I learned to skate when I was two years old.
Now, being from Canada, that’s not particularly unusual. My dad had me on skates basically as soon as I could stand upright and take a few steps. When I was four years old, he signed me up for my first hockey league.
Canada has several levels of midget hockey. I started in house league, like most kids do. The periods were 10 minutes long without clock stoppages. Hockey coaching was done by whichever dad felt like taking the time to do it. Girls and boys were both welcome to play on the same team — a fairly new concept in the early 1980s. I hadn’t even started kindergarten yet; ice hockey was my first real social activity outside of daycare.
I started that season as a goaltender, mainly because I thought the equipment looked cool. But 24 goals scored on me over the first two games of my hockey career quickly disabused me of any idea that I was cut out for being a netminder. So my coach switched me to left wing. Let’s just say my stickhandling wasn’t particularly strong, and I finished that season with zero goals scored and two assists (both of which came as a result not of a great pass, or even passes at all, but of me happening to have touched the puck before someone else did all the hard work).
In my second season, as my skating improved, I was actually slightly helpful to my team — seven assists that second year, at least two of which consisted of me actually sending the puck in a deliberate direction to a teammate I targeted. Still no goals for myself, though.
By my third season, I was actually pretty competent on skates. I could skate forward and backward, I could come to a quick stop without falling on my face, and I could crossover turn to the right (in fact, to this day, I still can’t crossover to my left very well). But my stickhandling was still inadequate, and halfway through the season I still hadn’t scored a goal.
It was at this point I started thinking about quitting. I was going through a growth spurt, and my widening feet made skating hurt a fair bit. I was also becoming very discouraged at the fact I wasn’t emulating my heroes on TV and actually putting the puck in the net myself. Also, I was six. Six-year-olds, no matter what they’re doing, can always think of something they’d rather be doing.
But my dad, thankfully, made me stick to the game. In the second last game of the season, I found myself in a pile of people in front of the opposing goal. As I fell backward with two players on top of me, I noticed a loose puck just sitting there on the ice, and I poked at it with my stick as I hit the ice. I didn’t even see what direction I’d sent it in. Suddenly, however, everyone on my team was shouting and raising their arms! Somehow I’d actually poked the puck through their goalie and into the net! I never saw it go in, but to this day that feeling is one of the happiest I can ever remember experiencing.
I scored a number of goals over the next 12 years of hockey. Not a lot — I never really did get the hang of stickhandling without looking down at the puck — but enough that I kept going back to play well after it was obvious that I wouldn’t ever play junior league hockey, let alone in the NHL. But that feeling of scoring that first goal is still one of my best childhood memories, all because my dad didn’t let me quit when I got discouraged.