Jim Furlong: The Bus is Waiting

(This article was posted in our April 22-28 issue)

It was a week ago last Friday that I went down to the Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay. I was there to pick up advance tickets for the Herder games that were scheduled. When I arrived, there were lots of cars in the parking lot. The occasion was the Atlantic Triple A Bantam Championships. 

There was a big bus in the lot, parked with its engine running. It was waiting for a game to end and the players to come out. The driver was having a smoke out by the front door. 

There were some players’ parents milling around near the door to the arena… the way hockey parents do. They were sipping coffee and talking about the tournament and their team’s progress, or lack of it. Some had come from afar and others had not. It was all part of the world of hockey and parenting.

Part of Something Larger

Hockey is often the first place where children separate from their parents. Those children become part of something larger which is a team and, as parents; you can’t help them once the game starts. They are on their own. 

My boys all played hockey and the sights and sounds around Jack Byrne Arena last week washed over me and brought me to other times with my children before school and employment and bills overtook my sons’ lives and they became adults and hockey, to varying degrees, faded way. There would still be hockey, but it wouldn’t be the centre of their winter lives.

The Jack Byrne tournament reminded me of good times around hockey in different rinks across the province. My wife and I never missed a tournament in which any of my boys played. She and I drove in the family van. 

Whichever son was playing that weekend travelled, of course, on the bus. He was part of a different world in hockey where teammates are close and look out for each other. It is a different family.

That’s difficult to understand if you aren’t hockey parents, but it is true. In a specific situation and for a limited time, teammates become as important as parents. ‘The team’ takes on a life of its own. 

I remember a tournament in Marystown where, between games, my son was standing dressed in his team jacket with some other guys from the hockey team. They looked so cool. They had, in the arena stands, the confident air of young lions gazing lazily out over some distant African veldt. They were young and in control and in hockey.

I liked the games and the hockey rinks. I liked the tournament programs and the hospitality rooms set up by the parents of the host team. There you could get a free coffee and a doughnut and maybe even chili. It was all marvellous and all part of hockey. 

The ‘Easter tournaments,’ like the one at Jack Byrne and a score of other rinks across the province, let a lot of young players broaden their horizons. There are AAA tournaments like at Jack Byrne, but there are as well B and C tournaments right down to tiny communities and F and G levels. 

Growing up

It is all part of the hockey world and for the players, part of growing up. TriCom Thunder eventually won the AAA midget tournament. Tricom was the organization my boys played in.

Later that night when I was home I heard on television about the Humboldt Broncos bus crash and the players that died. I tried not to imagine what it must have been like for parents, but you can’t shut those thoughts down easily. 

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