Today I experienced Great Canadians at their finest.
I am spending the week in Fernie, British Columbia with the kids for their March Break. Though we hoped to be slaying the slopes, we have found ourselves pulling out our umbrellas instead of our skis. Fortunately we spend plenty of time on the slopes at the Fernie Ski Resort as skiing is our family's winter sport of choice.
However, Ben, who is 8, loves a good ol' hockey game.
Ben doesn't play minor hockey but has had the opportunity to participate in the recreational hockey programs offered at Canada Olympic Park. They have done a great job of teaching him some skills on the ice. Nonetheless, the nature of the program does not offer games where the kids can experience comradery associated with playing on a regular team. They play one big shinny game at the end of the sessions, which Ben is always excited for beyond imagine. His skills don’t compare to the kids that play in the minor hockey league but he is unaware of this because he isn’t often on the ice with them. Instead, he’s carving turns in the corduroy or attempting to find some bumps and jumps.
But, this doesn’t discourage his love for the game of hockey.
He is so passionate about the game that he will occasionally say that one day he’ll play in the NHL.
To celebrate his birthday these past three years, he has requested the same skating parties with half the ice dedicated to a hockey game. This year, he begged us for goalie gear so that he could wear it on the ice so they could have a "real" goalie play nets for their game. We caved and he wore the cheap road hockey gear proudly. So leading up to our ski week in Fernie, he pleaded with me to look up skate times at the local Fernie arena. When I finally gave in and looked up the schedule, there was a slot on their website’s calendar on the Wednesday, for a Family Skate and Shoot. Ben was so excited that he might be able to wear his gear on the ice again even though it was street hockey gear and not meant for ice hockey.
Once in Fernie, Ben counted down every single day until Wednesday, so that Sophie, Ellie and I could shoot on him. This morning, Wednesday, he counted down the hours, then the minutes to our departure time so we could be at the arena and not lose a second of the time slot on the ice.
We walked into the arena and it was pretty empty when I started tying the kids’ skates. Instead of other kids and their families walking in, local men were arriving with their skates and sticks. There was one guy dressed in full gear. Another, threw his bag on the floor and started pulling out full goalie gear. I started getting worried. Did I look at the wrong date on the website's schedule? I was the only mom with 3 little kids. The rest of the gang lacing up skates were big boys. I brought the website's calendar up on my phone. No. That's what it said. Family Skate and Shoot. Holy moly these were big boy families. I saw the arena office door open and I went to inquire within.
The man working there told me, "There's a skate and shoot but it's mostly adults that come. If you'd like, there is a Family Shinny scheduled for later."
I said to him, "I checked your website before coming and it says Family Skate and Shoot."
He casually replied, "Bah, that thing is never right."
I went back to my tiny team to deliver the bad news, “Look guys, I don’t think this is a good idea.” I could see Ben’s eyes welling up as the girls whined, “It’s no fair. We want to skate.”
At that point I decided, what the hell? We’re here. There’s lots of ice. We’ll go out there and skate and if it gets out of hand we’ll get off the ice. And so the big boys skated around us and took a few shots on Ben. I’m not going to lie to you, I felt out of place. But Ben didn’t notice. He was thrilled when one of the big boys took a shot on him. When the girls decided they were done after about 10 minutes, one of the guys came and asked me if it was okay if they played shinny. I was welcomed to join and Ben could be the goalie because they only had one. They reassured me that they would take it easy on him.
I said, "I’m out, but I'm sure Ben would love to." And I was happy to be out. I was happy to take my place in the cheering section. I explained to Ben that the big boys wanted to play shinny.
“What’s shinny?” he asked.
“It’s like a hockey game,” I replied.
“Like a real game?” he asked.
“Yeah, like a real game. These guys will make up teams and they only have one goalie so they want to know if you want to be the other goalie.”
“Oh sure,” he said glowing. Strong emphasis on glowing.
I stepped off the ice and the guys got a game going.
They shot on Ben and made him feel like he was one of them. That he was good enough to be part of their game. After the first puck slid by Ben, one guy told him, “We got your back buddy, don’t worry about that.” He saved a few shots and every time bounced back up flashing me the biggest grin. Most of those guys took their turns to say a few words to him, or give him a glove bump or a stick tap. And they encouraged him with beating their stick on the ice when he made some saves. There was nobody else but me to see this magic.
The thing is, they could have easily told us to scram because kids weren’t supposed to be on the ice.
They could have easily taken harder shots at Ben to scare him off.
They could have even ignored us altogether and complained among themselves that we ruined their ice time.
But instead, they chose as a group, to include him. What they likely don’t realize is that they made my kid’s week, maybe even his year. Even though he blew right through his brand new goalie pads that he just got for his birthday, their acts of kindness left a mark on Ben that had him on a high that I could never reproduce no matter how much money I'd spend trying.
When Ben saw how shredded his gear was he said to me, "Mom, thank you so much for bringing me. I've never had anything like that happen to me before. That was so awesome. It was worth shredding my pads."
Simple human kindness.
To Ben, those guys probably almost made the NHL. I don’t know a single person that was on the ice today, but every one of them were clearly Great Canadians.
And so, thank you to the Fernie Skate and Shoot Hockey Stars, whoever you are!