At Some Point They All Become Your Kids
By Scott Lowe – MyHockeyRankings.com
This wasn’t the article I originally planned to write.
Don’t worry. It’s coming. Over the next several weeks I will be posting valuable information that I have gleaned from coaches of NCAA, junior, AAA and prep-school teams around the country, drilling down into what they truly look for when scouting players. Topics such as skating, compete level, character, body language and hockey IQ will be addressed in great detail with the goal of helping young players better understand the aspects of their games they need to improve upon to get noticed.
But I’m putting that on hold for a few days. Instead, I’d like to discuss the dreaded crazy hockey parent. No, this isn’t going to be about some lunatic who hopped the glass to beat up a ref or challenged another parent to a fight.
It’s about me; I’m the crazy hockey parent. More accurately, I’m the crazy sports parent.
As I’ve written here many times, my son plays NCAA Division III hockey for Suffolk University in Boston. We’re from Maryland, hardly a traditional hockey market, so it’s been quite a journey for him to get there, especially since he chose not to leave home to pursue his dream until graduating from high school.
Not many kids from our area advance to the NCAA level – although the number continues to grow every year – and it’s even harder for those who don’t leave home to play for prep schools or top AAA programs at some point during their teen years. When it became clear he probably was going to be good enough to play NCAA hockey, I made it my mission to learn as much as possible about the process and the options available so that I could help him make informed decisions that maximized his chances of getting there.
That’s how I ended up here, hopefully helping many of you as you navigate your own kids’ paths toward whatever level of hockey they hope to reach. During my son’s journey, there were many extremely generous and helpful people who took an interest in him, offered advice, provided opportunities and ultimately helped us figure it out. The people who helped him achieve his dream are too numerous to name here – and I’m sure I would forget a few – but one day I will do my best to thank each one of them personally.
Maybe that will happen next year on his senior night, although (don’t tell him I said this) I hope he takes advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA has awarded to student-athletes whose seasons were lost or cut short by COVID last year. That’s another topic for another day, but as with every other hockey decision our family has faced, whether he plays an extra year or not will be entirely up to him.
One thing I made a point to do throughout my son’s journey was to build as many relationships as possible with the good people we met along the way – the people who are in it for the right reasons and put the kids first. That process allowed me to develop a network of resources I can turn to as I try to help other families avoid some of the mistakes we made and wasting thousands of dollars as they figure it out for themselves.
There are a lot of great hockey players in the DMV, but very few families understand everything that is involved – and the incredible commitment that is necessary – if a young player from our area hopes to play college hockey. The first issue most players from our area face is exposure, so whenever a scout approached my son or our family expressing interest in him as a prospect, I always went out of my way to mention some of the other really good players on his team.
That doesn’t make me a hero, and I’m not looking for pats on the back. After watching three of my son’s teammates enjoy their college senior night Saturday night, I came to a realization, which is why I decided to write this article.
At some point, they all become your kids.
More on that later, but first I want to mention the other athlete in our family.
My daughter plays lacrosse for Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. F&M is a nationally ranked women’s lacrosse program at the Division III level. While her journey took just as much hard work, commitment and dedication as my son’s, the path for her was clear cut and familiar. Is seems like pretty much everyone in Maryland plays lacrosse, and if you’re a good player on a even a decent team you’re probably going to play in college if that’s the goal.
She is one of the lucky few who visited a school, fell in love with it and got the offer she wanted. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, though.
F&M is a perennial top-10 program that likely could beat many Division I teams. While she was set on F&M as her top choice from the moment she set foot on campus, she had to work incredibly hard to earn the trust of her future coach and be one of the fortunate Class of 2023 commits.
My daughter was recruited by all levels of programs – NCAA Division I, II and III – but she knew what she wanted in her college and her lacrosse program. She wanted to play for a strong program, have a chance to win championships and get a fair opportunity to compete for playing time right away. We persuaded her to visit other schools and talk to other coaches – I’m a huge proponent of always having a Plan B – but you could see during those visits that her heart was back in Lancaster no matter where we went.
I always tell people that my son is the hardest working kid I ever coached. although he admittedly turns it up a notch or two when he’s not playing for his dad. Well, my daughter is the hardest working kid I’ve ever been around. Since she and my son were sent home because of COVID two years ago, I can remember maybe two days that she has missed a workout.
If we go away for vacation, she gets up and works out. If she is out late one night with her friends, the next day she makes sure go even harder than usual. When she’s home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it doesn’t matter. She puts in the work.
