I am wearing my lucky black suit today with my lucky black tie that has different sized circles on it. I hope it brings me luck today. I think for a moment about last game; yes, I played pretty damn good that game, and yes, I was wearing this same lucky outfit. And then everything slows. That’s all it takes to stop worrying and fussing about “what if’s” and “what have you’s”. I take a deep breath as I hang my jacket in my locker, and I know it and embrace it: today is going to be a good day, a good game, a safe game, a lucky game, a fun game, my game. I keep pumping positive affirmations into my brain. I’m going to be an impact player today. I will fight today. I will score today. I will be my very best today. I will be excellent.
Now I’m in my warm up clothes: faded black shorts, knee-high sanitary socks, and a faded gold tee shirt that has one block-lettered word printed across the chest: BRUINS. And I look in the mirror, and I’m proud to wear it. Honored to wear that name, and know that tonight I must do my very best to help my team win. That’s all I can do today. I’ve practiced and trained and put the right fuel into my body, mind, and spirit. I’ve covered all the bases. And now it’s time to let it all pour out, to do what I do. To do what I have always done and have always loved to do. I get to play this gorgeous game tonight, and lay it on the line. Tonight I will give it everything I have. I owe at least that much. I hope and pray for the best outcome and for safety and courage. I feel a swelling of emotion, aggression, fear, and passion. The music is screeching from the speakers at the front of the locker room. I look around and my teammates are preparing in their own ways. We are all preparing for war, but we all prepare differently.
My preparations must be exact. For me, its the same routine every game. I have my cup of black coffee and slowly start to stretch out my body. Even as I sit with my left leg crossed over my right, I’m methodically stretching those hips, getting loose and getting ready.
And we sit, diligent through the team meeting and watch video on our opponent. We learn the in’s and out’s. We know their game plan, and we formulate ours. It’s high-speed chess, with sticks and skates, with an asterisk* in the rule book that says you’re allowed to take your gloves off and fight for any reason whatsoever. And so I prepare to do battle. I prepare to fight for my teammates, and my team, and my family, and for myself. I summon the courage to do what must be done, and then finally I reach the point of acceptance. I accept the fact that there is a good chance I will be fighting today. I accept it and don’t worry about it any more. Now I worry about making the right plays and decisions. Caressing that puck and zipping it past the goalie. I put my earphones in now, and get ready for my warm up.
The first guitar riff of Ma Jolie by Bear vs Shark blasts out of my earbuds, and like some Pavlovian maddog, I snap into a robotic trance as I begin the Dynamic Warmup.
I’ve been doing this for years and years, and know the precise movements that I must perform to prepare my body to perform athletically. And as my arms and legs flip and flap, that Bear vs Shark album triggers memories and feelings deep within my consciousness, a feeling that can only be achieved by having listened to this exact same album before every hockey game, during this exact warmup, for the past seven years. It takes me to a different place, somewhere meditative and focused, and I see my goals and ambitions sprawled out before me, and as my warm up ends, I am always inspired, sweating, fuming, and ready to play.
We take the ice for warmups, and the seats are starting to fill up in the stands. We skate around for twenty minutes and perform our usual movements of passes, shots, and strides. I think about how good it feels to be out on the battle field, flying around with a stern sneer, thinking about how good my body feels today. Everything is clicking, today is going to be a good game. I’m going to be excellent today, and I am repeating this constantly now. And believing it completely.
I see some kids in the stands screaming for a puck, so I flick one up into the stands and watch five children all reach for that rubber prize. I think back to all those hockey games I watched as a kid and saw those players out there, so mythic and heroic, and how I wanted nothing more than to be one of those hockey players some day. And at age ten, and age six, and age fifteen, and age eighteen, I said it over and over, “that’s going to be me someday”. And at age 27 I said it too, and never lost that dream. And while I have strayed this way and that, veering from my destined path, I have returned now, stronger, hungrier, and prepared. And here I am now, and I’m really doing it. I feel some tingling sense of nostalgia or novelty, and I take one last lap around the rink before the clock buzzes and ends warmups.
As I skate this last lap, I see everything around me, my teammates, my opponents, the fans, this giant arena we play in. It is almost overwhelming, and I think one million thoughts at once and end with one final thought that rings just a little longer than all the rest, that this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now. Make the most of it. Give everything. Believe in yourself. Chase your dream. You are still that ten year old boy watching Steve Yzerman skate around during warmups at the Red Wings game. You are still that boy who put his face right up against the glass, two eyes peering, and just watching him skate around, so smooth and powerful, so graceful. I never took my eye off Yzerman during that whole warm up, until the usher checked my ticket and sent me off, back to the nose bleeds. But I was there, standing right next to him, separated by years and a thin layer of plexiglass, and I made that promise that I was going to be out there someday.
Ten minutes to puck drop. The House that Heaven Built by the Japandroids, is playing on repeat on my iPod. I feel that nostalgia again. I drift back to the middle of summer, and I’m drowning in sweat, 100% saturation of my tee shirt at the YMCA. I’m sprinting on the treadmill, interval training, 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, 10% incline at 10mph. I’m running up hill and staring off at some invisible point on the wall. Hockey season is three months away, but I’m there. I’m on the rink and it is as clear as day. The House that Heaven Built is blaring, and it served as the sound track to endless summer workouts.
The lyric plays, “I settled in slowly to this house that you call home, to blood and breath, fear, flesh, and bone.” And I’m not quite sure what that lyric means. But somehow it makes more sense than anything at this moment, and it gives me goosebumps.
And now in the locker room, with minutes to go before we officially take the ice for the game, this song reminds me of the torture I endured, and I dedication I displayed. Where I’m at now is a direct result of days and days of repeated excellence all summer long, and for the past three years. Toss in some luck and good fortune of course, but in the end, I’ve prepared for this moment, and have already envisioned it and lived it on countless treadmills and sprints. I’ve been here before. Now I just have to trust myself and go out and do it. And we take the ice. My eyes are on fire. My heart is beating fast. And now I get to be me.
Now I get to play.