I didn’t always love Hockey. It only took one pre-adolescent trip-up on double-bladed skates for me to decide I should stick to sports that aren’t played on frozen surfaces. And so my father, a former collegiate player himself, swapped his skates for a softball glove and spent his weekends at track meets instead of hockey games. He wasn’t offended that his three daughters had little interest in his personal sport of preference. On the topic, he only had one request : “Never date a hockey player”.
And so I made it through the first nineteen years of my life with very little understanding of the sport. How many innings(?) were played in a single game… how many players were on a roster… Which hall-of-famers played for which NHL team… That was until, in the fashion of a stereotypical daughter, I found myself at odds with my father’s one wish. I didn’t do it as an intentional act of rebellion, but I started dating a hockey player.
So began my love stories with Kevin in particular and the sport of hockey in general. Falling in love with one was quicker and easier than falling in love with the other. One had wit and charm, blue eyes, and a cute South Boston accent. The other had lots of rules I didn’t understand, a cold venue, and an NHL network that always interfered with my reality TV viewing schedule.
When I started watching Kevin play, I didn’t know much about what I was seeing. The whole experience stressed me out. I’d sit there in the Whittemore Center Arena, clapping nervously when other Wildcats clapped, and just hoping the puck wouldn’t go in the net.
As time went on, however, Kevin’s passion started to rub off on me. Without meaning to, I learned about the game. I soon found myself reading plays as they developed, analyzing the quality of shots made on net, and actually enjoying hockey highlights over breakfast. I knew what systems should look like, and when ref’s made iffy calls. I could match NHL-ers to their teams, recognize different styles of goaltending, and appreciate a good, high-intensity hockey game.
Just when I was starting to think Hockey wasn’t so bad after all, it really upped its game and sent us on all sorts of wonderful adventures. It brought us to Providence where Kev and I spent our engagement in an adorable East Side apartment. Just a few weeks after our honeymoon, it sent us to la bella Italia for two seasons. Next it landed our newly expanded family in Wichita, the land of Sunny Decembers and smoky barbecues. And then, with a second baby on the way, it flew us to beautiful Scotland where we’ve been ever since.
It hasn’t always been perfect, nor would I have expected it to be. Hockey comes with a lot of baggage, literally and figuratively speaking. There is a lot of pressure and very little stability in such a performance-driven career. There are challenges to living away from our families. There is packing. (A LOT of packing.) There are everyday stressors magnified by being in foreign surroundings. But even in the hardships, there are positives. As I watched Kevin rehab from potentially career-ending injuries, I admired his resilience and work ethic. When we needed support we would have found in our families back home, we found it in our Hockey communities. When we struggled to balance his schedule with our graduate programs, parenthood, and marriage… when all we had was each other, we learned how strong we are together.
Maybe it’s just me getting sentimental as the season winds down, but somewhere over the past eleven seasons I fell in love Hockey. I love it for showing me places I never would have seen, introducing me to people I never would have met. For bringing out of Kevin some of his best qualities, the ones I fall in love with every day. For teaching me to be more flexible, inspiring my wanderlust. And for challenging us as a couple in the best possible way.
Now, all that said…. as much as I love Hockey, I will likely be a bit of a stress-case in the stands this weekend, feeling the pressure of a do-or-die playoff series. I’ll be cursing the clock for going too slow if we are ahead and too fast if we are behind. I’ll be sitting on the edge of my seat, cursing my Hockey affection for driving me on the verge of crazy…
love can do that sometimes.