RALEIGH, N.C. – Memories of looking under the Christmas tree for that special and desired present never vanish, particularly for a hockey player, coach, referee, or fan.
Whether it’s a book, a toy, an article of clothing, or a piece of equipment – the thrill of getting what you hoped for is the best feeling to have, and getting to watch someone else show the emotion of receiving it is priceless.
For anyone who grew up around the sport of ice hockey, the first recollection of opening a big box that had a pair of skates in it, or that contained the jersey you most cherished to don, or the obvious wrapping job that in no way could conceal the fact that you were getting a new stick, is truly a feeling of exhilaration that you don’t forget.
The emotion felt and exhibited is unmatched.
No disrespect to all other sport-related gift givers and receivers – basketball, football, lacrosse, or dance enthusiasts alike – but hockey truly holds a selfishly special place in the hearts of those who play it, follow it, and are involved in some form or fashion with it.
It’s not that it’s just a game that requires the coordination and skill to stand on two thin metal blades on a nearly friction-less and cold surface, ice, that will inflict some form of pain when you fall down on it if not properly padded to do so.
It’s not that it’s just a game that requires hand-eye coordination to hold a long implement, a stick, in your hands with a blade on it to control a black, vulcanized rubber disc, the puck, while somehow effortlessly propelling your body, gliding, along that slippery area, no matter how large or small it is, until you decide to or have to stop.
No, it’s more than that.
Those are a just few of the outcomes that will result from learning how to play the game, the individual skills needed to blend in with others whom one will play amongst, with and against, in order to experience the thrill of what the competitive aspects of the sport offers.
Yes, that is true for other sports as well.
However, there is uniqueness to hockey that offers unparalleled experiences.
To play it, at any level, sets you apart from many just due to the fact that you must learn to skate.
Let’s not forget avoiding physical collisions, intended or not, with another 11 players within the physical confines of a restricted and walled space at speeds faster than walking and even a slow-moving car, is also a required skill to survive in playing the game.
Then, to play it well and excel at the multitude of competitive levels that exist, you not only must skate, avoid contact, but also coordinate your body and hands to handle the puck, pass it to others, receive it from others, and then shoot it towards the net in hopes of scoring a goal.
Putting the puck in the net is the ultimate individual triumph in helping your team to potentially win a game.
You never forget the experience of scoring at any level, and particularly if it is a rare occurrence.
That in itself is the essence of the game – scoring more goals than the opposing group of players you are skating, stick-handling, passing, and shooting against.
After all It is a team game, but one that requires a collective of individual skill execution to translate it all into success.
If one is fortunate and skilled enough, he or she can eventually be paid to play a game that always brings a smile to everyone’s face, whether they’re playing or watching it.
To reach that level, that person has truly accomplished something special.
However, it is not just the minutely small set of professionally paid players who provide the special memories that hockey initiates and perpetuates for those playing or watching to savor and treasure.
No, that recognition belongs to them along with the millions who play or have played, as well as those who watch or have watched the modernized form of the sport for the past 140 years, give or take, in some form or fashion.
For many who have not played the game – parents, friends, and admirers of the overall mystique that hockey presents – they are not excluded from sharing in the excitement the game provides either.
No, many times, they are the ones who for whatever reason may not have had the opportunity, physical ability, or desire to play hockey, but shared it with someone close to them.
Be it an immigrant parent who introduced the game to their child because they thought it would be a fun activity to participate in and a way to meet new friends.
Perhaps it was a relative who took another family member to a rink to watch others play, or a friend who treated another to take in a game for the sheer social impact that it provides in the stands while witnessing the multitude of fast-moving activity taking place within the defined confines of that slippery surface.
Whatever way any person has managed to give or receive the gift of ice hockey during his or her lifetime, and especially at Christmas, it is guaranteed that the memories garnered from it will never be forgotten.
Yes, it’s that special a moment.