He was smashed into the boards from behind. His helmet struck with an echoing thud and his body crumbled to the ice. The referee, a teen not much older than the players, blew his whistle and skated to the scene. The coaches jumped over the boards and cautiously slid to where he lay. I jumped from my seat in the stands near the blue line and hurried towards my son, looking for signs of movement.
He was never a big kid. He was born small like many twins and did not register on the growth charts until he was nearly four. He was inquisitive and active, often reminding me of the lead character in the Calvin and Hobbes comics. Unlike his father, he never seemed particularly interested in organized sports, preferring instead to play made up games with friends.
At the age of nine he discovered hockey. It happened while attending a birthday party at one of the few ice arenas in South Florida. There were two rinks, one of which hosted the party. The second rink staged a practice by one of the in-house teams. My son made his way to the second rink and watched the players engage in skating and shooting drills before playing an impromptu pick-up game. I believe it was during that game that he fell in love with the sport, relishing the speed and pageantry displayed on a stage of white.
He began skating lessons soon thereafter, and within a couple of months played his first organized game. His skating was at first choppy, but he kept at it and became one of the faster skaters in his age group. He continued to work on his stickhandling but had a habit, common to new players, of sometimes looking down at the puck and losing sight of the action around him.
On the day of the hit he was skating towards the corner of his own zone, trying to reach and clear the puck. He never saw the big kid from the opposing team come at him full speed from behind. The blow therefore caught him by surprise. He had no time to brace for the impact and flew head first into the boards.
Play came to a halt. Players on both teams skated nervously while the coaches knelt over him on the ice. I continued making my way around the rink to the spot where he lay.
Finally, after what seemed like hours but was likely no more than a few seconds, he sat up. He was helped to his feet by the coaches and skated over to his team’s bench while several of his teammates slapped him on the back. He jumped over the boards and sat on the bench next to his coach, who continued talking to him.
The big kid from the opposing team was sent to the penalty box, given two minutes for boarding. The players on the ice lined up for the faceoff. The referee skated over to the faceoff circle, holding the puck in the air for a fraction of a second as he stood between the two faceoff combatants.
The puck was dropped. The game resumed.