I took Ryan to evaluations for his hockey house league program two weekends ago. I no longer fear these the way I once did. I watched Ryan do what he normally does. He followed instructions. He tried his best. He was close to the back of the pack in some of the skating drills. At times, his level of engagement wavered, but when a coach came over to talk to him he was quickly focused and back on task.
At the end of the session there was a brief scrimmage period. And in it, I saw Ryan do something I’d never seen. He went into the corner to contest a loose puck. He not only won the puck battle, he maintained possession, eluded a defender and made a strong move to the net to get a shot off.
My mouth opened. I’d seen that level of (appropriate) aggression from him at times, but I had never seen it packaged with a display of skill like that. I stared at Ryan through the glass. He was not impressed with himself, wearing as he was a ho-hum expression as he got back in line for the next drill.
He may not have been excited by what had just happened, but I was. We’ve seen Ryan’s hockey skills progress over the last two seasons, but mostly from a greater understanding of the game. He learned to be in the right place at the right time, and was able to score a bunch of goals as a result. Sure, his physical skills were developing, but rarely, if ever, had I witnessed a moment like this one that showed how much better he was getting.
Don’t get me wrong. My son is not a superstar. I’m not suddenly wondering where he’ll play junior and college. I just want to see him progress and improve, and that little display of skill and power confirmed for me that he was.
All those hours in the backyard, shooting and stick-handling a street hockey ball are making a difference. The public skating sessions where he gets on the ice at the beginning, skates full speed for 90 minutes, and then goes home are helping too. As is the extra hockey clinic he agreed to attend one weekday afternoon each week. After the evaluations I spoke to him about the play I noticed. He remembered, but didn’t find anything remarkable in it.
“I’m trying to be more aggressive this year,” was all he said, as if that was no big deal. We’ve tried to get him to be more aggressive for two years. I guess he’s just ready.
Still, I wanted him to understand that improvement is not an accident. That all of it — the extra clinic, the street hockey, the public skating — is making a difference. I want him to be encouraged to continue all of it by connecting the results to the effort.
Ryan isn’t just making progress with his physical skills. He’s off to a strong academic start in seventh grade, another product of hard work. His diligent study habits show in his early grades. He may not like school work, but he does what he’s told, every single time. If he’s assigned to read 30 minutes at night, he sets an alarm and reads for EXACTLY 30 minutes.
Ryan has also impressed us with his writing, and not only for school. The other day he announced he was going to write recaps of some of our backyard hockey games. Since he always records the stats and has a photographic memory, it’s easy for him to produce a written account of a game from even several months ago.
That’s not the impressive part, however. His writing has grown much more creative and expressive. Having read hundreds of game recaps on NHL.com, he has figured out there’s a format to them, and is able to replicate it in his writing.
As is often the case, it’s the tiny details he includes that impress me most. He figured out that game stories usually have a dateline, indicating where they were written. Suddenly, his game stories carry a dateline of “[Our family name’s] backyard.” I never told him to do that or pointed it out to him. He picked it up on his own and decided to include it.
He follows the format in other ways. Instead of beginning his stories with a factual lead, he now opens with something more abstract. Instead of “Ryan had 17 shots on goal and beat Dad 9-7,” the stories open with lines like “An insane offense and some exceptional goaltending all came for Ryan at the right time,” (one of his actual leads) before delving into the details of the game. It’s a much more advanced style of storytelling, one I haven’t seen from him before.
But my favorite part of his game stories are the quotes he makes up. Again, these follow a formula. A modern game recap usually opens with a soft lead, follows with some game details, then adds a quote from one of the key players or coaches in the game. The quotes are rarely illuminating, and often heavily clichéd. Ryan has been paying attention. Check out some of these gems that sprung from his imagination:
”I can’t believe it,” said Dad. “You know, I was the one who said that Ryan doesn’t really use his glove that much, so I don’t know why he wears it? Well, I got that answer today.”
And then there was this combination of fact, backed up by throw-away quote:
Meanwhile, Ryan continued to create rebound shots and goals on offense. It was the most complete game Ryan has played this season, and it came when things were on the line.
”Right effort at the right time,” Ryan joked with himself.
I think it’s best to share that one in its entirety. The following is completely unedited by me, except to change names:
N. Household- This big lead wasn’t going anywhere.
Two nights after one of the most ridiculous comebacks, Dad built a huge lead, and was determined not to let that happen again, turning out a 9-5 blow out, in which Ryan was eliminated after the second period. Dad had kept him to 1 goal after the second period on 10 shots.
”I lost my temper a bit,” said Ryan in all honesty. “I was shooting harder in the third period than I was at the beginning of the game, and it’s not that my shots were any more accurate. To get this low amounts of goals for whatever reason really ticked me off.”
Maybe, it was because Monday wasn’t out of his father’s head. He didn’t score a boatload of goals, but in goal, he basically shut Ryan out.
The main reason Ryan got so frustrated is that he thought he was going to create a 10 game winning streak. Obviously, with this game, Ryan’s streak was badly disturbed.
”I don’t know why I was that cocky that I was going to get on a 10 game roll. Especially with the 2 straight wins, I needed to come from behind a couple of goals. This is going to be a series like last year, a tight series where we each trade winning streaks,” laughed Ryan.
Before the game, Ryan made many adjustments for 9/11, including a moment of silence, and honoring soldier Lu Lettennu. Also, Ryan sung both “God Bless America” and “The Star Spangled Banner” for not only the people at the game but also the whole neighborhood to hear. It was an honor to those Americans who were thinking about the people that died, on the planes, and in the towers.
Ryan also felt pain after he got rewarded with a loss, but much less pain than other Americans.
”I thought it was really a good thing for him to do,” said his father, obviously pleased with his ceremony. “At the end, yeah, I may have beat his butt. However, the key part of this game was to mainly show Americans that we care for what happened on this day. That’s why a game was scheduled this day.”
Where to start? Progress oozes from every sentence. Imagination. Creativity. Perspective. The ability to observe something, notice a pattern, and reproduce something that follows that pattern — a written version of playing a piece of music by ear.
Ryan is very much on his own timeline, whether as an athlete or a student, but he continues to march forward. I couldn’t be prouder.