Gone Celebratin’

Today’s post will be a brief one. I was up way too late and am way too sore after taking part in my office hockey tournament last night.

It’s an annual event we hold to celebrate the game we all love. We put together four teams, order jerseys, fret over the player draft, and spend way too much time matching lines and plotting strategy. And then the puck drops and all of us, from the 20-somethings that played in college to the 30- and 40-somethings who fall somewhere between beginner and highly skilled, play as if the real Stanley Cup was on the line.

When it was over, nearly collapsed from exhaustion four-plus hours and five games since we took the ice to warm up, the victorious team takes the trophy and skates it all over the rink, passing it from teammate to teammate and taking pictures with it. Champagne is sprayed and beer is consumed from the tiny “cup” that sits atop the trophy.

As I was celebrating — I’m sorry, did I forget to mention that my team won? Silly me. Look for the 5,000-word recap in a later post — I thought of Ryan.

Office Champs!
Office Champs! (Actually, this was from my first 'cup' win, two years ago. Did I mention I've won it twice in three years?)

The first thought was that I wanted to share this triumph with him. He has made it quite clear that he only cares about NHL hockey, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying to engage him in the progress of my men’s league team or my weekly pickup games we co-workers. He’s come to see me play once or twice and I loved looking up and seeing him and his sister in the stands. (On the other hand, I could have done without him asking why we were so slow. Baby steps.)

I looked forward to telling him about the tournament and our victory and hoped he would care. Veronica prompted him to ask this morning, but he followed up with a question about the final score, which is a sign of his engagement in a game. He never wants to know just who won or lost, he wants the score and often the order of scoring so he can reconstruct the game in his mind (and decide if it was a “butt-kick”).

But on a deeper level I thought about just how social it is to take part in team sports, and why we want that experience so much for him. Some of the co-workers on my team I’ve known for years while others I knew less well. But on a team, even one thrown together for a one-night tournament, we were quick friends. Around the office today there will be a few more smiles and nods, non-verbal acknowledgements to teammates of what we had accomplished together.

It is that experience I want for Ryan. To be part of a group with a common goal, to laugh over the wins and fret over the losses together.

And I also hope each and every day that his obsessive interest in hockey will continue because it serves as a bridge to social relationships with other kids who like the sport. Maybe not in the same way that Ryan does, but it still provides them at least a common topic for discussion in a way that past interests — garage doors — cannot.

I have seen my son carry on conversations with drunken Bruins fans, ask typical questions of NHL players, and even discuss his favorite teams with a legendary hockey announcer. When the topic is hockey, his social deficits lessens and he is never closer to “typical.”

The sport has also provided a basis for a closer relationship between father and son, and for that I am forever grateful. Ryan reinvigorated my interest in the sport. Before he asked to go skating that first time, I had not been on skates in nearly a decade. Now I play twice a week. I would go entire seasons without attending a single game as a fan. Now we are season-ticket holders.

And so as I carried that silly trophy around last night, grinning from ear to ear, taking swigs of celebratory Champagne with my teammates and generally having the time of my life, I thought of the debt I owed Ryan. Without the interest he expressed in the sport, I would not have been on that rink enjoying myself. I would not have the hundreds of hours of shared quality time spent with my son watching the game.

I recently met a researcher who is studying the effects of playing hockey on children with autism. When asked why he decided to put these kids on the ice in the first place, he told the story of how hockey had saved him from a wayward path as a youth and put him on the track to become a clinician. I smiled in acknowledgement, because I feel the same way about the sport. Maybe “saved” is too strong a word, but it surely has brought our family closer together and helped see us through some difficult times.

So thank you, Ryan, for bringing this game back in to my life in such a meaningful way. Now, if you don’t mind, would you fetch daddy some ice and Advil?

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