Well, here we go.
Here's how something like this get's started.
Last fall, I was taking a reflective look at my life. It's what you do when you turn 53 and you are an introspective, over-thinker. It's not that I'm dissatisfied with my life. I am, but that's not what prompted this. It's not that I'm single and 53 and trying to fool myself into thinking I'm still 23, and trying to score with the ladies. It's not some phantom I'm chasing or the sound of time ticking in my ears like Captain Hook. It's something more. It's what Rocky told his brother-in-law Paulie in Rocky Balboa: "I guess there's some stuff in the basement..." Here, take a look for yourself:
I was thinking about this scene last September when I turned 53 and I was realizing there was some stuff in my basement too. It's not that I have anything to prove to anyone else. I think the last eight years of my life are evidence enough of what kind of man and what kind of dad I am. I know who I am.
And it's not that I need some return to glory, because to be honest...my hockey career was pretty unremarkable. I was a third / fourth line guy who played with a lot of guys who were a lot better than I ever was. But I was a great teammate and I knew my role and I was willing to play it with all my might. I never complained about ice time or position. I just wanted to play. I just wanted to be a college hockey player.
I guess I still do.
Last fall, as I was thinking about this, I realized that I really missed it. I missed the camaraderie of the locker room, the banter on the ice, and the chatter on the bench. I miss the smell of an ice rink when you first walk in and that cold air clears your lungs. I miss the superstitions and traditions, and the ritual of the locker room and the jokes and the good-natured ribbing from the boys. I miss the nicknames. I miss the way the room goes from jovial and loud to serious and silent as the game clock gets close to zero, and it's time to think about hockey. I miss skating out onto a fresh sheet and seeing the other team and thinking how this just isn't going to be their day. I miss the thrill of the opening face-off and the exuberance of a cellie.
I miss coming to the bench and thinking; "That was a good shift. That's why I play this game." I miss watching a teammate do something amazing while waiting for my next shift and thinking how lucky I am to be on the same team with guys like that. I miss that moment -the one that inevitably comes every single time I play- when I think: "Man I'm glad I play hockey!"
I miss being the funniest, most acerbic wisecracker on the team...saying smart comments that even make guys on the other team laugh. I miss line changes and linemates.
I miss the handshake line and bumping heads with the goalie after a win.
I miss sitting at my stall in the dressing room after the game, resting and thinking about what just went down, and slowly starting the process of carefully removing and bagging all that cool gear.
I miss practice and shooting drills. I miss winning face offs and being a defensive forward and the sound of my skates cutting the ice.
I just miss this game.
I realized, after six years of hardship and two years of rebuilding, that I wanted a new challenge. This time, the challenge won't be to find a job or a place to hide my car at night so I can sleep. This time the challenge will be something I love.
I'm starting my Master's degree this spring. (I've finally settled on a Master of Arts in Communications) Last September, just out of curiosity, I did some checking and I still have eligibility remaining. I still have eligibility and there is a D3 level in the ACHA. That was all the sign I needed.
I never was a D1 player. When I played at Liberty we only had one team and we were D2. And I'm not a D2 player anymore. Face it...I was barely a D2 player back then. But D3...I think I can get in shape again and I think I have one good season of D3 left in me.
So we're about to find out.
I kicked the idea around for two months. I started training, semi-seriously to see how I'd respond. So far, so good. So Monday (Jan 9) I start in earnest. It is going to be hard. It is going to be a bear. I am going to hurt and sweat, and grind. Two training sessions a day plus skating three nights a week. From now until August. No let-up. August is tryouts and I have NO guarantee from anyone. Only one coach has discussed this with me and he is excited but realistic.
So am I.
I can't sit here in my kitchen, on January 7, 2017 and tell you that this is a sure thing. In fact, I feel slightly more pessimistic than optimistic about it right now. I have some weight to lose and a lot of wind to regain. I refuse to do this just to be a novelty. Our program has a lot of kids coming here to play, they aren't going to make a spot for me just because it's a good story. My goal is to really make this team. Make it because I'm good enough. Because I bring something to the table that they need. Because adding me would make the team better.
This time I want it to be different. Different than it was 22 years ago. This time, I want to work hard enough that the game in my head becomes the game I play on the ice. This time I want to have more than just the odd shift where I show flashes of being a good player, and instead I have a consistent game.
It turns out there is some stuff in the basement.
I'm doing this to be a hockey player just one more time. To be a teammate just one more time. And, hopefully, to inspire someone.
Maybe someone out there has a similar dream and they need to see another person do it in order to get the courage to give it a try themselves. maybe my teammates will be better for having seen my hard work and dedication.
Or maybe nobody gets anything out of this except me. I'm good with either.
It's going to be a long road and not always pleasant.
Here we go!