For the Love of the Game
In his debut column for MHM, KARE 11 weekend sports anchor Dave Schwartz explains how the game has touched his life.
I must admit it’s a little surreal for me to be writing my very first hockey column. It’s a sport that has been near and dear to me from the first time I laced up my skates on my friend’s pond in Selkirk, New York.Like so many others we would get up early in the morning, skate until our parents forced us to take a break, then rush back out and skate until the sun set. Once finished, we immediately devoured every food item we could find.This is how I spent nearly every holiday break as a young man and those days remain some of my fondest memories.I actually didn’t take much to the sport the first time I played organized hockey. My mother took me to my first practice and really didn’t know much about the game other than the fact that she like to watch it. Another one of the parents was nice enough to help me get dressed – although my mother insisted it would be cold on the ice and I should keep my jeans on under my equipment.
Afterward, exhausted and soaked with sweat (I think we threw the jeans out), we drove home and had dinner. Over our meal, I proclaimed to my father that I didn’t really like hockey that much and I’d prefer not to go again. He calmly told me that since he’d just paid hundreds of dollars for the season he’d prefer that I DID finish the year, which was the end of that conversation; boy am I glad it was.
I have spent so many years on the ice but when I began I didn’t know the meaning of offsides. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why anyone else wasn’t on to my brilliant plan of standing by the opposing goalie while everyone else was at the other end. By the time I hit high school the game was my life.
I lived by my superstitions—dress the right side before left side, and always tap each sides of the boards before you enter the ice—and I worshipped Wayne Gretzky (I’ll save the embarrassing story of getting to interview him for another time). When the New York rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994 it was one of the greatest moments of my life.
In Minnesota our fandom for our favorite sport is undying and, although it’s October and the winter is still nothing more than a thought, the Minnesota Wild’s season just got underway and people are paying attention. As young men on the ice fight to make their Stanley-Cup dream a reality, young kids off of it look on with a dream in their eye of one day having the opportunity to do the same thing.
More than five-hundred thousand kids play organized hockey in America but in the NHL there are 30 teams with 50 contracted players per roster. If you do the math it’s plain to see; only a handful will realize that dream. So what is the key? In my years of covering the sport I have come to the realization of a few undeniable truths:
1) You must have an amazing work ethic; if you see someone working harder than you, that desire to go harder has to be real.
2) You must have the God-given ability. Yes, it takes heart but if you don’t have the size, speed or muscular build at some point you reach the end of the line and in a coaches office hearing that familiar speech that a lot of us have heard: “I wish I could put your heart and drive into some of my players”, which, while it seems like a nice thing to hear, is followed by “So your cut”.
3) The players that are most successful are often the ones that are just having a good time. I know this sounds cliché, but watch the NHL’s biggest and brightest stars and you’ll see a commonality a smile that rarely can be wiped from their face.
Look no further than the poster child for Minnesota Wild hockey, Zach Parise. Even with a monster contract that effectively has put the franchise on his shoulders, it’s rare that he doesn’t have that ‘kid without a care’ look on the ice. There is intensity there as well, but you just know he’s having a great time and if you talk with him (after a win) that thought is confirmed. The Wild are lucky to have a Minnesotan with such talent on its roster, both from a competitive standpoint and to recharge a fan base that has seen far too many losses over the years.
But the Wild are far from the only team with successful Minnesotans on the roster. Look throughout the rosters of the 30 team league and it’s rare to not find someone from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that so many started out just as I did, and as you most likely did, using those lakes for an impromptu hockey game.
If you have the opportunity to go to a game this year, take a moment and remember why you fell in love with the game in the first place. It may have been your early years on the pond, the fight for a state title in high school or—if you were lucky enough—the camaraderie of playing collegiately. Maybe it simply serves as a way for you to bond with your son or daughter. Either way it proves why this game we love is so special.
It’s great to have hockey season here once again and I am thrilled to be covering it for Minnesota Hockey Magazine.com. I too had NHL’s dreams as a kid but now I am realizing the next best thing, getting a chance to cover it.