As parents, we want the best for our children. We wish for them to find something they're passionate about, that brings them joy, and to share in their successes and cheer them on when things go well, and offer a listening ear and shoulder to lean on when they don't.
For our 19-year-old son, Parker, one of those passions has always been hockey. From the first time he hit the ice at the age of two at our local outdoor community rink to his first half-ice Timbits game at the age of five to what I thought was his very last game at the age of 17 in his senior year of high school, it's been an incredible journey.
And now, much to our pleasant surprise, it continues to this day. A funny thing happened on his way to late-night beer league skates with buddies, where Mom and Dad would typically stay far away for fear of completely embarrassing the boy.
Welcome, folks, to the world of junior B hockey.
No, it's certainly not the NHL, or the AHL, or the ECHL in the pro ranks. Locally, the WHL and MJHL would also rank above the Capital Region Junior Hockey League, which is considered on par with the MMJHL in terms of player calibre. But none of that matters. Not to him, not to us, not to his teammates with the North Winnipeg Satellites and not to the other players with the Arborg Ice Dawgs, Lundar Falcons, St. Malo Warriors or Selkirk Fishermen.
Our first introduction came last year, when Parker decided to go for the tryout skates, made a solid impression and was signed to a roster that included more than a dozen 17 and 18-year-old rookie players. In a league that allows players up to age 21 to compete, that meant some growing pains were in store.
Try two wins on the year. In 32 games. Ouch.
But just as it was never about making it to the "show," it's also not about wins and losses. Sure, a little more success would have been sweet. But a chance to keep playing the game he loves, with one home game, one road game and a practice or two each week, while also juggling full-time school and part-time work, was a dream scenario.
And so he's back for a second year, on a Satellites team that's now a little older, a little wiser and is already showing signs of improvement. Manager Cliff Malzensky, head coach Don Gibson and assistants Donnie Thiessen, Kyle Grand and Derian Emes have done a stellar job of getting the boys ready.
A 5-2 season-opening win Friday night in Arborg was a good start, especially after an early 2-0 deficit was followed by unanswered goals from Ethan Reid, Angel Gjorgievski, Evan Harrison, Kolden Schwenzer and Damian Bates. Goaltender Wyatt Emes did his part with 44 saves. Hey, we're already halfway to last year's win total, with 31 games left on the schedule!
You'll recall Friday happened to be the first day of NHL free agency, when the Winnipeg Jets reacquired Paul Stastny in a trade, made a series of smaller signings and had general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff speak late in the afternoon. And while completing my work that day was priority one, not missing a second of my son's out-of-town game was a very close second.
And so I finished writing the last of my three Free Press pieces in the back seat of the car as I, along with my wife and parents, made the hour-long drive to watch the team, which travelled by bus. We made it moments before the 8 p.m. puck drop.
Game two was a little less stressful in terms of the life/work balance, as the Satellites hosted St. Malo Tuesday night at Billy Mosienko Arena, the first of 16 home dates that will be held every Tuesday going forward.
COVID-19 protocols have made things look a bit different this season, including a maximum 90 spectators allowed. And so we lined up in the parking lot, along with other parents, family members, friends and strangers to begin the very orderly process of getting into the rink. One by one, masked spectators paid their $10 entry fee ($5 for seniors and students) and filled out a form that includes your name and phone number for potential contact tracing.
There was no traditional playing of O Canada prior to the start of the game. Officials blew plays dead a little quicker than usual, especially when the puck was frozen along the boards, to prevent big scrums from occurring. There was no post-game handshake line. But between whistles the action was as fast-paced and exciting as we've come to expect, with both teams trading plenty of scoring changes, lots of big hits and some terrific goaltending.
Make no mistake, these are good, skilled players, including many kids who spent most of their teenage years playing AAA hockey and some who have had stints in the MJHL and MMJHL and are now savouring the opportunity to keep playing for another few years while juggling the other responsibilities of young adulthood.
The Satellites lost a hard-fought 4-2 decision to the Warriors, who along with the Fishermen were the cream of the crop in the league last season. (Unfortunately, the pandemic brought the league to a screeching halt just as the best-of-five final was set to begin.) Highlights included Parker getting accidentally rocked with a beautiful hit thrown by a teammate — whoops! — and setting up his team's first goal of the game, scored by Alex Loudfoot.
The Satellites will get seven more cracks at the Warriors this season. As a five-team loop, every team plays each other eight times — four home, four away — before the playoffs begin in late February.
And we'll be there, at Billy Mosienko and the character barns in Arborg, Lundar, St. Malo and Selkirk, to watch as much of the action as possible. If you're looking for a live, local hockey fix — especially with the Jets, Moose and Ice all currently sidelined — I'd invite you to come watch these hard-working kids doing something they love.
Same goes for MJHL and MMJHL games. There's never been a better time to get out and show your support for grassroots local hockey in a safe, physically distant way.
I wrote a column near the end of what I thought was going to be Parker's final competitive season about how difficult saying goodbye would be, just because the sport — and our time shared together in it — meant so much to us. Building character, learning about the value of teamwork and good work habits and forming lasting friendships, both at and away from the rink, have always been the real takeaways.
In that sense, we're thrilled by the fact our son has gone into a bit of an unexpected "overtime." Now into a 15th straight season, we will continue to treasure every moment we get together in a rink, recognizing that time truly is fleeting.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.