There are somethings that people rarely forget about. There’s your first kiss, the first time you got laid, your wedding day or the day your kids were born (to those who have kids). However, for hockey players there are few other things on the list, like the day you get drafted, sign your pro contract, score your first goal or when you first laced up the skates and put on your first ever jersey.
Jerseys are important to players and as I gaze on the wall on our stairs I can see a collection of jerseys. Jerseys that have a lot of meaning and memories regardless of the league or level. They tell me I was once part of something great and bring back memories of the guys I played with and the parents and other voulenteers who helped. Gazing on them, I remember me and my dad sitting in traffic on the A4 from Amsterdam to Utrecht trying to get me to training, or playing in my first ever team, OP Chicago Parola -82, in an out door league.
Despite the team being for guys who were born in 1982, I was allowed to play for them as there were only 6 days between my birth and the calendar year turning into -82. It’s funny, because it has been so long since that season, but I still remember it vividly. The first ever team meeting where the team was put together was held at the county hall and the team was gathered purely of guys who I went to school with. I still remember being nervous about it as I had only played on our front yard or at the local rinks, so going into something like that was a pretty big deal for me. Plus I had no kit (apart from a helmet, shinpads, gloves and skates) so it was nerve wrecking to see if I was actually allowed to play. By the way, the helmet is the old vintage Jofa that Gretzky wore and its still in immaculate condition. Despite the helmets going at around $120 on eBay, there’s no way I’m selling it.
My parents were really supportive and promised to get me the kit. Some was second hand some was new. The final piece of kit that I got was shoulder pads for Christmas, just before the season started. I even got a new stick for the season, a black Koho Revolution with the Kurri blade pattern. I used Koho sticks or blades to the day they became CCM. Old habits die hard and I still use the same blade pattern.
As I said, this league was an out door league, but our trainings were held on Thursday nights at the indoor practice arena in Hameenlinna. We also had regular weekend training slot on Saturday mornings on an out door rink at Parola, the village where we lived.
It was on one of these Saturday sessions when my mom took me to training and patiently waited rink side in the cold when we trained. After the training, the coach took the team into the changing room by the rink and got out a large cardboard box out from his car. Inside the box was something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was our jerseys. Looking back on it, the green jersey with the white print of a makeshift Chicago Blackhawks logo looks tacky now, but to me it was the best thing ever. I got jersey number 8. A number I wear today in homage to that jersey and year as its some 20 years since that season.
I still remember my first game. I didn’t even know what the hell the off-side rule was and I must’ve spent more time off-side than anything else.
Our season was a triumph. We didn’t lose a single game from the 12 game calendar and we only drew one game and the rest we won. Me and my buddy Hannu travelled to trainings and games together, well it was either of our parents that drove and kept the car warm so we could warm up between periods.
The highlight of the season was the end of season ‘in-door’ tournament between all the teams at the Hameenlinna or Ritari arena as it’s now called. We carried on our trend and won every-game in the tournament and won the championship, which sent the whole team ecstatic. I had my only point of the season in the final game when I assisted our winning goal. In the post game celebrations I had my first ever taste of champagne.
Funny what memories a jersey carries, but the jersey and the trophy are there to remind me of, probably the most cherished memories from my childhood. Similarly a jersey for a fan can bring back similar memories of seeing your favourite player score a highlight reel goal or celebrating the most treasured of sports trophies in the world. It can remind you of the nights at the game with friends, stuck in traffic jams, bad hot dogs and stale beer. Or for a younger fan, the magic of being there and being in awe of the game.
I could relay stories of all of them IJCU Utrecht, Southampton Spitfires, Basingstoke Cougars, Farnborough Arrows and Bristol Pitbulls. Hopefully there are many more memories and triumphs to come that I can re-live just by glancing up at the wall.