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Authors: Bob Mckenzie

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Hockey Dad

BOOK: Hockey Dad
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HOCKEY DAD

True Confessions Of A (Crazy?) Hockey Parent

Bob McKenzie

Copyright © 2009 Bob McKenzie

To Cindy, Mike and Shawn, the best family a man could have.

To Mom and Dad,I think you would have liked this.

To Graham Snyder and Hockey Dads who have experienced the most painful loss imaginable, bless you and your families always.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PROLOGUE

Chapter

1: It was always in the (Hockey) Cards

2: Breaking the Ice: It's Never Too Early

3: Family Expansion and Our Little Nerd

4: "I hate Larry Marson" and Dissing Mr. Hockey

5: Big changes and the Grand Deception

6: "C'mon, Drop the Damn Puck Already"

7: Crossing the Line; Giving Mike the "Tap"

8: The Straight Poop on Playing Up

9: It's Fair to Say We're Not Morning People

10: Breaking the Golden Rule: "Grab Your Sticks"

11: So, That's How You Want to Play the Game, Is It?

12: "I Didn't Realize You Had Only One Son"

13: Was It Commitment or Should I Have Been Committed?

14: Talking the Talk, Walking the Walk: A Coach Is Born

15: Falling into the Trap, in More Ways Than One

16: Vengeance Is a Dish Best Served Curved

17: The Best Reward, Bar None, and Hockey Parents From Hell

18: The Four-Point Plan: Not as Stupid as I Look

19: Tough Love and Learning Our Lessons the Hard Way

20: Of Gun-Shy Dogs and a Crisis of
Confidence

21: No Need for a Coin Toss: 'Twas the Best Year Ever

22: Rejected: The Parents Always Take It Harder Than the Kid

23: New-And-Improved Shawn Makes A U-Turn for the Better

24: Teach Your Children Well On the "Balance" Beam

25: The Draft Year: Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

26: Discretion Isn't Always The Better Part of Valor

27: Making the Big Time: Shawn Steps It Up

28: Turn out the Lights, the Party is Over

29: Into The Abyss and The Long, Hard Road Back

30: On the Comeback Trail; This Is No-Contact Hockey?

31: Major Junior Versus College: Making the Right Call

32: Bada Bing, Bada Boom: Once a Buzzer, Always a Buzzer

33: Play Every Game Like It's the Last; It Just Might Be

34: Crazy Hockey Dad's Magical Mystery Tour

35: Blowing the Whistle and Doctor, Doctor

36: You Try Cutting the Grass of a Quality Control Inspector

Epilogue

PROLOGUE

IT WAS MY COLLEAGUE and good friend Gord Miller from The Sports Network (TSN) who
first
started it. The Crazy Hockey Dad thing, that is.

Through a good part of the 1990s and into the new millennium, Gord and I spent an ungodly amount of time together covering junior, pro and international hockey events all over North America and Europe. You spend that much time with someone-on planes, trains, automobiles and buses; in hotels, bars and restaurants; in arenas and TV studios-and you get to know that person really well. Maybe too well, much to my chagrin.

So as the proud father of two boys-Mike, an '86 (that's minor hockey slang for being born in 1986), and Shawn, an '89 (there you go, you've already got a big part of the lingo
figure
d out)-Gord heard countless stories of the McKenzie boys' hockey-playing exploits, to say nothing of my foibles and follies as both a minor hockey parent and coach.

Armed with all that inside knowledge and dirt on the so-called Hockey Insider, Gord took great delight in inserting the needle. He and I would be in conversation with someone and at some point the fact that I had two boys playing minor hockey would come up.

When it did, Gord would raise one hand with the back of it facing me and, with the index
finger
of his other hand, repeatedly point towards me into the palm of his raised hand and say to our guest in a mocking tone with exaggerated enunciation as he rolled his eyes: "Cra-zee Hoc-kee Dad."

I would chuckle along with Gord and our guest-self-deprecation is one of my great strengths, though in the McKenzie household it's more a survival skill-and not wanting to be guilty of "he doth protest too much," I would put up only token resistance.

"I'm not really crazy," I would say. "Well, not too crazy."

On cue, like clockwork, Gord would keep it going: "What about the time you called the stick measurement?"

The guest's response was invariably the same. "You called a stick measurement in a kids' hockey game?" (Insert level of incredulity here.)

"Twice…" Gord would quickly add, smirking at me triumphantly and then pausing for effect, "…in the same game."

"Yeah, but…" I would say. Yeah, but…indeed. That was it, game, set and match. Thanks for coming.

I would vainly try to tell our guests the same thing I will try to tell you now: I am not a Crazy Hockey Dad. Well, not too crazy. Yeah, sure, there was that stick measurement game in Barrie when I was an assistant coach in Mike's atom year and, yes, it was two stick measurements in the same game, but only because the head coach of our team wouldn't give me the green light to call a third-damn you, Stu. But you can't possibly judge me and what I did that day until you have all the facts, the context and, most important of all, the knowledge it was payback for something really horrible the other team's coach did to our team a couple of years before that.

Why do I feel like I'm getting myself in deeper here?

For most people who see my face on television, they see Bob McKenzie, the Hockey Insider. That's fair. It's what I do. I go on TSN and radio stations across Canada and talk hockey, or I write about it on the internet. I have been doing this broadcasting thing, to varying degrees, for more than twenty years.

I started in the newspaper business thirty years ago.

