Growing up without a father is hard. Growing up as a hockey player and hockey fan without a father is even harder. I wish I could tell you that I have memories of watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night’s with my dad, of him tying my skates before the big game, cheering me on from the stands, or helping me perfect my slapshot on the ODR in the bitter cold of winter, but I can’t. What I can tell you is that I still yearn for these memories: I’m 22 years old and still find myself looking up into the stands wishing my dad was watching and imagining a car ride home where he critiques every save I did or didn’t make.
In February it’ll be 18 years ago that my father passed away. Although I have no direct memories of watching or playing hockey together I have memories of him proudly sporting his Calgary Flames clothing — thank God that didn’t rub off on me — and his passion for the game, and I know that my passion stems from his influence. For me, hockey is so much more than a sport: it’s a passion, a part of my identity, and a bond I have with my father that can never be broken or taken away.
It was tough playing hockey without a dad: watching my friends’ dads cheer from the stands, give them advice after the game, or even help coach the team were all things I wish I had. And while I always felt like I was missing out, I know how incredibly lucky I was — and still am — to be able to play and love the game. Nothing can beat the bonds you form with teammates, the feeling of scoring a goal or making an incredible save, or the distinct feeling of being part of an identity rooted in our Canadian heritage. Being a part of something so great is a privilege that many people don’t get.
Hockey has given me so many positive things in life that I could never find elsewhere. It’s given me a feeling of belonging, best friends that will last a lifetime, a purpose to fuel my passion for writing, and motivation to continue pushing myself, but above all else, hockey has given me a link to my dad that I otherwise wouldn’t have. My father loved the game of hockey and I know that he would be so incredibly happy to see me share that same love.
To all those girls (and guys) who grew up playing hockey without a proud father cheering from the stands, know that he was still cheering for you. To all the moms who put in the countless hours of their time and thousands of dollars into fees, gas, and equipment, we thank you. To the step-dads who gave the perfect amount of support to us, we also thank you. And finally, to my dad: thank you for helping me learn to love the game of hockey in the short time we had together. When I miss you and have trouble finding memories to comfort me, I know that we both share a love of the game that connects so many people and I’m comforted by the fact that I’ll always have you to thank for one of my biggest passions.