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Playing With Passion: My Hockey Journey

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On December 27th, 1997, my dad sat in a hospital room watching the Detroit Red Wings play the Toronto Maple Leafs while my mom was in labor. 12 hours later I was born. (The Wings won 8-0 by the way). 

At three weeks old, I got my first autograph from my aunt, who went to the Detroit Autoshow and got the smallest Red Wings shirt there was and had Kris Draper sign it. 

I grew up during one of the greatest professional hockey dynasties ever as the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup three times before I turned 13 years old.

You could say that I kind of grew up around hockey.

Hockey wasn’t popular where I grew up, we didn’t have a single hockey team in the entire county until the 2007-08 season when Adrian College built Arrington Ice Arena and began their hockey program, but my dad had played on the pond growing  up and gone to Michigan Tech during their years of being a hockey powerhouse, so I was raised with the Red Wings on TV. 

My little brother began playing when I was around 11 and I soon became not just a hockey fan, but a hockey sister. Even though I loved to watch my brother and loved to watch the Wings and the Adrian College teams, I didn’t want to play hockey, even when my mom repeatedly asked me if I wanted to try hockey with the try hockey for free event that took place after my brother’s practice one day.

It wasn’t until I was 14 that I suited up for the first time in my life, which is about 10 years later than most kids do, the really super good ones anyway. I was the oldest in the entire local youth hockey association, I was the only girl in the learn to play program and the only girl over the age of 10. I knew how to stand up and move around, kind of, so I didn’t get as much attention as the little kids who couldn’t stand and couldn’t skate at all. But, I was lucky enough to learn how to play here at Arrington Ice Arena where I could learn from the college kids who would come skate with my brother during sticks and pucks sessions.

I learned how to stop one March afternoon after I almost ran over the guy giving my brother a skating lesson. I learned how to shoot one summer from a girl on the varsity team who’d later go on to play in the NWHL after she saw me struggling to get the puck off of the ice for an hour.

I learned how to skate backwards at Bulldog Camp from the varsity coach’s son who couldn’t believe that nobody had taught me to skate backwards yet. 

I learned where to be when by watching 100s of college hockey games a season and constantly paying attention to what each player was doing. 

I never had to get dressed in a bathroom at Arrington, something I’ll forever be grateful for after getting dressed in the bathroom every sticks and pucks session I went to in Jackson and getting shoved into a closet that they call the girls’ locker room in Chelsea.

In February of 2012, my mom took me to an Adrian Women’s NCAA hockey game. On that day, I decided that my goal was to play college hockey at Adrian College. 

My brother had made the move from Adrian Youth Hockey to Ann Arbor Youth hockey in the spring and over the summer my mother found herself volunteering to be the director of house hockey. That was the first and only year that I got to play competitive hockey.

We were sitting in the lobby of the rink in Ann Arbor before the evaluation skate for my brother when one of the girls team’s coach came to run evaluations. He asked me if I played too, I said I did, but I didn’t have anywhere to play this year, I was too old for the U14 teams in Ann Arbor. He told me that they just might have a place for me in Ann Arbor then asked if I had my equipment. Luckily, I didn’t go many places without it during the summer, so out to the car I went and I went out and skated the evaluation skate. After the skate, he said there was a house team where they could be registered as U16 but play U14 in the new league that was formed.

I played in my first game and scored my first goal on September 23rd, 2013 at fifteen years old. I’ll never forget the feeling.I had when I saw that the puck had crossed the goal line. I only scored 8 goals that year and the team only won 4 games, tied one and lost the other 20.

That spring season, I was going to join the U16 Tier 2 girls team that was going to be moving to the U16 level. They thought they could roster as U19 and play U16 in league, but the league came back and said they couldn’t because they were travel, so I couldn’t play with them.

Instead of letting me hang up my skates, the coach of the team, the same coach who had me come out and skate at evaluations, made me a student coach for the team. That spring and fall season, I did everything but play games with the U16 Cougars. They made it all the way to the State Championship and won the title that year, making me a part of the team along the way. I even got to go out on the ice with them when they won and I got a medal and a hat just like the rest of the girls.

That wasn’t all I was doing my junior year though, that season I began taking my dad’s camera to Adrian College hockey games and keeping meticulous stats of every goal and penalty during every game, especially during the ACHA games. That December I started a Facebook page for my photography so I could reach more of an audience than just my friends. That April, I started this blog to go along with it.

My dream in high school was to play for the Women’s ACHA hockey team here like the girls I’d gotten to know over the years. But then there I was a few weeks away from welcome week when I walked into the locker room to see every locker with a name on it for the upcoming tryouts.

