The little hockey team that could

I played hooky to watch my daughter’s high school hockey team in the City playoffs last year. I went on a whim. Work was relaxed, and she needed a ride. I drove her and equipment bags out to the suburban arena, layered up, ready to watch, reading material at hand.

By the end of the first period, the team had called me out of the viewing stands to help – me who had only ever watched one full game of hockey, help! I was assigned to door-opening duties in the box so the players could make their on/off-ice shifts more quickly.

By the end of the second period, I was shouting encouragement to the players, by name, and by the third, I was an avid fan.

As the lowest-ranked, the team was seeded to face the top team in the playoffs. But that wasn’t the only reason they were the underdog in this game.

This was a new team, put together by three Grade 11 students who had played competitive hockey. The best player on the team, a skating fiend, fitted her helmet over corn rows. The other great talent on the team was shorter than all the others by a head.

But as an inner city, high-need school, they didn’t have a large pool of talent to draw on, especially not among girls. My daughter had been tapped because she played a good game of field hockey and is pretty athletic. Others were corralled in as well.

Not the usual recruitment pool, this team.

Equipment was gathered from an assortment of family members and second-hand shops. (One of the best players was able to outfit three of her teammates from family cast-offs.) The school principal made sure they all had hockey sweaters.

The team we faced was better-equipped.

Our hockey bags had been mainly hauled on the TTC. Theirs were couriered by minivan and SUV. Our team shared four water bottles. No tray of individual bottles for them – all was shared.

At the warm-up, the other coach had dumped a bag of pucks onto the ice for her girls; we borrowed a puck from a guy hanging around the arena; he had run out to his truck to get one he thought he had. (The other team then loaned us a second one.)

My daughter’s team was also outnumbered, almost three to one, by the other team’s players. We had eight girls – so that meant everyone was vital. Our goalie had her arm in a sling before the game, but had soldiered out to her net, holding it gingerly. I shuddered every time the other team rushed her net.

Still, the story grew more Disney-esque.

Two of the eight players, there today in the City playoffs, had never skated before they joined. They learned, when they joined the team four months earlier, and there they wobbled on the ice, arms outspread like gangling windmills, forcing the other team to skate around them, these large living pylons a part of the defensive strategy. Once or twice they even connected with the puck.

With so few players, only three of the team could rest at a time and only for a minute or two. It was hard to catch your breath when you were shouting encouragement to the others on the ice, but the girls bellowed to their teammates as they grabbed a drink.

When the game was over, and the ref had to be paid, the girls hunted through their wallets. (Turns out play-offs are more expensive than regular games.) Loonies were pooled.

And still, after it was all over, the team hooted in glee. The team had managed to score a goal this time, and they reminded me gloatingly, they had been beaten way worse by others.

This team effort was sports – at its best.

Postscript: The team’s  second season has just wound up.

2 Comments to “The little hockey team that could”

  1. I love it. What a fabulous story.

    I loved reading about the team’s can-do attitude and obvious joy at doing so well against all the odds. It’s nice when team sports can actually help build kids — esp. girls — self esteem.

    Hockey is a tough slog, though, for parents and kids. And prohibitively expensive for most. No amount of charity fundraising is going to fix that.

    My daughter has cousins who play hockey at a very competitive level. It’s minivans and money everywhere. I’m hoping she picks soccer instead, frankly.


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