Nine months ago, I started learning how to play hockey. I had no idea that I would help start a new league, and never thought I would be the captain of a winning hockey team. And yet, on Monday night my team — Blades of Steel — won the first-ever Heartland Novice Hockey League Championship.
No, this isn’t the same as winning the Stanley Cup, the Calder Cup, the Memorial Cup or the Turner Cup (Google it). But it was a memorable experience for this group of beginning hockey players, including me.
I’ve never really been good at sports. I studied karate on and off throughout my life, though I never got to black belt. I competed in a few karate tournaments, and while I won some awards I never took first place.
So winning first place (FIRST!!!!!) at something athletic is an accomplishment that I can finally cross of my list.
Two things made this championship special. First, we beat a team that had our number all season long, the Snatchers. We were 1-3 against the Snatchers during the regular season. In one of our worst games, they clobbered us 6-1. In Monday night’s championship game, things were close until the end, when we finally managed to pull ahead in the third period and win 4-1.
What made this game so great is that I won with a team of guys that I like. As one of the team captains in the Heartland League, I got to select the players for Blades of Steel. My strategy, if you can call it that, was to pick a bunch of guys that I knew and liked. Don’t get me wrong — there are some very talented players on my team that can skate circles around me. But win or lose, I wanted to play with nice guys and it worked. Here, the nice guys finished first.
More valuable than any win or store-bought trophy was what my team presented to me before the championship game: a framed jersey, autographed by my teammates:
My teammates told me that they appreciated the work that I do as their team captain: making sure we have enough players on a given night, finding a last-minute replacement when our goalie got sick, ordering socks that matched our sweet teal jerseys, and generally keeping everyone informed on what is going on.
At that point, I realized that even if we did not win the last game, I had a lot to be happy about. A trophy would be the proverbial icing on the cake.
Whenever I heard anyone talk about what they most like about playing hockey, their answer is always the same: the camaraderie with their teammates. Every rec league player (and even most pros) state that while winning is great, it is the group of guys you play with that makes hockey special. Before Monday, I thought that was just lip service; a cliché. But now I understand.
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