It was in the locker room, the same locker room I’d spent so much time wishing I could just be a part of that team already, that I decided that maybe that wasn’t what was best for me at that point in time. Would I rather sit in the stands or on the bench all game or be learning things off the ice about what it takes to build and maintain a hockey team and program? I had the choice of being on a team but probably not playing and ending up on the road for some of the most important NCAA and ACHA D1 games of the season or being able to learn about the behind the scenes operations and gameday operations side of the game that would benefit me in my career. 

So I chose not to play.

I got a work-study job with the Men’s NCAA hockey team for the school year that started as writing newsletters for the season ticket holders and helping out wherever I was needed with the other teams as well as taking photos.

But in December, the school had a new state of the art video board installed in the rink and the coach asked me to run it for the team. I ended up running the video board for two of the teams regularly and for a couple other teams during their senior night. The coolest part about the video board isn’t running the video board, it’s making the stuff that goes on it. I’ve had the opportunity to make the graphics from photos I’ve taken that get blown up onto the huge video board every game.

And I started to really fall in love with what I was doing off the ice. 

And in high school, I discovered a new dream of mine, becoming the first female NHL General Manager, something that’s within reach with the opportunities I’m getting here at Adrian College.

I didn’t get to play with passion anymore but what I could do was make sure that other people can and to me, that means more than any four-year career of sitting on the bench would have meant to me.

I didn’t get to score goals anymore, but to have the chance to capture the look on a freshman’s face when they score their first goal in an Adrian sweater or capturing the sorrow of the seniors as they skate their final lap at Arrington Ice Arena on senior night gives me just as much of a thrill.

I had come to terms with the fact that may never play competitive hockey other than rec league ever again, but I became okay with that because my dreams have changed. And someday, I hope I can make other people’s dreams come true as an NHL General Manager

But then just last week, something happened and totally changed everything. 

I was sitting on the couch with my roommate who plays on the new D2 team when she told me that a girl had quit on the team and there were only 13 skaters now on the team. 

I said that I should try out the next season, just to play for a year. 

But she said that I should talk to her go talk to her coach that night and ask her if I could play. 

So, on September 23rd, 2017, four years to the day of my first hockey game, I’ll be part of the group of girls of the ACHA Women’s D2 team playing the first game in program history at the very place that I spent the most time at over the last 8 years. 

Pretty cool if you ask me. 

I know I won’t be a top player, I’ve pretty much always known that if I was going to go anywhere that I’d be a third or fourth line player, you’re not exactly at an advantage when you don’t learn how to skate until you’re a month away from turning 14. But if I learned one thing from playing with the Ann Arbor Cougars and Coach Brian Gibson, it’s that you can only control your effort and your attitude and that work ethic is everything and so is playing with passion because it’s not always about who has the most talent, but about who has the drive and the work ethic to become the best. 

I know what it’s like to not know if you’ll ever play again, I spent the last three years thinking I’d never play again. So you can bet that I’ll give it my all every single time I get to touch the ice because if there’s one thing I learned the last three years, it’s that you don’t take opportunities like this one for granted. 

Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I still won’t be writing about our record breaking 7 hockey teams this season it just means I’ll finally be able to achieve a goal and dream I’ve had since the 8th grade. 

And my mom? She’s probably more excited than I am, if that’s even possible. She’s probably fought harder to get me here than I have. I wish I could even have an idea of how many hours she’s spent emailing and calling USA Hockey and MAHA girls representatives trying to find some sort of loophole that would help me find a team to play on. She’s been there for every game I’ve ever played, even when I was playing women’s rec league hockey in Chelsea last season at 10 at night every Thursday night. She signed me up for camps, found me icetime and drove me wherever the ice was.  She got so excited at the bank last week when the teller asked her if she had an Adrian College hockey player when she saw her sweatshirt and it absolutely breaks her heart that she’s not going to be able to be at my first game. 

But the thing about growing up in hockey is that over the years, you accumulate a second family or two and, on Saturday, it’ll probably be pretty obvious because my hockey family is just as excited as my actual family is. 

And I can’t wait to hear my name called over the PA system for the first time. Or until I finally score a goal at Arrington Ice Arena and look over and see my mom in her seat in Section C, Row 2, Seat 13, I’ve thought a lot about that moment and I hope it comes soon because that’s when all the tears, late night practices and days of wondering why I was working so hard will all be worth it. 

So, if you’re around Adrian this Saturday, make sure you come out to Arrington Ice Arena at 7:00, heck, make a day out of it and come see MD1 play at 1, then WACHA at 3 and WD2 at 7, you can never get too much of Adrian College Hockey, but I’m just a little biased…

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