Chills and thrills

LICIA CORBELLA -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:50 AM ET

It's 7 a.m. I'm sitting inside a community rink, wearing my heaviest coat, a pair of gloves, a scarf and I'm still freezing.

And yet the tears in my eyes have nothing whatever to do with the fact I can no longer feel my toes.

It is the end of my sons' novice hockey game -- they won again! -- and the eight-year-olds are lining up at centre ice to shake hands with each other.

That show of sportsmanship never fails to warm my heart within my frozen body and fill my head with hope for this country.

I am a hockey mom and I have to admit I'm truly surprised how much I love it. A weekend without a novice hockey game is like Christmas without lights. A little less bright and fun.

Of course, for my twin boys, Nolan and Tyrone, a weekend without a hockey game is more akin to a tragedy -- Christmas without lights, a tree, turkey, stockings and presents.

Already good skaters, thanks to my husband, Steve, putting in countless hours with them at a neighbourhood rink for a couple of years, our eight-year-old boys didn't start organized hockey until last year despite one year of solid begging on their parts.

We thought we were putting off the inevitable agony of early-morning practices and games in chilly rinks.

Who knew we were, in fact, denying ourselves -- and more importantly our boys -- a truly life-enhancing (though sleep diminishing) experience?

Oh, it's not all joy. Not by a long shot. You don't know torment until you have a child who plays goal when the other team is hot and your defence is lacking.

Every goal on your child is like an ice pick to the heart because you know -- no matter how many fabulous saves your child makes -- he will blame himself should his team lose.

And so, since Tyrone is determined to be a goalie -- even though he's an excellent outside player -- I often find myself screaming myself hoarse yelling: "Protect the goalie!", "clear the puck", "check the man" (these are eight-year-olds, remember) and when the breakaway happens and I see Tyrone prepare himself for the onslaught, I usually just say a quiet, "oh, no."

If he makes the save, it's unrestrained relief. If he does not, it's the ice pick.

And I'm not alone in my feelings in this regard. Recently coach Fran -- a fabulous hockey player herself -- whose son tried playing goal just once, said after the game she couldn't stand the pressure.

But, oh, the exhilaration when Nolan -- looking like Bobby Orr -- carries the puck end to end and pops it in the opponents' net. Or when you see one of your children skate over to their goalie to encourage him after a few goals have gotten by.

Hockey is much more than just Canada's game. It serves as an excellent metaphor for our great country and its people.

To excel at hockey, one must be courageous, tough, smart, occasionally chippy, fiercely loyal and able to work well with others. That can be said of the first inhabitants of this great country -- Canada's aboriginal people -- to its first settlers, to our most recent immigrants.

But for my children, hockey is no metaphor. It is a burning passion and it is fun. If you want to see hockey at its purest -- before parents get pushy, before the agents and the money and the labour disputes gum it all up -- drop by your neighbourhood rink on any given weekend and watch a game -- any game -- between young kids. There you will see true hockey -- a game played for the love of it.

But it's not just the kids who provide the lessons here.

Canada produces the best hockey players in the world primarily because of another great Canadian trait -- volunteerism.

The whole amateur hockey system is run by volunteers driven by that kid-like love of the game.

From evaluations, to organizing ice times for practices and games, to the coaching and managing of teams, to putting on tournaments and fundraisers, it is all done by volunteers with such dedication it takes my breath away.

When I see coach Fran pat Nolan on his helmet after he scores, or coach Len encouraging Tyrone before he tortures us and stands between the pipes, I want to hug them for all they give of themselves to all of our kids and our country.

And then there's the other parents. You hear a lot of negative news about hockey parents -- dads who deck the referee for a bad call, moms flashing the coach for benching their son, but I've seen none of it.

We've made marvellous friends whose company we enjoy immensely, even if it is 7 a.m. and we can't feel our frozen fingers.

- - -

THE THREE STARS ...

That nasty whiff of hockey equipment is as Canadian as fresh Tim Hortons coffee or bacon sizzling on the grill. We grimace as we slip on the pads, sometimes cold from overnighting in the trunk, but it awakens our senses and braces us for battle.

Getting those first blades for the little one's first skate is a magical experience. We worry about those little legs quivering like a newborn moose rising for the first time, yet expect our youngster to take to the ice as if it were in their blood. Which it is, of course.

The Internet has taken all the grinding out of hockey pools. No longer must some poor sap tabulate the week's results. Now, pool players can follow their teams online and live and die with their production shift by shift in real time. Still plenty of sweating, but without any work.


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