Guest post by: TJ Chase, as originally appeared on his blog
Other than my family, I have never loved anything as much as I love the game of hockey.
There is something about the crisp smell of the arena air and the feeling of the ice crackling beneath your skate as you take that first step onto a clean sheet, that makes every single worry you have in your life vanish for the next hour and fifteen minutes. At the ripe old age of 32 I am playing hockey twice, sometimes three times a week, which is pretty awesome considering that up until a year ago I had never even owned a pair of ice skates and had never played a single game of ice hockey in my life!
Growing up I played baseball almost year round, soccer, street hockey every day after school and roller hockey at the local roller rink. I always wanted to play ice hockey, but because I played so many other sports, it was just something that my parents understandably couldn’t afford as the price to put one kid through ice hockey is astronomical, let alone having to do it for two kids (I have a brother who also played everything I did). I never really minded not playing ice though, as I did thoroughly enjoy playing roller hockey and even as I stopped playing the other sports I continued playing roller into my adult years. I figured that it was too late to join ice hockey anyway, as everyone who plays ice would have years of minor hockey under their belt and I would just end up getting hurt or laughed off the ice.
Just over a year ago, I started working for a company called LAGA Sports that makes custom hockey jerseys for all sorts of minor hockey associations, beer leagues, tournaments etc. and one of our clients, the NCHL, was having one of their draft tournaments at the Richmond Oval in Vancouver. Because the jerseys we made for them were a pretty creative design and would make for some great promotional material, I offered to take my camera and photograph some of the games to get shots of our jerseys. When I was photographing the tournament I saw something that completely contradicted everything that I had previously thought about ice hockey players.
As it turns out, they are not all rockstars on skates.
To my surprise, there was a good mix of players who seemed to be beginners, some that were average and there were a few players who had clearly played ice hockey their entire life. The really cool thing is, contrary to what I thought would happen, not only did the really good players NOT ridicule the weaker ones but they actually were feeding the weaker players the puck to try and get them a goal.
This kind of blew my mind. I started talking with Nick, one of the guys at the NCHL, and he explained to me that the company itself was started on the principle of giving adults a fun, safe place to play hockey where you didnt need to worry about someone knocking your head off or berating you for not being on the same skill level as them.
It was at that exact moment that I decided I was going to start playing ice hockey. No matter what. This is where the journey really begins.
One week later I went to my local Hockey Shop and bought my very first pair of ice skates, along with all the other gear that I would need to step out on the ice. I went to an open “stick and puck” at my closest ice rink and started skating around to get a feel for the ice. “Get a feel for the ice” is exactly what I did as I spent more time falling on my ass than I can comfortably even joke about. After the three thousandth time that I tried to stop, spun in a circle, fell into the boards, bruised my ego and cried a little on the inside, I decided that maybe ice hockey wasn’t for me, took off my gear and vowed to just forget about it. Id just go back to roller.
But I couldn’t. Like the telltale heart, my new gear was thumping at me from the closet of my apartment. “TJ, you have wanted to play your entire life. Come play with us. One more try.” clearly I was hallucinating, but my talking hockey bag made a valid point.
So I went to another stick and puck session and gave it another shot. This time, I only fell on my ass two thousand times, which meant only one thing. IMPROVEMENT. After that I was determined, and went out and skated as much as possible. After 10 more stick and puck sessions and a butt load of bruises from trying to stop and slamming into the boards,over and over, it finally happened. I turned my skates to stop and SSSSSSCCCCHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Holy shit. I did it. I stopped. I felt exactly like Luis Mendoza from Mighty Ducks 2. I was so happy, until a 6 year old whizzed by me at mach 4 and did a perfect snow plow stop on one foot while painting the Mona Lisa and playing a piano sonata on his iphone keyboard.
Day one TJ may have been discouraged that I just got owned by a 6 year old, but Day 10 TJ who just stopped for the first time just shook it off, as In that moment I had learned a valuable lesson that would become my mantra.
“Don’t worry about trying to be the best skater on the ice, focus on being better than you were yesterday.”
Day 10 TJ is a smart cookie. I remembered that mantra every single day and worked to improve each time I stepped onto the ice. Eventually I started playing in drop in games and even scored some goals which only fueled the fire more. I joined a team, and then another. And then I spared for a friends team. 3 months after I strapped on my skates for the first time I was playing on two teams full time and by the end of my first year playing hockey I had played in almost 70 league games and dozens of drop in games. And I still wanted more. Like a vampire who’s blood lust could not satisfied, I had to have more hockey. (Not those shitty touchy feelie “tell me your dreams” twilight vampires, but more like the John Carpenters “make you shit your pants” kind of vampires)
Being 30+ years old and trying to learn how to ice skate wasn’t easy, but in the end it was definitely worth it.
This coming weekend is the one year anniversary of the Vancouver Draft Tournament and the series of events that got me to finally start playing the game that I have loved my whole life. To this day, I still get chills with excitement every single time that I step onto the ice and its only fitting that I will be playing in the tournament that helped start it all for me. I wont be the best player there, but I will definitely be better than I was yesterday.
Damn, I love this game.
– TJ Chase
To check out these awesome Draft Tournaments go to DraftTournament.com, one of the greatest hockey experiences
To check out my company and look at getting some custom made sublimated hockey jerseys, go to LagaSports.com