Tonight, we moved on to part three of our moving preparation packing week.  Saturday and Sunday we conquered the office, the bookshelf in the living room and Micah’s bedroom.  Tonight we moved on to the front hall closet–the hockey closet.

Now, I’ll begin by saying that Micah’s final goalie bag, containing his last set of leg pads, his blocker and catcher, his mask–is still in his bedroom.  Seventeen months is still just a day, and there is no way I can part with those last pieces of my goalie son.  They will be moved into the new house just as they are now, and will be stored in a location to be determined until…until…until I decide on a more permanent way to display them.

That being said, we knew that tonight’s task would not be easy.  Almost every object I picked up in that closet reminded us of Micah.  Every piece of gear, every hockey sock or practice jersey conjured up a memory.  Some memories were smaller and almost insignificant–old hockey socks were easy to throw out, nasty puck-and-Gatorade-stained practice jerseys were just about as easy to dispose of.  Other items–an old pair of goalie skates, Micah’s last set of leg pads from roller hockey, Micah’s inline goalie skates, an old custom blocker and catcher set in his team colors (purple, silver and black)–these things brought a pause to the process.

Nothing in the downstairs closet, aside from his inline gear, had been used anytime recently by Micah.  Many pieces there were waiting for someone to ask me if I had an old this, or a used that, that their young goalie might be able to use.  Many of those things were never requested.  It turned out that most parents of young goalies that I ran into at the rink were more likely to purchase new gear than to use someone else’s hand-me-downs.  But now it is time to move on.  Now that gear will go to the rink or Goodwill to hopefully help a kid somewhere get to experience playing goal even though his or her parent can’t afford to spend $1,000 on new gear for that experience.

I thought we had pretty much all his jerseys already packed, but we found a few more in the closet, including one of his 2011-12 AHU Knights jerseys–the jerseys he wore at the last ever USA Hockey 12U (Peewee) Tier II Nationals, Micah’s only trip to Washington, D.C.  The Nationals patch was still intact, as was the jersey–if a little puck-marked.  We’ll clean that one up and put it with his others.  We also found his Team Arizona jerseys from his Midwest Wars experience of several summers ago.  And we rounded up about a dozen old practice jerseys in a variety of conditions, and decided it was best to let them go.

As we finished sorting through the closet, wiping away the tears, I began to think about how this was both a symbolic as well as a very real signal of change…

It has now been two months since I set foot in an ice rink.  Two months doesn’t seem like a huge period of time, I know.  When you consider that for team manager or organization representative, official scorekeeper or just hockey dad reasons, I rarely went more than a few days or a week between rink visits at any given time, two months is a pretty significant milestone.

After locking down my availability grid pretty tightly for scorekeeping jobs and, probably as a direct result, not getting any assignments, I decided to simply uncheck the box that declared me available to scorekeep games at all.  I have not kept score at a youth or adult league hockey game since Sunday, April 9th.  With a very hectic June and first half of July between moving, vacation and just taking care of my family, I would not likely really have the time to do any scorekeeping again until the second half of July anyhow.

Do I miss scorekeeping?  Yes–a little.  What I miss most is the camaraderie with some of my favorite referees, and seeing the joy in the parents’ faces when I would announce their children’s names or play some rocking music during a break in the action.  I don’t honestly miss spending three-four-five hours freezing my tail off in the scorer’s box.  I don’t miss the overly-hyper hockey parents that acted as though their child’s Squirt (9-10 year olds) game was going to decide which kids make it to the 2025 NHL Amateur Draft.

Will I scorekeep again?  Sure.  I have friends like Josh, who organize games for great causes, and I will always make my skills available to help his causes.  I still have friends around the rink that like to hear me announce the local Junior A team’s games, and I like the people that are always around that team–so I will probably scorekeep and announce a handful of their games during the upcoming season.  And, yes, I still have some friends with the local organization that love having me work their kids’ games–so, if given the chance, I will even work a dozen or two youth travel hockey games during the upcoming season.

I will also continue to work with my hockey family from PWC/Cactus Cup and help run the Cactus Cup tournament over MLK Jr Weekend in January.  Maybe I’ll pop up at another tournament here or there, but not for 15-20 hours per weekend.  I’ve come to enjoy my quiet time with my family, and I will now spend my holiday weekends with them more than at the rinks.

One unfortunate thing I’ve discovered over the past two months…  Maybe it’s not as unfortunate as simply a little sad.  The more distance I’ve put between myself and the day-to-day business of youth hockey, the more I’ve seen friends drop off–go silent.  Part of it makes sense, I suppose.  I’m not part of their youth hockey world any longer.  I don’t have a child playing.  I don’t have a job to do around an organization.  I’m not running the state league.  I’ve quickly gone from an in-the-know insider to an outsider.  Again, it’s not that I didn’t expect this–I did.  But some of the people that I thought would remain closer…

One thing is for certain–I’m at a point now where I value my time, my space, my family, more than a few dollars for scorekeeping a game, or even for more than a few dollars for helping organize things at the rink.  There are plenty of younger people: kids, parents of young Mite and Squirt players, college kids, that need the money and the work more than I do.  There are plenty of fantastic parents that can and should take an active role in the organization their kid plays for, or the state league that helps provide great experiences for their child’s hockey team.  There are plenty of other things for me to do–a little scorekeeping, PA announcing for the Roadrunners, working with the Royals/Outcasts roller hockey program, to keep the hockey flames burning inside…

Besides, I’m now coming full circle.  My first love in sports was baseball–specifically Cubs baseball.  Time to head back to the ballpark.  Time to head back to Wrigley Field.  Oh, what’s this?  The last thing I found of Micah’s gear in the closet–his baseball glove.  It’s a sign.