I never thought the time would come.
On Sunday, I took off my jersey and untied my skates for the last time. Sure, there will be beer leagues and drop-ins, but it will never be the same.
Throughout the last 20 years of my life, I dedicated my life to hockey. Some of my first memories growing up are roller blading around my garage at my old house in Traverse City, Michigan, making up situations in my head. We all did it. It’s the championship game in overtime, and the puck is on your stick.
I remember sitting on my Dad’s lap and watching Pittsburgh Penguins games with him. He would occasionally have a rum and Pepsi with him in a big glass, and when he’d jokingly offer me a sip, I always forgot there was booze in it and would take a drink anyway, only to spit it out in disgust.
I met my first friends through hockey, many of whom I still keep in contact with to this day. There’s something about the game that creates untouchable bonds between a group of people. Bonds that distance doesn’t break, which is something so rare.
Looking back, I was pretty lucky with all the things I got to experience. I got to be a captain in high school, juniors and college; I broke scoring records; I was first-team all-state twice; I got to play competitively until I was 23 years old.
However, there is no accomplishment that begins with the letter “I” that will ever come close to what I will miss most about playing hockey. One thing you learn early in hockey, is how much more important “we” is than “I.” The things I will miss most aren’t scoring goals, big hits and back-door feeds. I’m going to miss the locker room, the road trips, the stories, the chirps, the parties, the heads that turn when everyone walks into the bar together, and just the overall atmosphere that is created when a team is clicking on all cylinders.
“I did it for the story” lives deep inside many of us.
There is something to be said about hockey players. We’re a breed unlike any other, and it may be cliché, but the only way to understand it is if you have been a part of it. It’s never just a team, it’s a family. You will fight with your family, but when it comes down to it there isn’t a thing in the world you wouldn’t do to look after them.
Hockey has taught me more about life than anything else on this planet. You learn about discipline, courage, toughness, teamwork and communication, but most importantly it was the first aspect of life that will make you look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “how far am I willing to go? How far am I willing to push for what I want?”
On the ice, as in life, the person who is rewarded is the person who scratches and claws the farthest.
While the amount of turmoil I went through growing up pales in comparison to many others, the ice was always my therapy. You can’t ever skate away from your problems, but you can at least avoid them for the hour or two you are at the rink. When you step on the ice, life is perfect and all your problems have been resolved for the time being.
There’s a reason why it’s much easier to go to the rink at 5 a.m. than it is for work or school.
When life gave me adversity, hockey was my counseling. Watching my Mom go through breast cancer treatment when I was in high school wasn’t easy. Most of the time, I didn’t know how to act or what to say. I was a stubborn kid who refused to accept what was happening. But when I was on the ice playing in front of her, I always knew where she was. After games, she was always the first to greet me. Win or lose, she didn’t care. She knew I was happy.
During those moments at the rink, nothing was wrong.
While we all chased the dream growing up, there’s a reason why so many of our relationships fail. We’ve already fallen in love with the game because we know it’s something that will never leave us.
Hockey never cheats on you; Hockey never gets divorced; Hockey never dies. There is always a fresh sheet of ice somewhere. There is always a net to be sniped, and that first deep breath of cold air when stepping onto the ice is a feeling that can’t be topped.
Without hockey, my life would mean little. Without the people I’ve met through hockey, my life would mean nothing.
So after 20 years, it kills me to say goodbye. Thank you for everything you’ve given me, I will always be grateful. You’ve taught me more about myself and about life than I could have ever imagined.
To those still in action, keep chasing your dream. Keep bettering yourself. But most importantly, enjoy the ride and don’t miss a moment.
My career may be over, but the memories will last forever.
Shane Darrow is a Graduate student studying Journalism at Ohio University. He is currently an NHL writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @ShaneDarrow.