Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never given my full attention to a hockey game between 5-year-olds. However, grandparenting pulls us in new directions — and this one pulled me to Sauk Rapids.
This was the first hockey road trip for our grandson, also known as Mr. President. A year ago, he was still skating while holding onto a walker. Last fall, his teammates and he were still trying to figure out which net they were supposed to shoot at.
They have improved in great leaps since then, not only in knowledge of the rules, but in skating skills as well.
This first outing did not go well. Had it been a football game, the score would suggest that they were soundly defeated, but not humiliated. Unfortunately it was hockey. At least humility is not big with most 5-year-olds, so losing 21-2 carried with it no great shame nor memory.
As it was, they all took turns playing goalie. Mr. President, who said he wants to be a net minder, took his shift in goal on his second time on the ice, but then forgot and two or three open-netters were scored by Sauk Rapids before everybody on his team got into their correct positions.
In spite of that momentary lapse, I’m not sure if goalie is the best position for him. Each time Sauk Rapids scored on him, he would prostrate himself on the ice in total frustration. Such emotional devastation could leave permanent mental scars on a teenager. The positions other than goalie were hard to determine. Apparently 5-year-olds play with magnetic pucks that draw their skates in, because the game is mostly a scrum.
The only thing that resembles a pass is when the person with the puck tries to skate through three defenders and the puck deflects off one of their skates to a teammate. Like a chimpanzee writing the great American novel, if they do that maneuver enough times, eventually the puck will deflect perfectly to a teammate flying in on the wing.
Mr. President himself had two great shots on net but failed to score. The shots came from point blank range, two feet in front of the goalie. He whiffed on the first, and the second went, incredibly, wide left. At least the goalie didn’t beat him.
Both sides played with great enthusiasm their first two or three shifts, but 5-year-old attention spans being what they are, minds started to wander after that.
Some players needed to stop to hitch up their breezers or wipe off their face masks. Others needed to take a look at the audience to see if mom and dad were still there. Once spotted, they happily rejoined the fray.
Except for line changes, the officials choked on their whistles. No penalties were called. At one point, Mr. President clobbered an unsuspecting Sauk Rapids player from behind, and sent him sprawling.
After the game, the most important referee in his universe, his mom, admonished him for being mean. I wanted to say, “C’mon, Mom, give him a break. That’s what hockey players do — knock each other down. You need to be tough to survive.”
But my job isn’t to raise the kid or make the lives of those who do more difficult. My only job is to spoil him.
So it was that after the game we went out to a restaurant to eat, and he was just as happy as if he had received the perfect Christmas gift. Hockey remains his favorite sport, and, while the thought probably has yet to occur to him, I’m certain better days on the rink are ahead of him.
From my vantage point, the most interesting part was to see the occasional flashes of brilliance that point to the athletes these 5-year-olds will become. It is said that it takes 10,000 hours to master any activity, be it playing hockey, blowing a trumpet or becoming a lawyer, doctor or a plumber.
These kids are only a few hundred hours into hockey. For now, all I can say is that Sauk Rapids set the bar awfully high for itself. When they meet again in 12 years, it will be interesting to see whose goalie is out of position, who is waving to a girlfriend, or who is getting whistled for high-sticking. I hope I live long enough to learn the answer.
Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or email firstname.lastname@example.org