The Best of You

Team photo
The team photo. Ryan is at lower-left.

We’ve been here before.

Two years ago, on this same sheet of ice, in fact.

Ryan’s team made the pee wee house league championship game. The contest was tied through regulation and overtime before they fell in a shootout. Ryan’s disappointment was somewhat tempered when he was named the most improved player of the entire league.

Ryan played on street hockey teams that won their division titles, but none of his ice hockey teams got closer than that pee wee team almost two years ago to the day.

It looked as if this day would end the same way. Ryan’s team — our town’s entry in the same middle-school league where he had such a trying season playing for the local rink’s house league last year — fought its tails off but eventually saw a 1-0 lead turn into a 4-2 deficit with just under 10 minutes to play.

Veronica and I exchanged disappointed looks. On the ice, the boys looked defeated after the fourth goal. I saw Coach E. encouraging them from behind the bench. I reminded Veronica that 10 minutes is a lot of time, especially in a youth game.

Dog pile
Game over – time for a dog pile

The scoreboard operator was playing music after every whistle, trying to give the game a big-time atmosphere. It was right around this point in the game when current hits like “Uptown Funk” gave way to one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands — “The Best of You” by the Foo Fighters.

The song is probably about a bitter breakup, but it also comes off as a motivational anthem, at no point more than when Dave Grohl sings “I swear I’ll never give in, and I refuse.”

Far from being flattened by the fourth goal, Ryan’s team came out strong, quickly scoring to bring the get within one goal at 4-3.

At that point the game became a stalemate, with the puck sitting in our end for extended stretches, while our team’s chances at the other end were continually thwarted by a bad bounce here and there.

We stood and urged the boys on. A group of players from the high school team, where Ryan and number of the boys plan to play next year, did the same. I kept checking the clock. Five minutes left. Four. Two.

Celebration
The boys celebrate their achievement

With just over a minute to go, our team’s goalie headed to the bench for an extra attacker. The puck made its way to the offensive zone, where there was a mad scramble in front of the net. It was at the far end of the rink and difficult for us to see, but I saw the referee point at the net to signify a goal before I heard the eruption. The game was tied with 53 seconds left.

There were a few more chances either way before the buzzer sounded. The game would be decided in a five-minute overtime session played at four-on-four to encourage offensive chances.

Veronica and I were fully emotionally invested in this outcome. We wanted this title for Ryan, for the team, for our town. The high-school team, led by the same Coach E, has had low turnout and little success the last few years. The middle-school program was founded in an effort to put some more kids into the pipeline and, as one of the administrators told me at one of the first practices, “save hockey” in our town.

Save hockey? More like this program saved us.

handshake line
The postgame handshake line

As it has so many times, the sport has been a blessing. After his wonderful experience in pee wees, Ryan’s lone year at the middle-school level playing for the rink was very difficult. There were bullying incidents. The team was regularly on the wrong side of lopsided scores. It tested Ryan’s desire to play the sport. In the midst of storm, along came the town team, which has proven to be a wonderful, restorative experience for Ryan. He has rededicated himself to becoming a better player with the goal of making the high school team. He fits in. He feels like he belongs. He proudly wears his team jacket to school.

And now, he is part of a championship team.

It look barely a minute in overtime. A shot hit the back of the net and suddenly everyone was off the bench, gloves, sticks and helmets flying as if it were the Miracle On Ice. There was a trophy. Huge smiles and team photographs.

Ryan didn’t score. He didn’t have an assist. He didn’t get on the ice in the brief overtime. For a moment, he told us he felt undeserving. Nonsense, we told him. He skated a regular shift until deep into the third period.

Ryan exits ice
A jubilant Ryan exits the ice

“How many goals did the other team score while you were on the ice?” I asked.

“Zero,” came the correct answer.

By the time I got to take his picture with the trophy, he was beaming. By the time we got home, the team picture was all over Facebook and we learned the boys would be invited to meet the mayor to receive congratulations. By the time we tucked Ryan into bed, he told us “you may refer to me as ‘champ.'”

You got it, kid.

The last time we were here, I talked about how Ryan was figuratively skating into the unknown. And it was true. It has taken much of those two years for the path to become clear.

There was something else the league administrator told me around the same time he talked of saving hockey in our town. I was explaining Ryan’s diagnosis to him — having always believed it’s best to be upfront with coaches and league officials when it comes to sports. He looked at me and said, “you son is going to be a varsity athlete.”

I never cared if either of my kids excelled at sports. I earned a pile of varsity letters and I was far from a good athlete. But I care about this, because of Ryan’s deep connection to the sport, and the social, emotional and motivational joy it brings him. There was something about this game yesterday that just made it all feel right. Maybe it was the high school players there to cheer on some of their future teammates. Maybe it was the coach, rolling his lines well into the third period of a razor-thin championship game. Maybe it was the look on Ryan’s face when he first put on his team jacket and wore it public skating to hang out with his friends — yes, his actual friends — on the team.

Ryan with the trophy
Ryan with the championship trophy. Representing the Sharks, as always

Perhaps it was no accident we ended up in the town where we are, with an incredible special-ed program and a hockey team in need of saving. Perhaps it was no accident that “The Best of You” was the song that played right as the team was faced with its biggest challenge.

After last year’s test of faith in the sport that means so much to all of us, I can take even more meaning from Dave Grohl’s lyrics. After all, “getting the best of someone” has two meanings. Last year, some of Ryan’s teammates got the better of him. This year, a new team and a new program got the best OUT of him.

Has someone taken your faith?
It’s real, the pain you feel
You trust, you must
Confess
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?

Has someone taken your faith?
It’s real, the pain you feel
The life, the love
You die to heal
The hope that starts
The broken hearts
You trust, you must
Confess

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?

I’ve got another confession my friend
I’m no fool
I’m getting tired of starting again
Somewhere new

Were you born to resist or be abused?
I swear I’ll never give in
I refuse

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9 thoughts on “The Best of You

  1. Please congratulate your son for me on his team victory!

    I swear, having stumbled on your blog is the best “feel great” thing that happened to me this year. Reading about your son’s (and his family’s) “evolution” through the years have made me feel proud even though I’ve never met him personally. Thank you for teaching me about the joy and yes, the pain of parenting a child on the spectrum.

    Like

  2. Great Story, thanks for sharing. I look forward to hearing about Ryan’s HS successes. It is so worth it.

    You remember Tom’s story. His team made it to the final 4 in our state.

    This is a twitter post that Tom posted last week ( I deleted school & names);

    “I can’t believe it’s all over, best hockey season of my life. I’m truly thankful to be a ********. I’ve always dreamed of playing high school hockey one day but the chances where so low. This team has change my life I cant even described the amount of fun I’ve had this year, so many great memories have been maid this season. I’m so thankful to actually be on this team. We give it 100% at practice everyday and when things go down we never give up NEVER Because that’s what ******** is all about. S/O to all the seniors on a great high school hockey career, you’ve all inspired me in many different ways but A big S/O to ******(injured player) you’ve supported us all the way and you deserve better. Thank you for everything guys and let’s take it to the off season and come back strong.”

    So keep Ryan on the path to HS Hockey!!

    Like

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