It's the end of another hockey season, and this one seems harder than most. It's just a game right? It shouldn't be this hard at the end of the season right? It will all start again in August and until then there's plenty to do right?
See. That's the thing. It's not just the game. It's a family. It's an amazing game I watch while surrounded by people I know and love. And this season happened to also be my sanity, my therapy, my reason to keep going, because there was always a hockey game to look forward to. The games were one of the few times I could forget about what was going on in the rest of my life and how much I miss my dad, and how my business is slow, and how hard it all is right now. I could go to my barn, be surrounded by amazing people and lose myself from puck drop until the last whistle. I could be happy and involved, and just watch my team play.
Hockey is so much more than just a game. It's the people I meet and spend dozens of games with for the entire season. it's the people who understand my passion for the game, and share it, going through the same highs and lows as our team does. It's family. It's the couple who sits next to me who has had to deal with my emotional ups and downs this year, yet still took care of me and always had a kind word or hug when I needed it most. It's the couple that invited me on the Eastern swing with them since they knew it was something I wanted to experience but also knew I couldn't go on my own. It's my friend who made sure I went on that same trip when everything fell through last minute, because she knew it was something I needed. It's this same friend who has checked in on me, and brought me beautiful gifts throughout the year so I knew she was thinking of me. Hockey is the family we've known for five years that we just hugged tearfully after the game, saying goodbyes that are really just "see you laters." It's the players that you get to know on and off the ice who you get to watch grow from quiet, shy 16 year old kids into confident, strong leaders.
Now let's talk about my Thunderbirds. This team was pretty amazing. They struggled through the first half of the season. Never giving up, but never quite getting there. It's a young team, so we weren't worried, and could always see glimpses of the future which makes it all that much more exciting. Win or lose, I support my boys. Then suddenly in January, something shifted. This team that was last in the Western Conference, that wasn't supposed to make playoffs suddenly started winning. Then they gained more confidence and won some more. Then suddenly playoffs seemed like a possibility. A slim one, but a possibility nonetheless. Then our captain, the heart and soul of our team went down with a broken wrist, probably out for the season, and the playoffs seemed a little further out of reach. A couple weeks later he came back and led this team like he wasn't wearing a giant cast on his wrist, never missing a beat. The last part of the schedule was daunting. Playing most of our games against teams with winning records, and quite a few games against the top teams in the conference. But this team had no quit. They battled through the top teams in the league. They'd get knocked down and get right back up again. The little team that could. The underdogs. This team full of young players led by some amazing 20 year old players suddenly gelled and worked their way into the playoffs to the surprise of everyone but those of us who cheer for them and know their fortitude. So. Damn. Proud. Of. This. Team. They took the top team in the conference to six games, and made them earn their series win. Most of the games were close, and honestly, with a few different bounces, and some minor changes, this gritty team full of youngsters could have won the series. I can't wait until next year to see what they can do.
So yes. I cried last night. I cried when I watched our captain make his way down the line of his teammates, hugging them. I cried when I saw one of our other 20 year olds hugging his teammates, knowing it was the last time either of them would be on this ice, with this team. It's the end of an era for them, and a step into the unknown. I cried when I got to the concourse and saw the parents I've now known for five years and seen on a regular basis. For the record, they were crying as well as we hugged over and over. I cried knowing that suddenly I have a wide open schedule without seeing my hockey folks, without that release, that escape to distract me from everything else. So no. Hockey is not just a game. It is so very much more, and I am proud to be part of the Seattle Thunderbirds' hockey family.
Some people may never understand why I cry at the end of the season. Why I plan nine months of my life every year around hockey, but my hockey family gets it. And that's all that matters.
Until next year....
(is it August yet?)