Her work ethic ramped up as a high-school freshman when she realized that she had a chance to play varsity field hockey and lacrosse. And now, even after she’s achieved her goal and is playing lacrosse at the school of her choice, it continues. Once she got to college, she quickly realized why F&M is so good and how hard it is to get on the field for one of the top programs in the nation.
Early in her freshman year she was in and out of the lineup. Her team plays an ambitious schedule that usually begins with games against other nationally ranked opponents. One game she was told to warm up on the sidelines early in a game against nationally ranked York College but never got on the field. The next week she played about 20 minutes in a one-goal win against top-10 Mary Washington.
F&M was off to a great start with wins over three ranked teams and my daughter picked up her first collegiate point in their fourth win of the season. The team moved into the top five and was a legitimate national-championship contender.
Then, just like that, COVID.
Right before the team’s scheduled spring trip to Puerto Rico, the season was put on hold. Like everyone at that point, we thought they’d be back on the field in a few weeks. The coach worked feverishly to find teams that were allowed to play and schedule games, but every time he found an opponent, someone decided they shouldn’t play.
All the families held out hope that there at least could be one final game to honor the team’s seniors. Coach tried hard to no avail. That was it. A four-game season.
After all the hard work my daughter had put in to achieve her dream, her freshman year would consist of four games. I was devastated for her, but I knew she would eventually get her chance. What I couldn’t get over was the pain I felt for the seniors and their families. All the years of hard work they put in just to get the opportunity to attend a great school and play for a top program, followed by another three-plus years of commitment and dedication in pursuit of a national championship, and it was over for them.
At some point, they all become your kids.
The story goes deeper. My son was fortunate to play a full season his freshman year. His season came to an end just before COVID shut everything down. He and some of his teammates even got to go to Florida for spring break just before everything really started to get crazy on the COVID front. They wouldn’t be so lucky as sophomores, though.
While they got to practice and skate together as a team throughout the fall and up until winter break last year, the season was put on hold. Ultimately, they tried to play a modified schedule, starting in February, but the team only completed two official games with at least 10 others getting cancelled. That was their season. Two games.
We all prayed things would change last spring, but my daughter and her teammates watched helplessly as those early-season games against top opponents outside of their conference were cancelled. Their league decided that teams would only play conference games while abiding by strict COVID protocols. There would be no conference championship tournament. Each school would play seven games, with the first-place team earning an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
They played one exhibition game and eight total games. No fans were allowed until the final game of the year, a winner-take-all conference championship game against nationally ranked Gettysburg College. With her freshman year cut short, my daughter was still trying to prove herself and work her way into an impactful role.
Her work ethic never wavered. She never missed a workout. Some games she played 20 or more minutes, and she even recorded a hat trick in one outing, but other times she played less. And in that final showdown against Gettysburg, she didn’t play at all.
But the team played. And they got to play in front of their friends and families after more than a year of no games and no fans. As hard as it was to see her not play, there definitely were some tears when the game started and tears when they won. Just seeing those kids play and be so happy was everything.
At some point, they all become your kids.
After everything they had been through – together – they won the game, won the conference championship and entered the NCAA tournament as the nation’s top-ranked team. Most important, they were back doing what they loved, and the seniors had their day. A sense of normalcy, relief and joy prevailed.
They had only gotten to play 12 games instead of the nearly 40 they should have played over two seasons, but they got to play. And they had so much more to look forward to.
Fast-forward one year to last Saturday.
As fate would have it, my son’s final regular-season game was scheduled to be played at his home rink in Boston at 7 p.m. My daughter’s first game of the season, of course, was the same day in Lancaster, a six-hour drive from my son’s rink, at noon. I was disappointed, but not surprised, when I found out.
How could I possibly be in two places six hours apart by car on the same day, and how could I possibly not be at both games to support my own two kids and each of my 55 adopted kids?
My daughter said it was fine if I missed that first game. “There will be a lot more games,” she explained, to which I replied, “You’ve played 12 games in two years. I’m not missing your game.”
To top it off, it was senior night for my son’s hockey team. During my 15 years as a college athletics administrator, it was part of my job to make sure that all of our senior student-athletes got the proper thank you and sendoff they deserved at their final home games each year. Seeing those kids get recognized for their hard work, their sacrifices, their commitment and how they had represented their schools – and seeing the joy those events brough to their families – was one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
Remember, at some point they all become your kids.
