Up until now, I’ve withheld from writing about how this season, from a hockey perspective, has spiraled out of control. I suppose I didn’t want to dilute the facts with personal biases nor did I want this blog to become a venue for my emotional rants. I was also clinging onto the hope that everything would just work itself out, thus excusing the need to write about it at all. But it’s January, and I’m less than three weeks away from heading home early. It was the decision we arrived at after considering the well-being of our family and how the events of the last few months have unfolded.
It really started in October when Kevin was injured. A strained adductor muscle was the diagnosis and in 10 days, a doctor’s note put him back in net. In the third period of his first game back with a 1-0 lead on the boards, it became clear that, though he was playing well, he had come back prematurely. A save on a seemingly harmless shot from the point left Kevin unable to stand back up. He received the same diagnosis, but was told he would need two weeks to recover this time. Two weeks turned into four which became six. All the while, he had been rehabbing as instructed with compression, ice, massage, and stretching. With little improvement, he pushed for a second opinion. The doctor resisted, clinging arrogantly to his original diagnosis, but Kevin was finally able to secure an appointment with a specialist in groin injuries for athletes. A short visit confirmed three things. First, his original injury had warranted a month of recovery time for a goalie as opposed to ten days. Second, the injury that resulted from his returning too soon was not a strained muscle, but a torn tendon. And thirdly, none of the treatment for a strained muscle is conducive to healing a torn tendon. All of this put him back another sixty days.
Already December in a regular season that goes through mid-February, the news was tough to bear. But, the loss of their goalie wasn’t the only problem plaguing the team. Their losing record caused sponsors and management to panic. Rather than focusing on any real problems affecting their on-ice success rate, attention was awarded to the wrong details. As often happens in any pressing situation, fingers were pointed and usually not at the right people. Management told players what they thought they wanted to hear when all that players wanted to hear was the truth. And the truth became increasingly harder to come by. Rumors spread that the imports had bad attitudes, and once loyal fans turned into hecklers. The team doctor quit after Kevin sought a second opinion without his approval and left his position clinging to the notion that the sports-specialist was wrong. Other members of the board also resigned. The League complained that Valpe was playing with too many import players. Paychecks came late, and players started to worry about the financial stability of the team. To top it all off, a new batch of players were hurt. The team was in a perpetual state of disarray and their record continued to reflect that.
Having had such a positive experience last year, it was sad to see everything falling apart. Hockey is a big part of the community and as an import couple in such a small town, it’s difficult to lose the support of those around us. Beyond the other players, the management and fans constitute our overseas families. When passing through town yields frustrated remarks about the team from random passersby, it makes for an unpleasant experience.
Despite all the drama surrounding the team, Kevin and I continued to make the most of our time in Italy. We are fortunate to have found many friends in the other players and their wives. Additionally, my tutoring has introduced us to some wonderful new Italian families who are incredibly welcoming and supportive. Counting these blessings in addition to that of Baby R, it’s certainly easier to enjoy the year. I am also incredibly grateful that I have a husband who doesn’t dwell on what could have been. “Hindsight is 20-20” he always says. The case could be made that he was wronged this season. But instead of adopting this mentality, he’s consistently focused on finding new solutions.
We always knew that hockey wouldn’t last forever. That is why Kevin finished college as opposed to signing early and why we’ve taken full advantage of the opportunities his temporary career have presented to us. I guess I just always hoped that it wouldn’t end like this… with him spending his final year bouncing around to physical therapy appointments. I wanted him to go into his season finale with the expectation that it would be just that, and enjoy playing without any pressure. I didn’t want an injury to make the decision for him. He reassured me that, even if this is it, he will be perfectly happy with where we’ve been and where we’re headed. But, we wanted to make our decisions about what to do next to open up opportunities in hockey for next season. And we needed to make those decisions with Baby R in mind.
Considering the timeline of his recovery, it was questionable already whether Kevin would be playing another game in Valpe jersey. The team clearly needed to bring in another goalie. And when they did, the likelihood of Kevin’s return became even more questionable. To earn a spot on a team for next year, he needs to show that he can play and prove that he is healthy before the end of the season. But where can he do that? The season is too short in Italy for him to battle back for his spot, especially since he’ll be returning during the relegation round that will determine which teams make playoffs. But deadlines for playing back in the States are fast approaching. And, realistically, how marketable is a goalie that hasn’t played a game since October? Not to mention the fact that his salary here is paid over seven installments, only three of which have been received. If he leaves, how much of a pay cut would he have to take? How much can we afford? And what if the management decides they want him to leave to open up another work permit?
Given the uncertainties surrounding the rest of this hockey season, we decided that it’s best for me to go home a month earlier than is mandated by the pregnancy. Prepping the dog to fly and getting a doctor’s note for myself will all take time. And the stress of waiting for a phone call that dictates where we have to be and when is too overwhelming. Though I hate to leave Kevin alone to ride out the storm, my early departure enables me to find a doctor, and better prepare for Baby R’s arrival. And, an extra month at home will allow me to substitute teach for longer than we’d previously planned.
All in all, this about summarizes the circumstances of my bittersweet return home. It also demonstrates that, as novel as a career in hockey may be, it’s as stressful a profession as any other. Job security is virtually nonexistent and an injury can be career-threatening. It’s also similar to any other job in that, at the end of the day, it is just a job. And I’m lucky that we haven’t lost sight of that. I would have thought that being pregnant would make our situation all the more stressful since we’d be worried about bringing a baby into a world of unknowns. On the contrary, the baby reminds us every day about what’s really important. And I know that those unknowns will work themselves out because we already have the things that really matter.