Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Detroit, One More Time (part two)

"I don't feel nearly as tired this time," I said to Eli 14.8 as we sat around the hotel room on Thursday, the day before the start of the tournament.

"Me, either," he said. "After being here for almost two weeks, coming for just four days feels like nothing."

"A day trip," I said, and he laughed.

This was looking strong, even though the tournament was scary. His team, even though it was all 15u kids, were playing in the 16u division. So not only was Eli playing in his first AAA tournament, he was even playing up a division.

It all felt good, though. Eli had great preparation, he didn't seem nervous in the least, and he was happy to be playing.

One of Eli's goalie coaches at his camp, who I think is the best goalie coach in the country (and based on the number of draft picks he's coached in the last decade, I don't think there's any question), had agreed (on only two days notice) to give him a private lesson. It was going to be very calming to be around someone he was close to, plus he's such an amazing coach that you take an hour of time whenever you can get it.

Eli had gone to camp the first week in August last year. Since then, he'd had zero coaching. He was his own coach, and it had taken him a long, long way this season. Getting quality instruction, though, was going to be crucial for him going forward.

We were sitting in the locker room, talking until coach showed up, and Eli was getting continuous texts from a friend who was in Tech Theater with him. That's been Eli's favorite class this year, and he'd partnered with his friend to make this incredibly intricate scale model of Hagrid's Hut, including a little Lazy Susan element that you could use to open the house up and see inside.

Here's the hut when closed:

And here it is when opened:

The project was getting judged by the entire school, right as he was getting dressed out, and he thought they had a chance to win (a freshman project had never won, or even finished higher than third).

"This is part of the sweep now," Eli said, laughing, as he checked his phone.

Since this is non-hockey drama, and there's way too much left to write about, I'll spare you the drama: they won. Right in the last moments, of course.

Eli found out about thirty seconds before he skated out. "The sweep lives!" he said.

I thought this was going to be a pretty low-key lesson, but this goalie coach isn't low-key. He's intense, and precise, and challenging, and he worked Eli's ass off. Worked and worked and worked.

Most of it was skating, which was even harder. Getting to places in powerful, precise ways. Understanding which technique to use in which situation. Goalie nerd stuff, really, and since Eli is a goalie nerd, he loves the discussions. Here's  a picture of them on the ice together:

When they were done, Eli was starving, so we went to California Pizza Kitchen for the same meal that he's had 500 times. Then we went back to the rink to watch his coach work with one of his OHL goalies.

The kid was incredible, and nice, too, because we met him afterwards.

Time to go back to the hotel. Perfect day.

About five minutes from the rink, Eli starts groaning. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"Don't know," he said, clenching his teeth. "Stomach." The groaning got louder and louder, and we pulled over at a gas station.

Fifteen minutes later, he came out of the bathroom, and he was white as a sheet, barely walking. "Buddy?" I asked, taking his arm.

"Not good," he said.


"Everything," he said.

"Going to the bathroom?"

"Everything," he said.

I helped him back into the car and Gloria drove us to the hotel.


He went to bed at 9 p.m., and I sleep with him on trips because we run the same schedule, unlike Gloria, who stays up much later and gets up earlier. I laid in bed for hours, wondering how this had suddenly gone so wrong.

The last time I remember looking at the clock before I fell asleep was 2:22 a.m. I was awake again at 6:12 a.m.

Eli wasn't waking up until 9, if he could sleep that long. I just stayed in bed and stared at the ceiling.

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