I will always remember a very candid and private conversation with my long time coach and mentor that changed the game of hockey for me forever.
After an up and down rookie campaign in 1993, I was looking forward to my second full season as a Purple Knight. I wasn’t the prototypical high school hockey player or student for that matter.
I’m not sure why but I didn’t feel compelled to go out and party every weekend and drink with the boys. I was a quiet private kid that minded my business and took my studies and the game of hockey seriously. Looking back on it, I had played with some of the same guys since I could remember and I considered them my friends. The only place where I felt comfortable enough to talk and voice my opinion was the dressing room.
For some reason, I became a target, I’m not sure why and to this day I still try to put my finger on it. We had a great bunch of guys, maybe they wanted me to conform or something or perhaps the quiet guy was growing old in their minds.
The game of hockey meant so much to me on so many levels but half way through my Gr. 11 season it had became apparent that I was an outcast. It was hard trying to hide in the dressing room, what others considered playful ribbing hurt my psyche and cut very deep. The constant ribbing became more intense and started to take a toll on me personally on and off the ice.
I didn’t know where or who to turn to, we had great coaches and were a successful team, had good chemistry when we stepped on the ice, but the feeling of dread I felt coming to the rink was starting to consume my very existence. I became a pro at suiting up fast and wouldn’t waste anytime before and after games. I felt so alone at times but a few of the quieter veteran guys surrounded me and for that I’ll be forever grateful. In some weird way, I believed that if I approached the coach with any of this I would be treated like even more of an outcast.
Unfortunately it took another incident on the team that would eventually change everything for me and give me the chance to love hockey again. I will never forget my mentor coming and pulling me out of class, the walk down to his office in the basement of the school seemed like it took an eternity.
When I entered his office I was reluctant to talk knowing full well what the conversation was going to be about. My mentor didn’t waste any time and didn’t hold back. Are you ok, Craiger, he asked. “Yeah I’m alright,” “that’s what the other guy said, he replied and he’s gone and I don’t want to lose you. Tell me what’s going on and who it is and it will end right now and this will never happen to you again.”
I was hesitate at first to say anything but he made it so easy to talk about what was happening to me and was very receptive and understanding. With my voice shaking I started to talk “well I’m not ok, I tried so hard to keep my emotions in check but I was so sick of hiding and being a target. I just had to say something for my own sanity and peace of mind moving forward.
A conversation that lasted ten minutes changed everything for me. We exchanged a handshake and he tapped me on my back as I walked out. In a span of a ten-minute conversation my long-time coach and mentor gave me back the game of hockey.
In ten minutes, he took all the damage that was suffered away just by listening and understanding what I was going through. As always, he was true to his word, the dressing room culture changed immediately.
A supportive understanding coach that is transparent and receptive to discussing more than X’s and O’s can positively influence and impact their player’s in so many different ways.
As I reflect some twenty-three years later and remember the impact that his words had on me. I strongly believe he was well before his time when dealing with issues surrounding the game of hockey. He always had the pulse of his teams but more importantly he helped shape us as people and was always there for us on and off the ice.
That conversation still resonates with me some twenty-five years later, I will never forget the impact he had on my life as a player, coach, teacher and friend.
I miss you Dale, We all miss you,