Hockey is more than a game

Writing about anything more personal than my take on new technology isn’t something I’m real comfortable with. I tend to avoid anything more personal than bragging about my kids – or complaining about them, as the case may be.

But something touched my life last summer that stuck with me, changed my perspective, and inspired me to try be a better father, husband and coach.

A good friend of mine passed away while on holidays with his family at age 40. The story was covered in the media a few times, in part because Jason Turner was a hockey coach, and an overwhelming number of his hockey family came out to remember him.

But what those stories didn’t capture was just what an amazing person he was.

I was his assistant on the last team Jay coached – the ball hockey Pandas. The team was made up mostly of kids who didn’t know each other, and largely of kids who were new – VERY new – to hockey and sports in general. Our oldest sons played together on the team, and despite their lack of success on the scoreboard, Jay did everything he could to make sure every one of those kids had fun and learned something about teamwork, competition and character.

One of my fondest memories was when he stopped his endless cheering in the middle of a particularly bad game, turned to me for a second with a pained look on his face and quietly whispered, “Oh man, we’re just awful,” – and then in the next second turned back towards his team (the huge smile right back on his face) and started loudly encouraging his players again. He was a tireless and fierce competitor, but he was also the most loved coach I’ve ever seen. He quickly earned the respect of his players, and he used that loyalty to inspire them to push themselves to perform their absolute best. He hated to lose, but he loved his players more.

And that is why I love hockey.

 
Jason’s son (the goalie in the black KC jersey) and family are featured in the 2011 Canadian World Junior hockey theme song (about 3 minutes in). The Edmonton Journal and Paul Brandt did an absolutely amazing job of this video.

The game is unquestionably fun to play, but it is so much more than that. Hockey gives players a chance to learn what it means to come together and achieve far more as a team than they could ever have done apart. It teaches them how much they can accomplish when they strive for excellence and persevere. How hard work can overcome even the tallest obstacles. It gives players of all ages a chance to bond in locker rooms and on benches where support for team mates can be profoundly meaningful. At it’s best, it can teach respect, courage, strength, discipline and even love.

And that’s why Jay was remembered so fondly by his hockey family.

His legacy will live on in his wife and children who show strength on a daily basis that is humbling to everyone around them.

But it lives on as well in the many coaches, parents and players whose lives he touched. I know his example inspires me to work harder, care more about those around me, and to try and appreciate every moment I am given with loved ones.

I don’t always succeed – far from it. But even when coach Jay looks down and grimaces at how awful I’m doing, I hope he can also see how much he inspires me to at least keep trying my best – and how happy to I am to know he’s still cheering for me.