By Jamie McKinven
Where did the time go? It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was a 24-year-old man-child, living fast and chasing a lifelong dream of being a hockey player in the NHL. I wore my hair long, fit comfortably into 34-inch-waist designer jeans, and I didn’t mind taking my shirt off at the beach. I was young, wild and carefree.
My priorities back then were quite simple: Practice, work out, drink beer, play golf, chase women, and get called up to the American Hockey League… and eventually, the NHL. It was a pretty simple life.
Those days, I never gave much thought to what would happen when my career ended. I figured, on the outside chance that I didn’t make the NHL, I had a college degree to fall back on. So if I had to get a “normal” job, I’d just waltz into the headquarters of the closest Fortune 500 company and announce my presence with authority. In turn, of course, they would eagerly usher me into some pristine boardroom where I would sign a lifetime contract to make hundreds of thousands of dollars with full benefits and stock options. I’d then be set up in a corner office with a sprawling view of downtown and an assistant named Denise, who would bring me coffee and shoo away unwanted callers. Not bad for a fallback plan, right?
Seven short years later, the hair is thinner, shorter and more Lego-esque. The 34-inch designer jeans have become 36-inch Arnold Palmer specials from the discount rack at Sears (they’re surprisingly stylish and stain resistant), and the beach body has turned into a milk jug. I’m older, more sensible and careful… and boring.
My priorities are much more complex now. I wake up to a screaming toddler at 5:30 a.m. every morning and then, after changing diapers, cleaning Cheerios off the floor and dropping said toddler off at daycare (which costs me $1,000 a month), I head to a dull job, complete with no guarantees or benefits. My priorities changed from Coronas to Corolles (dolls), playing golf to playing Barbies, working out and bar hopping to taking out the garbage and chasing a 2-year-old around the supermarket. And as for the corner office with a view, well, I guess I’ll have to settle for the cubicle that isn’t being used as a storage unit.
The one aspect that has remained the same has been hockey. I don’t play in front of 7,000 fans at some corporate-named arena anymore; I am a rec hockey player who plays Thursday nights at the Cataraqui Community Arena with a bunch of 50-year-old plumbers, teachers, financial advisors and restaurant owners. But no matter the level, the game is still the same. There are two nets, one puck and a sheet of ice beneath your feet. The smell is familiar and the beer tastes the same. And no matter whether you’re playing in front of thousands of fans in a big playoff game or in an empty arena at 10 p.m. on a Thursday night, it’s still as exciting as ever to score a goal.
Another constant has been the playful locker-room banter after the games, albeit with vastly differing subject matters. I still sit around after games in my wet gear, telling stories, laughing and drinking beer. When I was 24, the stories were about debauchery and shame: we’d spend half the time trying to carve each other up and the other half discussing the finer aspects of the female species and which bar to hit up that night.
Seven years later, we’re still making fun of one another, but the hot topics have evolved. Now it’s about how to tactfully get out of changing poopy diapers and which doctor performs the best vasectomy. It went from booze, sex, and rock and roll, to organic green tea, emotional connection and mellow British pop.
But like I mentioned before, the beer still tastes the same—and the goals are just as awesome as ever.
Jamie McKinven grew up idolizing the high-octane players of the freewheeling Eighties, only to break into hockey’s higher levels during the tight-checking late nineties and 2000s. McKinven scratched and clawed his way up the levels, only to fall short of his ultimate dream of playing in the NHL. Along the way, while riding the buses and living paycheck to paycheck, he discovered a great deal about life, love and the value of following through on a dream. McKinven is the author of the highly popular “10 Hockey Skills for the Real World,” as well as the book “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?”, which is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com.
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