I felt like a kid.
In hindsight, I guess I was. But as a 17 year old senior in high school accepted into college, what growing up is there left to do?
The walk that day to the rink was like any other. The February wind was sharp and spiteful. The sky gray and clouds low. Hidden in 2,000 acres of New Hampshire woods is St. Paul’s school. A private school known for academics, notable alumni and among others, hockey.
The prep school hockey season is fast-paced and arduous. The competition each week is impressive with a league filled of future college and professional players. And a twenty five game schedule is more of a beating than it sounds.
We were in the middle of a losing streak—one that did not sit well with the players, coaches and school. Nevertheless, we were gearing up for another day on the ice. The pre-practice locker room scene was fairly monotonous. Chirp someone across the locker room, gossip on the number of sprints practice would end with and wait as long as humanly possible to lace up.
That day was different.
We walked into the locker room and the white board read, “Get dressed, come to the Lower Pond. – Coach”. We looked around with intrigue and suddenly the mood picked up.
By some accounts, the first hockey game in the United States was played on Lower School pond in the late 1800’s. It’s a tradition that the school notes in the Captain’s Room above the rink, but does not boast. To us though, the Lower Pond was just home of the boat docks, where we’d swim until nightfall during the spring and early fall days.
We suited up and made the short walk to the Lower Pond, where we found our two coaches gliding on the ice, flipping passes to each other. We broke out in smiles and this time, hurried to tie our skates.
We gathered into a huddle, Coach gave us a quick chat and within minutes our sticks were on the ice. Our captain knelt to the ground, closed his eyes and began firing sticks to one side and then the other. The only way to pick teams.
Coach dropped the puck and we were off. No drills, no whistles, just a group of guys playing a game they loved. The ice was rough and quickly coated in snow. It didn’t matter. There were no offsides, no penalties. Those didn’t matter, either.
For anyone who has played pond hockey, they know of the pure joy it can bring. It immediately instills a childlike feeling, where laughter and fun seem to drown everything else out. Dare I say, a kind of magic.
We skated until it was dark and then we skated some more. They were going to have to pull us off the ice.
The next day, the St. Paul’s varsity hockey team played on a real rink in a real game and won. I honestly don’t remember how we played or how we won. It doesn’t matter. What mattered was on a harsh February day, our coaches took a step back and let us just play the game.
While we may act grown up, impenetrable to fatigue and the stress it brings, sometimes coaches—we just need to be a kid again.