Ryan and I have been engaged in an epic backyard street-hockey series since the beginning of the NHL playoffs. With me getting ready to head off on a business trip, I pushed him to figure out when the series would end. Since Ryan was keeping track of everything — wins and losses, shots on goal, save percentages, goals-against averages, “home” and “road” records, even who won the pregame odds/evens to decide who shot first — we couldn’t just leave things hanging.
We looked at the calendar. We crunched the numbers. I got him to agree to play more than one game on weekend days — hello, flexibility — and we figured things out. The series would end Sunday. We would play something like 11 games over the weekend to decide the champion.
Ryan informed me that more than pride was on the line. Apparently, I agreed to a pre-series “bet” wherein the winner gets to make the loser do anything he wants for an unlimited time. I protested that I did not recall any such wager. My protests fell on deaf ears, but I did get Ryan to promise my sentence would last somewhere between one week and one day, and would have something to do with stats.
Undeterred, we played on. Sometimes I tried to managed the outcome. Sometimes I succeeded, other times I did not. He’s getting better. He’s getting stronger. My bare hand got so sore from blocking the hard plastic street-hockey balls that I went and fetched a hockey glove to serve as my goalie glove. Ryan protested, but I allowed him use of the glove on his turns in net and he agreed (again, flexibility!).
Two specific things I noticed about his hockey skill made me happy. When passing the ball back to him (usually after fishing it out of the back of the net) I often used my goal stick to lob it high in the air. Many times, he simply used his stick blade to knock it right out of the air on the ground in front of him. This is a terrific display of hand-eye coördination, one that I’m not great at, so I was happy to observe this ability. The other thing I noticed is the accuracy of his shots. He absolutely wore me out by shooting just over my “glove” hand and into the top few inches of the miniature goal net. And he was able to do it over, and over, and over. And over.
As he was continually able to score in this spot I challenged myself to see if I could stop the shots if I guessed that’s where they were coming. Sometimes I could, sometimes he scored anyway. And sometimes, he figured out I was guessing, shot for the other corner, and scored anyway. I’m sure his improved accuracy is a result of repetition. He often goes outside and shoots in the few minutes he has between being ready for school and needing to leave to catch the bus. It appeared all that practice was paying off.
The games went back and forth. I won a few to get closer or pull even, he won the next one to reclaim the lead. Finally we arrived at a 19-19 tie with one game left to play for the championship. This may or may not have been exactly how I drew it up.
We took a break before the big game. When we were ready, I went outside (after Ryan, because he informed me as the home team, I needed to take the ice last — no details get past that kid, I tell you).
Before we could play, the anthem had to be sung. He sometimes sings the anthem before playing with his Hockey Guys, but this was a first. I stood at attention and removed my hat because I knew he would be upset if I didn’t. He proceeded to belt out the Star-Spangled Banner. It was too good not to share, so I pulled out my phone and was able to record the second half. Here, take a look:
The game began. Even if I was trying to lose — which I’m not saying I was — I had no chance. I couldn’t stop his shot. I couldn’t find the net with mine. It wasn’t close. Ryan won easily, and won the series, 20-19. You know what they say about the 39th game of a series — not everyone is cut out to play in a Game 39. I guess I’m one of those.
As soon as we shook hands he was off to type up the stats as he had done after each of the earlier 38 games. We talked about the “bet” some more. He said he still had to figure out what it was going to be. It’s been five days and he’s still working on it. I’m a bit afraid.
I made him promise that we can play over the summer even though the NHL season will be done, as this series has been tied to Stanley Cup Playoffs. I was afraid he would pronounce no new games until October, but he agreed.
When we have talked on the phone during my trip, he still asks about the series. Did he win because he played well, or was it because I played poorly? Who was the most valuable player in the series? Was it Ryan the shooter, Ryan the goalie, Dad the shooter, or Dad the goalie? Inspired by that question, he went back and picked out the three-star selections, a staple of professional hockey, for each of the 39 games. He typed each in a separate Word document, and then emailed all 39 of them to me.
It used to bother me that Ryan felt the need to keep stats for everything. I would implore him to ignore these breaks between games and continue to play. But they are important to him and I have recognized that it’s part of how he regulates himself. I still need occasional reminders.
But I’m glad we have a record of this series, which lasted about seven weeks. All the Word documents are empirical evidence of a lot of quality time spent together. It is time that I miss with an ache when we are separated, and I can’t wait to play again when I return.