On the way up to Geneva, New York, I am able to take time away from the Harry Potter marathon to think about the season so far. We find ourselves in a mid-season slump that we hope to break this weekend when we play Hobart and William Smith College, a scrappy young team with great potential. We, being a more matured squad dedicated to a game of speed and skill, will have to be on our toes all weekend.
The Lady Pioneers had a strong beginning of the season, although we have suffered from a lack of scoring lately. It certainly isn’t due to a lack of skill because I get to see their shots whizzing towards me every day at practice. Sometimes it’s something else, something deeper than dangles that contributes to these lapses throughout the season.
Last week, our coach brought in a group of about thirty girls from local youth teams to join us at practice. We mainly wanted to pay it forward and show appreciation to the community for the opportunity to skate in a new arena this year. However, we came out of the experience with much more. The kids were able to teach us how to get back to the basics of the game, and, even better than that, they taught us how to have fun on the ice again. Personally, I had almost too much fun with the kids out on the ice.
One young girl in particular stood out to me that day as it was her first time ever playing hockey. In the scrimmage, she scored her first goal against me using a stellar wrap-around move. I tried my hardest to make it look good (full-out dive included). Seeing the pure joy in her face after she scored was worth the breathlessness I was experiencing after my flashy sprawl. Maybe it’s harder to let the puck in the net than it is to keep it out.
At the end of the session, we had a shootout, goalies versus players. Pre-game skate showdowns are tradition, but this one was better. In the showdown, that same little girl started out looking to merely make it down the sheet of ice without falling or leaving the puck behind. She skated down from the red line and I came out to challenge like I usually do, and without any fear she fired a shot right between my legs and made me look silly in front of everyone. When the whole team cheered, it was totally worth it. She was having fun playing the best sport in the world and that’s how the sport is meant to be played.
Looking ahead, we have some very winnable games on our schedule at the end of the year. We are now in the home stretch and realize that it’s the last time we will be playing with the seniors and we’re trying to make the best of it for them. We plan to do this by remembering what the girls taught us last week. As college athletes, we have no binding contracts or special incentives keeping us on the team. Sure, our bus trips could be shorter and our record could be better, but we can never forget why we’re here. No matter what happens, we sacrifice ourselves for each other and we play with passion. We play because we love the game, and now we’re playing to have fun.