Somewhere during out family’s long, crazy athletic journey, deep in my subconsciousness, I must have decided that I would always make every possible effort to be there to support my kids. These last two years have been difficult for all of us. I am incredibly thankful that my kids were fortunate enough to have their teammates to be with and lean on, older players to learn from and coaches who worked tirelessly to keep them together at a time when many young people felt so alone and cut off from the world.
Our family is beyond lucky, and I never take that for granted. Ever.
I guess during the craziness of the past two years I also made a subconscious decision that I needed to be there for my kids’ 50-plus teammates, too. Maybe it was because of the pain I felt for the seniors on my daughter’s team two years ago or for the seniors who had welcomed my son to their team with open arms and only got to play two games with no senior night last year. Or maybe it was the articles I wrote for MYHockeyRankings.com during the height of COVID chronicling the stories of great teams that had their seasons cut short.
Whatever the reason, I became determined to do whatever I could to make sure my kids and their teammates always felt supported and appreciated. If that meant just showing up and helping fill the stands, fine. If it meant going the extra mile to make them feel special, even better.
So, in addition to everything else that was going on Saturday, about three weeks ago I volunteered my services to work with the other underclass parents of players on my son’s hockey team and make sure we gave the team’s seniors the sendoff they deserved and a night they never would forget. Of course, I did this without fully thinking the entire day through.
I’ve always been someone who responds based on emotion first and figures things out later. When I had an opportunity to do something special for the kids who had made my son feel so welcome, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be involved.
At some point, they all become your kids.
Emails were sent, text messages were shared, and a senior-night plan started to come together. I still hadn’t figured out the logistics of being there to support my daughter and her team on its first real opening day in two years, but it would all come together. About a week ago I woke up one night in a panic fearing that I wouldn’t be able to figure it all out.
My daughter had worked so hard and was in the starting lineup for her team’s fall games. It looked like she would at least play an important role on the field this year. I couldn’t miss her first game – or the first game for my other kids on the team – after the two years they had been through. I talked myself back to sleep. I would figure it out.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
To complicate things, my son’s team also had a game a few miles north of Boston Friday night. Their playoff position was set, and on the surface the game didn’t have a ton of meaning to most people. But to me, after the last two years, every game means everything.
I took a deep breath and scoured the internet, finding a $42 flight from Philadelphia to Boston, and came up with this plan of action:
Weekend Itinerary – Feb. 18-20, 2022
Friday, Feb. 19
7:30 a.m. – Wake up, do work.
9:00 a.m. – Begin drive from Maryland to Beverly, Mass. Estimated arrival time 4:30 p.m.
2:30 p.m. – Stop at a coffee shop to do work and pick up supplies for Senior Night.
4:00 p.m. – Back on the road to Beverly, Mass. Estimated arrival time 6:15 p.m.
6:15 p.m. – Arrive at Endicott College for Suffolk hockey game
7:00 p.m. – Suffolk vs. Endicott
9:30 p.m. – Talk to my son and his teammates after the game.
10:00 p.m. – Begin drive to Tarrytown, N.Y. Estimated arrival time 1:15 a.m.
1:15 a.m. – Arrive at hotel in Tarrytown, N.Y.
Saturday, Feb. 20
7:00 a.m. – Wake up, do work.
8:30 a.m. – Begin drive to Lancaster, Pa. Estimated arrival time 11:30 am.
Noon – Franklin & Marshall vs. Washington & Lee University
1:45 p.m. – Begin drive to Philadelphia Airport. Estimated arrival time 3:00 p.m.
1:50 p.m. – CHANGE IN PLANS. 3:15 p.m. flight to Boston changed to 4:52 p.m. flight.
The game was too close. I couldn’t leave.
2:45 p.m. – Begin drive to Philadelphia Airport. Estimated arrival time 4:00 p.m.
4:00 p.m. – Arrive at Philadelphia Airport, park and sprint to catch flight.
4:52 p.m. – Flight from Philadelphia to Boston.
6:00 p.m. – Arrive at Boston Airport, take rental car shuttle.
6:30 p.m. – Begin drive to Charlestown, Mass. Estimated arrival time 6:45 p.m.
6:55 p.m. – Senior ceremony at Suffolk vs. Wentworth game.
7:00 p.m. – Suffolk vs. Wentworth.
9:30 p.m. – Talk to players after the game and walk to local restaurant for postgame senior night team and family gathering.
