Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"I've Forgotten What Normal Tired Feels Like (part two)

Very late start today, because my life right now is a cutout of me with a cutout of an octopus laid on top, and the octopus arms represent what I need to do in a regular day.

There is nothing sexual in that image. Step away from the keyboard. Now, back to the story.

Eli's first game on Saturday wasn't until 1:30, and of course we were at the rink by 10:30, so early that it wasn't even open.

Why do we go to the rink so early? Because if we don't, or if we go early and the rink isn't open yet, we might wind up 50 yards from the International Bridge and almost go to Mexico. Or something.

McAllen, incredibly, has two ice rinks. Eli's team played all four of its games in the same arena used by the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, seating capacity about 3,500, and it was tremendous.

There were only two other teams in Eli's division: McAllen and Laredo, and they would all play each other twice. Eli's team only included 5 kids from the House+ team that dominated the Dallas tournament, and McAllen and Laredo were both very good, so it was anyone's guess as to who would win. McAllen was a bit stronger than Laredo, though, and Eli's coach chose him to play in goal against McAllen in the opening game of the tournament.

"I can't wait to see Bee Nation!" Eli said before the first game. The McAllen team has an incredible number of fans who wave flags and roar like a crowd of 5,000 people (even though it's more like 100). We expected even more people this time, since the tournament was in McAllen.

"All those people will make me nervous," Eli said.

"Are you kidding me?" I asked. "Instead of stoning five kids on the ice, you're stoning an ENTIRE NATION. That should supercharge you!"

"Hey, it should, shouldn't it?" he said, smiling.

This was a very difficult tournament in terms of helping Eli get mentally prepared. It clearly wasn't as big a deal as the Dallas tournament, and the team wasn't as serious. It's very tough to find a balance in that kind of situation.

We took a short walk before the first game, just because I thought it would help him get his mind set.

"Look, I know this tournament isn't as important as Dallas was," I said.

"It's still important," Eli said, "but you're right. It's not quite the same."

"That's okay," I said. "There are a bunch of nice people here, you get to play four games, and this time you're playing in every one."

He smiled. Sitting on the bench in Dallas for two games had been hard for him.

"Tell me why we're here," I asked.

He didn't say anything for a few seconds, thinking it was a trick question. "For hockey?" he finally said.

"Not exactly," I said. "Yes, but there's more. You always dismiss your chances of playing somewhere at a high level when you get older, but part of you believes that you will, don't you?"

"Oh, I have NO shot," he said. He paused for a few seconds. "Okay, I do think about it."

"And part of you, no matter how crazy it might seem, believes, don't you?"

"Yes," he said. "I do."

"That's why we're here," I said. "Other kids play hockey just to have fun. You have fun, but you also have a dream. These other kids, they're playing for something different than you are. Every shot you face, every save you make, it takes you one tiny step closer to your dream."

"But what if I don't get there?"

"You're already there," I said. "You've already learned how to be really, really good at something. There are moments, and I know you're only 10, but there are moments when you're great, when you already look like you're in the NHL. You have something special that will always be with you, no matter what you do. The same process you've learned for hockey, the same attitude, will work with everything else."

We walked along for a few seconds, just being together.

"Time to go silence Bee Nation," I said.

"Not a sound," he said.

TOMORROW: The last part of this story, I swear.

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