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How Mark Messier Helped My Son Learn to Love Hockey Again

I was desperate. My seven-year-old son, Nicky, really didn’t want to go to hockey. And I had heard this mantra for days. I explained, yet again, that he had played last year, and he had loved, loved, loved it, but, of course, he has no memory of that, and now, this year… he didn’t want to play.

For days I heard: I AM NOT GOING TO HOCKEY, MOM!

No amount of reasoning worked. No amount of explaining, “transitions are hard!” “this has happened before!” or “trust me, you’ll have a good time!” work with him.

In fact, in this particular instance, I was so frustrated I considered doing what my grandfather would have done. He would have screamed at the top of his lungs: “Goddammit Nicky! Get out on that ice or I’ll whip your butt till it’s blue, you ungrateful little brat! You have no idea how lucky you are… ”

But, alas, if I did that, social services would take my children away…

Now, if I actually thought what Nicky was saying was true, I wouldn’t force him to go. But this has happened with every sport, every season.

No, he didn’t want to play soccer, but after the first practice, if you asked him what is favorite sport was, he’d say: “Soccer!” 

The same thing happened with flag football, and hockey the year before.

He screams and fusses and cries and revolts, but after ten minutes of actually doing it--he loves it. Flat out loves it, and then looks forward to it every week. Then my kid is happy, outside, with friends, and getting exercise.

And with every new sport season I get a few new gray hairs to commemorate its passing.

Now it was November. It’s hockey time and Nicky doesn’t want to go. As an added bonus this time around, he had missed the first week because he was sick, and now he really didn’t want to go. “All my friends are already better than I am! They’ve had more practice!”

In my despair, I do what I normally do, call a friend. This time it was Maria, a dear friend from Argentina who lives in our town, the mother of one of Nicky’s best friends, who is also on the hockey team.

I explained my predicament and asked if she could swing by our house, grab Nicky (who would be all ready for hockey), and take him to a “play date on the ice.”

Nicky is much less apt to squawk at another mother, of course.

I reassured her that I would arrive ten minutes after hockey started, it would just be easier for him –and, more importantly, me -- to make this dreaded initial transition.

Have I mentioned she is a dear, dear friend?

My plan worked. 

I arrive ten minutes after practice begins. I scan the ice and there is no Nicky. Bad thoughts dart through my head until I see him on the bench getting his skates tightened by a coach.

He sees me and waves, and gives me a thumb’s up.

I survey the rink to find Maria in order to thank her and ask how it went. She gives me a second-by-second report. (What else are we supposed to do on the sidelines?)

She said that she could tell Nicky was nervous, but he hung in there until right after she had tied his skates. 

But then, as she tied her own son’s skates she noticed that Nicky was struggling to hold back tears. 

Suddenly, Nicky couldn’t control it any longer and spouted, “Mrs. A, I don’t want to play hockey!” and the tears fell.

She looked up from her son’s skates again and saw a man standing nearby in hockey attire.

“Are you a coach?” she pleaded.

“Ah, yeah, I am one of them,” he replied.

She pointed to my Nicky and said, “Can you help him please?”

Don’t you love how I transfer my desperation onto my friends?

The coach swoops in and, seeing NICKY, written in black permanent marker on the top of his helmet says, “Hey Nicky! How ya’ doing? Will you come out on the ice with me? Do you like hockey?”

Nicky wiped his tears and followed the coach.

As I listen to Maria tell the story Nicky is skating happily away. Over the next hour I see Nicky fist-bumping the helpful coach, in his own little unknowing way so grateful to the person who took him from panic to pleasure, all with a warm welcoming arm.

As I stood listening to this recap and watching Nicky, I, too, felt grateful to Maria and to that coach. I had never seen him before.

But another coach, who I know, walked passed us about to get on the ice.

As he headed out he said, “Nicky doing OK, Jen?”

“Yes, but it was a close one!” I replied.

“No one better than the master,” he replied. Maria and I stood dumbfounded. “You know that’s Mark Messier, right?”

Of course, we didn’t.

Being from Argentina she had no idea who he was, and being so old, gray, and blind, I couldn’t see who it was since he was so far away and I was looking through thick plexiglass.

But how cool is that?

After hockey I asked Nicky if he had fun. He replied, “It was awesome, mom! Hockey’s awesome!”

“And what did you think of the coach who helped you out?”

“He was really nice, mom.”

“His name is Mark Messier, and he is one of the greatest hockey players in the whole world, Nicky.”

He shrugged his shoulders, “Cool. But, mom, I really like hockey.”

I shook my head, “Of course, you do Nicky,” I said.

Jennifer Quasha is a writer and most recently the co-author of "Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Dog's Life: 101 Stories about the Ages and Stages of our Canine Companions" and "Chicken Soup of the Soul: My Cat's Life: 101 Stories about the Ages and Stages of our Feline Family Members." Check out her website at www.jenniferquasha.com.