It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… well, not really. Unlike last year’s Snowmageddon, we have yet to have a winter storm. Heck, it was over 50 degrees on Thanksgiving. Wearing short sleeves around the house in late November just ain’t right, so we took matters into our own hands and spent the weekend inside of the ice rink. It was 20 Prospect Jr.’s thanksgiving hockey tournament, so we spent 3 days on retreat with the hockey cult.
According to dictionary.com, a cult is: “a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better description of youth hockey than that one. Hockey parents tithe up to 10% of their annual salary to the church of youth hockey. Our weekend revival was held at the Basilica of St. Herbie, and attended by teams from all over Minnesota, and as far afield as Thunder Bay, Ontario. Yes, we have so damn much hockey that even the Canadians feel compelled to come down for ecumenical services.
For folks from the Southern parts of the country, it can be hard to understand just what cultural similarities exist between your stereotypical Bubba sipping moonshine from a mason jar, and the average youth hockey parent. Trust me, they have more in common than you think.
Oh sure, there are plenty of articulate, professional parents in tony suburbs like Edina & Wayzata that sign their kids up for youth hockey. I’m sure that most of them even have a full set of teeth. But don’t let their socio-economic status fool you for a second. That only means they can afford nicer SUV’s to lug their children’s foul smelling hockey gear from rink to rink. It also means they can afford a better class of liquor in their basement bar. The one room in the house that is usually adorned with a framed & signed game worn jersey, and a Terrence Fogarty print.
Painting by Terrence Fogarty
For the average hockey parent an old pickup truck with a gun rack, and an association sticker in the back window will suffice. Sure, Jr. may need to thaw the pads out before he can put them on in the morning, but that just builds character. Why back in their day they practiced outdoors in -40F windchills at 4 in the morning, and they never complained once.
Youth Hockey in Minnesota is a community based affair. The state is carved up into Dioceses by the Hockey Sanhedrin, each one running its own season, and annual tournaments. Teams are based on geography that usually coincides with school district boundaries. So if you want your little Wayne Gretzky to play hockey for the Edina Hornets you need to either live in the Edina School District, or send them to school there. So from age 5 until they graduate from High School kids will be raised to play beneath the same set of colors as their neighbors and classmates. The local
chapels rinks are adorned with photos and jerseys of the pantheon of saints that have gone before; NHL & Olympic stars that grew up on these very same sheets of ice, and played in these very same colors as our boys and girls. It’s a quaint Norman Rockwell-esque tradition that is also effective at turning youth sports into a religious class war, and really, what’s not to love about that?
As I detailed last year with the story of the drunk referee, us folks in the North Metro fall a little farther from Edina on the political and economic spectrum. This is where Jesse Ventura won 60% of the vote during his surprise election, but even among the rednecks of Anoka County, hockey parents are a breed apart. Yeah, we’ve got our share of McMansion enclaves, but they are usually outnumbered by the trailer parks. The coffee cups that the coaches on the bench are holding are not filled with lattes from Starbucks, but brown tobacco spit. Hell, on Saturday I even saw a woman walk up to a trashcan at the rink, and hork a lugee into it. We are high class folk up here.
Of course, that will all change once Jr. signs that Pro-Contract. Once our kids are playing in the NHL, us redneck hockey parents will be awash in cash. We’ll run right out and buy a new pair of snowmobiles, and a pickup truck. Then we’ll build a 5 bedroom log cabin on a lake up North with the signing bonus. It’ll be like the Beverly Hillbillies moving to Alaska.
Until then, we’ll just bide our time in the congregation, standing along the glass in our parka’s and pack boots, stealing sips from the little flask of “hot cocoa” we keep in our chest pocket. Just another winter weekend in Minnesota.