One of the most appalling and surprising things a newly minted hockey player learns is that the human hand produces unthinkable odors when stuffed in a hockey glove. The thing about it is, though, that by the time this horrifying reality hits, most people are already hooked and the shock is blunted – almost eliminated, really – by all the good things that being involved with the sport yields. In Durango, that list is topped far and away by the family comprising the hockey community, and losing one of its members brought that into sharp focus.
Once the awkwardness of standing up on skates while ensconced in 23 pounds of stinky gear and warding off equally unskilled – though no less aggressive – competitors subsides, you realize that anyone who will tolerate such incompetence and gracelessness can only be a family member. That they happily engage in such embarrassment with you creates an unbreakable bond that grows along with your skill.
Like most families, the hockey community is a wide-ranging one that unites a diverse group of individuals around a common connection. On the ice, in the locker room, in the parking lot after games you will find doctors, dishwashers, brewers, hair stylists, journalists, attorneys, contractors, accountants and police officers – spanning two or more generations – sharing personal and team victories, lamenting defeat, fomenting rivalries, encouraging and berating one another, depending on the night. The topics of conversation and foci of relationships extend far beyond hockey to the personal, professional and political. I have spent time on the bench discussing the foibles of the Bush and Obama administrations and at least half a dozen city councils. Marriages have spawned at the rink, and babies born as a result.
We have celebrated one another’s achievements and worried about each other’s struggles. No small number of employer-employee or business relationships has developed – and in some cases fallen apart.
I have transported, by hockey bag, outgrown children’s clothes to pass along to a teammate and have received a delivery of Bill Moyers videos in the locker room.
Though I have been retired as a player for a number of years, the hockey family is still my people and always will be. I forget sometimes how much that system undergirds life for so many of us, but a recent death reminded me. A fixture in the hockey community, a talented goalie, a young man trying to find his place in the grown-up world – everyone’s idiot brother, really – died last week. The collective sadness around his loss was palpable, and will be for some time. As we all watched this kid by turns struggle, succeed, seek help, act as a mentor, engage or pull away, we each came to know his strengths and vulnerabilities. He impressed us and he disappointed us. We were all invested in his life to varying degrees. I like to think that he knew that.
Of course, the irony of any such loss is that it often serves to bring the rest of the family closer – or at least remind us all of just how important we are to one another, regardless of how infrequently we are together. That has certainly been the case these recent days, as I have reconnected with people I do not regularly see or talk to, but are nonetheless invaluable members of my family. We all come together to grieve a loss but in doing so, reinforce our strength as a community.
These have been sad days, but also weirdly happy. It has been awhile, thankfully, since I have had to endure locker room smells, but the far more beautiful elements of the hockey family are as strong as ever. For that we are all more fortunate than we usually take time to notice.
Megan Graham is a Herald editorial writer and policy analyst. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.