For the Love of the Coach

January 30, 2017

I love hockey. I grew up in a small town in Long Island and belonged to a winter sports club. Everyday after school my best friends and I would figure skate, drink hot chocolate and swoon over hockey players. The Kesnick brothers? Dreamy. I took a massive header once right in front of Paul K. He didn’t see it. He literally didn’t know I existed. At almost 47 I am still mortified and likely need therapy.

Last fall my son Fritz, at 10, decided he wanted to try being a goalie. I am utterly certain Henrik Lundqvist and our beloved NY Rangers had everything to do with his decision. We watch hockey in our house. And Henrik is the face of the Rangers. And what a face it is… I mean, red gummy fish AND eye candy? Thank you Sweden

So… I’m now a hockey mom. Driving to rinks in the dark. Freezing at practices. Schlepping equipment. I’m late to this game. I have friends who have been up in the wee hours of the morning lacing skates for years. Hockey moms spend a lot of time with each other. I love this community. The women are kind, supportive and adore their children. Winnie didn’t even know me but connected me to the best goalie coaches. Lindsay is on a different team at a different rink but supports my kid wholeheartedly. Liz is always at the rink and always has a smile and a kind word. Elyse is the perfect combo of  brilliant NYC girl (from Canada) and badass yogi. My girl crush Courtney takes care of us all. She brings bagels for 6am practice. She caffeinates the coaches. She always has extra everything in her son’s bag to share with anyone in need; socks, pads, tape, et al. She’s that girl you don’t want to like because she looks utterly perfect at 7am but you love because she is as gorgeous inside as she is out. Thank you my fellow hockey moms. You’re my village and I adore you.

Then there are the coaches. They are quite frankly some of the very best humans I’ve ever met. Jon, Miro, Luke, Will, Brian, Tristan, Danny. These men inspire my son. They expect diligence from him. They raise his spirits when he’s down. But more than all this? They lead by example. Have you ever seen a hockey player skate? Not in a game- just skate on pristine, newly Zambonied ice. It is beautiful. Beautiful. The happiness they skate with is palpable. And contagious. My son marinates in that joy. He is surrounded by men who LOVE the sport they played and now teach. These men show up for their young teams. They treat the boys and girls who play for them with respect and kindness and a huge dose of humor. I confess hockey lingo is sometimes lost on me but the smiles on the kids faces? Those I understand completely.

As a NY Rangers fan I’ve gone deep into social media fandom rabbit holes. Hockey fans are zealous. They love their teams. They hate everyone else. Sometimes they hate their own players. Some think Henrik “the King” Lundqvist is perfect and losses are on the team. Some believe Hank needs to take a seat so our #2 Antti Raanta can play. I’ve idolized Henrik. His skill. His effort. His hair!!! I’ve also been frustrated with Hank and rooted for Antti. And I’ve voiced those frustrations and opinions in loud decibels at my tv.

But I realized something. I’m not just a fan. I’m the mom of a hockey goalie. And when I swing between the fandom extremes I’ve been sending Fritz a scary message: he is either the reason his team wins or the reason they lose. As a mom AND a fan I realize how strange and wrong it is to think any one player carries an entire team. Yes. A great goalie can carry his team a night or two. But its always going to be evened out by the games where soft goals are let in or our team is bested by a rival. (Please not the Islanders Please not the Islanders…) While I truly love watching the Rangers goalies play I don’t know Henrik or Antti. They seem like a good men dedicated to their sport, their family and giving back. Guess who Henrik and Antti credit with their success, their resilience and their joy? Yup. Their goalie coach, Benoit Allaire.

Fritz’s coaches deserve the same credit. Thanks to Jon who through all the equipment can see when my son needs a break or a kind word. To Tristan who taught Fritz early on the import of a great attitude. To Miro who works Fritz so brilliantly but worries more about a hard shot than I ever do. To Will who spends untold unpaid hours shooting on Fritz just because. To Danny who has four beautiful kids of his own and treats every kid on the rink like his too. To Luke who shows passion and integrity with everything he teaches. To Brian who understands that his hug makes a kids practice. To these men who by example teach that sports are the perfect combination of hard work and joy. I know they have families and children and dreams far beyond the rinks where they teach and skate with breathtaking grace.  I know they love hockey and are instilling that love in my son. I am certain they make far too little money and yet never bring anything on the ice save mad skills and wild enthusiasm. These remarkable men deserve fans as much if not more than any professional hockey player because their job is ten times harder. They deserve fans because they embody everything I want my son to learn not just in sports, but in life.

Thank you coaches. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.


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