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Learning Life through Hockey

The hockey regular season just wrapped up and the Stanley Cup playoffs just began and it reminds us of how much we can learn about respect, courtesy, and gratitude from the sport of the boys of winter. Yes, the sport that is the butt of the joke “I went to a fight last night and a hockey game broke out,” is the same sport that can be our pattern for good behavior and holds many lessons on how we can be better people every day.


Hockey has much to offer in the line of courtesy, respect, and good manners. It is not uncommon for a game to feature players who had once played for the opposing team. Typically, the home team prepares a short montage of those players to be shown on the scoreboard screens and they were welcomed back by the PA announcer during a break in the action. These players aren’t seen as “the enemy.” Rather they are friends who have moved away to take another job and are greeted as friends back for a day, much like we greet our friends or neighbors if we should meet after they have moved away and then returned perhaps for a family visit. A former coworker may have quit to take a job with a competing firm yet if we meet in public, at a conference, or a perhaps some meeting, we still greet each other. We may no longer live near each other or may now work for competing companies, but we still share a bond and continue to learn from each other.


Hockey rosters have no room for “bench players.” There are twenty players who dress for each game and the only one who might not see game action is the back-up goalie. Otherwise, if you are dressed, you will play. Nobody is held back “just in case.” In fact, in the case of injury play goes on with the remaining players extending their shifts or doubling up on assignments. Likewise in the life, there are no reserves. Families short a member because of illness see the rest of the family doubling up or sharing chores, taking turns shopping or running errands, and help with the cooking and cleaning. There is no temporary employee pool to replace a sick mom or an injured oldest child. As they do in hockey, we rely on the entire team to play our best for the entire day and to do what we can when one of our own needs a helping hand even if we would rather take a break.


Thinking about those breaks, we find another commonality between hockey and life. While play is going on in a hockey game, play goes on in a hockey game. Only if the puck is shot outside the playing ice, at a rules infraction, or after a goal is scored does play stop. Otherwise, the clock keeps moving and play continues. If you’re lucky you might get to ask for one time out but mostly you’re at the mercy of the march of time. Play begins. After a while play ends. If you play well between them, you’ll be ok. Much like life - our life. We saw this recently during the pandemic. Things may have taking different forms, but life went on. Babies were born, church services were held, groceries were bought and turned into meals. Even during normal times, life doesn’t stop. There is always something going on. Television and radio stations broadcast around the clock. Hospitals never close. First responders and military personnel are always on alert. Parents are parents 24 hours a day. Every day. And on all of those days for all of those people, the day begins, the day ends, if you work well in between everyone will be okay.


The point of hockey is to score goals. Sometimes goals are scored ridiculously easily, sometimes goals seem to be scored only through divine intervention. Most times, goals are a result of working together, paying attention to details, and wanting to score more than the opposing team wants to stop you from scoring. There is no rule that says after one team scores the other team gets to try. It all goes back to center ice and starts out with a random drop of the puck. If the team that just scored controls the puck and immediately scores again, oh well. On every play, every player plays a mix of offense, defense, and self-defense. The scoring rules of hockey recognize that it takes more than an individual to score goals. Hockey players are equally recognized not just for scoring goals but for assisting others who score goals. We all know we could never do all we do without the people around us, parents, children, partners,, coworkers, neighbors, friends and relatives, all make us who we are. When one person does well the entire circle benefits from the advantages. When somebody at home or at work says you’ve done a good job, you know how many others have contributed and you pass those thanks to them also.


The ultimate good job is winning the championship. The NHL Stanley Cup championship tournament is a grueling event. After an 82 game regular season, the top 16 teams play a four round best of seven elimination tournament. It takes twenty winning games to win the championship. It could take as many as 28 games to play to the finish. That’s like playing another third of a season. It must seem like it never ends. Not unlike many of our days or weeks or months. You know you really need to finish that project, paint that bedroom, or decorate that cake, often wondering when will it ever end, but you keep going because you know the work you are doing makes you a champion in somebody’s eyes.


In hockey, there is another lesson not taught in any formal education class. After each playoff round only one team moves on. And for each round, every year, for as many years as the tournament has ever been played, and for as many years as the tournament will ever be played, when that one team wins that fourth game and is ready to move on, they and the team whose season just ended meet at center ice and every player on each team shakes the hand of each opponent player and coach, wishing them well as they move on and thanking them for a game well played. No gloating. No whining. No whimpering. Only accepting. Yes, hockey holds many lessons on how we can be better, but this, this might be the best lesson of them all.


So you went to the fights last night and a hickey game broke out? Lucky you!



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