An entire herd of undersized skaters decked out in hockey equipment half-stomped down the hallway, the way one does when wearing ice skates on a quarter-inch thick rug mat covering a concrete floor. The black carpet turned to the left, and the line of blue and white jerseys followed it into the tunnel, at the end of which was an arena and thousands of cheering fans. This was The Tunnel, the Players Tunnel, the exact same tunnel that professional hockey players use when they leave their dressing room and take the ice for a game.
My two oldest sons and I attended the Cincinnati Cyclones game last night, as part of an event with the junior hockey association that oversees their instructional league. Not only was it their first time to see a professional hockey game (they’ve been to a few of my beer-league games, but trust me, those can be considered hockey by only the slimmest of margins), they also had the opportunity to skate on the ice and play a sort of scrimmage game during the first intermission.
They had a great time, both when on the ice and watching the game. Word on the street is that it could have been even more special for me than for them.
It might have only been scrimmage hockey and it might not have been Joe Louis Arena in front of a packed-house of 20,000 fans, but I’m pretty sure it’s something both of them will remember into adulthood.
It’s amazing how five minutes of one’s life can be a warm, welcome memory when considered even decades later.
I remember quite fondly a span a few days when I was younger that my brothers and I got to be in a production of Annie Get Your Gun at the high school where Dad taught. We were extras, really, not even named characters, and we only took the stage near the end of the show. But it was an opportunity to be backstage with all the Actual Actors and Actresses and be a part of all the hustle and bustle that goes with a live play. Now, sure, the performers were just high school students, but I was only 7 or 8; high school students were complete grown-ups as far as I was concerned.
There were only three or four nights when we “entered, stage right” near the end of act three, clinging desperately to our father so as not to get lost in the blinding lights or swallowed somehow by what seemed the largest audience ever assembled. Sure, it was a little scary at the time, but I clearly remember how exhilarated I felt when we went backstage afterwards to get out of costume. I still dust off those old memories sometimes and regard them happily as something very cool that not everyone has a chance to do in life. I still smile when I see the pictures of a little me in that play hanging in my parents’ house.
So many things are still to come in the young lives of my two older sons that years from now last night’s experience will likely be just a tiny sliver of memory. But if I was a betting man, I’d happily wager that they’ll long remember the night they got to walk down that tunnel, even if they never play hockey again.
I’ve never skated on the ice the boys took last night, and I probably never will. But that’s fine with me. The shiver I got last night when I took the picture below is proof to me that I’ve already experienced something a little more special.
The shiver wasn’t from being cold.