back toward the neutral zone. Then Bam! Hit from behind.
Penalty called. 2 and 10 with 3 minutes remaining.
Thing #1 skated off the ice and right into the locker room.
I honestly do not remember what the score was or even if we won or lost that game. But I do remember that was the exact game where the other mothers and I, finally understood why he plays the way he plays.
He came out of the locker room with this stupid half-grin on his face. We had a talk about penalties and if he could go just one game without a penalty, then he could get a new Xbox game.
“Sorry Mom. I tried not to get a penalty, but..”
Just quit talking buddy. At least you go on the score sheet. What game do you want?