I Hate Hockey Moms And Now I Am One

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As everyone knows, hockey isn’t just a sport in Canada: it’s a cult, a national mistress, and an identity — not to mention a multi-billion-dollar industry.

When my son turned five, I found a million reasons not to sign him up for hockey. His father, of Aussie descent, has never put blade to ice, so there was no paternal pressure. The schedules, even for the most minor of minor hockey, are legendarily inconvenient. The equipment bag, which requires its own zip code, emits a uniquely repellent smell that still rockets me back to my own childhood. And — a much larger objection — I’ve always hated the way the NHL glorifies violence.

But my son, appetite whetted by the Canucks’ riotous Stanley Cup run, desperately wanted to play, so eventually I sought other mums’ advice. Universally, they reassured me that hockey is a non-contact sport until the age of 12 and that it encourages a kind of team camaraderie and friendships their kids just weren’t getting from other sports.

And, they informed me — permanently boggling my mind in the process — our local minor-hockey association is so sought after that some parents rent second homes in the neighborhood just to be able to say they’re in the catchment area. (Really? Is that the best use of your retirement savings?)

Then my brother offered to take his nephew to any practices or games that conflicted with our awkward work schedules. Suddenly my arguments had all been answered.

So I bought our family a one-way ticket to Planet Hockey. Which, by the way, isn’t cheap. Here, for comparison, is the list of equipment a kid needs for soccer:

shin pads

… and the list of equipment a kid needs to play hockey:

facial protector (full cage or full visor)
throat protector (collar or bib type)

athletic support cup
hockey pants

shoulder pads
elbow pads
garter belt
shin/knee pads
hockey gloves
hockey socks
practice jersey
tape for stick
shin pad tape
bag to hold everything in

Ummm… Throat protector? Garter belt? How can one sport encompass such diametrically opposed garments?

Altogether, my son needed 18 items. Buying them all new would have cost anywhere between $500 and $750. I scoped out consignment stores, solicited hand-me-downs and inspected all-in-one starter kits from Canadian Tire, but few items fit my skinny son properly.

At the hockey store, they explained the importance of covering every inch of the body: There should be no gaps between the shoulder pads and the elbow pads, for instance, or between the pants and the shin pads. This modern-day suit of body armor is not just there in case of an errant slapshot; it’s there because the kids have razor blades attached to their feet. Gulp.

And so I find myself, three times a week, leading my son through the peculiarly Canadian rite of passage that is getting dressed for hockey — a complicated process requiring an instruction manual, half an hour, and the patience of a saint. (Lesson No. 1: Always ensure he pees before donning the armor.) And so far he loves the sport, grinning from ear to ear even if he’s just fallen down for the 25th time in a row.

Having gone down this road, I would like him to play until he’s 10 or 11, developing the essential hockey skills that define the Canadian male and would allow him, if he so chooses, to play on a pick-up team later in life.

And then I would love him to quit.

(Photo: iStockphoto)