By Frank Guiffre
Although I’m now in my thirties, it seems like it was yesterday when I stepped out onto that frozen pond for the first time wearing white figure skates, spray-painted black to look like hockey skates. At the tender young age of 8, the ice seemed so big at the time and was flooded with people. I enjoyed it but little did I know just how much I actually did. It wasn’t until a couple years later that I insisted on not only playing hockey (thanks, Joe), but I had to play goalie. I wanted so badly to just jump into a league and begin my path to the pros. But like all hockey parents, my mom knew what was best and was relentless in the fact that I first had to take a summer of skating lessons (thanks, Mom). The summer, like all of them at that age, went by quickly and come fall I signed up to play on my first hockey team, at the Pee-Wee level.
Sacrifices Were Made
I lived in a small village (literally) in upstate New York that didn’t have any hockey players, and the closest rink to me was about 40 minutes away. When I signed up for Clifton Park Youth Hockey, little did I—or my parents for that matter—know just how much traveling and sacrifice (both monetary and time) this sport was going to take up. It’s funny; as an 11-year-old your only responsibility is to go to school and have fun….and that’s pretty much it. My parents, however, were the ones who drove me to my 9:30 to 10:30pm practices on Mondays and several 6:30 to 7:30am practices on Wednesdays. This was all after a long day of work (and in some cases before a long day of work)… in the middle of winter. If you’ve ever come home from a tiring day of work in the dead of winter, only to drive an hour round-trip and then sit in a freezing-cold rink for a one-hour practice, you’ll know a thing or two about sacrifice.
To me, this was commonplace; I didn’t know any better. I had absolutely no idea of the costs involved in registration: the monthly dues, hotels, gas money, hockey tournaments, and traveling to away games. I had no clue. What I can tell you is that I know what it costs now and I know that it all added up to a lot of money. Multiply that by 17 years and that’s what my parents did for me.
Dreams of Making it Big
Every young hockey player’s dream is to make it to the NHL, and I was no exception. We watched hockey on a nightly basis, we played hockey on the weekends, and in the summer—you guessed it—more hockey by way of junior hockey camps and tournaments in Canada. I looked at hockey as a way to make new friends and develop new hobbies, while engaging in some friendly competition. My parents rarely turned me down for any opportunity to play hockey. And when my time came they happily shipped me off to play among the American All-Stars AAA team and countless Canadian junior teams. It wasn’t about the money, it wasn’t about time away from home; they saw something I could not. I looked at every one of those teams as a stepping stone to the grand stage, while they didn’t see my hockey career as that. They were there when I stepped onto the ice for my first college game; they were there for the heart-breaking overtime loss in a conference championship. To me, it was the end of the world. Consoling me, they still saw the bigger lesson I was subconsciously learning. They knew my hockey career wasn’t over and I would bounce back. Never discouraging me and only supporting me, they always saw the bigger picture.
It was only on March 3, 2007, that I finally learned the lesson they waited so patiently for me to grasp. The reason I remember that date so well is because it was my last college hockey game, a 5-1 National Championship loss, and they were there, on cue, to support and console me. Except this time we walked off the ice… together. And, frankly, that’s as it should have been. They were there with me the first time I ever stepped out onto the ice in skates, and they were with me as I left the ice for my last competitive hockey game, 17 years later and all the wiser.
Valuable Life Lessons
What my mom and dad saw is exactly what they intended to happen when they put me on skates for the very first time: they saw a boy turning into a man. They saw someone who learned the value of teamwork. They knew hockey was going to teach me perseverance, helping to push me through the hard times. They knew all along that hockey was going to give me things that went far beyond the sport itself. In what seemed like the blink of an eye was many years in the making and it’s only now that I can see exactly what they saw. They had it all figured out from the beginning.
Here I am now, writing this in my very own retail hockey store a mere quarter-mile away from the very place where it all began. I wouldn’t have had any of this without my parents. Had it not been for hockey, I don’t know where my life would have led. But what I do know is that I wouldn’t give up what I’ve learned or the people I have met along the way, for anything this world could offer me. And for that I say Thank You to my parents, for a childhood that will make me wealthy for the rest of my life.
So if you’re reading this story, remember to thank those who sacrificed their time, money, and social life so that you could learn these intangible lessons.
Frank Guiffre is the owner of Chase Hockey Inc., a hockey equipment retail store located in Clifton Park, NY. Chase Hockey specializes in team orders for individual teams, leagues, and associations.
Got someone you’d like to thank for the sacrifices they made in getting you involved in hockey? Say it here!