The arena was loud and full of faces.
Trying to pick out my parents was impossible from the comfort of my crease. I could see the entire rink stretching out in front of me. The stands were tall, and the depth of the ice was the equivalent of looking down a long strip of land, like a football field.
I was zoned in, focused to play my part for the team.
If you grew up playing hockey, you may remember taking part of a mini-game between periods of a junior, college, pro or NHL game or perhaps you watched your kid hit the ice at a similar event.
In my case, it was an Oshawa Generals game where my minor hockey team took on a rival squad for five minutes between periods.
This moment will stay engrained in my mind for the rest of my life.
I was around seven or eight years old when I got to experience playing in front of over 5,000 people at the Tribute Communities Centre in Oshawa. I have never felt so many eyes on me at once despite the fact many fans took this opportunity to get beverages or use the washroom.
I was goalie for this game, but I played all the positions on my house league team.
As our mini game began, I could hear the puck drop from what sounded like a kilometre away. The game was slow for the crowd, but fast for the players involved.
As the puck was coming down the ice, I lost it in the view of the logos on the ice but quickly picked it up again on the opponent’s stick as he split the defence.
It was a breakaway, only me between him and the goal line. For an eight-year-old boy, it felt like a do-or-die scenario.
I was thinking it took a long time for the puck to come to our end as I briefly looked up at the clock tracking our little segment of this Ontario Hockey League game.
The opponent was closing in, about 10 feet from the net. I figured it would be a simple wrist shot since it was house league and very few opponents went for dekes — at least that is what I thought from the previous experiences I had in net that year.
I stayed square to the shooter while making sure I was taking as much of the net as I possibly could. Being a kid, it is hard to cover all of a regulation net.
He is seven feet away now. I know he is taking a shot at this point. I can see his eyes looking toward my glove hand, targeting the upper corner of the net.
It probably looked open to him as he pulled back the puck and took a shot.
What feels like a flash for me, must be an eternity for the crowd used to seeing young men fly up and down the ice. I can sense more people coming back to their seats to get ready for the third period of the Generals game as bodies are flooding down the nearby stairs in the stands.
I see the puck rising and think it may be going over the net. I take no chances on missing this once in a lifetime opportunity in front of this many people.
I flash the leather.
Then I glance at the glove.
It is buried in the mesh and seams.
My hockey highlight was over as fast as it started.
The rest of the game saw our team on offence for majority of the time. No one scored on either team, there was no time for overtime. Like many kids, I may never play hockey in front of a crowd that large again.
Events like these may have inspired some to go on to professional hockey careers. For others — like me — it created a memory that will last a lifetime.
There are many programs run by higher level hockey programs that allow youth hockey players and teams to take part in these mini-games. As a parent, team manager or coach, reach out to your local team to see if there promotions like this available in your area.
It may just create a lifetime memory for your player.