It was a bright and cold afternoon and Dan packed his skates, stick, gloves and helmet along with Brad’s gear, placing them in his Mustang. Several kids looked inside his Mustang as he waited patiently for Brad outside the main entrance to his school.
“Hey Brad!” Dan yelled waving him over.
“Hi Dad, what’s up?” he asked giving him a hug.
“Come on Son, I have a surprise for you,” Dan said leading the way. Brad hurried to tell his bus driver he was going with his dad. Brad noticed his and Dan’s hockey gear in the back of his Mustang. A couple of his friends said hi to him as he got in the passenger seat. Dan turned on the ignition and his Mustang GT rumbled to life.
“Oh man, that sounds awesome!” Brad exclaimed wide eyed. Dan smiled back feathering the gas pedal. The growling rumble of the engine’s exhaust filled the surrounding air.
“I had the engine tweaked a little.”
“Well, I guess so!” Brad looked over at his friends who gave him several thumbs up.
“Gee Brad your voice sounds deeper since you fucked your mom,” Dan kidded.
“Very funny Dad,” Brad replied. Dan’s comment referred to the teasing of a boy’s voice getting deeper because he lost his virginity and became a man. “Lay some rubber when you leave, will ya?” urged Brad.
“Nah, peeling it out is for teenagers,” he smiled. “Make sure you buckle up.”
Dan pulled away from the curb and aggressively shifted the Mustang, getting the most out of first and a little of second gear, the throaty rumble echoed off the near by buildings. He quickly braked bringing the car down from seventy to the fifty kilometre speed limit.
“That should to prove how good the car is to your buddies without showing off ... too much!” he smiled at Brad.
“Thanks Dad, I love you.”
“Love you too, Son. I don’t mind telling you I get tingles when I call you Son and you call me Dad.”
“Thanks and I’m proud that you’re my dad. You’ll have to teach me how to drive a standard when I get my license,” Brad said.
“Will you open the glove box and take out the small bag.”
“What’s this?” Brad asked examining the outside of the bag.
“It’s for you. Open it,” He opened the Smith’s Book store bag.
“‘Official Rules of Hockey, ‘ I don’t understand but thank you,” Brad said reading the title out loud. “What’s this for?”
“It’s for studying your new school subject.”
“Hockey, but I know how to play hockey.”
“Yes you do but Brad you don’t know the finer points of the game. This book will give you the rules that hockey is played by, what the referees and linesmen use to call the plays. In order to know a subject in school, you have to first know the theory behind it.
In hockey, you need to become a student of the game. Study your opponent, the forwards, defense and especially the goalie. Discover their weaknesses. The same thing applies to your schooling.”
“I still don’t see how this will help me with my hockey,” Brad grumbled.
“It will, you’ll see,” Brad began to read the rule book as Dan continued driving east on Highway 2. “I have another surprise for you in a few minutes,” Dan said making his way to Belleville.
Brad immersed himself in the hockey rule book as Dan drove. “So that’s why, now I understand,” Brad said out loud. Brad caught his Dad looking at him while they waited at a red light, “Thanks Dad, this book is amazing!” he smiled.
“You’re quite welcome Brad,” A few minutes later Dan turned into the parking lot of the Yardmen Arena.
“Ok Dad, what’s going on?”
“I happen to know one of the men that take care of the ice here at the arena. When the Bellville Falcon’s are finished their practice, I’ve arranged for you and I to have an hour of ice time together. Have you ever watched the Falcons practice before?”
“This may give you a little insight into what kind of work is required to be in the OHL, Ontario Hockey League.”
“I don’t know what to say,” As they got out of the car, Brad was stunned by his dad’s generous offer.
“Just open your eyes and ears and learn.”
Dan patted Brad’s shoulder then hugging him, new Father and Son continuing to bond. They gathered their gear and went inside, “You still use a wooden stick?” Brad asked looking at Dan’s banged up relic.
“Hey, she might be old but she’s good. Fibreglass reinforced aspen wood. I find the newer ones break too easily on me.”
“I’ve always wondered what the letters CCM mean,” Brad popinted to the three letters.
“It stands for, Canadian Cycle Manufacturer. CCM is famous for building good quality bicycles and sports equipment. Yours must be a composite stick,” he noted of the finish.
“We both use CCM, mine is a RBZ 130, whatever that means.”
“Son there’s quite a science behind the hockey stick such as grip feel, pitch and curve of the blade, similar to different golf clubs. Most dads will cut the stick to the nose of their son or daughter for length but when you play, the longer the stick the better.”
“How come your’s has next to no curve on it?”
They changed quickly in an empty room and stood by the player’s bench to watch the remainder of the Falcons practice. Brad looked on wide eyed, his head moving in every direction and took in as much as he could. Dan smiled as he watched Brad’s expression. This moment was priceless to the both of them.
“Thanks again, Dad! This is so awesome!”
“My pleasure Son,” he smiled, tapping his helmet with his stick blade.
“The guy in the yellow jersey is Mike Johnson. He’s the one I told you about yesterday. He and I played Midget together on the River Rats for two seasons. This is his rookie year in the OHL.”
“Why is he the only one wearing yellow?” Dan asked.
“He’s recovering from an injury and the yellow means, ‘no body contact’ with him,” Brad said looking at his Dad.
“You knew that, about the yellow sweater, didn’t you?” seeing his dad’s knowing expression.
“Some things in hockey never change. I was just checking to see if you knew,” Dan smiled tapping Brad’s helmet again, “Thanks you so much Dad, this is absolutely fantastic!” Brad sat wide eyed like a little kid on Christmas morning.
They enjoyed watching the five on four power play, breakout procedures and penalty kill practices followed by a shoot out contest.
“Sure are fast, aren’t they?” Brad observed.
“They sure are! You’ll get there too, soon enough. The goalie is weaker on his left skate than his right.”
“How can you tell?”
“By the way he pushes off to move right.”
The coach blew the whistle loud and the players gathered around him for a brief talk then headed for the dressing room. Brad told Dan the name of each player as they passed by them. He said ‘hi’ to all of them and each one either said ‘hi’ back or nodded their head to him. He’d offer a high five with his glove on and they’d smiled returning one to him.
The last player coming off the ice and talking to the coach was Mike Johnson.
“Hi Mike,” Brad said to his old friend.
“Hey, Brad, Brad Miller! Hey man, how’s it going?” Mike asked, shaking Brad’s hand.
“It’s going great Mike, how are things going with you?”
“Just waiting for the all clear from the team doctor to get back in the line up,” he said looking from Brad to Dan.
“Mike, this is my Dad.”
“Nice to meet you Mr. Miller,” Mike said shaking Dan’s hand.
“Actually, it’s Hayward, Dan Hayward.”
“There’s a big difference from playing Midget to the OHL?” Brad asked.
“I’ll say, faster and stronger, that’s for sure. Have to go for a rub down, catch ya later Brad, and see ya around. Hey, maybe we’ll be teammates again some day?” he yelled back.
“Wouldn’t that be awesome, just like old times.”
“Hey Mike. Just before you go, can you do us a favour and introduce us to the coach?”
“Sure, Mr. Hayward no problem.”
The Coach and assistant came off the ice, “Hey Coach, got a minute?”
“Sure Mike, what’s up?”
“Coach, this is Brad Miller and his Dad, Dan.”
“I’m Frank Stanton, nice to meet you both,” The coach said introducing himself and they shook hands.
“Brad and I played Midget together for two seasons. See ya later Brad.”
“Thanks Mike, see ya later!”
“How can I help you?” Coach Stanton asked, noting the height of the boy.
“I can imagine how busy you must be Coach. I know it’s only November, but my son is draft eligible for the OHL entry draft next June. Can you give us a few pointers to work on to improve his game and what you look for in a player that you’d consider for drafting?”
“Sure, I’d be happy to. I’ll answer the last question which should also answer the first one too. What team do you play for?”
“I play for the Trenton River Rats. Mike Johnson and I were teammates.”
“First of all how is your school work going?”
“So, so I guess. Why do you ask?”
“School education is very important to our team and the League. We won’t even look at a player, no matter how good he is, if he has failing grades. Next we look at family. What kind of family life does he have? We talk to neighbours about you and what you’re like.
“Well I have great parents and two older brothers and three older sisters,” Brad mentioned of his newer family.
“My dad still holds the old Hamilton Red Wings record for the fastest natural hat trick at one minute and forty seven seconds.”
“I played Junior for four years back in the early seventies,” Dan mentioned of his hockey history.
“Maybe you’ve got some natural hockey ability from your Dad.”
“Dad said that your goalie with the white mask is weak on his left skate.”
“He is, is he?” Frank said looking at Dan, then the goalie still practising.
“Old habits die hard. I’m just a good student of the game. Your goalie is weaker pushing off to his right which could mean a bad skate or an undetected foot injury. Studying the goalie is an old habit of mine. You know being a forward, knowing your enemy.”
“I’ll have our trainer check him out. Now continuing on, we meet with your midget coach to talk about what kind of player you are. We talk to the local police to see if you have a record with the courts. The police can’t tell us what crime you may have committed because of the Young Offenders Act, but they can tell us if you’ve been in trouble with the law.
We look to see you are a volunteer with any groups in town. Volunteering in the community is important to our organization and any team you’d play for.”
“My Mom takes me to the children’s ward of Trenton Memorial Hospital about once a month. I play guitar and sing along with the kids.”
“Good for you. You notice that so far none of what I’ve talked about has anything to do with hockey? You would be spending up to four or five years with a hockey team and most live each hockey season away from home with a billet family. That is a lot of years to a teenager.
Now for hockey ability, work on your conditioning and strength. We look for a player that is a solid two way player. He’s strong on offence as well as being defensive. He shows a lot of character, by that I mean he isn’t afraid to take the hit to make the play that may score the tying or winning goal. He sticks up for his teammates. He plays smart hockey keeping the mistakes to a minimum and finally, but certainly not last, he’s willing to learn.”
“Hey Frank, telephone,” the Assistant coach said touching his shoulder.
“Sorry I can’t talk with you any more.”
“We appreciated that you took the time to speak with us,” Dan said shaking Coach Stanton’s hand then Brad did also.
“Would you like a few tickets to Wednesday night’s game?” the coach asked.
“Sure would, thank you very much!” Brad exclaimed.
“Great, I’ll call the box office and ask them set aside six or so tickets for you.”
“Thanks again Coach, we really appreciate your time,” Dan said watching him disappear down the hallway.