A Point on the Number Line

With apologies to Trey Anastasio and Phish, today was a trip up and down the number line.

It was the last day of Mites hockey, completing my first year as coach. It’s been deeply satisfying watching these young players progress through the year as players and teammates. I got to work with other coaches who donated their time and patience in copious quantities. We had an amazing group of parents who got their kids all over NJ, frequently before 8:00 am on a Sunday morning, and who cheered, supported and encouraged good sportsmanship in all the right quantities. As I thanked my team last week, after our last tournament game, it was a pleasure to borrow a few hours a week of their lives — as the saying goes, the days are long but the years are very short, and each hour shared with a sports program is a gift to be valued.

Watching the parents and their kids I was reminded of a weekend exactly a decade ago. Bubba was wrapping his second season of travel hockey, competing in a tournament in Lake Placid. With banners, t-shirts and Olympic ephemera reminding you of the Miracle on Ice and the emergence of a particularly American strain of hockey, it’s easy to wish for big things. We found ourselves competing in the bronze medal game; only the winner would take something home other than a lot of memories.

Bubba’s team lost in double overtime.

About an hour into our 5-hour ride home, with Bubba being quieter than usual, I reminded him that with tryouts coming up for the next season, he’d had a chance to “trade up” for jersey #26, the number-sake of favorite Devil Patrik Elias. I had been late to the game (literally) on the day jersey numbers were chosen, and Ben got a second choice. There are so few points of personal selection when it comes to jerseys – the team crest is something you work for; the name above your digits is given to you by heritage, but you get to pick the most obvious part of the design.

“I’m going to keep #8, Dad” was Bubba’s reply, “it’s my number now too”. As all twenty readers know, #8 has been “my number” since 1972 when I became a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Willie Stargell, and it has graced nearly every jersey for which I’ve had the honor of choosing the number. Of all of the moments of 10 years of club hockey and 4 years of high school hockey, from state tournaments to rivalries to the birth of long-term friendships, that ride home remains my favorite.

To quote Jodi Picoult, sometimes the miracle is the thing that didn’t happen.

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