These are some of the best hockey players in the world and I’m ten feet away.
That was the thought running through my head on Saturday and Sunday as I attended the U.S. National Team’s evening practices. Also…
Oh my god, she’s here.
Kendall Coyne, who as far as I know was receiving the Patty Kazmaier award on the east coast Saturday evening was in Everett, Washington Sunday evening to practice. I don’t think it’s contradictory to say, yes I came to see everyone. But I came to see her. She of Northeastern Husky superstardom. Kendall Coyne, the best hockey player on the planet.
In my opinion.
I went, not as media, not as the writer of this blog, but as a fan. I went because I live in Washington state and usually the closest I can get to women’s hockey out here is the 12 hours it takes to drive to Calgary for Inferno games. I went because the last time I was able to see women’s hockey in person was at least four years ago before I moved.
In short, I wasn’t going to miss this for the world.
So I put on my Clarkson hoodie, a relic that has been sewn back up countless times and is now old enough to be in middle school and my Beauts jersey and my Beauts hat and grabbed my Rosie the Riveter women’s hockey tee and drove up Highway 2 into Everett.
Highway 2, on a side note, is an elevated highway that runs straight for two miles over flat fields of nothingness with the Everett Skyline in the distance. It looks like the train tracks into The Capitol of Panem, which is equal parts beautiful and terrifying I suppose.
This years’ Worlds roster is a special treat to me as it skews younger with eight players who are currently in college and several others who recently graduated. Goaltender Jessie Vetter is the team’s oldest player and the only player over 30. The roster only has seven players who were even born in the 80s (Vetter, Kacey Bellamy, Monique Lamoreaux, Meghan Duggan, Hillary Knight, Jocelyne Lamoreaux-Davidson, and Kelli Stack).
I can also honestly say that attending crosses some things off my bucket list.
I’m not prone to hero-worship. At the end of the day athletes are ultimately people, just like you or I. They have highs and lows, likes and dislikes, good days and bad days. It’s easy to idolize them, but they are not idols. They are people. Some of them happen to be very good people.
But it is precisely the fact that they are subject to flaws, and fallacies, and pressures like everyone else that turns ordinary people into heroes. You can be heroic without intending to be, without committing acts of heroism.
I grew up coaching my sisters’ teams, softball not hockey. From the age of 16 when I was old enough to be an official assistant coach to the age of 25 when they aged out of their last league. I was an unofficial coach long before that, starting when I was about 13 and they were 7 and 8 and old enough to play coach-pitch softball.
I’ve been to clinics and watched the older players, the ones on the school teams, teach the younger girls. And that’s who those girls idolize, those 16 and 17 and 18 year old high school players. That’s kind of unfair, having the spotlight of being a hero, a role model thrust upon you before you’re even an adult, but in so many places that’s all young athletes have to look up to.
They didn’t have the MLB or the NBA, or the NFL, or the NHL players to watch and to emulate and to idolize. They barely have the WNBA and the NWSL and the CWHL and the NWHL now.
When I look out onto the ice and watch the US Women’s National Team practice, I see heroes. They aren’t my heroes, but as I can the faces of the crowd, filled with youth players of all ages and even all genders, I can see that they are heroes.
They are women doing what so few women have had the opportunity to do. And they’re inspiring the next generation of women to build on that, to construct new bridges, to blaze new trails.
I like watching that in action as much as I like watching the players themselves. I like having the privilege of taking part in something, even as just a spectator, that is historic and wonderful and meaningful to so many. I like taking a back seat while young boys and girls crowd around the hallway to the locker room for fist bumps and high fives, thrilled to get the attention of their heroes, and seeing the players thrilled to get the attention of their fans.
I like Brianna Decker seeing my Beauts jersey in the stands and chirping: “hey, how’d that championship go?” before expressing genuine appreciation for the jersey and the support. (Maybe next time I go to a USWNT event I’ll sport a Decker jersey.) I’m eternally thankful to Kendall Coyne for taking the time to sign my shirt after what was no doubt an exhausting overnight or early morning flight from the east coast to Washington state.
You know, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they are my heroes. Not in a way where I idolize them or want to emulate them, but in a way where I recognize the tremendous contributions they make, to the game of hockey, to youth players everywhere, to life.
Either way I’m thankful to have gotten the chance to take part.