The picture is of my cousin and uncle hugging each other after her very last high school hockey game. The Cousin's team won it's first play off game in it's young history. A few weeks ago they played their first ever 2nd round playoff game in River Falls, a town about an hour and a half south from ours.
The Uncle isn't in the best of health now. Even though his two daughters and hockey are the biggest things in his life, he was strongly advised not to go to the game. A game that could (and turned out to be) his youngest daughter's very last game for a team he was instrumental on starting. A daughter that he taught how to skate, who he helped coach her whole life.
As the above picture shows, he wouldn't listen. He went to the game.
The Cousin has a tremendous amount of determination and love for the game of hockey and there is no question where it comes from. I am beyond proud to be related to these two, and having them be a major part of my life.
The final game of the Cousin's high school hockey career ended in a 3-1 loss. The game was a clean, hard fought battle between to pretty evenly matched teams. The score could have easily been 3-1 in the losing teams favor. I said that honestly, not just because I'm a fan of the loosing team.
The lose and sudden end to season was a bitter pill for the young women of the local team. It was quite a year with some sudden shake ups in the coaching staff, an impressive 12 game winning streak, finishing off with a 2nd round play off game.
Of course, the end was most difficult for the Seniors. Some of them played together since they were five or six years old. While a few will continue to play Division Three level college, many will never play on an organized team again.
Some of the parents were beside themselves too. From all the time spent together at practices and games, making travel arrangements, team sleepovers and putting in volunteer hours at the rinks; a lot of the other girls on the team have become part of their extended families.
After the game players, coaches, parents and fans sort of mulled around the commons area of the rink much longer than normal. We all were faced with the cold truth that it was the end. End of the season. For some the end of a chapter of their life. The last time to lace up the skates and strap on the helmet. The last time to cheer on the daughter, sister, cousin, or friend. The last time to yell (jokingly) "HIT THE NET, LIEN!" or Johnson, or O'Brien when they missed a shot on goal. A game tradition carried on by three fans, also named Lien, Johnson, and O'Brien.
While the team and fans where dragging their feet, not wanting this final moment to end, I became aware of one of the classiest things I've seen. With his involvement in the league, my uncle is known to the River Falls team. They are also well aware of his condition and the shear amount of effort and determination it took for him to simply attend his youngest daughter's game. Quietly and respectfully without any fanfare, they gave him the game puck.
Even though next year the Cousin will be off playing for a college team, I will most likely still catch a few home games of the local team and cheer them on. I will also keep an eye on the stats, scores and standings on the league's website with interest on another team. I'm now also forever a fan of a team from a town south of the home team too.