It's a great job-if you can call it a job-and I would say I'm passionate about it because I'm passionate about the game of hockey. It was that way when I was a kid, it was that way when I graduated in journalism from Ryerson Polytechnic Institute to my
first
full-time job, covering junior hockey for the Sault Star in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.; it was that way in my nine years as Editor-in-Chief of The Hockey News, my six years as hockey columnist at the Toronto Star, another three years as Associate Editor of THN; and now that I've been wholeheartedly immersed in broadcasting as the Hockey Insider on TSN since the year 2000, it's been the same. I don't expect that will ever change.

But I will make one small distinction. Hockey Insider is what I do, not necessarily who I am.

The truth is, I see myself more as a Hockey Dad. Crazy? Perhaps, though even on my worst days I would plead temporary insanity.

Yes, Hockey Dad is what I am. As passionate as I am about my job, as passionate as I am about hockey, I am even more passionate about my family. I have two
fine
sons who have grown up to be
terrific
young men and who share my obsession for all things hockey.

For as long as I have had kids, I have been leading this double life. My job is more or less all-encompassing. So, too, though, is being a Hockey Dad. But if you promise not to tell anyone, especially the good folks at TSN, I will let you in on a little secret-I've devoted at least as much time and energy (probably more) to being a Hockey Dad over the past twenty-plus years as I have to being a Hockey Insider.

Truth be told, it's a poorly kept secret, especially at TSN, where they have been unbelievably supportive in allowing me to do both.

Being a Hockey Dad hardly makes me unique. Hockey Dads are everywhere, all over the world, bless them. Most of them anyway. A lot of them get a bad rap. Hockey Dad has come to have sort of an ugly connotation to it, for all the obvious reasons for anyone who has followed some of the ridiculous things that have happened and continue to happen in hockey arenas across Canada and the United States.

So, why write a book on being a Hockey Dad?

Good question. Four answers come to mind.

One, to my knowledge, there has never really been a book written on this particular subject. (Maybe there's a message there.)

Two, to provide a public service for fellow Hockey Dads, and Moms, who perhaps can learn a thing or two from my mistakes before they make the same errors themselves (although scienti
fi
c research suggests Hockey Dads truly are slow learners, if not incorrigible), as well as offer some broader insights on the good, the bad and the ugly of minor hockey.

Three, to celebrate-yes, celebrate, for the most part-a way of life, a Canadian way of life, an all-too-expensive way of life, where the game of hockey becomes the social and cultural epicenter for many families who can somehow wade through all the nonsense to
find
what is right and great about the game and its place in their hearts and their communities and their lives.

Four, therapy. Writing this book will be like a confessional and I suppose I'm looking for some form of absolution. It should be nothing if not a cathartic exercise. I look forward to cleansing my soul.

This story of Hockey Insider being Hockey Dad is primarily my story, and I am not going to lie, it's a deeply personal memoir. I would estimate almost all of the writing I've ever done in my professional career does not contain in it the word "I."

It's never been my style to put myself in the story. This time, however, that is just not possible. This is a
first
-person account and there's no avoiding that. I have to tell you, though, it's not always easy to take a hard look at yourself in the mirror and spill it back out, good and bad, for all to see. And in order for me to tell my story properly, I cannot help but tell some of the story of my family-Mike, the '86, Shawn, the '89, and my wife, Cindy, the…well, the birth-date identi
fi
cation is really only for the kids.

Cindy is one of those people who prefers to keep a low pro
fi
le and not make a spectacle of herself in any way, which isn't quite how I always conduct myself. Cindy is the mom of two boys who played hockey but not necessarily a Hockey Mom, if you know what I mean. It's not going to be possible for me to keep Cindy entirely out of the story but most of the time, when Cindy does appear, it will be as the voice of reason, level-headedness and sanity. And heaven knows it was often needed, though not always heeded.

Seriously, though, to accurately portray this Hockey Dad story, I must tell Mike's story and Shawn's story, too. In their own special ways, their respective minor hockey experiences are well worth telling. Mike has beaten the odds and experienced some highs and lows and navigated a long and winding road to become an NCAA Division One scholarship student athlete at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. Shawn, meanwhile, has experienced more trials and tribulations-yes, even heartbreak-in minor hockey than any kid should have to deal with. But as much as the boys are talked about, ultimately the story being told here is my story and how I handled their experiences.

I desperately tried not to make this like a six-hour McKenzie home movie or a three-hundred-page family photo album, because there is nothing worse than having to sit through someone else's family history for hours on end. I like to think there are enough anecdotes, stories, insights, opinions and views that will strike a chord and resonate with so many who have lived the Hockey Parent experience for themselves or are perhaps just embarking on the journey now. In many cases, the personal experience of the McKenzies is nothing more than a jumping-off point for a much broader discussion of the issues affecting this level of the game.

Much of what you are about to read is culled and retold from memories-mine and many others'-because it's not like I was taking detailed notes in the rinks all those days and nights. And let's be honest, the mind and memory sometimes have a funny way of playing tricks on you, so if there are any discrepancies or factual errors in the retelling in any of what follows, they are my errors and mine alone. But the goal here is to strive for a true and honest picture. Trust me, there will be a lot of laughs, because what is minor hockey if not a good time, but believe me when I tell you there will also be tears and heartache, too, because not all minor hockey stories are destined to have a happy ending.

Throughout it all, perhaps I can even provide a compelling argument for my pal Gord that proves once and for all I am not a Crazy Hockey Dad. There are, after all, perfectly rational explanations for that time the police escorted me out of the rink at Mike's game or the time I camped out in an arena lobby for forty-eight hours to get Shawn registered for house league, to say nothing of that stick measurement…or two. No, really, there are.

Hockey Insider? Yes.
Hockey Dad? Absolutely.
Crazy? You will be the judge.

Mostly, though, I hope you enjoy reading this and take as much from it as I did from writing it and living it.

BOOK: Hockey Dad
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ads

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