Detroit: AftermathWe went to hit golf balls the evening we returned from Detroit, and on the way to the range, we started a post-mortem.
"So how did you feel about how the trip went?" I asked.
"Good," Eli 11.0 said. "Really good."
"I know it's kind of a mad scientist thing, the approach we're taking," I said, "but I also think it's working."
"Dad, it IS working," Eli said. "I could tell when I played against those other kids."
"Well, I think it makes sense," I said. "When you're 18, goalies are distinguished less by technique than they are by athleticism. Plenty of guys will have great technique, but only a few will be great athletes. So playing a lot of different sports, especially ones that require quickness, should really help."
"And it's fun," Eli said.
"That's right," I said. "Lots of kids get burned out on one sport because that's all they play. Even if you don't wind up playing hockey forever, I want you to be happy while you do."
"You don't seriously think I'm going to quit, do you?" he asked.
"Probably not," I said. "But if you did, I want to have great memories of all the fun you had."
"Oh, I have memories," he said.
"And there's one more thing," I said.
"I know how much you want to be great. Not good, but great."
"I do," he said.
"Then when you're at practice, or when you're in a game, it has to mean more to you than anyone else. This sounds hokey, but every game has to be the most important game of your life. It will help you learn how to play at a high level all the time."
"I get that," he said.
"Plus, and this is really important, that's true for life, too. No matter what you do, when you care more than everyone else, when you work harder, you'll succeed. That's exactly how you succeed in anything: have a plan, work harder, and care more. And lots of grown-ups never understand that."
"I understand," he said. "Dad, I know it's almost impossible for me to get to the NHL, but I really want to try."
"I know," I said, "and I respect how much you care. Remember how I said at the beginning of the trip that you just wanted to be in the group that still had a chance?"
"Yes," he said.
"You did it," I said. "You're still in the group, and you're clearly very high in the group. Your life has hundreds of possible futures, but you know what? In at least one of those futures, you do make it. And no matter what happens from here, you earned that future. Do you understand what I mean?"
"I do, Dad," he said. "Thanks. And thanks for doing so much to help me."
He's played three summer league games since coming back from Detroit, giving up three goals in total. One was on a puck in the air that a kid swung at like a baseball bat with his stick, one was on a breakaway, and the last was the third shot of a sequence, after he'd stopped the first two. Every goal that has been scored on him has truly been exceptional.
He's also had some of the best saves of his life, truly spectacular moments where his quickness was just overwhelming. He's stopped shots that he never would have stopped before he went to goalie camp, and he's tightened up his technique so that nothing is getting under or through him.
We also went to play on a real golf course for his birthday, and had a great time, but that's a story for another day.