Through a series of Facebook posts and texts, I was told a cousin was coming to town to watch the Boys’ State High School Hockey Tournament. I requested PTO for most of Thursday.
With so much on my mind prior to the game, I didn’t have time to realize what this tournament meant. To me. To my cousins. To her kids.
After paying for parking in the River Centre lot, I ran up the ramps, booked it up the stairs, and raced through the skyway, down another flight of stairs, and wound up winded at Gate 1. My cousin-in-law met me there, reached across security and handed me my ticket. As soon as I was in, he was off to find mini-donuts for the kiddos, and I was off to find his kiddos!
My cousin and her kids were in their seats, watching warm ups. Greeting her and the kids with hellos and hugs, I took my seat and took it all in.
The sight of fans flooding into the arena. The sounds of pucks hitting the boards. The smell of popcorn and pizza. The feeling of familiarity. The emotion of family.
I realized that it was 15 years ago that I sat next to my cousin, sans kids and husband, and watched Cousin B, her brother, play for the same team. It seemed like just yesterday, yet a lifetime ago. Now, his nephews and niece sat watching his former team with admiration and anticipation. The boys talked of their favorite players, I commented on the hockey flow of various players and was met with approving smiles from my cousin’s oldest. The boys and their almost two-year-old sister bounced up and down during the game.
Oh yeah, the game. It was tight, tense, and terribly entertaining. The scoring chances caused fans to rise from their seats, clap their hands, and voice their emotions via screams.
In between blocked shots, offensive explosions of pucks banging on pipes, and open-ice-hits, I munched popcorn with the kids thanks to my cousin’s youngest. She offered me kernel after kernel with a simple “hereyago” and a smile. She squished up mini-donuts in her tiny hands and stuffed them in her mouth. After enjoying one full mini-donut, she handed me a piece of one. Fully engaged in the play at hand, I blindly accepted the treat with a sing-song “thank you” and placed a soggy donut in my mouth. Needless to say, I purchased my own food at the next intermission.
With 17 minute periods, the game ended. The outcome was not what we hoped it would be. The tension and nerves that coursed through us, vanished at the sound of the other team’s victory. Our minds accepted the loss, but our hearts still beat with the energy of a State Hockey Tournament game. Somehow with age, I had forgotten the thrill and absolute terror of attending a Tourney game. The roller coaster of emotions. The jumping and hugging and arm raising of a goal. The quietness that washes over the crowd when the other team scores. How much your mind and heart were set on a win. The ultimate let-down of a loss. The heart-break in watching young boys hang their heads in disappointment.
That was that. The team we cheered on would head to Mariucci for consolation games. But we would not be back at the X for more of the Tournament.
While sad for the team, it was a game I hope to not forget. It was a full circle moment. A time when I could watch my cousin’s kids enjoy their first time at the Tourney. Fitting since my cousin was their for my first State Tourney in the early 90s. Then again in the mid 90s. And lastly in the late 90s.
That’s what the Tournament is about. Families reuniting, sharing the tradition with the next generation. Seeing old friends. Bumping into celebrity coaches and players. Watching the best high school hockey in the country. Cheering on and against kids who will make D1 and NHL rosters.
Full circle moments.