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Confessions of a Vancouver Minor Hockey Association dad

If you’ve ever had a kid signed up for an organized sport, you might know where I’m coming from. Ever since my son was about one, he has showed a zealous interest for hockey.
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 Grant Lawrence’s son Josh hits the ice twice a week and, like most people, prefers games to practices. Photo Grant LawrenceGrant Lawrence’s son Josh hits the ice twice a week and, like most people, prefers games to practices. Photo Grant Lawrence

If you’ve ever had a kid signed up for an organized sport, you might know where I’m coming from.

Ever since my son was about one, he has showed a zealous interest for hockey. By the time he had reached two, he was on skates, and hockey ratcheted up into blind obsession. Other kids would beg to go to the toy store — Josh would want to go to the skate shop. Other kids would want to go to Disneyland — Josh wanted to go to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

His little hockey stick became his security blanket. It went everywhere with him: to the grocery store, on flights and even canoeing (which was handy, since it could double as a paddle, which inadvertently became a totally unplanned but ridiculously ultra-Canadian moment). His hockey stick was eventually banned by his daycare.

My son only wanted us to read him hockey books, and the Brady Brady series became a favourite (recommended if you know another hockey-enthused young girl or boy). One of the Brady Brady stories is about a backyard rink, which started my son up on a desperate wish for his very own backyard rink here in Vancouver. I told him it was impossible in our climate.

Cue the prolonged deep-freeze winter of 2016. So yeah, I built him a backyard rink. It was actually in the front yard, and it somehow worked (something about water turning to ice below the freezing level). The rink lasted a whole month. We even skated on it on Christmas Day.

All the while, my son begged to be on a real hockey team like the Ice Hogs (Brady Brady’s team) or the Red Wings (my son’s favourite team) so he could have teammates of his very own. By age four, he was signed up for hockey lessons at the rec centre with towering kids as old as seven. He hung in there.

Finally, once he turned five, he became eligible for the hallowed ice he had heard so much about: Hockey 1 (or “H1” for short). The only thing was, by the time he was finally eligible, my son’s infatuation with hockey had faded like my memories of the Canucks’ 2011 Cup run.

Happily for his mom, Josh’s interests had varied into other fun things like… animals! Pirates! Disneyland! And, most recently, all things Star Wars. But nonetheless, like R2D2 boldly rolling into Jabba’s Palace followed by a timid C3PO (yes, that scene is from the third movie — don’t judge), my family meekly followed Josh into the labyrinth that is the Vancouver Minor Hockey Association.

At first, we balked at the price, but then my wife learned of the VMHA league policy that “no child should be unable to play due to financial restraints and that no family should suffer financial hardship in order for their child to play,” which made us think that the high costs likely go in part to offsetting that commitment.

The VMHA emails came down fast and furious, a near constant barrage that we could barely keep up with, and the season start was nearly two months away… hockey equipment swaps, tournaments, team photos and mandatory fundraiser initiatives. But hey, it’s called “organized” for a reason, eh?

Josh was expected to be on the ice three times a week — twice for practices and once for his weekly games. That proved to be a little too much for our family, so even though we’re paying for it, Josh hits the ice twice a week.

 After a gut-check game, giving 110 per cent, a moment of off-ice tenderness. Photo Grant LawrenceAfter a gut-check game, giving 110 per cent, a moment of off-ice tenderness. Photo Grant Lawrence

Like most kids, he far prefers the games to the practices, and who can blame him? At age five or 55, what would you rather be doing when suited up with skates and a stick? It’s tough to convince a five year old that the practices are worth it, but he skates. Back at home, the light sabre sees more action than the once-beloved security blanket hockey stick, which now sits alone in the corner, waiting for action.

We had heard the rumours of crazed hockey parents in the stands, bellowing and shaking their fists like angry Tusken Raiders, but we haven’t experienced anything like that. We’ve met some great parents, many of whom are just as confused as my wife and me as to the ins and outs of minor hockey.

Meanwhile, on the ice, Josh has had to come to terms with the fact he’s not Brady Brady, or “Cindy” Crosby (which is what he earnestly calls Sidney). As we learn over and over at any age, concept versus reality can be tough to swallow. But he loves his teammates and his jersey, and he’s learning. He’s skating a little faster each time, and he even scores a goal here and there, which stuns and thrills his nerd dad, who completely shunned organized team sports until well into adulthood (go Flying Vees!).

As long as our son is having fun, and has a sense of belonging, we’re committed to being hockey parents… until the games are scheduled earlier than 8 a.m.