Sunday afternoon I was getting ready to leave for Minneapolis to catch a flight back to the West Coast after having spent a few days up North with the family. As a last minute get together I went to eat with my brother, his wife, and my 1 year old niece. I was in a rush to get to the airport but also wanted to watch part of the All Star Game with my little niece (got to get her started early right?) so we decided to just grab a quick bite at a local restaurant. Our waitress walked us to our table, one with a prime view of the game of course, and we settled in. I looked to my right and realized we had been seated next to a large table of boys, none of them over the age of 13, their parents sitting a few tables away chaperoning them as they ate and stared at the game on screen.
I laughed as I overheard parts of their conversation, “Ah dude! Look at the dangle!” “Look at Price…he sucks!” “You know who the most underrated player in the NHL is?” and other various takes on the NHL from the table full of Minnesota Boys Hockey players.
Ah yes, I was three feet away from a table full of mini-Gongers, still red-faced from playing in a tournament that day; warmies on, messy flow, housing food like they’ve never been fed before, and of course recapping this reason and that reason why they lost. They sat there chirping their goalie for making a save and then subsequently blowing the game for them anyway (cuz when you’re 10 its always the goalie’s fault right?). Sitting at the very end of the table was a little girl, probably 6 or 7 years old, quietly following the conversation at the table. Obviously she was the little sister of one of the boys, along for the ride, and of course so she could go swimming at a hotel too!
I looked at my big brother sitting across the table from me and couldn’t help but flash back to our childhood. I felt like I was watching us from a distance again and was reminded that I really do come from a place built on routine and tradition. When my brother was the same age as the boys sitting there he also played Hockey and we would travel to small Minnesota towns all over the place for random Hockey tournaments. I, like the little girl sitting a few feet away from me, was in it for the hotel hot tub, the hot chocolate at the game, and of course to cheer on my big brother! Let’s face it, at six years old I knew nothing about Hockey and was more concerned with what kind of candy I could get at the concession stand than what was happening on the ice, but all that time spent in barns across the state watching game after game after game planted something in me that never went away, my love for the game.
I can only hope the same for the little girl sitting at that table on Sunday during the All Star Game, that she is cultivating her own appreciation for the game through these road trips with her brother as well. Hopefully she won’t have to endure any road trip mishaps like I did where multiple pee-wee teams fell victim to chlorine poisoning at a hotel during one tourny and the whole thing almost got called off for example…which is a whole different story entirely…anyway, I hope she grows up to appreciate the game as much as I do. I also hope my niece, who was more interested in her toys than the All Star Game on TV, grows up with a love for the game as well…and she will as long as I’m a part of her life! Anyway, back to the main point.
Looking back its easy to see where many aspects of the lifestyle begin…at that very table you could see the importance of “the boys” and the team meal. The parents knew their place, and it was certainly not at the table with the team. Watching them step in only when needed, allowing the boys to form a bond in their own way, was truly something to observe and an example of how the Hockey lifestyle influences everything for those involved, including parenting. I truly believe it takes a special kind of person to raise a Gonger. A knowledge of not just the game, but the life as well, is necessary to raise up a player with enough determination to make it and survive.
My parents are not Hockey people, never were, probably never will be…and my brother, is not a Gonger. (To be clear, not every kid who picks up a hockey stick becomes a Gonger in my humble opinion, you’ve gotta love it to be one, because only love can make you crazy enough to live as Gongers do haha!) I think he made it to age 14 playing the sport before calling it quits. It’s not uncommon to see kids hang up the skates around that age, citing “politics” as their reason for leaving the game. I think this word is abused in the hockey realm and I wouldn’t cite “politics” as their reason for leaving, I’d cite a lack of understanding of the lifestyle and what needs to be done to bring players to the next level as the real culprit of Hockey player attrition.
The boys next to me in that restaurant were verging on the age of continuing in a Hockey system or hangin’ up the skates. Just by looking at them and listening to them for a few minutes I’m willing to bet I can tell you which ones will still be playing in three years and which ones won’t. Some of them are going to move up and discover they simply don’t have the talent, others will move up and discover they don’t have the drive, more still may just not be ready for the pressure and heat that comes with the job, and some simply will be pulled away by the demands of other interests or family expectations. Whatever the case may be, the group of boys sitting there will drop significantly over the next few years until only a select few remain.
Those select few will be the ones with a chance at making it as a pro. They will have proven that “politics” is just another word for the stress, pressure, pain, ups and downs, glorious wins, heartbreaking losses, and the very tool used to weed out those lacking the heart and ability to excel in such a brutal sport. They will be the ones who truly learn what it is to be a Gonger, and how long the road to get there can be. The path to becoming a Gonger is long and hard, never easy, and always painful. The weird thing about it though, is that it is also the most rewarding, fun, out of control, wouldn’t trade it for the world experience as well.
That being said, we all know that some Gongers are just born as such, and will live the lifestyle from the time they breathe their first breath to the time they breathe their last, even if they have no talent; and even some who may never even play because of physical restriction or other limitations. Some Gongers are honorary members of the world, being recognized as such because of their understanding of the world hockey exists in, or because they were brought into it and embraced it as much as someone who doesn’t play is able to (I see myself somewhere in this category). Some Gongers will never play a day past elementary school, but once its in them it never fully goes away. For whatever reason, there are exceptions to the rule as to what defines a Gonger but they will have one universal thing in common…they will love the game and respect and embrace the lifestyle that comes along with it.
The mini-Gongers sitting next to me on Sunday aren’t old enough yet to understand everything that comes with the Gongshow lifestyle, but they understand it enough to know its worth the long roadies and even longer practices. They know they are part of something both amazing and enviable, and I hope they get the chance to grow up, survive the “politics”, and come out on the other side living the Gongshow life.
Until next time Gongers, W.S.P. and embrace every second of the life, you’ve earned it!
Follow me on Twitter @AmySnow17
(Also noteworthy from this blog, I’ve decided to title my little section of Gongshow blog Heaven “Siren 1363”. I’ll explain it in a separate blog but wanted to give you all a heads up that I was jealous everyone else seemed to have a cool Blog Title and I didn’t yet so I made one up! Watch for my posts to come up underneath that heading from now on! Take Care Gongers!)