Sometimes, the hockey rink is like a time machine

January 13th, 2012

So one thing that’s interesting about spending all this time around hockey rinks is that in the coming and going with Small Boy and Boychen we cross paths with most of the other age groups. SB plays Bambini hockey – officially Bambinis have 2004 and 2003 birth dates though SB is one of seven kids one his team who are younger than that. After this season, he can legally play another two seasons of Bambini hockey before he ages into the next group, the Piccolos. Then he’ll get two seasons in that age group before he ages up to the Moskitos. The “Mosi’s” practice right after SB on Tuesdays and Thursdays and we see them running drills as we’re leaving. It’s hard to believe they’re twelve and thirteen; a handful of them are just one helping of steak and potatoes away from being as tall as their coach. I suppose right about twelve and thirteen is when the testosterone starts kicking in and they start shooting up and filling out, getting real muscles and broad shoulders; but before practice I can see ┬áthem screwing around, throwing snowballs at each other and stealing each other’s hats and they’re still very much boys. Just bigger.

Thursday nights the hockey school practices in the arena where the pro team plays, and hockey school overlaps with practice for the Junior Elites – the last step before a kid tries to make it in professional hockey. They’re 17, 18, 19 year old boys – men – and while I’m on the ice with the little kids the Elites are running their warm ups in the stadium. They run the stairs, playing a game of follow the leader where the first boy in line sets the drill: sometimes they run up as fast as they can touching every step with the balls of their feet, sometimes they jump up two steps then back down one then up two again, sometimes they run up on every other stair, sometimes they hop up on one leg. However they do it, it’s full gas to the top, then they jog over to the next aisle and down to get back in line to run the stairs again. These boys aren’t kids anymore, even if they are seventeen – if a kid is still in the SCB program by the time he ages into the Junior Elite level, he’s hands-down one of the best youth hockey players in the country. Those boys aren’t kidding around anymore, they’re looking to play professional hockey. Period.

I see these guys around the rinks, various versions of the future Small Boy – SB at twelve, SB at fifteen, SB at eighteen – and it’s disconcerting and exciting and mildly terrifying to imagine SB morphing into a big boy and then a man. It’s not the hockey I’m talking about here, I’m not imagining SB playing Junior Elite hockey, it’s just the vision of him tall and broad and muscular that’s hard to reconcile with my long stretched out boy of tendon and bone and high child’s voice. Somehow seeing these hockey players on a regular basis, and seeing them in their stair-step age groups, makes them more real to me than the fifth graders I see around town or the teenagers who take the train to school and work in the city. I know exactly how old those hockey boys are – the kids who take the ice Tuesday after SB have 1999 – 2002 birth dates – and I know exactly how far away SB is from looking like those boys. If I squint my eyes and tilt my head when the Mosis drill, it’s like seeing a vision of the future.

It’s like this, the now and the then in the same frame, and the staircase between them suddenly so unbearably short: