Monday marks the beginning of many things as the puck

drops on the boys’ high school season

by Bryan Zollman

Monday is the official start of high school hockey practice for boys in the state of hockey.

But really it is much more than that.

It’s the start of many things.

For the player moving up from Bantams it’s the start of his high school journey. It’s the next step in fulfilling the lifelong dream of pulling on the varsity sweater and rushing onto the ice as your hometown fans scream in unison. It’s knowing your mom and dad are somewhere in the stands, looking on with pride. All the work, all the miles, all the sweat and all the tears have led to this moment.

It’s the start of tryouts and not knowing which roster you will land on. When those names are posted, will yours be on it? Will the coach call you into his office and tell you you’ve made the varsity team? Will he tell you you need to develop more on junior varsity? Or will he thank you for your commitment and effort, and tell you there just isn’t a spot for you?

Yes, not everything is roses and sunshine for everyone this time of year. All that work, all those miles, sweat and tears and frozen toes and fingers sometimes end without ever pulling that varsity sweater over your head.

Hopefully those kids and parents understand that being a hockey player isn’t defined by what level you achieve. It is defined by the passion in which you play the game. There’s an old saying that hockey players aren’t born, they’re made. This is true. Nobody falls out of bed knowing how to strap knives on their feet and perform crossovers. It is work. Hard work. It is dedication. It is passion that makes a hockey player.

So for those whose names are not on the board after tryouts know this: you are a hockey player and will always be a hockey player. If you truly love it, don’t stop playing. There is always a spot for you somewhere.

For those whose name is on the board, know this: Your life is about to get tougher. Every day has to be spent doing one thing: getting better. Not for you, not for mom or dad, and not for the college or NHL scout who may be in the stands on any given night. You have to get better for your teammates. Your buddies. Your brothers in battle.

If hockey was easy, everyone would do it. It isn’t. It’s difficult. It’s also fun as hell, which is why we work so dang hard at it. Wake up each day knowing you have a chance to get stronger, to get faster, to shoot harder, to pass better and most importantly to be the best teammate you can be.

For coaches, today is the start of a process, a plan. All those summer nights thinking about this and  that is coming to fruition. Chances are the plans won’t go off without a hitch. There will be hitches. Probably lots of them. But you are steering the ship, the captain, the driving force in not just making your kids better hockey players, but better teammates, classmates and down the road spouses and parents.

Being a coach is a great responsibility and a tough job, but the rewards of helping raise young people to be better adults through the great game of hockey is always worth it. PHOTO BY NICK WOSIKA (2018 State Tournament)

Deep down us coaches know that trophies are fun to chase, they give us purpose and they give us something to work for. The elusive state tournament is set in your sights for many of you. For some that is unrealistic and you may be aiming your arrow at a more narrow target. Maybe the goal is a certain amount of wins, a playoff victory, beating a storied rival, or just having fun. Whatever that target is, aim with precision and do your best.

You may get a phone call or a text from an angry parent whose kid isn’t getting enough playing time, or was cut from the team. Understand it is part of the job and it doesn’t mean you are doing a bad one. You were given the authority to make tough decisions because people believe in you. Always, always do what is best for the team, the program and embrace the great responsibility you have been awarded. It won’t always be fun, but it will be worth it.

For the kids wearing the C or the A this season, it is the start of taking that next step in your hockey career. You are a leader now. Your coaches have seen how you go about your business, how you treat others, and how you play the game. Your teammates respect you. Embrace your new role and do the best you can. If you see a teammate struggling off the ice, be there for them. If you see a teammate get out of line, be there. If nobody grabbed the puck bag on the bus and you are the last one off, carry the dang bag. Wearing the patch does not give you privilege, it gives you responsibility. Heed that responsibility with purpose and conviction.

Wearing the C is a tremendous honor and also a tremendous responsibility. PHOTO BY NICK WOSIKA

For mom and dad this is the start of another season on your journey that likely began with your player crying as you strapped on those uncomfortable shoulder pads their first day of practice. Perhaps they spent five minutes on the ice before begging for that ice cream you promised. For some parents this might be the first year you aren’t driving to practices. You also aren’t watching practices. This is a good thing. It’s also hard. After being there every step of the way, it is now time to let go a little bit. Trust in the process. Trust the coaches. Be your player’s biggest fan, not his coach.

For those who coached the bantam team it is time to let go not just a little, but a lot. You have done your job in developing your players to play at the next level. Now let the current high school coaches do theirs. Keep in mind, while you are probably a good coach, there’s a reason the Penguins general manager isn’t calling you right now. Sit back and watch and take pride in knowing you had a hand in developing those players. Be their cheerleader. Whatever benchmark they achieve in life, they won’t forget you and how you helped them get there.

Monday is the start of many things in boys high school hockey. Some things big, some things small. It’s also a good time to pause and reflect on the years spent getting to this point and the hills and valleys that lie ahead. The unknown of the future is what makes the present so important.  The experience of being a high school hockey player in Minnesota is special. Being able to coach these kids is special. Watching your child’s hard work and determination pay dividends is special. Seeing how a game can shape a person is special.

Not every player will get a chance to play at the X this March. Only a  tiny fraction will be able to call themselves state champions. Very few will go on to play at the next level of juniors, college and professional hockey.

Monday is not about that. It is the start of things more important than trophies and scholarships. It’s not about the finish line. It’s about the road. Where that road leads is unknown. It’s about the person sitting next to you in the locker room, willing to go down that road with you. It’s about a path not clearly visible that you are willing to travel. It’s about going to battle with those you have come to love and respect ­and to have their backs, knowing they have yours.

They say the end justifies the means. But it is the means – the journey – that matters most. It is the friendships and the memories that will last a lifetime.

Most importantly Monday is the start of an opportunity.

Embrace it. When the end of that road is reached, the only thing that matters is whether or not you enjoyed the ride.

If you remember anything on this day of new beginnings remember the foundation of why we play this game.

Simply, to have fun.