Remember When WE Dreamed About Playing in the NHL?


The older you get the more you think about what could have been different. I am nearing thirty and, while that may be considered young this day and age, it feels old to me. This is the thing though, I am starting to think more about how I did things in the past and what I could have done to set myself up for a better today.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live vicariously through the lives of others any more than the next guy.  There is plenty of happiness, memories, and relationships that I would never trade for the world. But there is something inside me that tends to keep coming back to one point in my life that I severely regret and the older I get the more it haunts me.

When you are a kid you tend to think that life will just work itself out. The majority of us grow up in decent households that become average childhoods with average dreams and average expectations. What is average will vary from family to family.  Most kids grew up playing some sports, and those blessed with physical ability and skill had the chance to play competitively.  If you were in that select group, you no doubt had a dream… a dream to be a pro player one day.

Parents are supposed to help their kids grow up with dreams and help them achieve those dreams beginning at an early age. Some are more aggressive when it comes to education while others focus on sports. Talent or no talent, there are some parents who push their kids into sports to make them better people, citing things like “he will learn discipline”, or “it will keep her out of trouble”.  I subscribe to that theory personally, because I believe team sports builds character and helps kids become more extroverted and demonstrative. While having fun is the deciding factor that will either keep a child interested as they grow older, parents and children all have that one dream that hard work and dedication will inevitably lead to becoming a professional.

This is where my regret comes in.

I came to the USA from Russia with an unquenchable passion for hockey. I loved it.  I played it every winter on the frozen ponds of a small town near Saint Petersburg, Russia – my hometown. My expectations were always high for the continuance of my hockey “career” when coming to the USA.  Before we emigrated I remember hearing that in the US they had aisles full of ice cream in supermarkets, so why shouldn’t I believe they had ice and hockey ice rinks everywhere?

Fast forward to me settling into my new neighborhood in NYC.  I was incredibly disappointed to learn that no one in my neighborhood even liked hockey.  It was a small neighborhood in New York City that was largely comprised of Italian-Americans who had a particular passion for baseball, some football, and I do recall three or four basketball hoops lined up outside of the house driveways. This was strange to me and very disappointing to say the least. I have played basketball a few times, but soccer and hockey were the only two sports I really cared about and played often enough to be consider myself good enough as a child. I liked two sports that the local kids never really cared about, instead focusing on the foreign principles (to me) of baseball and football.

There is a choice you make at any point in life that you may or may not regret. I regret not creating more havoc about not being able to play hockey. I regret every single day I lace-up my skates today and realize that the 12-year hiatus took a lot of my game that I will never really get back.  I regret that my family had the burden of driving 40 minutes to the nearest rink coupled with that it was very expensive to pay for gear, and yet I did nothing. Instead of begging my parents to let me play and making my own personal sacrifices, such as not getting a computer or Nintendo 64, instead asking my parent to spend that money on new hockey gear.

I do not hate my parents, far from it.  Though I do wish that they would have given me a chance to play the game I love so much. I just wanted to have that chance to find out if I had a shot to succeed, that glimpse, a try, a possibility of my dream coming true.  I just wish I had that opportunity to size myself up, wondering if I was good enough or whether it was a pipe dream.

It really bothers me to read stories about other families in worse situations than mine finding ways to play and to succeed.  There was an excellent article about the two Stewart brothers and how they fought poverty on their way to become NHL caliber players. Their story really pulls as the heartstrings, but personally it makes me feel guilty and upset with the fact that I gave up so easily on something that I love to do, even to this day.

Again, it’s not even really my parents’ fault – I’ll take that blame.  My parents made the most from what they had and gave me what they could afford to give.  I guess I never really made it clear to them how much I missed the game after our move.  I realize I probably would never have been one of the lucky few to make the NHL, but I do know that I missed out of 12 years worth of memories, friendships, and fun at the rink – and the wondering of “what if”.

I guess I probably should be content with my beer league hockey time today. It should be good enough for me, but my 13-year old self should have fought harder and should have demanded more. I know that nothing can stop me from playing hockey today, right now. I make sure to play twice a week and it fulfills me on more than just that competitive itch that some of us has, it fulfills my urge to play this amazing game… and that never went away. I just regret that I took a 12-year break from the game.

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Main Photo Credit: LAUREL MYERS