A mom’s brush with ice hockey

Posted Feb. 07, 2010, at 8:14 p.m.

Last week I went to Sawyer Arena in Bangor for the first time in a year. I was returning a friend’s daughter after she had been to dinner with us.

From the time that I opened the doors, a familiar smell — that dry, frozen smell with a hint of ammonia particular to all indoor ice rinks — filled my nose and brought back memories of the winter before. We had just moved to Bangor from Florida, where we had lived for more than a decade. Previously, our three boys had never been north of Washington, D.C. They had never seen snow. They had certainly not been in an ice rink.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize that the culture of ice hockey is particular to the Northeast. Sure, kids in the South play ice hockey on occasion, and perhaps some of them are fully immersed in the culture of it, but those children would be the minority. Baseball, college football, and even surfing, have a bigger following in the South.

My kids, through lack of exposure, knew next to nothing about hockey. But they quickly heard about it at their new school. Nearly all of their friends were eagerly anticipating the ice rink opening in October. This confused my older boys (Lindell, the youngest, was only 18 months old), who for all of their lives thus far played soccer through November and began the baseball season in March. The idea of a “winter sport” was foreign to them. Apparently not as foreign as the world of ice hockey, however.

Owen, who was 5 at the time, particularly wanted to give this new thing called ice hockey a try. Ford, then 7, was eventually convinced as well.

“Do you think it’s weird to sign my kids up for ice hockey if they’ve never played?” I asked my friend Steph.

“Might as well just throw them in,” she said. If I remember correctly, she was smiling.

The next day, Dustin and I took Ford and Owen to Gunn’s in Brewer and bought all the gear they would need to begin a life of ice hockey.

“A life of ice hockey” turns out to be quite expensive. But the boys were pumped about their new sport, and Dustin and I were excited to be ice hockey parents. Interestingly, none of us gave any thought to the fact that the boys would actually need to ice skate in order to play ice hockey.

A couple of nights later, we took the boys to the ice rink for their first practice. Luckily, Owen’s former soccer coach and Steph also were there, because I didn’t have the first clue about how to get the boys’ gear on. Owen’s soccer coach laced up one boy’s skate while Steph stuffed the other boy’s legs into shin pads. I watched nervously as my boys were slowly swallowed up by gear and padding that made them look like stuffed bears with helmets.

“So, you ready for this?” I asked them after they were dressed.

“Ready,” they said.

And then Ford said, “Shouldn’t I know how to ice skate, Mom?”

I looked out to the rink where a group of boys and girls were skating circles around one another with such ease, they could pass a hockey puck between them, too.

“Oh, you’ll be fine,” I said. “It will be just like riding a bike.”

That last bit made no sense at all, and the worried look on my boys’ faces proved that it was no comfort either.

I opened the half-door, half-window to the rink and helped the boys step onto the ice. Their skates wobbled beneath them, bending their legs in ways that didn’t seem possible.

“Could you give me a push, Mom?” Ford asked because he had already dug the blade of his skate into the ice and couldn’t move.

I pushed Ford with my right hand and Owen with my left. They slid across the ice, their hockey sticks pointing straight out from their sides like a dangerous weapon. Ford leaned back to keep his balance, and that caused his skates to slip, one by one, out from under him, until he was flat on his back. Owen fell to his knees, and then through the force of momentum, forward onto his belly, and he spun across the ice like a dust mop.

For the next hour, I chewed my nails as the boys spent a great majority of the time making good use of their padding, and the patient coaches tried to teach them how to skate.

It turns out that playing ice hockey is nothing at all like riding a bike. Indeed, it is like nothing my boys have ever encountered before. They grew frustrated and embarrassed. Despite our “no quitting” rule, Dustin and I let the boys save face and withdraw from ice hockey. It wasn’t fair of me to thrust them into something so new, I reasoned. “And they are still adjusting to the move,” I said.

Maybe the experience has scarred them, though, because just the other day, Owen tried to maintain his “northerner-ness” by proclaiming to a friend, “I like to ice skate. Just not with skates or padding, or a stick.”

“Maybe not even with ice,” Ford added.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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