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The First State of Hockey
When retirement stings like a puck above the shin guard
I’m in Minneapolis for a family wedding; catching up with cousins I have not seen in person for almost two decades and sharing stories never previously aired and the memories we think we did, discounted through the long lenses of time and distance. We all follow each other on Facebook, and most of us follow the others’ kids on Instagram so we have a rough geographic outline of the family activity map. There is nothing as refreshing, though, as sitting down and just belly laughing about family dinners, our teenaged rooms, sibling rivalry and how we all met our partners. Retirement is the talk of the table, through careers that survived multiple recessions, massive inflation and the diaspora of our family through seven states.
My cousins are all ten or more years older than my sister and me and remain the “cool” cousins whom we respect and emulate. Even though we may finally be taller than some they retain stature in every other aspect.
After this solid family grounding, I was up early (time zone, travel, strange bed) to make my morning Dunkies run, and saw a few lines’ worth of youth hockey players leaving the hotel for their first tournament games of the day. I am immediately missing my other family, the hockey teams I have coached for the last ten years until I hung up the skates this spring.
Retirement was an event and not a future choice five months ago. It didn’t bother me until I saw elementary and high school players, wearing their favorite team hats, carting bags as big as their bodies and their dreams, filling cars with license plates from a half dozen states. Once again the academic calendar heralds the hockey schedule, new faces and new challenges for all. Except me, and I’m remorseful only until my right knee reminds me of why retirement was preferable to another season on skates.
I can forgive the players their late night hallway noise as the sounds of knee hockey and gentle rule bending are the staples of an away tournament. Teams are here for that early indicator of what works and what needs work and finding out who will be the team glue when the cracks appear. I stopped to talk to a few parents who were gracious enough to share their pre-rink time; hockey families are universally team first no matter the team, time or town.
Minnesota is the self proclaimed first state of hockey; you see the MA-MN rivalry in “Miracle” with the last great amateur Olympic team drawn from “the U” and its Boston twin; Shattuck-St. Mary’s high school (move in this weekend) will once again fill the US National Team with talent and a bright future; a Minnesota university that most fans will need to Google will go deep in the Frozen Four tournament in March.
I think the hockey base runs deeper in Minnesota with a basis in hard work, enduring weather extremes, and an appreciation for what that intersection produces, a small sample reflected in this flyer seen in Dunkin Donuts:
For NJ fans, Minnesota has given us Neil Broten, Jamie Langenbrunner, Zach Parise, perhaps a few gigantic squash, and a place for high school hockey dreams. For me, it was a crisp late summer morning, fall and hockey and hope in the air, whether I am in the game or just cheering.