TBD – Arrive at hotel in Waltham, Mass. SLEEP!
Sunday, Feb. 20
TBD – Wake up (hopefully); do some work, including this article.
TBD – Begin drive to Philadelphia Airport to drop off rental and pick up my car.
That was the plan for the weekend. It was ambitious to begin with, and with the flight change, everything was going to have to work out perfectly for me to get to the Saturday night hockey game on time. I was hoping to make it to the rink just in time for the senior ceremony.
So How Did it Go?
Friday went fine. I got my work done, picked up some supplies for senior night and made it to the game on time. Suffolk battled but lost to No. 15 Endicott, 5-3. I saw my son and teammates and hit the road for Tarrytown, N.Y. With a stop for gas and food I still arrived at 1:30 a.m.
Saturday got interesting.
I woke up a little before 7 a.m., got some work done, hopped in the car and headed for Lancaster, arriving at the stadium at around 11:30 a.m. It was a great game between No. 5 Washington & Lee and No. 7 F&M. I was choked up just seeing the kids back on the field and got to see my daughter score a great goal that literally moved me to tears. At 1:45 p.m. I realized that there was no way I would be able to leave this game, so I got a later flight and stayed until the end.
F&M trailed by three at one point. When the game started, the temperature was in the high 30s, and I was dressed in layers and comfortable. By the second half, the field was swept by gale-force winds and blizzard-like conditions. The players fought through it and tied the game. They got the ball back in the final minute with a chance to win but committed a turnover and lost by a goal with 16 seconds left.
Normally I would have been devastated by such a tough loss. Instead, I was thrilled to have seen it in person and that life was returning to normal for my daughter and her teammates
That’s when the fun began.
I tried to wait a few minutes to see the team, but they took too long so I had to go. I jumped in the car and began the 75-minute drive to the Philly airport. Of course, there was traffic, and I hadn’t been to that airport in years so figuring out the parking situation was going to be a challenge. I parked in the wrong garage first, but was able to figure out my mistake quickly, get parked and walk to security.
Naturally, security was moving at a snail’s pace; only one lane was open and there were many families in front of me. As I checked my watch and realized boarding would be closing in about 20 minutes, I started to sweat. Fortunately, they opened another lane and I literally sprinted to make the flight.
I was the last one to board. There were only 16 people on the flight. and they let me sit in the first seat. That was a critical stroke of good fortune since it meant that I could be the first one off the plane and hustle to the rental car shuttle. I took a deep breath, paid $12 for WIFI on the 36-minute flight and checked in with everyone in Boston.
While all of this craziness was going on, some other amazing parents had volunteered to spend their Saturday afternoon helping execute the plan we had all agreed upon to make senior night special. My son and a teammate met some parents at the rink. We had purchased decorations to be put up around the rink, t-shirts with the seniors’ numbers on them to give to the team and seniors’ families and “Thanks Seniors” banners to hang in various locations.
The t-shirts were hung in each locker with the numbers showing so the seniors would see them as soon as they walked in, and the players would all wear them for their pregame warm-up. The decorations and banners were hung. My son sent me photos. They did an amazing job. My blood pressure came down a little bit.
It was time for a deep breath.
Now, all I had to do was get there. The flight landed a few minutes early. It didn’t take long for the shuttle to arrive. It looked like I was going to make it on time for the ceremony.
Not so fast.
There was only one person in the rental-car line ahead of me, but it took much longer than it should have. Then the customer-service rep tried to tell me my license had expired.
“I just flew in. I am trying to get somewhere in 10 minutes. It hasn’t expired,” I explained.
She disappeared, returned and told me that I was right and got me my car. Unfortunately, this back and forth held me up by about 10 minutes.
I drove to the rink and arrived 14 seconds after faceoff. I missed the ceremony.
It was disappointing, but I had made it for the game and had planned a great postgame party that I knew would make everyone happy. The first person I saw was a senior parent, and I could tell how happy he was. The rink was full of friends, fans and family and looked amazing. The parents who helped me out so I could watch my daughter play had done an incredible job. My son and his teammate had come up big for their buddies.
Best of all, the boys were playing hockey. I had done everything I could do with the assistance of some wonderful families to make the night special, not for just the seniors, but also for the entire team.
It was a great day. In fact, it was one of the of the best days I’ve had in a long time. And without hesitation I’d do it all over again. Tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Next year.
At some point, they all become your kids.