Appreciate The Unsung Hockey Heroes

The game of hockey can enrich our lives in many ways. Along the way there can be many disappointments as well. At the end of the day if we choose to focus on the positives it can be a journey that we will look back on with favour. I think of the fond memories starting in 1966 playing on a Novice hockey team in Stratford, Ontario. We were the Schweitzer Turbo Chargers, and we were good. At least we thought so. Great kids that grew into men that went in many directions. We see one another occasionally but mostly we remember the memories. Too many years later I sit back and think about the game of hockey and the positive affect or influence on my life. I do not think about the great plays I witnessed. I don’t think about my first goal or even my last one and trust me there were not that many. I don’t think about receiving a crushing body check or even delivering a questionable one or even that trip to the penalty box to “feel shame” in front off my hometown friends and family members.

I always tend to revert to the relationships I made through the game we love. I remember the good guys I played with, the good coaches that were tough but fair. I remember the hundreds of players I was associated with in my coaching career. In the end we all seem to appreciate more when it is far too late. Sure, we meet plenty of people in the game that sometimes are not good people at that specific time but thinking about them and those situations just burns holes in your stomach. Thinking the positive thoughts about positive times and good people are too valuable to take for granted.

I was once told that a person can go through their entire life and count the number of true, real friends on one hand. Sure, five would be a small number but when you think about it those five relationships when it is all said and done can be significant in your life. I think it applies to the game of hockey as well. We look back on a career however well or unfortunate it turns out. In our eyes when we reflect, and we will look fondly on those hockey relationships in our life. For me I find my thoughts going back on significant men that have been influential in my life. Some for a longer time than others, all the same significant impact and lasting relationships. I miss my Father everyday and thank him for introducing me to something that has been so significant in my life. The fact that so many years later he would be proud to know the wonderful influence the game has been on my own children and now my grandchildren. Fathers are special. I think of Marty Pavelich a legendary Detroit Red Wing giving me support and encouragement as a young coach in trying times. Whether he suited up and practiced with the team in his seventies or wore his suit on the bench during a game to assist the coaching staff he was monumental. Just sitting in the locker room with the players and telling them about Gordie Howe in the fifties he seemed to have an impactful presence. Nothing candy coated only the truth. It proves to be the foundation for a lifetime friendship. He continues to be close to my heart.

It was not too long ago that upon reflection I look back on a man that has been a significant unsung hero in the hockey trenches and will hopefully continue for years. He has touched lives in the Detroit area for years. Whether you skated with him in an old-timer pickup game or whether he put an edge on your skates with one of his sharpeners you went away with a grin on your face, I think about the downtimes with him on the bus watching a bad movie or in the hotel lobby just shooting the breeze before everyone crawls out of bed for team breakfast. Just hours before the puck drop in the evening, we visited and shared thoughts, stories, or solutions to all the problems in the world. I think about the times when I had to do something that maybe wouldn’t produce positive reaction, he would encourage me and pick me up or sometimes give me a kick on the backside. He made me shake my head and know in the end he was right. You do not go through life for that many years attending the University of Hard Knocks and not have something valuable to say. Always interesting perspectives with a caring heart. I looked forward to seeing him everyday. He is what we call a “keeper.” I consider him a good friend. I hope I didn’t take for granted all his hard work keeping me and the players looked after. He always kept their domain, the locker room in top shelf shape. It may not have been the Ritz Carlton, but he made us feel like it was. Sometimes it takes us to be away from the game for awhile or maybe just in a different direction in life to reflect on the many positives we have experienced. He is the best equipment man I have ever been associated with. He was so much more for so many people.

I learned an Equipment Manager is more than the guy that sharpens your skates or sews the hole in the seat of your hockey pants. He is the guy that encourages you on the bench even after the coach is not a “happy camper” with your giveaway on a goal. He does it all. To the young players that still have plenty of time ahead of them in the game of hockey remember just a few suggestions. Enjoy each day involved in the game, even the tough days. Be a good teammate and respectful to your trainers, equipment people and the staff. The support staffs are in a thankless role in most cases, they deserve your respect.

The fan in the stands does not even think about the guy that sharpened your skates before the game or in between periods. Most people do not realize how much work they do everyday so we can enjoy the game of hockey just a little bit more. Buy him a coffee on your way to practice just to show him you are thinking about him. Be grateful that your family supports you in pursuit of your dream. Make them proud.

Work hard everyday because the guy that pays his ten bucks to see you play will know if you are dogging it on the ice or at practice. Be honest with yourself and your teammates. Remember twenty years from now when you are at a team reunion, your old buddies will not remember the goals you scored or the crushing check you threw, they will remember only whether you worked hard and if you were a good teammate. Remember to be a good guy and thank your trainers and equipment managers, they are your teammates too. They can be special people. Roy Parker, a special man, I think about him often.

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